In 1986 my dad was driving through the Wisconsin country side when a log cabin caught his eye. The cabin had seen better days, her windows and doors were gone, and the roof had a gaping hole. But, her logs were strong. Where others saw a dilapidated building, he saw beauty. And he knew that he had to have her. So he sent my mon off to go find the owner. The owner was more than happy to sell the cabin to them, he needed $5,600.00 for a new pole barn. So a deal was struck and the log cabin was ours.
After purchasing the cabin my Dad learned that it was built in the late 1920s for a sheep herder and his family. The basement is a dirt floor and that is where the lambs and sheep were kept on stormy & winter nights. The family lived on the first floor and utilized the sleeping loft. They lived in the home until they moved to town in the 60s. And there she sat, she sat empty waiting for her new owner. Slusher purchased the 300 acre parcel somewhere in the 70s and had no interest in the cabin, so she sat empty. He rented out the land to Mr. Bathel a Christmas tree farmer and to Mr. Smith a Bee farmer. Eighty acres across the road was sold to a Postal Carrier from Saint Paul and he built a little cabin down by the creek. He was our only neighbor.
When I was a little girl the son of the sheep herder would bring his family and friends down to see where he grew up. He often shared pictures and stories with us. He was thankful that someone was working on restoring the place he once called home. He was glad to see that a new family was making memories in the logs that once protect him.
This cabin of ours is a magical place. Its a place of healing. When I was little I was sick. Being in town meant that our world revolved around doctor visits, tests, medication, and pitiful looks from strangers. I couldn’t even play with the kids in my neighborhood or go to school. I was homeschooled by Ms. Ann and played dolls with my next door neighbor Ms. Cora (she was my 90+ year old best friend). Every once in a blue moon they’d let me go to Sunday school, which was a real treat. As a child I didn’t understand that they were protecting me from getting sicker than I already was. It was torture not getting to be a normal kid. But, as an adult I realize that they gave me an escape, they gave me something most people never have.
My Dad bought a second home, a summer home without electricity or running water. He bought a place where his daughter could truly be a kid. I was allowed to explore and dream. These woods that surround the cabin entertained me for hours on end. These old logs over heard scary stories and jokes told in the dark. Her old logs sheltered us from stormy skies as we played board games on the living room floor. And with time her logs healed a sick little girl and her family. She allowed them to dream again.
It’s more than logs, the land the cabin sits on is magical. The woods were my playground. I often could be found picking strawberries, mixing potions, “hunting bad guys,” playing in my make shift fort, or just laying in a field of wild flowers calling out shapes in the clouds. When my parents weren’t looking I was known to capture an unfortunate toad, frog, salamander, or turtle in my bucket. Somehow my dad always knew, he didn’t even have to look at me and I’d hear him yell “Mannie! You better put that critter back where you found him!!” Snakes? I wasn’t afraid of snakes. I was fearless as a child and my dad had to teach me about poisonous snakes in order to keep me safe. If a snake crossed my path it was a guarantee I’d pick it up and put it down the back of my sister’s shirt. I’m pretty sure I am the reason she has a fear of snakes. I am probably the reason for her fear of the dark, dead fish….. and many other things in life. And yes, she deserved it, she’d cheat at board games and violated my Barbies by cutting their hair. As we grew older we grew apart, she lost interest in being my sister and in her eyes the cabin lost its magic.
Even though the magic faded for her, it grew and grew for me. We are not the only folks who love the land the cabin sits on. As I said earlier Mr. Slusher rented out the land to local farmers. As a child I’d watch Bathel and his crew expertly care for, trim and spray paint the Christmas trees that would be sold in the fall. Yes, believe it or not Christmas trees are spray painted…. that’s why you sometimes get a tree where the needles fall off as soon as you get it home. It’s a pretty neat process to see in person. Anyways, Mr. Smith tenderly cared for over 20 hives and he’d tell me “now Mannie, don’t kill the bee. The bee doesn’t want to sting you, he just wants to get back to the hive.” He taught me to respect the honey bee and to this day I find myself telling people “don’t kill that bee! He just thinks you are a flower. Once he realizes you aren’t, he will go on his way.” It’s true, they will. My Dad used to have an orchard on the land. I’d spend my summer days following him from tree to tree with trimmers in my hand as he patiently explained the delicacy of grafting. When we weren’t trimming or grafting, he made me carry 10 gallon buckets of water up the hill to thirsty little trees. He said “it will teach you character….” I don’t think it taught my character, however I did have really strong arms for a 10 year old.
Sunset is my favorite time at the cabin. My Dad calls dusk “God’s magic time,” because each sunset is a beautiful painting to remind us that life goes on. I spent my summer nights sitting by the fire roasting marshmallows while watching fireflies dance in the darkening skies. We’d tell stories about UFOs and aliens as the foggy mist rolled in through the trees. The sound of bullfrogs singing, crickets chirping, and wind rustling the leaves would lull me to sleep in the old iron bed. I’d dream of another day at the lake and rescuing turtles from the road. The smell of the fire would stir us awake, the morning mist dissipated through the trees as our feet touched the wet grass. Breakfast was always fried potatoes and some sort of meat, if my Mom was there we’d get pancakes + fried potatoes + meat. Breakfast always tastes better when eaten outside under the old oak trees. Those are days that I will always cherish for as long as I have breath in my body.
Speaking of body, this little log cabin of ours is no match for the test of time. She was built back when we knew little about concrete and her foundation is crumbling. Her logs are good, but her base has seen better days. My dad guarded me from her fate all summer long and told me over and over “I can fix it, I just need some materials.” When I laid eyes on her, I knew that this wasn’t a project for him. We needed help. We had to map out our options and attach cost to those options. We needed to make the decision of do we save her or do we let her go?
We chose to save her. All roads pointed to one contractor, we are bringing in Heritage Builders from Menominee WI to restore her. In the spring of 2021 she will be lifted, her old foundation will be removed and a new one will be put in its place. Once the foundation is completed the Jacks and supports will be removed one by one and she will be sat on her new foundation. This project terrifies me. One wrong move and we will end up with a pile of Lincoln logs. I know our log cabin is in the right hands, Troy from Heritage Builders immediately saw what we see, he saw the gem. The gem that my dad saw all those years ago, the one painstakingly brought back from ruin to life.
I know in my heart God is making a way. This land, this house is my Dad’s heaven on earth. And he gave her to me, he’s trusting me to carry her on to the next generation and beyond. We pray each day that this cabin of ours will hear the pidder patter of little feet within her walls again. That scary stories and laughter will once again ring through her rafters. This log cabin craves life and life is what we will breathe into her.
Because she breathes life into my Dad and makes his soul sing. This log cabin of ours will be where my Dad’s soul rests. As his daughter I made a promise to ensure that her log walls are his final resting place. I will honor that choice. When the time comes his ashes will be placed in an old ceramic Indian whiskey decanter and tucked up in the rafters to watch over the place he loved most in life. And I will spend the rest of my days caring for and protecting his Heaven on earth.