The challenge: If you had the power to get somewhere, anywhere right now – where would you go…
Early September, the dry month, warm and sunny most every day and cool in the evenings; the barest hint of frost in the early morning, perfect! Every inch of our car is packed – a trailer hitched behind, full of supplies, our modern day Conestoga wagon. We are on our way, heading north out of the suburbs. With every mile the road becomes narrower, going from 3-lanes, to 2, to one, twisting and curving, replacing neighborhoods with farms tucked into small valleys. Finally we reach the last turn, onto a road carved through a dark forest. Beautiful, tall pines, aligned on both sides of the road lead us along, the silence is dense, the quiet almost visible; the pine-y aroma begins to fill the car.
Unit 7, a dark brown log cabin hidden in a clearing in the woods, our castle, and our refuge for the week. Unit 7, sits isolated, up against the tall oaks, maples and pines. We are here!! Our whoops and hollers shatter the stillness; the race is on to be the first one out of the car and inside.
A huge, rectangular log room, Unit 7 has a single door and five windows, opening the door lets out a rush of stale, musty air. A massive, stone fireplace covers one wall; just waiting for the fire we nag Dad to start. Who built these cabins? Who dragged and set all these stones? The fireplace is crowned with a gigantic, rough-hewn mantle of wood. The stones are immense, rounded, dredged from a river somewhere, all shades of grey, all coated in a film of soot from years of log fires. Always the first chore – run, go, collect sticks for kindling. The most important task, find two special sticks. The first stick had to be the straightest, longest stick, the Marshmallow Roasting Stick! Fiercely protected, never shared with the brothers, “Get your own stick!” The second stick, your Walking Stick; needed to be much sturdier than the Marshmallow Roasting Stick. A good Walking Stick was required equipment for hikes, necessary to turn over rocks to find bugs and worms for fishing.
Along one long wall, 2 sets of bunk beds built from wood as big as railroad ties, massive heavy things, impossible to move. Each bed has a plastic covered mattress – everything the same shade of dark brown; the coveted top bunk – so high it’s difficult to get back down without help but closer to the ceiling and the warmer air.
For meals, a picnic table, wooden, dark brown, long with 2 benches attached to either side – the same wood as the bunks, where did they find this stuff?? Made by Paul Bunyan, the only one who could have built it and moved it!
Always dim inside, the only sources of light, the windows and the single, wall mounted, propane gas lamp – insert a quarter for 30 minutes of light! At the end opposite the fireplace, the kitchen, just enough room for Mom to cook, it contained a small sink, a propane gas stove and fridge, more quarters needed!!! No shower, no toilet, no electricity, no sounds except our shrieks, hollers, catcalls and laughter.
The outhouse – a tiny tower of terror!! Out the door, follow the path to the back of the cabin, three narrow walls and a door, a single horizontal board with a single hole all the same shade of ominous dark brown! Don’t forget toilet paper and get in and out – quick. After dark, a source of mounting anxiety – take your flashlight, point your flashlight at the ground, don’t point it up, Don’t Point It Up, DON’T POINT IT UP!!
Cobwebs and spiders, night crawlers, lizards, centipedes, millipedes, ‘scary-pedes’ shared the outhouse at night. On the way, bats, bugs and always tiny sounds from under the leaves covering the ground, “What was THAT?” Quick, back inside to the fire, safety, and the family…
Every evening a walk, down the leaf covered path leading to the lake; the lake was glowing as the sun disappeared and darkness took over. The still surface broken by an occasional fish, snatching his dinner, the bats swooping and sailing in; dinner time for bats too! Loud noisy boisterous kids we, yes, even we, feel reverent and keep our voices down. We don’t want to disturb this rare gift of complete peace and quiet, we long to hear distant rustlings in the pines, hoping to catch a glimpse of the wild creatures we know are there but rarely see. Every evening we take our long, slow, looping walk around the lake to skip stones, to listen to true silence, to watch the day slowly end.
Darkness takes over and brings a chill, the dark brown cabin now almost invisible; we race in to the warmth of the fire, clamoring for marshmallows to roast. Is there anything more gorgeous than those puffy white clouds slowly browning and melting on the end of a stick? Not to us but inevitably, one or more bursting into flames, blackened and crusty, “EWWW – Dad will eat it!” Finally to sleep, crawling into our sleeping bags, smelling of wood smoke, fingers and mouths sticky with marshmallow, the fire reduced to glowing embers, Unit 7 sleeps…