THE CABIN CHRONICLES
As many of you know, my wife Carolyn is a pretty darn good writer. Lately she's been working on a project called the Cabin Chronicles. In her formative years, she and her family spent weeks in the rustic cabin built by her dad in Upper Michigan....an hour from Lake Superior. Situated on 80 acres of land, an icy trout stream, and the big spruce of the Ottawa National Forest, I've been able to enjoy it myself the past 30 years.
To this day, electricity has yet to make it to the "Kamp" and it's about as wild as the day it was settled. The stories of bears, Jimmy Hoffa, northern lights, and grizzled Yoopers float around like ghosts in the pine scented air. I've heard them over and over and they never get old. Fun, eclectic, and laced with love, it's Opie in the Northland.
Carolyn is excited to share her best stories of this unique place. Twice a week she'll post a new chapter and we both hope you'll enjoy the tales of a simple time in a magical world. With that, I'm proud to present chapter one of the Cabin Chronicles by Carolyn Wettstone.
THE CABIN CHRONICLES:
Michigan is comprised of two peninsulas, the upper and the lower. Both equally beautiful. However I believe the Upper Peninsula has more of a wild west feel to it. Its forests are more impenetrable. The isolation more complete. The hardiness of its habitants more profound. The U.P. as it is fondly called borders Wisconsin in the south, and is bounded by Lake Superior on the north.
On January 27,1937, President Herbert Hoover signed into law the creation of the Ottawa National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Nearly one million acres.
2,000 miles of rivers and streams.
It was all mine.
And I wasn’t even born yet.
As an adult, I realize I was overextending my reach. As a child my idea of personal possessions trumped public property.
In reality, my world consisted of a parcel of land located a mile and a half off Federal Forest Highway 16. A healthy drive to the nearest town of Iron River, Michigan. A world away from my regular existence in the small, but vigorous town of Bryan, Ohio.
Hemmed in by the Paint River on one side, the property offers 80 acres of raw forest. Pine, spruce, and birch trees cluster in thick stands. Birds, deer, porcupine, bear, wolves, fox, and coyotes run amuck.
Nearly sixty years ago, my grandfather, James Daum, paid $1,000 for this slice of wilderness.
It was perfect.
For my father whose idea of vacation was to cut firewood, build cabins, dig wells, and grade roads.
It was perfect.
For my mother who loved to pick blueberries, canoe down rivers, and trail slowly behind the assorted wildlife with binoculars in hand.
It was perfect.
For the kids.
Who built forts, swam in the river, picked wildflowers, and ran free.
Every year we drove 14 hours up to cabin for three weeks in August, and two weeks in December. It’s all I knew. And I loved it.
Of course I missed all the messy stuff due to fact that I hadn’t been born yet and whatnot.
What my parents saw when they first pulled up was far from blissful. The narrow one lane road led them to a swampy piece of land. They could hear the current of the Paint River within a stone’s throw from where they stood. But they only saw a swampy brush-filled piece of land with a small log shack clinging to its edges.
The shack was a paradise for mice, raccoons, and just about every other critter in the forest who all seemingly had a key to the place.
In my mother’s eye, that shack was history to be preserved. My father saw a quick demolition project.
The original structure stayed until mother realized the logs were hollow providing exceptional runways for the mice. The walls went away, but the foundation was preserved.
The new cabin featured a large great room long before they were trendy. With cathedral ceilings, the room offered space for a kitchen, dining area, and living room. A soaring stone fireplace anchored one end of the cabin. Thick round logs formed the walls and rafters.
Dad was also one of the first recyclers. He rescued parquet flooring from the fellowship hall of a church being torn down in Shawano, Wisconsin. He found an old marble sink for the bathroom. He repurposed countertops creating small tables for the two tiny bedrooms. This cabin was a labor of love, and it showed in every nook and cranny.
Dad didn’t stop there. He cleared brush, drained the swamp, built garages (one for his pride and joy… an antique road grader he brought back to life), and even managed to install a washing machine in the cabin for my mother. All this without electricity. The cabin was and is today still run on a generator. Electricity hasn’t made it up the road that far.
This place was my father’s lodestone. Dad was a Presbyterian minister with scholar’s mind and a workman’s heart. He found peace and comfort in creating beautiful things with his hands.
My earliest memory of the cabin is the three decker bunkbed dad installed in the second bedroom for the kids. I had the top bunk. At night I studied the pine knotted ceiling illuminated by the moonlight reaching in through the windows. A random pattern of wormholes pocked the length of each board in the ceiling. Each one worthy of imagination. I found angels and animals. A whole cast of characters. Occasionally a wormhole would morph into something frightening. My eyes would snap shut until I calmed myself with the sounds of the river.
Below me in the bunkbed was my older sister and younger brother. As the middle child I felt it my duty to stir things up.
It was quite easy.
Running horizontally just above me in the top tier of the bunkbed was a support beam. The log was 14 inches in diameter. The stripped bark surface rough and lacquered into a shine. An inch below it hung a steel black rod that provided additional support.
That inch just allowed my child-sized fingers to slip between the rod and the beam. In the middle of the night, I would play music. Each delicate pull on the rod would send a note quivering. A long pull brought a louder, low echoing growl. A short one a higher note. I experimented with plucking out different tunes. In wee hours of the morning, I lovingly pulled out chords and notes from that single iron rod. I was the Liberace of the logs.
Until my siblings below would stir awake. Unhappy. Fists pounded on the underside of my bunk along with muttered warnings.
Which I heeded. Until the next night.
The cabin and its surrounding forest became the foundation of our family. Wherever the winds would take us, we always came back. Faithfully. Gratefully. At peace. We built lifelong memories there. This home and its traditions gave us a sense of permanence in a world that now I realize is so temporary.
It gives me so much pleasure to write about the cabin that I plan to post several chapters each week. I have changed the names of the people who may not appreciate being mentioned, and while the facts are true, there may be a bit of literacy license (re:exaggeration) here and there. I am a Wettstone after all. But rest assured, the meat of the stories are real (and my mother will have a few surprises), the people are real, and the joy in sharing an incredible slice of my childhood is real.
Deer running by the side of the cabin
Sitting on the front porch swing of the cabin with my brother (left) sister (middle) and me (right)
My Grandparents: The Rev. Dr. James A. and Irene Daum. James is holding my mother, Dorathy.
My Grandfather, James Daum who purchased the cabin and 80 acres for my parents.
My father, the Rev. Dr. Robert E. Wettstone. The cabin was his lodestone and his love. (Dad passed away in 2008.)
My older sister (left) and me (right) on the banks of the Paint River.