There is something strange and beautiful about our pocket of northern Minnesota. It is majestic and mystical and as close to Mother Nature as you can get. But it is also harsh and unforgiving, pounding it’s people with snow from October to April and boasting the coldest temperature ever recorded east of the Mississippi (-60F in Tower, Minnesota).
They don’t complain. They don’t whine “Why do we live here?!” and “God, I need a vacation!” like we do in The Cities. Instead, they keep their hooded heads down and plod methodically forward in their Sorels, taking it on the chin and adding another layer.
The Finns say “There is no bad weather. Just bad clothing.” They say this to shame you and your obvious weakness. They say it quietly, with stern faces, as a challenge to anyone who foolishly thinks they can be as stalwart as a Finn.
But with the darkness of winter can also come a temporary darkness of the soul, prone to desperation and lapses in judgement. Every hamlet has its drunk, its misfit, its unsolved crime, its hidden stories buried beneath years of shushing and exchanged glances.
It’s probably not lost on you that the stories that I share seem to be from a different time. NOT winter time. A much warmer time. And the truth is that these stories are love letters to the cabin I haven’t seen since October. That’s when winter loomed and part-timers like us locked up and left town.
Our short but eventful first summer produced so many words that I’ve been able to fill an entire winter with stories of summertime and I’m not even close to being done; most of those words will never make it to Cabin Crush as spring will be here soon and new story making will begin again.
Closing her for winter for the first time was sad. And awkward. Like the last day of camp when you have to say goodbye to your crush — you haven’t known each other long enough to cry and carry on but you still feel like shit, looking in the rearview mirror for one last glimpse before he’s gone forever.
We don’t know how to do this, close our little cabin, so the Finnish Carpenter shares some local wisdom on how to keep her safe until spring comes.
I don’t like how this conversation makes me feel; the joy and light of summer slips away in this conversation, replaced by the darkened souls that emerge in winter.
“Take everything with you,” he says. “Don’t leave nothin’ valuable. And you’ll need to get some curtains in here.Then leave your doors unlocked. That way they just walk in and rifle around but there’s nothin’ to take. And they won’t break doors or windows to get in.
I wouldn’t leave like guns laying in here. You don’t want to leave like your computers out or nothin’.”
He looks around, sees our 90’s era TV thing, the one whose depth rivals that of a canoe….
“They won’t take that. They’d come in here and say “Damn, these people are poor.”
Which actually makes me a little bit proud.
But still, I am bummed out by the notion that someone would violate my little cabin. My face must look surprised because he reinforces the point: “There are some shady characters around here” he says nodding his head like “don’t fool yourself, lady.”
“I know this one guy” he says. “Someone stole his daughter’s snowmobile. She got it for Christmas. And the guy crashed it. Luckily, my buddy’s neighbor just got a new surveillance camera and captured the whole thing on video. Including the crash. They caught him but they can’t do nothin’.
Cuz it’s on the rez.
My snowmobile is in the lake…..that’s St. Louis County.” At first, I don’t know what he means by this, except that it’s not the rez. Then I remember that the Finnish Carpenter lives on an island. I ask him if he’s read “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich, a book that explores the complications of tribal law. He hasn’t. He knows a lot of people, though. Like everybody. So he can usually get things taken care of.
“If that happened in Embarrass, they woulda tracked that guy down and thrown him in the bog. He never woulda been found.”
Apparently, the bog is like a north woods graveyard, full of shady characters who meet with the ultimate retribution.
“It’s like the Iron Range mob,” I say, joking. But he looks at me, with an intensity that makes me a little uncomfortable, and nods. “Yah.”
Following that ominous warning, I see a man with a fu manchu and a gray ponytail, someone I’ve never seen before, get out of a truck and walk toward the cabin. For a minute, I think I’ve been set up….and this will end like a scene from Fargo. Like maybe the Finnish Carpenter is secretly one of the shady characters and his north woods flunky is arriving at the last minute with his woodchipper. Or maybe they don’t need a woodchipper because of the bog. It’s the perfect crime.
“Oh that’s Jon.” The Finnish Carpenter sees me looking out the window.
Jon appears in my door and stands there silently. After an awkward moment he hesitantly extends his hand and says “I’m Jon.”
I shake his hand and say “I’m Kristin.” Then I turn away from him in order to gesture toward Mike. “And this is my husband, Mike. Come on in.” Inviting the perp into the scene of the crime, I think.
“Jon don’t hear too good,” the Finnish Carpenter says. “You gotta look right at him when you talk. Jon helps me out with stuff.” Jon is still standing in the doorway, silently.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” I say. Then I turn toward him and repeat the introduction. Jon nods, not moving from his spot in the doorway.
Then the Finnish Carpenter grabs some tools and kneels at the foot of the door, preparing to do some work on the doorknob. He touches Jon on the arm and says, “Can you hold this door for me?”
Jon grabs the door firmly and smiles. “Yah, I do stuff like hold doors.”
“Me, too,” I say, making sure to look him in the face.
That’s when I know that the Finnish Carpenter is helping Jon as much as Jon is helping the Finnish Carpenter.
And I stop worrying about the woodchipper.
That was a long time ago and winter is finally waning. We can start counting in weeks, instead of months, when we will see our little cabin again. And the good news is that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. You never know if a long-distance relationship is a good idea – you could lose interest in her while you’re away, you could obsess about what you can’t see and can’t know, or you could do the math once you’re free of her grip and realize that the costs far outweigh the rewards.
But we’ve been loyal. We work on the relationship by telling stories, making plans, and (don’t tell Mike) buying things all winter long that will make her happier and prettier and ever more comfortable. And when we finally drive up that muddy driveway and see her standing there, untouched by the darkness of winter and its shady characters, it will be like she’s been waiting for us the whole time.