Opening day comes just once a year — usually a cold, rainy day in May. It’s a holiday for people like us; not just the beginning of summer but also like visiting a friend you haven’t seen for a really long time. You can’t wait to see her. And you wonder what she looks like. Does she look the same? Did she change her hair over the winter? You just don’t know because The North is deserted in winter and there’s no one to tell you what she’s been doing.
This is both surreal and stressful. This cabin exists on its own in the eight months between September and May. Animal families, squatters or fugitives could’ve found an open door and moved in, living there comfortably and playing gin with the cards they found in the drawer. Storms could’ve felled trees or damaged windows. Nature could’ve rearranged the landscape in that way that she does. All of this could’ve been happening while we obliviously went to work and drove the kid and made dinner and watched Netflix just four hours to the south. How would we know? We might as well be on another planet.
As we drive north, we go backwards in time through temperatures you thought you had left behind in March. Sometimes it’s the fishing opener. Sometimes it’s Mother’s Day. But never is it warm. I dig out sweatshirts and sweaters that are too ugly to wear in civilization — and I wear them all at once, layered one on top of the other, because the mindset of May made me forget to pack a jacket.
When we arrive, it is both surprising and comforting. She is still here. She did not burn down. There is just one small tree fallen across the driveway, easily cleared by hand. And there are things growing and blooming that I swear I have never seen before. It’s like she continued to live even though no one was here to witness it.
Here is the very mundane story, in pictures, of getting acquainted with the cabin we last saw in September of 2016:
As we drive up the long-ass driveway for the first time, I look in the woods and I see this little house. “What’s that?” I ask Mike.
“It’s an outhouse,” he says.
“Are you serious?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says.
“Is it ours?!” I ask.
“No,” he says.
And I’m kind of bummed. Not that I want an outhouse — I’m more of an inside toilet girl — but it would be kind of fun to discover an abandoned outhouse that was once used by the ghosts of your cabin. How is it that it took me three years to notice the ghost outhouse? All I can figure out is that the leaves of the trees have rendered it invisible in the past; but this year, I caught them unawares.
Further up the driveway, I also see a colony of yellow flowers, a whole carpet of them, winding in and around the birch trees. This is sort of like when your kindergartner comes home and uses a new, impressive word. It’s exciting but also unsettling. “Where did you hear that? I never taught you that!” But you forget that there are things happening even when you’re not around. How can these flowers exist in this space without my knowledge? I didn’t plant them — how did they get here? How does the world revolve without me?
We find Liam’s rowboat in place against the cabin, undisturbed by winter. Last year, we found it tipped over and full of a winter’s worth of melted snow. We (and by “we,” I mean “Mike”) take the canoe out of the crawl space and put it back in its summer spot.
When Mike goes to open the crawl space, he finds it open. Not just unlocked — but open. The padlock is taken off and the door is ajar. For how long, we have no idea. Could it have stood open all winter? If Mike left it open by accident, then the answer is yes. Or is it the fugitives, looking for buried treasure and life jackets? These are both very real possibilities. Either way, nothing is missing. So — you know what happens when your crawl space is open all winter? Nothing.
Inside the cabin, there is no bat poop. I repeat: THERE IS NO BAT POOP. This means we won. The bats have moved out permanently and found a more hospitable neighborhood. After checking for bat poop, I light a citrus-scented candle and spray copious amounts of Juniper Ridge Cabin Spray. Cabin spray — this is a real thing. Apparently, I am not the only one who can’t sit down when it smells like funk. Juniper Ridge Cabin Spray still smells like cabin but more like clean cabin. I love it. Liam holds his nose but that just makes me spray more.
I check on the groundcovers I planted last summer and they all came back, bright and limey and ready to choke out the weeds. I find what I think is deer poop down by the fire pit but Mike informs me that it’s actually moose poop. When a moose poops by your fire pit, you know you are in the real North. I almost feel privileged that he chose our fire pit to desecrate.
I go for a walk to see if anything has changed. I find this cabin that I don’t think I’ve seen before. I must have walked by it dozens of times. But it doesn’t speak very loudly; it looks like it could’ve been sitting there, unused, unvisited, for decades. This happens sometimes. Families grow and move away but no one wants to sell. So they just keep it and not go. And it just waits, patiently, while its paint slowly peels.
I pass my favorite outhouse, sitting at the top of handmade stone stairs.
The floating sauna is pulled out of the lake, waiting for repairs. Someday, I will make friends with these people so I can use their floating sauna.
Walking further, I see an unsightly septic tank and it reminds me of the difficulty of living so far from town. We have no city sewer system. We are responsible for the disposal of our own excrement. Some people have outhouses and some people have septic tanks. With a septic tank, there’s more talk about poop and toilet paper in your daily conversation than there would be at home. Bat poop, moose poop, people poop — these are all acceptable conversations at the cabin.
I cut through the fishing resort; some boats are in the water. Some look like they, too, are waiting for someone to arrive and give them a purpose again.
I take a photo of this boat because of the paddle; a paddle makes everything more picturesque.
I find the remains of a crawfish down by the water.
We play cards and Monopoly. And in the Monopoly game, I find this handwritten replacement for Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s not my writing. It’s not Mike’s writing. It’s not grandma’s writing. We go through the list of everyone who has ever played that game of Monopoly. Not one of them matches the writing of the handmade deed. Where did this come from? What happened to the deed for Pennsylvania Avenue? And all I can figure out is that fugitives really did live in our cabin over the winter, and they played Monopoly, and they accidentally misplaced Pennsylvania Avenue. But they were good fugitives because they were conscientious enough to make us a new one.
Before I go, I take a video of the waves lapping at the rocks on the beach. I must have a hundred videos like this from shores all over the world. But it never it gets old.
And I’m always trying to take it home with me.