July 3, 2014 | Volume 119, Issue No. 27

Back to the 'shack'

Wick's World

I reflected that the mosquito I had just swatted had an ancient ancestor from the same family of varmints that plagued me all those years I was raising my children out in the swamps of Aitkin County.

I was awaiting the food to be served at a groom’s dinner at a location just a few miles down the road from where my wife and I had built a log cabin, our first Minnesota residence. We eventually birthed three sons in that cabin with the dream that one would mimic Abe Lincoln’s life and grow up to become the second president born in a log cabin. That has yet to materialize, but what did happen is my middle son’s best friend from back in those years had returned to the area as a bride-to-be. The wedding took place on a magical piece of land that used to be owned by friends of ours.

Over 30 years ago, a shack that became our friend’s home was about the only dwelling at the place. A horse barn and a corral eventually joined several other outbuildings on this typical piece of forest where many baby-boomers had migrated. Land was cheap, population density was sparse and young couples like us began new lives as back-to-nature idiots thinking we would live off the land.

The easy laid-back life we envisioned was anything but. I found myself trying to eke out a living working with my friend who resided in that shack whom we called "The Ranger" because he worked for the DNR. He often called me when he needed a smoke-chaser or trail groomer for temporary work that paid quite well. Eventually, The Ranger spent some of that hard-earned money on imported Ponderosa pine logs and built a very tasteful, picturesque log house. That was the beginning of the magic that eventually morphed into the meditative retreat the land is today.

When The Ranger and his wife eventually moved to the Twin Cities, they sold the land to the Catholic church. A couple of nuns fulfilled their vision of a quiet set of dwellings where people could retreat for reflection, meditation or just plain old peace and quiet. A few years ago, the church sold the place to relatives of the wedding party, and that is how I found myself back at this transformed piece of magical land.

Only the helicopter humming from the hordes of mosquitoes interrupted the tranquility of the peace and quiet that surrounded me as I sat there reflecting on the makeover of this piece of land. Walking the woods led me to several individual and very unique structures that are rented out to people seeking a quiet get-away or, in our instance, to a wedding party. What made it such a wonderful place to exchange vows was the fact the dwellings could accommodate the wedding party for the entire weekend, expanding a wedding into a family vacation.

Outdoor tents were erected that gave the place the look and feel of a social gathering on the set of television’s "Downton Abbey." On the wedding day, the weather and mosquitoes could not have been more cooperative. Every time the sky built up with threatening storm clouds, they would skirt around to rain on someone else’s parade. The breezes stayed just strong enough to prevent the mosquitoes from staging an attack.

Soon the wedding was over and the real fun began. For me, that fun was visiting with old friends, especially The Ranger. He and his wife got their first tour in decades of the log house that had been their family home for many years. Although they hadn’t set foot inside the place for 27 years, a lot of memorable things were still recognizable in their old home.

For The Ranger, the biggest change that seemed to hit home was the location of the corral. Although I’m sure he was happy to see horses back on the land, he just couldn’t get over having the corral next to the house.

Later on as I thought about that, I remembered our Scandinavian ancestors used to keep their horses under the house. Often the barn would be the first building erected and then the family dwelling would be built on the second story. It was not only economical by building one structure rather than two, it also provided warmth for the upstairs and proximity to your horses.

I thought to myself, "I should have built a horse barn first and then placed my log cabin on top of it. That way, every time my kids came in the house and left the door open to fill the place with mosquitoes, I could have yelled at them, 'What! Were you born in a barn?'”

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