nights and a visit with my mom reminded me of the time we took a family
vacation in September. It was the first year we weren’t confined to the
usual time slot between school years. It was also different because we
didn’t go to visit relatives. Instead we spent a week at an
out-of-the-way spot where we’d never been before: a cabin by a
small lake in northern Wisconsin. It was a year when fall came twice, and
we weren’t quite prepared the first time.
knew only a little — a relative of a relative — had offered to let us
use the property. She sent us a thick envelope with directions, other
information and a key.
a time for the trip; packed up clothes, food and my brother's computer;
mounted two bicycles on the back of the car; and headed north from
Illinois, where the air and the calendar still said late summer.
It was a
long drive, and daylight was almost past by the time we got near our
destination. The directions included something about a certain fork in the
road, and after seeing several possibilities like that, we weren't sure
which was the right one. I don't remember if we had to backtrack, but when
we reached the property on Bass Lake, it was dark, and I think even Dad,
with his rural background, wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into.
The area was
populated more with trees than people. There were just a few other places
to stay next to the small lake, and not all were occupied. Utility lines
along the gravel roads were the connection to the rest of society.
our "cabin" had most of the comforts of home, including
electricity and plumbing. We may have had to turn on a few switches first,
and the furniture and kitchen utensils were probably someone’s second
best, but we weren't really roughing it. When the power went off once, I
was a little concerned, but the outage didn't last long.
One of our
main challenges was keeping warm. Indoors there was a fireplace, but the
first time we started a fire, the smoke went out into the room instead of
leaving the chimney, even with the damper open. The trouble turned out to
be that the chimney was covered. We had to remove a rock from the top, and
that required a ladder. Out into the dark we went to find the ladder under
was under there, too. Dad wasn't a normally a fisherman, but he’d bought
a license and a bucket of bait, and he went out on the lake whenever he
When it came
to cutting wood, he'd had plenty of experience, so he was right at home
with sawing up the white birch that had fallen in the back yard.
light wraps, but it felt colder than that. Wearing two shirts helped, and
since Dad always kept the car trunk supplied for many eventualities, he
came up with extra jackets to share and additional layers of clothes, such
as whatever he'd wear to crawl under the car and work on something.
enjoying the peaceful setting, we ventured out to visit a paper factory, a
small cheese factory, a retired couple who had formerly lived in central
Illinois and an almost-deserted state park near Lake Superior.
We had to
keep our eyes open for the fall colors we saw, especially with several
overcast and rainy days, but we had an early preview, and I brought back a
small reddish leaf to help me remember for years to come.
I also remember that if you're
going north in the fall, you should be sure to take extra clothes for
warmth. And if you want to remember the fires of September instead of the
smoke, you need to remove any extra rocks up above.