Outdoors North: An old cabin in the snow-bound wilderness


“Living in a bubble, in and out of time, I stick my head out every once in a while,” – Gary Louris

With an understated thud, the storm door shut behind me.

What it closed off with its glass and aluminum structure was the warmth and glow of our comfortable, suburban home at the edge of the woods.

What it opened-up simultaneously was a cold, still and sparkling snow-covered landscape in front of me. Ice-blue, crystalline and true.

Thank you, storm door – so underrated, misunderstood and underappreciated.

I try to maintain a healthy, utilitarian respect for storm doors.

I don’t slam them or kick them.

I also don’t grab them by the handle and try to pull them off their hinges.

I keep the screens and windows in working order, and I keep the screws tight to let these doors hang the way they should, not misaligned or off-kilter.

I wish I could say the same for myself sometimes.

Without the doors of the house, unless I climbed or jumped out one of the windows, I’d be inside the familiar confines of my overblown American existence, left only to view the outside world from inside.

I’d be like a boy in a bubble, a child’s curiosity stuck behind the plexiglass walls of an ant farm or like a frog inside a glass terrarium, fed crickets to survive.

In a word, I’d be trapped.

No matter how gilded the palace, if it doesn’t have a front or back door, it’s not a home at all. It’s the going that makes the coming home worthwhile.

So, I try to get outside to do at least something every day. Even if it’s just to take the garbage out, shovel the front steps or check the mailbox.

For me, the getting outside is so important to my psychological health, it’s like eating. I need to do at a least a little bit of both every day.

The outside experience doesn’t have to include much activity to be beneficial.

I can slip past my storm door friend to get outside and just stand there.

There is so much to see, hear and otherwise experience within even just a couple of minutes. Day or night, it is always worth it to me.

In those quick little vacations that I’ve taken outside, I’ve seen shooting stars, northern lights and tremendous lightning strikes.

I’ve smelled the heady fragrance of lilacs blooming or wood smoke from a neighbor’s chimney and heard the haunting calls of loons, owls and wolves.

I’ve tasted falling snowflakes and felt the warmth of summer breezes and the chill of February mornings.

And there’s another sense I experience getting outside, even for only a moment or so.

It’s the sensation of feeling my whole body, spirit and mind exhaling.

There is a great and immediate realization of relief, a letting go of stresses and complaints. Taking in a deep breath, I feel an instantaneous burst of energy.

All these benefits and more can be found with just 60 seconds outside.

There are even greater things to find the longer I immerse myself.

Dip a piece of cloth in a beautiful indigo dye for a minute or two and the color imbues the cloth to a limited extent. Let the cloth soak the dye in over a period of hours and the results are much more stunning and satisfying.

I think I am like an old piece of blue-jeaned cotton cloth ready to be dipped and re-dipped in indigo dye for a good, long time.

Stand me out in a hot, orange field. Let me hear the crows call and the bugs buzz and feel the sunshine and the green plants between my toes.

Send down the snow and the rain, I’ll still be out there. Let me breathe that same fresh air the animals of the woodlands are breathing.

I want to eat those wild and fresh berries hanging from the vines.

Let me smell the sticky resin from a balsam fir blister. I want to build a campfire in the snow and usher in the holidays from some distant location that has no address, no number or name.

I don’t need to do a thing more than to sit there.

I just want to be out there – where the real story is being spoken to the skies by the rivers and creeks or the whispered by the rocks.

I want to feel the silence pulse through me and fall asleep with the world tipping this way and that beneath me. Overhead, the heavens in all their glory would cover me with sprinkled stardust.

I understand the importance of companionship and human interaction, but time spent alone is important and beneficial too.

These times allow a person to hear themselves think and to look within themselves, listening for the inner monologue of compassion, love and hope.

The solitary sandpiper understands what I mean.

It’s beautiful to hear the wind rushing through the green and leafy trees of summertime. But it’s more profound to hear the quiet during wintertime when there are no leaves on the trees to rustle.

When the wind blows during the “dead” time of year, you are more able to focus on its character, it’s voice and whether it is whispering, howling or singing through wires, gates or old creaking barn doors.

The wind in the trees during winter can produce the interesting sounds of frozen branches clacking together or it can bend trees over enough to hear the heaving and sighing of the oldest of the trees.

Bent and sore in their advanced stage of life, they gasp and exhale in long breaths as the winds test their strength.

A dreaded ice storm can take down countless tree limbs in spontaneous crashing noises and the loud rushing sound I’ve heard when a significant portion of a tree collapses to the snow-covered ground below.

During these chaotic and destructive events, the oldest trees are often the most susceptible to being dealt a death blow at the crippling hands of an ice storm.

I’ve seen tall tree trunks, with barely any live branches left, list from side to side and then topple into the other trees standing nearby, like a lone bowling pin that teeters and falls, knocking down one or two others as it drops.

At one of our old cemeteries, the caretakers recently removed every standing tree and the wrought-iron fencing from alongside the county road.

Consequently, the character of the place has changed significantly. For me, it seems like an intrinsic protection and sanctity of the site has been compromised.

Plus, now it makes it easier for the ghosts to get in and out. They don’t have to float around to the front gate anymore to jimmy the lock.

Old cemeteries are another place of peace, introspection and understanding I feel are best experienced alone. With cold granite, hard realities and no place for the truth to hide, cemeteries are not the place I want to find myself chatting frivolously with anyone.

I spoke to someone recently who just got back from a trip to Copenhagen. She said the hardest thing she had to confront coming home to America was getting used to the city noises everywhere.

She said in Copenhagen, people either ride bicycles or drive electric cars, which produces an unexpected and curious relative silence along city streets, even though cars and bikes are continuously passing by.

That does sound strange. Even though I love the quiet, I also love the sound of a train whistle – up close or from a distance, it doesn’t matter. It’s a sound that got into my blood probably sometime before I was even born.

I saw a Christmas commercial on television last night where comedian-actress Catherine O’Hara sees a snow globe and says she wishes she could live inside it.

I can understand the sentiment, especially during this holiday season, but I think I’d pass on the opportunity.

It probably wouldn’t really be quiet, even though it seems like it would be. You could likely still hear people talking from outside, sounding like they were underwater.

Then I’d be trapped in a glass ball with St. Nick, nutcrackers and gnomes.

Once in a while some kid would come up and shake the globe and it would be like big chunks of dust or feathers floating all over the place.

I know I’d much prefer a cabin in a snow-bound wilderness with a pair of snowshoes an old guitar and a fully stocked pantry and library.

I can picture myself now, stomping the snow off my boots before stepping inside. Then, after dropping my gear, I’d turn around and gently pull the storm door on the cabin toward me until I heard the metal latch click.

I’d close the inside door and take a deep breath, ready to explore this new interior world, small, warm and inviting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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