Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter Camping

I have some really magical memories from my childhood, and a great number of them take place outside, surrounded by God's magnificent creation. Some took place in the magical "fairy swamp" behind my parents' house, some were in the tee-pee meadow or the wildflower meadow back in my parents woods, some were deep in the woods of my family's hunting land, some in the expansive old and desserted farm fields across the road from our house, and some were in this beautiful place...  
For nearly as long as I can remember, my family has been involved in this "camp", which consists of this one room rustic cabin and just a handful of primitive camping sites up in the bluffs overlooking the backwaters of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. The cabin has a long and interesting history and is surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped woodlands.  It is mostly used by boy scout troops these days, and some association members. 
My memories of packing way more than a person could possibly ever use in a one-room cabin with no running water and no electricity and then hauling it down the one-mile walking tail to "camp" and then having to haul it all back up again are as vivid today as they were back then. At some point, I must have finally realized that I didn't need all of that stuff and I now pack much, much lighter.  :)  I wonder how many times my Dad tried to tell me that?   (grin)
(Cliff, and Gavin follow closely behind my nephew JM. What you see is what we hauled down to the cabin for the weekend. That includes our food, clothes, entertainment, sleeping pads, sleeping bags & pillows)
We usually spent the weekend between Christmas and New Year's there and I remember when there were so many of us there that the floor in the loft was covered wall to wall in sleeping bags without an inch of floorboard showing. If there was too much snow to sled down the hill on top of our gear-filled sleds, the hike in was exhausting. If there wasn't enough snow to slide down the hill on top of our gear-filled sleds, the hike down the hill was disappointing, and if there was just the right amount of snow to fly down the deer trail to camp, the ride down, perched atop our gear-filled sleds was treacherous. The deer trail is steep, winding, and on the very edge of the hill-side, so steering a top-heavy sled down it was a challenge. I only broke my ankle on a tree once in all those years, as I stuck my foot out to stop myself from careening over the edge. Many sleds were destroyed as they hit trees or rocks shortly after their riders bailed off into the softer snow.
As exciting and adventurous as that trip down the hill to camp was, it was also just as amazingly peaceful. If you stopped sledding (or hiking) and just stood still for a moment, you could hear... absolutely nothing. If you came down the steeper, but shorter deer trail, you could see the cabin as you rounded the curve of the hillside, about 3/4 of the way there. At night the only way the cabin was visible was if someone else was already there and had lit a lantern that you could see through the few small, old windows.   

If there was too much snow or ice for the deer trail, then we took the longer, but more gradually decending old logging trail. We always knew we were getting close to the cabin when the woods on either side of the trail became a little more dense and the deciduous trees gave way to the evergreens. The view of those evergreens as we came around the bend was especially beautiful on a snowy night!  This is where I would usually lie back in my sled or in the snow and just look up at the night sky and listen to the silence. This is where I thanked God for the amazing beauty of these woods and the family I got to enjoy them with. 

If we were the first down to the cabin and there were no lanterns burning, then the sound of the fresh springwater trickling out of the side of the hills was the first clue in the dark that we were nearing the cabin.

The first two things on the to-do list when we arrived were to get a fire going in the wood stove and go gather water from the springs. When I was a kid, my Dad or older brothers would get the fire going while my sisters and I filled the water jugs. Now we send the kids to fill the water jugs while we get the fire going. After the fire was hot, we'd have hot chocolate and play cards or spoons for a bit before heading to bed. Morning was always the start of a great adventure and the (lack of) sleep we got overnight never prepared us very well for our great adventures. Whether splitting and stacking wood, hiking or snowshoeing, sledding, or just enjoying the woods, we knew we'd be using a lot of energy!
(Cliff at the cabin's back door this winter)
(icicles hanging off the cabin roof)

The first priority in the morning is making coffee - old style. We were going to need it! 

My nephew and his friend heading up the hill for some sledding this winter.

My snowshoes having a little rest after a big workout!

The kids that went with us this year.

Gavin and I goofing around after some sledding! 

Me and my honey enjoying another year at this magical place we've been coming to together for almost 20 years - and I've been coming to with my family for probably at least 10 years before that! He proposed to me here thirteen years ago and that just made it even more special to me than it already was!
'til next year!  


Alyson McMahon said...

What a special place! It's crazy to even think of camping in the winter, here in WI. It's sooo cold! Such a great adventure though, I'm sure.

Kristin said...

Oh, I miss that. But I don't miss sleeping on the floor:) I'm so glad the nieces and nephews enjoy going so there can be another generation to enjoy it.