by Emily Granger of Brookfield
Every summer, my family and I take a four-hour car trip to my grandparents’ cottage in Minocqua, Wisconsin.
The long hours drag by as we anticipate the week ahead of us, daydreaming about fishing, swimming and tubing. My sister Sydney and I look forward to seeing our friend Stephanie for the first time in a year.
As the trees whiz past us, the freeway creates a monotonous four hours filled with the alphabet game and karaoke to our favorite songs that play on the radio. Books sit untouched beside us as we are too eager to sit quietly and read them.
The forest begins to thin out to make way for buildings that define a town such as grocery stores and a McDonald’s. The speed limit drops from 65 to 30 miles per hour, and we roll down our windows to get the first whiff of Up North air, which we claim is purer than any other air in the world.
The sun seemingly always shines as we make our way through the quaint town of Minocqua towards Big Arbor Vitae Lake, which we call our own. We drive past landmarks such as a gas station called The Store and a pair of converse tennis shoes hanging from the telephone wire that indicate we are nearing the cabin. At last, we pull into the Woodland Beach Resort and park next to cabin number four, our home for the next week.
On the outside, the cabin is a humble log building with a front porch made of rough wood that can easily give one a splinter in his or her foot. There are baskets of red geraniums sitting on the porch, adding a splash of color to the plastic green table and chairs. A variety of fishing poles rests up against the railing of the porch, waiting to be baited and cast into the lake off one of the five piers.
The other six cabins appear relatively the same from the outside, varying only in porch furniture and other decorations the owners have placed to make their cabin unique.
Inside the cabin, my Grandpa Rudy and Grandma Jeanne await our arrival. My grandma, a short woman with blonde hair and glasses, sits in the brown rocking recliner chair just to the left of the door in the sweatshirt of her choice, sipping diet Coke from a bottle with a straw. My grandpa, who is six foot one with a full head of gray hair, is either sitting on the leaf-patterned couch or working to make the resort flawless by raking the beach and watering the lawn.
Every year I go, I am shocked to find how few things have changed and relish in the simplicity of life in the cabin. The new brown rug and updated bathroom remain the two biggest changes in the cabin that I can remember. The stuffed muskellunge on the back wall, the two bedrooms, and the table underneath the front window with its green gingham table cloth all remain the same. Around the cabin are clever signs about cabin life and not smoking, many of which I can recite by heart.
For lunch on the first day we always have peanut butter and strawberry rhubarb jam sandwiches on white bread. The jam, which is an Up North necessity, has a distinctive sweet taste that reminds me of the cabin, even when eating it at home. Though the cabin is like a second home to me, I often spend very little time inside because of all the exciting activities taking place outside.
It is never long after reaching the cabin that Sydney and I dig through our hastily packed suitcases to find our swimsuits and run down to the lake. We disregard our orders to put on sunscreen, hoping for a nice golden tan but always ending up a little pink from the exposure.
Shivers run up our spines when we first set foot in the crystal clear, but freezing cold, water. Slowly, we wade in to our knees, disturbing schools of minnows as they race through the shallows.
Sometimes, we stop to skip rocks in the wavy water, holding a small contest to see who can get her rock closest to the white plastic raft that floats in the distance.
Eventually, we decide to be brave and dive under the water to swim to the raft. Seaweed clings to our arms and legs as we paddle out, hurrying in case a large mouth bass might decide to snack on our big toes. By the time we get onto the raft, our bodies have adjusted to the temperature of the water, making the air seem frigid even on an 80 degree day.
Sooner or later, Grandpa Rudy brings down the two tubes that are decorated with red and blue flames with names such as Gladiator and Thriller. Hooked onto the back of the boat, the tubes skim across the surface of the water, jumping every time they hit a wave. Going speeds of about 30 miles per hour and sliding from side to side as the boat turns, it is a challenge to hold on.
Occasionally, the tube will hit a wave, and I tumble into the lake, temporarily swallowed by the waves. As the life jacket brings me to the surface and I wipe the water from my eyes, I see my grandpa bringing the boat back around to pick me up, always warning not to touch to ropes to prevent getting burned. It takes most of my strength, but I manage to get back on the tube for another go.
By the time we are done, my arm muscles ache from clinging to the tube and my hair is a tangled mess from the wind whipping through it. Sydney and I quickly towel off, run up to the cabin, and grab a fishing pole with our wrinkly hands. We make our way down the first pier in hopes of catching the biggest bass of all. We pull a juicy Canadian night crawler out of the blue container and cut it in half to better keep it on the hook. Once the worm is secure, we cast our lines out as far as we can. The neon orange and yellow bobbers float in the water; the waves tease our eyes as they pull our bobbers under as if a fish is nibbling.
After several minutes of waiting eagerly, one of the bobbers sinks and we reel in a green, scaly fish. The thrill of catching a fish is like no other because there is no knowing what one will get. Sometimes, a baby bluegill will put up an enormous fight, while a 12 inch largemouth bass will come in far too easily.
Though fresh fish makes a good dinner, we always toss them back in the water and they swim on their merry way. After catching a satisfactory amount of fish, we head up to the cabin for to eat a dinner of traditional beef ravioli and prepare for a bonfire.
By now, our friend Stephanie, and her brother Brian, will have made it to their cabin from Racine. Stephanie, whom we often call Stephy, is tall and slim with strawberry blonde hair and is a dedicated long distance runner.
Brian is also tall, but definitely not built for running; to call Brian big would be an understatement. Tattoos cover his muscled arms and shoulders, always visible from the cutoff t-shirts he wears. Brian, Stephanie, Sydney and I all head down to the beach to the small fire pit to start a fire and roast marshmallows.
As the sun sets over the lake, the fire illuminates our faces with an orange glow. Sparks fly from the fire every time a log shifts or a new twig is added. Packets of jumbo marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate bars are opened and passed around. The fire pit is soon filled with marshmallows slowly rotating on long forks, everyone aiming for his or her idea of perfection.
For some, sticking the marshmallow in the direct flame and waiting for it to catch fire is sufficient. For others, such as me, roasting marshmallows is a painstaking process that requires patience to reach a perfect golden brown.
By the time everyone’s bellies are filled with s’mores, it is dark and the mosquitoes come out, looking for a midnight snack. Everyone hurriedly says goodnight, not wanting to wake up with itchy red bumps on his or her arms and legs, and returns to his or her designated cabin for the night. As I drift off to sleep, moon beams and cabin dreams wash over me as I rest up for another day of swimming, fishing and tubing.
Throughout the years, cabin number four has acted as a sort of sanctuary in the summer. My family has pictures of Sydney and me in the lake or cabin from when we were young girls. It is a place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and turn off electronics that would typically control my life.
During this one week I am outside more than the rest of the summer combined. The fresh air and lake water cleanse my system of pollutants so commonly found in Milwaukee, and I always return with a rosy glow about my skin and platinum blonde hair.
The car ride home is always quiet and melancholy as I leave behind the place containing my brightest childhood memories. Although it is always good to be home, I cannot help but miss the wind in my face while racing over the waves or the familiar tug of a fish on the end of my line. Cabin dreams of brilliant sunsets over the lake, bald eagles flying overhead, and minnows nibbling my toes dwell with me until the next four hour trip north.