Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Counting blessings


I am truly blessed this holiday season: I’ll be passing it in a cabin in the woods.



It’s a solid and simple cabin in the lovely Northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The cabin sits on a lake shore ringed with bone-white birch and droopy hemlock and winter-bare maple. In the summer, loons hatch and raise their young along the far shore, visible from the cabin’s deck. And I’ve heard wolves while sitting in a canoe at dusk in the middle of lake. In the winter, we ski tour the silent and stately snow-heavy woods. Sometimes, I pull lake trout for dinner out of ice-fishing holes in front of the cabin.

The cabin itself is respectful of the place that holds it, built with a small imprint on the landscape, and cradled by forest right to the edges of its hand-hewn log walls. Inside, it is humble but comfortable, well-built and functional, spare but able to hold the extended and expanding family that goes there to enjoy its space. It is a place where quiet rules and the only entertainment is what you make for yourself, or find by going out of the cabin’s doors.

The timeless days at the cabin are a welcome contrast to our workaday hours, and the spell this place casts is a magic we can bring back home to inject into our everyday lives.

And those characteristics of this place are not an accident. They are deliberate, planned and nurtured to last.

Not that I had anything to do with it. I merely married into it. The cabin, instead, is the product of the forethought, planning and long-range visioning of my wife’s parents and family. They did not invest in the cabin with an eye toward some snappy financial return; rather, they envisioned long-term rewards for the ever-expanding and dispersing family and friends who would gather there. More than three decades ago, they wanted to assure them all — even those still unseen in the future — a place to reconnect with each other, with the out of doors, and with their own selves.

I didn’t build it, but still, in 25 years of personal pilgrimages to the cabin, I have claimed this powerful place as my own. Which means both sharing in its pleasures and serving in its upkeep and oversight. And so, too, my wife and I teach our kids, who’ve grown up with this blessing in their lives by birthright, to appreciate and take care of it, so they, too, will have the cabin when they want and need it, to regenerate and re-enervate and reconnect with the family that congregates there — because they have a “there” where they can congregate.

And also to be sure their own kids — still way in the future — will have those blessings, too.

When the holidays are over, we’ll come home, back to our workaday lives. Which are also blessing-rich, I know … but, still, it’s the nature of the busyness of daily business to entrench and erode and wear our spirits down. Then, once again, we’ll need a place where we find that magic to bring home again.

Then I’ll remember that I don’t own a cabin. And, to tell the truth, I don’t want to own a cabin. Which is probably a good thing, since I can’t and don’t ever foresee myself being able to afford a cabin.

That’s why the best blessing of all is this: Where I live, I don’t need a cabin.

That’s because here in the American West each of us owns a cabin in the woods. In lots of beautiful places, in fact. We call them public lands: national forests, national parks and monuments, national wildlife refuges, BLM lands, Wild & Scenic rivers, national recreation areas … .

These are landscapes belonging to all of us on which we can raise each of our cabins — in the West, they tend to be tents, tarps, rafts, canoes, cars, vans, trailers, the caps on pickup trucks, pick-up campers and such — and where we can go to regenerate and re-enervate our spirits and our bodies, and reconnect with the land, our family and friends, and with ourselves.

Those blessings of public land in the West were of none of our making — they were established more than a century ago as our birthright as Americans, passed to us from those with vision of a future yet unseen. But they are ours none the less, to both enjoy and maintain.

And it is up to us to keep and protect those public lands for our kids, and for their kids, who’ll need those blessings even more than we do.

Read this column in the Durango Telegraph.
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