“ YOUR CABIN IN THE WOODS”
Watercolor by Kris Parins
In 1945, Conrad Meinecke published a book entitled “Your Cabin In the Woods”. Somehow I happened to find a copy soon after it was written. It was full of drawings, presumably by the author, illustrating floor plans and construction details, and it related the author’s experiences over many years as he built a number of cabins in remote spots around the country. Most of all, it expressed the man’s philosophy, how he found peace in nature and solitude in a rustic retreat. The book added to my dreams and influenced my future.
Earlier chapters of this blog have told the story of Bathiany’s cabin and how it affected my boyhood years. When I was a teen-ager in high school, I began to day-dream about having my own cabin in the woods one day. Then, having graduated from college, I enlisted in the US Navy, and during many days and nights at sea my cabin dream never ended.
To my surprise, Navy life appealed to me a lot. I rose in rank to LTJG and when my tour came to an end, I was offered a full Lieutenant’s commission if I re-enlisted. It was a very tempting offer: an honorable career with the possibility of promotions, an early retirement with great pension and benefits. As I reflected on the kind of life I would lead in the Navy, one obstacle would not go away. My cabin dream would have to be put on hold until I retired 25 years later!
And so I left the service and made a career in civilian life. The year was 1957, and by Autumn of that year I had purchased the first acreage on Kinniconick. I was 26, unmarried, with about three thousand dollars in the bank. The economics of those times were different than they are today. In the next twenty years, my total investment in land and buildings at ShaboMekaw was less than $10,000. Sixty acres of woods fronting on a beautiful stream averaged about $75 per acre. I put about $4,000 into the cabin. Of course those numbers are no longer relevant because of inflation and population growth and land development, but if you are out of college and have a good job you might consider investing in a similar adventure. I’m assuming that you are intrigued by the entire concept of cabin life.
For me, a cabin represents the longing that some of us feel for a simple life. A cabin can take you back in time, to a place that is closer to the natural world, but it must be hidden among trees, it must be far from the sounds of civilization, it must be lit by lamplight and warmed by a roaring, fireplace-fire. In a cabin, your senses come alive in ways you’ve never imagined: absolute silence, or wind in the trees, a hundred birdsongs, the music of flowing water, rain on the roof. The golden glow of kerosene lamps on ceiling beams. The smell of your cabin when you approach the door, pine and cedar, spruce and fir. Cabin odors will permeate all of your possessions. Walk in the woods or wade in the creek and then return to a rustic shelter. Cook over an open fire and sip wine with family or friends. Sight and sound and smell, all of those senses will be truly awakened in you, perhaps for the first time.
Search for a piece of land as far away from towns and development as possible. You will pay far less per acre for land that is not prime agricultural or close to the suburbs. You can realize your dream by purchasing just five or ten acres if well situated. When I discovered my place in 1957 I bought fifteen acres, then added 45 more a couple of years later. Pitch a tent for a year or two and then build a small place that can be enlarged or may become an outbuilding. In my first year at ShaboMekaw, realizing that I needed a place to store tools and to sleep-over (the place was 100 miles from home) I built an 8’ x 12’ shed. We called it “the Shack”. With help from my Dad and Brother-in-law, we erected the place on several weekends. Much of the material was donated by friends: wooden skids and skid-lids came from printing and bindery acquaintances. Two used, old windows and a door came from Dad’s employer, the Early & Daniel Company. Jim Geers, my sister’s husband, was a power house and the two of us hauled sandstone slabs from the creek to form the foundation.
Because of the distance from home to my cabin site, and because I was into a new job that kept me close to work, I elected to have a cabin built by a company in Bellaire, Michigan. Pre-cut white cedar and spruce was delivered to the site with two carpenters and in one week the place was under roof. The fireplace and chimney, foundation and sub-floor were all previously completed. Believe it or not, the cabin package including labor and delivery was $2,500 in those days, for a 16’ x 40’ building! Interior finishing came later and I had the help of relatives and friends. If you can work on a place closer to home and have a helper or two, it’s possible for you to build a cabin of modest size from the ground up.
Some folks dream of a cabin in the woods but never find the perfect place. Others think that they should wait and do it when they retire. I agree with the advice of an old Roman scholar:
“Carpe Diem! Seize the Day for Time is Running Away”.