It was nice to spend three days earlier this week up at the family shack with Mom and Dad. This is a photo of me inside the shack during a cold snap last winter. Autumn is the perfect time to visit the Northwoods of Wisconsin with the turning leaves, cool weather and lack of bugs.
Here’s the poem I wrote during the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday…
Up at the Shack
I snuggle under my childhood quilt on the top bunk in the family shack.
The night candle casts jerky sheets of light on the stud rafters above my head.
Below me, Momma and Papa bear hum in their sleep.
The rain peppers the roof with the sound of memories.
I was ten when Dad built the shack on the wild 40.
Life is simple here.
I have only a hook to hang my few things.
We pour pump water into an enameled washbasin
that drains into an old logging-camp ditch.
The sandy water tastes of the Northwoods, of mineral, of well pipes,
of camping trips to the lake with the pop-up camper.
There are no frills in the one-room structure of the shack.
The floor is covered in paneling with a gently rolling warp and broom-worn surface.
The exposed rafters, tie beam, and ceiling joists create a rustic high ceilingless expanse
that makes the 12 x 20 foot room feel not small.
Furniture is sturdy and utilitarian:
a barrel wood-stove,
kitchen counter and shelves covered in contact paper,
bunk beds with birch branch railings,
and a table with bentwood chairs.
Even the bear proof door is handmade of side-by-side 2x4s.
The walls are infused with the mingled smells of wood smoke, composting leaves,
and the oily, pickled smell of kerosene.
Dad says, “It isn’t dark at the shack, it’s black.”
The only ambient light is the near full moon
that peeps through an opening in the trees above the fire pit
burning a single spot of moonlight into the thick black.
The raindrops seem to disperse the black grain-by-grain, now, as morning warms.
The vertical length of the trees begin to appear
and soon too their wet, green feathers.
The swamp owl and moon-worshiping coyotes are quiet,
replaced by squirrels stashing wild hazelnuts
and chatty birds that flit between wobbling poplar branches.
There is something so spiritual about slipping into the traffic of nature here at the shack.
Living under nature’s rules and syncing with the cycles of light, weather, and animal lives
where the bear scratches his back on the porch,
where deer press trails through the yard,
where the porcupine chews on the rubber sink-drain hose,
where substantial spiders with their long, ticked legs take over the outhouse,
where the eerie yipps and soulful howls of timber wolves
call forth an ancient fear that prickles the small hairs on your neck,
where you feel temporary among the trees and creatures who were here before you
and will be here long after you and your plywood cabin have rotted back into earth.
We are disadvantaged here with our hairless, shivering bodies,
and ego needs for safety, love, and clean washed bodies.
But, with time to listen to the rain and stare at the swaying trees,we can contemplate,
can get quiet,
and discover our part in this milieu.
We are the predator-gatherer keepers of balance.
We are one with the flow here at the shack.
The night candle has burned out now
and only the blue, rainy morning light climbs into the shack rafters.
Time to go back to the lazy slumber of rain
until the sun rouses us and the other animals to our daily activities.