Solon Springs, Wisconsin: Days 1-4
For the entirety of my lifetime, and before that even (if you can imagine), my father’s family has owned a cabin on Lake St. Croix in northwestern Wisconsin. It is the Coda family cabin now, but I learned on this trip that it had originally been the Nadolski cabin, belonging to my grandmother’s family. The original family cabin had been on Wisconsin Point, but was lost to eminent domain when the railroad came through. Over the years, my grandparents bought out the rest of my grandmother’s family, and it has been ours since.
This was the original cabin I remember best, growing up. My dad dug out the picture when were were all up there a couple weeks ago to celebrate his 60th birthday.
The center part of the cabin held a living room, a small kitchen, and a tinier bathroom, and the rest of the building was screened porch on all sides, with a pair of porch swings in the front section. The floors in the place rolled like waves thanks to yearly flooding and drying. Along the left side, as you look at this picture, were benches and tables at which generations of our family sat down to dinner together; on the right-hand side were a series of brass beds separated by curtains or sheets where our family would sleep the nights we slept over. I don’t actually remember ever sleeping in one of those beds; they were for the grownups. I don’t remember now where we slept. It’s been so long.
I do remember waking up early mornings, and quietly sneaking into the kitchen with my cousins to grab a Styrofoam cup, and then very carefully slipping out the screen door so as not to squeak it enough to wake up the adults. We’d hike up our nighties and wade into the smooth early morning water to catch minnows in our cups. What we did with our prizes, I don’t remember either. I’d like to think that we set them free in due time, but I imagine a few of them perished in their Styrofoam prisons. Several little girls, happily unattended, playing in the lake…I don’t think that would ever happen today. I saw a mother walking up the street, her two kids wearing life preservers, and I commented to Scott how that mom was very, very serious about water safety. They were a block away from the lake, and they were wearing life preservers. Sometimes, I think kids today are just a little too safe. Or rather, they are protected too much and of them is expected too little. We knew how to swim, and we knew not to mess around; all of us lived to adulthood. Take from that what you will.
Lake people know that the “front” yard is on the lake, and the back of the house faces the street. This backyard is still swampy, although not quite as bad as it is in this old photo, despite my uncle’s efforts each year to fill in the land. The swamp just retakes it, year after year. Many of the trees above are long gone, and others have long since replaced them. A few of them went down fighting, one taking out my parents’ Cadillac one summer. Another came down right on top of our pop-up camper parked outside, just moments after I’d walked out of it and headed back into the cabin when the tornado sirens went off. If I’d delayed 2 more minutes, the top of the camper wouldn’t have been the only thing bashed in.
Sometime in the late ‘80s, the old cabin was torn down and a new one built in its place. It was sturdy, and fresh, and had a shower, and cool bunk beds and a room just for my grandma, but I never loved it like that old, rundown green one where I swam all day with my cousins, and listened to my grandmother and great-aunties play cards all evening. In an ancient cabinet in the dark living room in the middle of the house was a cigar box filled with tiny plastic cowboys and Indians and their respective horses. I used to mount the cowboys and Indians on their steeds and then put the horses all along the edge of the cigar box, because they fit just so. If I could’ve kept anything from that old cabin, that cigar box would’ve been it. I was digging through an old icebox in the porch this trip, and found an old cigar box. I thought I’d struck nostalgic gold, but when I opened it, I was disappointed; it held only random pieces of old hardware.
There’s not much to do out at the lake but to enjoy the lake. When I was younger, I would sit on the predecessor of this dock and fish. I learned at an early age to find my own nightcrawlers under various rocks and logs on the property (buying bait is for chumps) and to hook my own worms, a process I would now deem too inhumane and entirely too gross, but I was proud of myself then. I would sit on the end of the dock and drop my line in and catch sunfish after sunfish, hollering to my dad to come get it off the line each time; I was strictly a catch-and-release fisherwoman. It was good fishing, and the sunnies would hide out around this old log in the water. In truth, looking back, I probably caught the same fish over and over again. That sunfish wasn’t too bright; neither was I, I guess.
The boat on the right is my dad’s pride and joy. He makes a good captain.
My mother was less concerned.
As was I. My mother likes to tell the story about how I walked into Lake Nebagamon and stood there looking up at her through a foot of water. I’ve always been a waterbaby. As long as there aren’t any weeds.
When I was a kid, this lake was intermittently weedy, and I really, really hate weeds. I hate the way they feel on my skin, and I don’t swim where there are weeds. My cousins and I would swim half-way out to the middle of the lake on our air mattresses to avoid the weeds and to enjoy the thrill of being that far out. Inevitably, one elder or another noticed us and hollered at us to come back in closer. We would make a big show of swimming in 10 or 20 feet, and they would go back to talking and playing cards, and we would go back 10 or 20 feet. This little dance went on all day long. I haven’t swum in this lake in probably 20 years, though. I saved my swimming for the pool at the hotel.
Not the younger generation, though. My brother and his 5 boys (plus a friend who came along for the ride) were on the lake as much as daylight, weather, and a relatively responsible boat captain would allow.
And my cousin’s daughter gave some dollies a bath in the lake.
Other points of interest…
In the front of the cabin is an old bell that used to sit in the screened porch of the old green cabin. (That’s my mom’s dog Bailey in the background.)
It used to be painted blue, but has been used forever to call people in to dinner. It’s still used for that, and it warms my heart that that’s the case. I love that bell. It is surprisingly loud.
Earl was shot for sport by some asshole out at my brother’s farm, whose property abuts some public land. Luckily, my brother found him in time to save him, but not in time to save his leg. Earl is a sweet, loving dog, and he works so hard just to get around. I can tell it tires him out, and it breaks my heart, because he has such a good soul and an amazing attitude. Earl’s a good boy.
And there was a nest of baby robins in the cabin porch light. My mother said that the seasons were a month behind this year, after an everlasting winter, which explained so many baby animals that late in the year. And it was cool when we were there, too–50s in the evenings, 70s during the day–we appreciated the change of pace, even if we didn’t appreciate the skeeters.
The strangest thing about being at the cabin was the changing of the generations. We have all grown older, like ya do, and it’s odd to reconcile that with my memories of the place. My parents are now the presiding grandparents, my cousins and I are the putative grownups, and there’s a whole new generation of children ignoring their parents’ and aunt’s and uncle’s directives to come in from the water and stop slamming the screen door while letting the bugs in and grab a paper plate because dinner’s ready. The wheel just keeps turning. Sometimes I’d like to reach my hand out and stop it awhile.