Going to the Cabin: Healing Our Minds and Our Relationships
I was three months old the first time I was in a boat. Out on Leech Lake, I spent the day rocking along with the waves as my parents fished for walleyes. It’s been 43 years since that first boat ride, and I’ve returned to our cabin there every summer since—in recent years with my own kids in tow.
Every time I drive down the narrow driveway through the forest, my excitement builds. When I open the car door, the first thing that hits me is the smell of pine trees, which seems to say, “You’re in northern Minnesota.” Next, it’s the bird calls singing “welcome back.” I look at the lake and fill my lungs with fresh air.
Heading to the lake is about more than being near the water. It’s about sitting with my family at the campfire, telling stories and laughing without a care in the world. It’s a place where the lake becomes a member of our family, joining in on all the stories and absorbing them into its vast depths.
Last summer was different. The COVID-19 pandemic changed our usual traditions, meaning we couldn’t gather with our extended family and neighbors like we usually do. We had a huge family reunion planned to celebrate the 50th year of the cabin being in our family, but that was postponed. Our neighbors from North Dakota and Iowa that we usually have campfires with came up to the cabin less often. Grandpa and Grandma needed to keep their distance and gave fewer hugs.
Yet, even though we couldn’t gather at the lake with our human friends last summer, our wildlife neighbors were as active as ever. The eagle pair were in their tree on the point, sitting in their nest as they do every year. The ospreys were across the road, tending to their young between fishing trips. The family of mergansers swam by the dock (but not too closely) in the evening. They’re all part of our neighborhood, and we appreciate their presence as much as we do our cousins next door.
There were also plenty of adventures to be had. We dove deep into the water and used our goggles to explore the alien underwater world. Tall plants form the underwater forest, and we could see the tiny water bugs take refuge in this forest. In the evenings, we watched the crayfish come out for their nightly battles; in the morning, we found the remnants of those battles—lone claws and dead bodies—strewn across the sand. Schools of minnows often swam by, and a protective loon parent could be heard calling in the night, warning off any who dare come near her nest. The lake was teeming with life.
Last summer, this sameness brought comfort, and the cabin was a place to look inward. To me, a lake is so much more than a basin of water—it is a place of renewal, a need of my soul, a place to just be. As I gaze into the water, the lake reflects my deepest hopes and fears, allowing me to face them. Jumping into the lake is like a friendly hug from a family member. The cool water against my skin allows the day’s concerns to sink into the soft sediments. Canoeing alone is not only a chance to escape but also an opportunity for me to process the chaos of the world.
As we exit the pandemic this coming summer, the lake will also become a place of healing. It won’t just help heal my own soul—it will help me rejuvenate relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. Discussions around the campfire, watching kids jump off the dock, and long days out in the boat fishing are the perfect settings for processing the challenges of 2020.
After a day at the cabin, all feels in balance. The waves against the shore, the predators and prey, they ebb and flow as reliably as the sun always rises and falls. The constant hum of nature continues whether I’m there to hear it or not. And luckily, this summer, I’ll be there again to hear, smell, and see it in all its glory.
As you get back into the world this year, I hope you can find your lake, your trail, or your special place to renew your own soul and relationships. As Rachael Carson said, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”