The Allure of Minnesota’s Cabin Culture

What is it about going to “the cabin”?  So many residents of Minnesota already live in rustic, nature-filled settings, yet are eager to pack up the car and head out to “the cabin.”  If it is not their own cabin, or their family’s cabin, then it is their friend’s or neighbor’s cabin.  In Minnesota, it seems that everyone knows someone who has a cabin.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes facts and figures on Minnesota’s many waters.  Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” which is somewhat of a misnomer, for the state actually has 11,842 lakes which are 10 or more acres in size.  Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, only four of them do not have a natural lake within their borders.  Minnesotans have to try hard NOT to go to the lake or to the cabin.

Perfect view with book in hand

My husband grew up in Minnesota and that cabin culture is part of who he is.  While I could be content puttering around my gardens “in town” to unwind, or just renting a cabin on a lake for a weekend once a summer to get my fix, it became increasingly important to my husband that we find a little spot of land on a lake that he could call his own.  And isn’t marriage all about compromise?

Casting off the dock 

For several summers we simply pitched a tent on our little lake parcel, enjoying our private campsite, fishing from shore or taking out the canoe.  The boys were just starting school and we still had most of our weekends free from scheduled activities.  We eventually had a simple cabin shell constructed, doing finishing work in stages and completing the work ourselves when our skills allowed.  As our boys grew older, schedules became busier, and time for all of us to get to the cabin on a regular basis is harder to come by, and so that time is all the more treasured when we have it.  

Loon pair in northern Minnesota

The simple pleasures are what makes the cabin a special place — watching the loons float by and listening to their haunting calls, sitting among the birch and pine with a book in hand.  When the boys were younger, they would craft imaginary strategic games and play them for hours in the woods.   

Boys in the woods

Even in recent years, the cabin is still a place where teenaged boys can find the time and space for some creative play — garbage can lids turn into shields against stick swords and the battle ensues!  Boys will be boys at any age.

Never too old for imaginary play

Summer months bring lazy days, launching into the water to cool off and enjoy the seemingly endless depths of the lake.

Summer lake time

Cabin time is almost synonymous with fishing time — sometimes from the dock, sometimes from a boat on the lake itself.  When the fishermen in my family land a big one, I hear the frantic call from the dock — “GET THE CAMERA!”  I rush down to the dock, camera in hand, quickly snapping a shot or two before the big guy is released to enjoy another day.

Northern Pike: The one that didn't get away

Cabin time is time to just hang out, use your shirt as your hand towel, and let the layer of dirt act as additional sunscreen.  The boys have great immune systems and no allergies to speak of, which I chalk up to a healthy dose of dog fur, dirt and grime over the years!

Sizing the day's catch on the dock

The cabin is the ideal spot to hang with man’s best friend.  Running down the tree-canopied roads . . .

A shady run with the dogs

. . . watching the fish swim by the dock . . .

Best friends on the dock

. . . or tolerating an extra player during a marathon game of Monopoly.  Cabin memories, all of them.

Monopoly:  the black lab version

As days draw to a close, the colors play across the lake’s surface, and a person cannot help but pause and reflect. An owl may call through the dark woods — like the Barred Owl with its unmistakable call:  “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”  The wolves may howl in the distance, the deer may quietly meander down their well-worn path to the lakeshore, and the frogs join in chorus to sing their evening songs.

Contentment on the dock

Perhaps it is that evening sauna that relaxes a person as it purges the body’s toxins, or just as likely it is the other aspects of the cabin that create the restful escape — no urge to run to the grocery store and stock up for the week, no temptation to go into the office and get caught up at work, no running here and there with concerts, sporting events, conferences, social activities, and all the other details of our daily lives that sometimes leave us feeling tired and worn, even as we enjoy them.  Sleep at the cabin is somehow more restful than anything experienced “at home.”

Sunset on the lake

Numerous articles recently have highlighted the importance of escaping our multi-tasking world:  spend some time in green space to ease brain fatigue  (per the New York Times), take a break from multitasking to return to the essence of our humanity (per this video from KarmaTube), untether from our smart phone leash (per this column from Sam Cook).  Only by doing so can we fully appreciate the simple beauty of the world, . . .

Peaceful paddle at sunrise

. . . and be fully present while spending time with each other.

Paddling along the lakeshore

What is it about Minnesota’s cabin culture?  Come and experience it for yourself and you will understand.

Hammock at the cabin

Ciao! ~ Kat

A Sauna for All Seasons

I am a relative newcomer to the Minnesota sauna culture.  [Note before proceeding further:  sauna is pronounced SOW-na, not SAW-na. Use this handy pronunciation guide from PBS if you need further instruction!]  If my husband had his druthers, a sauna would have been the first structure on our little piece of lake property in the northern Minnesota woods.  A sauna became a necessity for cleaning up, however, given that the structure we eventually constructed lacked running water, and will likely continue to do so until we get our kids through college!  (Yes, a true cabin, none of this lake home stuff!)

Sauna in winter
Sauna in winter ~ snow readily available to cool the body in between sauna sessions!
(Photo credit: Kat B.’s husband)

When I came across the Finnish sauna pronunciation guide, I learned of the Finnish Sauna Society.  The Society’s website has a wealth of information on the history, use and health effects of sauna baths.  The Finnish immigrants who settled in Minnesota brought with them the sauna, or Finnish bath house.  A wonderful recounting of both historical and modern sauna culture can be found in The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition, a book which is a fixture in our little cabin.

Detailed instructions as to classic sauna procedure, consisting of multiple hot-cold cycles, can be found here on the Finnish Sauna Society’s website.  Summarily:  Enter the hot sauna for as long as you can tolerate, leave to cool off or take dip in the lake, reenter the hot sauna for another round, and repeat.  I do not want to risk scaring off small children who may be passing by (let alone my own children), and since the post-sauna dip in the lake particularly during the summer season is not necessarily a private affair, I usually sauna in my swimsuit, although a “true” sauna invites you to sauna in only your birthday suit!

Sauna in Spring and Summer
Sunny days and warmer temps still call for a sauna!

I do believe I need to post at the cabin a modified version of the Finnish Sauna Society’s “recommendations for a pleasant sauna” at the Society’s saunas, particularly highlighting recommendation #6 for my husband:

6. Ask the other bathers, either when entering or leaving the sauna, if they would like to have more steam.    Contests for whom can stand the hottest degree of steam do not belong to the customs of the Sauna Seura, but respect for others do.

Some of us simply cannot enjoy a 200 degree Fahrenheit (93 degree Celsius) sauna, trying to breathe between clenched teeth as someone ratchets up the steam without warning (ahem!  are you listening, dear?!).  For me, 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (77 to 82 degrees Celsius) is just about perfect — I can work up a good sweat without discomfort, cool off by stepping outside, dump a bucket of cool lake water over me, repeat the cycle, and then during the warmer seasons, walk down to the lake for a cooldown swim when I am done.

Sauna in Autumn
Sauna in Autumn

And when I have completed a classic sauna cycle?  The pure sense of relaxation following a good sauna session is unrivaled.  Sleep is deep and restful, my body feels rid of toxins, and my skin feels better than any spa session could provide.  Once you are introduced to this sauna culture, you understand the allure of the sauna.

Return to the sauna in winter
A return to the sauna in winter.

Beyond the practical cleansing effects when no shower is available, a sauna session with a family member or friend is a wonderful opportunity to sit back and have a good conversation.  On a warm summer night, we work up a sweat, cycle through a couple of times, and then troop down to the lake as the sun is setting.  As we peacefully paddle around the shallows, we enjoy the reds, purples and golds of the sunset glancing off the lake’s still surface and listen to the loons calling out their evening songs.

Lantern lighting the sauna

I will close by repeating the words found on the Finnish Sauna Society’s website:

We wish you a sweet steaming in good company!

Ciao! ~ Kat

P.S.  If you like our little barrel sauna (which comfortably fits four adults on the benches running along the inside), we highly recommend the wonderful craftmanship of the saunas from Rozycki Woodworks, LLC.