A tiny snowbound Northern Michigan cabin becomes a winter cathedral of connectedness for two couples. Below, discover the three days Emily Betz Tyra spent experiencing a Northern Michigan winter getaway in Munising, originally published in the December 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
We pull up next to Jon and LT’s ice-shellacked truck in the Glen’s grocery store parking lot. It’s December in Munising and it feels like Christmas morning came early. First there’s hugs, like loose knots in the heart getting cinched back together. Since Andy and I moved to Milwaukee from Traverse City, this is our yearly ritual. Both couples head north, meeting halfway to rendezvous at a secret cabin.
Our dogs wiggle hello and hop into the same car to snuggle while we hit the grocery aisles. Again, it’s like we’re kids high on Christmas. We forsake our health for the weekend: Fritos, steaks, bacon, Lipton soup mix and a tub of sour cream for dip, spicy homemade sausages, eggs, gingersnaps, pudgy pie fixings—both savory and sweet—and, okay, maybe a bunch of bananas. Let the cabin getaway begin.
We caravan on an icy, barely plowed road, creep along another that’s not plowed, and jostle down what’s basically a luge run. And finally we abandon our vehicles, strap on snowshoes, and pile all our stuff, including drinking water, on sleds to make the final mile to the cabin. It’s about now that we think maybe we didn’t need to buy that last pound of sausages.
The dogs know the way and sprint ahead. We can’t get there fast enough, to our metal-roofed oasis.
We each claim a bunk, unfurling our sleeping bags on the vinyl prison mattresses. And then we indulge like we’re on a dream vacation, except instead of chaise lounges we have the rickety wooden chairs, and instead of cooling off in the pool, we put another log in the wood stove and crack the window. Perfection.
Afternoon is for reading and nibbling gingersnaps in our sleeping bags. After pudgy pies, it’s time for a night hike. We turn off our headlamps and it’s seriously dark. You can’t see a mitten in front of your face. Kind of weird that we rarely feel this way anymore—a smidge scared, exhilarated. I flip my headlamp back on until I see the dogs’ eyes glow back from the forest. They are in heaven. And so are we.
That night we laugh at minimum six times an hour, even more when we play Cards Against Humanity. We wake up and chop wood for exercise. There’s a SHWOOOOOOOMP sound as the noon sun melts snow off the roof. May as well watch it slide off in slippery chunks, just for fun. We hike, then spend large swaths of time staring into the forest and shooting the breeze. Hypothetically, we ask each other, which of these trees would you pick for your Christmas tree? Would you ever just want to live here?
Let’s face it. We all think we can do it, especially since we are under the spell of a weekend in the woods. We’ll just rent our real house, sell what we don’t need, sail away on our sleds into this forest forever. Live skinny. Clear our minds of all but the nitty-gritty.
Because that’s what we really love, right? The lack of worry. It’s not that all the stuff that’s nagging and looping in the brain goes away. Silly stuff, like am I seriously going to fit in a dress for the company holiday party and I hope I paid the water bill. Serious stuff, too. Do I drink too much? Are we too old to try having a kid? Worries are just softer here. They kind of get lost in the wood smoke.
We take better care of each other here, too. Both as spouses and as friends. One person fries the morning bacon, watching it like a hovering mother. Another throws logs on the fire while everyone else catches a catnap. Someone gets the brilliant idea to steep our Earl Grey tea in the pint of Smirnoff. We have another old-fashioned pioneer party, lit by just candles and our buoyant moods. It’s amazing. The dogs flop on the floor by the stove to dry their fur, while we lean back to warm our socks, and they look at us as if to say you finally get it.
But morning comes again. And the let’s-face-it part. The outhouse toilet seat is like ice. None of us has taken more than a washcloth bath since Friday. The chip dip has ice crystals in it, and we’re going to get a mighty nice workout replacing the wood we burned through staying up till 2 a.m.
So we split logs, replenish the stacks for the next lucky bum who rents the cabin. We pack out, and the dogs prance alongside us, clearly not aware that this is the last hike of the weekend. We’re not quite ready to break the spell, so we stop at a tavern. It has, inexplicably, cushy carpeting on the actual bar. Carpet that welcomes our wood-chopping, gear-lugging elbows.
“Where were you camping?” the bartender asks, filling our Cokes from the gun. Funny, we hadn’t mentioned it. The long-john shirts give us away and the zesty, mesquite-y scent on our hair and deep in our skin. We tell her very little, just sit and sip and laugh a little more, regretting that we’re all going to have to take showers and rejoin the real world. But there’s a lovely, lucky thing about a weekend like this. We’ve let the wood smoke sink in, soak and cure us. And thank God it’ll take more than a hot bath to wash it out completely.
Emily Betz Tyra writes from Milwaukee. A former Traverse associate editor, she is now senior editor at Taste of Home magazine.
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