June 29, 2006 at 8:51 a.m.
I think back on my own childhood and the summers I spent at my family’s cabin on Little Sand Lake near Remer, Minn. I remember minute details of those endless summers as if they occurred only yesterday.
I recall countless days when my brother and I would wake up early to the clanging of the wind-up alarm clock. With the sun just beginning to peek through the trees, we’d slip out of our bunk beds and out the back door, walking through the cool dewy grass to the dock and the old aluminum fishing boat. That early in the day, the cabins down the shore were still quiet and we wouldn’t hear voices or the banging of wooden screen doors, so we’d take care to silently load the boat with our rods and tackle boxes. I chuckle now as I think back because we’d eventually pull the starter cord on that old, noisy 5-horse outboard and no doubt wake everybody on the lake.
I also remember walking the road from our cabin to the gravel pit and beyond to the culvert on the southwest side of the lake and the Soo Line railroad tracks that passed close by. The air was always still on those really hot days and the black tar on Highway 4 would squish under our toes. Croaking frogs living among the cattails and the clicking of grasshopper wings as they took flight were familiar sounds. We’d walk along the tracks and sometimes see who could balance on a rail the farthest, or who could jump from one rail to the other without stepping on the ties. The shiny steel tops of the rails reflected the sun’s rays and in the distance shimmered and undulated in the wavy hot air. Always, our walks along the Soo Line tracks included our trusty BB guns and we’d shoot at brown hoppers clinging to the tall grass or red and white plastic bobbers hanging from telephone wires along the lake.
I recall standing with my brother on the deck of our cabin, wearing nothing but shorts and our arms held straight out to our sides. We’d slowly spin around as mom sprayed us from head to toe with mosquito repellent. She’d start at our feet and legs and work her way up, ending the morning ritual when we’d suck in our lips and cover our eyes with our fingers as mom would spray our faces. To this day, the smell of one particular bug spray in an orange can brings me back to those moments in an instant.
Growing up, I don’t remember elaborately planned trips to exotic, faraway places. We didn’t take such trips. What I do remember are simple boyhood pleasures and details that might have otherwise been easily forgotten. I was bestowed upon the great fortune of living out the summer months at our cabin with few plans for each new day, except for the plans my brother and I made as we went along. Only the length of a day and our imaginations governed the amount of fun we had and the adventures we experienced.
Our boys are a few years away yet, but I look forward to the days when Su and I hear an old alarm clock ringing in the bunk house in the early morning hours at the cottage. We’ll lie there and smile as Anders and Augie try their best to close creaking doors quietly and whisper to one another as they gather their gear and head down the path to the dock and the old aluminum fishing boat.
Those are the quiet, simple summer vacation experiences all kids deserve to share and remember.
Dan Brown’s weekly outdoor column is brought to you by Frankie’s Bait and Marine, in Chisago City, and St. Croix Outdoors, in St. Croix Falls, Wis.