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Relax into life

I looked out from where I stood in the kitchen into my cabin’s living room. My dog Chance lay at the feet of my 94-year-old mother where she sat in an easy chair reading a Les Blacklock book. The scene exuded peace. Summer had begun.

The first time I came to the lake in northern Minnesota, on the shore on which my cabin is situated, was for a July vacation with my family 57 years ago. That vacation inaugurated an all-but-annual family tradition of vacationing at the same mom-and-pop resort for two weeks in the summer until I had graduated from college. Now, I am blessed to be the steward of a cabin and land half a mile down the lakeshore from the resort where I spent childhood vacations.

My life adopts a different rhythm when I am at the cabin. Every morning, before I take Chance for his walk, I plug in the coffee pot as I’m heading for the door. Outside, I scan my surroundings for evidence of wildlife that may have walked through the yard during the night, enjoy the serenade of bird songs and wails of loons, and note the temperature and the presence or absence of wind. The walk completed, I switch on the radio to the classical music station and prepare to eat a leisurely breakfast, with more substance than my usual bowl of Cheerios and glass of orange juice.

After breakfast, when chores don’t beckon, my destination is the gazebo. My goal is to spend the day there, with an occasional foray outside to roam the landscape. My favorite pastime is simply to sit and watch life unfold on the lake and in the forest that surrounds me.

Mother ducks paddle by with their ducklings. The call of loons sounds the alert that an eagle is flying overhead. I watch it soar past along the shoreline. Later I see it out over the lake, circling higher and higher, then drifting back to the surface and plunging into the water, talons extended. When it lifts again, I see the fish in its claws, and watch as the eagle heads for a shoreline tree. A sound not unlike that of a rusty gate informs me that the eagle is perched high in a tree 100 feet to the south, with a commanding view of the lake, and perhaps its next meal.

Hummingbirds visit the feeder hanging from the gazebo eaves. Despite their diminutive size, they are spunky. They defend what they perceive as their personal feeding station by chittering loudly and dive-bombing any interlopers. More often than not, gray squirrels and chipmunks dine on the sunflower seeds I’ve set out on a platform feeder. Chickadees are the most common avian visitors to that feeder. Occasionally I am treated to the sight and sound of a pileated woodpecker on a nearby tree, or a flicker, kingfisher, or killdeer.

A robin built a nest over an outdoor floodlight this spring, but after a three-week absence I returned to find the nest on the ground. I found no evidence of broken shells. What happened will remain a mystery.

Mammals make unexpected appearances — a woodchuck, fox, deer, and the occasional stray dog. Something has been digging a sizeable hole under the cabin, and redigging it every time I fill the hole. Maybe someday I’ll discover the identity of the excavator. Maybe not.

This spring a beaver chose to harvest several trees at the end of my property. He left behind several stumps, each with a sharp peak. Also left behind was a long branch stripped of its bark, as smooth as if it had been polished, and white-gold in color.

A place to rest

As the seasons pass, the vegetation changes, and the month of the year can be identified by which wildflowers are blooming. First the hepatica, wood anemone, and violets, followed by the columbine, Canada Mayflower, starflower, and bunchberry. The wild rose and bluebead lily (clintonia) appear in June. Driving past the wetland as I enter the gravel lane that leads to the cabin, I can catch a glimpse of blue flag, a native iris. In high summer, harebell, twin-flower, touch-me-not, black-eyed-susans, butter-and-eggs, and Turk’s cap lilies reign, with asters and goldenrod heralding the approach of fall.

The wind rises and falls during the day, the lake’s waves announcing its direction. A clear sky can give way to storm clouds in nothing flat, and an approaching downpour can be seen as it advances across the lake.

This is my retreat, where I go to rest and renew. While I am there, I leave the world behind; I have an opportunity to think, to recharge, and to be ready to re-engage when I return home.

This is the gift of time in God’s creation. To quote Wendell Berry, “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

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