The Setting

Josie and I live in a 20-by-25-foot cabin on 18 neglected acres in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here’s a map:

X marks the spot.

The cabin was built around 2002, 2003, but it’s far from new. The young couple who built it were dedicated to salvage, and the cabin has bits and pieces of 100-year-old barns and silos and windows and doors from various homes and cheese factories and Catholic schools and, well, I don’t know what all. The cabin was unfinished when Buster (Rest in Peace) and I moved in throughout the summer of 2011, and was in need of such things as electricity, water, plumbing, a bathroom, closets, insulation, a ceiling, and ... et cetera. The cabin will always be a work in progress.

There's the kitchen. What was I thinking?

The Upper Peninsula is a somewhat wild place tethered to it’s home state only by a gangly five-mile bridge spanning the turbulent Straits of Mackinac—the waterway connecting the Great Lakes of Michigan and Huron. It provides most of Lake Superior’s southern border, and in many ways is an extension of the North Woods of Wisconsin: piney woods and rivers and lakes and waterfalls, hardwood forests, sand dunes, peninsulas and mountains and hills. There are bear and moose and trout and deer and wolves and skunks and porcupines, bald eagles and hummingbirds, wild blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries. There are small, vibrant communities of artists and miners and homesteaders and loggers and writers; doctors, professors, entrepreneurs; electricians and plumbers, teachers and grocery clerks. Winters are long and cold, summers are short, sometimes hot, always buggy. Spring is mud, autumn is beautiful.

View into the kitchen summer 2015.

I’m not sure how, in my early fifties, I ended up here, but I do know I was looking to move. I had been living in another part of the U.P., near Marquette, having moved there from Evanston, Illinois, in 2004. (I had grown up and remained in the Chicago area until that time.) One day, my real estate agent brought me here, to this cabin, which was neglected, unfinished, ankle deep in dead flies, standing tall in a field of unkempt high grass and wildflowers. I thought about it, then I showed it to a friend who brought along his friend, a builder, who said, “The foundation and roof are solid, but … ” The property is bordered on the north by the Otter River, and as both these guys are fishermen, we went to look at the river. As we were walking back to the cabin, I looked up, took it in, and was overcome. I said: This is what I want. Like falling in love, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Pea Pickle Farm, January 2013