Beginning in July, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.
This article is my first one and was published in the WON August 7, 2020, issue.
“Things are pretty bad down by your cabin!”
This was the message that came in on Stan’s phone as we enjoyed an al fresco lunch with friends, Tom and Kris Dew in Cable, Wisconsin.
“I couldn’t drive in. It looks like a tree went through your roof,” our neighbor continued.
That was Saturday, July 20, 2019 – one year ago. The storm went through our area mid-morning. Devastating storms pounded Wisconsin all weekend and decimated forests, yards, homes and parks all over the state. When it was over, there was more timber horizontal than loggers cut in an entire year. Power was out over massive areas. Chain saws began to buzz everywhere. Unfortunately, many of you know about this first-hand.
Our little cabin in the woods sits on 120 wooded acres in eastern Portage County, just 20 minutes from our home in Plover. It has few amenities. We do not have electricity or running water. It is an old Appalachian-style log structure. It has a propane cook stove, propane lights and a fabulous wood stove. It is about 400 square feet with a loft and a front porch just made for rocking chairs. In summer, the 100-year old oaks and pines that surrounded it provided air conditioning. The cabin is a family project that we co-own with our daughter, Shannon and her husband, Dan.
Early Sunday morning we left northern Wisconsin to head for the cabin to assess the damage. Oh, the damage! We could not drive in either. The drive into the cabin is a two-track across the edge of a farm field. The track dips down into the woods and the cabin sits in there about 50 yards. We left the Suburban at the edge of the carnage and crawled over and under massive logs to get to the building.
The devastation was enormous. Winds that were 90 mph straight-line had leveled a swath about 100 yards wide through our neighbors to the northwest and across our land. The primary damage was around the cabin. Massive trees lay on the ground, pointing to the southeast. The storm had snapped off some. Others lay tipped out of the soil with their enormous stump and root skeletons pointed skyward. The flagpole snapped off at the ground. The grills and smoker were in a mangled mess somewhere underneath a tangle of pine and oak branches. The bird feeders were broken and buried. An enormous white pine lodged atop the roof of the cabin with a stub from a large branch having breached the roof on the east side.
My emotions began with hysteria. “No,” I cried each time as I discovered each new insult to my beloved cabin. They settled into helplessness as we stood on the porch of the cabin staring into the sun-drenched, twisted mass of downed pine and oak. Summer insects buzzed loudly. This was not a job for Stan and Christine with a chainsaw. This was a whole other level. Where to begin?
Irrationally, I began by taking the broom and dustpan off their hooks so I could sweep up the broken glass and wood splinters from under the hole in the roof. This gesture was like an insignificant flyspeck in the grand scheme of things. However, it made me feel like I was beginning to take control. My rocking chair sits under the place where the tree came through the roof. I had to pry wood splinters out of the floor. Lucky thing we were at the Dews that weekend.
Those of you who experienced the July ’19 storm know that every logger, every forester, every person with heavy equipment, every weekend-warrior chainsaw owner was pressed into service that day and for weeks to come. Getting help was going to be an issue. We had some good friends and some good fortune.
First, we lucked out on the weather. It stayed clear for a week. That gave our good friend, Clint McCullough, a chance to gather up equipment and help. They cleared the drive, cut a path to the front porch, removed the tree from the roof and placed a tarp over the hole. For this, I will be eternally grateful. Their accomplishments stabilized the situation. Actual internal damage to the cabin was the loss of a propane lamp and the stovepipe. The tarp meant that rain and raccoons would not make the situation worse. Other issues could wait. Wait, they would.
Little by little improvements came. Our contractor fixed the roof and the stovepipe. Finally, in October we were able to get a logger to come. He cleared the downed trees around the cabin before moving on to general damage in the woods. The stumps remained around the cabin and would for some time. I spent every weekend picking up brush and sticks around the cabin and burning them in the fire pit.
We were able to stay in the cabin for Deer Season. Shannon and Dan came home. We hunted, played cribbage and ate the last of the 2018 venison chops with morel mushrooms. Inside the cabin, we could forget about the scars on the land outside. No one got a deer. This was a first for more than a decade. The late season combined with the late departure of the logger from our woods (the day before season) definitely changed our luck.
As deer season ended, the December winter settled over our little cabin in the woods, the snow covered the scars on the land. Mother Nature began the healing process. As we sat in front of our woodstove and began to think about how we would assist her in that effort, the scars in our hearts began to heal as well.