We left our apartment early in the morning to catch a flight destined for Minneapolis, where my parents collected us, and headed north on roads that I had ridden many times while growing up. We were driving to the little Iron-Range town of Cook, where my father was raised and where my family spent countless weekends visiting my grandma throughout the years.
Even with the frequency of our visits, there was still one special time each year. We would make the journey north on three consecutive weekends in November to take part in Minnesota’s deer hunting season. The journey last weekend was my husband’s first time to Northern Minnesota, his first deer season, the first time meeting several extended relatives and friends, and his first time experiencing “The Shack.”As a kid, I looked forward to the four-hour drives north in November, because it meant a weekend away in a place where my dad was in his element. It also meant staying up late, perched on the third bunk listening to the conversations below. As I returned this time, the first time since I’ve lived overseas and married my husband, I realized my perspective had shifted. I was taking in the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the town, my grandma’s house, and The Shack through a new filter – one formed from my own life and experiences.My parents and I bombarded Bill with stories of days gone by. We dug out old photos of The Shack, pointing out the people who made it a place of good-natured ribbing. We paged through hunting tales memorialized in The Shack’s logbook written with the bias of whoever penned the entry. We partook in an abundance of cheap beer and a Saturday evening family-style dinner that evoked memories of past dinners under dim light of gas lamps for which your eyes take a moment to adjust and where the dishwashers were those that missed a shot. We told Bill the story of the ‘elders’ voting on new family members, and how they facetiously voted my mom in and my dad – their own blood – out. Our stories weaved past and present together as we watched grown men who are lifelong friends poke each other’s buttons, often about who added the wrong amount of logs to the fire in the middle of the night and who was to blame for the morning’s hangover.Bill and I noticed the richness of the place and of the relationships between the remaining informal members. In our generation, as people become more transient, it’s rare to maintain lifelong friendships, let alone connections that span generations. We found parts of ourselves pining for roots, which are hard to cultivate when we’ve each moved more times than we can count in the past decade. The Shack is a well-worn tapestry of long-spanning relationships, shared experiences, and oral histories.The Shack itself doesn’t look much different from my childhood memories, though the gas lamps have been replaced with a few naked electric bulbs, the mattresses are new, and the smoke in the air comes only from the pot-bellied stove, no longer mixed with cigarette smoke. What lingers instead is a faint sadness, as you consider the faces and personalities that once resided there each November. Some have grown up and are no longer near and many are no longer with us; a few gone far too soon. In a quiet lull, if you pause to think, you’re confronted with the relentless march of time and the uncertainty that the soldier of time brings forth.On Sunday morning, my mom and I packed our bags at Grandma’s house and headed over to The Shack to meet the men for the traditional morning breakfast of french toast made on a vintage gas stove. We helped the hunters close The Shack for the winter, sealing a time capsule of sorts, before everyone clamored into their respective trucks and headed home. As Bill and I returned to our apartment on the edge of our own city, we were warmed against the bitter wind of time by the hope of laying roots of our own.