Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Small log cabin © Bruce Brennan

February 2015

An unlikely discovery

A covert cabin leaves a lasting impression.

Story and photo by Bruce Brennan

About 10 years ago, while grouse hunting in northern Wisconsin, I decided to try a section of public land that I'd probably passed hundreds of times since my youth. It was a crisp but clear day. I had been carefully walking for an hour, when a ruffed grouse flushed, winging its way low through jack pine and dense brush, before descending abruptly into a very small opening. I decided to change my course and pursue this bird, since it did not seem to be too startled by my presence.

Upon making my approach, the co–mingled gnarly old trees and limber new sapling growth slowed me down. A hand–like branch snatched the hat off my head, purposely slinging it to the ground. I came to a rather nasty briar patch and some angry looking tree limbs wanted to smack my face. I avoided the encounter by ducking under the bows of a rotund spruce.

As I popped out on the other side of the tree, out of nowhere a small log cabin greeted me. I rested the butt of my shotgun on the toe of my boot. The scene demanded a special silence and observance. It was obvious that this cabin had been abandoned for some time. I dared not move any closer to it without defiling the natural beauty of this antiquated little structure cuddled inside a camouflaged barrier of myriad trees and fall foliage.

There wasn't any man–made debris lying about, as one would expect. The grayed cracked cedar shake shingles and log walls blended in perfectly with the autumn surroundings.

Whoever owned this cabin had thinned out a modest amount of vegetation around it before departing, only never to return again. From this clearing, new life had sprung forth in various stages of maturity. Just off to the left, stood a weathered but proud tree that soon would suffer the final ravages of time. The once rustically regal cabin was doomed to fall, as well. The tree and the cabin seemed to keep vigil on one another.

At that moment, the setting depicted a calm wildness that could not be embellished or duplicated. Luckily, my camera was handy and I quickly snapped a picture before any aspect could change in the slightest. Walking up close to the cabin would leave a human path of presence. Worse yet, snooping around or looking inside would have been disgraceful in my eyes. I did not want to see anything that might ruin the ambiance. Decidedly, this was a special place. I felt lucky to have stumbled upon it and only observed from a distance.

I couldn't help wonder what type of person owned this far–away place. The owner must have enjoyed the outdoors tremendously and respected this woods. There weren't any signs of an old road or pathway. The cabin looked shuttered and secure from the view I had. It appeared even the animals held it in a mystical reverence for there weren't any runways leading to or near it.

Pondering all of this, I decided not to seek out another perspective view of the cabin. My mind was made up to quickly turn away and not look back. Within a few steps, it was like this event had never occurred, as the woods swallowed me. The thick forest and undergrowth obliterated the cabin from my view. I wanted to remember it as first discovered, without the sad prospects.

A snappy branch slapped my face as another whisked the hat off my head and held it dangling, as if teasing me to go after it. I made a wide loop to avoid seeing the cabin again. The terrain gradually sloped, indicating a valley. Descending further, I could hear a gurgling brook. The creek was clear and pristine as it serpentined through old mossy forest beckoning me to follow. Various wind–fallen trees crisscrossed the stream, further enhancing this picturesque setting.

Up ahead were remnants of a small one–man wooden bridge, dilapidated and rotting away. It was located over a rocky area of the creek that perked forth from an icy cold bubbling underground spring. A severely rusted square spike protruded from one of the old bridge posts. Hanging from it was a sturdy long–handled stainless steel dipper. Taking the dipper off the nail, I dipped it into the sparkling spring water. I stood up, turning in the opposing direction from the bridge and drank a final toast to the covert old cabin, its protecting forest and all the spirits that once held sacred this delightful place.

Placing the dipper back on the nail, I wondered whether anyone else would be as fortunate as me to experience these discoveries before it was too late.

To this day, I have never gone back and don't plan to. I have the physical picture to look at and remind me of that day. More importantly, the memories imprinted in my mind are still clear and more meaningful.

Bruce Brennan writes about his Wisconsin outdoors memories from Satellite Beach, Fla.