Story & photos by Jim Waltz
Growing up in Wisconsin, I always loved spending time up north. My parents always rented a cabin for a week at a different resort, usually near a Wisconsin community like Hayward, Mercer or Eagle River. Later on in life, I continued this tradition with my wife, Gini, and our three sons. It was always in the back of my mind to get my own getaway cabin some day.
When I turned 65 years old, I thought, I’m not getting any younger, and why give up my dream? Gini and I knew we wanted a rustic cabin on a small lake surrounded by woods. Little did we know that this cabin hunt would take five years to accomplish!
After dozens of 250- to 300-mile trips from southeastern to northern Wisconsin looking for just the right place, we began to think that our dream cabin in our price range might not be out there. In the fall of 2010, after walking through one unrealistic possibility, we excused our Realtor. We then decided to check out one place, which appeared on paper to be void of trees. But we gave it a shot.
As we drove down a long, skinny, winding dirt road with “No Trespassing” signs, we felt uneasy. Then we happened upon a woman walking her dogs, and she kindly said, “Sure, there’s a house for sale. Follow me; I have the key!”
The cabin was indeed on wooded property, was totally rustic, and met every requirement on our wish list. We closed the deal that December, two days shy of my 70th birthday, and our dream came true.
It wasn’t until we actually owned our cabin that we checked out our entire six acres and 600 feet of shoreline. Our Conover, Wis., cabin sits on 65-acre Deer Lake surrounded by large white and red pine trees. The cabin was constructed of white pine logs by master log home builder Joe Hovel in 1992. It has a 700-square-foot great room and three upstairs bedrooms. The walkout basement is great for storage and my workroom.
Our quiet lake has only 17 other cabins around it. Many evenings, we sit at the end of our pier to watch the sun set or stars come out, and if we’re lucky, we see the northern lights or shooting stars. The Wisconsin River is just a couple miles away, and beautiful paved bike trails wind through nearby forests. I really enjoy clearing away dead trees and making paths through the woods. I’ve built three Aldo Leopold benches and tucked them into special spots in the woods. Ancient glaciers left over 20 boulders erratically on the property, and Gini has a favorite prayer rock near the shore that she sits on.
Our three sons love visiting our cabin with their families to swim, fish and unwind. Once a year, we have a weekend with just our boys, and they enjoy reliving memories of growing up together. Our seven grandkids look forward to campfires, roasting marshmallows, and having sleepovers in the “bear room” or “moose room.” Even our 6-year-old grandson can maneuver a kayak along the shallow edges of the lake (under supervision, of course).
Last, but not least, there’s our German shepherd, Elsa. She is cabin-ready even before the car is packed to go. She loves the freedom of being off-leash and sniffing every sign of nature. One Fourth of July, we were unaware that Elsa had taken a walk on her own, probably to get away from the sound of firecrackers. One of our sons discovered her walking down the road almost a mile from our cabin, and we’re glad he did! Elsa had startled a porcupine and got a nose full of quills. Yet, she still loves the freedom of cabin life!
When our guests leave and the excitement subsides, there is always the job of cutting and splitting wood for winter use in our wood stove. Even though we have a propane furnace, we still enjoy heating the cabin the old-fashioned way. And on a calm winter day, there’s nothing better than hitting the well-groomed cross-country ski trails around the nearby town of Land O’ Lakes.
Investing in a getaway cabin in the quiet of northern Wisconsin has surely not disappointed us. It goes to prove that you’re never too old to pursue your dreams.