Cabin Wisdom

Your dream has come true. Your own cabin. Away from the cacophony of demands, errands and deadlines that lay in wait for you every morning, you finally have a place where you can actually hear yourself think.  

The only problem is that when you can hear yourself think … eventually you end up listening.

A few years ago my husband and I bought a cabin in central Wisconsin. Fixing up the solid yet ramshackle two-story house, we made it into a warm, comfortable second home. But amidst all the renovating, entertaining, playing and good times, a funny thing happened. Sometimes, this dream cabin wasn’t so dreamy.

Now, of course, there were the rainy weekends, cranky kids weekends, horrible, messy renovations weekends. Those weekends were okay.

No, I’m talking about those weekends when everything was picture perfect. Hubby was happy. Kids behaving. The big, crisp, Wisconsin sky was an achingly beautiful, saturated blue with white clouds the height of a dozen skyscrapers.

But I still would be down in the dumps.

You see, your inner self leaves clues. Maybe it’s a chronic stomachache. Or a dream you keep having. Perhaps it’s a strange little idea that keeps popping into the corner of your mind whenever you think of your job. Doing the dance of the busy American, we all can gracefully step around these little tidbits scattered in our dreams, bodies or thoughts. But when all the distractions are gone, the clues that your inner self sprinkles around become boulders. Trip wires. Big ol’ potholes that are impassable in the SUV you call your life.

That’s when your getaway gets you. This lovely dream home is turning around and, ungrateful home that it is, biting the hand that bought it!

How unfair, you think. I spend all this time and money and all I get is more worry? Anxiety? Fear, even? What kind of deal is this? Relaxing and being in the moment is supposed to be good for you!

Well, it is good for you. Sometimes feeling not-so-terrific is good for you, too. Something is not right and you’ve finally got the time and space to root it out. Face it. Brainstorm the whys and ifs.

Learning about yourself is not always an easy subject. Just like immersion can be the best way to learn a language, you are now immersing yourself in you.

At our cabin, I have come to grips with parenting issues, professional choices, marital challenges and personal disappointments, all during quiet walks at water’s edge, early morning fishing excursions or leisurely late afternoon naps right before dinner.

Quiet times, when you can spend time with your inner thoughts, can be the greatest gift your cabin gives you. But you may not always like what you find.

You might fight it. I did. I still do. You might try to skirt the issue, blaming your husband for fishing too long, nagging the kids for not listening or grousing as you clean up after last night’s bonfire, wondering why you got a second house or ever took this vacation. This bad mood will burrow around your psyche, whispering to you as you nibble a fresh piece of fruit or making you restless and impatient as you cast out on a mirror-flat lake.

But give it time. Right around that second nap or the third walk in the woods … it will come to you. The true reason for that ache that won’t depart. It may be fear of a change that must happen in your career or the realization that a relationship needs work. Perhaps you finally accept your body needs help or you awaken to the knowledge that all is not right with someone in your life.

So this unsettling weekend is serving its purpose. Because deep joy is not merely purchased with the deed to a house. It’s earned. The peace we all seek comes not from turning your mind off but from turning it on.

Of course a cabin, a cottage or a long, leisurely vacation is a delightful luxury, a tonic to the chaotic days that inhabit the majority of our lives. But it is not a guaranteed ticket to happiness. We all live complicated lives. Deep peace and profound joy are not simple states to be aimed for, leaving everything else behind. A long, rich life brings with it memories of both grand times and awful mistakes, lovely people gone, tough choices made and more than a few situations beyond our control.

The joy and rest we sought by buying this cabin is like dark chocolate nibbled after dinner under the stars. A little bitter, a little sweet and all grown-up. l

Madelyn Sergel is a freelance writer, playwright and the literary manager of Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, Ill. You can visit her blog at