Story & photos by Debi Nelson
The movie “We Bought a Zoo” contains this poignant line: “20 seconds of courage can change a life forever.” This quote explains in part how we ended up with our cabin in the woods in 2012.
We were a couple with two grown children and retirement just 6–8 years away. We always talked about someday having a lake cabin in the woods. We just never found the “perfect place” or thought we had enough time and money to take the plunge. That all changed when we found ourselves without a home due to the devastating 2011 flood in Minot, N.D.
As we watched the rising 100-year flood waters, we knew our life and priorities would change forever. We eventually found an apartment, but the devastation in the city was too hard to be around, so we constantly looked for any opportunity to leave town and head for the Turtle Mountains north of Bottineau, N.D. One excursion led us to Loon Lake, where there was one wooded lot for sale. I had dreamed of a cabin by the lake and my husband wanted one in the woods, so this lot seemed perfect. We did have some cash from selling what was left of our house, so remembering the “20 seconds of courage” line, we decided this would be the perfect time to build a dream.
Working out the design with several sheets of graph paper, we planned a simple 16x24-foot cabin that was just a few steps up from camping. We wanted a design that limited the destruction of trees or bushes, so we chose not to install a drain field, propane tank or well. We did trench in electricity and purchased an electric incinerating toilet. A single bedroom and bathroom would be located in the back of the cabin, while the lake side would feature an open floor plan with a family room and a kitchen. An 8-foot covered porch would be situated off the family room. We found a builder to execute the design who understood our needs and wants.
It was wonderful to come up each weekend and see the progress on the cabin. We made a fire ring area with logs and had our first campfire. We purchased a canoe and pitched a tent on the property so we could enjoy the lake and woods before the cabin was even finished. To cut costs, we chose to do all of the finishing work ourselves, including installing a tongue-and-groove pine ceiling. There were just a few rules that we tried to follow for every project.
- Use the right tools for the project. This rule also pertained to wearing the right clothing. More than once I was reminded that flip-flops were not appropriate footwear for clearing brush near the cabin!
- Use quality wood so everything lines up better.
- Always have three points of contact to keep yourself from falling.
- Measure twice, cut once. We only broke this rule once, and the result was a bedside table with one very short leg!
With all of the work we had to do, we still made time to enjoy nature around us. We drove the back roads at dawn and dusk to spot local wildlife such as deer, hawks and even coyotes. We sat on the porch, reading books or watching geese, ducks and black cormorants go by. Sometimes loons graced us with their calls.
We’ve learned many things throughout this process, not only about cabin building but also about our values and faith and how strong we really are. While we lost one home, we have gained our lake cabin in the woods. We are very thankful for our 20 seconds of courage that have changed our lives forever!