The Winter Spirit Of the Summer Cabin

EVERY season yields one perfect day.

Mine stole in on a black night before dawn. Forced from bed by a 5 a.m. hockey carpool, I drove home through a tunnel of snow-flecked light. The only sound was the whine and moan of tires churning dry snow. The only presence, the faint sting of crystallized air. By 5:30, I stood alone, dressed for the day in a dark, sleeping house.

After gathering kindling and a few logs, I laid a fire. As crackling birch and popping sap flirted with the silence, I watched a cave of flickering light materialize. Furniture and household paraphernalia melted into the shadows. By the unsteady light, I read slowly and indulgently an essay about huts and cabins and other small dwellings. A tangible spareness and intimacy blew through conscious thought and swept away its complicated webs. In the little cave of firelight, a door was opening. I laid aside the practicalities of the coming day and slipped into the dream of the summer cabin.

It's a common enough dream. But it is never what you might expect, this winter vision of the summer cabin. It is not a reverie of family memories. Nor conjured-up scenes of blue lake, green pine, and white birch. Nor imagined voices of children playing flashlight tag far into the night. It is not the sweet, grapelike perfume rushing from the umbels of the showy milkweed. Not the twhop! of tennis balls in the afternoon heat nor the bark of young foxes in the cool midnight woods. Winter's vision of the summer cabin is oddly independent of picture, sound, smell, and touch.

It is, rather, emptiness. Like the great blackness that stretches across the summer night between me in my bed and the loons on the far end of the lake. It is an expanse that, filled up, would separate us. But, thanks to the holy vastness between us, the loon's exotic call is in my very ears.

Within my cave of firelight, this ethereal vision of summer cabin became a solid conviction: In the spareness of our surroundings, we are opened to a peculiar wideness. Like an expanding universe, objects and events pull away from one another. Everything is allowed its proper attention. And everything matters.

As dawn washed away the firelight, I feared this conviction might drown in the currents of the day's activities. But the wideness stayed. Each task - feeding the cats, running errands, doing taxes, and cooking dinner - found room within the surrounding emptiness. Thoughts extended unrestricted into expression.

The winter spirit of the summer cabin had the effect of a spring thaw. As the land began to shed its drifts of snow and the body its layers of clothing, so the psyche shed its accumulations. And underneath bloomed a single, perfect day.

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