Henry David Thoreau, I’m Not

My Wisconsin cabin retreat

In a recent post, I wrote that as I was driving down a busy highway to the ginormous Mall of America, the thought crossed my mind that it would be nice to leave the fast pace of the big city behind and retreat to a cabin in the woods.

I was speaking metaphorically, so imagine my surprise when my long-lost friend, comedian Kristin Anderson, posted on Facebook that I would be welcome to use her family’s cabin. Wow. I lobbed Kristin a phone call to make sure she was serious, got directions from her husband John (founder of JDA Design Architects), and off I went on a two-hour trek into Wisconsin.

I got to the cabin in the evening as darkness was falling. It was a cozy, quaint little home away from home and a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis. After some reading, I turned out the light early and just listened in the darkness to . . . nothing. It was totally quiet, almost eerily so.

The driveway to the highway

I drifted off to sleep but awoke around three o’clock. It was so quiet that every little sound set off subtle alarm bells in my head. I was reasonably sure I wasn’t hearing an intruder or a wild beast, but that element of doubt crept in and refused to leave.

Unable to go back to sleep, I got up to read a bit and fix something to eat. A little while later, I started wrestling with the big question: Should I or shouldn’t I? I decided I should. I threw on my winter jacket and headed outside. It was a quarter after five in the morning.

I had never watched the sun come up before. (Insert shocked gasps from normal people.) I wanted to make the most of my cabin retreat and figured that this was a perfect opportunity to commune with the great outdoors and finally witness one of Mother Nature’s greatest hits. It was a little chilly but I was determined to tough it out.

The view from outside the front door

Funny thing about being a city boy in the country: an occasional rustling of leaves in the deathly stillness before dawn can be very unsettling. I expected to feel the peaceful bliss of serenity as I stood among the pines gazing out at the lake. Instead, each rustling bush activated my “fight or flight” instincts and my imagination ran wild. My mind was certain that each momentary graze against a bush was a rampaging bear or deranged killer . . . or perhaps a squirrel with bad intentions. It’s remarkable how similar those three things sound in the darkness of the woods.

Shivering, I tried to calm my runaway imagination by gazing up at the constellations in the clear night sky. One of the stars in the Big Dipper started moving; it wasn’t a star at all but some kind of light that was coming my way.

I instantly flashed to Flight of the Navigator and The 4400. Oh-oh, I thought, I’m about to be abducted by aliens only to be returned to Earth eight years later, much to the surprise of grieving relatives and a suspicious government. Or maybe the time-space-continuum-challenged aliens deposit me back on the dock a month before I left. Then I could be my own best friend!

The stairs down to the dock

Twenty minutes later, I wrapped the details of that story up in my head and noticed that it was definitely a bit lighter out. I looked around me. No sun. Now let’s see, the sun rises in the east and sets in the . . . or is it the other way around? Damn. I can memorize a hundred years’ worth of baseball history and statistics but I can never keep that straight. Not that it would have done me any good; when God handed out directional sense, I was off wandering aimlessly with the penguins.

Fifteen minutes later, it was lighter but there was still no sun and my feet were freezing so I abandoned my quest and headed back to the cabin. By no stretch of the imagination am I an outdoorsman, but even I didn’t think I could fail so miserably at trying to watch the sun come up.

Oh, well, I’m here for three more days. Maybe I’ll try Sunrise 101 again the night before I leave. I’m thinking I’ll have this whole “harmony with nature” thing figured out by then.

Three days into my retreat, I am indeed synchronizing with nature’s rhythms. Click here to read my update and see photos of the majestic Trego Nature Trail along the Namekagon RIver.

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12 Responses to “Henry David Thoreau, I’m Not”

  1. Serena Says:

    Oh, Phil, I am so jealous! So glad you made it out to the cabin. I just know your days there will be a magnificent experience. By the way, what did you read and eat your first night there? I could almost picture everything as I read your post but was left hanging with those two bits of info. :)

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Hi, Serena! I read some “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore before bed. When I woke up at 3 AM I read some sports stories I had saved on my laptop! For dinner, I fixed some quinoa and steamed broccoli and carrots I hope that satisfies your curiosity!

  3. Kim Wencl Says:

    Oh Phil – you are funny! I love your blatant honesty! Keep on communing and throw a little fun and r & r in too!

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Kim! I’m glad my ineptitude provided some amusement for you!

  5. mamastemama Says:

    Hmmmm. Sometimes leaving the fast pace of the city behind for a cabin in the woods is more than just putting distance between the two physical points. Sounds like you may need to put a little distance between the two spiritual points inside of you. I’m sure you will get there, but reaching that destination requires traveling inward–Godspeed, Phil!

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    True that, Lori! It’s taking me a day or two but I’m making progress!

  7. mamastemama Says:

    Oh, and it rises in the East Phil. Sounds like your sunset (in the West-buddy) may be more successfull tonight. ;-)

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Lori!

  9. Serena Says:

    Reading Thomas Moore sounds very interesting and eating quinoa with vegetables sounds delicious. You must really like sports if you’re reading sports stories at three in the morning. :)

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Gotta keep up with the sports world, Serena! I enjoy being a part of that world.

  11. Kathleen Says:

    Good for you, Phil, for putting your desires out there. The Universe delivered. I chuckled at your observations about what was going on inside of you as you got used to both the sounds and the silence of your woodsy environment. Once you’re beyond that, you will want this experience again … and again. Nothing like woods, water and a wide expanse of night sky to soothe one’s soul.

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Well stated, Kathleen! I already know that I’ll miss this as soon as I leave!

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