Where the trees grow thick, and the hills lead to earthen kettles, and those kettles then fill with fresh water...that’s where the cottage lies. Even in the dark, the forests feel familiar and welcoming. Freedom and comfort are shaped from an idea into a tangible thing there. The cottage is simple, even a bit primitive, but by my father and grandfather’s hands it was built without flaw.
Unpaved, unmarked dirt roads are laid out like veins through the unchanged woods. Seemingly abandoned shacks and one seemingly hidden shrine wait for their next visitors. During my summers as a child, I soaked up tales of ferocious beasts and unsavory characters that sought refuge in the very same labyrinth of tangled brush and timber. I was inclined to believe, and I still relish the suggestion that the trees framing Lake La Fave kept secrets.
The water is clear and deep and it’s lined with pale sand. I know of no other lake like La Fave. Just off its shore, at the point where feet can no longer touch, a pile of waterlogged trees are tethered to the bottom. Sometimes they give the illusion of a capsized vessel when seen through the rippled water’s surface. The “log pile,” as it has become known, shelters schools of bass and minnows and supposedly an uncatchable fish.
Daisies, purple irises, and blueberry bushes grow along the shoreline. Countless frogs hide among them waiting to be caught by the next child, youthful adult, or enthusiastic dog. Roots, exposed after decades of erosion, are carpeted with moss. The shore has been deemed a worthy fairy habitat by the new generation of make-believers. The small beach is perfect for sand castles and the reeds make perfect drawbridges.
I shot my first bow, caught my first fish, roasted my first marshmallow, rowed my first boat, built my first fort, swam the width of my first lake, and saw my first shooting star at the cottage. There is no telephone or television, there is no reception for cell phones, and there isn't a motor boat or jet ski. The closest store sells groceries, hardware supplies, and gasoline. The closest church has a sanctuary filled with timeworn pews. The closest farm still has roosters that crow every morning and can be heard from a mile away.
Conversations last a little longer at Lake La Fave. People take the time to row out into the middle of lake at midnight just to watch the Northern Lights. Swimmers don’t just swim during the heat of the day, but they swim right after breakfast, throughout the afternoon, and before the sun sets. Then they dry themselves and warm up next to the bonfire.
My imagination was born within the pine and birch forests of Northern Wisconsin, and it was matured by the scents of wood fires and moss covered shores. There was no adventure left un-had in the sanctuaries of spring-fed lakes and quaint cottages. It was once called Chickopee- the land of the birches- then it was named Hamelot, but to all it has always been Lake La Fave.
“If heaven is like the cottage on a beautiful summer’s day, then you can keep your streets of gold; I’d rather be here.”
-Peter Cornelius Hamel