If you’ve ever spent a summer at a cabin in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, you are guaranteed to love the book Return to Wake Robin, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
It doesn’t even have to have been an entire summer – a memorable week or even a weekend in the Northwoods will give you a taste and appreciation for what this book is all about.
Author Marnie Mamminga’s book is filled with memories in vignette form of her family’s trips to Wake Robin, the log cabin her grandparents built in 1929 on Big Spider Lake near Hayward.
It was the heyday of Northwoods resorts and one (Moody’s Camp) was Wake Robin’s neighbor. The author’s grandparents fell in love with the area and built their log cabin next to a resort they loved. Wake Robin has now been enjoyed by five generations.
“Get up! Get up!” Mamminga’s mother urged back in 1964, when she wanted her daughter to get up to see the sunrise on the lake. Getting up to see the sunrise was not something high on the priority list of a 14-year old girl at 5 a.m. on a chilly morning.
Yet three decades later that same girl-turned-author admits whispering those same words to her adolescent son, promising the view of the sunrise he will see is “awesome.”
Mamminga’s reminiscences tell how a trip to the grocery store was a “major expedition” – as was driving to a nearby farm where the owners operated a laundry service out of their garage. Even rainy days are recalled with fondness. First a fire was built to dispel the dampness, next came the planning for how to spend the day.
“Cabin fever was not in our vocabulary,” Mamminga pointed out.
In those days kids knew how to amuse themselves – albeit without a phone or television. A corner chest was filled with games, card games were suggested, as was reading, knitting or even baking a batch of cookies – all were among the indoor options.
A popular outdoor activity was to don slickers and head into the woods “in search of spiky moss, sparkling rocks, pinecones, ferns and twigs.” Returning to the cabin, these “collections” were then assembled into pie pans. “They became miniature landscapes perfect for clothespin people to reside in,” Mamminga recalled.
One summer an unanticipated “opportunity” arose for Mamminga and her sister when the nearby lodge needed help cleaning cabins. Besides learning to clean the girls had a behind-the-scenes view of operating a resort.
“All of my romantic notions of running a resort vanished faster than soap down a drain,” she wrote.
Writing of fishing and fishing guides, swimming, canoe racing, square dances and special birthday parties, Mamminga even fell in love with her future husband during one of those summers.
“One of the reasons we continue to cherish the small cabin is that it is a reminder of the values we treasure, the joy and healing power of nature, the stewardship of God’s natural world; the ability to share, compromise and get along in a small space; the act of listening; the art of forgiving,” Mamminga writes.
Recalling those golden days, the author recognizes few opportunities exist today to recreate many of those memories. That’s because so many of the lakes are surrounded with “modernized lake homes, condo associations, and Jet Skis.”
This is an excellent “feel good” book (fewer than 200 pages) that can easily be tucked into a purse or beach bag and it’s one that readers of almost any wage will enjoy.