The Last Homely House

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Photo Essay by Caroline Royce

Minnesota is a land of many lakes, many of them well known throughout the state. Harriet. Minnetonka. Leech. Red. Mille Lacs. Vermillion. of the Woods. My very favorite lake is not well known, probably because it exists out of time, as if in a snowglobe. Totally isolated from the world, even though it’s spilt into two by a country highway. At night, the sounds of semis rumbling is as common as the call of a loon. 

Eleventh Crow Wing Lake, that’s what it’s called. What’s special about it might not seem obvious from afar, or even up close to many. A 19-cabin resort, with a swimming beach and dock (it’s a raft. But we call it a dock), wood-burning (some might say authentic) sauna, and a lodge with Sunday night Bingo, arcade games, Heggies pizzas for purchase, a pool table and jukebox. When I was a kid, the lodge served as a sort of local hangout, the atmosphere not unlike Al’s Drive-In from “Happy Days.”

Cabin 19, our home-away-from-home for 1 week a year (and in our hearts forever)

Cabin 19, our home-away-from-home for 1 week a year (and in our hearts forever)

Even though I would describe the resort more like a village, nowadays the villagers tend to stick to their own cabins in the evenings, or down on the beach, tending a bonfire, or taking part in a communal sauna (which involves running into the cold lake periodically). We have been coming here for 28 years (this summer will be our 29th) and there are friends who still come at the same time who’ve become like an extended family. We started out in one of the smallest cabins on the property (Cabin 6, long since rebuilt) with its rippled glass windows, old school radiators and lopsided floors. It would be an understatement to say we’ve upgraded over time. Now we stay in the biggest cabin, No. 19. No cabin is truly “ours.” It’s only “our cabin” for one week out of the year. But it’s so familiar to ­­—  a second home. In early August when we arrive again it’s like we never left. 

The cabin — nestled high up on the hill amongst the pine, like a luxury treehouse — is not even what is so special; it’s what it represents. Family. Familiarity. Comfort. Warmth. Endless youth. Even though we’re now grown, and have our own families who keep us occupied (less time for arcade games, or volleyball, or swimming), the cabin still represents our most treasured childhood memories which no amount of growing up or growing old can displace. 

I was reading “Fellowship of the Ring” last summer, and early on there’s a passage about Rivendell, the elf haven where Frodo convalesces after being attacked by the Nazgul. His uncle Bilbo calls it “the last homely house” and says “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep, or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all’. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.”

This cabin, this lake, this place is the Last Homely House. When I need it to be, it’s the only place there is. 

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Caroline Royce