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Winter Weekends at the Cabin are where we Reconnect as a Family

Teresa Waddington - Dec 28, 2022

Consciousness rises slowly, awakening with the dawn that brightens my room through curtainless windows cut into rough-hewn logs. The scent of coffee and woodsmoke curls into the silent room. I throw back the warm covers and the sharp, cool air clears my mind as I pull on slippers and pad across the concrete floor to the kitchen, where the percolator my grandfather used for his morning coffee bubbles and sputters. My husband must have put it on before he went out – I can see him splitting logs through the window. The fire he thoughtfully started is beginning to heat the living space and kitchen. The warmth rises to the loft where fuzzy-haired kids start to shift deep in their sleeping bags.

By my second cup, everyone is awake. My mom is cooking bacon at the stove while my dad and my daughter disagree loudly about allowable Scrabble words. My two boys have already gone outside, digging out a huge snowdrift to make a tunnel for our dog to run through. Max, our dog, has found Flynn (the neighbour’s dog) and the two of them are tussling about as much as the boys, enjoying the deep, powdery snow. It’s sunny and calm, the lack of wind a special treat given our location in the shadow of Christie Mines Ridge near Pincher Creek, Alta.

After breakfast, we begin the busy work of a rural place. Clearing brush and burning it in our outdoor fire barrel, chopping and stacking wood for the stove, and clearing snow off steps and pathways to make it easier to get around. Our kids are big enough to be properly helpful and find joy in the work when everyone is doing it together. My youngest, at 9, is digging stumps out of the snow and feeding the fire barrel that my mom is tending. My 11 year old loves to chop wood, and I can hear him whooping whenever he gets a clean strike, splitting the log with a single, well-placed swing while my husband piles the pieces into our sled and pulls them over to the house. My 13-year-old daughter shovels snow with me, chatting aimlessly and trying to make one single large pile they can hollow out later.

When my dad emerges from the cabin, we leave my mom at the fire and the rest of us take a walk through the fresh snow. We discover an amazing array of animals on display in the markings that they have left: moose, deer, weasels and even wing prints criss-cross through our parcel of land. As we crunch loudly through the landscape, I can imagine dozens of deer, grouse, squirrels and all manner of critters simply being one step ahead; all around us but completely invisible.

After dinner, my husband and I hand wash the dishes while the kids and grandparents get games and puzzles out. No television, no laundry machines and no dishwasher create conversation space as we gather to wash and dry, with those that cook enjoying a final glass of wine while the cleanup crew does their work. We play cards and dice games with a lot of energy and competitive interaction. The puzzle on the table in front of the fire progresses slowly – it’s impossible to ignore and even the puzzle haters find a piece occasionally. Eventually, we’ll turn off the lights and with the fire crackling, cuddle on the couch to watch the stars through the big windows before heading off to bed.

Weekends at the cabin are magical. During the week, our family constantly juggles the demands of work, and school, with phones pinging and schedules tight. My husband and I constantly try to get the kids off their video games and turn off the TV to interact with each other and go outside. I’m a slave to my watch and alarm clock, constantly moving between things that have timelines – flights to catch, meetings to attend, kids to drop off or pick up. But coming to the cabin on the weekend is like entering another world.

Here, I don’t use a watch; in fact, I don’t really know what time it is – sunrise and sunset, hunger and chores set our schedule. The house and the woods around it are silent and dark, except for birdsong and the moon – and that is so different from our city home. I sleep deeply in the cabin. As for the ever-present phone…. most of our property doesn’t even have cell reception. It makes life seem less pressing, easier to live in the moment without distraction.

When I get up the next morning, my son is already sitting on the couch in front of the fire, staring at the flames. “Did you start the fire?” I ask. He nods. I sit beside him and he leans into me, sleepy and a bit sad. “What’s up?” I ask. He stares at the fire while he answers. “I just don’t want to go home yet. I like it better here.”

I know what he means; the cabin is a place of connection, where the pressures of the world seem far away and the world seems less lonely. I am so grateful that we have a space like this, and the family and friends to fill it. It’s not really about the cabin, per se, but about the ability to be present and to be together.

I smile and put my arms around him. “Even when we’re home, this place is always here, where it’s quiet and safe, and everyone you love has time for you.”

I don’t really mean the cabin, as I hold my son in the circle of my arms. And I think he knows that.

Originally published in the G&M Dec 28, 2022.

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