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A wilderness shack holds life’s finest moments

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Have you found that as you grow older the things that are special to you become even more special with the passing years?

For me, one of these has been what our family fondly calls “the shack.” Visiting it the other day for the first time in too many months, it began talking to me as soon as it came within sight from the trail that leads to its back door.

As anyone who is blessed with ownership of an old camp at a remote wilderness location will vouch, a walk-around is always in order before the spring opening. Any tree limbs punch holes in the roof? Any sign of a break-in? Window panes still in place? Rusty spots in the old chimney? Squirrel nests in the outhouse? Mice?

Our shack looked good to me, though you might not have thought so. Beauty is in the eye; it’s no architect’s dream. A hodge-podge lashup of three different sections, the shack more or less evolved over the years. Originally a trapper’s 8×12 cabin that was awarded to my late father-in-law to settle a debt, it became ours when we began to pay the state lease fee for the land upon which the cabin sat. When Diane and I started fixing it up, bears had clawed the door half off and the squirrels were using it as their wintering over condo, and winter snows collected in the northeast corner under the crude bunk beds and mice-infested straw mattresses.

We fixed it up nice, however, with lots of oil-based gray paint, some decent appliances and red-checkered curtains. We added a screened in porch, which resulted in a dustup with the state environmental folks who threatened and demanded unsuccessfully that we remove it post haste (another story). Back in the early ‘90s, after leaving my career at the Bangor Daily News, an add-on project at the shack served as a welcome diversion. Hard physical work can do wonders when you need a new focus!

The shack’s solitude and scenic long view of Mt. Katahdin at the north end of the lake brought Diane and I back for long weekends, and still does. We fish, putter, cook homemade blackberry pie, and play cribbage on the porch watching the sun fade over Jo-Mary Mountain off to the West. The early Septembers when Diane and I spent a week bear hunting from the shack still linger as her favorite times.

Once during perfect weather in early October, on a whim, I flew in alone on a float plane for a “shack fix.” After a lamb chop cooked over the hardwood coals on the outside fireplace and a delightful night’s sleep, I shattered the morning stillness with a revved up Cessna and a full throttle takeoff for home.

There’s an irony that goes with the shack. Although we don’t seem to have the time that we once had to spend at our modest wilderness retreat, it remains more special than ever, a repository for life’s finest moments.

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The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.net.

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