Opening day: the cabin kind

By Tim Mulherin

Sun contributor

As family tradition dictates, my youngest brother, Chris, and I drove from Indianapolis to the cabin my wife and I have owned in Cedar for the past 15 years for the trout opener on the last Saturday in April. And as usual, we spent some long-anticipated quality time on a picturesque stream in northern Michigan. I knew it would be a great outing; we even managed to catch some nice trout. Of course, a few days before we spooled new line on our spinning reels, pulled on our hip waders, and tried our luck, we had to see to another annual ritual: opening our chalet for the season.

First, some background. Although I tried to relocate to northern Michigan for decades (and would gladly forego my Indiana citizenship), that one-way migratory attempt was soundly defeated by a confluence of unfortunate circumstances – especially that of being married to a Hoosier who refused to budge. As a way of appeasement, dear Janet suggested we become long-distance Michigan property owners. So in 2002, we ended up purchasing a cozy 600-square-foot cottage on Spider Lake. The real draw was the one-acre lot with 100 feet of lake frontage on a cove teeming with wildlife.

The anticipatory nervousness of opening a seasonal cabin can help one rediscover religion. After turning onto South Hobbs Highway for the last several miles of our May trips to Spider Lake, I would silently say something of an abbreviated, customized rosary, earnestly praying that catastrophe would not await us. Oftentimes, my prayers weren’t answered. Yet I didn’t hold that against the Divine, as my worldly concern about the cottage being intact and problem-free was a trifle compared to what’s on the Creator’s agenda. Like expanding the universe and ensuring the Lions win the Super Bowl next year.

In the six years we co-owned the cabin with another Indianapolis couple, twice Janet and I arrived from the nearly 400-mile trek north to discover a snapped power line. The local public utility would send out a crew within 48 hours – our emergency not constituting theirs – and we would find hotel accommodations until the power came back on. Another year, there was a major mouse infestation which led to some major freaking out, as we arrived at the cabin about midnight expecting to immediately crash. Undaunted, we quickly cleaned up the evidentiary droppings and strategically placed traps, while I sedated myself with a few cold ones.

Perhaps the most memorable opening day incident at Spider Lake occurred following a particularly brutal northern Michigan winter. I was inside the cabin when I heard the bloodcurdling cry of the banshee – which quickly turned into a potty-mouthed tirade from otherwise usually composed Janet. A family of raccoons had apparently overwintered in our storage shed. They used it as a bedroom, toilet, and dining facility, evidently becoming ravenous enough to chew on about every stored item: inflatable rafts, water toys, outdoor chair cushions, you name it. Once we stifled our gag reflex, we spent the day emptying the shed’s ruined contents, recovering what we could, and transporting what we couldn’t to the local landfill.

Ah, those were the days!

Yet in our time in Cedar, we’ve had just one opening day emergency occur – on our first long weekend there. I had driven a U-Haul truck from Indy brimming with furniture. Late that sunny Friday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend, we were met at the cottage by two local friends to help us move in. We pulled up the steep gravel driveway about 4 p.m. and went inside to turn on the power and plumbing, eager to get the party started. Minutes later, however, the banshee wailed once again. “Turn off the water! It’s flooding the hallway!” Janet cried out.

Getting a plumber to come out at the end-of-business on the Friday of a holiday weekend seemed like an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, per the recommendation of one of my buddies, I called D&W Mechanical, anticipating having to turn around and return to Indy. But, no. One of D&W’s plumbers lived in Cedar and was heading home. He would make us his last stop.

A smiling Mike Adams hopped out of his service truck and did what any plumber arriving at a customer’s home during move-in day would do: He walked over to the rental truck, picked up an end table, and carried it in the house. Then he pitched in with the remaining heavy lifting while asking me for my layman’s explanation of the plumbing problem. (“My wife screamed, and there was water everywhere.”)

I pointed out the source of the leak, somewhere inside a first-floor hallway wall. Luckily, Mike could easily access it behind the furnace filter housing without doing a number on the drywall. A copper fitting had popped off by dint of the awakened waterline. No biggie. Our new plumber for life had us up and running in minutes, rescuing our holiday. (FYI, Mike is now the owner/ operator of Good Harbor Mechanical LLC.)

Because my aging joints determine my physical activity, I’ve relinquished the critical first stage of the cabin-opening ritual, which requires spelunking in the crawlspace to turn on the water service. Phil Nachazel, our good neighbor, now does the honors in mid-April. And his wife, Mary, expertly applies the finishing touches for our homecoming. When we arrive at the end of the month, the hot and cold water is flowing, the power is on, and the furnace is ready to banish any spring chill. The cottage is alive again, and my heart is aglow.

Once the rest of the essential opening day ceremonies conclude – inspecting the house inside and out, making a to-do list, doing yard cleanup, getting out the lawn furniture, and filling in the holes the critters dug under the shed last winter – the recreational opening day ritual can commence. Reels lined with fresh four-pound monofilament, tackle boxes restocked, waders patched or newly purchased, the next-morning alarm going off in the 4:30 a.m. darkness as the aroma of strong coffee fills the air. Later, an hour or two after first light, the only loud voice I hope to hear piercing the sweet sound of a burbling trout stream is “Fish on!” Or my little brother cursing that another one got away. (Sorry, Chris, I just couldn’t resist.)

Tim Mulherin is the author of Sand, Stars, Wind, and Water: Field Notes from Up North. His book on the impact of the pandemic, climate change, and tourism on northwest lower Michigan will be published by Michigan State University Press later this year. He is now – and happily so – a seasonal resident of Cedar.