Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Minnesota experience: Going Up North to the cabin August 29, 2022

Homemade roadside signs identify lakeshore property owners along Horseshoe Lake. These signs are posted all over lake cabin country. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

FOR MANY MINNESOTANS, summer means going Up North. That escape to lake and cabin country has been, for me, elusive, not part of my personal history, until recently. Now, thanks to the generosity of a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who own lake shore property in the central Minnesota lakes region, going Up North is part of my summertime, and sometimes autumn, experience.

Randy and our granddaughter, Isabelle, 6, head onto the dock in Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Now I understand what I’ve missed—the peacefulness of simply getting away from it all, the beauty of immersing one’s self in nature, the quieting of the spirit beside the water, in the woods, on the beach.

A northwoods style cabin across the lake from where we stay. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

In this land of 10,000-plus lakes, I’ve discovered the draw of lake life. I grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, where lakes are few. I can count on three fingers the number of vacations during my youth—one to Duluth at age four, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a pre-teen and then camping once with an aunt and uncle at Potato River Falls in Wisconsin. That’s it. Cows have a way of keeping farm families home. My kids will tell you that our family vacations were mostly to visit grandparents with a few camping trips and other close by trips tossed in. No going Up North to a cabin.

I love the kitschy roadside signs pointing to lake properties. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But now, oh, now, several summers into going Up North to the lake cabin, I fully embrace what so many Minnesotans hold in their family histories.

Sailing on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Waterskiing is part of the lake experience for some. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Sunset on Horseshoe Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The appeal of a lake comes for me not in boats or jet skis or sailboats or kayaks or paddleboards, but rather in the natural aspect. The sun rising over the lake, painting pink across the sky. The sun lowering, bathing the far shore treeline in dusk’s light. The moon rising.

Loons glide across Horseshoe Lake near the dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then in the water, the watching of loons as they glide, duck, emerge, their haunting voices breaking the silence of early morning. I never tire of seeing them, of hearing their call, of observing babies swim near their protective parents.

A loon family seemingly unbothered by a nearby pontoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

For a few summers, eagles lived in a nest on the family lake property. To see those massive birds on-site, flying into the treetop nest, perched there, proved fascinating. They’ve moved on to another location and eagle sightings are infrequent.

A bluegill caught from the dock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The clarity of Horseshoe Lake continues to impress me. I can see fish swimming in schools and some singularly. That’s vastly different from southern Minnesota lakes, most murky and green. Unappealing. But here fish bite by the dock, exciting the grandchildren and Grandma, too.

Typically the adults make a brewery stop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Our eldest daughter and her family are part of this Up North experience and it is perhaps that which most pleases me. To have this time together—eating meals lakeside, swimming, fishing, taking nature walks, sitting around a campfire and making s’mores, going into Crosslake for ice cream or craft beer—all of these moments I treasure. We are connecting, making memories, delighting in one another in a beautiful and peaceful setting. If only our other daughter and her husband and our son could join us, then my joy would be complete. But given the distance they live from Minnesota and their job and school obligations, I don’t expect a full house at the cabin.

Randy fishes with both the grandchildren, here Isaac, age three. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

So I celebrate the Up North time we have, whether just Randy and me at the cabin or six of us. I love walking the long drive buffeted by towering pines. I love the stillness of the lake in the early morning. I love the crackle of burning wood and the taste of gooey s’mores. I love the lack of obligations and schedule and plenty of time to read a book or lounge on the beach, the sun warming the sand and my skin. I love every minute with those I love. I love that going Up North is now part of my life story, even if it took well into my sixties to write that chapter.

TELL ME: If you’re from Minnesota, do you go Up North? If you’re from elsewhere, do you have a similar escape? Please share. I’d love to hear your stories.

Please check back for more posts about going Up North.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


28 Responses to “The Minnesota experience: Going Up North to the cabin”

  1. beth Says:

    simply beautiful in every way. in Michigan, we go up north on weekends when possible and it is as peaceful and restorative practice as you describe. we should both feel lucky

  2. Susan Ready Says:

    your up north thoughts have captured the many moments why we love living in the area

  3. Looks like a beautiful place! ❤

  4. There is just something about nature that disconnects one from the hustle and bustle and connects one on a whole different level and I think for the better due to just being and not doing unless you want to. I love being near water and nature and certainly am an outdoors type person. It is good for the whole being 🙂 I am glad to hear you can escape and experience and just connect with family and nature. Nothing better than the simple life! Happy Day – Enjoy

  5. Ken Wedding Says:

    As a family who had a lake place for 20+ years, what you’ve left out of your idyllic description (which is all right on the money) is the work required to keep the lake place in good nick. As I got older, the work got to be too much. That’s when we sold. (Children too far away to benefit.)

    • You’re absolutely right, Ken. Owning a lake place IS a lot of work. Since I’m just a guest at the lake cabin, I don’t see all of that. We guests do pitch in with some tasks. Ours has been mostly picking up sticks and branches and raking the beach. Others have helped with putting the dock in and then taking it out and also painting the guest cabin.

  6. Oh how I loved this piece about “Up North”. Being from there and also a farm kid it was hard sometimes to live amongst the “city weekend/vacation kids” who seemed to have endless time for recreation when all we did was work! I even remember telling one local kid (his father owned the hardware store) who lived on the local lake and was bragging that his family was boating all the time, that one day I would own that lake.😂🤣 Out of a mouth of an inexperienced teenager. But, in some ways things always change, I don’t own the lake (who can say the own anything as we are all just renting our time on this earth) but I stay on that lake almost every time I am home in MN now. That kid is a big time lawyer in the cities.
    So happy that you guys are able to enjoy the “Up North” experience. Carpe Diem!

    • Paula, I love this comment, sharing your perspective on lake life as a farm kid. I sometimes feel the same when we are Up North and out and about. So happy you can revisit “that lake” when you’re back in Minnesota.

  7. This is why we love living where we do— a beautiful lake view and all of the wildlife that goes with it. We feel like we live in a vacation spot and we do. You are making great memories with those grandkids — what a gift.

  8. Valerie Says:

    I have many fond memories of up at the lake cabin as a child…I understand what you describe. Our own children had a different experience…we went up to a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior. And we have amazing memories from up on the north shore.

  9. lspanbauer Says:

    I am also from southwestern Minnesota—Wabasso (you know that town well). We only went “up north” as far as Anoka because my dad’s sister lived there. Like you said, milk cows keep you pretty close to home. Now I live in eastern South Dakota, where the dividing line between “East River” and “West River” is well defined. Is there a well defined dividing line that separates northern and southern Minnesota? I have a friend from Crookston—which to me is “up north” but there is even more northern Minnesota to her.

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