With a few months left in America, we started in April to tick off (or check off, as people here say) some trips that we felt sure were essential to a full American experience. First up: the log cabin.
To be perfectly honest, we tried the cabin thing last summer, too, but it didn’t go entirely to plan. Over in Oregon we spent a night at a KOA – that’s Kampsites of America – in Astoria. KOA, while I’m sure it has no association with the Ku Klux Klan, certainly does like its Ks, and referred to the cabin as a Kabin. This was less disturbing than the realisation that it was, in essence, Butlins. Just feel the Fifties wholesomeness:
And, on further reflection, our cabin was, in essence, a chalet. Except muddier. Baby A was crawling madly at the time of our visit, and although the floor and porch were technically made of wood, she was covered in mud after half an hour there. We tried to console ourselves with the thought that this was probably how babies In Days Of Yore lived all the time (as they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – ‘he must be a king, he hasn’t got shit all over him’), but we still felt bad. Then she cried all night and we were cold in our sleeping bags on our vinyl mattress. And then we had to go to Christmas in July at the KOA pancake breakfast.
It was time to give it another try. So when my sister J and her girlfriend E came to visit, we all bundled into a SUV (amid much sisterly sarcasm) and sped off to a Wisconsin cabin.
For a long time I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so entranced by the idea of staying in a log cabin, though it was reassuring to find that it wasn’t just me. Log cabins are everywhere in America, functioning these days as a nice compromise between full-on tent camping and an ostensibly more luxurious hotel. Finally it hit me: Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Little House in the Big Woods
. This is the book that introduced me, aged about 6 or 7, to the idea of maple syrup; the general store that sold sacks of flour, nails and clothes; bears; and log cabins. I suppose I have been wanting to live in one ever since.
According to this nice National Parks Service resource
, the first people to build log cabins in America were Scandinavians and Germans – they’re not a British tradition, but they came to be considered as quintessentially American. The cabins became the first homes for pioneers everywhere, easily made from trees around, not even needing the purchase of general store nails. And they were pretty humble: one room, beaten earth floor, a sleeping loft if you were lucky.
The cabin has now strayed somewhat from those humble origins:
Our Wisconsin cabin ( at Rustic Ridge
, which I highly recommend) had a dishwasher, two bathrooms, a gas fired grill, outdoor lighting and a jacuzzi. It was considerably more luxurious than our Evanston apartment. And yet it still kind of felt like a cabin: everything made of wood, with the proper overlapping logs at the corners; a porch that looked out on two sides over trees and a pond, and a loft style upper storey. We grilled meat, we drank Bourbon in rocking chairs, and A learned to walk downstairs on the wooden steps from the road to the porch.
(With thanks to E for the photos of the Wisconsin cabin.)