Every year for the last three years Adam and I have rented a rustic cabin at Lake Maria State Park, the kind you have to snowshoe in to and then heat with a fire in a wood stove. We started doing this because I wanted a Christmas tradition that was ours, and a quiet night in the woods allowed us a moment of peace and calm between the craziness of holiday prep and the craziness of holiday celebration.
This year, winter camping with a baby in tow, we knew it was going to be different.
When you say you’re going to backpack in to a cabin with an infant in the winter, people either think you’re crazy or adventurous. But before people got too excited, I’d point out that:
1. The cabin is only a 1-1.5 mile hike from the parking lot
2. The park is only an hour or so away from our house, so worst case, we pack up and go home.
3. The park is pretty small (you could only get so lost) and our cell phones get service.
I thought I’d taken a reasonable approach to packing – cautious, but not overly so.
THEN we arrived at the park.
It was dark (usually we arrive in the afternoon, but this year, it was early evening) and colder than I expected (15 degrees). While nine-month-old Beatrice snoozed in the car seat, Adam and I assembled our gear and I realized that we’d left my headlamp at home. Shivering with the cold and now nerves, I loaded Bee into our front carrier, donned a backpack (full of bedding and clothes and other light stuff), and we set off.
Or tried to, but we couldn’t find the path. The lack of snow meant that the path wasn’t the track-marked beacon of white it usually is. Instead, the path was a faint gap between trees, with the barest remain of wear pattern on the tall grass from the four-wheelers that they use to service the cabins. I started picturing us getting lost, the call to 911, the story in the paper, the “What was she thinking?” tsk-tsking of other moms, and I almost turned back.
We went really slow and then got more confident as we found our footing. Very relieved to arrive at the cabin, we set about warming it up with a fire in the wood stove. Three hours later when the cabin was still too cold to shed any of our outdoor layers I started thinking this might not have been worth it.
But then Adam and I stretched out on the bed with our books and Bee settled in between us, our active girl tamed by the mesmerizing fire, and that sense of peace came over me. Quiet cabin, gorgeous fire, good books, our happy little family of three. We slipped a sleepsack over Beatrice’s snow pants and put her down for the night (in the pack-n-play that Adam had painfully hauled in,) and then dozed off ourselves.
We woke up to snowflakes dancing across the windows and falling gently outside. We played and read some more and then headed out in search of coffee.
For this year our tradition is still worth keeping, the experience overall was worth the additional stress and risk.
Will it always be? I don’t know. For now we’ll keep feeling our way forward, trying things and seeing how they go for our new family.