Lisa Loucks-Christenson Media Syndicate News — Steamboat Lake in northern Minnesota
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Return to Cabin 7
Written and Illustrated by Lisa Loucks-Christenson
Purchase with The Old Man & His Dream (pictured below)
Return to Cabin 7 (cover coming soon) Blurb:
As I walked to the end of the dock, a loon cried out on the lake, and I turned to meet his stare. I watched his black-and-white checkered body bobbing on the gentle waves of Steamboat Lake, Minnesota. He was swimming by himself, calling out to his mate.
I understood how he must have felt. I, too, was on the same river-fed lake, docked at the same sunset. I wasn’t sure how I had even arrived there, but at least I knew where I was. Across the lake, I could see the Pug Hole at the last moment of the day, as well as the Iron Bridge.
I wished that I had arrived earlier in the evening. It would have given me time to walk the beach and reminisce, walk back through all the summers our family had spent there. The loon cried out at the same time I was looking around for my husband—my soulmate of 30 years, Dave—and my daughter, Emme. I was just calling out to both of them when a large fish jumped in the moonlight.
I recognized the fish; he didn’t need to make such a big splash. We’d met before on a story I wrote years ago, The Old Man and His Dream. It was a story I wrote for my grandfather as his Father’s Day present. The giant musky had returned to me. In his eyes—and I saw a new story unfolding. Just like in the first book, the details began dancing across his glossy pupils, and the sunlight exchanged glances with the moon, and now the moonlight began reflecting on the still waters. I could see hope in the new skies above the horizon. From where I stood, I could see the Northern Lights flickering and wavering in my view, and I took note of everything I could see and hear.
I tried calling for Dave and Emme again, but I couldn’t open my mouth. I tried again and my mouth snapped shut. The air was so different here. I couldn’t speak, only listen and watch.
The next thing I heard was my name spoken through the winds. That caused me to turn my head behind me and focus on what was there at the resort. The cabins were all there. None of them appeared uprooted, dug out, or removed. Somehow, they had become rooted there, like live trees; they had become cabins with deep roots that twisted and turned the sandy ground. They were all yellow again—that beautiful canary yellow that I loved. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could hear laughter. As faint as it was, I couldn’t deny how familiar it sounded. It reminded me of crickets on an early summer night, sharpening their song—faint at first, but as I walked closer to the cabins, their chirps became words that were audible, and I finally understood them.
I knew instantly that this wasn’t some lucid dream. I was Up North, a place I had always wanted to visit in the fall, but I had never found the time.
While I walked between the old birch trees, I ran my hands across the peeling bark, over the spots the woodpeckers had drilled their beaks in search of ants or bug larvae. Under the rising moon, the lake became loud with waves. I could see the calm I’d witnessed was now shaped by white caps. The musky went somewhere else. I couldn’t see the loon; maybe he flew off. The laughter I had heard had now become a woman’s voice—my grandmother’s. She said, “Who’s that coming to the door?”
It was nice to hear her voice, as it had been almost eight years. I couldn’t talk. I felt silenced, and I somehow knew that I couldn’t just walk in; I had to be invited inside. It was holy ground. I felt like a mannequin. I could see everyone in my family that had passed on, all staring at me with their beautiful smiles, but no one shared words. Everyone I knew that had passed on, including every family member and friend I’d met Up North, stood there—even Martin and Anna Rebers, the old owners of from Omega Resort, which was the first place we ever stayed as a family.
Family and old friends we’d met there stared back but said nothing, as if they had to wait. Finally, after what seemed like another lifetime had passed, my father was there. He stood at the screen door, and I smiled as it creaked like it always did. He was opening it, waving me in. “Hello, Lisa, welcome Home, we’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”
I tried again, but I couldn’t speak. The sand fell off my feet as I entered. The sounds and the way to communicate them into words were different here. I’d spent years living with hypersensitivity pneumonitis interstitial lung disease—four of those years on oxygen—so that I could watch my daughter get older. What I didn't realize is that I would also be here to watch my grandparents and great aunts and uncles, friends all die. Even my sister.
I realized now that life had been preparing me for this inward pouring of a new life. It was similar, the best I can explain, to waking up in the morning on the first cool day of September. This was the day I’d wait for all summer long, every year, for the weather to cool down so I could breathe easy again. It would have been easier to move north years ago if half of my family buried here was up there, nearby, except for my sister, who had decided on cremation so she could remain with each of us for as long as we needed her.
Thankfully, the air was cool now—crisp like sucking a candy cane in the winter. Unlike in the humid air of the previous day, I relaxed, knowing I wouldn’t have to rush to St. Mary’s, unable to breathe, or be put in rooms with patients suffering from COVID-19. I wouldn’t stand a chance of living, not if I became infected with the virus, not with the lung disease I was still struggling with. I already knew how it felt not to not be able to get a breath. My life felt like I was sleeping with pillows over my mouth, compared to now, inhaling easily all the air I could take in and want, oxygen that was readily available to use.
I tried to open my mouth in an attempt to speak, but again, it felt like I was swallowing the air like it was water and the air poured into my lungs like I was inhaling the words that I wanted to speak but couldn’t get out. It was like it washed me out into the ocean into another riptide.
In that moment, I knew I wasn’t standing at the Pearly Gates. I had taken a detour and I had somehow found my unexpected return to Cabin 7, but did I get to stay for the day or forever?
© 2004 Lisa Loucks-Christenson / The Real Cabin 7
The photo above is not the Return to 7 book cover, but it is a real photo of our beloved Cabin 7. The winter day I shot that picture, the temperature was about –70 Fahrenheit with wind chill, maybe a little cooler, when I hiked out and shot the image. Then I did something I couldn’t do in the summer: I walked into the three-foot snowdrifts and broke my path to the middle of the lake. I stopped when I saw the cracks in the thick ice, passing where the river runs through the lake. Where I stood—a place I knew well—it was around 90 feet deep. In that place, I could receive a message from my dad in Heaven. That day, he came to me as a hawk, which didn’t surprise me. Dad gave me the message I needed so that I could finish the book, The Old Man & His Dreams.
HOME TO CABIN 7
Tentative Release: Winter 2022
Narrative non-fiction—a memoir of sorts—with some visionary fiction included as a bonus. A story that’s written in the present time about my vision of my future. I open this story, told from my first person perspective, with the day I returned to Cabin 7 and rejoined all of my family that left Earth and had been waiting for my arriva
Return to Cabin 7 is a story about how to prepare ourselves for our futures so we can transcend our pains, worries, and pasts, and keep our best memories hooked into our hearts. It is possible. I’ve been at Death’s door. I hope this book will help you get ready for your next lifetime, because we never know our end time any more than our entry point of our arrival, do we? Mine took me here.
This story is a sequel to my The Old Man & His Dream.
The Old Man & His Dream by Lisa Loucks-Christenson
Cover Illustration by Lisa Loucks-Christenson. This is the real old man—my grandfather—with the musky of his dreams behind him. The body of the fish stretches out across the land where the cabins lined the lake at the two resorts where our family vacationed, “Up North,” on Steamboat Lake, and it represents our storehouse of memories. © 2021 Lisa Loucks-Christenson
The Old Man & His Dreams
Written & Illustrated by Lisa Loucks-Christenson
Publisher: CoyWolf Entertainment
From the Private Library of Lisa Loucks-Christenson
The Old Man & His Dream Blurb:
The story follows the life of my grandfather and his dream of catching his dream fish while taking his annual vacations with our extended family on Steamboat Lake, in Northern Minnesota. As the years go by, he teaches each of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren everything he knows about catching monster fish and about the one that he promises is closer to their hearts than they know.
With his time running out, he feels hard-pressed to prove the existence of this fabled fish; he wants to hook the legendary fish and bring evidence that what he dreamed is real.
The Old Man & His Dream story spans years of fishing trips and family vacations. It will have readers cheering for the old man and leave them wondering if he’ll ever catch the big fish. If he does catch the fish, will he keep it or release it?
Author note: A trip back to this place in Northern Minnesota—a place where all of us “Louckses” cut our teeth and caught our first big fish—enjoyed endless card games, trips to Cass Lake and Walker, Minnesota, and various cabins (we had others too, but most of the time, we stayed at Cabin 7).
This was the place that we could stay up late playing board games or Uno, drawing, and reading magazines and books while we snacked on popcorn and watched Johnny Carson on the 13-inch black-and-white portable television. It was a time when our large family gathered and enjoyed the weekly fish fry, battled stormy weather, fished in the rain, and captured the beauty of the Luna moths flittering under the heat from the floodlights. These are stories about four generations of family vacationing and our family spending time together through the years.
I based this story on not only our adventures, but also how our time together taught me not to fear death. It opened my eyes and showed me how to embrace the lives we have and understand the paths of our loved ones that have departed. It’s a record of stories they may have, whether knowingly or unwittingly, left behind for us to find, discover again, travel, and take time to reminisce on the days and years we’d spent together, years after they had left us here on Earth.
I discovered, years later, that my grandfather’s tackle box was “officially” retired and our memories remained locked inside, like willing captives waiting for the next fisherman to open it and read our story.
Once inside it, I found the first memory: piles of rubber worms all of us had bought him when we were kids on our limited budgets. Most of them were still in their original packages, unused. Maybe he had kept them sealed for us to find again? He must have known that to catch a story-sized fish you needed the right lures—not worms—to hook them. On the other side of his snap-lid treasure box, tucked below the silver minnow rapalas with which he caught his northern perch and sunfish, is where I found his gift.
It took me many days—each that seemed like it was its own forever—but those hours soon passed by too, taking the day’s adventures with them. That time went by easily: days, weeks, and months folded into years and then decades. I had been too busy with projects, getting married, parenting, empty-nesting, health issues of my own, and something I didn’t expect: my family to die so suddenly, one member at a time, robbing us all of our futures with them.
I had to learn through new births, deaths, circumstances and interference, my wants and hopes there was a dark place, a guttural emptiness I had to battle when I realized that the things for which I longed were things I could never change, never achieve, never have, and in some cases, never even understand. I had to break my own paths through stinging nettles and canary grass that towered my every step, interrupted my every thought that those seeds that stuck to my face and heart fell inside me, and as they grew, they’d uproot the pain. They would choke out the terrible memories and take me upwards and into depths of faith I didn’t know were possible. I never let go; I held on.
Sometimes, like I found out, to keep your life you must become dead first—in my lifetime, that means many times and many deaths. “Y todo va a estar bien.”
In my hands, in a flurry of rainbow colors and various hooks, lures, spinners, and weights, sat the true meaning of my grandfather’s tackle box. I ran my fingers through his broken fish lines that remained bundled and still weighted to his empty hooks, which still showed signs that they too had weathered with his experiences.
The tangled fished lines had proved their test of time. Each one was twisted, holding its own story. There was one color and brand for each of our family members. Every line, like its assigned family member, had its own limited footage measured against its own test strengths that had to fit, at one time in a salable-sized box that fit on shelves, before my grandfather bought it and unboxed it, setting us all free to run and wander, tangle ourselves in messes and reel us in and fix us, only to toss us out with new lead weights springing us into the weeks, into the pools, into the deep, trying to help us catch our dreams. When I looked at the mess of lines, I cried. We were all hooked and tied to my grandfather’s heart. He did this for us.
I went through each line in search of mine. Surely, he’d have something different for me—his memory-keeping, storyteller granddaughter. I wondered what color I’d be, what weight, how much I could hold and take—I’d seen a lot already. It had to be strong. I was sure he’d pick the strongest line for me.
Instead, I saw a box with my name on it. I was the light-weight, the weakest line, the one easily broken and so full of fix-me knots. Is that who I was to him? That’s how he saw me? I tossed it back in the box.
Then I looked at the box again. The coil of line seemed endless. I mean, who on Earth would ever use that much line—even in a lifetime? Maybe someone who fished every day and broke their line daily, I suppose.
I felt a warmth come over my hands and then over my heart. I realized why I had the longest line of all of our family. I pulled it in to me, like a sucker on a short line and unescapable hook. I found the end of my line—gently knotted to the weights of my heart. Knotted to the stories he held on to while he sat above Earth, probably laughing like he always did when he got to watch us figure out what he had been letting us run and play wit. Like a hooked fish, caught and fighting the line, we’d run in every direction, but he was really tiring us out with the struggle so it would be easy for him as he reeled us in. He’d been here, and he was still here. That’s what I understood. Although I couldn’t see him, he was near in spirit.
Like the first time I went septic, it was so easy to leave this world, to go to the place of peace, all I had to do was go up an incredible number of stairs—with lungs that didn’t work—even in the almost-afterlife. It had been a journey. Once there, I only had to open the arched door. I tried with all my strength, too, but it wouldn’t budge. I kept pounding on it. I knew—though I can’t tell you how—that my grandfather was on the other side of the door and he was holding it shut. He would not let me in. He never said a word, but he somehow relayed to me that I had to go back.
Suddenly, just like when I was a young teenager on one of our Florida vacations, I went from the shore of the ocean, wading in the calm. Then, one second later, I was caught in a riptide—it was that fast. Instantly, I was in one place, then in the depths—out in the ocean, far beyond the land. I looked at my unaware family. They all appeared like ants from my view.
They wouldn’t even know that was me all the way out there if they looked. There was no way that I could call to them or summon them because they couldn’t hear me and I knew they couldn’t swim very well. I was truly on the wings of angels, and if you think not being able to touch the bottom of a swimming pool is scary, try an ocean with no depth finder. I swallowed wave after wave of salt water, and I found it impossible to keep my mouth closed as I swam because I had to get air, and I would—just as the next wave poured over me and I’d swallow more.
My angels kept telling my heart to swim left, swim left, swim left. I finally understood. That direction, which made no sense at the time, got me out of the riptide and my unintended swim took me 45 minutes to swim from the ocean to the beach. I never spoke—not for decades—about the day the ocean tried claiming my soul, how it held me and it wouldn’t let me go. I’ve never forgotten how I kept trying, how I swam against the waves. I think about it, how my salty tears were all I gave it, but it had been enough to feed it, so I had no choice but to stop crying and withhold them from it. For every foot I gained, I was getting pulled out three feet. I refused to quit because I knew my family needed me. I had to survive. I had to swim left.
So, popping in and out of places has become my “normal” and once again, I found myself instantly back in the Saint Mary’s Emergency Room. This nurse was strong. Had she never felt broken? Maybe she became strong because she’d tackled a few skyward patients like me a few times before. She was a middle-aged, blonde-haired woman that walked on two legs attached to a small frame, but she had arms packed with an incredible strength—strong enough to pull against my resistance, enough to keep me from going back. She was fast, too. It took her only seconds to slap me with a mask and the 15 liters of oxygen, filling my lungs as she regulated my “Earth air” back to a survivable place, one I hardly felt was breathable after my experience.
I closed the tackle box. I finally understood why my grandfather never wanted to return to the lake again. Sometimes things are best left unsaid. He left the memories boxed up at a time in his life where he could see and revisit the best memories, not the pain. From there, he could see his favorite surroundings, not the troubles that he must have known would eventually funnel his life into his afterlife.
I wrote The Old Man & His Dream for a Father’s Day gift for my grandfather. He was a WWII veteran, recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, but I’m telling you because I knew him well, he had a heart that could show me things no one ever has.
The Old Man & His Dream is a gripping story for anyone who has been “Up North” or has stayed on the ever-changing shores of Steamboat Lake.
I hope you’ll find a place in your heart for this story and its poignancy.
“Walking my victory!”––Lisa
Loucks Studios Inc. owned stores will have a sample of the book’s content. The full book will probably launch on Amazon, or elsewhere online; I haven’t decided yet.
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