I light the propane camp stove and set the fry pan on the burner; three strips of bacon, and when they start to cook down I toss in some thin slices of steak, leftovers from last night. In a small, battered cast iron pan (one that I painstakingly cleaned and cured this fall) I crack three eggs. I start coffee on a third burner.
I carry with me the conviction that all food consumed at any hunt shack is without violation of good dietary standards. Calories and cholesterol and all food-borne ills are held at bay by the simple manner of shack life.
I have no basis for any of this; I need none. I have conviction! Perhaps a carryover from politics of the season where conviction outweighed fact so often. Who knows. One only knows that shack time is different from real time.
I always posited that in the unlikely event that I ever grew rich I would not buy a large house but would, rather, buy small hunt shacks. There is comfort in small shacks that big houses can never touch. Time spent at hunt shacks is special.
I have a hunting shack, a small, plain box of a building, 15-plus-years old. It measures eleven by sixteen feet, a testament to my violation of a simple rule of carpentry: Measure twice, cut once. It was intended to be twelve by sixteen.
I measured wrong and it now stands forever at eleven feet wide. I see it as a testament to my life, a life built on a pattern of blunders and ongoing imperfection. I can live with that; I am who I am. I see perfection as overrated.
In that small space, imperfect or not, I find comfort and a measure of a simpler life. Time spent at the shack, shack time, is special.
On this day I find comfort in a pair of plain leather gloves. In a world of baffling complexity there is a relief in simple tools and mundane tasks; a pair of leather gloves, a splitting maul. We cannot over-complicate either nor can we improve them. The maul provides a worthy application for splitting wood, a task both vital and unchanged for millennia.
Shack time is, over all, a means of slowing down. Appreciation comes not from large tasks but small; satisfaction in things well done. I feel the sweet joy of splitting maul cleaving oak; the thunk of maul to oak bolt; the sweet, tangy scent of the wood.
In the dark of night the gloves lie near the fire and I see the orange hot glow of oak coals when the lights are off and the shack dark save for those warm embers.
I like the shelter in the storm; the heat against the cold; the peace and quiet when televisions and computer screens do not glow. I like to sit at the window and look out over the winter landscape, see the lake water one day turn hard with ice the next. I feel the insignificance that we all feel when we face up and look that the stars; Orion the hunter the constant in November sky.
Shack time is small things that bring greater reward. An old alarm clock; I do not reach to turn it off, merely tip it over so it lands on the alarm button and shuts off. Bacon and eggs for mid-morning breakfast; hot coffee and a warming fire. Shack time is watching evening shadows grow as a near physical presence. It is the red of a sunset. It is going to bed at 9:00 and feeling like it is the right thing to do. It is radio not computer; face-to-face talk not television.
Before shack days I’d drive out, hunt till I got cold, drive home and work the mid-day. Then I’d drive back out and hunt until dark.
It got old. I wanted a shack.
I built one. Now I hunt out of it, hunker down on Friday evening before the opening; stay till noon on Thanksgiving. I hunt, morning and evening. But most of it now is about shack time not hunt times, and more and more that is what counts.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.