December and January in Chicago were extremely mild. The daily high temperatures were in the upper 30’s and low 40’s. It didn’t snow much at all, if any during those two months. It rained a time or two but the start of winter was incredibly abnormal. Most were thankful we had crossed nearly two months off the calendar without a measurable snowfall or sub-zero temperatures. The last weekend of January, the meteorologists were all a buzz, a winter storm was on its way to the Midwest.
My wife and I decided the best place to experience a snowy weekend was our family cabin. My family built a small cabin on their land about five years ago. It’s not very big, maybe 10’x12′ but it’s just enough and the perfect spot to spend a relaxing weekend. The cabin has a little wood burning stove that is more than capable of keeping the space nice and toasty. There is a small kitchen area with a camp stove, some shelving for supplies and a little sink for washing your hands or dishes. There’s no running water, you need to bring in your own for the weekend. The sleeping loft above the kitchen helps maximize space in the cabin and is a great little nest to sleep comfortably all night or take an afternoon nap. Two solar panels and a battery storage system provide power to the cabin for overhead lights in the evening or to charge a cell phone. The final touch is a screened in porch that overlooks a ridge top and creek below.
We left the city early on Friday afternoon to beat the traffic and the winter storm system that was moving in. The trip was easy and we arrived at the cabin that evening and got settled in. I started a fire in the stove and quickly brought the temperature up to about 75F. That stove is small but mighty. If you pack it full enough and let it burn long enough, you can easily get the temperature in the cabin well over 90F. It’s a fine line of knowing how much wood to add and when to keep it at a comfortable level. Truth be told, I love the challenge. Few things in life bring me more pleasure than building and tending to a fire.
On Saturday, my brother stopped by and we spent some time gathering and chopping firewood. Growing up on the farm, gathering, chopping, and stacking firewood was a routine weekend chore. My parents’ house as well as my grandparents’ house nearby were primarily heated with wood burning stoves in the winter. Most of our time in the fall was spent with our dad and granddad cutting up fallen trees and making sure we had a good supply of firewood for the winter. Chopping wood this day with brother was more for fun and nostalgia than necessity.
The forecast called for the winter storm to start off as freezing rain in the mid-afternoon then change to all snow by evening. It started raining around 2pm, then kept raining for hours. By 10pm we went to bed and hadn’t seen a single snowflake yet. I was pretty dejected. I had really wanted to see a big snowfall and have the feeling of being snowed in at the cabin. Our little safe haven in the middle of the storm.
Sunday morning I got my wish. We woke to a winter wonderland. At some point that night the temperature fell far enough that the rain turned to wet snow and it coated everything in a blanket of white. My wife grew up in Texas and had never seen anything like it.
After starting a new fire in the stove and sipping some coffee, we got bundled up and went for a winter hike. The snow had piled up to about 8″ deep and we spent an hour or two wandering through the woods in awe of the beauty.
We spent the rest of the day lounging in the cabin and putting off the two hour drive back home to the city. Chicago had gotten over 12″ of snow that day and I knew that finding a parking spot would be a real challenge. Thankfully once we got back we were lucky enough to find an open spot that only needed a bit of shoveling. It was a great ending to an even better weekend.