Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Dassler Cabin - Our Home for 19 Days

Andrew standing on Tobin Point at sunset, the Dassler cabin is hidden in the trees on the point

Located in the Tobin Harbor, the "Dassler Cabin" was named and owned by the Dassler family who built it in 1905. It finally became property of the park in 1991 and the next year became the Artists In Residence Cabin. There are only a half a dozen or so homes left in the Tobin Harbor that the park doesn't own. The families basically get to keep their cabins until the life leasee in the family passes away.

There is a lot of ambivalence between the life leasees and the park, and why not? Although it was the families on the island that ultimately decided to make Isle Royale a National Park, it is still not an easy decision to hand over a historic rustic cabin to "the government" where there are always a variety of interests involved. That and the added dilemma of "human" culture versus wilderness, which after all really aren't two different thing (Is there anything left on the planet that hasn't been messed with by humans?) makes it a tough situation for everyone.

The nice thing about the Artists in Residence Program is that we operated as a mediator between the friends and families that own property and the park employees. Technically , we were volunteers for the NPS (National Park Service) but we were taken care of and brought in as visitors to the Tobin Harbor family community. We supported the agenda of the National Park by celebrating its natural beauty, and at the same time supported the preservation and use of one of the cabins in the Tobin Harbor community.

Living in the cabins is literally like going back in time. Most don't have electricity, although some are working on getting approval from the NPS to use solar power. Almost all have a propane stove and propane powered lights, but only a few have propane refrigeration, a luxury in its own right. Many have ice boxes (for real!) The Peterson's ice box looked like a small top loading freezer with a compartment in the top for ice and the refrigerator goods below. It was inside a little open air outhouse looking structure built under a group of trees outside. There is also something called a "California Cooler" which is a cupboard that is built with screens that open to the outside so that the cool air from the lake can come in an settle in the cupboard. Connie Boyle keeps her eggs there.

Most people gather their water for cooking and washing in buckets or white ceramic basins straight from the lake. Everybody filters their water now, although Chuck Boyale said he drank the water straight out of the lake for 45 years without getting stick and only until his wife Besty was sick with cancer did they start filtering as a precaution. Everybody washes their dishes and bathes with straight lake water. We have a small 2.5 gallon solar shower bag that I used to "take a shower". I hung it on a nail that was hammered into a post supporting the back awning of the Dassler and luckily a spot that had a rocky area underneath and plenty of trees to obscure the view from the plethora of boaters that zoomed past our point every day.

The best showering device we saw on the whole trip was built by Dick Scheibe. He lined his small closet space off his cabin bedroom with a shower curtain and then cut a hole in the ceiling that would fit a five gallon bucket. He rigged a device to raise and lower the bucket, and then attached a shower head to the bucket. All he has to do is heat five gallons of water (which isn't exactly a quick job) and voila, he can have a nice 5 minute shower inside.

Privies are an important aspect of the cabins too. Ours was about a 1/8 mile walk from the cabin, a walk that at first seemed to take forever, but then became an enjoyable break time activity. Some of the cabins are on islands so small they don't have room to put a privy, such as the cabin Dick and Mary Scheibe stayed in. The people who have their own privies absolutely don't let any toilet paper go in the hole. They pack it out and have big signs instructing people to dispose of the paper in another container, usually nearby. This is so the holes don't fill up as fast, and probably to keep down the smell.

Fireplaces and wood are a necessity in all the cabins, even in July and August it can get down into the 50s. Wood is difficult to come by on the island too because all the trees on the north end are small, mostly because of weather and the moose population who have eaten almost everything in sight.

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