Sep 08, 2021

Exploring Kansas Outdoors: In praise of cabins

Posted Sep 08, 2021 9:59 AM
Steve Gilliland
Steve Gilliland

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less a fan of primitive camping, but I love the rental cabins placed in our Kansas State Parks. Our church men’s fellowship group often utilizes a couple of the cabins at Kanapolis for a spring fishing trip. Currently, I count rental cabins at 20 Kansas State Parks, on the KS State Fairgrounds and on the Mined Land Wildlife Area. Sadly, I just found out the cabin at McPherson State Fishing Lake is no longer available as a rental. 

My brother lives in a cabin in the middle of his 200 acres of southeastern Ohio land. Joe bought some of the land 30 years or so ago as a place to hunt deer, and in the package, also got a place to hunt turkeys and wild hogs, which are not just feral pigs, but descendants of the true Russian wild boars. Beavers inhabit the stream that meanders through the property, and wild ginseng also grows there. Both the land and the cabin have been added-to over the years and now he and his wife live there year-round. I will always remember my first visit there for one wonderful night when the cabin was small.

 Much of the land in this area was bought up by coal companies decades ago, strip mined, and, or logged. The rutted, gravel, township road simply became the lane some distance off the blacktop, and we continued driving for several hundred yards, going well beyond the sign that read “the middle of nowhere.” A nice Whitetail buck snubbed us and cantered out of a power line clear cut we passed. We arrived at the nice pole building turned get-away cabin, a little before dark. After the usual time of catching up on the front porch, we drew our sleeping spots and prepared for the night. My metal-framed cot broke as soon as I sat on it, so I tried various ways to make it work, all of which failed miserably. (I blame this on the Denver Bronco blanket my sister-in-law gave me to sleep under. I’m a Chiefs fan, and she knows it!)  Anyway, there I lay, trying to coax some sleep from the situation. A symphony of tree frogs began at dark and suddenly ended around midnight, as if by the wave of the conductor’s wand. Calling the night quite is an understatement. Even though Inman KS is small town America, I can’t remember the last time I’d experienced that kind of quiet.

I must have slept some, because the next thing I knew, the first rays of morning light filtered through the cabin window. I decided to rise and make the most of the opportunity. I was not quite early enough to see morning awaken, but as I sat there on the marvelous deck that ran the full width of the cabin, morning was still stretching and rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Two humming birds entertained me as they buzzed and chased each other from feeder to feeder. I heard the morning songs of more different birds than I knew existed. The scene before me constantly changed and evolved as the morning sun chased the shadows across the timbered stage.

The cabin sets against a steep hill, so the front deck is several feet above the driveway below. Downhill and beyond the drive, a small creek meandered through a flat, broad meadow between hills. The meadow was littered with hulks of standing, dead trees, reminders of a time when the whole meadow was a beaver pond. Since the property was logged years ago, much of the timber was second growth, making the hillsides thick and overgrown. By sticking to an old perimeter road, we were able to hike and see the lay of the land, despite the dense, tangled overgrowth. Upstream we found the current beaver settlement where they had again dammed the creek into a pond, much smaller than the flooded meadow, but no less an engineering wonder. I walked onto the dam and marveled at the structure of gnawed-off branches and mud that I stood on. (Maybe we should hire beavers to do our highway construction; at least they would work all night!) From the dam, I could see the beaver’s house, a craggy lodge in the upper end of the pond, also built of sticks and mud. A steep climb up a hillside thick with small saplings and vines brought us to a looming rock wall, which seemed strangely out of place. Our destination was a spot where a large cave was formed when the wall separated and a large portion fell down and away from the rest. Water trickled somewhere inside as we shone a flashlight down and into the chasm. 

Back at the cabin, I stood in the doorway of the stone “springhouse,” built into the hill behind the cabin, a remnant of life decades ago. These were literally built over running springs of water, and used to cool cans of milk and other perishable food. We all sat on the deck and marveled aloud at God’s Creation on display all around us. As we prepared to follow the rocky drive back toward the blacktop, one last glance assured me that many quiet nights would be spent, many deer and turkeys harvested, and many thoughts of God’s goodness sent skyward, here at this cabin in the southern Ohio woods.

Steve Gilliland, Inman, can be contacted by email at [email protected]