How Valentine’s Day triggers fond memories of outdoor adventures

Somehow the current snowy pattern seems fitting. It always snows around Valentine’s Day. At least it always did when my husband Jim was alive. I remember that because we went to The Birches in Rockwood around Valentine’s weekend — either the weekend before or after if we could.

And it always snowed either on the travel day up to the rustic outdoor recreation resort or the travel day home. Rockwood is beyond Greenville by a ways, in a remote area, and travel into such areas can be challenging. But we would load up the truck and plow ahead, so to speak.

The snow became the butt of a joke for us, and now when it snows around Valentine’s Day, it makes me smile.

We loved that long weekend each year. It was a gift to us from my family that took care of our Christmas, birthdays and anniversary gifts from them. Most years, we stayed in the honeymoon cabin perched on Moosehead Lake at the end of a line of cabins. Although one year it wasn’t available and we stayed in a cabin on the other side of the main lodge.

This is in February 2010, the last time we went to The Birches. Bullet (left), who was a little more than a year old, and Sassy were with us.

This is in February 2010, the last time we went to The Birches. It was in the cabin on the other side of the main lodge, rather than the cabin we had most years. Bullet (left), who was a little more than a year old, and Sassy were with us.

With the cabin being on the end of the line, it was close to one of the cross country ski trails, which I would enjoy with our Brittany dog Rosie when she was alive, and then with our Brittany Sassy.

Jim wasn’t into cross country skiing, but he insisted I take a two-way radio with me when we didn’t have cell phones, and we decided together on a period of time I would be gone. His last words to me as I would part from him were always, “Be careful. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

He on some level seemed to have an inner dread that something would happen to me and he would have to go on without me. He would say those words to me whether I was going half a mile down the road to a store or leaving for a dog sport weekend or venturing out for a cross country ski. He was obsessed with my safety.

I have thought about that often since he died from pancreatic cancer more than six years ago, and how we all have that inner fear of being left alone without our mate.

For some of us, it becomes reality.

At Rockwood, I remember returning to the cabin after my ski, to the wonderful warmth of the woodstove flooding the small dwelling with its heat, and the even more wonderful warmth of Jim’s arms. He loved to hear of my adventures, helped me get out of my outer garments, and scolded me when I would tell him about falling six times on an icy hill, or going too fast around a curvy part of the trail.

It was a way for us to share the experience together.

Although hiking and cross country skiing were not things Jim liked to do, he loved ice fishing. He would load his ice auger, bait bucket with live bait, and pack basket containing traps, ice skimmer and other ice fishing paraphernalia onto a child’s red plastic sled and pull it out onto the lake, with Rosie running beside him.

Our Brittany dog Rosie loved fishing and she especially loved fishing with Jim.

Our Brittany dog Rosie loved fishing and she especially loved fishing with Jim.

Rosie loved fishing and would “help” Jim as he bored holes, baited hooks and set traps. He didn’t always appreciate her assistance, but it was all bluster. He loved that dog.

With the cabin right on the lake, we were able to set our traps practically outside our front door, so we could easily go inside and warm up when we wished.

Or if it was really cold, we would watch the traps from our window while playing cards, cribbage or Rummikub. We would take turns tending the traps, and fake argue over whose turn it was to go out into the cold.

But one of us would go tend the traps at frequent intervals to check the lines, replenish bait, skim ice forming across the top of the fishing holes, and reset flags triggered by the icy wind that stung our faces.

Inside the cabin, we enjoyed snacks and libations of various sorts we had brought with us, and listened to music by Cher, Ricky Martin, Kenny Rogers, Styx, Keith Urban and so many others on our CD player. Occasionally a co-worker and friend who had a camp nearby would stop in for a drink and a visit.

The woodstove made the cabin so warm that at times we would have to open the front door to the elements. I remember sometimes sitting in a comfy chair in my shirtsleeves with my back to the woodstove, facing the open door, while reading my book. I would have my boots on because my feet would get cold while sitting there.

We most often ate breakfast and lunch in our cabin, but would have dinner in the rustic main lodge’s restaurant.

The dining room, with its exposed wood beams, had wood walls decorated with big fish caught in Moosehead and preserved for all time, older versions of outdoor gear, and personal mementoes belonging to the family who owns the resort. That dining room could be a busy place, as snowmobilers would come from all over to have dinner. Reservations were necessary.

Jim and I would sit at a table for two usually, but almost always ended up striking up a conversation with people at a nearby table. Jim had this uncanny ability to turn strangers into friends in the blink of an eye.

Sometimes I was jealous of his ability; sometimes I was jealous of the time it took for conversation with these strangers because I wanted Jim all to myself. But most of the time, i just smiled and shook my head as I marveled at my husband’s unique talents.

I have so many special memories from those weekends, I could almost write a book about them. But they all had a common theme. It was special alone time for us, and Jim and I both treasured those experiences, talking about them between visits and planning for new ones.

You would think the upcoming Valentine’s Day would make me melancholy because of it being the holiday for lovers; but really, it makes me melancholy because of those very special long weekends Jim and I had together at The Birches.

If anyone is in the mood to hear a little advice, mine is to get off the world’s treadmill occasionally with the one who shares your heart, and make special memories doing something you enjoy together.

I promise you those memories will help sustain you when that awful day comes that you find yourself alone.

Watching Jim and Rosie make their way back to the honeymoon cabin we were in for a weekend for several seasons.

Watching Jim and Rosie make their way back to the honeymoon cabin we were in for a weekend for several seasons.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.