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A Christmas in the Woods


What do a fire engine, a mythical Greek island, and the state of Wisconsin have in common? They all have sirens. The fire engine is obvious. What about the other two?

 

Greek mythology tells of a lonely, rocky island occupied by sea nymphs called Sirens. They waited for ships to pass and then sang alluringly. Their song was so seductive that men leapt overboard and vessels crashed on the stony coastline, the skeletons of sailors littering the shore. Odysseus, nonetheless, was able to navigate past the island because he plugged his sailors’ ears with beeswax. But he wanted to hear the irresistible sound, and had himself lashed to the mast. He nearly went mad listening. I’ve always wondered what he heard. And then there’s Wisconsin. On a cold and sunny Christmas Eve, my wife Ilka and I drove there from Minneapolis for a Christmas reunion. Our destination, just before the lodge, was the town of Siren. I had heard of Siren for years, but had never really known why. With the Greek legend in mind, I approached it with anticipation. I felt like Odysseus. I was captain of my ship and—in my case—was strapped in with a seat belt. As we drove through town, I glanced about and saw Christmas lights, but nothing especially alluring. Apprehensively I rolled down the window. I heard only the wind and the crunch of snow under the tires. Nothing so captivating that it would drive me mad. Mildly disappointed, I turned right and traversed the last few miles to our real destination, Seven Pines Lodge, a historic trout fishing resort.

Historic Seven Pines Lodge made a beautiful setting for a family Christmas celebration. Courtesy of Seven Pines LodgeGrandeur and serenity are words that begin to describe this wooded 65-acre domain. The founder of the resort and original owner was Charles Lewis, a wealthy Minneapolis businessman. The name, Seven Pines, was chosen by him to celebrate the seven tallest white pines. Some of the trees on this pristine estate are 300 years old.

When you enter the lodge, you take a step back in time. It was constructed in 1903, and is now a national historic landmark. Calvin Coolidge, while president, slept here in 1924. Teddy Roosevelt, it is said, shot the buffalo whose head presides over meetings in the conference center. A walk-in fireplace is in the central room, where Native American handiwork, mission style furniture, and game trophies on the walls draw one inevitably into times gone by.

This inn was built log by log, and peg by peg, by a Norwegian craftsman and two assistants who—except for the nails in the floor—employed square wooden pegs throughout. During the winter they traveled to the site on snowshoes and skis, and those artifacts still hang above the fireplace.

Envision the most ideal Christmas you can. For me, it would be our entire clan together, children through grandparents, a roaring fire in the fireplace, and roast duck for dinner. And, of course, it must be white, snow garnishing the surrounding hills. That’s exactly the way it was at Seven Pines Lodge—and better.

With the entire family gathered, a roaring fire in the fireplace and a thick layer of snow, it promised to be an ideal Christmas. Courtesy of Seven Pines Lodge.The inn was warm, bright, and cheery as we stepped through the door. Proprietors Erin and Endre greeted us. We were the first to arrive. Christmas adornments were everywhere. In the central room were platters of hors d’oeuvres and cheeses. And there was that fire, blazing in the enormous fireplace with a formidable moose head above it. We strolled about.

In the conference room, transformed into a radiant dining chamber, a prodigious table was set festively for 23 people. Here, in another grand fireplace, ducks were turning and roasting on a spit. On the piano were booklets of Christmas carols. One could almost hear them in the air.

The dining suite wraps around the lodge, and you seem to be in a tree house as you gaze down on the stream, the jewel of this property. Healthy, brisk, and spring-fed, it flows through the land and provides perfect conditions in which trout can thrive. At a year-around temperature above freezing, the stream never ices over, and it was coursing, shimmering, and enticing even on this cold winter’s day, steam wafting into the icy air.

Family and guests began arriving from far and wide. They greeted each other and settled in for a memorable Christmas Eve. The supper was lavish and succulent: oysters Rockefeller, roast duck, grilled filet minion, red cabbage, baked apples and onions, Laura’s special mashed potatoes, stuffing, fresh asparagus, and a walnut torte and a rich Hungarian chocolate desert.

After dinner everyone adjourned to the central room for presents that were stacked high under the Christmas tree. One of the grandmothers narrated "’Twas The Night Before Christmas" in front the fire, and then I read my facetious rendition of that poem set at Seven Pines Lodge. When we retired, Ilka and I slept in The President’s Room, in the very chamber and bed in which Calvin Coolidge had slept.

 

On Christmas morning, stockings for everyone were hung above the fireplace by our hostess wearing a Santa’s cap. We had a brunch of bacon and scrambled eggs, chilled duck and steak, croissants, hash browns, and Christmas cookies.

On this festive morning, I received an e-mail from our son in Beijing, China, written on Christmas Day. He had traveled there just four days earlier, and was to be there for seven months. Aside from missing Christmas at Seven Pines, he said, he couldn’t be happier. I read his letter aloud. Though as far away as China, he was part of our Christmas celebration. We all marveled that someone could transmit a communication, and have it appear instantaneously on the other side of the world.

In the afternoon we sledded, explored the land, and napped. People finally began departing, to get back to their real lives. In the evening, those of us who remained enjoyed a big crock of wild rice soup, and had a rollicking session of Balderdash, a word game, in front of the fire. In a nutshell, we had lots of good food during this holiday, and spent much time in front of the fire.

 Frolicking in the snow while a roaring fire awaits us to warm our toes. Courtesy of Seven Pines Lodge.The next morning we bade our farewells and departed. On the way home we again passed through Siren. I rolled down the window to listen. I heard nothing—even as we passed the Siren Fire Department. I was disappointed.

But a short distance down the road, my disappointment faded and my interest was piqued when I heard something. At first it was a purr, then a hum, and it grew louder and louder. Finally it sounded—believe it or not—like a helicopter bearing immediately down on us, the propellers beating in a diabolical rhythm. We strained to see the craft but could not. It seemed to be directly above our vehicle, and it was clamorous. I remembered the Alfred Hitchcock movie North By Northwest, in which an airplane stalks Cary Grant. I wondered frantically why anyone was pursuing us.

All at once I thought of something and pulled over. It wasn’t a helicopter at all. It was the rear tire, flat as a pancake.

I was chagrined. This was our Sirens’ song? Distractive and disruptive, yes, but hardly irresistible. In zero degree weather, I got out and changed the tire.

We arrived home safely. I had been to Siren, and had a faint notion of what Odysseus had been through.

We reflected on our Christmas in the woods. It was a great one. And the best part? Endre announced that this was the first annual Seven Pines Christmas. Siren, I’ll be back.

Information regarding activities, dining, reservations, and directions can be found at this link for Seven Pines Lodge: http://www.sevenpineslodge.com/index.htm
Telephone them at 715-653-2323.

Copyright ©1999 by James D. Priest.

After dinner everyone adjourned to the central room for presents that were stacked high under the Christmas tree. One of the grandmothers narrated "’Twas The Night Before Christmas" in front the fire, and then I read my facetious rendition of that poem set at Seven Pines Lodge. When we retired, Ilka and I slept in The President’s Room, in the very chamber and bed in which Calvin Coolidge had slept.

On Christmas morning, stockings for everyone were hung above the fireplace by our hostess wearing a Santa’s cap. We had a brunch of bacon and scrambled eggs, chilled duck and steak, croissants, hash browns, and Christmas cookies.

On this festive morning, I received an e-mail from our son in Beijing, China, written on Christmas Day. He had traveled there just four days earlier, and was to be there for seven months. Aside from missing Christmas at Seven Pines, he said, he couldn’t be happier. I read his letter aloud. Though as far away as China, he was part of our Christmas celebration. We all marveled that someone could transmit a communication, and have it appear instantaneously on the other side of the world.

In the afternoon we sledded, explored the land, and napped. People finally began departing, to get back to their real lives. In the evening, those of us who remained enjoyed a big crock of wild rice soup, and had a rollicking session of Balderdash, a word game, in front of the fire. In a nutshell, we had lots of good food during this holiday, and spent much time in front of the fire.

 Frolicking in the snow while a roaring fire awaits us to warm our toes. Courtesy of Seven Pines Lodge.The next morning we bade our farewells and departed. On the way home we again passed through Siren. I rolled down the window to listen. I heard nothing—even as we passed the Siren Fire Department. I was disappointed.

But a short distance down the road, my disappointment faded and my interest was piqued when I heard something. At first it was a purr, then a hum, and it grew louder and louder. Finally it sounded—believe it or not—like a helicopter bearing immediately down on us, the propellers beating in a diabolical rhythm. We strained to see the craft but could not. It seemed to be directly above our vehicle, and it was clamorous. I remembered the Alfred Hitchcock movie North By Northwest, in which an airplane stalks Cary Grant. I wondered frantically why anyone was pursuing us.

All at once I thought of something and pulled over. It wasn’t a helicopter at all. It was the rear tire, flat as a pancake.

I was chagrined. This was our Sirens’ song? Distractive and disruptive, yes, but hardly irresistible. In zero degree weather, I got out and changed the tire.

We arrived home safely. I had been to Siren, and had a faint notion of what Odysseus had been through.

We reflected on our Christmas in the woods. It was a great one. And the best part? Endre announced that this was the first annual Seven Pines Christmas. Siren, I’ll be back.

Information regarding activities, dining, reservations, and directions can be found at this link for Seven Pines Lodge: http://www.sevenpineslodge.com/index.htm
Telephone them at 715-653-2323.

Copyright ©1999 by James D. Priest.