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Cache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods Paperback – September 17, 1998
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A wealth of woodcraft information . . . a book that can be appreciated by all nature lovers. -- Natural History
Pure woods lore by a woodsman . . . This will be treasured by the true camper. -- Boston Globe
About the Author
John J. Rowlands had a varied career as a gold and silver prospector, miner, lumber scout, and newspaperman. He died in 1976.
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This is a very unique book-probably reminding me of my old Boy Scout Fieldbook (a little more detailed and survival-oriented than the handbook) more than a typical non-fiction work. The illustrations are great as well as occasionally light-hearted, and if you are at all handy or have an engineering or for that matter, culinary bent, you will find plenty of recipes and blueprints for food, tools, gadgets- even crystal radio sets or birch bark canoes. While some of these you'd probably have to find some supplemental information to make, most come so well described and diagrammed that you could probably build them or bake them directly from the book.
For me the best part is the author's midwest and at times almost cowboy way of describing life. His time around rough loggers in the days when horses and two man saws were still the order of the day especially captured my imagination. Like many readers, I'm a lot hermit, and the thought of life in a cabin in the north woods with nothing but snow, bear, moose, and wind has a certain charm, and I'm grateful to Rowlands for giving enough of a story to enjoy a bit of that charm vicariously. An excellent and unique book, and for some it will probably become a treasured possession.
The book begins with the deep and unfathomable snows of January and cycles through the months of the year to the bookend snows of December. The writing pours out in an authentic and friendly authorial voice – sometimes folksy, often poetic and philosophical, and packed with woodland lore and advice on making practical gadgets and useful tools from the raw materials found abundantly at hand in the silent forest. For company he has neighbors not far away in the Indian Chief Tibeash and Hank, another timber company agent, who also supplies the charming illustrations in this book.
“Cache Lake Country” won the National Outdoor Book Award, and Rowland’s observational powers are awe-inspiring. Every animal and insect is observed and described, every tree and flower, and the reader is borne a long on the narrative current as in a canoe gliding over a brilliantly mirrored lake in the virgin forest. Listen to his description of the silence of winter: “The hush of the north woods in winter is often so heavy that you begin to think of it as something more than silence. At times it is like a strange kind of mist just beyond the power of eyes to see, yet so real you must reach out to push it aside to let sounds come in.” Rowlands is equally at ease, in his observational powers, describing how a pack of wolves takes down and destroys a terrified deer, as he is describing how a tiny butterfly miraculously appears on a rare warm day in the depths of a bitter winter.
Here he writes about when he first saw the lake: “I knew then that I had found the place I had always wanted to be.” There is a place like that in life for each of us; have you found yours yet? This is the unspoken question and challenge that are implicit in this book: are you living where you should be living and how you should be living, and if not, why not? Are you fully alive to the beauty and charm of your surroundings; are you living with purpose and joy, and is your thanksgiving perpetual as Mr. Thoreau said his was?
More prosaically, do you know how to build an old-fashioned bread oven, the way the French Canadians did in the old days along the St. Lawrence River? Well, you will after reading this book, and much else besides. Like how to make your own canoe paddles, how to scrounge together a working radio from rubbish lying around your cabin, and even how to make an ice boat to amuse yourself on winter days.
This book is friendly and accessible to all, but it has a special resonance for anyone who loves the north woods of the U.S. or the vast wilderness forest of Canada. In my own case, I spent part of one summer canoe-camping through the spectacular wilderness of the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve of Québec. We paddled all day from lake to lake, often seeing no one or perhaps just one or two people in an entire day, and camped by water in the vast and silent forest. It was superb, as anyone who has ever done it will know; we know too what Rowlands means when he talks about how “…the rhythmic thumping of the paddle shafts against the gunwales broke the stillness of the North.”
“Cache Lake Country” evokes an earlier era which has vanished, but the life and beauty of the great north woods it describes is timeless, and thank God for that.