A Pretend Place in the Minnesota Woods

A miniature cabin, built on 1:12 scale, is a reminder of the imaginative life’s importance—especially during a pandemic
This 1:12-scale cabin is made of plywood and covered with paper to give the appearance of poured concrete.

William Jordan

I’ve kept myself isolated during the pandemic, but I’ve been able to spend time at my cabin. I don’t have far to go. I just pivot my head or look across the room and I’m there. My cabin sits on a table, not out in the woods. It’s the perfect cabin for someone whose father once said with loving amusement, “As soon as anything gets real, Billy loses interest.” Like Thoreau at Walden Pond, “I never got my fingers burned by actual possession.”

I designed and built my cabin. It’s made of plywood, covered with paper. The effect is of poured concrete. One wall is entirely glass and the opposite one is mostly glass, and there is a large bedroom window, so I enjoy ample views of the surrounding woods. There’s no actual glass; you have to pretend. You also have to pretend that the glass walls and the window open in places, to let in fresh air and, during the summer, the night sounds. I also built the furniture in my cabin. There’s a mid-century modern bed, a beautiful red leather armchair, and an old table with a burn ring. I did not make the miniature decorative pot but nothing says I have to make everything. I plan to purchase a rug and a ladder back chair, perhaps two.

In recent years, I’ve worked to give expression to my dreamworld, but I haven’t thought about creating work for sale. If I turned my imaginings into a marketable product, people would admire me, but they’d be admiring me as much because I’d sold something as because I’d imagined something—probably more. I have no objection to selling things, including products of the imagination, but the prospect of a sale isn’t the only reason to imagine something.

Imagining things is fun and this is reason enough to do it. It’s a very good reason in these pandemic times. Imagining is also a way to learn. As children, we learn a culture by doing practical things. We tie our shoes and set the table. But we also learn this culture, we learn to be human, by imagining, pretending, and playing. These activities transpire in the non-literal realm, the place where something can’t be, but is. This is the realm of the impossible, in which a child declares a spoon to be a magic wand and, lo, it is so.

I’m not suggesting we lose ourselves in a dreamworld while the coronavirus rages and the world heats up and burns. This would be irresponsible and what I’m doing with my cabin is acting in a quietly responsible way. I can go to my cabin while still observing physical distancing and I burn no gas on the trip. By imagining, I help keep other people, the planet, and myself healthy.

The sleeping quarters: furnished with a mid-century modern bed, decorative pot, and red leather armchair.

William Jordan

My cabin and its contents aren’t quite finished, but there’s always something you’re working on at the cabin, right? Something you keep meaning to get around to? I’ll make pillows for the bed and books for the bookcase; I’ll put pulls on the drawers and door of the Shaker built-in, perhaps indicating each pull with no more than a dot of paint or magic marker.  I did a lot of work on my cabin early this year; it was almost finished when the pandemic started. I have a quiet, sunny place to live and I have it all to myself. I have food in the fridge, a reliable internet connection, and friends and family to back me up. These are blessings.

Blessed though I am, I’ve lost eight members of my extended family in the past six years. No one I know has died from the coronavirus. I hope this will continue to be so.  Last year I turned 50. You will find my end-of-life documents in my filing cabinet. My cabin is a place to which I imagine myself going when I die. I’d like to find a red door, squarely hung, abundant natural light, simply but beautifully designed furniture, and a wood-burning stove. There will be the sustaining aroma of wood smoke. I’ll have someone over for company. These are comforting thoughts.

It takes so little, it uses so little, to imagine. When we do so, we render the finite infinite: there can always be a magic wand, or a cabin in the woods. My ability to conjure a world readily and step into it makes me resilient. I was alone for Thanksgiving and I’ll be alone for Christmas, but I can go to my cabin. I thought about buying a tiny, pretend Christmas tree so I could enjoy the green and imagine the smell of fir but I’m concerned that a tiny tree, even if I were to leave it undecorated, would be cute. I don’t want cute.

William Jordan

Visit me at my cabin any time you want. Look for the red door. It’s always open. Actually, it’s never open, because it doesn’t open. Neither do any of the doors, drawers, or cupboards inside. There’s a little rollaway bed for you, and plenty of wood for the stove. We can get away, find ourselves and each other, and perhaps glimpse something beautiful through the pretend glass.

William Jordan has published freelance articles on a wide range of subjects, from auto racing to the ecological restoration of Walden Pond. In addition to being a writer he is also a visual artist. He has lived in Minnesota since 2017 after 18 years in Chicago, where he served as program coordinator of a dance company. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and earned his undergraduate degree at Brown University and his Master’s at Catholic Theological Union. williamjordanart.com