There is a 7 mile long island on Lake Vermilion along the edges of the Boundary Water Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota. On this island there sits a string of about a dozen or so cabins, many dating back to times before electricity and power boats. One of these cabins has this sauna by it’s shores and along a foot path that connects an informal community of summer dwellers.
The Birmingham Sauna has seen multiple uses for generations and, like most lake cabin saunas, its changing room holds life jackets and towels hanging on hooks, a sawhorse for storing a fishing boat motor, a couple cots for visitor spillover. Generations have used the Birmingham Sauna for getting clean, an encouragement for a plunge in the cool lake, and as a gathering spot for a three round relaxing social sauna session with neighbors along the path.
The time for sauna is announced, and one or two enthusiasts work their way down the path with towel draped around their neck. Yet not all along this trail are into the sauna experience. Passing by the Reader cabin: “Hey Jack, want to come sauna?” and for years, he’s had the same answer: “if I want to sweat, i’ll go back to Southern Illinois.” Then there’s the lore of Grandpa Gollan’s response: “I’d rather hit myself over the head with a ball peen hammer.”
Sauna isn’t for everyone, there are enthusiasts and emphatic critics. The enthusiasts keep coming, and the critics shake their head no.