I grew up in a ranch suburban 1960’s-style pink brick and white aluminum sided home one hour north of Detroit. My brothers and I skipped around the edges of a cornfield to attend elementary school. Farmers grew beans and sugar beets and the horizon stretched forever. An orange sunset took forever and a day to curve across green fields and disappear.
Of course some restless spirits long for other lands to settle, don’t they? Like modern-day pioneers they set their sights on faraway horizons, somewhere past the trail of the sun. They leave their beloved ones far behind as they drive off in wagon trains which look like Dodge pickup trucks. They’re headed for some place new, some place just beyond their heart’s familiarity.
Barry and I were some of those modern pioneers and we headed north, north, north to the woods. We drove more than five hundred miles north of those corn fields and settled in the north woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula back in the late 1970’s. The land of trees and more trees and, yes, more trees.
We bought thirteen acres of wooded forest, cutting down poplar and maple to create a meandering driveway. A gruff neighbor (who just died this summer at the age of 90) took pity on us newcomers and offered to bulldoze in a “real” driveway.
We built a small cedar-sided house in between trees. A large sprawling spruce was our nearest neighbor. I like to call it our “Little House in the Big Woods” after the Laura Wilder Ingalls books which I devoured in childhood. Laura grew up in the big woods and later moved to the prairie, kind of the opposite of my path, but she was still inspiring because she evoked the pioneer spirit, the spirit of discovering something new.
We live twelve miles from the nearest town of 2,000. Forty five minutes from the “big city” where you can buy organic produce and eat at Applebees. We’re definitely rural, back to the earth. A half mile away Lake Superior laps at the shores.
Yep, we live in the woods we dreamed about back in our 20’s. We now own 23 acres along a gravel road. Dust covers walkers as pickup trucks drive too fast.
Sometimes, I bake in a cast iron pan. We burn wood for heat like the settlers. (OK, we have backup gas heat, too. We’re modern folk.) We have a spiral staircase and sometimes mice and snakes–don’t remind me!–find their way into our basement. Once a hummingbird flew in through the open window and circled around our heads before returning to the woods.
We till an organic garden in the front yard growing acorn squash and rainbow-colored swiss chard and rattlesnake green beans.
Yes, dear reader, we live an idyllic life in the woods.
Now, let’s get real.
It’s not 100% idyllic.
No matter where one lives in the world there are challenges. You can’t escape and live happily ever after without a care in the world.
There are woods-dwellers and there are woods-dwellers. Some folks live 20 miles from their nearest neighbor in rickety cabins without electricity. (I know a handful of folks in our township who live off the grid, too.)
But we modern-day woods-dwellers usually have neighbors within shouting distance.
We depend over-much on our cars and often contribute to global warming because we still drive our children to basketball practice seventeen miles away. We sometimes hop in our 2003 silver Buicks and drive to town just to sip coffee in our wonderful local coffee shop. (Up until a few years ago, we would have to drive 45 minutes to a coffee shop. We’re in the modern era now.)
What is it like to live in the woods?
Because most woods-dwellers cannot see the horizon, it sometimes feels claustrophobic to be surrounded by hundreds of trees. For other folks it feels protected and safe, like you’re in a cocoon of leaves and limbs and swaying branches.
Do you think it’s always quiet? Not so. Birds are very noisy singers, twittering and tweeting and fluttering and flying. Distant chain saws hum. Logging trucks fire their engines five miles away. Dogs bark. Deer snort. Leaves crackle. Boat motors roar. Guns crack, especially during duck or bear or deer season. Mosquitoes buzz louder than you can imagine in the middle of the night in June.
Last night a barred owl hooted in darkness “Who, who, who cooks for you?”
It’s not like noisy city ambulances and squealing cars and blasting rap 24/7–but it’s not dead quiet, either.
If you stayed cloistered in your Little House in the Big Woods and bought supplies for a month and ate frozen food from your garden you could probably avoid mingling with humanity for a long time.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) most of us woods-dwellers still have to earn a living. We have to leave our trees and drive into the small town and find ways to deposit paychecks in the local bank. We once thought it might be feasible to live off the land without a paycheck. We quickly learned that wasn’t feasible. Modern forest-dwellers must pay taxes, too.
Do we ever come face to face with bear or moose or cougar?
Rarely. They’re out there, but they mostly keep to themselves.
Are you ever scared to walk in the woods?
Only during hunting season.
Do you like living in the woods?
Yes. We do.
Reader, what do you like best about where you live? What don’t you like? If you could live anywhere on this green and blue spinning planet where might it be?