When the kids and I camped at Itasca State Park a few weeks back, we had met and made friends with a family named The Coldwater’s. This is the family I mentioned on the Week 16 post, who built their own homestead and live off the grid. I knew they lived up around Minnesota’s North Shore somewhere, so when the plan came together for my friends and I to head that way for a camping trip (Week 22), I reached out and asked if they would be willing for my traveling party to make a brief visit on our way back to the Twin Cities, so we (I, really) could see their place and perhaps even offer some assistance as they prepare for winter. To my great pleasure, they said, “Yes!”
To my chagrin, however, when the time came on Sunday, my traveling companions were not interested in the detour. I could hardly blame them. They had lives and families to get back to. We had hiked about 12 miles the day before; energy stores were not full. They didn’t know these people. So, we sped by the turnoff to their homestead and made our way back to the city.
But as this Week 23 began, I couldn’t shake the feeling like I had just missed out on a golden opportunity. Ever since I discovered the television show Alone, I have had a growing fascination with people who are able to live off the land. Of course, that television show is a contest and doesn’t reflect actual reality, but many of the participants on that show do, in their everyday lives, live on self-made homesteads in which they’ve built and constructed various parts of their shelter and living situation (garages, sheds, workshops, gardens, wells…). I’ve watched many of their homemade videos on YouTube teaching various skills and giving tours of their lifestyles (Woniya Thibeault’s channel Buckskin Revolution is one of my favorites). I don’t envision myself living completely off the grid in my future, but I do have a great admiration for the connection homesteaders have with nature, with food, and with the resources in their immediate vicinities.
And so, when I had finally met some people who live this way, and I was going to be very near their home, and they had agreed to allow me to visit and see firsthand what it’s really like to live without power or running water year-round, it did feel like a golden opportunity for me to learn, to have a much richer learning experience than watching a screen or reading a book. I sensed that a first-hand experience like this would help shape my future thinking and planning, to help bring into focus what my ideal lifestyle design really is. How much comfort do I really want to live with? How much am I willing to trade convenience for connection to nature? Do I really want to work my butt off every day so that I can live off grid and subsist off the land as much as possible? I can theorize about this stuff all day long, but getting out there and actually visiting some homesteads and community-oriented neighborhoods will help bring that thinking into focus.
When I arrived home from the camping trip with the boys, and I found myself wishing I had more fervently insisted we take the detour, I asked myself, “What can I control in this situation?” After sitting with this question for a few days, on Wednesday I checked the weather forecast, and the forecast for the upcoming weekend, the Saturday and Sunday of this Week 23, still looked amazingly nice. I all of a sudden got a jolt of excitement, and I lobbed out a prayer and asked the Coldwater’s if they would be open to my entire family coming their way in the upcoming weekend (leaving the duration of the visit completely up to them).
The next 36 hours was a total roller coaster of sporadic text conversations back and forth: when would we arrive, what would we need to pack, how does your family approach food, it’s a busy season for them to prepare for winter so perhaps it won’t work, but actually having some kids around for their kid to play with might be nice, and so on. There weren’t any firm commitments made one way or the other.
It was Thursday evening, the night before we’d theoretically be leaving for a 4-hour drive north to visit a place we’d never seen, and we still didn’t know for sure if we’d be going or not. We definitely hadn’t packed a thing. It was a little nerve-wracking, the not knowing our plans for the next day, but I was thankful that both Kristyn and I were just taking it moment by moment, confident that the chips would fall just as they should.
(Ironically, we were actually watching Alone: Frozen Episode 7 as this conversation was transpiring. SPOILER ALERT – in that episode, Woniya successfully traps a fox, which was really cool to witness. She was always one our favorite participants, and to see her succeed in that way, by trapping one of the more cunning animals in the wild, was my personal highlight of that entire season.)
Just as we finished watching, we finally reached a decision about the weekend – we would not be making the trip the next day. Their child was not feeling so well, and we agreed it wouldn’t be best to mix questionable germs. So, while it was a little disappointing to go through this flurry of excitement at the prospect of having a fun, spontaneous family adventure into the wilderness, all to be squashed within a matter of 36 hours or so, it was nice to go to bed that night with a definitive knowing of what our plans would be for the weekend.
Here’s the kicker. The next morning, Friday, I drove the kids to school, like usual. On the drive home, I entered our cul de sac around 7:50am, and as I rounded the turn bringing our house into view, walking across the street directly in front of me was a red fox. It trotted across the street and straight into my front yard, and then it carried on into the woods beyond. I was stunned into stillness. I had already put my car in park and turned it off right there in the middle of the road. Then I just sat. What a moment! Not 12 hours earlier I had watched my favorite Alone participant trap a fox, and now one was traipsing through my yard at the precise moment I happened to be outside in the right location to witness it. Plus, at any point in the last few years, if you had asked me what my spirit animal is, I would have replied, “the red fox.” It’s the animal I think I would be if a wizard turned me into my animal form.
This was most definitely a sign. But, a sign of what? Instantly it came to me; this was a sign that I have plenty of awesome stuff right here, right where I am. I don’t need to go anywhere. Everything I need is right here. It’s a truth I know to be true, but I often need reminders of things I already “know.”
Immediately after this, I got a strong intuitive hit that I needed to go for a hike (hence the featured imagine on this week’s post). It felt right to spend more time outside, right now. No AirPods, no Apple Watch, no Strava mile-tracking. Just go be outside and walk.
Within two minutes of starting out on that unplanned hike, I encountered a huge barred owl. I love wildlife encounters, and this one felt extra special. Owls aren’t something I see every day, and they’ve always seemed to be one of the more interesting birds. And there it was, staring me down as I gazed up at it from the hiking trail. This experience was another huge affirmation that I was in the right place, exactly where I was supposed to be, with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but to be right here, right now.
I hope I carry this moment forward and remember it the next time I’m feeling like I want to be somewhere other than here.