The New Homesteaders

Today, a fire crackles in the Jotul wood stove in the center of the single downstairs room. Water simmers for tea. The room is large and dim but, with the winter sun, cozy. A black wood cookstove stands along one wall near the kitchen countertop; nearby is a dining table, cupboards for dishes, and a washstand with an enamel basin, soap and towels. An office of sorts lines another wall – shelves full of books on Native American arts and crafts, medicines, ways of life.

Hanging from support posts are leather bags adorned with beads and porcupine quills in traditional Woodland and Plains Indians designs. There’s a fully quilled eastern Sioux knife sheath, a long-fringed and beaded medicine bag, a shot bag with Huron-style quillwork and a small beaver fur medicine pouch.

Rochelle works on a pair of moccasins at a table beneath the largest southern window. Weak winter light streams onto a clutter of leather scraps, tin, bristly piles of quills, beads, beautifully handcarved tools. She bends over her work, long hair pushed behind her ears, snipping the barbed tip off indigo-dyed quills and pressing each with a "flattening tool" carved from an antler by Jan. The moccasins, a special order, smell of wood smoke. Their work is carefully done "to show respect for the animals (that the materials came from) and for the craft," says Rochelle.

Jan shows me photos of authentic crafts, including a full-length birchbark canoe, which he and Rochelle (with the help of neighbors in the case of the canoe) copy exactly, down to the shade of red in the quills and size and placement of designs. Their creations go to museums to be displayed while the real piece is preserved in climate-controlled storage. They also sell their crafts at historical re-enactments and conferences. The work allows them to stay home in the winter, a necessity considering the energy expended by trying to get into town.

The evening continues in a timeless way – cooking, storytelling, reading. Two candles and a kerosene lamp lend a warm glow to the sitting area around the wood stove. Manicotti bakes in the wood-fired stove.

Kalil’s red hair shines in the light of the candle as she sits curled in her chair reading Tolkien. Sometimes she rises to help with supper or to practice a kick-boxing move on her father. She’s just begun lessons in Marquette. "I don’t care to talk on the phone too much. I see my friends enough," she says. It’s enough to use the Internet at the library. She’s satisfied with going to Marquette once or twice a week where she plays the violin with the Northern Michigan University orchestra.

Jan leans against one of the supporting posts that glows golden in the lamplight, and he talks about the problems and pleasures of living off the grid. "My whole quest is to be as close to nature as possible," he says. "Here, we find that peace that only nature can offer." For him, living close to nature is a spiritual quest with financial and personal side benefits. The family uses what nature has to offer, and they avoid depleting the earth. In so doing they have raised Ian and Kalil to be capable of hunting, trapping, fishing, canoeing, finding their way in the woods and living outdoors, even in winter. "Here they learned self-reliance," Jan says.

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    I so enjoyed this article! We also live off-the-grid, are unschooling family of 8! check us out!

  • Anonymous

    Nice article, had dreams like that also, grew up reading mother earth news and wanted to attempt a lifestyle like that but never did. I vacation up in the UP now and garden and raise livestock near ohio michigan border. I wonder how many folks in that area attempt to grow many of their own veggies and raise livestock with all the predators that they have up there? jeff