In the fall of 2019, I stumbled across an affordable plot of land in Passadumkeag, Maine. My offer was accepted, and I paid cash. A Maine winter was on its way, and I couldn’t break ground right away. So, I waited. But at the beginning of 2020, we were warned about the novel coronavirus. Panic reached all corners of the Earth. People were laid off from their jobs, including me. I began collecting unemployment. Food and essential items were in a shortage. It felt like the end of the world, but for me, it was also the start of something new. I moved onto my property and began to work the land.
This is my eighth consecutive year of living off-grid, and I’ve interned with established off-gridders and learned their ways. But, with my newfound plot of land, I was the one in charge. And this time, the land I’d purchased was able to tell me how to work it to live in harmony with wildlife.
The land was initially raw and vacant. About a decade ago, it was logged, so when I first arrived, it was full of new growth, and it glittered with wild blackberries and raspberries. My vision was to cultivate a beautiful mixture of wild edibles and a decorated garden.
Initially, I had just enough room to pull my vehicle off to the side of the road. I hiked in and found a clearing big enough to pitch two tents. One was for sleeping, and the other was to store my hand tools out of the elements. I began clearing a driveway. The trees were no more than 4 inches around, which made hand-felling them much easier. After just three days of hard work, I had a driveway that was about 100 yards long.
For more permanent shelter, I started searching for affordable builds. Lumber prices skyrocketed during the pandemic, which made my search for affordable permanent-shelter building materials more difficult. However, I came across an adorable A-frame in Microshelters by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen. I found the plans for this A-frame on Diedricksen’s blog
(Relax Shacks), and then I gathered building materials. This was my first solo build, and Derek kindly responded to my emailed questions on how to begin building. Within a few weeks, I erected my very first cabin on my property.
Photo by Zak Suhar
I built the A-frame for just under $900. The door I found on the side of the road, and the windows in the clearance aisle at a building materials store. It was almost as if this build was meant for me. I used social media to showcase my builds and share my truths about how one woman can turn her dreams into reality. I’m glad I did; the project generated a lot of interest among people following my journey. I realized how much I could inspire others, and that in turn inspired me to keep pushing.
During the summer of 2020, Maine experienced a wicked drought. I only saw rain three times, which made growing any crops difficult. I would load my 5-gallon buckets into my vehicle and head down to the Passadumkeag River to haul water back to the land. It was hot, and there was no shade. Eventually, all my crops died off. The kicker? That was OK. I learned what works and what doesn’t. Life experiences are nothing but trial and error; now I know what to do next time.
Seasons change quickly in Maine. Near the end of summer, I knew I had to act fast to establish a winter dwelling so I could rent out my cabin. When I bought this land, my intention was always to share; I wanted to provide a peaceful place where people could stay, even if just for a weekend. Plus, the money from renting out the A-frame could help fund my cabin build.
A friend reached out to tell me about a canvas-wall tent that needed to be rehomed. I jumped right on it, because I knew I could survive winter in such a tent. The former owner had been a host for Tentrr (four-season camping on private properties) and had retired because of the pandemic. I set up the tent and moved in. I then began researching Hipcamp and Airbnb to rent out the A-frame.
At first, I was a little worried about becoming a host. To have a stranger sleep in the cabin I’d poured my heart and soul into was a little concerning in the days that led up to my first guest arriving. But I was wrong. Being a host has been one of the most rewarding things I could’ve done. It’s brought people together who share a common love for the outdoors and camping. (I mean, who doesn’t want to sleep in an A-frame underneath a sky full of bright stars?) Hosting has brought me joy, and allowed me to break ground for a new cabin on the off-chance the tent couldn’t keep me warm enough in harsh winters.
I designed the plans for my 12-by-14-foot single-pitch cabin, and got the lumber from a local sawmill. I built the cabin with green hemlock, which is both lightweight and strong, to ensure it would last a long time and be able to handle snow loads. All the windows came to me from the side of the road. I built a loft just big enough to rest my head under. I constructed a countertop out of scrap lumber, and I used old tile for a mosaic finish. I heat the cabin with a wall-mounted vented propane heater (which also came to me free of charge). It’s hard to believe what I’ve accomplished in under a year on this property, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
If you want something badly enough, make it happen, and trust that you’ll find what you need. If you don’t know how to do something, learn through trial and error. And always search deep inside for your own magic. It’s there for you.