Off-Grid and Free: Pioneer? Really??

Reader Contribution by Ron Melchiore
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Pioneer? For anybody who has reviewed my biography, my claim to be a “pioneer” may be a head-scratcher. The term conjures up the mental image of Johanna sitting next to me in the covered wagon, me holding the reins of a team of horses as I yell giddy up, clippety-clopping our way to our remote lake with everything we own in the back of the wagon to settle the promised land. Not quite.

We’ve already established from an earlier post that there are no roads to get here, so any wheeled conveyance, covered wagon or otherwise, was not an option.

We believe destiny brought us to our location. While searching for a suitable spot for our new homestead, we were flying around in a float plane scouting various potential lakes when I caught a glimpse of a sandy beach that we were passing over. From the co-pilots seat, I immediately asked the pilot to circle around for a second look.

Not only did we take a second look, but we landed on the lake, slowly drifted up to the shore, and as we departed the plane and took a short jump off the pontoon onto the beach, we immediately knew this was going to be home. A chance sighting of a lake we just happened to be flying over and the search was over.

Clearing the land

This was indeed virgin wilderness and the establishment of a homestead would be a serious undertaking. It’s easy to imagine a little homestead with a garden nestled in the forest. Quite another to make it happen.

This was going to be a lot of work. The first obstacle was the logistics of what we were contemplating. Everything would have to be flown in by float plane. Building materials, personal possessions and supplies. Everything would need to make its way first to the float plane base, then be loaded on to the plane, flown out, off loaded and finally carted to the house site which was 200 feet from the lake up a short but steep hill. All this before any construction could begin.

This excerpt from my book Off grid and Free:My path to the Wilderness relates what we were faced with.

“Our first priority was to open up a trail from the beach to our camping site, then on up to where we would build the house. Starting from the beach, there is a flat shelf of land a few feet above the high water mark and then the terrain rises steeply to a sandy knoll that sits 15 feet above the lake surface. We chose to locate our homestead on this high hill.

This was virgin wilderness, and the forest was dense. Using nothing but a chainsaw, we cleared a path from the lake to the house site. I cut down the trees, sawing them into firewood as I went, and Johanna removed the brush and collected and piled the firewood. Because the trees were very small in diameter (4 to 5-inch average) compared to what we were used to in Maine, we mistakenly thought we could have the house site completely cleared in two days. What we failed to take into account was how numerous these small trees were and how long it would take to deal with them. But we cleared the house site within the first week. To break up the monotony, we alternated clearing work with other chores like lugging lumber and supplies from the beach.”

At this point, we had a reliable path from the lake to the house site, and the site itself had been cleared of trees. Now it came time to clear the remaining areas which would be dedicated to our gardens. Take note of the dense wall of trees in the rototilling and winching pictures. Making the transition from forest to productive gardens was an enormous amount of work.

Hand-winching every tree with roots from the garden

“We flagged out the borders of the gardens and pulled out each tree, and its roots, within those boundaries. Through trial and error, we found a way to clear not only the trees but their roots all in one shot. With the aid of a chain and a two-ton come-along, I was able to anchor to the base of one tree, put a chain on a nearby tree as high up as I could reach, attach the come-along to the chain, and then topple the tree. I continued ratcheting the come-along until I pulled the tree free, roots and all. I repeated this tedious process many times until I had our garden areas cleared. The cleared garden areas are approximately 75×35 feet each. Quite an accomplishment.

We had flown in a new rototiller to work our gardens, and I plowed the lower 40 after the trees were removed. I disced in all the forest duff, and after I went over the areas a few times, our garden actually started to look like gardens. The first pass was the most difficult as I had to make frequent stops to clear the tiller tines of small roots and debris. Many small roots wrapped themselves around the tines like pieces of twine. Tilling became easier with each subsequent pass, and now, years later, tilling is a breeze.

Progress was slow, and I had a good sense of how the first pioneers must have felt converting forest land to farm land. It is not easy work. The pioneers had horses and oxen to help, whereas I had mechanical tools and ‘Ron power,’ but fortunately I had relatively small areas to clear.”

The first pass with the rototiller

If you consider we arrived in unsettled territory, cleared the land by hand, built an off- grid homestead and reside far removed from conventional society, I think “pioneer” is an accurate description.

This year our weather was cool and rainy in late spring and I grew weary of bailing out the boat. We are finally enjoying a warm stretch. Last summer was dry and we had at least seven feet of exposed beach. This year there is no beach. The water is up to the vegetation on the shoreline.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back again shortly.

Ron Melchioreand his wife, Johanna, currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness published by Moon Willow Pressand is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Connect with Ron at In the Wilderness and on Facebookand Pinterest. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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