Up North and Off Grid: Our First Year in the Woods

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The moment I stepped onto the dock one hot July day nearly thirty years ago, I knew I had come home. The lake, the forest, the little log cabin, the blueberries, the quiet… this is where I wanted to live.

It took a while to make that dream come true. I was fresh from the city, didn’t know how I could keep warm once winter set in. But I did know that I wasn’t likely to be able to make a life here by myself. For the first few years, I commuted — spending the glorious summer days here at the lake, only to return to the city in September.

I didn’t know much when I first came to live here beyond the end of the road 30 years ago. I couldn’t tell a pine tree from a cedar. Yet, I adapted very quickly to the total lack of electricity, and the hand pump for water in the kitchen. I learned that a cup of limestone powder down the outhouse hole now and then would take care of the odour, and that porcupines love to chew on plywood.

I became friends with some “neighbors” who lived 30 km south on the bumpy gravel road. I remember thinking, “how in the world do they manage with three little kids and no running water?” I seemed to have not noticed that I was doing very nicely without these things too, even though it was only for the summers.

I finally found Allan in the early 1980s. He was living across the lake, and it soon became apparent that we both wanted to live here in the forest. We married in September of 1983 and spent the winter in my little log cabin as our honeymoon.

We took long walks in the autumn woods. We gathered wild mushrooms and cranberries. We brought in lots of firewood and winterized the cabin. We spent the short winter days exploring the forest on skis and snowshoes, and the long winter nights playing cards and Scrabble.

With the arrival of spring, we tapped a dozen maple trees and spent hours over the open fire boiling down the sap. We were rewarded with a dozen jars of dark syrup with a wonderful smoky flavour.

We bought a couple of edible wild plant identification books, and set out to learn how to dine in luxury from the wilderness. Sorrel, dandelions, milkweed, daisies, and cattails became a standard part of our diet.

Living far from the city, our expenses were few, but we did have expenses. We knew we wanted to keep living here, and we knew we would have to find a source of income. I thought maybe I could become a writer.

The previous autumn, I found an old cast iron typewriter at the surplus store. It took a few months to get a new ribbon for it. Then it took a while longer to figure out what I was going to write about.

In the spring if 1984, I wrote an article about how to make maple syrup and sold it to the local community paper. It didn’t pay much, just enough to keep me writing for the next 20 years.

In the fall of that year, we decided to reopen the old lodge where we were living. We set out some cross-country ski trails, bought a few canoes, and printed some brochures.

And here we are — 20 years later. Still living beyond the end of the road, still writing, still pampering our guests, still loving the lake, the forest, the little log cabin, the blueberries, the quiet. This is where I want to live.


For many years, Viki Mathers and her husband Allan operated Kukagami Lodge, a wonderful off the grid retreat reachable only by boat. They sold the lodge in 2012. They can still be reached by email at: kukagami@gmail.com or visit their website: http://kukagamilodge.blogspot.com/

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