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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Where John Muir and Dorothy Molter meet

Kathleen McQuillan
Posted 8/31/22

As many of my closest confidants know, recently I have been living a lifestyle that I affectionately refer to as “My Dorothy Molter Moment”. Three years ago, I assumed the task of …

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Where John Muir and Dorothy Molter meet


As many of my closest confidants know, recently I have been living a lifestyle that I affectionately refer to as “My Dorothy Molter Moment”. Three years ago, I assumed the task of reopening our original home that had been abandoned for nearly twenty years. With the aid of my grandson, my goal has been to restore and preserve the house that holds our story. Through countless hours of fixing and cleaning, it’s no longer a makeshift storage compartment. It’s a home!
During this escapade, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on years gone by and where I’m at today. I’ve reflected back on the years spent here raising my children without electricity or running water, and no TV. While my generational cohorts were stepping onto escalators destined for “success”, I and my young family were learning the nuts and bolts of “voluntary simplicity”. How to reduce our material pursuits and revive some of the knowledge and practices of the first wave of homesteaders that migrated to this region.
As I scrubbed floors and furnishings (removing evidence of a variety of critters that had staked their claims to the place) I thought about the days when the house still smelled of freshly varnished wood. I pictured my two young sons, kneeling on the floor over their matchbox trucks traveling around a giant hand-painted paper streetscape they’d named “Car Town”. I also could see them sound asleep on their bunkbeds after a busy day building forts and peddling their bicycles up and down the driveway. Good memories!
As I scrubbed the interior walls of red pine and cedar, I realized that every single log and board I touched had been carefully hewn, fastened, and finished — without the aid of power tools — by my very ambitious mate, John. His was a daunting undertaking on a scale that outmatched my current endeavor by a long shot!
Back then, we relied on wood for heat, oil, and later gas lamps for lighting, well water drawn from our hand pump, and food harvested from the surrounding woods and our large garden. We intentionally raised our children in ways influenced by wise people we found along the way— local neighbors and farmers, and also philosophers like John Muir, Ruth Stout, Scott Nearing, Wendell Berry, and Ina Mae Gaskins who, each in their own way, offered helpful how-to’s while reinforcing the core values embedded in what we were trying to do. They kept us informed and inspired as we strove for a life of greater self-sufficiency — one we thought made good sense.
After three years, my “mission” is still not complete. Long spans of continuous occupancy are reaping positive results. Rodents have finally been relocated and dilapidated porches replaced. The thirty-year-old Ranch King Pro, rusty but trusty, has kept my little clearing free of ever-encroaching brush. And the lilies, coleus and begonias along the front walkway are thriving. Now when I step outside my door, I’m reminded by the beautiful patchwork of granite slabs, ones scavenged from the Echo Trail decades ago, of the love and creative energy we poured into “our place”. These stones became a handmade “welcome mat”. Today, it remains as inviting as ever.
The once pot-holed driveway now drains as nicely as as any county backroad. And low spots in the front yard, once ankle-deep puddles after every good rain, are now sloped away from the house. Now my feet stay nice and dry. Thanks to my loving son, who loaned me his mini skid steer and provided the needed encouragement and coaching, I’m no longer limited to my wheelbarrow. So, I ordered a dump load of Class Five gravel and got to work. I guess this old Mom can learn new tricks!
The crumbling brick chimney is long gone, replaced by a modern, safer version. But the old Free Flow wood stove has kept me warm through many a cold Minnesota winter night. The fallen-down shed has been razed so I can view the doe and her fawn as they mosey by at dawn. The vegetable garden, not quite as large as it once was, still flourishes outside the west window. And last Month the lab report confirmed it. The water pumped from the well is still safe to drink. What more could I ask for?
Many have asked me why I would want to live this way. The answer is easy. I have always loved the solitude here. Silence is the norm. There’s occasional traffic noise, but no hum of a refrigerator or TV chatter in the background. I indulge in the bird calls that change with every season, the sounds of wind and dewdrops falling from trees. When I’m not looking, mushrooms mysteriously appear and disappear. I’m entertained daily by the antics of a host of creatures. The zoom of dueling hummingbirds, the acrobatics of squirrels and chipmunks, and unexpected visits from skunk, porcupine, rabbit or raccoon — even a wolf or fox or bear, but far more rare.
Notions about entropy, or the intricate connections between man and nature… no longer are they just concepts or speculations but integral to my everyday reality. A quieter, slower-paced way of life allows the natural world to more quickly draw us into its subtle and ever-present grandeur. What a privilege it is to be filled with such awe and gratitude.
Dorothy Molter left an indelible impression upon my consciousness, even more precious as I grow older. Through my “Molter Moment,” I’ve rediscovered how we are all one family composed of air, water, minerals, and microbes, living together, bound together, in one giant energetic web. I accept with greater certainty that the knowledge and wisdom of our elders and ancestors are essential to our survival. I’m surer now that we are not alone. Their voices carry on.
John Muir was right. “Not man apart.” We never are, never were, nor ever can be.