When people find out that my husband and I plan to move to the middle of rural Wisconsin, we get a lot of questions. Right now we live in Evanston, population 74,486, which is right next to Chicago with a population over two million.
Where are we going? To Wautoma, population 2100. That is a big change. And we won’t be living in town, such as it is, but in the woods by a lake. That description of our location may be sufficient explanation of our move for some people. But many of our friends and family want to know how we will adjust to the lack of cultural institutions, ethnic diversity, restaurants, health food stores, and other amenities. Some worry about us enduring long, cold winters.
I have the same questions and they led me to read books about people who survived such a move. One memoir I’ve read so far is We Took to the Woods by Louise Rich, first published in 1942 but still quite useful. I will summarize a couple points of reassurance from her book here.
Louise was raised in a Massachusetts town and then moved to the deep woods of Maine when she married her husband, Ralph. They were 20 miles from the nearest store, which is a long way, especially in the winter when they pulled their groceries home on a sled. When hunters and fishermen visited their river and woods, they tended to ask the same questions, so Louise started each chapter with a typical question that she heard from visitors.
The chapter titled “Don’t You Get Awfully Out of Touch?” takes pains to explain “that we aren’t out of touch with anybody that we want to stay in touch with. After all, the U.S. Mail still operates.” She doesn’t mention in this chapter that if they want their mail in the winter, they have to snowshoe quite a ways to get it! We actually have roads going by our Wisconsin home, passable–most days–even in the winter, and mail delivery to the end of our driveway. Plus, we’ll even have internet up there to help us stay in touch.
I sat up and took notice when Louise addressed the seasons. “What people really mean when they ask us if we live here the year ’round is ‘But good Lord! Certainly you don’t stay in here during the winter? You must be crazy!'” Louise admitted, “I would have thought so myself before I tried it.” I take great comfort in the fact that she tried it and she liked it. She found there was a lot to like in the snowy woods of Maine.
She herself thought winters would be miserable. “It’s the time you expected to drag intolerably, and once in a while you stop and wonder when the drag is going to begin. Next week, you warn yourself, after we’ve finished doing this job on hand, we’d better be prepared for a siege of boredom. But somehow next week never comes.” And pretty soon the ice broke up and the loons came back…
Louise Rich didn’t miss urban life and culture very often, because she had plenty to do in her own neck of the woods, what with writing, raising children, and endless chores like cooking on the wood stove. As she put it, “All we have are sun and wind and rain, and space in which to move and breathe. All we have are the forests, and the calm expanses of the lakes, and time to call our own.”
By some measures, our cabin is in the middle of nowhere. But when I’m up there, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. But check with me come February.