Excerpt Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness
by Ron Melchiore
“There’s a bear at the door!” shouted my wife Johanna.
She had gone downstairs to fetch a book and had heard a strange noise at the front door. Looking over, she was startled to see a pair of large paws groping at the door window pane, the claws making telltale click-click sounds on the glass.
I raced downstairs, grabbed the shotgun and was out the door in a flash, barely pausing long enough to put on my shoes. The bear, sensing my frantic activity, had not stuck around. By the time I managed to get outside, our intruder was making a beeline for the cover of the woods. Nevertheless, I fired a warning shot. A loud boom reverberated through the air and, for emphasis, I shouted a few choice words to discourage a return visit. Fortunately, I’ve never had to use our thunder stick as anything other than a noisy deterrent.
It’s an alarming sight to see a bear at the door–the animal’s bulky outline framed by the door window, as if it were a wildlife picture mounted on a wall. A couple of thin panes of window glass are all that separate you from the bear. There’s only one reason it’s there, and it’s not to make a delivery. It wants in. Generally, building access doors swing to the inside, but our front door swings out, an inadvertent but lucky choice. An animal would need manual dexterity to turn the doorknob and pull the door outward before gaining entry to our home. Unless it’s smarter than the average bear, it will likely try pushing inward, then give up when nothing happens.
Horror stories abound of marauding bears breaking into unoccupied cabins and wreaking havoc. Contents, including mattresses, can be dragged outside and are gnawed and shredded, while cabin interiors, rummaged in the search for food, don’t fare any better. Bears, with their long claws and strength superior to a man’s, can be terribly destructive. Our metal clad freezer has indentations on the lid that serve as a visual reminder of the power of those claws. Long canine teeth, used in conjunction with powerful jaw muscles, have left scars and puncture wounds on our snowmobile and boat motor.
Although we have little fear of bears when we are close to the homestead, we are alert and cautious when they’re coming out of their dens after a long winter’s hibernation, especially when a mother and her cubs are together. Hunger is the driving factor as they go about foraging for food. Black bear, the species in our area, are the least aggressive bears in North America, but on rare occasions, we hear a news report of someone being mauled or killed, so the bears need to be respected. Surprising a bear is a good way to get into trouble, so if I venture into the woods, an occasional warning shout gives any animal in the area a heads-up that I’m passing through.
My wife and I have lived in bear country for the last 36 years, first in the state of Maine, and now in the wilderness of northern Saskatchewan. The above incident is just one of the many occasions we’ve encountered bears, with the majority of those encounters being short, fleeting glimpses. Most members of the ursine community will run as soon as they spot us, but a curious bear may stop to view us from a distance. When a bear is near and shows no fear, it’s time to be concerned. In that event, they’ve become a little too accustomed to being around humans, or worse, their hunger has overcome any natural fear they normally have. Neither situation is good.
A fortuitous series of events brought us to this place, a remote lake, far out in the Canadian wilderness, 100 miles from the nearest supply point. And, by wilderness, I mean the real thing.
As far as your eye can see, from the vantage point of a float plane high above the ground, you can gaze upon an aerial tapestry of multi-hued green forest intermingled with jutting rock formations, lowland bogs, and glistening lakes. Exposed rocky hill tops, sparsely vegetated with stunted trees that have managed to gain a tenuous foothold, along with low shrubbery and lichen, are sure signs you are flying over Precambrian shield, a dominant surface feature in the north. Serpentine rivers and streams cut through the landscape, the rivers occasionally flashing a churning white, where rapids lie in wait for the unwary canoeist. All of this is the perfect habitat for wildlife and outdoor adventurer alike.
We are surrounded by pure virgin forest, where the only human tracks are our own and the only neighbors are animals. There are no roads or trails to get here. We are well beyond any population centers, and a flight on a float plane is the only way you will reach us. The electrical grid, which the majority of the world’s population relies on to power industry and appliances, was left behind the moment we took off from the float plane base. We severed the electrical tether by vanquishing the utility company long ago.
We know we live here, at this particular location, and yet we have no street address. Our address is a set of coordinates, a latitude and longitude, given in degrees, minutes, and seconds. With the area so vast, any plane seeking to find us best be accurate down to the second, lest the plane fly by and miss us completely. There are no traffic signs, no mileage indicators, no flashing neon lights telling a guest they are closing in on our off-grid homestead. Our location is a mere pinprick on the Earth’s surface, blending in with mile after mile of picturesque landscape. Generally, twice a year we fly out for resupply and appointments. These biannual trips out are the only times we pick up our mail, buy food, and interact with other humans.
At epochal turning points in our lives, each of us are faced with the question, “Which way do I go?” I’ve asked myself that key question many times throughout my life, and my answer has always been to take the least traditional road. Of course, each of us has our own “What should I do, which way do I go?” moment. We each have our own road to travel–a lengthy road if blessed with health, but where every step along the way is a potential encounter with a roadblock, twist, or fork. I’ve certainly opted to take a few forks. Who would have thought that living in the Canadian wilderness, at this point in our lives, would be the destination for my wife and me? Certainly not I.
Over the years, I have been urged by friends and countless strangers to write a narrative of some of the events that have occurred in my life. I resisted for a time, but I’ve compiled some true stories, interspersed with some humor, arranged in a loose chronological order. I hope you will find these stories entertaining and informative. I’ll share accounts of survival and living in the Canadian wilderness, of hiking the Appalachian Trail in winter, of cross country bicycling, and of the horror of watching my world catch on fire. I write and pass on these experiences to provide encouragement for others to pursue their dreams, regardless of how far-fetched those dreams may be. If you are as lucky as I have been, you will have the support of your family, spouse, or both.
“Which way do I go?” Let’s start at the beginning by heading north to Maine!
Ron Melchiore is an Outdoorsman/Pioneer, Homesteader, Remote Exploration Camp Manager and Author. Living off grid since 1980, Ron and his wife Johanna have spent the better part of their lives “unplugged.” As part of the back to the land movement that originated in the 70’s, they have spent their adult years living the homestead dream.
Ron has thru hiked all 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail in winter, bicycled from coast to coast, survived forest fires, encounters with bears, and more.
Ron Melchiore and his wife have been published in BackHome Magazine, Small Farmer’s Journal, and Countryside and Small Stock Journal, and appear in Life Off Grid, a documentary film and book about people living off-grid throughout Canada. Life Off Grid aired on British Columbia’s Knowledge Network. He is currently blogging for several websites including MotherEarth News.
The couple live on a remote lake in northern Saskatchewan where they’ve enjoyed the freedom of the wilderness for the last seventeen years. Ron has written a book titled Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness which is published by Moon Willow Press. For readers with an outdoors spirit, people with an off-grid self-sufficiency bent, and dreamers who seek adventure, Ron hopes to inspire others to “take the road less traveled.”
My book is Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.