The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by db Conard, The Quill
Alta is her name and if there was a way to describe her it would be as a unique rare human who truly does "live the woods," which is so different than just living in the woods.
There are very few who are allowed into Alta's unique world. It is a beautiful one, built almost entirely by her own hands.
As you turn up her drive in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border, it seems to go on forever as you travel deep into the north woods along miles of road that is shared by only a very few neighbors.
As you reach the very end of the road, you find yourself entering a place of living art. You immediately know that you have arrived at a home that is out of the ordinary.
Every where you look there is something to catch your eye. A sculpture made of tiles of different colors and shapes with a few marbles thrown in. Home made bird feeders that need constant refilling because of an incredible number of feathered friends that show no fear in Alta's. presence.
Alta has a building for everything, sauna, wood storage and splitting center, with seven cords of ash and birch waiting to be cut and split with as much already stacked and covered, waiting for her several stoves.
Storage sheds that she builds as the need arises, an out house like no other, filled with art and photo memories, the main house and garage blend right in with the other out buildings and the forest around her.
There is always a collection of something that has a unique shape, color or form that has caught Alta's eye which she uses to accent the walls that would otherwise be plain and uninteresting.
As you enter her home, you discover a world no less interesting than the one outside. Craftsmanship everywhere you look, bespeaking of thoughtful effort from the trim of each room covered with pressed and varnished leaves of every type and size, to her forest of house plants.
Her home is one that would keep your eyes dancing from one item to the next. Many items that are found in nature but all too often, go unseen by the common eye.
Rocks and paintings, photos and cards, all thoughtfully placed to create a nest in the woods that reflects this unique woman with an even more unique lifestyle.
When you say she lives the woods it is the only thing that comes close to describing a way of living that is sustained by nature not unlike any other creature in the forest. Her freezer is full of the game and fish that she caught and prepared with her own hands. There is no furnace, nor is there running water. Her windows are protected by bear strips which are boards with nails sticking out which discourage critters from trying to crawl in.
Alta relies on little from outside of her own capabilities. She will trek miles through the snow breaking a trail to a fishing hole for a mess of crape that will end as many meals, or hours dressing out a deer that will become many more meals for herself and her dog Beka. Her vegetables for the most part come from her own garden.
She does venture out into the world where one minute she does landscaping, and the next she is making incredible pies from the wild fruit she has gathered to sell in town. Crafts for art shows, or a few days as a wilderness guide. No job is too big or small to make ends meet, while keeping her independence from the world of time clocks and computers.
Alta has been there and done that. From working fighting forest fires to planting trees, or working behind a desk, there seemingly is nothing she can't or won't do that she sets her mind to. From her hands, there is always something being created, but most particularly, she has learned a self reliance that is unique to this world of people dependent on everyone else for even their most basic needs.
To me, Alta is truly a treasure of the heartland in that she keeps alive the pioneer spirit of can and make do. It's the treasure that has been lost to our modern world of energy and machines that leave us sometimes helpless when they fail. She is also a treasure in that she looks with appreciation for what she has been given and within her own strengths for building on them. In doing so, she is creating another wonderful American story we can learn from - "Alta, Living the Woods."