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Once when Kalil was 3 or 4, the snow was too deep for the snowmobiles, so they tried to walk through knee-deep, then thigh-deep snow in dropping temperatures, abandoning groceries along the way, until they arrived at the cold cabin, exhausted. Now, during winter, they always try to return home in daylight - at night, it's too dangerous if something goes wrong. "Life is full of stress. But here, stresses are different ... and it's up to us to solve it," Rochelle says.
Getting ready for bed, I wash my face in a small pan of warm water. The family carries all water from a nearby spring, so it is "ever so valuable," says Rochelle. Most guests say lack of running water is what they miss most.
Eight hours later, the day begins with the quiet thunk of wood being added to the stove, the rattling of coffee perking, the quiet voices of Jan and Rochelle as they begin their day. Rochelle rolls up the window quilts, and the thin morning light streams onto the breakfast table. It has warmed up in the night - to 16 degrees. Another group of visitors are expected tonight. People stop in often. In fact, Jan built a spare room over the workshop for overflow company.
Shortly afterward we load my skis and backpack onto the sled behind the snowmobile, snug them down with canvas and bungee cords and motor out to my car. The wolf tracks from yesterday are still visible, revealing the animal's slide down a steep hill to the trail.
Ryan and Courtney Dalman and their children, Ari, 4, and Ona, 7, live on a dirt road that climbs, narrowing and meandering, through forested hills as though laid out with no particular plan in mind. The county plows to within two miles of their house, and Ryan keeps the rest of the road open because it makes sense with children, plus the couple welcomes customers to their pottery studio.
When I arrive, smoke billows from two chimneys in the cluster of buildings - the studio, the kiln and a newer two-story house overlooking a creek. Ceramic garden ornaments poke above the snow - a mossy green rough-edged pot, a clay person fissured like a dry desert floor. An outdoor Korean-style Noborigama pottery kiln looks like two beehive mounds beneath a roof, all surrounded by piles of firewood.
Inside the main house, barefoot 3-year-old Milo, the son of their friend Mojo who lives nearby, also off the grid, loads blocks into a toy truck and noisily dumps them out again. He frequently scrambles over to his father, who sits on the floor, to be cuddled. Courtney Dahlman sits with her back to the fire burning in the masonry stove. Built of concrete blocks in the center of the house, it works with only one or two fires a day.
Courtney said her house is bigger than she thinks they need, especially after living for six years in the first house - now the pottery studio. She's still getting accustomed to having a guest bedroom, indoor bathroom with a composting toilet, dining room and large living area downstairs, plus two bedrooms upstairs, though they've been in this house for one and a half years.