Every fall, my future neighbors get together for a day of brush clearing along our shared road. I say my “future neighbors” because I don’t live there yet. While I work from our home base just outside of the Twin Cities in Linwood Township, my husband has been primarily rehabbing a 1976 mobile home a stone’s throw from Moose Lake in Ely. Despite this somewhat unmoored living situation, I feel more connected to this future home than to any home I’ve had so far. The reason is twofold: the people, and the land. I’ll talk about the land first.
Moose Lake is a main entry point into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, with several legacy outfitters dotting the coast. One can paddle to the Canadian border in a day, or motorboat there in about an hour. With its isolation comes a near-pristine beauty that very few people these days have the luxury to call home (or almost home, as it were!)
Ely is colloquially known as “the end of the road,” so I guess our little enclave would be considered the end of the end of the road. Though it has an Ely mailing address, it’s 25 minutes outside town — technically in a different county — and is a dead-end dirt road with a smattering of cabins, a U.S. Forest Service boat launch that is used only seasonally, and a mere 2.5 full-time residents (my husband being the .5). Which brings me to the people. We, neighbors, rely on each other for everything, from the proverbial cup of sugar to shared plowing duties to obscure tool lending.
Informally, we are just a collection of people who love and care for Minnesota’s Northwoods. Formally, we are a road association. The genesis of this association was to establish a body that could collect dues from willing parties who use the road — including the U.S. Forest Service — for ongoing maintenance.
In addition to the aforementioned fall brush clearing day and the requisite annual meeting, the group convenes for potlucks and parties, mostly throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall, when the road population is at a high. At these gatherings, we talk about all manner of Northwoods nature: the best local hike for fall colors, a recent lynx sighting, the deer hunting spot someone just scoped out, the rare bird that graced a feeder, or the choicest corners of the lake for a quiet solo paddle. In the six or so months that we’ve been acquainted with this group, it’s become abundantly clear that we’ve stumbled into a really special corner of Minnesota, from both a scenery and a people perspective. We all love the outdoors in different ways, but the care we show our home is the same across the board.