A good while back I read a book,
whose author, and even title, evade me now, but one segment of the
narrative has stuck with me. It was a telling of how a particular
area had been settled. Prospective farmers would be issued a deed to a
piece of land, they would timber it, plow it, plant it, harvest it, and
repeat, 'till it was used up. Then they would move on to the next piece.
It was a badge of honor to say "I’ve wore out (X number) of farms."
The signature of the hand of Man on the land is generally an ugly one.
But there is a place.
A place where the goal has not
been domination, but co-existence with the land—and both the land and
its residents of all species have flourished.
Come with me to Lilac Moon in
Now normally, when you think of
a homestead that is powered by the sun, regulated by thermal mass and as
lush a piece of Eden as can be imagined by the mortal mind, the first
hundred or so geographical choices do NOT include Northern Minnesota.
And yet, here it is.
Exiting the Interstate highway,
for the four lane, through mid-sized towns, thence to the two lane that
wanders through smaller hamlets, and onto the gravel road into the bosom
of the state forestlands... it’s very easy to drive right past the
unassuming gate marked with the tiny lovely sign “Lilac Moon”.
Winding down the soft drive
lined with generations of leaves and pine needles is the closest a motor
vehicle will ever come to "padding on little cat feet". At the end
of the drive, once the engine is turned off, the silence is deafening.
Here in the middle of this
forest is a clearing that looks not so much "cleared", as "gently
borrowed". A vegetable garden naturally fenced and gated, produces
wildly and with abandon, punctuated with riots of flowers. An
elderly apple tree shelters a solar shower, sink and soap. Next to
the garden is a well placed hammock with a view of both the garden and
the forest which lies just beyond a wide edging of native flowers.
A fire pit ringed with stones awaits cooking duty, followed by being the
focus of good company and, perhaps, good music.
The caretakers and human
residents (I balk at the use of the word owners) of Lilac Moon are Bruce
and Cheryl, who have been here since the early ‘80’s. It’s
apparent in the many touches and forms here that this place has not so
much been built, as has evolved.
This in itself is genius, and
worthy of extreme merit.
Let me momentarily digress...
Most of us, when planning our
homesteads, especially our residences, are wont to think, "I need X,XXX
square feet of living space, because SOMETIMES we have people over for
shindigs, and SOMETIMES I have to do canning, and SOMETIMES we have
overnight guests." Here’s the genius part. Bruce and Cheryl
have several DIFFERENT structures, all within sight of each other, all
built completely differently and all with a different purpose.
Therefore, the only living space that they need to employ at any given
moment is what they are actually using at the time.
Back to Lilac Moon...
Let’s start with the main house.
Where your average residence perches atop the ground like a boil on a
giant bum, this home is part of the land itself. Banks of windows,
facing the sun, peek out from under a roof of earth, shaded by lushly
meandering squash vines. The exposed stucco surface is shielded by
mounds of blooming plants, beckoning towards the interior.
Remember how cozy that blanket tent under the kitchen table was when we
were little? Same feeling.
One of the main arguments
against earth-sheltered homes is the assumption that there must be a
cave-like feel to them. With the warm wooden beams and paneling, all
harvested from this very piece of land forming the ceiling and walls,
and the sun streaming in the windows, the word "claustrophobic" does not
even enter your mind.