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What do you do for a living...?

Now that I’m 30, the outside world has some expectations of me, I suppose. I severely realize these expectations each summer as the tourist flock to my little slice of heaven. Since I live in a make-believe world to many, most find it hard to comprehend what I could possibly do with my time and how I manage to support myself in such an isolated world. I mean, “do you have real jobs here?”

Let me walk you through the typical conversation, in hopes that we can avoid this in the future…

You: “So, what do you do for a living? What kind of work is there on the island?”

Me: “Well, that’s a complicated question, that is very different depending on who you ask. But me, I’m an educator by nature. I’m the program director for the island’s after school program during the school year and also one of the program director’s for the island’s summer recreation program. I am also an administrative assistant and bookkeeper for the Island Association, a non-profit that grants money to island students seeking higher education, our elementary school, and emergency services training. I also have an online ETSY store where I repurpose old picture frames with collaged maps. I do custom orders and I sell my frames in a few of the local galleries on the island. I am also an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) for the Madeline Island Ambulance crew. Prior to this work I have also worked for the Madeline Island Chamber of Commerce helping them manage their social media and web presence, including advertising and marketing. I did that for a little over two years and before that I worked for Adventure Vacations, a boat charter and kayak guiding company. I was their lead kayak guide and helped manage the beach shop. So as you can see, there isn’t a limit to what you can do on the island, it more has to deal with the issue of how many hours there are in the day and what I want to spend my time on.

The conversation naturally progresses to this next question:

You: What brought you to the island?

Me: I’ll start with serendipitous chance. I was in the right place at the right time and I had the right conversation with the right person at the most opportune time but I’ll tell you the story, because I think it’s a good one and the kind of magic that leads people to this island…

It was February 2012 and my heart had just recently been broken and stomped on; all the while trying to finish my masters program during the depths of winter. Fortunately, I had an excuse to leave the house for a few weeks for a graduate class in Silverton, Colorado studying Snow and Avalanches. The perfect reprieve. It was my second to last night in Silverton, we had finished our studies and were now able to let loose a little bit. We found the local bar and I bellied up, feeling refreshed and not wanting to return home. A local ended up next to me and we got to talking. He noticed the Lake Superior agate that hung around my neck and we both realized we were from the same region. What a coincidence. He was cool, we flirted, and I felt like a more complete human than I had felt in weeks. My last day came and went and we said our good-byes and hugged on the chance that we’d someday meet on Lake Superior again.

Chance would have it two months later, while picking up a few items at the local thrift store, a familiar voice echoed through the check-out line. I turn around and not only is it him, but he’s also wearing a “Madeline Island” t-shirt. We ring up our items and meet outside, agreeing to a beer next door. I find out he was on his way through from Colorado, then heading to the island to begin his summer work. We got to talking about what goes on during the summer and the work that exists. I was daydreaming about the possibility of working on the island and it turned out he knew someone who owned a boat charter company that needed a kayak guide and some help managing their store. She lived in Saint Paul and was all about meeting me. It took only a few weeks after that to gather my things, organize my life, and begin the transition to island living.

I can’t be more grateful to the asshole that cheated on me because what he did propelled a series of events that would change my life and ultimately lead me to finding my forever home, with my forever family. I feel blessed and choose to see the good in what was a truly terrible situation. The island has that kind of effect on people. If you’re observant to the chance of things, anything is possible. That island has continued to teach me that.

You: Okay, that’s super cool. So the winters are pretty brutal, I hear. How do you keep yourself busy? What do you do for fun, to keep busy?

Me: I like to think the possibilities are endless, it’s just the possibilities aren’t what you would consider normal activities. Living up here, everyone has a strong connection to the lake. If you don’t you’re missing the entire point of living here. So naturally, I and many others that live here spend a lot of our time outside. Quite a bit of the island is natural and wild, leading to pristine hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, kayaking, boating, and fishing. I really enjoy foraging, so I spend quite a bit of the non-snowy months looking for wild edibles and mushrooms. I have a garden, chickens, and two dogs. I’m helping the love of my life build his dream home- all by hand- a true craftsman. I volunteer a lot. Our island kids go downhill skiing a handful of times every winter and I open up the elementary school gym twice a week so the adults and kids can run around in a warm gym for a few hours and wiggle out the winter blues. When I’m not doing any of the above, I’m buried in a book or hiding at the library- a favorite place of mine to escape the outer world. I don’t have internet or dish/cable tv so I end up needing the library for my work. I find now the more I have to live this way, the more I enjoy it and truly appreciate the gift of having a community library and a disconnected house.

We don’t have a McDonalds and the island never will. We don’t have shopping mall but we have the cutest artisan galleries and internet shopping steps up for the rest. We drive across an ice road in February to go to the movies. If I don't fee like cooking I have one restaurant to choose from on any given night. Our options may be incredibly limited but I’ve grown to not mind. I miss delivery Chinese on a Sunday afternoon hangover and late-night pizza deliveries. Sushi is severely missing in my life but when I do get those things, I appreciate them more than you can understand and that appreciation has enriched my life more than I could have anticipated. My life has simplified itself, but it’s also grown more rich in what I don’t have. There is no excuse for boredom and if I am, it’s my own fault. Self reliance is a phrase we repeat often here.

I’m supposed to have a secure job and goals for wealth but I find that the more I live here the further I am from that traditional goal. I have not one job but several, a piecemeal approach to living on the island. Most of my time is self managed and after 5 years of living on the island, I finally have a toilet in my house.* But the less I have, the richer I feel.

*2018 was the year of the toilet, before that I peed outside for 4 years and walked .1 miles next door to Jake’s parents house for all the rest. We also don’t have a kitchen or warm water yet. We do have water but it comes out of the main pipe in our utility room. More on this to come in a later post... #buildingahome

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