When I was a little girl, I lived in the woods with no electricity. My dad raced sled-dogs. We had a lot of dogs.

That’s the story I tell people all the time. It’s all true and I enjoy the reaction I get… usually a mixture of confusion, interest and a bit of horror. 

Now I find myself getting ready to make the move back up to where I came from. I’ll live in the woods on a farm with a barn. 

The last two months have been a whirlwind of plotting, dreaming, worrying, selling off enough stuff to make sure everything will fit in the truck and living in a sea of boxes (and packing related cat fur tumbleweeds) and all of a sudden, we’re down to our last weekend in Virginia. This time next week we’ll be somewhere in Illinois, heading north to our new home in Embarrass, Minnesota. 

It’s an interesting move for me. I’m truly going home. Or, almost home. I grew up in the next town over from where we’re headed. My family moved up to Tower when I was six years old. Back then, my mom was a social worker for the county and my dad stayed home with me. In the summers we’d go on trips to the boundary waters, canoeing and portaging from lake to lake. A lot of the time it was just dad and me. Dad would tell me stories, folk tales really, Ojibwe stories. My mother’s family comes from Lac Courte Oreilles tribe in Wisconsin. My grandmother was the last in my line who could enroll in the tribe. My grandfather, her husband, was Norwegian, so my mom and her brother and sisters ‘weren’t Indian enough’ to enroll. 

Grandma liked to say that we were French Canadian. In the 70’s folks weren’t saying ‘native american.’ You were Indian or you were white. Grandma looked as Scandinavian as everyone else in northern Minnesota and as far as I knew, the only heritage she was trying to pass down to me was her Catholicism. 

It was my dad who told the Ojibwe stories over the campfire. Some were crazy and scary. On canoe trips sometimes bad things happened. Rough water and rain. Bees. One time I tripped on the tent line and landed on a rock. I still have a giant scar on my shin from that. Dad would warn that the bad Wendigo was after us.

When I was six, we lived in a trailer, not far away from Tower. One fall night my mom and dad spread calendars and papers across the dining room table. They spent hours planning all the canoe trips for the next summer. I was getting ready to start the 1st grade, or maybe I had already started. That night, after they planned and cleared the table, my dad picked up the paper and found the ad that sent us out to the woods: Wanted, caretaker for 40 acre farm. No electricity.

We moved out to the farm on the edge of town by mid-November. There really wasn’t electricity. My dad loved it, my mom tolerated it. I thought it was a giant playhouse, just for me. Dad cooked all our dinners on a big cast iron woodstove and while mom was at work, we worked around the farm, clearing brush for a maze of trails back towards the river. Eventually, dad got interested in sled dogs and his time was taken up taking care of the dogs – almost 40 at one time – making harnesses on an old treadle Singer. Steaming and bending the wood for the sleds. Dad smoked a corncob pipe and drank coffee all day. 

When I was eight, dad died. It was very sudden and we never went back to the farm. His friends moved us into town and that’s where I grew up, a small town in Northern Minnesota. My mom remarried and my step-dad owned a fishing resort on the lake and we lived there for a few years, but then he got cancer. Mom took care of him, quitting her job at the county because he needed full time care. We sold the resort and moved back into the house I grew up in, back in town. 

I moved out of that house the day after high school, into a studio in a slightly bigger town nearby. There were 9,000 people and it was the 90’s. I went to community college and worked at a coffee shop. On the weekends we’d drive all night to go to raves in Minneapolis. By the time I was 21 I made the move to Minneapolis, where I settled and stayed for over 15 years. 

In all, it’s been 25 years since the day I moved out. I go back to visit, but mom moved a few years ago, so I don’t normally get all the way back to where I grew up.

And now I’m going there to live.

It’s a strange thing. I get anxious, but Jeff reminds me that not only has it been years since I lived there, it’s technically not the same town we’re moving back to. But it feels the same. It feels a little like the drive up north next week will be a bit of a time warp and I’ll arrive in Embarrass not much different from the flakey, dreamy girl that moved away all those years. My mom says I’m different, but she’s – you know. My mom. 

Patty Brower

Me, the day I graduated high school.

But we’re excited – I’m excited. Running a bed and breakfast is exactly the kind of thing we want to do. We’ll have 17 acres to play on and I can’t wait to wrestle with the three week long Minnesota summers to grow what we can for us and our guests. I’m curious about chickens. And goats. And bees. There’s the antique shop right there, outside our front door in the giant white barn, with room for my studio. 

I can make bread for our guests. 

So we’re packing away. Or rather, Jeff is packing, while I continue to work with my awesome clients and try to come up with a good marketing plan for the B&B. Our house is a sea of boxes and chaos, I’ve stubbornly (sometimes bodily) protected my office from packing so I have at least a bit of a refuge. Today Jeff is being an awesome husband and touching up the paint on our bed and bedside tables, so we’ll have a nice, fresh, cozy private space to live in once we get there. I’m texting the current innkeepers, who will continue to be part of the story and support us as we figure out what we’re doing. We’re saying goodby to folks we’ve grown to love in Virginia and next week will be a super hard goodby, as we give Jeff’s son, daughter in law and grand-daughter the last hugs for a while. There’s a baby coming in August, and we won’t be here for that, and that’s hard. Facetime is better than nothing, but real hugs are best. 

So we’re headed north and once again I’ll live in the woods. We’ll definitely have electricity. And definitely not race sled-dogs. But my hope is that we get chickens in the spring and maybe goats the year after. As much as I loved Minneapolis and Nashville and living in a city with constant access to fabric and Asian food, apparently the country life is for me. 


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