December 11, 2018
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Homesteaders remember honing craft in northern Maine

Johanna and Ron Melchiore have spent more than 30 years living off the grid in Bridgewater and northern Saskatchewan, and now they’re entering a new phase of life for their senior years.

After decades of practicing self-sufficiency, the Melchiores have a lot of experiences to share in “Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness,” a new book written by Ron Melchiore chronicling their path as baby boomers from the suburbs of Maryland and Pennsylvania to northern homesteaders.

“A lot of it is common sense and what’s not is attained through books and then from doing it,” Melchiore said. “When I headed north to Maine, I was clueless. I never had a garden or canned.”

Melchiore, now 59, was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the nearby town of Warminster, where his family relocated in the 1960s. He became an electronics technician after high school, but soon discovered that he wanted to live on his own land in the country, far away from the sprawl of East Coast metropolitan areas, and he started looking for affordable land everywhere from West Virginia to Maine.

In 1979, Melchiore bought 120 acres in Bridgewater, Maine, and gradually started settling in. He would work for short periods in Pennsylvania to earn money for supplies, and then camp in Bridgewater while building the house, tending a garden and exploring a patch of woods that he would later harvest timber from.

“My family was supportive, and remain so even to this day,” Melchiore said. “They came up many times.”

On a trip home he went on a blind date and met his future wife, Johanna, who later joined him in Bridgewater. They added to the home, kept farming, got electricity from solar panels and occasionally worked in Presque Isle at the Aroostook Medical Center, Ron in maintenance and Johanna as a dietician. They also fit in time for adventures: Ron thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in winter and bicycled coast to coast, with Johanna driving on a co-road trip.

Although they had few neighbors in Bridgewater, the Melchiores longed for “the wilderness” — and a lakeside home in the wilderness.

“It’s virtually impossible to find something like that in the U.S. unless you have a lot of money,” Melchiore said.

In 2000, they found what they were looking for at Hockley Lake in far northern Saskatchewan, where they could lease undeveloped land from the government.

Accessible only by a float plane, their new homestead was indeed remote and in the wilderness. Again, they built their house, grew their own food and occasionally took up work to pay for twice-a-year flights to restock or see family. Ron worked with mining companies operating in northern Saskatchewan, helping build and maintain employee camps as well as helping with navigating around the bush.

“We’re OK even if we only worked once a year for a couple months,” Melchiore said. “Because we’re self-sufficient, we provide our own power, grow a lot of our own food, we don’t have that many bills and the cost of our living is quite cheap.” They also never had children, but have made a point to regularly see family, including a surprise visit last Christmas.

In Saskatchewan, they’ve relished life in a northern wilderness, while taking challenges in stride, including a forest fire that once came through and barely missed their home. But as they enter their 60s, the Melchiores are looking to relocate once more and build a new home, this one not so remote but still based around self-sufficiency

“We have one more adventure, to live on the ocean and have another off-grid homestead. Next year, we’re moving to Nova Scotia,” Melchiore said.

Both have always enjoyed the ocean — Ron since he was a kid on family vacations in New Jersey — and they plan to resettle regardless of whether they sell their Hockley Lake home, which is on the market for $209,000.

“We’re getting to that stage in our life where if we’re going to do it, it’s going to be now.”

As they move east, Melchiore said they plan to spend time in Aroostook County to promote his book, reconnect with friends and find out what happened to the land and home they sold.

“Maine laid the foundation for my education,” Melchiore said.

 


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