Off-Grid Living on Lake of the Woods: One Adventurer's Incredible Journey

When Connie and Jim Larson left their big city lives for an off-grid island on Lake of the Woods, they had no idea what they were getting into. Here, Connie recounts her experiences that led to her new memoir, The Pack.

Editor's Note: To learn more about Lake of the Woods, in Sunset Country, Ontario, order Connie Larson's gripping new memoir The Pack: Perils and Peace of Nature - Lake of the Woods.

Lake of the Woods, Ontario, 1996

The Power of the Storms

The tranquility was broken. The island was under attack. The ferocity of the storm shook the little cabin and sent majestic pine and spruce plummeting to the ground. The voice of nature grew in volumes—raging winds and tumultuous waves broke their spirit. Nature unleashed violently with infinite power. 

Storm on Lake of the Woods

Storms were plenty on Lake of the Woods with 65,000 miles of shoreline and over 14,000 islands. So was freezing cold and fog that rose like steam, moving and shifting, drawing ghost-like figures certain to be Windigo. 

Freezing on Lake of the Woods

Leaving Urban Life

We left urban life behind with our Alaskan malamute mix, Sekima. Like fools, we jumped from all protections and safeguards. Our new life on the remote Canadian wilderness five-acre island was in the hope that our journey was worth the risk. We were four and a half miles to mainland, surrounded by Crown islands and cottages sparsely dotted, occupied for a few months during the summer.

Island on Lake of the Woods

The trapper’s cabin built in 1946 would require strength and ingenuity to be transformed into a full-time residence. There would be no standard comforts for years to come. We were off the grid. 

Off the grid cabin on Lake of the Woods

A Poorly Timed Arrival

And so it was that my partner and I with Sekima became a small united pack on a remote five-acre island during the four distinct seasons that define the north. Our arrival was poorly planned for mid-September when already the waters were deep sapphire, soon to be pewter grey. In the distance, towering spruce and pine framed the water’s edge, a mass of random spikes jaggedly interrupting the dense cloud cover. We labored from sun up to sun down to ensure our survival for the coming winter. 

The small red boat would be hung up in the boathouse and contact with the outside world would stop. There were no plans to leave the island until break up. We would hunt and fish. We would read by coal oil lantern. We would tend fires at night and stack wood by day.

Sekima Was Ready

Sekima was fiercely independent and strong. His name meant King, and he was ready to hunt and kill. His first experience of pursuit was a black, red-eyed devil with white spots. It swung its sinewy neck back and forth, rose up in the water with gigantic sweeps taunting him to pursue. And pursue the loon he did. Endlessly and fruitlessly, exhausted and confused. It dove and disappeared like the Windigo. 

Fall was busy. Countless squirrels invaded his new territory. Their incessant chatter and scurrying about drove him wild. He hunted them down. From spruce tree, to red pine, to the narrow branch overhanging the water. He could smell their dirty little breath. He scraped and scratched, jumped, and hurtled up every tree.

Nature's Challenges

Nature was an adversary to be reckoned with. In late fall, we hunted a neighboring large island for whitetail deer. I became hopelessly lost—howling northwesterly winds had brought early snow that diminished visibility. By late afternoon, my partner Jim had found me and we made our way back to the boat. As is with life at times, things can and do turn worse.  The boat motor sputtered and stopped. Gale winds propelled the small boat south, away from home and into bigger waters. A reef stood in the way. Time stood still as we hovered on the granite shelf. Battered by the winds, breathless and cold, we hoped we would reach home that night. 

Sekima the dog

Sekima learned quickly of predators and prey.  He would cock his large head side to side and leap into the air. Unsuspecting mice under the deep snow were trapped under his massive paws. A mature beaver found itself too far from its winter home and became a significant prize. 

Although he was strong, massive chest and haunches weighing over one hundred pounds, he was taken by surprise. A single female wolf lured him across the windswept ice to a neighboring island.

Wolf on Lake of the Woods

I watched helplessly from our shore as six more appeared. They raced down the side of the island, a web of silver streaks casting plumes of snow amidst the pines. Sensing the danger, Sekima leaped in huge strides across the barren landscape of ice and snow. He had almost made it to our island when they had him surrounded. They gave him extensive breadth, circling him in a counterclockwise pattern with no gap for his escape. They had him fenced in and he took a stance. Silver-grey wolves with flowing tails danced around my friend. I took off running hard towards them. I screamed as I ran. I screamed my fear and outrage. The images will remain in my mind forever.

Pushing the Limits at Ice-Out

My partner Jim was not immune to the harshness that nature inflicted. We were always wary of the ice conditions but with over a foot of ice late spring, we would push the limits for supplies. 

Late Spring ice

Our cross-country skis had become a hindrance as we made our way along the four-and-a-half-mile stretch of ice that connected us to the mainland. The sun had melted the top layer to a slick sheen. We decided to remove our skis and walk. We always maintained some distance between us. It was so sudden. I saw his right leg disappear to the knee. The ice caved under his weight. Splinters flew upwards. Jagged shards of ice over a foot long, slivers of rotting crystal. Like birth and death, they were returning to their original formation of water. For us, it was only one step. But one step in life in the wrong direction can change the rest of life as we know it.

At peace on Lake of the Woods

Our journey was just beginning. The beginnings of what would become my memoir, The Pack. Our life together was full and rich of nature’s perils. But there was also peace. The beauty of our surroundings on Lake of the Woods allowed us to embrace the little things in life with gratitude, so that we could face the big things that otherwise may have broken us. If you recognize the loon, the deer, the bear, the lakes and islands of the north as I do, you will want to read The Pack:  Perils and Peace of Nature – Lake of the Woods.

the pack
Order a copy of Connie's memoir The Pack: Perils and Peace of Nature.

The Pack: Perils and Peace of Nature can be ordered from your local bookstore, or purchased at Amazon (also in ebook) in Canada or the United States.  

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About Connie Larson

Connie Larson is an author and outdoor adventurer. She attributes her storytelling ability to her ancestors, one of whom worked as a writer for the Hudson Bay Company. As a prior Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Property Owners Association, she wrote numerous articles for the local news. An avid fisherwoman, gardener, hunter, cross-country skier, snowshoer, and kayaker, she left city life behind in 1996 and never returned. She spent 15 years as a permanent resident on an island on Lake of the Woods in Northwestern Ontario. Her love of the lake inspired her to write The Pack: Perils and Peace of Nature – Lake of the Woods.

She holds a degree in Equine Management, owned her own renovation company in Alberta, was a prior Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Property Owners Association, a Member of the Metis Nation, and is recently a semi-retired Certified Residential Appraiser maintaining ownership in a company in Missouri. She lives on a lake in New Brunswick with her pack: her spouse, Jim, and their Alaskan malamute, Koda.

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