How two years of backwoods living improved my childhood


Have you ever heard a deer grunt in the middle of the night? I have. Ever taken all your water out of a creek?  I’ve done it – twice in my life.  When I was between 4 and 6, my folks tried their hand at homesteading. They saved up all their money, the old fashioned way, lived very minimally, and put a down payment on a cabin and five acres of timber in Northern Idaho. This was in the early eighties and it was about 30 miles out of Priest River, in Bonner County.

It was all woods with no power poles going out to the property. That meant we used an outhouse, a wood stove, and a nearby creek was our source of running water. We boiled it for safe drinking. My mom and dad cut down trees with a six foot two man cross cut saw, then cut up the logs and split them for firewood.

Did I mention my father is totally blind and my mother wasn’t trained in math or spatial relationships? Despite that, my dad built half a cabin, a chicken coop, rabbit hutches, and pulled his fair share in keeping our little family going. We weathered winters with snow up to six feet deep, we went on hikes and gathered blackberries and serviceberries, we raised chickens and rabbits for meat and eggs. We got thin, we worked hard, we lived lean.

I learned a lot. I read a lot, far past my grade level in fact.  I wandered in the woods a lot, sometimes I went backyard camping. I learned the importance of radio dramas and letters, and the fun of reading to each other. Sometimes we’d turn out the kerosene lantern and we’d watch my dad make sparks with the static electricity formed by the plastic pages of his Braille books.

In adulthood, I always have that memory – that no matter how bad it gets, you can always live on brown rice and beans. You can do without all the modern conveniences and still enjoy life. There may be disasters but they aren’t the end.  If something happens to you, you can land on your feet and keep on going.

You can survive.


If you enjoyed this post, there are plenty more at

Content by Rohvannyn Shaw.

21 thoughts on “How two years of backwoods living improved my childhood”

    • Well, the winter I was six we had a problem with the stovepipe – that far away from services, our cabin burned down and we had to come back to the city. We had our lives, one dog, and very little else. However I didn’t want to include that in this particular narrative because I knew this part would dominate the rest and shift the focus. Thanks for asking!

  1. Love this. I always figure that mine will be the LAST generation to have experienced going out to use the outhouse in the middle of the night. Now THAT is an experience. lol. We didn’t homestead, but we lived in really rural areas (we call ’em ‘hollers’ here) more than a few times. Thank you for sharing. It brought up some great memories. 🙂

    • Thank you! One of the goals I have in life is to carry forward old, useful skills that would otherwise be forgotten. Like cooking over an open fire, splitting wood, writing in cusrive, making conversation…

  2. Love your post. In today’s world, living within your means seems like an unattainable idea. Can you live a life without all of today’s common luxuries? I believe that everyone, kids included, should spend a weekend living like you did. Maybe than, they would see the world through different eyes? Tal xo

    • I really think so. Too often I see folks “camping” but they aren’t really living rough. Maybe I’m old and reactionary, but I think you can learn a lot more by just having a tent, firewood. and basic tools. Even car camping like that is better than what’s often done.

  3. People, including myself, could definitely learn from such an experience. Thinking back, some of my most fond memories don’t involve today’s electronics and all the rest. Interesting story! 🙂


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.