When I began to talk about coming up here alone in the wilderness the people all insisted that such a thing would be impossible. It could not be done. People that have to be alone lose their reason in a short time they said. But I felt that I could because it was my calling, and if God sent me he would go with me. I can do all things with God in whom I live and move and have my being. The trouble with some people is that they have lost track of a personal God. Their compass has been taken away, and those who have taken their compass have not given them anything in return to go by. In these days there is great unrest, people are running here and there and as the prophets of old have said that worldly knowledge shall be increased and people would be running hither and thither, and the cry is “more, more, give us more knowldge, more light.” Some of the trouble was stirred up by the war, but most of it was here before, and has a deeper source. Too many people are sailing without a compass. Generations ago most people, even those who did not openly profess religion had a faith in a personal God who ruled the affairs of men. They believed in a Divine purpose — in a fixed plan for the orderly conduct of men and they had a simple and literal faith in the Bible. We know that these people were happier than they are now. In this era of intellectual challenge the average man is less ready than his ancestors to accept a hand me down God. He wants to reach his own verdict after all the evidence is in. If science is sending out search lights and seems to uncover facts that do not match the literal interpretation of certain passages in the Bible he adds that to his evidence, and doubt enters his mind. Unquestioning faith is no longer his. His compass has been taken away and there is nothing given to him by those who have taken it from him to replace it.
Through ages man’s mind has been triumphing over matter, but now matter seems to have taken its revenge by triumphing over man’s mind. It seems to me that one trouble is that so many people are ready to believe that everything in the universe can be solved by the mind alone. What an absurd idea. The deeper things of God are revealed to man by the spirit of God.
Many people have given up the idea of a personal God because they can not work him out by an intellectual process. Can they by any such process help us to understand two of the oldest and most elemental mysteries, the mysteries of time and space? Can they make clear to us how time can be without beginning and end? They cannot. Nothing seems to have been put inside the skull of man that makes it possible for him to understand these mysteries. God has to be taken on faith, a faith that is grounded in instinct and reinforced by experience and common sense. God cannot be proved like a mathematical formula. One of the needs of our time is to have the simple faith of our fathers poured into a twentieth century mold. We feel the old fashioned religion dressed in a free and flowing robe and not in a straight jacket in which bigots would be encased. We need more sincerity, more simplicity, more tolerance, more reverence, and less smugness. We need more people who can say, “Our Father Who Art in Heaven” and really believe it.
When my oldest brother was with me while completing my house he did not like it here at that time and wanted me to sell the place and come down to Sparta again. After that he came every summer for a few days and every time he liked it better. Brother John also came for a few days each summer but now they have both passed away. My youngest sister, Mary, used to come and stay with me every summer as long as she lived, but she too has passed away and I am the only one left out of a family of nine. My nephew, Will Lindberg, and family, have spent their summers with me for more than 20 years, and other nephews and nieces and many friends come occasionally. So it is not as lonely as it was the first years when I did not see a human being for weeks and months. Even then it was not lonesome. I was too busy to be lonesome, and now I cannot find time to be lonesome.
I think I have proved that one can be happy alone. Wherever God sends a man he can be happy. Now all the old trees that wre dead and blackened by fire are gone and the second growth is up 40 to 60 feet high and the place has come into its own again and is really very beautiful. I can’t understand how anyone can be lonesome in this beautiful place. It is God’s country. I see his wonders every day. But I pity those who have Nature for their God because although Nature is great and wonderful in its greatness and its beauty and majesty, Nature is cold and cruel Nature can teach us many things about God. It can teach us that he is a great and all powerful and noble father, but Nature can’t teach us all we need to know and what we know it is necessary to know about him, namely, that God is love.
In my first years here I made many friends with birds and small animals. I had a flock of tame quail for pets one winter that would come at my call and eat out of my hand, and they would stay close to the house all the time. I had a little screech owl that I could go right up to and feed, and a crow that would follow me wherever I went. Of course, I found the crow when it was young. I also had a tame partridge. I could go to her where she was sitting on her eggs close by the house and feed her, and the same was true with squirrels and chipmunks. I even had a pet flying squirrel and occasionally muskrats would come to the house and were not afraid. I would throw out carrots and apples to feed them. One winter a skunk came to the house and picked up scraps and became about as tame as a cat. One day I carried a pail of stuff to the chickens and emptied it in a trough, and the skunk came along with tame cats, and the chickens, cats, and skunk all ate together as peaceful as could be.
At this time the lakes were full of fish and I could have all the fish I wanted without spending much time. I did not see a boat on the lake for years as the roads were not in condition so that people could get here easily and there were no cars. The fishermen to lakes that were handy and the fish in these lakes were conserved. And so I lived on fish and potatoes, and would have fish and potatoes for dinner and potatoes and fish for supper. I lived cheaply and simply but well at the same time. I had to live cheaply because the money I had at the start soon went and it took me years before the land would bring anything and even several years before I could raise enough to feed horses. There are so many things one has to have in the beginning, especially when he takes up new land. The first year the land produces little or nothing because the ground is too full of roots and wild stuff and does not hold the moisture well. One great drawback is the brake or fern which grows so fast that when the corn is ready to cultivate you cannot see anything but ferns and have to go over it first with a hoe and cut down the ferns before cultivating. While all the stumps were in the ground I could not raise more than 25 crates of corn per acre, but after I got rid of the stumps I have been raising 100 crates per acre.
Although it was all hard work I took much comfort in my work. I used to take a bath in the lake twice a day and after bathing would rinse my clothes in the lake and hang them on a bush to dry, and put on ather suit, so I kept my body and my clothes clean. At the same time during the first years I had my drawbacks. One winter I got diptheria, but managed to do my chores. It was hard and I was pretty weak with everything whirling around and around, but I managed to stagger around somehow and wear out the fever.
Another year I had an awful time with rheumatism in my left hip which was so bad I could not rest night or day. It was no use to lie down; I could not lie down for five minutes and had to sit up for two weeks. Some times when I was completely worn out I would fall asleep for a while and wake up and feel as if I were on fire but I finally got well. Suffering does not spoil our lives it only raises us to a higher altitude, bringing us nearer to one another and nearer to God.
Many times I have wondered what I was dong this for. I would think, am I here for some high purpose or am I here for a selfish purpose. Deep down in my soul I have always come to the conclusion that it is for some higher purpose that the Lord had sent me here. In spite of all the draw backs and all the troubles I have never wanted to quit my work. The saddest dreams I had were that I could not make a success but would have to give up and do mechanical work for a living.