Ellen Lehtelä has inhabited alone a small cottage in the middle of the woods for 26 years now.
The forest on the outskirts of Greater Sudbury area is quiet. The road ahead is branching in two, in paved and unpaved, resembling the letter Y.
– So were we supposed to turn to the paved or the unpaved road from this sign? Maire Laurikainen who has volunteered to guide the reporter asks from the person on the phone. That person is Ellen Lehtelä – a superwoman who for 26 years has lived in her childhood home, out of the reach of such modern luxuries as electricity, water and during wintertime even roads. It is the same house Lehtelä’s father built in the beginning of the ‘30s.
Now, in the middle of identical landscapes and too few signs, even the local guide is hesitant when it comes to the right way to go.
Laurikainen puts her phone, which is of course of the Finnish one, down and waits. Lehtelä has said that she would be there in a moment.
Soon the quietness of the forest is replaced by the thunderous roam of a motor. With her silvery Pontiac, Ellen Lehtelä makes the dust fly as she drives to the intersection and performs a quick U turn.
– Here you are. Follow me! Lehtelä who now has jumped out of her car waves and jumps back behind the wheel.
The windy and hilly road makes Lehtelä’s car to disappear every now and then. After all, she has been driving on this road for almost all of her life, so she is familiar with every curve and hill of it. After several turns and stops, when the road looks like it could not get any narrower or grassier, a little house in the middle of the woods reveals itself. A well-maintained lawn and a group of smaller buildings surround the cottage-like house. We have arrived Ellen Lehtelä’s home.
– Quickly, come inside! Before the mosquitoes eat you!
Panels, Propane and Pikkukropsus
Inside Lehtelä’s house it smells mildly like propane. That is what she uses to get power for her fridge and gas stove.
– I’ll make some pikkukropsus (kropsu is an Ostrobothnian equivalent for certain type of pancakes) as we talk, Lehtelä says as she puts the coffee pot on the stove.
For her little television, radio, lights and radiophone, Lehtelä gets energy instead of propane from the sun. She has installed a couple of solar panels on the roof of her garage and on her balcony.
– It is almost impossible to get this house on the power grid. Unless the power line is put under the lake, which would cost a fortune, Lehtelä explains.
Therefore, to get at least some electricity, Lehtelä decided to buy a little windmill a while ago, but that either was not such a successful investment.
– The windmill was a disappointment. Yes, I did get power but it made such a racket there on the roof that I couldn’t sleep! I’m not surprised at all that some people are against wind power if it would be somewhere near their homes.
As a solution for her energy problems, Lehtelä decided to invest on solar power.
– I started with one panel and then after a while got another one. The only problem is the winter: in November, December and January there’s hardly enough light. But it is enough for one person’s needs. The panels are also easy to maintain, you only have to clean them a few times a year. And this whole system cost me only about 2000 dollars, Lehtelä says as she springs outside to show the mechanism she has put on the other one of her solar panels: it allows one to rotate the panel towards the sun so that one gets the highest possible amount of light and energy.
Lehtelä gets her water from the lake next to her cottage. She has built pumps so that she no longer has to carry the water in from the lake.
– I didn’t want to carry buckets and buckets of water up that hill every day, Lehtelä explains her reasons to build the pump system.
Water travels both to the house on the top of the hill and to the guest cottage built on the half way of the hill. Lehtelä herself calls the latter “recycling cottage” since it is fully made of recycled materials. The recycling cottage was built to accommodate Lehtelä’s children and their families. When Lehtelä started getting grandchildren, there were no longer enough room in Lehtelä’s house for the families when they visit. And during summertime Lehtelä says she gets visitors every weekend.
– So I made them a cottage of their own where they can stay when they come see grandmother.
Back to Home
Lehtelä was born in Canada and when she was still a toddler the family moved to the house Lehtelä lives in now. After some years the family moved to Beaver Lake when life started to get too challenging at the cottage.
– The intention was to start a farm, but nothing grew here. And the wild animals and the hawks got out chicken, Lehtelä says.
In Beaver Lake, Lehtelä went to school with the other Finnish kids – although they were not allowed to speak Finnish inside the classroom. After that, Lehtelä’s parents put her to business school located in downtown Sudbury.
– It was a good thing they did that. That way I got a good job in which I stayed until I got married.
Lehtelä lived in downtown Sudbury until her kids grew up and her husband passed away. That is when her uncle left her the house she had grown up in, the same one the Lehtelä’s left for the uncle when the family moved to Beaver Lake.
When Lehtelä moved back, she renovated the house thoroughly: she scraped and lacquered the tarnished logs, replaced the insulating materials and built solid staircase to the attic.
– I had a French boy helping me and he actually built the stairs, Lehtelä who is now running up and down the stairs to fetch old photos and other things she wants to show from the attic.
Since Lehtelä has a very limited contact to the surrounding world, she has lots of hobbies, such as creating traditional Finnish birch-bark baskets, shoes and what not, weaving tablecloths and little rugs with the looms she made herself and learning bobbing lace making, especially the Rauma style.
– When some of my relatives visited Finland I asked them to bring me a bobbing lace set from Rauma. It is so interesting, a world of its own – and it even is different in every country. It would take a whole lifetime to learn it well, so I am not taking it too seriously.
Since Lehtelä is fully bilingual, she also translates texts from Finnish into English and vice versa for her friends. When inquiring Lehtelä’s verve for different kinds of crafts etcetera, the answer is a cheerful shrug.
– Well, 26 years is a long time, Lehtelä smiles.
One With the Nature, One With Herself
When Lehtelä decided to move back to her childhood home to the edge of civilisation,
she thought she should live her life the way they lived when she was a child – though with subtle improvements. Still the lake next to her home is an essential part of Lehtelä’s life: that is where the water and fish come from.
Lehtelä also gets to have some contact with the surrounding wilderness every now and then. Last summer there seemed to be more bears around than usually.
– One of them came to my lawn to sunbath, Lehtelä says waving towards the woods.
– I talked to it every now and then and I think it started to tame, because it didn’t leave. Once it came all the way to the door like this, Lehtelä says stretching her hand up towards the upper frame of her front door. – That is when I got a bit scared and I tried to get the bear to leave. When it didn’t go anywhere I got slightly angry and said that if it doesn’t leave, I will shoot it!
For a moment Lehtelä sits at the coffee table quietly, until she puts a clever smile on her face.
– But I couldn’t shoot it. It might have got hurt badly! So I just shot on the ground and that made the bear to disappear for a week.
During the last 26 years, Lehtelä has spent only one winter in the town, when she stayed with her friend in downtown Sudbury. She says that she will not repeat the same mistake again.
– There I felt like a prisoner in other people’s rooms. Here, I am free.
Lehtelä says that a leading thought in her way of living has been to study how a person can live a satisfying life with consuming as little as possible.
– I have heard that in Japan, near Tokyo, they are planning to put up a whole town that would function with the same idea. I would like to see more of this. It can be done, Lehtelä says.
While eating the kropsus and her favorite pie, Lehtelä says that she has planned on getting an iPod one day.
– But one needs the internet for that and at the moment I cannot get an internet connection here. But when the internet starts working via satellites I can get it too. Very exciting, this technology!