Hobo Village is premium, lake front property shared by all who come to the Steger Wilderness Center. The spot was christened by Master Stone Mason, Jim Sullivan when he and his crew came up their first time to do stone work for Will. Although lodging was available, Jim and his fellow stone masons, true to their calling, preferred to be closer to the earth and water. They set up tents on a narrow strip of shoreline at the base of a 70 foot ridge, on top of which rises the Castle another 60 feet into the northern sky. A fire pit was dug. Tree stumps with planks laid across were added, along with granite blocks brought in for seating. Beneath the majesty of the Castle looming above, Hobo Village became the common ground for people of good will to gather.
Night life at the Steger Center usually revolves around Hobo Village. After the work day is done the question of who is heading down to ‘Hobo’ is regularly heard. Piles of scrap wood deposited there nourish the fire well into the night. Interns, apprentices, volunteers, guests, and even Will, often gravitate to Hobo Village after dinner for social interaction that would make Facebook users envious. Stories and laughter spill forth, and whenever a guitar or two shows up, song inevitably breaks out. At times poetry is recited. In the end, bonds of friendship are forged around the fire, under the dome of stars, at the water’s edge, down in Hobo Village.
The spirit of Hobo Village drew photographer in residence, John Ratzloff, aka Johnny Ray, to make it his home away from home during his extended stays at the Steger Center. He set up a tent and a crude kitchen with a cupboard so he could cook over the fire. Eventually a tarp was strung over the food prep area and not long after a sign proclaiming ‘Café Hobo’ appeared. ‘Hobo’ had all the trappings of a village and since Johnny Ray was its first citizen, Will appointed him the Mayor, with duties ranging from maintenance to diplomacy. So if you happen to visit the Steger Wilderness Center, take time to make your way to the lowest place on the compound. Pay heed to the Mayor with a slight nod of the head and a rolling wave of the hand. Take a penny, leave a dime. Join in the friend-raising and soak up the natural beauty. For the pair of loons that happen to float by, or the turtle that ambles through camp, the fish that jumps off shore, the howling wolf at night, or the northern lights that emblazon the sky, the Mayor assures, “No extra charge.”
By Peter Wahlstrom