It was about five years ago when the area directly below the Steger Wilderness Center on the shore of Picketts Lake revived its’ name from the great master stonemason Jim Sullivan. Screen shot 2016-07-06 at 12.14.42 PM He called it “Irish Hobo Village” after his all Irish crew pitched their tents on the nice flat sand and grass on the north shore of this private, blissful lake. IMG_0311 IMG_9689 The village has been occupied every summer since.

The word “Irish” was dropped when the village experienced its own form of immigration, as people of many diverse ancestries discovered the charms of hobo living and migrated naturally to the shore. IMG_9483

In early summer 2014, Will Steger, The Fire Marshall of Hobo Village, appointed me Mayor. This is my third term of one hundred and ten days living in the village as mayor and resident photographer of the Steger Wilderness Center. IMG_4644

It has always been Will’s way to work with diverse crews. For example, his historic dog sled crossing of Antarctica consisted of explorers from Japan, China, Russia, England, France and the U.S. The work crews at the Center also follow this example of planning. Will believes in the power and wisdom of diversity.

We have age diversity, race diversity, gender diversity and cultural diversity. The age gap between our youngest and oldest resident is 54 years. We have people from many nationalities and racial lineages.Screen shot 2016-07-09 at 5.13.16 PM We also have gender diversity consisting of gay people, straight people and trans people. And guess what? No one has any problems figuring out which outhouse to use. Diversity works.

In this year of a peculiar presidential candidate on the GOP ticket, it is easy to see Trump has no clue about the dynamic potential of diversity.

When the children and grand children of residents and master stonemasons or carpenters visit, the median age of our population drops quickly. Last summer, Jim and Roxanne Sullivan’s grandson, Preston, painted the official flag of Hobo Village. IMG_0329

The State of Hobo Nation is strong. IMG_8734-2

In my first term as Mayor, we fashioned a kitchen space using an eighteen by twelve-foot tarp, a couple hundred feet of rope, some poles and boulders. We made shelves of old wooden boxes with recycled doors used as tabletops. Café Hobo opened in early June 2013.

Café Hobo is a delicious, fascinating place to cook and dine. IMG_8224 IMG_8220 Beachside diners are often treated to the sight of Bald Eagles flying low over the lake right past the seating area around the restaurant’s fire pit. A clear night sky reveals the depth of the Milky Way, as very little light pollution clouds the view here. Sometimes Goliath, the restaurant’s hundred-pound snapping turtle show up for a handout. IMG_9706We even have a baseball bat and stones ready to be launched across the lake. IMG_4340 Loons call. Wolves howl…. all for “no extra charge,” I would say light-heartedly to the community.

This spring when I arrived at Hobo Village, I set up another tarp and rope kitchen that was blown to shreds within three weeks. The place looked like a direct hit. Will took a look at the mess and decided an upgrade was needed. When I asked Will what he had in mind he took a minute and sketched out his idea. IMG_5792

A week later it was built by resident carpenters Mike Debour and Leif Larson, who used some canvas from an old tipi liner I had given to Will four or five years ago to cover the roof. IMG_4778 tipi 4And now the Grand Hobo Lodge stands proudly in rain, sun and wind on the beautiful shore of Picketts Lake IMG_5813

Tonight’s menu is grilled BBQ ribs, fire roasted corn on the cob, an organic summer salad from our gardens and hot Hobo fries. IMG_9687 Seating is limited to 65 people so make your reservations early. Valet parking of canoes coming in from the BWCA is also available for $600.

Life is good

Story and photos by John Ratzloff