MARQUETTE - Surrounded by tall trees and a rugged escarpment, John Jungwirth stirs hot maple sap over a fire in an open air teepee. As he sips on a cup of steaming maple sap, he listens to the nearby trout creek rushing down the hill. John and his wife Victoria Jungwirth spend most of their spring days like this, preparing maple syrup that they harvest on their 80-acre property in northwest Marquette County. Making maple syrup from their 70 or so trees is crucial for their winter survival. "We make our own maple syrup and trade it for vegetables from Seeds Spores (Family Farm)," Victoria Jungwirth said. The Jungwirths have lived in their wilderness paradise for the past 20 years with the goal to escape a lifestyle that does not support sustainability. "We try to live a life that is globally sustainable," Jungwirth said. "It's been our intent to learn what it takes to do it differently; how to make your own food, clothes, build a house and still have a really comfortable and quality life." Their motivation to pursue such a different lifestyle sprung in part from their parents' preaching that the modern world with its nuclear threats, its reliance on fossil fuels and unsustainable resources would come to an end in their or their children's lifetime. "The system at the moment is probably not going to work our lifetime," Jungwirth said. "There have to be changes." Tighter supplies of fossil fuels and a global trend toward safer energy sources and reliance on sustainable resources seem to support the Jungwirth's theory. "It's become fashionable (to go green) in the last couple of years," Jungwirth said. "But we have been working on it for decades." The couple lives in a 20 by 20 log cabin that they built over three years in the late 1980s - without power tools, using the wood on their property. "We built this completely by hand; that's why it took three years," she said. "... because we wanted to do it in the most sustainable and cheapest way and put our labor into it." Learning the skills from books and by discovery, they built the two-story house with logs as big as they were able to carry by themselves. With a sauna for a shower, a composting outhouse, wood heat, no running water and no electricity, the Jungwirth raised two children, Lake and Bryn - now in their 20s. A set of solar panels helps with powering their luxury items: lights and a stereo. "It's a much more higher-maintenance lifestyle, but I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that it's a really audacious lifestyle," Jungwirth said. "We enjoy what we do and we enjoy it all day long." Hunting and gathering their own food, the Jungwirths do not rely heavily on money to live their lives. "We eat a lot of wild food and local food," she said. "We hunt and fish and eat wild berries and mushrooms. We got stockpiles of food, but we're not necessarily subsistence people." John Jungwirth traps and hunts small game, deer and birds, while his wife runs a garden in the summer, growing garlic, tomatoes and other vegetables. With their innovative skills, the couple built a creek-fed sprinkler system that even makes the sounds of a modern suburban sprinkler system, Victoria Jungwirth said, laughing. About 80 percent of the food they consume is hunted or grown by them, but the Jungwirths do not shy away from indulging in store-bought food such as lemons and chocolate, John Jungwirth said. They also have a snowmobile to haul stuff out to their home and a truck to get to Marquette. A travel fund that helps support Victoria's trips to visit family in her native England also makes their lifestyle more modern than it might first appear. And the couple does not live entirely without money. John Jungwirth builds specialized wood pieces, hand tools and birch bark canoes - one of the canoes is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. Victoria works two days a week at the Marquette Food Co-op. The couple are both in their early 50s but look younger. They credit their green lifestyle for their physical and mental health. They are happy, they said, because they don't have to deal with the complexity of modern society. "Everybody on the planet could live like this," Jungwirth said. "(But) everybody's got to make their own choices."
John and Victoria Jungwirth stand in front of the 20-year old house that they built, using no power tools. The Jungwirths hunt, gather and grow most of their food. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)