MEET THE KILCHERS
Yule Kilcher fled Switzerland at a time when Hitler's grasp on civilization threatened Eastern Europe's way of life. Convinced that the end of the world was near, he came to America, hitchhiked through the lower 48 and up through British Columbia, then hiked across the Alaskan glaciers by foot. Eventually he found the piece of land where the family still lives today.
Yule moved his family to the woods of Southern Alaska where they lived off of the resources the land could provide. Terrified by the uncertainty of the future of humanity, he taught himself and his family to hunt, fish, garden, gather and farm.
Today, the family still lives on that very homestead and lives by those ideals and fears.
Atz was born after his parents, Yule and Ruth, escaped Hitler's stronghold on Eastern Europe and moved to the wilderness. The oldest male of eight children, Atz considers himself the protector of the family. Among countless other things, he must protect his brother Otto's herd from the wide range of meat hungry predators where they graze. Southern Alaska is home to black bear, brown bear, wolves and coyotes that all consider Otto's cattle their own meat supply. It is Atz Sr.'s job to ensure that is not the case. Were the predators to have their way, Otto's herd would be decimated in a season. Atz, the range-rider, refuses to allow that to happen.
Atz keeps a home at the homestead, but spends most of his time in the summer at the head of the bay, the summer range, either by himself or accompanied by his wife, Bonnie. The head of the bay provides Atz with shelter, water and salmon for him to remain content and free from any contact with the outside world. He is free to watch over the cattle, play music, weave baskets, and most importantly, stockpile his needs for the winter.
Born in 1952, Otto was the sixth of eight children born in Alaska to Yule and Ruth Kilcher. After growing up on the homestead, Otto immediately took to a life of raising cattle and running the farm.
A master mechanic and machinist, Otto prides himself on being able to fix anything that breaks down on the homestead. Decades of collecting broken down machinery and fixing it by hand has allowed him to acquire hundreds of pieces of equipment that he and the rest of the homestead have at their disposal to help achieve any task they may have -- from haying the meadows to plowing the deep snow.
Years ago, Otto relied on hunting for his family's meat supply, but a deep love of the wildlife led him to focus on raising cattle for their needs.
Bonnie was born in Saranac Lake, New York. In 1977 she left home and wandered the country exploring where the rest of her life may take her. Bonnie ran into an old classmate in Saranac Lake who told her stories of Alaska, and that he would give her a ride if she wanted to go. They drove across the country, up the coast, landed in the town of Homer, and pitched a tent on the beach - all in just 9 days.
Bonnie worked at the local cannery for years before she and her first husband moved to a tipi in the wilderness with nothing but a wood stove and a loft. She soon after began hearing Atz's music and stories about the Kilcher family. In 1978 she made her first trip out to the homestead where they pulled her into the barn and they threw her on a horse. She has lived in Alaska ever since.
Bonnie fell in love with life outdoors and being where no people were within miles of her. "The stars were so bright I could see them reflecting in the river," she remembers.
Bonnie and Atz's love for music, skiing, and isolation at the head of Kachemak Bay continues to strengthen their bond, regardless of how harsh the life may be.
Otto's wife of over 20 years, Charlotte is originally from Northern California.
Looking for adventure, this pioneer-minded woman set out for Alaska in 1978 to work as a wildlife biologist. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Southern Alaska brought Charlotte and Otto together in an effort to help clean up the environmental disaster.
After falling in love, Charlotte and Otto embarked on a new adventure together: building a family and life on the homestead.
Otto calls her his "hippy chick from Berkeley."
A vegetarian since the age of 13, Charlotte was forced to adapt to life on the homestead where butchering cattle and other animals was the norm. Appreciating the life the Kilchers lead, she focuses her time and energy in the garden to ensure her family's survival through the winters.
Atz Lee, Atz's son, has always considered himself the "black sheep" of the family. Ten years ago he left the subsistence life on the homestead looking for a bigger and better life. Driven by his passion for music he roamed the country with his guitar until he one day realized that the homestead was his home. He rejoined the family on the homestead, built a cabin by hand and hasn't left since.
Unlike his uncle Otto, he relies solely on hunting to supply his family with meat. Atz Lee admits that there are huge risks to this lifestyle, but sees it no other way. He understands that the hardship he goes through in the wilderness is the trade-off -- never again wanting to experience the life he once sought in the lower 48 behind a desk.
“The wilderness is where I belong," he explains. No matter how much the outside world tries to lure him in, he'll always end up back in the woods leading a subsistence lifestyle the best he can.
Eivin, Otto's son, lives half of a mile away from his father in a cabin that he continues to build. Like his father, he's a jack-of-all-trades, but has taken his own route when it comes to providing himself and his wife, Eve, with food.
Eivin's approach to a subsistence lifestyle, like his cousin Atz Lee, revolves more around hunting and fishing than it does farming. As he grows older, though, his farm continues to grow. Similar to his grandfather, he started with a single cabin on land given to him by his father and continues to grow his pastures, his land, his home and expands the resources around him.
Eivin today lives a hybrid lifestyle between that of a hunter/gatherer and a farmer. With this life, he hopes to successfully provide himself and his wife with food through the winter. Hunting, however, remains his largest gamble. Without a moose, bear or deer kill in the fall, he must rely on small game like rabbits and squirrels for 8 months of winter.
Jane is originally from Homer, Alaska, not far from the Kilcher Homestead. She spent years as a commercial fisherwoman living a life "surrounded by storms and men." After their shared love of music landed her in the arms of Atz Lee, she left fishing and moved to the homestead.
Her unique knowledge of the seas became an instant benefit to the family and their subsistence values. Every summer she must provide her family with enough fish to last them through the long winters. Southern Alaska is home to some of the largest halibut in the world, as well as silver salmon, king salmon, pink salmon, cod, trout and more. Jane targets all the available fish species in the area each and every year.
Eivin's wife, Eve, was raised on a piece of land not far from the Kilcher Homestead. While Eivin busies himself with all of the building projects and hunting requirements throughout the summer and fall, Eve spends ninety percent of her time in the garden. The family knows her as the biggest green thumb around, and she is capable of generating massive amounts of vegetables in the extremely short growing season.
Eve has only 4 months to grow and harvest enough vegetables for 8 months of consumption... a near impossible feat that she continues to succeed at. Held hostage by the weather, an early freeze constantly threatens not only her garden, but her winter supply of food and their survival through the winter.
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