Goodbye City, Hello Country Life

BARRY and Patty Feld used to live in a Minneapolis suburb, 15 minutes from their offices and a day's drive from their wilderness property in Effie, Minn., where they spent every spare weekend and holiday. But last year they reversed their commute. Now, when law professor Barry Feld heads to his office at the University of Minnesota, he drives six hours. And when Patty Feld, a former choreographer and director with Minnesota Opera Company, wants to spend an evening at the theater, she travels 250 miles.

After years of planning and scrimping, the Felds are living their dream of a life in the woods. ``We wanted peace and beauty, to be close to nature - all those hackneyed reasons to move to the woods,'' Mrs. Feld explains. ``But we did not intend to rough it when we decided to make the move. We call ourselves `techno-peasants' - we couldn't live a life like this without benefit of computer linkups, bookmobile services, two four-wheel-drive vehicles, VCRs, and the US mail.

``We have all the modern conveniences except a television hookup - but we didn't have one of those in Minneapolis, either.''

Effie is not much more than a sleepy crossroads with a handful of faded buildings and a population that totals 135 (at last count), scattered across thousands of acres of forests and fields. The nearest grocery lies 13 miles away at Big Fork (pop.: 399). The closest regional theater is in Grand Rapids (55 miles).

``We could not have lived here five years ago,'' Mr. Feld says. Today, he says, ``everything in the field of law is now stored in computers.

``Here in Effie we are really part of the technological revolution. I can do everything here that I could do in my office at the law school.''

The story behind the Feld's move to Effie dates back 18 years to Mt. Desert, Maine, where they honeymooned, Feld says. ``That was the start of a love affair with nature, with the quiet, and with the woods.''

Living close to the land became a priority - despite the fact that both had grown up in cities and never even camped before. After they settled in Minnesota in 1972, the Felds spent weekends exploring country roads, searching for land.

In March 1976, they snowshoed across 80 acres of land adjoining a half-mile stretch of the Big Fork River in Effie. The Felds found what they were looking for: wild, rocky land with a rampaging river.

Building their dome in Effie (see column at left) had its share of disappointments and learning experiences, and some major budget overruns, which meant a second mortgage on their Minneapolis home.

But soon the family found it was using the dome year-round as they experimented with life on Minnesota's last frontier. Finally, they decided that they belonged in Effie full time. In mid-1987, they sold their house in Minneapolis and moved to Effie.

Although children hadn't been in the picture 18 years ago, they were now. The Felds were determined that their children - Ari, 7, and Julia, 5 - wouldn't suffer academically. Today the children are being taught at home by Patty, who has a degree in elementary education.

``There are many, many things available in cities that aren't in the country,'' Mr. Feld concedes. ``But you make your trade-off. We aren't abandoning those wonderful city things - we're just doing them in concentrated doses now.''

``We haven't had any surprises here,'' Patty adds, ``partly because we knew this place so well before it became home. We've been snowed-in, but we were snowed-in in Minneapolis, too. And down there we couldn't look out our window and see a herd of deer romping in our woods or hear the timber wolves howling at the full moon.''


In 1980, Barry and Patty Feld were ready to build an unconventional house in Effie, Minn., one that would be energy efficient, easily maintained, and in harmony with the environment.

They debated over the merits of geodesic domes and underground homes, took courses on both, chose the dome, and discovered a carpenter right in Effie, Roger Richards, who had built himself a geodesic dome.

Mr. Richards agreed to tackle the elaborate plans for 2,800 square feet of domed space with a twisting, central staircase and cedar walls laid in an intricate herringbone pattern. Appropriately, the bedroom window is aimed at the North Star.

In May 1980 the Felds broke ground, with Patty serving as general contractor and with one-quarter of Effie's population helping in a 20th-century version of a barn raising - the dome raising. Barry took that summer off to pound nails.

``Every cent we had was going into finishing the dome,'' Patty recalls. ``Our car rusted out so the sides fell off. Those were very, very lean years.''

Now, nine years later, they're living in their dream house. ``It's finally come true,'' says Barry.

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