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On Their Own 

One family’s 36-year quest to be sustainable

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Greg Torline wears a necklace of teeth and claws. Some are from a hunted elk. Others from a black bear that trapped his wife, Janet, in their green house. There also are claws of the mountain lion that ate their goats.

In a secluded hillside patch near Coeur d’Alene Lake, the Torlines live according to the seasons. In autumn, Greg chops firewood to heat their cabin. End of February, the produce starts in the greenhouse. Janet gardens; she’ll preserve or can what doesn’t go right on their plates. The garden will have brought most everything: potatoes, corn, artichokes, lettuce, spinach, blueberries, onions, celery.

Come harvest, they’ll fill the garden with fallen leaves. They’ll move their chickens there to spend the winter fertilizing.

Every couple of years, they’ll raise hogs. To that and the occasional chicken, Torline adds what he hunts: deer, elk, ducks, fish from the lake.

Their adventure began in 1976, when they bought about six acres for $2,400. They wanted to build their own home, grow their own food, live without debt. A self-hewn life.

They pitched a tent on the hill, fashioned a house with odds and ends Torline brought home from his construction jobs. It became the 16-foot-by-20-foot, two-story cabin where they raised their two children.

It came together piece by piece, in the hours around kids and careers. He works in construction; she raised their two sons, worked in bookstores and in the arts, and is president of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance’s board of directors.

With their kids grown, now there’s money to invest. Solar panels on the roof. A guest house. A hoop house.

The homestead belies years of dedication. A casual visitor sees rustic cottages and, everywhere, flowers: peonies, poppies, Snow-in-summer. All of it, a slice of fairy tale.

And like a fairy tale, their creation is something ancient: the idea of building something lasting and handing it down.

“Now we can pass this on to our kids,” Torline says, “should they want to do it.”

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