Jim & Linda Mielke, Center City MN
One can’t help but feel a warm welcome when walking into Jim and Linda Mielke’s home just outside of Center City, Minnesota. Part of it comes from the home-harvested wood that lines the walls and forms its cabinets and furniture. Part of it is the earth-sheltered home they built, nestled against a south-facing slope. But underneath it all is Jim and Linda themselves and the vision and stewardship they’ve poured into the woods surrounding their home. Like so many MFA members, the passion for trees and working with wood started long before they bought their own land. For Jim, it started in his dad’s workshop.
“My Dad taught high school biology and horticulture and had a large green house, so he certainly played a part in planting an interest in me for things that grow. But it was his wood working skills that really caught my attention. He built our entire staircase at home, turning every spindle himself.” As a youngster, Jim spent a lot of time in his dad’s shop, cultivating a love for woodworking.
Years later, when Jim and Linda found themselves employed by the North Branch school district, they looked for a wooded acreage to set up a home and raise their family. They found an ideal spot with 13 acres of red and white oak, maple, basswood and ash, eventually purchasing adjacent land that brought their total land to just under 20 acres.
“We built the house in 1978 and then spent a number of years finishing the inside,” said Linda. By the early 80’s, they had their first forest management plan written up and began harvesting the mature red and white oak trees and sawed them on their first sawmill. Jim remembers cutting a 16’ and 14’ log from one huge, red oak whose boards now enclose the beams in their open living room. “It took two tractors just to load them up on the hay wagon,” said Jim. During this time, the Mielkes and their sons Aaron and Curt set up a road side stand, selling firewood to the people visiting Wild River State Park.
Jim spent many hours finishing their home in the lumber from their woods, using figured hard maple to build the drawers in their dining room hutch, and green ash and red oak in the two bedrooms’ closets and furnishings. The centerpiece of their home is a beautiful maple table and 6 chairs, all built by Jim. “Each chair has 28 mortise and tenon joints. It took years to finish them.”
In the late 80’s the Mielkes purchased an hydraulic Woodmizer and also built a kiln from a pattern found in American Woodworker. They continued to harvest and sell lumber to other carpenters and wood workers. But of course, the work of forest management continues. “The understory species of maple and basswood took off a little too much after we harvested the mature oaks and opened up the canopy. Unfortunately, so did the buckthorn. I harvest a few basswood every year for carving, and we’re working to re-establish the oaks. The buckthorn is an on-going battle.”
Today, much of Jim and Linda’s retirement revolves around family, their woodlands and the products they harvest from it. Jim spends the winter in his workshop turning out whimsical characters, puzzles, and Diamond Willow walking sticks. Every summer he volunteers for two months at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais where Linda enjoys time with her grandchildren who live in the area. They also attend several craft shows and sell Jim’s work in local gift shops. And for both of them, there’s nothing better than spending a day in their woods.