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Published March 25, 2013, 01:36 PM

In Winona, boathouse dwellers enjoy winter peace

WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Snowplows scrape paved roads and cut through drifts of fresh snow on Winona's mainland in winter, the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound heard from blocks away. Shovels and snow blowers add to the cacophony of clearing paths.

By: SYDNEY SWANSON,Winona Daily News, Associated Press

WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Snowplows scrape paved roads and cut through drifts of fresh snow on Winona's mainland in winter, the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound heard from blocks away. Shovels and snow blowers add to the cacophony of clearing paths.

Across the bridge, the boathouse community is silent, nestled in snow, the houses locked into place by the frozen river below.

For the boathouse community along the Mississippi River in Winona, winter is peaceful. The only sounds are sparse: ice cracking, dogs barking, wind blowing through trees, the whirring of a generator. During the winter, fewer people visit Latsch Island, and there isn't any boat traffic to disturb the floating houses.

In the winter, the frozen river hugs the boathouses with layers of ice. The stability provides residents a season of opportunity to rebuild on "solid ground."

"People put barrels on top of the ice and the framing on top," boathouse owner Gerty Tonjum told the Winona Daily News. "It falls when the ice melts."

Tom Nelson, president of the boathouse association, lived in a friend's house full time for about a year and enjoyed the stillness for another reason.

"The best thing about winter in '82 is it was before the compact disc, so your records didn't skip when you were froze in," he said.

The ice keeps giving in the winter, and provides the residents of Wolf Spider Island, farther down from Latsch Island, a road that leads right to their front doors. A "wintertime bonanza," Nelson calls it.

The ice road doesn't form every year, but when it does, it takes a load off of the shoulders of residents.

When there isn't an ice road, there's a lot of extra hauling to be done.

Residents haul water, fuel, food, wood chips for compost toilets, and plenty of wood to keep their houses warm. There isn't electricity on Wolf Spider Island, so some also bring generators or solar panels.

"At home, you just pay your heating bill," resident Auralee Likes said. "When you're responsible for hauling everything, you're so much more aware of your footprint."

Full-time resident Leslie Eaton, who has lived in her boathouse home since 1993 or 1994, said the hauling is something residents just have to get used to.

"I call it the Wolf Spider Island total fitness rapid weight-loss program," she said. "Forget winter sports — I got all the winter sports I need."

There are other chores. In the mornings, Eaton shovels the ash out of her wood stove and builds up the fire. She shovels if needed and breaks a hole in the ice to allow for steam. Dusting is one thing Eaton doesn't worry too much about— the ash from the stove spreads across the house in a fine layer.

Eaton was drawn to the boathouse community by the people, beauty and sense of adventure — and the fact that she likes a challenge.

"I love it, it's a wonderful place, but it's not paradise," Eaton said.

"Sometimes it really is, though, it really is. There's times when it's just heaven."

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