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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

From Queens to the North Country

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 12/27/19

TOWER—It was a cable television show that brought 69-year old Vita Cavaretta from a Queens, New York, condominium to a tiny log cabin in the North Woods just in time for the coldest part of …

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From Queens to the North Country


TOWER—It was a cable television show that brought 69-year old Vita Cavaretta from a Queens, New York, condominium to a tiny log cabin in the North Woods just in time for the coldest part of winter.
Earlier this year, Cavaretta, a widow and recent cancer survivor, had determined that she was going to leave everything she knew and strike out for a place she’d never been before. She was inspired, she says, by a show called Aerial America and a segment the program had aired on Minnesota.
“They had everything about the state,” recalled Cavaretta in an accent that combines both her New York upbringing and Sicilian heritage. “It talked about the mining, and when it became a state, and the rivers and the rivers go into the lakes, and this and that. And then it says that it is most economical and has nice weather, if you like the cold. And I love the cold.”
The show highlighted the state’s good schools, but the clincher for Cavaretta was the state’s people. “It said they have the nicest, friendliest people and it is a very safe place.”
It was that testimonial that sent Cavaretta on her unusual odyssey. She said she was tired of life in New York City, where she said emergency sirens wail all night. “And the air is so dirty you can’t see the sky,” she said.
So, in September, she sold her co-op apartment in Queens. She flew to Duluth with a large amount of luggage and toiletries in early October, where she took up residence in a hotel while she searched online real estate listings for her new home.
Eventually, she settled on a small log cabin tucked back in the woods just off of County Road 77 in Greenwood Township. She liked the pictures she saw online and bought it, sight unseen, closing on the deal the day before Thanksgiving. “I didn’t want to go look at it,” said Cavaretta. “I have a phobia. I don’t like to go outside. I like to stay home and watch television. That’s what I do.”
Just as television is, at best, an approximation of reality, the online photos that drew Cavaretta to her cabin in the woods, didn’t tell the whole story. The cabin was far from winterized, with only a small amount of baseboard heat. It had no water and only a composting toilet, conditions that Cavaretta, who has a bad leg on top of a host of other medical conditions, had never dealt with before. It sat at the top of a ridge, accessible from a steep driveway that was already buried under nearly 18 inches of snow, with months of a North Country winter yet to come.
Yet, perhaps her biggest challenge is that Cavaretta does not own a car. That hadn’t been a problem in Queens, where she ordered most of her meals delivered and could take a taxi if she needed to travel— services that can be tough to arrange here in the North Country.
But just as her TV show had suggested, she found that friendly Minnesotans have been willing to pitch in to help her out.  
She said  she’s made  friends along her journey, no doubt in part due to her outgoing personality. She talks openly and in detail about her life, her surgeries and her other ailments, even with people she’s met for the first time.
She stayed a few weeks at a Virginia hotel, even after closing on her cabin, but she finally readied herself last week for the move to the woods— an effort that included the purchase of a new 55-inch flat screen television. She asked a helpful hotel maintenance man for the name of a local handyman to assist her move and he suggested she contact the Vermilion Club for a recommendation. That call connected her to Vermilion Club owner Greg “Arch” Archibald, who volunteered to plow her driveway. “He told me I’d need a four-wheel drive to get in there,” Cavaretta recalled.
She later contacted Marjo Motel operator Orlyn Kringstad, who offered to pick her up in Virginia with his four-wheel drive pickup and help her move her belongings inside. But Kringstad said he quickly realized that Cavaretta would not be able to stay in the cabin, at least during the winter months, so she’s living temporarily at the Marjo while Kringstad and local real estate agents are working to locate a more appropriate accommodation, at least for the winter. Since then, Kringstad has become a chauffeur, of sorts, taking Cavaretta back and forth to appointments in Virginia and Ely.
Through it all, Cavaretta seems to be taking it all in stride. “It’s been wonderful. I have never been happier and calmer,” she said. “Everything they said about this place was right.”

Vita Cavaretta


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