COOK, Minn. -- This was supposed to be a story about a story, about the story on woodsman Beryl Novak who lives alone in his one-room cabin in the forest north of Cook where he hunts deer and grouse, grows vegetables, tends apple trees and splits firewood.
This is the guy with no car, no computer, no smartphone. The guy who has lived alone since Jimmy Carter was president. The guy with no indoor plumbing.
This "year in review" story was supposed to be about how Novak broke our internet, about how his story of around 1 million views is among the most-read articles ever on Forum Communications Co. websites — and appeared in newspapers across the country.
A viral story about a guy who never gets viruses because he’s rarely around many people.
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But Novak, 71, is the gift that keeps giving for a reporter. And when we checked in with him recently he had a report on a new friend who is spending a lot of time in Novak’s cabin. A new buddy. A part-time roommate of sorts.
“I have a weasel,” Novak said in a conversation using his borrowed cellphone. And by weasel he doesn’t mean a distant relative mooching off his provisions. He means the little white critter. A mustelid. “I thought I had all the holes plugged last winter but he must have chewed a new hole.”
Now, for some people, a weasel in a one-room cabin would spell trouble. But not Novak. He views it as a plus. A new furry friend.
“If you have a weasel around you don’t have any mice,’’ Novak said. “I don’t mind him coming in. I feed him a little venison.”
It’s just another quirky chapter in Novak’s mostly solitary, independent life story, a story that seems to have struck a nerve with many people who read the article back in early November. Since then the Duluth News Tribune has been inundated with social media comments and emails, even a few hand-written letters, thanking us for the story.
While we’ve featured scores of profiles on outdoors people over the years — from anglers and hunters to hikers and artists, photographers and craftsmen, skiers and scientists — Beryl Novak’s story somehow hit home harder.
Novak doesn’t live off the grid, and he’s only 10 miles or so off a main highway. He has a gas stove and a riding lawn mower and even a TV that gets three stations over the air. Still, the fact that he shoots and grows most of his own food, and manages to stay away from civilization for months on end, has captured people's imaginations.
Just about everyone Novak has seen or talked to for the past two months has mentioned the article, he said. The local newspaper even did a story about the story. The UPS driver stopped by with some walleye fillets for Novak. And an old school chum brought him groceries after seeing the story and reconnecting with Novak.
“One woman I went to school with back in Orr (in the 1960s) got a hold of me and came up to visit,” Novak said. “She brought me bags of stuff. She brought me so many provisions that I won’t need to go into Cook for months!”