Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mile 6269: Life at 55 (mph)

      … is pretty slow.  On the western portion of interstate 40, where the speed limit is 75, it sometimes felt like we were going backwards. On the plus side though, creeping sluggishly across the country gives you a real appreciation for the enormity of it. You also become very aware of the landscape around you and how dramatically it changes over the course of 1000 miles or so. After spending some time in the deserts of Utah followed by a few days catching up with old friends in Durango, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, we hit the open road. The days have been long and some of the nights too, as we find ourselves at the mercy of whatever parking lot we stagger into. We did get a fantastic, and much needed break in Fayettvile, Arkansas where we visited my sister’s family for week. Lea, her husband Walker and our nephew Xander, graciously opened their home to us and gave us a feel for Northwest Arkansas. The week was filled with visits to farms, canning projects and ceaseless amazement at the creativity and intelligence of a two-year-old! While we wished we could have spent more time, fall was hanging in the air (even in Arkansas) and so was the reminder that we need to make it north before the snow begins to fly.
     And so here we are again on the road. Crossing into the Eastern Time zone in central Tennessee yesterday, we made one last stop for good southern BBQ this afternoon and now we crawl north through Virginia. The towns are getting closer together and the leaves are getting more colorful with each slowly passing mile. While there haven’t been a whole lot of photo ops from the freeway recently, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some previous pictures from our trip that haven’t yet found a place on the Blog. Enjoy!

We haven't really posted any interior photos of the bus since we finished it. Here it is.

Camping with our friends Tammy and Jeff in The Southern Bitterroot Mtns of Montana

Huckleberry Season!

Our cozy abode under the full moon.

Western Slope Cutthroat Trout straight out of a pristine alpine lake. This is the life.

Late night jam session with T & J

Champagne morning at sunbeam hot springs on the Salmon River in Idaho

One of the classiest "skoolies" we have come across yet!

My little friend.

A fine looking rooster called Chablis.

Prime solar country.

Canyonlands Utah

The desert life at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Arches NP, Utah

Dolores Canyon, Colorado

Bus party with some old friends in Durango, CO.

Classic Santa Fe, New Mexico

Heidi and Xander in Fayettville, AR

Canning dilly beans with the Fam.

Turns out I really like Water Buffalo. This one at least.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kate, Billy and The Pursuit of Happiness


Kate and Billy prepping for a river trip after a great week.

         If I had a dime for every time I heard the word “lucky” in the last two weeks around Willow Creek Nursery, well, I’d have a whole lot of dimes.  Luck might not be the first word that comes to mind for many passing through the Camas Prairie of southern Idaho. While there is an obvious and unique beauty in the steep, sage covered foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains, some of the first words that came to my mind were challenging and rugged. This is especially true in the late summer during the peak of wild fire season.  As you might remember from our last post we had entered Camas County through smoke that turned the sun to pink, the landscape to an obscure, hazy, dream and the air thick, heavy and hazardous.  The fire was called the Beaver Creek fire and was named after an area where lightning first ignited the blaze only four miles from Willow Creek Nursery.  Fortunately for us, and the inhabitants of Camas County, the wind carried the flames and the smoke away from the valley and out into the National Forest to the north.  Although the fire had started in Kate and Billy’s “back yard” Willow Creek was spared this time. Lucky. 

Smokey roads through Sawtooth NF
Residents watch as the hills burn directly behind the town of Hailey Idaho

          Kate and Billy don’t deny the challenges of the place they have settled. What it really comes down to is water, or the lack there of.  What they have done is adapted to it, and they make the most of what is available. It is easy to see their success.  In the sun-parched landscape, Willow Creek Nursery is an oasis.  The two acres, which Billy started some twenty years ago as an ornamental tree farm, have now grown into towering poplars, shade giving spruce trees and enchanting curly willow groves.  Although the Willow Creek that once ran through the property was diverted long before Kate or Billy arrived, water still flows underground giving the property a relative lushness on the surface and good water for their well below.

The view up Willow Creek Rd

Pruning in the "enchanted" willow forrest
             Since Kate’s arrival at Willow Creek the couple’s focus has shifted to include a more self-sufficient lifestyle.  They now produce a good portion of their diet on their own land. We arrived at a good time to see it in action. The first tomatoes of the season were ripening on the vine and everyday plump summer squash were ready to be picked by the basketful. A beautiful mixed flock of chickens, turkeys and roosters range the property, clearing it of garden pests. The hens provide eggs while the Toms grow fat for their imminent contribution to Thanksgiving and beyond.  Much of this great homegrown food ends up in Kate’s kitchen where it is transformed into something amazing. In a previous life Kate was a professional chef. In this life, Kate’s culinary energy and talents are focused on feeding her family, friends and those very lucky people who come to help out around the farm. I could go on for the rest of this post talking about all of the amazing meals that we enjoyed during our time at Willow Creek, but it can all be summed up recounting my birthday dinner menu; elk roast with morel mushroom gravy, hot peppers from the garden stuffed with home-cured bacon and cheese, with Willow Creek salad greens on the side. We did plenty of work at Willow Creek but never enough to deserve the meals we ate! 

Billy pulls bacon slabs off of the smoker

One of the gardens and green houses at Willow Creek Nursery
        When Kate and Billy aren’t busy preparing incredible meals or working on their property, you will most likely find them in the barn working on their other life pursuit, making bee’s wax products. They use raw bee’s wax from a local apiary to produce beautiful hand-dipped candles, hand salves and leather conditioners, which are sold at local farm and craft markets.  This may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but candle making is always accompanied by good music, good laughs and undoubtedly, an impromptu dart game or two.  Kate and Billy have defined there own version of success and these self described “hippie candle makers” are living there own unique dream with gusto.  

Hand dipped beeswax candles in the making
The final product!

             After our stay at the nursery, Heidi and I were feeling very lucky indeed. We felt lucky to have met Kate and Billy, lucky to enjoy two rewarding weeks of working and leaning on the farm and especially lucky to realize the most important lesson of all. When you have a dream, some motivation and whole lot of gratitude, a little luck goes a long ways.  

Kate, Heidi and Mic (the local guitar guru) at the Fairfield Farmer's Market
Rugged Beauty
Heidi explores Rancho Cielo during some R&R