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


Kate said...

Colin & Heidi,
We cannot say enough about having the pleasure of hosting y'all. Your presence on our farm was a blessing as was passing time with Rider...what a great dog. The beer you made while you were here is progressing nicely and without "mishap" so far. Billy gets off the river tomorrow and home on Friday maybe it'll be ready to sample a celebratory bottle. We miss y'all very much and look forward to the time that we meet again!!!

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean...lucky is a word that I use all the time, though it doesn't seem to be the right word. Thanks for keeping us updated!!! ~Melissa

William said...

Glad to see you are enjoying your adventures. I love the photo of the bus.

Every time I read your blog, I'm tempted to throw my sleeping bag in my bus and head out as is.:-)

Unknown said...

I just passed by you guys on I40 in Knoxville Tn I love the bus and trailer

Anonymous said...

we just passed you guys on i-81 in Virginia... on our way home from bear hunting.. keep living your dreams you inspire us to do the same- Crystal L