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Back of Beyond Farm is a small, family run operation in Rist Canyon, Colorado. We work closely with natural rhythms to create wellness teas from indigenous and naturalized plants. 2013 marks our 4th year of supporting our community through tasty teas. In the year ahead, we hope to continue our work of not only producing healthful teas, but also exploring the edges of what it means to farm and be a part of a place.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

First Seasons:Harverst Feast

The table is set:
Tonight - wild elk sausage, smoked wild goose, and first harvests of wild pheasant. Hoping you have a belly full of good food and a soul stirred with the knowledge that you have a place in your blessed center of this Good Earth.

Merry Christmas


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice 2013

Light - Love - Joy - Peace - to all of you and to our Good Earth and all the creatures that share this blue-green gem of a home. 


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

First Seasons: Mark's First Elk Hunt

Seems like a long time ago when Beau, Mark and I set-off on what would be Mark's first elk hunt. I didn't pull a tag, so was relegated to guide and pack animal - a role I readily take-to.

Mark grew up, with Beau, hunting in Minnesota - close shots, thick woods. When we left camp, I failed to inspect Mark's clothing situation. 45 minutes later and into a steep climb, I became aware that not only was he too hot, but his pants were "swooshing" like starched corduroys. I think Beau noticed at about the same time because he ditched me and his little brother to take another route. I cherish these moments of the hunt: predawn, anticipation - kicking ass up the hill while the out-of-staters struggle for breath.

We had a fortunate wind - blowing hard, loud and straight from the West  - the direction we were approaching. When we crested the saddle, I spotted elk right away - in the open and feeding where they always seem to be. Mark couldn't spot them. For what felt like many minutes, I tried to get him to see the elk - 325 yards off. It wasn't helped by me constantly spotting more elk and one of them a huge bull. When it was all said and done there were 7 elk - all bulls, strung out across 100 yards of hillside, feeding unaware. We got to 250 yards and I asked Mark if he wanted to take a shot, fearing wind, Beau, other hunters would spook the herd.

He declined, asking to get a little closer. We had a good approach so I said sure, but be ready to shoot. We advanced to 200 yards and I asked again, then we heard Beau shoot. Now was the time. The huge bull ran then paused - Mark shot and missed. I told Mark to get to the edge of the cliff we were approaching to intercept other elk coming up the draw. Two bulls, both legal, hung up at 75 yards from the cliff edge. Mark got into position. I'll spare the details. Beau had shot a very nice 5x5 bull, not 20 yards from where he and I both got our bulls the year before. Mark didn't get an elk.

The three of us made "big into little" over the next couple of hours and hiked the first load of meat out of the wilds and back to camp - a grueling endeavor - making me happy for the missed shots of Mark. Though I wouldn't let him off easy. Many jokes were made at his expense.


Over the next few days they hunted and saw two more herds of elk - all cows. Mark relaxed and began the forgiveness process that is always hardest with ourselves. The hunt made me think of all the things that there are to learn when it comes to hunting - creating a search pattern (what do elk look like in low light at 300 yards) what to wear (layers of soft, noiseless, de-scented clothing) how to cut up the elk and respect the life that joins ours, what to bring and not bring in your day pack. Details - best learned while trying and failing.

It's all a part of first seasons. Learning, again and again, how to do what we've done many times before or never in our life. Writer Rick Bass poses that hunting make us a more creative and imaginative animal. We're forced to think of another being in a way we rarely think about ourselves - where are they, what are they doing, how to do I find them and so much more. I engage in all sorts of outdoor and wildlife related pursuits - but none grounds me stronger, roots me deeper than hunting. In sharing so many firsts this past Fall, I am overcome with how much I have learned. In the end, my greatest harvest of the year is the beginner's mind. I look forward to next seasons and putting that mind to work.


Friday, December 13, 2013

St. Lucia

Happy St. Luci's Day! This is one of the three "high" holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas we celebrate in our home (St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and Winter Solstice on the 21st). A candlelit breakfast of sweet rolls and sausage and our Luci lighting the dark morning with her crown of lights and greenery.

Here's hoping you all fight a little light in your day!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Surviving the Freeze

Cold? This past week, for much of the US,  Siberian air has swept in and settled deep. Today we saw the wild Chinook winds blow and the streets do a little melting. But over the past five days, frigid temps have been the norm.

For most of that time I still had stuff to do outside - supervise pre-teens playing hide-and-go-seek at -5, sledding, Christmas Tree sales, Winter Festival Set-up and Take-down, and visiting friends picking out their holiday greenery. I used to get so cold - a problem for more than me. My dad spent his ice fishing, snowmobiling and winter escapades rubbing frozen toes and numb fingers. So, I've become a student of staying warm.

Much of this started in reading and studying The Winter Wilderness  by the Companion by the Connovers (Maine winter trekking guides). They spoke my language and I worked their ideas into a Master's degree. I've studied polar explorers and Scandinavian woodsman, trying to get the best idea for how to stay warm. Turns out, that the old German grandmas and grandpas that surrounded me growing up might have had the best ideas.

Every grandmother had a silk scarf (adopted by our local Cowboys) and all the old Germans from Russia grandpas wore outrageous fur caps. Heavy mittens were standard. I inherited my dad's old pair of "choppers" a few years back. Last Christmas I was gifted my Grandfather-in-law, Al's, fur hat. And the scarf was a new purchase - to replace the paisley thrift store find I'd worn elk hunting for years.

Here they are - appropriately ugly in this new streamlined - go-lite/patagonia world.


I've gone back to more natural fibers. Gore-tex is the partially hydrogenated fat of the clothing world (at least to me). Wool breaths - so does cotton! I spent a little too much on a cotton jacket from Fjallraven last year and waterproof it with their special beeswax. And fur and leather do on our bodies what they did on the creatures we harvested them from: keep us warm and allow our perspiration to get away. I put that cotton jacket through 4 days of down pours during the flooding, and only on the fourth day did a seam leak - quickly remedied with more wax. 

I find myself looking to the old ways and learning how to survive in our new, ever-changing world. Laying in bed last night, Jen said, "How did people survive in the winter?" I can't imagine it was always pleasant, but in my ugly hand-me-downs I get a little glimpse into how they did it. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

First Seasons: Home

For our kids, North Dakota looms like some mythical valhalla....a land of story, legend, fable. The setting of their parent's childhood escapades, falling in love and getting married. Their grandparents and great aunts and uncles, second cousins and more still live on the prairie. Going to North Dakota ranks higher than any other destination on their list. (I know many of you are cringing as I write this, feeling sorry for these poor, weak minded children!)

When we landed it was -3, 9:30pm at night and the forecast was for double-digit below zero temps by morning. At 7:45am we were standing outside my cousin Ron's farm office and the thermometer read -12.  Time to go pheasant hunting. 

For three days we walked tree rows, blocks of grass, sloughs filled with cattails, cut corn and creek bottoms. We saw hundreds of pheasants - most launching just ahead of us, some flying into the winter-low sun and confusing us as to whether they were roosters (legal) or hens (illegal). We hit SOME and we missed lots. Enough made it into our game bags to keep us hunting and not to lose heart. 

Makabe was a trooper - he made all the walks - shot as poorly as the next. He fought through bundles of clothes, wind-chill delayed response, thick gloves that wouldn't work the safety and covered miles of his North Dakota rootland. And he did it with his Grandpa. They've hunted together before, but never with Makabe carrying his shotgun. For me, to have these two together in the field, was the highlight of the trip (rivaled only by the single sharp-tailed grouse I was able to harvest - my favorite prairie bird).

At 71 and 10 they make quite the pair. Kids connect with grandparents in all sorts of ways. I am thankful that they connect this way - on the land - in the elements - making a meal out of memories.

When it was all said and done, I was the best of the shots. Not something to brag on and not an indication of a full larder, but enough birds to hold and feed us trough the Winter. Shared communion between me and my homeland, between Makabe and his roots, between all of us, across the miles.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

First Seasons: Little Juniper

Growing up my family had horses. I ended up doing some feeding and lots of "scooping", but never really got into horses with the same passion as my sister (this passion continues to this day - and is passing to her girls as well). My parents, being kind and thoughtful, asked what animal(s) I would like to raise. I chose dogs. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers to be exact.

What I didn't know (nor they) is that getting a Lab would have been so easier. We looked for months. Litters of Lab puppies came and went. We finally had to order a puppy from Nebraska. My first hunting dog. The years make memories sweeter, but one thing has become clear. She was a hell of a dog. Few dogs and boys got to hunt as much as we did and after I left for college, she and my Dad continued the Fall hunts for fowl and Spring and Summer hunts for moles and voles.

Since then there have been Labs. Chesapeake's are wonderful dogs and someday, maybe, I'll have another. But they are a little stinky (they produce a natural oil for waterproofing), a little aloof and territorial. Labs seemed safer as we moved from state to state and townhouses to the country.

Little Juniper joined us in May. Named for a stellar Lab we met a few years back and after a favored family tree. June. Juneberry. Junebug. She's been a handful - as lab pups are wont to be. But slowly, now in her seventh month, she's coming into her own.

Last week she went on her first real hunt. Along with two boys, I knew I'd have my hands full. The boys piled into the duck blind (after I broke ice and set decoys!) and the little dog and I went for a walk. Ducks flew, shots were fired, birds missed. We had a splendid, action filled Thanksgiving Eve.

Her first bird came in the last hour of the hunt. Low flying Canada Geese passed unscathed over the boys and kept their low flight towards me and the pup. Leaning back I pulled the trigger and 16 lbs of bird soared 75 yards into deep grass. We gave chase. When the pup spotted the running bird (geese can run - ask a golf player) she gave chase, pounced and held the bird there. She gave an attempt at a retrieve - but that wasn't going to happen. She stood there - over the bird. Waiting for me to come and retrieve what she had caught.

My first goose in almost 20 years. Her first bird ever. Walking back to the boys and then back to the car with a new dog outfront, having had her first true hunt, it became another - of a long line of shinning moments spent chasing wild creatures, learning with and from them. Connecting more deeply to place and each other - both two and four-legged.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgivings

For tea and our Farm Members

For a pheasant hunt, at home in ND, with 3 generations 
For the one, sharptailed grouse, that waited too long 
For the Thanksgiving Eve Goose and Juniper's 1st bird


For all the Good Earth Provides

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

First Seasons: Pheasants

Oh, the first shots were awful. Big, bright, cackling roosters coming off point or flush from the old Lab or young Shorthair. Misses, not shooting.....it looked like a long day.

At 5:30am, the neighbors (Shane and Keston) picked us up and we started the day with a drive north, to Cheyenne and then just beyond towards Torrington. A beautiful morning unfolded, and with it the great conversation that comes on car rides with dogs and boys and the looming hunt.

We knew this may very well be Libby's last trip north to hunt. The end of many good seasons. The 12 year old Lab was struggling through shoulder pain, but still showed enough puppy with the puppy to give it one more chance. Bess, the year old German Shorthair that the Downing's got last summer had just returned from a trip to North Dakota to hunt and proved she'd learned a lot. Our first walk produced a stellar point from the young dog (boys shot and missed) and then a flush from the old dog (boys were to surprised to shoot). Ah, moments when you wish it were your hunt.

A few more birds flushed - some missed shots (I think I am remembering this right), and then, finally. The old dog wouldn't quit hunting as we tried to decide what to do. Her swirling tail telling us a flush was imminent. Kabe moved into position and then the flush and then the shot and then the tumble of bird heading back to Earth. Ecstasy. Elation. Relief. The rest of the day would be bonus for the perfect moment of old dog and new hunter. Mile-wide smile. At least two of them.

The walk, back towards the car, was full of excitement. Keston downed a bird. Others flushed wild. At the end of the block of grass we were walking Bess went on point, again. This time betraying the bird. Makabe shot and two roosters were in the game bag. Christmas dinner was secured.

The day got hot, the old dog proved wily in flushing birds the young dog missed. They both hunted their hearts out. We chased flushed birds, the boys got hot. There was an incident with dog and feces. And finally, one last walk.

We headed towards a short block of trees that had held birds in the past. The luck of the hunt had Kabe walking to the southern edge of the trees, Keston went north. Bess, betraying owner, hunted our side, pointed then ran after the running bird, pinned it and flushed the bird back towards us. One more shot (it seemed to take forever for Kabe to pull the trigger - my mind yelling "Shoot!") One more rooster. A limit.

The drive home was swell as well. The boys tired, but not sleeping. A gas stop and junk food feast. And then, at home, the celebration of sisters and mother. The floating of feathers, the encouragement of the little Lab, Juniper, smelling her first pheasant. Three beautiful birds and the swelling pride, confidence and respect of a growing hunter in his first season.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First Seasons: To Hunt is to Shoot...



...and shoot, and shoot, and shoot. In late September,  Kabe and I went looking for a big fat Mallard Drake to pluck and roast for one of our Holiday gatherings (have you seen the price of an organic raised duck in the market??? Sheeese!). Colorado, like many states, offers a chance for youth hunters to hunt a few days before the regular season opens. It's an effort to attract folks to the sport of hunting and get them the chance to have a high opportunity for success. And hunter numbers are important whether you hunt, believe in hunting, or just like wildlife.

The way our wildlife management is set-up in the US is that hunters, almost solely, pay for managing wildlife. Your tax dollars don't. Plane and simple: hikers, climbers, bikers, bird watchers, campers, and trail runners don't fund wildlife - state wildlife agencies that manage species like Elk and Grouse also manage species like Herons and Preeble's Jumping Mice. Through a special tax on hunting equipment and the license fees hunters pay to help all sorts of species. So keeping hunting, across generations, is paramount to keeping a funding stream for the science and enforcement and habitat enhancements needed to support wildlife.

Back to the story.

Leaving the house at 5am, when you know you have hockey practice later in the day, is a little daunting for a 10 year old (he negotiated away from a 4:30am leave time). We set-up on a marsh in the middle of a State Wildlife Area (bought with hunter's dollars) and within a few moments the first ducks of the morning had ripped the air above our heads and landed just outside of range.

It was a good morning. Makabe learned that to hunt is to shoot and to shoot and to shoot and that going hunting and seeing game and getting shots does not mean that you'll be coming home with much to share. 18 shots later and dozens of views of twisting ducks, we were duckless, but wiser. The gift of these youth hunts is that the adult can't hunt. We coach. And in that experience I felt more akin to my Dad. I found myself using similar lines, "Are you aiming or just shooting holes in the clouds?", laughing, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder as we talked. For Kabe, it was fun and disappointing all at the same time. His Mom calls these feelings, "Double-dip Emotions". Mostly, in my experience, I find that it's what it feels like to hunt.