A Life Apart and Whole
Our Work Horse Symposium, February of 2002, was a great success and it was, for the most part, because of the people who attended. We spent time with many old friends and made many new ones. It was here that I met Greg Metz for the first time. A quiet, well spoken man of obvious natural humility, he seemed to absorb everything around him. During a lunch break I spied him showing an album of photos to some of the other participants and Gary Showalter grabbed my arm, “Hey Lynn, you gotta do an article on Greg and his place!” Long story shortened; I pidgeon-holed Greg, borrowed these amazing pictures and got his promise that his partner Sue would send us captions, (then I worked out a future trade of one of my paintings for one of his knives). Sue sent us the text which follows.
Greg and Sue are caretakers in the absolute best sense of the word. They watch over, work, and nurture a hidden homestead far off the grid; no road, no phone lines, no power lines. Tucked into the great Idaho wilderness and accessible only by jet boat and/or pack train, they live a life of great diversity and beauty. (Their SFJ is dropped from a mail plane flying over!) We are honored that they share this view of their living with all of us.
I’m hoping we’ll get both of them to come down from the wilderness for next year’s symposium. LRM
Dear Lynn and Kristi,
Greetings from Idaho! I think I’ve finally stabilized Greg’s heart rate since that information-packed and inspirational weekend in Sisters! I was thankful for our two-hour hike to Indian Creek upon his return. Not only for the leisurely trail conversation we shared, but also for the fact that maybe the physical nature of the hike would mellow my usually mellow partner! Even though I loaded his frame pack with the weightier town supplies he brought home, his energy and enthusiasm prevailed. The three-day “Work Horse Symposium” in February was good medicine!
Regaling me with the events of the workshop, I’m kicking myself for missing out. Unable to do so, I remained at the ranch to keep the fires burning, the critters fed and our water line from freezing. It’s that time of year when we take turns venturing to ‘town’. We were just thankful that he was able to make arrangements to attend the symposium since the seasons of the year dictate our mobility. Mother Nature graciously released her icy grip on the Salmon River, allowing jet boat travel on our watery driveway. Upon hearing that Greg was partaking in the seminar, our river neighbors, (many of whom subscribe to SFJ) envied his westward journey.
An opportunity to shake up the winter routine is welcomed to keep the shack nasties at bay. From about Thanksgiving to early March, the faces in the mirror are the only one’s we encounter. The pace assumes a more leisurely course as we chip away at the never-ending to-do list, enjoying that time to recharge our internal batteries. By mid-February the itch settles in (like wet sand in your long john’s!) We find ourselves seeking new ways to spice up the routine. Mostly, we look forward to barer ground and the vestiges of spring that ignite the fires of a more physical tempo.
That period of winter solitude in the Salmon River canyon is treasured by the handful of year around residents as well as a needed reprieve for the local outfitters and guest ranches in Idaho’s back country. After a full year of guiding, guesting, gardening & going, we cram all the weekends we missed throughout the year into a lump of liquid days… and call it ‘January.’ Greg and I celebrate that gift of time to pamper ourselves in pleasurable pursuits and creature comforts. In between reading great books, journaling and crafts, Greg and I can be found working on the next years’ firewood supply, repairing and oiling the tack, and cracking walnuts that river friends supply us with. The rhythm of these placid weeks are savored, giving further reason to be grateful for the opportunity to live where the wind is your only neighbor.
Prior to the fall of 1988, re-runs of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ sustained our latent longing to live in a rural setting. In the fall of that year, a pen pal whom we’d never met in person, invited us out to take care of a remote private ranch in central Idaho… for six months. This friend, (Felix Cox) had been the solo caretaker of Indian Creek Ranch for five years, and was looking for a little time off to explore other regions of the Pacific Northwest. At that time, Greg was an Estimator/Project Manager for an excavating firm in Bloomington, Minnesota. I worked as an Administrative Assistant/data processor for a real estate company in another Minneapolis suburb. What would any fairly sane, twenty-something couple do but agree to this adventurous offer? We were permitted a leave of absence from our jobs, loaded up the VW truck and headed west!
After two days and 1527 miles under our tires, we arrived in the Gem State. A jet boat was to meet us 27 miles east of Riggins, Idaho at the “End of the Road” – a 1 hour eternity along a washboard byway, reminiscent of the rutted Oregon Trail. Piling our belongings on the boat, we were jetted upstream another 19 miles, on the famed “River of No Return.” I was secretly hoping its moniker had no bearing on the specifics of our temporary journey. At the mouth of Indian Creek, Felix waited with a string of pack animals and his trusty hound, Hans. The array of gear was deftly loaded, followed by a 3-mile ride through the steep creek bottom to the ranch. Once there (finally!) we realized that if something important had been left in the parked truck, it was no longer important.
I’d love to boast about how well we adapted to life off the pavement! Instead, we were humbled. Not only by the vertical terrain and the physicality of simply ‘getting’ to the ranch, but by simpler things like baking bread in a wood cookstove, learning to pack in supplies on horse and mule, finding creative ways to keep perishables cool without refrigeration, and adjusting to the fact that you weren’t going to be attacked by a bear every time you ventured to the outhouse at night. This was nothing like the camping trips of our youth! Wide-eyed and willing to stick it out, we experienced much joy amidst the challenges. I just wish someone would have suggested we not bring so many articles of white clothing. The wringer washer could never hope to wash the farm life from those tube socks!
Coming from large midwestern families (10 in Greg’s family and 12 in mine), that oh-so-very-quiet Christmas was one we’ll never forget. The only familiarity it shared with the rambunctious nature of holidays past were the leftovers! I think the most difficult adjustment was the fact that nothing came instantly. Our mail was delivered twice a month (via plane and/or boat). By the time the fresh produce arrived, it was time to make banana bread! Life became a study in patience. We played it by ear. Through trial and error we prayed that the good Lord would watch over us. Of course, He did as it is nearly 14 years later, and we still have our arms and legs. (& most of that twenty-something sanity.)
From the spring of 1989 to 1991, we remained in remote locales, providing seasonal help for a few Salmon River guest ranches as well as spending six months on Kodiak Island in Alaska. We were delighted at the prospect of returning to Indian Creek in March of ’91 when Dr. Howard E. Adkins, the proprietor, informed us of a year around position there. Purchasing this 83-acre homestead site in 1969, “Doc” realized its potential and set about the arduous task of utilizing the timber to create a haven of self-sufficiency as well as an ultimate vacation spot for his family. We are fortunate enough for the opportunity to call it ‘home’ and tend the reality of Doc’s dream.
Throughout the years, we’ve been educated by life itself. Through experimentation, a lot of reading, and queries, we’ve learned to take things slow and easy, remaining true to simplicities. That’s the stuff of life. Like sitting down to a meal that is 80% your own doing. Or watching an imprinted yearling foals’ non-reaction when he’s saddled for the first time. Sitting atop a 100-yearold disc as a team of gentle giants work up a new piece of ground. The comforting warmth a brimming wood shed will provide in the months to come. An abundant pile of hay you’ve harvested that will sustain your four-legged kids over the winter. Admiring the slow but sure growth of the oak tree you planted. Picking a dozen beautiful brown eggs from the coop. Welcoming back the hummingbirds.
We know you can relate to these simple pleasures and we can’t thank you enough for sharing some of your own while Greg was in Sisters. As a result of the enthusiasm for small farming you and the family at Small Farmer’s Journal instill, he hit the ground running upon his return. There’s no need to tell you to keep up the good work and your devotion to being a steward of the land. We have this funny feeling that you will. Take care!
Kindest personal regards, Greg Metz and Sue Anderson, Indian Creek Ranch – Idaho