Ok, I know I’ve been away for a while. But it’s summer in Montana. This place is literally paradise at this time of year and honestly who wants to spend time sitting in front of a computer when the world outside is sunny, big blue skies with 80 degrees and no humidity? Not me.
I’ve decided to upload one of the stories I did for the DIL. Normally my role is restrictively that of photographer. I gather information for the writing of captions but someone else is responsible for telling the story in words. Not this time. Recently our summer intern did a story on the Walking Bear Ranch back up in my old neck of the woods, north of Whitefish, Mont. Her story focused on the role and requirements of organic farming, but I didn’t know that when I went out to do the photos. I got fascinated with the people who lived at the farm. My photos were about the lifestyle at the ranch. Suffice it to say the story she wrote and the images I shot had nothing to do with one another. We didn’t want to give up the story because Tess had done the work and I had done the photos and both were good, but we needed a second story, one that focused on the community, to tie the whole project together. As my editors started tossing around ideas as to who should be assigned to write it (Tess couldn’t because her internship was over and she was heading back to Boston) I decided to throw my name into the mix. After all, these people had let me in, trusted me enough to let me do the photos. I felt we had a strong rapport and I wanted to do the story. That takes me back to my favorite reason for doing something: “Sure, why not?” On a side note, the “Sure, Why Not theory of existence has gotten me into the best adventures of my life. Once I get to that response, I know I’m going to go all out and probably have a great time doing it.
Heidi and Scott both agreed that I could do the story so once again I headed out to the ranch to meet with Lyn and Bill and some of the people who lived there. Bellow you will find the story that came out of those interviews. I have to admit, I’m rather proud of it. I don’t write often (not counting this blog and my journal) and therefore I am not nearly as confident in my ability to tell stories with words as I am when it comes to telling them with pictures. But the challenge is a good thing and I’ve had a good response from people who’ve read it. Truth be told this experience has had me wanting to do more writing – something I have shied away from for years. I’m not sure where this will lead but in the mean time here are my photos and story of life at Walking Bear Ranch.
Henry David Thoreau went into the woods because he wished to live deliberately. Lyn and Bill Hendrix moved to Montana to build a life where they could do the same. The Walking Bear Ranch is the product of their dream.
In this simple setting — about 10 miles north of Whitefish with the house, barns and other structures sitting off of U.S. 93 — lives a community of individuals from across the country gathered together living a life of deliberate intent.
“I’ve always been drawn to self-sustainability,” Holly Rog, originally from Los Angeles, says. “Not only do I want to eat organic foods, I want to grow them. “When Joseph (originally from Waitsfield, Vt.) and I came across this place it was our opportunity to be in a community with other people who want to live this way.”
“We want to find people who have a passion for living like this,” Lyn Hendrix says. “We want people who want to make real what it is they believe in. If they believe in living in harmony with the earth and with each other, then hopefully, this is a place where they can do that.”
Life at the ranch starts at 6 a.m. First thing to get done are the chores — water the gardens, feed the animals. When those early-morning commitments are cleared the house gathers for a community breakfast. Omelets with salsa and feta cheese made with fresh eggs and milk from the farm goats. Yogurt and fresh fruit. “It’s interesting,” Lyn says. “Some people are just starting to make the switch from the standard way of preparing food to making meals based on what we’ve grown and have on hand.”
After breakfast there are goats to milk, produce to harvest, eggs to collect. Lyn usually takes this time to check over the gardens and lay out the agenda for the morning. This can be anything from gathering products for the egg customers and the Tuesday deliveries, to painting picnic tables, pulling weeds or building the new chicken coop.
For the most part, the residents are on their own after noon when they are given the chance to pursue of private interests. Leah Lambert, for example, is a portrait artist and enjoys sitting out on the front deck of the main house. In the shade she has the perfect light for working on her paintings.
At 6 p.m. Bill and Lyn head out to do barn chores for an hour. Then the house gathers again at 7 p.m. for dinner. There is a rotating schedule for who is responsible for making dinner and everybody helps clean up. “One of our favorite meals is a veggie pasta casserole,” Lyn says. “We make that with eggplant, tomatoes, onions, celery, whatever we’ve just pulled from the garden. This lifestyle requires one to get creative with what we have here.”
Self-sustainability is the theme that underlines ever aspect of life at the Walking Bear Ranch. It can be seen in the commitment to recycling, in the way things are built, and in the lifestyles of those who live there. Bill proudly refers to the various buildings at the ranch as his “art.” Almost everything in the kitchen is recycled. He has given discarded lumber new life in various incarnations.
“This is a beautiful place to be,” he says. “My aim is to see it take care of itself, to sustain. We don’t have to run to the store to eat, and people don’t have to have 15 acres to live this way. This can be done in a backyard. Plow up your grass and plant a garden.”
“We are protective of what we have established here,” Lyn Hendrix says. “This place isn’t about me, it’s about the concept of living life they way it should be lived in order to sustain itself. We live on the most beautiful planet and yet we cease to honor that. I see humanity using the earth strictly for selfish purposes. This is not the way it is meant to be. Stewardship was to be our role, but we have forgotten that. For me Walking Bear Ranch symbolizes our walk through the Earth. It is taking the path that we know we are meant to take,” she says.
“What we have here is not a unique concept,” Bill Hendrix says. “There are others very much in line with what we are doing. One of the big differences here is that for the most part others are just into the growing of vegetables.”
The Walking Bear Ranch is home to 275 chickens, 35 goats, 18 sheep, four lambs, two pigs, and one turkey named Lucy. There are two greenhouses, seven hoop houses and five acres of gardens. Added to that are nine house cats, two dogs, two birds, and too many farm cats to count.
The ranch grows corn, beets, carrots, onions, kale, lettuce, garlic, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, celery, beans, asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, Swiss chard, cilantro, peppers, radish, peas and rhubarb. In the dairy department, the ranch produces goats milk, feta cheese, soft cheese, yogurt, ricotta and eggs. The Walking Bear Ranch sells to customers who have standing orders, mostly for eggs. They also sell to people who stop by the ranch and they market their goods at the farmers market in Columbia Falls.
“This is a refreshingly different lifestyle,” says Charlene Lenhart, who has been at the ranch for one year. “The natural world has an order that humans have done a very good job of disrupting. Here there is a concerted effort to live in harmony. People have a common focus, a similar passion, a desire to form a family that is not biological but rather a matter of choice, a matter of will. People are so set in their ways, they suffer from tunnel vision. I hope that this kind of community and lifestyle would spread. That people would see the benefits and be willing to put in the effort to make radical change,” she says.
These sentiments are echoed by Sandra Myers, one of the newer residents. “What we have here is happiness, harmony, peace and togetherness. My hope is that we can show the entire world how much better and healthier this lifestyle is. And not just better for us, better for the earth.”
“Humanity has taken a wrong turn somewhere and that goes hand in hand with the loss of personal responsibility and accountability,” Lyn Hendrix says. “We have a role to play on this Earth, but it is not one of taking whatever we want and giving nothing back. People have forgotten the joy of going out and picking that first tomato. Here you are part of a process that sustains life,” she says. “We live in the day. This is what we have, what we want, what we enjoy. My husband walks around wearing a shirt that reads: ‘This is so not a cult!’ This is a community — this is an intentional community.
People come and go at the ranch. There are no set limits for those who make their way to this place. Eight years ago Bill and Lyn opened their home to those who wanted to join them in building their dream and it has been pretty much an open-door policy ever since.
“I’m in my early 60s,” Leah Lambert says. “This is a place where I feel I can belong. I can be productive. I can contribute. I can also grow and learn here.”
“Much of my life has been a process of elimination. I feel that this place, this life, is where I have been headed for a very long time. And now, I think I’ve found my home.”