Last weekend, Connor took me up to his family homestead for the first time. After a year and half of dating and hearing Connor speak so lovingly about the land, it felt, in some strange way, like I was coming home. We hadn’t been able to access the land previously because neither of our vehicles were up to the task of driving over the mini rivers, deep mud and sharp rocks that make up the road leading to the cabin. Not to mention the heavy drifts of snow that reside on the road for the better half of a year. But last December, we got a truck! (A glorious thing to have in Montana it turns out.) Last weekend we threw the essentials in the back, grabbed a growler of beer and drove straight out of town.
I’ve been to the small town that Connor’s family is from before. It’s a quiet place, with a population of under 500 people, it consists of a two churches, a post office, a bar and a whole lot of cows. I like going here because the cell phone service is sparse and the people are friendly, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that Connor is related to most of them. But it’s a different way of life from what I know. Sure, I grew up on an island far out at sea, but that island was always bustling and it was often hard to escape people for long. Here though, the land is plenty and it’s respected in a way that almost makes it feel untouched.
As soon as we got to the cabin, I felt at ease. We grabbed a beer from the cooler, changed shoes and started walking around the cabin, Connor introducing it to me slowly and carefully. Over the next few days, we stayed indoors or under the cover of the broad porch that faced the vast field before us to avoid the rain that came down nearly the entire time we were there. We cooked meals on the wood stove (slowly), drank water from the natural spring and had many talks about the life we could live if we just moved there full time. I read while Connor sat by the fire and whittled a new spoon from fresh wood cut from a recently fallen aspen tree. The land itself consists of about 700 acres, so there is still so much for us to explore and I can’t wait to return. There is no electricity, wires or running water, unless you count the spring which is a good walk away. It makes time move more slowly and my mind feel a lot more stable. The privilege of having access to a place like this feels overwhelming and I am so beyond grateful that I get to experience it at this time in life.
Next to the cabin Connor’s uncle built, sits the foundation and wooden remains of the original cabin that Connor’s great grandfather, William, built. The land was acquired in 1922 during the homestead act and it’s amazing to see something of Connor’s ancestry so close by. I imagined the cold winters and long hours it took for William to build that little cabin, which now lays in a slightly untidy mess of logs and metal pans. It’s like an ode to the perseverance of the Irish man named William and the generations after him and to come.
While exploring the foundation, I was delighted to find a patch of wee little nettles growing alongside the old walls. The next day, we came back to harvest a handful or two for tea and I’d like to share the recipe with you. I made sure to leave one proud little nettle plant at the entrance where the door used to be. It felt as if it were some sort of protection to the integrity of the cabin and I dared not touch it. Nettles are powerful, nourishing and spirited plants. When harvesting, make sure to wear gloves and never pull the plant out by the roots. HERE is a great article from Mountain Rose Herbs on how to properly harvest nettles.
1 cup fresh (or dried) nettles
2 tbs chopped pine needles
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups water
optional: honey, maple syrup or sugar to taste
Find a doug fir tree* and gently clip a few ends off the branches (think 2-3 inches). Either rinse with water or closely inspect for debris. Once clean, place branches and whole nettles in a medium pot with water and add cinnamon sticks. Place on medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and steep for at least 6 minutes. Strain and serve hot. If you find that the water top has some resin, it’s from the pine and you can just strain that out using a strainer lined with a cheese cloth.
*or any other non toxic pine
Always make sure that you triple identify everything that you harvest from the wild. The writings and recipes on this page are meant to inspire and we cannot be held responsible for any mistakes in the wild. Be smart and buy a guidebook. take a class, or take along an experienced friend.