Marilyn Livingston and Clay Hett
Special to the Tribune
It was nine years ago in April that we packed up our extremely comfortable middle-class life in one of the most sought after locations in B.C., the Okanagan.
We had fallen in love with the wild, remote and beautiful Chilcotin, specifically Eagle Lake Ranch.
Eagle Lake Ranch is at the very end of a long and rugged dirt trail and depending on the season, it is either seven kilometers of pot holes and dust, water and mud, or the arm-strong steering 4X4 battle of snow. There was no power or telephone and the closest neighbour was about 35 kilometers.
We were not the first to be caught with the Eagle Lake Ranch dream; it was originally homesteaded in the 1960s by the original owners, Lou and Doris Haines. They lived the first four years through winters of 50 below in a 12-foot holiday trailer.
Lou and Doris built the first log house; it is a work of art. Every detail in this house is done by the hands of two people, with no electricity, no power tools, only hard work.
The house was designed similar to a teepee, six sides with a hand-built fireplace in the centre for central heating. This is now our beautiful guest house, an authentic Chilcotin home.
When we first arrived at the ranch it had been vacant for a few months. The door was open. The water line was frozen, the basement was flooded with six inches of water and many small rodents had taken refuge in the house. In fact, we too lived in our holiday trailer for a few months before moving into the house. We had no idea of the challenges and adventures that were about to unfold.
I can tell lots of stories of not enough hay, so we are selling the cows, but the stock trailer is stuck in ice halfway up its wheels, and the truck won’t start because it is too cold, the generator won’t start to plug the tractor in, or boost the batteries … . Cows are not worth anything at the auction. Buy hay … not groceries.
The snow banks were so high the animals were just walking over the fences. When we went to feed, trapped in the ice fortress, everything out there was mooing, clucking, baaing and neighing under our feet. Of course the gates were all stuck, the wrong way. Funny how the horses and mules can jump out, but they have to go back in by the gates? They stood and watched as we chipped away the ice to get them open. Who’s running this show?
So what was it that kept us there working longer and harder than we ever had, freezing winter after winter, struggling through the extreme elements to keep our cow herd growing?
When you drive down the driveway and the trees are covered with snow, the sunshine hits each and every snowflake and it is like a crystal tunnel. You know you are not alone, as you can see the well-used trails in the snow of the moose, deer, cougar, rabbit and wolf.
The moon shines so bright the trees have shadows and the sky is a mass of stars.
The swans fly over in the spring and fall on their migration route.
We can spend the afternoon out on the crystal clear lake and not see another person. Each and every day brings the unexpected and there is always a small element of danger, be it wild animals or weather. Nothing is comfortable or normal. It is always a test and we have been challenged in every way.
Our three children have thrived, and frankly we could not have made it without their help.
They were home-schooled until Grade 10, but in far more than just academics. They have learned to live without power and then build a complete alternative energy system, cook on a wood cook stove, fix and drive machinery and pull a calf when necessary. When our children leave the ranch, life will be a cakewalk.
Our nine years of work and dedication have paid off and we have carved out a beautiful piece of paradise.
Clay Hett rides Clown at the Eagle Lake Ranch during branding time.
He and Marilyn Livingston fell in love with the Chilcotin and the Eagle Lake Ranch, which was homesteaded in the 1960s by Lou and Doris Haines.