By Kellie Trudeau
When there’s a menagerie of 80 different animals taking up both lanes of Waitts Lake Road on a Saturday morning, it literally stops traffic, sparking a lot of curiosity from surprised onlookers. That’s just what happened Memorial Day weekend when two herds of numerous sheep, goats, llamas, and even a few yaks and camels, combined to walk 40 miles from Daisy to Valley for the Between the Rivers annual gathering.
Chris Wujek and Kenny Furrer, and his partner Eleanor Kinsey, and their friend Katie Rose have been grazing their herds on a large property in Daisy (near Kettle Falls) for some time. Instead of trailering all the animals to Valley’s primitive skills camp, they thought it would be better to move them all by foot. The journey took about four days each way, walking about 10 miles a day. Wujek said they are glad to be able to help enhance the experience for all the participants at Between the Rivers; the animals are especially popular with the kids who look forward to them each year.
Wujek, 35, owns about half the herd. He grew up in southeastern Washington and this is his sixth season living a nomad-like lifestyle. Wujek said it’s living off the land but still having a dependence on industrial society, especially with the vehicles they need to operate, which is his least favorite part. Kinsey said, although there were three yaks helping to carry their gear to Valley, they still utilized some car support to help with the rest of the things they needed. Wujek said he is glad to have combined herds with Furrer and Kinsey, who came to Daisy from the Methow Valley, and who had their one-year-old son along with them on the journey.
Rose, who has been friends with them all for a long time (also from the Methow Valley), said their lifestyle almost needs a new name as a unique blend of nomadism.
Wujek said living this way can be a lot easier than owning property and most appreciates all the connections he has made within this lifestyle. It allows for freedom to go many places, but can also be a positive help to others who need assistance in managing their own properties. A few weeks after their trip to Valley, the group planned to walk a much longer journey to Sandpoint, ID as they were hired for intensive rotational grazing to control the weeds on a land trust there.
Waitts Lake Road was, surprisingly, one of the busiest parts of their route on the way back from Between the Rivers on Monday, June 5. The working dogs and herders often had to pull the group to one side whenever the Lane Mountain trucks and several other vehicles needed to pass. Even though the herd was calm and under control, one pick-up driver felt the need to speed right past the group with a loud honk and no patience for such a unique and exotic sight. But Wujek said 95 percent of the people they meet are extremely kind to them, and they are happy to answer questions for anyone who is curious. Some people even offer them a place for the animals to graze and rest.
When Crystal Hubert, a Waitts Lake landowner, saw the herd first heading to Valley on May 27, she made sure to invite them to stay on her property on their journey back home. It was a great place for the animals to graze with lots of weeds and tall grasses, cool shade, and even the creek nearby. The animals looked content to be resting after Wujek and Furrer set up temporary fencing for the evening. Hubert said she was excited for the opportunity to have them there to not only provide them with a resting place, but also help her manage the weeds and growth on parts of her property.
Wujek said he grew up as any other normal kid, thinking that the promised land was the big city, and he “loved Taco Bell.”
“But thankfully I got a chronic illness,” he said, and was redirected to a healthier, simpler lifestyle that was all new to him. He started living out of his pickup truck with a few friends and a few goats, leasing land in Northeast Oregon on the Umatilla River. “ I learned a lot that first winter,” Wujek said. Since then, his herd has grown a lot, especially with the addition of many baby goats just born this year.
Rose said all the animals in the herds serve a purpose – the goats for milk, the sheep for fiber, the yaks for packing gear, some animals for meat, and the dogs for herding and companionship. She added that although the camels are the least surefooted of the herd, they are great hardy animals and very versatile. They can withstand harsh conditions and can also be ridden, give milk, and pack gear. As more of the animals are born directly into this lifestyle, they get used to the routine of it all. “They are stoked to be out of the barn,” Wujek said.