This episode was a turning point for me and this series. After quite a few months of talking to TV channels and an american distributor, and concluding that conventional television distribution wasn’t a good fit for this particular project, I finally got shooting to the kind of content I wanted to show – field dressing, harvesting of offal, skinning – things TV won’t or can’t show, basically. I get it, they have their reasons. But from day one, my gig hasn’t been about sanitizing the realities of how we obtain our food. Seemed to go against my values to start now.
This episode is one that I hope will shift the wild food culture in Canada, even if only a minute amount, and even if only after many years. I’d love for black bears to be seen as the choice food they can be, and not just hides and rugs. Much of the episode is Chef Blair Lebsack of RGE RD working with black bear, the prize being the copious fall black bear fat. We knew from the onset that we wanted to make black bear pastry with the bear fat instead of lard or butter. So he did. And it was awesome.
As always – trailer below, full episodes available here.
Back in the spring of 2014, I was approached to produce a video for Slow Food in Canada, with the broad mandate of exploring what Slow Food in Canada ‘is’. It meant trips to Vancouver, Vancouver Island, the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, central Alberta, Montreal, Vallee de la Batiscan, Lanaudiere, Cocagne in New Brunswick, Toronto, Tatamagouche Nova Scotia, and more, it’s become obvious, at least to me, what it is. It’s a force, like a oversized kid that doesn’t know its own strength. As an aggregate, the projects the people on the ground are having across the country are dramatically changing the face of good, clean, and fair food. I’m convinced Canada’s food culture is shifting as a consequence. The intended outcome of the project was the video below – a 15 minute piece to be shown at Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. I shot so much more, so hope to be able to donate the time to get shorts edited for the convivia that gave the time to graciously host me, showing me the best of our country through the lens of Slow Food.
The piece is subtitled in both english and french.
This trip was intended to be easy. We were supposed to be going into a part of the province where game was rampant and our pockets burst with big game tags. Do a little fishing. Set up camp. It only ended up being a handful of those things.
One reality that didn’t make the edit but had a big impact on the trip was the flaky to zero cell reception. We were WAY back in the bush, trying to navigate with phones that often wouldn’t be of any assistance. When they did work, lines on the satellite maps that looked like roads would sometimes be impassable cutlines. Roads that were roads and looked like through roads would in fact be roads be then dead-end or otherwise be impassible. All the while, our heavy stock of fuel would decrease with every passing hour of trying to navigate our way out. And we’d find barrier, after barrier, after barrier.
I almost titled the time/hour on episodes 5 and 6. Episode 5 takes place over roughly a day and a half, the balance of Day 2 is in Episode 6. Sept 22, 2014 was one of the longest and most trying days of my life – it’d have been in the best of circumstances, but I also happened to have a solid head cold throughout.
A few takeaways: launching oneself deep into unknown territory is both 1) hard 2) lower probability of success and 3) heavy on adventure.
We made it. Season One of FROM THE WILD was a roller coaster to be involved with and produce – the insanely fun, adrenaline-filled, addictive kind that means Season Two is already in preproduction, with some exciting tweaks and improvements on deck.
I will never be able to say enough about the folks that are tuning in via pay-per-view. You’re what allows this project to continue. Early on in season one, we’d decided firmly against going with a TV broadcaster if one should come knocking. We felt that the edgier content we’d want to show, like has been done historically on this site, simply isn’t ‘allowed’ by broadcast corporations and sponsors. Then the TV interest came, a handful of channels and distributors. It was exciting and flattering to contemplate, but not surprisingly, because we decided to stick to values and show some not-TV-appropriate-material [see episode 6], we’ve secured our fate that it will be the viewers that will be our enablers, not a conventional media distribution middle man. What does this mean? Means we don’t have to do shameless plugs of sponsors. Means no ads. It means we can produce whatever inspires us without a filter. It means it’s pretty much the most exciting project of our lives, and we have you to thank for it. Thank you.
The success of this project has also birthed a sister project that will be announced in summer of 2015 once it’s in production.
Let this be evidence that I have one of the coolest jobs ever. I’m currently shooting a project for Slow Food Canada, capturing what ‘Slow Food’ means in Canada. In so doing, I’m driving and flying across the country doing and seeing some amazing stuff. Like this. The sockeye fishery in the Okanagan was in peril a relatively short time ago, and a variety of groups including many first nations groups got together, decided it was time to do something, and got about doing it. They started a myriad of projects that would give the sockeye a chance – everything from reintroducing fry to ‘ladders’ at dams along the Columbia river. It’s turned into an amazing success story of humans acknowledging some of our wrongdoing in food and making it right. It gives me hope for our species and those that we impact as we go about our lives.
I spent a glorious morning this week in a boat trolling for sockeye on Osoyoos lake. We caught 7 in an hour, and was certainly one of the most memorable salmon fishing trips I’ve been on. Salmon is squarely in my top 3 meat favourites, so I acknowledge my bias, but the Okanagan – which had me at the ridiculous abundance of fruits, vegetables, physical beauty, and increasingly good quality wine – has got me hook, line, and sinker now that salmon is part of the equation. Already planning the trip back in 2015, and so much more to say about this, but will leave it to the coming video.
When we started to take a look at the 2014 production schedule of From The Wild, it was clear that there were going to be some epic memories captured on camera. One of those was the haul-out of the black bear in crotch-deep water, then walking a mile or two in sloshing boots and soaked jeans with a bear carcass soaking the guys in blood. What I didn’t expect as an outcome of the project is the crazy, hard to believe true stories that simply wouldn’t or couldn’t make the episode edit for a variety of reasons – in the case of the bear haul-out, it was far crazier than shown in the edit, but I had to tame down the gore if we were going to have any chance at a broadcaster touching it. So that’s one memory left out of the edit – the intense gore associated with the project. We’re constantly debating the merits of sanitization of food content.
Another is the simple lack of time to spell everything out – an example being the bear skull below that did appear in the final shot. It’s the actual skull from the sow harvested in the episode. We’d taken a few days between the hunt and the post interviews, and in that time Trevor had boiled, peroxided, and painstakingly cleaned the skull – including gluing in any teeth that had fallen out during the process. No small task. I’m still impressed. Didn’t have time to mention the context of the skull in the show though.
Also didn’t have time to mention what’s happening in the photo top left. I laughed. We were prepared, and well equipped, with all field dressing gear in my vehicle. Except that evening we’d hopped into Jeff’s vehicle as it was far more capable in the mud holes we were going to need to get through in the area we wanted to check out. When it came time to gut the bear: no field dressing knives. Trevor happened to have a couple crappy pocket knives he’d been handed by a relative earlier in the week – still in his pocket. So the boys got to it with horribly qualified tools. These are two pro butchers who, side by side, kill and gut a dozen or two animals every week at work, struggling to gain every inch through the hide. Then Jeff says ‘no problem, I’ve had to gut an animal with my Durango key before’. Dodge Durango. Couldn’t believe it. #superhero
Worst of all though, is having to omit ‘that which might be misunderstood‘. This episode has an intense story attached to it that one day may make ‘Part 2′. Maybe.
My takeaway: for all the epic adventure we can capture and show on camera, there will always be so much more to the story. It’s a piece of the legacy of the series that’s becoming dear to me – an unexpected treasure.
This summer, I was invited to a friend’s friend’s place. This friend of a friend was holding an event called ‘Troutapalooza‘, and last I checked, this guy doesn’t turn down offers like that. He had an amply stocked trout pond and I had my first lessons in fly fishing that night – super fun. Landing a large rainbow for my dinner didn’t take long, and while looking for the fish bonker to dispatch the fish, my new fishing teacher held the fish firmly and whacked it with his knuckles, killing the fish swiftly. I was impressed. I so had to try that. So I did that night, killing a few fish with my bare hands, wondering why I’d ever done anything different. So effective, so easy, so low tech.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m at Talbot Lake in Jasper National Park with my family, not being able to stay away after shooting S1E4 of FTW there. I catch a pike in short order, and use my new-found manly, rugged fish-bonking technology of my knuckles. All went well, except that I was shortly thereafter in slight shock, looking for the first aid kit in my vehicle to get the bleeding stopped in my knuckles. The cuts were small, but deep, beyond the capabilities of a band-aid and more in gauze and tape territory. Once seated, bandaged, and assessing what the heck I did wrong, I looked at the fish, with its obvious bony skill protrusions that had easily spit me open. Easy takeaway: when it comes to knuckle fish kills, trout yes, pike no.
One bucket list item down. I’ve been wanting to do a trout fishing trip, in a canoe, in Jasper National Park…for years. When planning the From The Wild production schedule for the year, this trip’s inclusion was therefore a must. And it didn’t disappoint. Four lakes in three days, with Jeff Senger and Brayden Kozak from Three Boars. Brayden had never caught a fish, and we were resolved to change that. The scenery was epic, we laughed til it hurt, baked in 34C July heat, ate well, chilled our beer in a screaming cold mountain stream, and had some epic experiences that none of us will ever forget. This episode is the first to have footage from my Phantom DJI quadcopter – which explains the aerials around Pyramid and Medicine lakes. It also inflicted the most damage to gear with camera and quadcopter taking a plunge in Pyramid Lake, and a near tip of the canoe with my 5D3 into Talbot – worst prior was getting the 5D3 & post lens covered in muddy water as we raced down a cutline making distance between us and a black bear in Episode 3. If you haven’t watched that mess yet, you really should. Good times.
Don’t think I wasn’t apprehensive about tackling this one. When the prospect of bear hunting for From The Wild first came up, I scoffed. I’m now firmly on the opposite side of that fence. Rationale: Spring bear is not in fact fatty at all, which many claim is what makes it ‘gross’. Bear meat is far from ‘gross’, and in fact is more delicately flavoured than moose or elk. The bear in the photo and the others we saw are feeding heavily on the first grasses of the season. Bears are omnivores, like pigs, and I’m fine ethically with eating a pig. My backyard hens are omnivores too for that matter. Bears are a managed species in Alberta and hunters aren’t chomping at the bit because 1] they’re gross to eat (false) and 2] it’s illegal to abandon the hide so it’s a commitment to get it processed afterwards. Sadly, it would have been fully legal for us to harvest this bear, skin it, and walk with the hide leaving the carcass for the scavengers. Instead, we’re putting it to marvellously good use. I’m now on a mission to wake others up to the fact that black bear indeed should have a place in our culinary repertoire, especially if we’re going to claim that we know the foods of the place that we live. Expect more posts about bear, and I welcome any challenges about the ethics around its culinary use. For those of you who are going to see me at Host Edmonton – bear is on the menu. Full episode is still in edit.
“the level of excitement when you catch a fish, that could only be measured against the incredible periods of boredom, and the immense amount of struggling – you’re battling the elements, and you’re suffering. Only through that suffering can you know the joy of when you actually get a fish up on the ice” – Jeff Senger, From The Wild, S1E1
What he said. Shooting at Spray lakes was epic and unforgettable despite the slow action, and thanks to a standing offer from my dad to go visit him at his place in Saskatchewan, episode two was equally memorable for different reasons – one being we caught piles of fish. The province of Saskatchewan has a vastly higher lake-to-fisherman ratio than Alberta, which means there’s more fish, and fewer folks after them. We headed off every morning on sleds through the bush to get to the larger nearby lake that regularly produces 20lb+ pike and donky-whopper perch [a term I'm stealing from Jeff, and that autocorrect wants to call 'dinky whopper']. I landed the biggest pike of my life to date hand bombing braided line in bare hands off a tip up. We pigged out on fresh fish and roe, and took photos of fish like it was 1972.