Family bonding experiences abound in October

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Expositor will be checking in regularly with this couple who have ties to Manitoulin Island as they embark on their Big Wild Year challenge. This is the 10th update since they began.

NORTH BAY – There are only two months remaining in Delphanie Colyer and Jeremy St. Onge’s Big Wild Year challenge and the two packed their October full of new experiences, more harvesting and a special celebration for a significant milestone in the challenge.

“I love this time of year. I think October is one of my favourite months. We were pretty fortunate to spend a lot of it outside grouse hunting, which was nice,” said Mr. St. Onge.

For the entirety of 2019 during what they are calling their ‘Big Wild Year,’ the couple will only eat wild-foraged foods such as indigenous plants and animals that naturally occur in areas they visit. Mr. St. Onge is a Canadore College environmental studies professor and Ms. Colyer is a nurse who has roots in Wiikwemkoong.

In the ninth edition of this series, published at the beginning of October, the couple said they were to be featured in a French-language special for TFO’s ONFR+ publication about their challenge. This got published on the ONFR+ YouTube channel on October 25.

“They really pieced it together well. It was nice to look at all the places we go in a different light,” said Ms. Colyer, who joked that she looked like she hadn’t slept—to be fair, though, she had just finished a night shift.

Just two days later, they celebrated their 300th day of the challenge on October 27.

“Three hundred felt really good. It seems like it’s been a long time but it’s also gone by really quickly,” said Ms. Colyer.

“The 300 milestone broke up the feeling of monotony we were feeling in August and September,” said Mr. St. Onge. “It was nice to have that celebration in the middle of our last four months, now that we have just two left to go.”

At the same time, they both agreed that the winter has rapidly crept upon them and they are still facing a long list of things they hoped to accomplish in the year.

A big wild Thanksgiving supper consisted of a duck stuffed with wild rice, apples and cranberries, bear fried in bear fat, wild grape juice and a splash of maple syrup and gifted smoked salmon, sautéd fiddleheads, leek greens wild mushrooms and a drop of hickory nut oil.

A notable source of meat for the two has been when a friend has reported a fresh roadkill to them and they can travel to harvest some of its meat before it spoils. Although Mr. St. Onge has mainly been the one to process the deer that they occasionally harvest, Ms. Colyer had the opportunity to clean a deer that had been hit right in North Bay, with her working under Mr. St. Onge’s instruction.

The call came in right after Ms. Colyer had put her two youngest children to bed but she invited them to come along and see the process in action.

“They were enthralled. They kept saying, ‘good job, Mom, you’re doing so great!’ It was a good experience,” said Ms. Colyer, adding that she was surprised at how much the inside of an animal can be damaged through a car impact.

Ms. Colyer also took her little ones out on a grouse hunt, with the hopes of possibly also getting a bear. They walked along a path and she let her kids carry a box of doughnuts that would be dropped as bear bait once they reached the spot where the bear had been. Soon, they spotted a grouse directly on the path ahead of them.

“I turned my head and quietly said ‘drop the donuts.’ They got down, got their hand earmuffs up and I shot it. They were so thrilled,” said Ms. Colyer. “Their mouths were big circles of amazement.”

When they got to the bear spot, the kids were in for another treat—Ms. Colyer allowed them to take a bite out of each of the treats before leaving them on the ground.

“They were so enthralled with the whole day which is so exciting because there’s going to be a lot more of it. In 40 years, they’ll be telling the story about shooting the grouse with the first gun their mom got,” she said.

Mr. St. Onge also had some bird hunting luck. He pulled out the .410 shotgun he used to use when he was growing up, which he hasn’t fired in 20 years, and on his first shot he killed two grouse with one round.

He also managed to bag a Woodcock this past month, a creature that has been called ‘the king of game birds’ and ‘nature’s knuckleball’ by various sources. They are notoriously difficult to shoot and he also got it with his old .410.

Mr. St. Onge took a trip to the Guelph area to visit his friend who was completing his annual week-long ‘Wilderness Living Challenge,’ a task that may pale in comparison to this couple’s undertaking. 

Ms. Colyer and Mr. St. Onge found a fair amount of success when hunting during this past month.

On his way home, he filled his vehicle and Thule roof carrier with an estimated 300 pounds of walnuts and 100 pounds of apples, as well as squirrels, raccoons and seven geese. Both Ms. Colyer and Mr. St. Onge said they had heard from many sources that the year had offered a bumper crop of acorns.

This year, Mr. St. Onge tried his first pigeon, which happened to be stuffed within a goose to become a creation he described with a laugh as “googeon.” The two also said they found a hefty beech grove to harvest beech nuts next season.

Thanksgiving was a bit of a challenge for the two, especially Ms. Colyer who said she missed her beloved mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, turnips and pie.

“Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, definitely not for the history of Thanksgiving­ but I love the holiday because I find that families always make an effort to get together and there’s no gifts or any of that other pressure. Just food and family,” she said.

They instead ate duck stuffed with wild rice, apples and cranberries, bear cooked in bear fat, grape juice, maple syrup, gifted salmon, fiddleheads, leeks and mushrooms, as well as a crunchy baked mixed seed crackle made with maple syrup. 

While it was delicious, it was not the same as a traditional Thanksgiving meal. They didn’t have a turkey in the freezer, but managed to get one on the day after Thanksgiving.

“Yeah, we’re planning to have Thanksgiving in January,” said Mr. St. Onge with a laugh.

The two have recently completed another round of blood testing. All of their numbers are stable, though they do both share somewhat elevated levels of lead. Their weight has remained stable, as have their cholesterol levels.

In preparation for the challenge last fall, they were over capacity in their dehydrators and so Mr. St. Onge said he purchased a second unit this year at considerable cost. Due to a poor mushroom season, they said they have barely used the dehydrators at all.

For November, they said they were looking forward to Island deer hunting, hoping for some fishing time and some goose and duck hunting—all by December. They said their main goal for the coming month was to get to a promised whitefish spot.

“It was a good October, for sure,” said Ms. Colyer.

To follow Ms. Colyer and Mr. St Onge’s Big Wild Year, you can view their updates at The Expositor will be checking back with the two throughout the year to share their experiences in this unique endeavour.