Beyond the Far Ridge, by Edward M. McGough

Review by Ed Quillen

Rural Life – March 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Beyond the Far Ridge – Pioneering in the Rocky Mountain High Country
by Edward M. McGough
Illustrations by Victoria Bales
Published in 1992 by High Plains Press
ISBN 0-931271-15-0

This book inspires the reader to look at modern “labor-saving” devices with a jaundiced eye. We have dishwashers, gas furnaces with thermostats, indoor plumbing with hot water, microwave ovens, electric lights which need neither filled nor trimmed, power tools — and we never seem to have a spare minute.

Whereas Edward and Mary McGough, living in a remote wood-heated cabin without electricity or plumbing, seemed to enjoy ample time for lengthy conversation, reading, real cooking, and leisurely walks in the woods.

Further, they built the cabin from local logs without a building permit or inspection, nor even a glance at the county master plan.

All of which may make this book profoundly subversive to the American Way of Life, but that’s another matter. McGough isn’t trying to subvert anything. He’s just telling stories about the 12 years that he and his wife lived deep in the mountains — so deep that their supplies came by packhorse, and were only delivered during the short summers. Often they didn’t get their Christmas mail until June, and I’m glad I wasn’t there when they brought in a pet cat via packsaddle.

He was not unemployed during this time. The land around the cabin was summer pasture used by area ranches. McGough agreed to be the summer herder for the grazing association, and he and Mary decided to stay up there year-round. They weren’t quite as isolated as first appearances would indicate; there is occasional mention of helicopter delivery, and of a radio contact with the head of the grazing association.

The ensuing tale is thick with horse and cow anecdotes, but mostly expounds on the richness of daily life: snow on the ground, food in the pantry, deer in the yard, stars in the sky. The illustrations, line drawings by Victoria Bales, are a delight.

Perhaps McGough romanticizes — getting up to split kindling when it’s 25 below and there’s a yard of fresh snow must be pleasant only in retrospect.

But McGough’s accounts correspond well with what I remember of my grandfather’s homestead in Wyoming. Grandpa Wollen had neither electricity nor plumbing, and his fences, corrals, cattle and horses demanded plenty of hard work. But he never seemed to be in a hurry, and there was always time for rest and recreation.

All of which makes me think about rural property far from a county road or power line. If you’ve ever had a similar urge to see how much daily labor you might save without labor-saving devices, you’ll enjoy Beyond the Far Ridge. Then again, Mary was the one who had to melt snow for dishes and agitate the laundry in the wash tub with a plunger; it would be interesting to get her version of those years, too.

— Ed Quillen