I’ve hesitated to write about the Hedley cattle drive which took place this past weekend, not because I haven’t wanted to but because I haven’t known where to start.
I could, I suppose, start at the beginning….
- the predawn meet-up at Grassroots Ranch where Deb had Brie and Georgia ready to load into their trailer
- the drive along the Fraser valley in the emerging light of day, a snaking mist rising off the tree-line marking the course of the river
- the stop into Thomasina’s in Princeton for fresh-baked biscuits and tarts
- the righthand turn off the highway into Stirling Ranch, picture perfect in the autumn sun with black cattle grazing against a rolling pasture of valley green
- the introductions to other ranchers and cow hands, everyone busy with parking their rigs and unloading their gear and horses.
Then again I could start by describing our camp on the side of the mountain…
- the 7-kilometer ride up the Stemwinder through Ponderosa pine then Douglas fir forest to get to it,
- the grind of on-coming logging trucks that kept Sarah and me on high alert around the tight bends of the switchbacks
- the tents Deb and Terri had pitched in a mountain meadow valley bordered by stands of birch and trembling aspen
- enough ground fall to keep a fire going for days (and Terri’s fire-building obsession stoked!)
- the horses under their bright fleece warming blankets chomping hay along the high line
- the earth-rumbling “what-was-that?!” bellow of a bull in the distance and the answering, low-to-the-ground moo of his harem
- the big fry-ups for breakfast cooked over the open coals (eggs, potatoes, bacon, ham and havarti)
- the thin layering of ice that covered the entire camp, our tent zippers included, when we awoke the first morning
- the stories of the days adventures at the campfire, Sarah’s aluminum-steamed potatoes, Hafiz readings and Deb’s campfire cocktail: hot chocolate with whiskey
Or I could start with our cattle adventures (after all it was a cattle round-up!):
- the challenges of locating isolated herds of 3-4 cow/calf pairs scattered over a tract of land 60-90 kilometers square across mountainous terrain
- the first morning out tracking cattle and the herd of 8 that almost ran Terri over. (Unbeknownst to us Deb and Sarah had flushed it out from the far side of the mountain.)
- the boggy incline that was so steep Sarah lost her footing in the stirrups and was hanging on to the back of her horse by a finger
- the herd we thought we’d chased down the mountain a time or two already only to find that they had double-backed and had taken up residence in our camp – eating the horse’s grain out of the back of the pick-up no less
- the obstinate bull to which the camp dogs, Coola and Jackson, gave chase. (On the last day it took 3 riders, 2 hours to corral the bull down the mountain to the feed lot.)
So you can see my dilemma, there are so many worthy launching points to tell the tale of the Hedley adventure. Tell you what, I’ll keep it simple and begin at the same place where I’ll end, the place the locals call “The Top of the World”…
- Terri and I rode up there late afternoon of our second day in camp. I had always imagined that “the top of the world”, were I ever to reach it in my lifetime, would be a sheer ice precipice or a jagged jut of rock but on this day I learned otherwise. The top of the world, my friends, is, in fact…. a pasture!
- An undulating plateau of dry, wind-blown grasses so high up the view below is dizzying. To the west the sun was skimming a drift of cloud above waves of interior mountain ranges lapping into each other. And deep in the valley below the dark line of the Similkameen River.
- We took the horses along the high fence line and looked out over at the old
Mascot gold mine where miners huts are perched precariously on the edge of a towering rock face.
The horses were “feeling big” (as Deb would say) and broke out into a gallop along the skyline pushing our riding skills to that edge where terror meets exhilaration. It was one of those moments in life (of which I’ve been granted more than my share) where you breath deep and say, “This is why I am here: to live this moment on this day in this place.”
Thanks for believing in us Deb, and, Brie and Georgia, for your amazing stamina. It was an opportunity we’ll never forget (and we are already making plans for next year!)
(Photos courtesy of Teresa Coulthard and Sarah Garretsee)