It’s late now, winds fierce and smelling almost of rain on these Eastern slopes this January night, although a friend telephoned earlier from Golden in B.C. on the other side of the Great Divide where apparently it’s dumping metres, just metres of heavy sticking snow along the Columbia River basins there. I’m just in from haying the two boys, checking their water that’s miraculously completely ice-free and topping up with two rubberized (the plastic ones crack as the liquid freezes up, expensive and frustrating!) buckets. It’s like living in the olden days, hauling water from the house’s basement well tucked into one damned inconvenient corner. Although I’ve interviewed ranchers southwards who rode out mornings until a few years back, up early to smash their frozen creeks with ice axes for their cattle herds, bawling hard on their heels.
I remember packing water high backcountry years back as a favour for an outfitting friend and his American guests, stopping at lunchtime to unload, handing out a frosted bottle to one thirsty lady. “Wouldn’t it be so much simpler,” she remarked breezily, “if you could just have powder it somehow, then add water and stir, you know………” her voice trailed off, thoughtful, and I realized, amused, she and I had very different perceptions of H2O. Hauling water, carrying the stuff in a backpack, or always having to carry bottles to sluice The Fox’s mouth out (he won’t drink water that’s not from home, not unless he’s really really desperate) really clarifies personal perceptions.
Mops, once again, has showed me how dim humans are at being aware. He and the Apache are running now loose on the four semi-divided fields that surround the old farmhouse and even older red wooden barn. I’ve wanted to make super-sure he’s OK with fences, barbed wire and to have the super-calm pinto as his anchoring friend before, in a few days, they go eastwards to run over a ranching friend’s quarter section and the main herd.
To the west on the home pastures here, during the 2005 floods, the water meadow opened up the old creek bed route previously buried some 15 feet down. The liquid’s ice cold, running 24/7 of prime sweet cold spring water, along meadows now thick with wolf and stone willows, sedge marsh grasses and young poplars. In summer it’s perpetually boggy now, squelchy, where even the range-bred Apache won’t venture – and he’s way canny knowing where his feet and muskeg make friends. Winter though, and its hard frozen, and where I’d heard from writer and researcher Maureen Enns the wildies will graze, cross over.
Mops, though, showed me just how foot-sure he is. Glancing through the workroom’s window, there he was walking westwards, his pinto friend stopping by the gateside whilst he continued assuredly on, hopping over a frozen stretch of creek where the mule deer game trails are worn centuries deep, then another hiccup hop, a brief pause, around the back of all the willow thickets before disappearing into the undergrowth. After five minutes, obviously pleased, he re-emerged, a quick barge into his pinto acquaintance before cantering through the powder snow and away.
Next morning, same deal, but this time I had gloves, boots – and a camera with the battery charged right up to maximum. We met at the first of the creek crossings, a quick nose at the left pocket for his oats or – a recent experiment I’d been told about – sunflower seeds, and he led on. He’d found the spring water’s path – smelled it? listened for it? from how far in the front fields somehow?
Then, watching, the small dark hole of sweet spring water the boy simply sank right down onto his knees, nose right in there, half a minute then a quick stand up to make sure it was still all safe all around, another graceful sag earthwards, silently drinking. I’ve noticed, always, he drinks around a bucket at a time, refueling I guess in nature’s way in case there’s not another enough time to slurp here and there. Then, standing up again, thoughtful for a second, a quick pirouette and a meticulously careful walk away – there’s almost an orderly fashion to his walk and trot excursions, an inbuilt grace and precision of sure-footedness, cat-footed really.