Welcome to our ranch near Canada's west coast in Beautiful British Columbia's West Chilcotin mountain region. Where calling the vet means hollering back at the house to bring your kit, new friendships are formed from the back of a horse and true fun for a five year old is getting a machete for Christmas. Where 'cutting the dinks off' has a totally different meaning than what first comes to mind, Muck Boots are a household name, a hand shake still means something and the coffee is always on.

Friday 12 June 2015

Reality Bites Deep, and the next leg of the journey

Mum and Olivia and I moved cows up to the top end of the Lillie Lake range 2 days ago.  The area was logged off last winter and sure looks different than the last time I was up there!   

Luckily mum and dad spend some time in the area earlier with quads so we knew which spur road to travel.  We finished shifting the cattle in the early afternoon and then I got dropped off to swing through another area.  After several hours of not finding animals where I thought they would be, I finally found a large group of cows.  It was about 6pm by this time.  I decided I should move them anyhow so convinced them to start on.  They were unwilling and cranky about it, and with both my horse and dog already tired from their many miles, it was a bit of a challenge.  And then, when we got to a large island of trees, all the cows stopped and started bawling and milling around in a tight circle.  This is typical behavior when they come across a dead animal (we always say they are having a funeral) and my heart sank as I rode over to find out what it was.
I've debated whether or not to post a photo, but staying with the theme of keeping this blog sage "real", I decided I would put just one up.  After all, unfortunately, not everything we see are range cows with mountains in the background and amazing sunsets.  Sometimes reality bites.   

The calf was intact enough to show all the signs of a black bear kill including a mortal wound at the top of the back (breaking the spine), excessive bruising under the skin (showing that it was alive at the time of the mauling, not dead from sickness or other factor and then eaten), and all the stomach contents gone.  I took some photos and continued on with the cattle, looking hopefully for the mother.  (Which I never did see.)  
The next day dad and a Conservation Officer came out to the scene to verify the kill and confirm that it was a bear.   
There are several possible scenarios here.  One is that it was a isolated incident of the calf getting too close to a bear, getting mauled, and then the bear being run off by the other cows.  But the kill is fresh enough the cow should still be near the calf.  Unless the mauled calf ran away with some others while momma fought the bear....and then the calf died in a different location than where she is looking for it.  (When a calf bawls in pain or terror, all the cows will come at a dead run, roaring their anger and aggression at whatever possible danger there might be.  We can always tell when the animals are being harassed consistently by any predator as they get really aggressive towards our cattle dogs, when normally they just ignore them or easily and quietly move off when being pressured by them.)

Calves coming in for a good look at my young dog Bree, who endures their curiosity patiently.  

Another scenario that I hope didn't happen is that the bear mauled the calf first, momma came charging to the rescue and the bear killed her instead, with the calf getting away but dying anyhow.  We've had that happen before too.   
Anyhow, I guess we will see how it all unfolds.  The bear has not been back to eat on the calf (which is odd and makes me suspect the second scenario).  We will probably never know what really happened, except we have one less calf and I am doing a lot of loud singing when riding through the bush at the moment!  
Alright, enough doom and gloom....these things happen.  Part of the romance of living in the wilderness right?  

So on to the next part of Grandma Dorsey's ride to Vanderhoof..... 

Our horses were fresh and lively and we started out for Kluskus, thirty miles away.  We followed a trail until we reached the Blackwater River, then we followed the river and lakes for the rest of the day.  Twice during the day we un-saddled and let our horses feed.  It was just after sunset when we arrived at Kluskus, the little Indian village on the lake shore.  The village was deserted.  We picketed one horse and hobbled the other, and went for a swim in the lake before we cooked our rice ration for the day.  It needed salt but we were hungry.  Wood was scarce so close to the village.  We spread out our chaps for a ground sheet.  Our saddle blankets were badly worn and as we tried to shake them out, they fell in little squares at our feet.  The pieces were carefully put together again for a saddle pad and we did not disturb them again.  We did not have much protection but we lay down to rest.  When the stars were beginning to fade, Peggy started to cook the rice and I went to catch the horses.  As I leaned over to untie the hobbles on Lady, Peggy's horse, it grabbed my belt in her teeth and lifted me from the ground.  She apparently did not care to be disturbed at that early hour.  
We left the fur trading route at Kluskus and followed the trail to the crossing.  The water was low at this time of year.  The sun came up as we crossed the river and the ducks and loons were noisy with the coming daylight.  
The river wound among the hills of the rolling country on its leisurely way to the Fraser.  The sun slanted across the ridges showing the country in its brilliant autumn colors.  We rode silently through the early morning world in wonder and admiration.
When the warmth of the sun became stronger we let our horses feed and lay down to rest.  We slept on the hillside an hour before we rode on.
At noon, we came to the Jerry Boyd Crossing on the river.  The river was wide here for the water flowed from one large lake to another.  In the middle of the river a long wide stretch of water flowed about two feet below the surface.   The surrounding water was a dull hue.  The water of the undertow consisted of whirls of water that never seemed to break, they just disappeared.  A heavy water soaked raft was moored at the river's edge.  The logs were large but only a few inches floated above water.  This raft was used for transporting wagons and loads across the river.  The horses could swim in spite of the strong undertow.  We were both curious about the raft so we dismounted and jumped to it from the shore.  Long poles has been carefully deposited at the side of the raft and shorter paddles for handling the undertow were placed close by.  I was sorry we had already crossed the river at Kluskus because this appeared to be a very interesting crossing.  As I kneeled beside the paddles a long piercing call came from a high ridge along the river bank.  We turned quickly and saw the figure of a man at the crest of the hill.  He waved at us and then bent his arm in a beckoning motion.  We jumped from the raft and went toward the ridge where the river entered the lower lake.  As we came closer we could see it was an Indian camp.  Two tents were pitched on the promontory that looked across the lake.  A rack for drying fish was in a central position between the tents.  A smudge beneath the rack added the pleasant odor of wood smoke.  A fish net was drying on a peeled pole near the rack and a wagon was pulled in close to the camp.  Some children peeked at us from the protection of a mother's skirt.  Two hounds eyes us and rumbled a bit but did not bark.  
The man walked toward us.  He was a sturdy old man, and as he smiled he held out his hand and announced that his name was Jerry Boyd.  After shaking hands he pointed to the crossing and said, "That is a bad place.  Don't try to cross without help.  I will help you."  
We thanked him for his offer and explained that we had already crossed the river at Kluskus, and we were on our way to pick up a stud at Vanderhoof.
Across the campfire from him, his wife put a tea bucket on the coals and he invited us to join them for a meal.  After our scant fare the smoked fish tasted delicious.  We both enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere until it was time for us to leave.  
"I will not be here when you come back this way.  There is a cabin just behind those jackpines.  Help yourself to anything you need.   I am going to Quesnel for supplies"
He walked over to his new wagon and leaned against it.  He would have to cut a few trees to get to where he wanted to go, but he was happy to change from a life of packing horses.  His wife handed us a few extra strips of smoked fish to take with us.  A little boy in somebodies old rubber boots waved to us and we were off.  It  had been a casual meeting on the shore of a wilderness lake but our hearts felt warmer.  
At sunset we stopped at a lakeshore and let our horses feed.  We bathed their backs in the cool water before we went for our swim.  The brilliance of the poplar trees was reflected in the still lake water.  The sunset colors radiated and sparkled around us.  Ducks and geese were settling on the lake and were nearing the shore to feed on the swamp grass and rushes.  This was their time of day, and their talking could easily be distinguished as we mounted our horses and rode along the the trail in silence.  Other flocks honked as they passed overhead to other lake of their choice.  We rode until all the radiance in the sky had vanished and a semi darkness settled.  
We chose a beautiful campsite and as our little pot of rice and fish boiled, we laid our chaps on a smooth spot.  We ate.  We rested.  The clouds floated against the moon, then drifted away and left the night silvered in the highlights and black in the shadows.  
Peggy rolled on her elbow.  "We don't have to worry about sleeping tonight."
"Wait until you taste my good rice breakfast tomorrow at five o'clock."  We slept.
The cold morning air awoke me.  Peggy stood over a snapping campfire warming her hands, and I was glad to join her.  
"How about that good rice breakfast you promised me?"  Then she pulled out the worn map that Pan had drawn for us.  
"Let's plot our course.  This will be the longest day.  If we can make the distance we can have some blankets tonight in a ranch house on the other side of the mountain."
"We can make it if we ride four hours and rest four hours so our horses don't tire.  I hope the ranchers on the other side don't eat rice."  
"Let's start and have breakfast later.  We have a good day ahead." 

Cheers all, until next time.

Another amazing photo of the Pelican Creek/Trails End Ranch.
Credit to Jim Swift  

1 comment:

Gabriela said...

I really enjoy reading your posts! Just came back from a weekend trip to Bella Coola all the way from Vancouver...