early february

by underswansea

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When you cross the Palliser and make the turn on Cedar Creek you get into some beautiful country. The mountains get close; the slides crash into the river bottom. You can spend hours watching the light change, while planning routes to the mountaintops. That’s the way I was taught to do it.

My father would drive a friend and I out into the Palliser and leave us for a three or four days. Sometimes we would pack a 30 30 rifle if we thought the bears would be a problem.

We would pick mountains to climb and camp on the river. We would look for satellites in the sky. Marveling at technology before the wonder of The Milky Way. We were young. Time held close before revealing the truth.

Recently, I mentioned these trips to someone. Being dropped off in the wilderness, to climb and explore. They said it must have been wonderful. But I never considered it one-way or the other. I still don’t. I was looking for sign, blazes on the trees while following tracks and making some of my own. It wasn’t special, just normal.

My father used to say, be careful. Something small could turn into something big. A slip and broken ankle could mean death. Breaking through the creek in winter could mean freezing.

I remember, once, him dropping us off in the evening. We were going to walk the old trail along the canyon to Albert River. He said camp on the Palliser for the night and get an early start in the morning. After he left, we headed down the trail. I thought we could make the mouth of Cedar. Once dark hit, we spent a scary night on the edge of rock and canyon. The rain soaked us to the inside and lightening lit the depths of the river crawling, serpentine, in the depths below.

I never told my father about that. Not even during some of our epic crib games or while driving the bush before he passed away. I’m sure he would have found it funny. Even in adulthood I’m not sure what I was more ashamed of, not trusting my father’s advice, or assuring him we would head out in the morning.

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My friend went on to be a notable mountain guide. I still spend my days and nights in the mountains. Satellites don’t make me wonder like they used to. But The Milky Way, treeline and mountaintops still hold my interest.

Unlike, when young, I realize I can’t climb all the mountains, however, lightening doesn’t scare me anymore.

Isabelle took the two accompanying photos. They are scanned from slides. There is nothing special about these mountains, but we climbed them nonetheless.

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