It appears I returned to my homeland just in time for a massive cold snap. Having missed two years of cold weather, it was a bit of a shock to say the least. There I was, faced with a decision: either cower over the furnace with a blanket until it's time to get back on the plane to Mexico, or take the "I'm a CANADIAN, dammit!" approach and dive in headfirst. The path of dignity was clear...and snowy and frigidly cold.
First I headed out with my Ma, to check out her new horse-drawn sleigh route. The day was crisp and cold, but the scenery was beautiful. Through the stubble field and around the coulee tops above my hometown, we skidded on the new sleigh behind three powerful furry beasts. True to her Wild Woman form, Ma put them to a gallop along a hilly stretch and turned an old fashioned cruise into a thrill-seeking roller coaster ride. We stopped to pick up some abandoned cinder blocks near an old grainery, but the frozen ground quietly mocked our attempts at prying them out.
Feeling invigorated by my outing with Ma, I made plans with dad for the next day to go deer hunting in the Handhills. I have written about this beautiful place in the past, and you may recall over a year ago my summer camping trip with Ma, which was filled with rainbows and butterflies. Fear not a repeat, for this story plays out a wee bit differently...!
The day started cold but clear, and as we drove across the prairie, the wind began to sweep lazy strands of snow across the road. The trees were covered in some of the thickest hoarfrost I've ever seen, which made for spectacular sights in the large rolling hills of this last vestige of natural habitat. By the time we had toured around and pulled up to dad's chosen spot on the crest of a sweeping valley, the wind had whipped into a roar. The snow blew sideways across the land and visibility was dropping. My false confidence had waned to a whimper, and I poured a large cup of coffee from the thermos while creating endless conversation in the small oasis of warmth that was my dad's truck. Eventually he gave me a sly sideways glance and pointed out that the daylight was waning...the jig was up. It was now or never.
With a resignation normally reserved for those headed to the gallows in medieval times, I suited up and stepped out into the blasting cold. My instructed route took me over the crest of a hill to a fence line, which I was to follow a ways before heading down into the trees and back along the coulee bottom, flushing out any deer in the direction of the truck. I trudged through the snow and made it to the fence, which was encased in frost. Once there I glanced around, and back in the direction of the truck, saw nothing but frozen prairie and flying snow. What a trip it is, to be out in a place like that and with a sensation of being totally alone in Mother Nature's most brutal elements. I can tell you this: I respect those deer.
Once I reached the farthest limit of my hike west, I turned south and headed for the coulee bottom. As soon as I reached it, the brutal weather of the prairie suddenly seemed like it had been a hallucination. Here, the snow drifted down like a quaint scene from a movie and the air was totally calm, completely silent. The trees, laden with hoarfrost, were straight out of a fairy tale dream. This was a place of mystery and magic! As my footsteps crunched loudly in the silent forest, I saw a deer leap ahead and disappear like a ghost between white branches.
After working my way along the valley bottom for quite some time, with phantom deer dodging all but my peripheral vision, I began to realize I had lost track of time and darkness was setting in. It dawned on me that I had been winding my way along without really keeping track of my direction. I had been so spellbound I had forgotten about the cold. Just when I began to get worried, a pair of headlights cut through the sky above me. I hastened my speed and began to plow through the deep drifts towards them, climbing the side of the valley. Halfway up, the wind found me once again and numbed the skin around my eyes. I struggled not to breath the freezing air into my lungs too fast, and floundered over to the truck with the grace of a drunken sasquatch. Collapsing into a heap in the passenger seat, I slammed the door in the face of the howling wind and breathlessly asked dad if he'd had a chance at anything. Sipping his coffee, he replied, "Nah, visibility wasn't good. I never even got out of the truck."