A foothills summer evening, with runners

(August 2020)

I procrastinated too long and the day became too hot for my planned run.  The only thing to do was to wait until evening when things cool down.  So it was nearly sunset when I walked up the hill and began to jog-trot up our little road toward the Snake Trail.  Late summer smoke light:  the Livingstone Range hazy along the horizon and the river already lost in shadow beneath the canyon slope.  The last rays of sun were softened to a rich orange-gold by the smoke of some faraway forest burning in BC and a strange light gilded the hills and fields with a glow that seemed to come from inside the ripening grasses.

Round bales of recently cut hay glimmered in that sideways light, each sending a long shadow across Mowats’ field.  A hawk that was perched on one watched my approach and then launched itself into the sky, silent as if it too felt there was something sacred about the late-summer stillness that ought not be disturbed.

I left the two gates lying rather than close them, as I’d be back soon enough and there were no cows in the coulee.  Vesper sparrows flicked off the barbed wire fence and vanished into the grass as I thudded my way up the edge of the draw to the neighbours’ place.  Thunder, their under-employed border collie, wasn’t waiting to chase me along the fence when I arrived; he was watching a cat and didn’t notice my approach until the last minute.  He’s always a bit conflicted between his compulsion to herd things, me included, and his impulse to be my friend, and his duty to defend the yard.  Today he just looked embarrassed at having been caught unprepared.

Happy little voices as I passed the house; the kids were playing on their backyard trampoline. I don’t know their names but they’ve decided that we are friends. Usually they compete to shout hi at me but this evening they were so absorbed in their play that they didn’t see me at all.  Across the Texas gate and up the last stretch to the Snake Trail, where bindweed flowers blinked from the road edge and a mule deer stood transfixed until the last minute, then bounded down the hill.  And still, everywhere, that magic light and breathless calm that happens only in late summer when the birds have gone quiet and the wind dies down, although it rarely does.

And fiddle music; something unexpected.  Across the coulee I could see Mike’s machine shed, the door half open to let in the cool.  All I could see of Mike was a pair of legs extending out of the shadows, but I could hear him playing a jig.  I never even knew he had a fiddle, let alone that he could spill such perfect music into the heavy quiet of a foothills evening, an unexpected gift of cowboy culture to accompany the crunch of gravel under my feet as I turned onto the Snake Trail and the long hill up to the hobbit house.

The golden light was gone and the fields blue with shadow as I turned and began the long descent back to our cabin.  The trampoline was empty and the kids gone inside, but Thunder was on duty again.  He chased me along the fence until I said hello to him, whereupon he skulked guiltily back to the porch, peering back over his shoulder.  He may never figure this relationship out.

When I stopped to close the gates, bits and pieces of fiddle music still trickled down the coulee.

Through the haze the mountains were a line of dark against a pale yellow glow: Omakai’stoo (Crowsnest Mountain) and the Seven Sisters pulling the shadows up around them as they have done each night for eons.  Secrets everywhere and a sweet cool breeze at last, smelling of hay and gumweed. Crickets cheeping.  An owl.  Then the sound of the river and a light on in the cabin window.

Sometimes one actually aches with gratitude.

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Home is the southwestern foothills and mountains of Alberta. Born and raised here into a fishing and hunting heritage which morphed into a fascination with nature, a commitment to conservation, a home place on the Oldman River, and a career in landscape ecology. Still in love after forty years of marriage, and proud of the good people our three offspring have grown up to be. No less proud of, and grateful for, the friends and neighbours whose community spirit, stewardship ethics and good humour make this such a good place, and a good life. Worried about their future, which is why I can't stop working to keep my home place good. I write books and things too.

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