Running off ‘Berties’

Columnist Peter Warland on feeling like a local in the mountains

Peter Warland

We’re all immigrants here in the East Kootenay. Some of us arrived much earlier than the others and, somehow, we all became protective of the area, especially the mountains and the lovely lakes. We all become extremely protective and ‘not keen’ on others settling here.

My old friend Bill, although an immigrant from Ontario, was aggressive towards those newcomers that had the audacity to encroach on what he believed were his hunting territories and fishing creeks. I am not sure why he accepted me, the late-coming Limey; he probably thought I was weird enough to be accepted as a local.

Anyway, when Bill died, his ashes were strewn high on the slopes of a mountain but then, when his grieving widow travelled there, up those winding roads, in order to commune with the spirit of her late husband, she was disturbed by a vehicle approaching.

“There I was, all alone with Bill,” she told me, “when up comes this Albertan pick-up. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or just swear.”

I was up in the Rockies with a newish friend called Sandy. He was, naturally, a Scot, dour too. We were bouncing along in my beat-up pick-up when we came to a creek crossing. We stopped to review our options.

But there was a jeep in the creek and beside it, shovelling frantically, was a sad fellow with a spade. Another man was sitting helplessly in the driver’s seat, probably beginning to get wet round his feet. A third guy was perched on a huge boulder like a baboon on a kopje and not being of any use at all.

I considered how we might be of help.

“Don’t bother,” said Sandy, a very recent immigrant. “They’re Albertans.”

I think he really meant what he was implying, but I persisted and, with my battered assortment of just-in-case gear, we good Samaritans finally rescued those tourists. I seem to recall that they did thank us.

Only yesterday, after a fine but very hot climb up into the Rockies above Wildhorse Creek, we were wending our way homeward, thinking of ice-creams and the air-conditioner.

My daughter Jill and her friend Matt were with me as we wended our weary way down the dusty forestry road and, rounding a bend, found a vehicle parked in our way. I stopped and waited patiently and politely. There was an eerie lack of movement in the parked vehicle except for one hand that twitched slightly on a door handle.

I waited a little longer then, not wishing to blast my horn rudely, I stepped out to see what was going on.

It was an Albertan registration on a newish vehicle, only a little smaller than a Greyhound Bus. I approached.

Meanwhile, Jill was almost having hysterics at the sight of her venerable father hobbling over to that smart vehicle.

As I said before, it had been an extremely hot day and, when we had at last got ourselves down to where we’d parked my truck, we went to the creek for a refreshing drink. As I have done so often on hot days, I hauled off my T-shirt, soaked it in icy water and draped it over my head.

So, when I hauled myself out of the truck in order to have a serious chat with those Albertans who were hindering my progress homeward, I must have been quite an apparition.

I still had on my mountain boots, the paint-stained, ripped pants I’d worn all day, and that wet T-shirt draped around my shoulders.

As is my wont, I wasn’t sporting my dentures, I hadn’t shaved for a few days and, according to Jill, my remaining hair was dishevelled.

Anyway, the surprised men in that vehicle stuttered that they were not in any trouble, merely checking a map. One man, in the driver’s seat, addressed me as ‘pardner’ then sped off as if the demons were on his tail.

“You sure got rid of them, Dad,” said Jill after she’d stopped laughing. “Bet they won’t stop till they’ve crossed Crows Nest Pass.”

I was wondering if my hair ever looked ‘hevelled’.