By Connie Douglas – Chilliwack, B.C.
Growing up on a farm near Consort in east-central Alberta, spring was always a long awaited event. I remember a special day when dad asked, “Would you like to ride out with me to look at the new calves?”
I ran to bridle Sheila, my little grey mustang pony, to join dad already astride Smokey for the short ride to the pasture. Crocuses were beginning to bloom on the hillsides, announcing “We’re here! It’s spring!”
April ushers in the first sign of spring when the ice begins to recede from the edges of the sloughs, and they begin to fill up with snow water. Soon there were just a few patches of grimy snowdrifts clinging to the north side of the hills.
Being eight years old in 1934, I was delighted to be riding with dad and racing him through the mud puddles.
Dad dug out a well-worn piece of cardboard from his jacket pocket. Written on it were the descriptive names of about 150 cows that expected to have calves in April and early May.
He knew them all – not with names like Mary, Frances, or Annie, but by their unique markings. There was white front left leg, four white socks, right front white leg, etc.
He checked each one off as we rode around and around them while they nibbled the first green grass of the season. “White Socks, has a big calf this year, doesn’t she? There are a lot of them not here. They must be over the hill by the willows.”
Kids snared gophers
“Look, dad, there’s a gopher.” I rode over its hole and peered down hoping it would reappear. There were hundreds of them all over the prairies.
At school we used to lie still and watch them come out of one hole and run down another as if they were visiting each other.
We used a length of binder twine with a slipknot at one end for a snare, and, pushing the loop down into the hole about two inches, we would wait for ‘Mr. Gopher’ to appear.
They were pretty game, and soon we’d see a head poking out. He’d draw back for a minute then the next time he’d come halfway up. This was the time to jerk the string and we had him.
Alkali sloughs were quite common during those dry years of the 1930s. You could easily spot one by the white ring around it. The dryer the year, the further the water receded and the white area increased, often covering the whole slough or former lake.
Each spring, my sister Doris and I checked out the eagle’s nest. A pair of bald eagles made their nest on our CPR quarter section for years. Dad often said, “Don’t go too close or they might not come back.”
They had a wing-spread of over six-feet and claws so strong they could pick up a lamb or a rabbit and carry it to their nest without apparent effort.
‘Same as the ocean’
While riding horseback alongside dad, he taught me that the moon and stars were our road map and the North Star was our principal guide at night.
He pointed out the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, the King’s Belt, the Aurora Borealis, and many more stars of interest. We had to navigate on the prairie the same as on the ocean. It was just as easy to get lost.