In Princeton, British Columbia, just east on highway 5A, is a gently paved road.
I say gently as I am sure somewhere deep under the potholes and rocks, time and logging trucks have compressed the gravel and dirt into something resembling smooth driving terrain.
The gently paved Summers Creek Road, 32 kilometres long, leads to a subdivision of 120 cottages surrounding Missezula Lake, a once highly renowned trophy fishing lake. To the normal driver, 32 kilometres doesn’t sound long, and would take maybe 15 – 20 minutes to drive if paved (if you drive like me, that is). But when you’re navigating your way around potholes, gravel the size of boulders, ground squirrels and chipmunks making a mad dash to and fro, never mind inching along sections wide enough for only one vehicle to slink around a blind corner, it takes a good hour to get to the other end. The cattle guards rattle your teeth, the twists and turns somersault your stomach, and the dust clogs your pores.
But as you reach for the anti-nausea pills, be mindful of the cows.
Yes, the cows. Forget about great fishing – give me the cows, any day.
Ranches flank the winding road, and except for the horses, the cows run amuck. The teeth-rattling, ankle-twisting cattle guards keep them where they should be – sort of.
I mean really, the ranchers can’t be everywhere, all the time, can they?
But I can.
With the hour-long bumpy ride behind me, and after the nausea cleared and I steam-cleaned my pores – in the wilderness, no less - three days into our stay at the lake, I found my calling.
While everyone slept off their s’mores, I maintained my daily walking regime. My early-morning treks to the lake were refreshing, albeit invigorating, to say the least. At nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the walk around the subdivision has one who is accustomed to living well below sea level working up a good sweat.
One particular morning I set out, and just as was I pondering the whereabouts of cougars and bears, I could hear the cows mooing their little (or big) lungs out. Just outside the confines of our haven protected with a cattle guard and barbed wire, the cows ran and mooed their way down the road – towards our subdivision. Despite wondering if they were being chased by a bear or a cougar, I kept walking. That’s what cattle guards are for, to keep everything out - right?
With the cows still on my mind, I hiked the gravel roads twisting between the cottages, and watched the mist from the lake rise and disappear into the surrounding hills. But not even the entertainment of a mother loon and her babies fluttering between the docks could dispel my growing concern for the cows. I figured I better get back and check on the wild bovine; bears or cougars, aside.
I made my way to the entrance-gate where I suspected they would be, and there they were. The only thing between me and them were the mosquitoes, fresh mountain air, and the cattle guard. But I HAD to get closer. I side-stepped and slowly inched my way over the dusty pipes, out of the subdivision. I already had my arm in a sling; I didn’t need any more catastrophes (more on the arm, below).
I have been up close and personal with horses; riding them, grooming them, and getting bucked off them (the wrecked arm not a result of). But having nothing between me and ‘wild’ cows was a tad – intimidating.
They looked at me.
I looked at them.
I don’t know if the bull was there, but I suspect if he were, he wouldn’t be too thrilled with me traipsing around his harem.
They were on one side of the road, but I much preferred them on the other side, in the meadow - where they belong.
The rancher I am raised my ‘good’ arm in a ‘herding’ sorta way, and while making some cattle-call noises I was SURE ranchers EVERYWHERE use, I got them running. Across the road, through a break in the fence, and out to the meadow – where they belong.
Except for the big-horned one who engaged in a staring competition.
Uh oh. How fast could I run over the cattle guard with my arm in a sling?
But then he (I think ‘he’ - I didn’t ask if I could ‘check’), ambled his way through the fence, and carried on being a cow.
And I stood in awe of one of my greatest feats, ever.
I had become The One-Armed Rancher.
(As for the arm - I tripped and fell the week before the great ranching expedition and did ‘something’ to my arm. BUT, I can finally apply mascara with the wrecked arm if I tilt my head ‘just so.’ Aside from my sling that needs a good washing from all that dust, the cows survived, as will I. I am invincible.)