Southsiders have been wholly described as “A Warrior Community”, “Honourable”, “Defiant”, “Farmers”, “Strong”, “Heroes”, “Avengers”, “Legends”, “Spirits of Dedication”…
The Fire that threatens everything we know is being called “The Animal”, “The Beast”, “Mother Nature”, “Brutal”, “Devastating”…
We’ve been told to “Stay Safe” and “Pray” while we make our “Romantic Last Stand”. We feel frightened, impatient, abandoned…and blessed. Yes, blessed. Blessed by a windless day, by cooler weather that leaves dew on the ground in early morning. Blessed with our lives and the precious lives of our families. Blessed with protection from simple farmers turned warriors.
“Men follow courage”. William Wallace was a farmer who fought for his freedom and his country with the singular strength of many soldiers. Soldiers weakened by lack of conviction, powerless to summon their school room lessons in the face of “witless” passion. A farmers passion for his family, passion for his livelihood, passion for his freedom.
I was born and raised in Burns Lake. Growing up in this small town we learned quickly that “It’s all about who you know”. We all started primary school at Muriel Mould, moved to William Konkin Elementary and finished our schooling at Lakes District Secondary. That is, all of us, save the tiny multiclass elementary school-house at Francois Lake and the Grassy Plains school that taught all grades on the other side of the lake. Those children were the elite enigma. We wondered what they were taught…did they learn Math and English like we did? As we began highschool we met these elusive creatures at school dances once a month and as the mystery around them faded our yearning to follow them took over. These strong, dedicated and passionate people were born leaders.
A big part of my childhood consisted of travelling around the head of “The Lake” or across it, to visit my Grandfather. We loved riding the ferry and gorging ourselves on special weekend snacks as we travelled across rough dirt roads and trails across fields, past our Great Grandma Cartwright’s house on Isaac Lake and into the lush fields of Grampa’s Loma Linda Ranch.
Great Grandma Nellie and Grandpa Cartwright would see us coming and as the only visitors crazy enough to venture out this far, they would wait on their doorstep to flag us down for a visit. I would love to sit in her kitchen with her lace curtains overlooking her yard that sloped slightly down into the “pond”. She had an old wooden chicken house out back and she loved her chickens. She very often would have a sick or frost bit chicken running around her kitchen that had become a temporary reprieve from the busy chicken house. Often our visits were short-lived due to the time constraints of the day that was quickly getting away from us before we even reached the ranch.
You could see Grampa’s tiny log cabin that sat in the middle of his large fields as we started the slow trek along the hidden trail that was his driveway. At the edge of the farthest fields you could see the rim of trees that hid the banks of Francois Lake. As we got closer to the house the view of the lake disappeared and was replaced by livestock. I watched for a glimpse of the old brown horse called Rocket…a nasty stud that would eat you instead of look at you…but I thought he was wonderous and beautiful (from a distance). Then I would scan the fields for the sweet little black heifer that Grampa Smith called BB. She was our “horse” when we were little.
These weekend days usually consisted of fishing, butchering, gathering wood, cleaning house, eating and exploring! Grampa had an old tire swing that hung in a huge tree beside Mom’s old car that Grampa had stripped for parts. We would climb the hills with Grampa’s dogs Sam and Bambi turning over rocks to expose mice as they scattered and became quick meals for the collie Bambi. Sam preferred porcupine. A quiet walk through the tall grass to the shore of the inlet that was “Grampa’s”, had us balancing ourselves precariously on the huge rock dock that must have taken Grampa many years to assemble and maintain. I loved the swampy part by the old outhouse best as it was teaming with tadpoles…so black it looked like a singular rolling slug with legs and a tail hidden just under the surface. I loved to grab a handful of squirming baby frogs in my hands to feel the tickle on my palms as they tried to swim away. After haying season the barn was full of round bales of sweet-smelling grass so high it made the world seem small. We would climb and wrestle on the bales until we got to the very top when Mom would yell at us to come down and spoil all the fun. That legacy has been handed down to my children as the tradition of our family centers around our Southside leader, Grampa Smith.
As the years flew past we started making our way around the head of the lake over logging roads that twisted and turned, widened and thinned. I loved being the only vehicle on the road as we plowed snow with the bumper of Dad’s truck or weaved our way around large holes full of rain water while we kept a keen eye on the road ahead for tracks of rabbits, deer, moose, bear, coyote and wolves. The fences that held cattle slowly became monstrous barriers for the buffalo that Grampa decided to raise. We went though gate after gate to get to the tiny cabin, though herds of enormous animals that were way too close to the truck for my comfort. Grampa loved to see us coming with loads of Oh Henry, Oreo cookies and Pepsi. His monthly summer trips to town saw his stash of goodies gone within days of his trip.
My Grampa was a stubborn, cantankerous, loud, opinionated, unforgiving…kind-hearted, loving, generous, hardworking, talented, dedicated and devoted man. Oh the stories he could tell! The long days on board the navy ship when he was 17, eating avocados…the Sasquatch that lived just off the driveway on the left hand side, before the second gate…the wolves that came boldly up to his front door only to glamorously adorn his wall…the mysterious unearthly butchering of his prized buffalo…what Art Bell had talked about on the radio the night before…the age old fight with his neighbors…the large Ogopogo beast that would swim into his shallow inlet stealing his fish. He would tell the same corny blonde joke over and over and over. I groan inwardly just thinking about it. He loved rebellious thinking and would argue simply for the sake of arguing. His old school thinking had him sit back comfortably in his leather chair with a smirk and enjoy the doting of his many daughters as they cleaned, fussed, cooked and dictated.
My Grampa Smith’s ranch Loma Linda sits at the edge of the fire line that has been literally guarded by “The Wolf Pack”. A group of Southside farmers protecting their land and their livelihoods with passion. “The Wolf Pack” consists of Grampa’s neighbors, and my elusive Grassy Plains schoolmates. Despite a lifetime of conflict with my excentric Grandfather, Wolfram Hummel was at Loma Linda for hours and hours building guards, protecting the tiny log cabin that is falling apart to save my legacy. My school mate Clint Lambert that I idolized when I was young and avoided in maturity (hoping that he would forget the person I was in highschool if I simply didn’t look at him), took time away from his family, his property and at the expense of his personal rest to watch and put out spot fires in the “Smith fields”. This irreplaceable time pales in comparison to the debt incurred by these warriors as they start-up their superhero machines to dig, pile, pull and clear barricades in a passionate attempt to save their community that is burning.
Loma Linda as of yesterday was standing…but the fire has eaten everything around it… as close as 60 yards from the log building. As The Wolf Pack moves on to chase the flames that threaten their family homes, Loma Linda stands her own guard. Will she stand strong against The Beast? The Wolf Pack has done all they can to save my legacy, the rest is up to Mother Nature’s un-forgiving, stubborn wrath.
“It’s not the size of the dog! It’s the size of the fight the dogs in!”