of a Wilderness Wanderer
by Andy Russell
Lyons Press, 2001
|"Telling a story is like selling a horse -- the appreciation of a good animal is likely to be much higher if one takes the time and trouble to do a bit of currrying and brushing."|
The curried and well-brushed tales in this autobiographical collection are about people and places of the Canadian Rockies during the early 20th century. There are stories about trappers and mountainmen and even "remittance men" -- displaced and disgraced young men paid handsome stipends to stay far away from their aristocratic families.
Most of all, there are stories about the ranching and frontier lifestyle which is rapidly passing into mythology.
"We knew the joy of being truly alive in the clear open air under a vast sky where the clouds ran in the wind like wild colts at play," the 86-year-old Russell writes in the new edition of this book, first published in 1971. "We adventured, meeting things as they came without a plan, reveling in the feel of a bucking horse on a cool morning or throwing a rope to catch a cow. It is one thing just to live, but something else to be really alive."
The frontier landscape Russell writes about lay along the St. Mary's River in southwest Alberta, a big country of flat valleys next to mountains that lift up tall and deep purple into broad heavens.
A wild bronc rider, fisherman and professional outfitter who later became a noted naturalist and photographer, Russell shares tales about his boyhood in the 1920s and retells stories about trappers and Indians from his grandfather's era (1880s) and earlier.
"I can make this book a sort of epitaph that will live on when the sands of time have run out for all of us who trod on the wild, free land when it was young," Russell explains. "These were people who knew what real values added up to over the long haul."
was a giant fish -- a rainbow trout -- a real old tackle-busting
with a hook in his lower jaw like a salmon and a temper like a wild
Over the course of three seasons, he had taken my fly several times and
then broken off. My luck was bad with this fish, mostly because it was
nearly impossible to keep him out of the network of roots under the
bank where he had his lair. Fish for him with tackle heavy enough to
him and he would ignore the lure as though it didn't exist. Work the
of leader it took to fool him and he broke it every time. If trout
hold degrees, this one had his Ph.D. in survival. He was more than
smart; he was uncanny.
The loneliness of a winter night on the face of the great western prairies is a tangible thing -- a thing so much a part of the country it is accepted by most; for to do otherwise is unbearable. It is then that one is aware of the immensity and realizes that man is but a speck on the face of it, which can be a devastating and even destructive thought to those not accustomed to it.
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