Lew Goddard

© Copyright 2021 by Lew Goddard

Photo of prarie falcon.

It was time to go for more grub.

That sounded like an easy endeavour, but it would take the better part of the day and perhaps overnight. The weather wasn’t cooperating and it was beginning to snow.

I reside some fourteen miles from the city where I would shop for groceries. Just me and my big old cat, Major. He appears to be an unusual breed because he is huge. His fur is a cross between gold and orange. He often eats rabbits that he actually catches, then disappears for a couple of days to digest his meal. That gives you an idea of how large he is. If a bear comes through the yard Major will chase it but, if the bear turns on him, he immediately retreats.

Admittedly, it wasn’t much of a structure that I had built last summer. It was a single large lower room floor plus a loft with a sleeping bag and a down filled overthrow. When I was ambitious, I lifted the weights stored beside my bed to keep my muscles in tone. The walls were covered with clear plastic sheeting on both sides to keep the fibtreglass insulation in place. The roof was made of heavy-duty black roofing plastic. My home is located on the North bank of the Peace River.

There was never any need to have heat in the summer but, winter was naturally different in tis far northern country. A kitchen was situated on the east side of the house with a wall that separated it from the working area. My classic chromed kitchen stove occupied the spot against the intervening wall. It was placed there so that a fail-safe chimney could be installed next to the ridge pole.

In the north west corner of the work area, a make shift heater was constructed of a 45-gallon steel barrel. Asbestos provided the foundation and it was raised about ten inches above the floor. I took advantage of the sheet of asbestos and provided an angled barrier behind the heater. Of course, a pipe was fastened to the west wall and out with fire protection equipment.

It seems I have become side tracked and the subject of food came back to mind. Looking out one of the south front windows, I see it is still snowing and the temperature is down a couple of degrees. Tomorrow might be better.

I adjourned to my work area and re-started the “heater” as I called it. Couldn’t get too close when it became red hot. Oh, but it was comfortable.

My income came from a pension but for further money and to keep me sane, I manufactured wooden rocking chairs, gun cabinets and spinning wheels to name a few items of extreme care. Today found me creating a rocking chair. It was made from wood from all over the world and there wouldn’t be a nail or screw in it. Every bit of wood had to be shaped so that when it was meticulously mastered, it would never fall apart. Colors abounded from white to red, to brown to even black wood was used. It wasn’t unusual to spend a half day sanding and measuring a small section that I could hold in my hand. Then I would likely have to use brute force to place it where it was designed to fit. My customer contracted sixteen hundred dollars American currency. Sound like a lot? No, it didn’t after spending four to five months to happily display it to said customer,
At the window I noted that the snow had nearly given up and it might clear before night. That meant that it would be colder than blazes. Speaking of blazes, I would have to rise out of bed a number of times to keep the fires blazing.

It was still black dark when I rose at about six in the morning to get a good start for my cold journey.

My transportation to the city is by horseback. The mare is my favorite ride and the gelding usually didn’t have to work very hard. The mare’s name was Annie and the stallion is Buck.

Before I left, chunks of hard coal were placed in the kitchen stove burner and that should keep some warmth in the house even though I may have to be away overnight. The next morning, everything would be frozen. I guess you could call it “my freezer.”

The weather required more than my old parka so, I enveloped myself in long johns, a thick cotton shirt, (one of my cleanest dirty ones), a sweater that my Mother had knitted some years ago. To this I added a long woolen scarf that I could wrap around my head if I had to cover everything but my eyes. I topped it off with my favorite black Cowboy hat made of felt. Gloves, overshoes over my old boots and my parka I was able to go outside.

Taking the saddlebags for storage I walked out to the barn to visit my horses. They always nickered when I showed up and I patted them to let them know I loved them as much as they loved me. Their manes were flopped back and forth then brushed to one side and if they were cats, they would be purring. I threw the saddle on Annie and made sure that Buck had enough hay until the next day.

The temperature was ten below zero and the wind was blowing the snow.

Now my mode of transportation didn’t require following the road from my ranch to the west. We cut across the farmer’s quarter section pointing directly north-west. The snow was not more than about a foot deep and we followed a pattern that took us through areas where the snow wasn’t abundant. We passed a heavy growth of trees, mostly Spruce and onto the road that stretched west to the city.

With a walking speed we would arrive in about two to three hours. About a mile from the city lived an elderly friend, Jake McWilliam. He lived by himself in his farm house that he had built some forty years ago. There was no furnace just a kitchen stove and a huge heater in the front room very much like I had. One advantage he owned was electricity with a light in his yard that destroyed the shadows next to the house. I decided to stop and say hello.

Jake and I have known each for many years and I am blessed with his friendship. We are about the same age. Old.

The saddle was loosened on Annie to let her take a deep breath and I dropped the lines on the snow and sheltered her next to the house where the wind was almost non existent

There was no need to knock for I knew that Jake had spotted me coming into his yard. The warmth in his home was most delightful and Jake shook my hand and patted me on the back. Near lunch time we knocked off a quick whiskey and then sat to consume bacon and eggs. He asked if that suited me and I answered in the affirmative and ate.

Sufficiently satisfied that my belt was tighter, I rode off to town.

One Walmart was near the east end of the city and it was convenient for me. Instead of bread, I bought soft buns this time. A number of easy prepared foods were collected and I precariously packed the eggs and a gallon of milk in my saddlebags and hung a couple of grocery bags over the horse behind me.

A gallon of milk wouldn’t last me a week because it was one of my loved foods/drinks. So,---I bought some powder that said I could mix water with it and it tasted just like milk. Bingo,

While I was in town, I cashed my government check that I had received in my mail box. The garbage was thrown away and I tucked a letter from one of my kids into the front of my shirt. I would read it when I returned home.

Unfortunately, it had started to snow and the northwest wind was rising. At least the wind would be in my back most of the way home.

A stop was made at Jake’s and he treated me to a shot of whiskey and coffee. He asked me if I wanted to stay the night but, after some consideration, I said, no. If we hurried along my horse should get me home just after dark.

The road was reasonably clear as the wind drifted the snow across to fill the ditches. About two or three miles east, I stopped and pulled the saddle off Annie. I had placed two blankets under the saddle and I drew one over Annie’s front shoulders and over the saddle horn to cover most of my legs, after she was re-saddled.

I huddled in my clothing and covered everything except my eyes and we moved on.

The road was a bit icy and once in a while Annie would slide but always recovered. Thus, I kept her to a walk. There wasn’t any sense to try the ditches that were overflowing with snow.

At what I figured was the point of no return, I thought for ten seconds. To return to Jake’s place was out of the question. I realized that it would soon be dark and I began to feel the cold. Under Annie’s blanket, it seemed warm to my bare hand but I knew that the hefty wind was making her cold too. Keep moving, I told myself.

I watched as carefully as I could for the trail that led over my neighbor’s farmland. It was a blackness that I couldn’t penetrate. My mind said that we should be close.

Damn blizzard, “I said out loud finding that my teeth were starting to chatter. Snow had covere4d me in layers and the wind cut me like a knife.

Annie tried to pull to the right and I reined her to continue on but she resisted so, I let her have her way and she struggled into the ditch and had difficulty moving through the bank of snow. The we came to the huge copse of small trees and large Spruce. How did she know to move into this area? I stopped her and patted her for being so smart and brushed some snow from her head and rear end. It was virtually quiet under the crown of branches.

I urged her to take to the last mile or so of our journey and she willingly obliged. Back out the shelter of the trees it was extremely colder than it was before. My imagination obviously. We discovered that the snow had been blown in huge drifts and Annie was tired and she gamely moved on because she knew where she was and I was on her back.
Annie would lunge out of the pile of snow and it felt like she was about to trip. I kept patting her and talking to her and telling her that we would make it.

Suddenly her left front leg rested on a hard drift and her foot went down into three feet of snow as she sidestepped and both of us went over on the left side. It hurt when I landed on the wind packed snow bank and my leg was caught under her. I waited for her to move so I could get out and also that I could help her get up. With a valiant effort her rear end bent up just enough to let me out. As quickly as possible I attempted to stand. I was still on my knees and Annie made it to her feet. I grabbed her by her head and hugged and told her that she was exceptional and wonderful and out of breath. She was breathing hard and I tried to walk ahead and lead her but I did not have enough energy and I was extremely cold.

I stopped and went back to her side, reached up and got a good hold on the saddle horn and we set forth. It probably wasn’t even a half mile but before the time we stopped at the barn, she was dragging me. I hung there for a while and then led Annie into the barn and she immediately started to eat. After the lantern was lit and with some difficulty, I managed to get most of the snow off her back and took the curry comb and scratched over her body. That effort should get her blood flowing well and she looked like she would get warm and probably lay down and sleep. Buck had been standing right beside me watching my every move.

The frozen milk and eggs were rescued and I staggered to my house. The rest of the groceries could wait until tomorrow. The kerosene lamp was lit immediately and I lifted the stove lid but there was no fire left. In went a newspaper and kindling and I stood there and watched the flames rise out of the stove. More wood was added. I was feeling rather strange, everything seemed to be funny. I thought of our trip and when Annie fell, I almost laughed. My outer clothes and boots were thrown on one of the wooden kitchen trees and I sat down on the other one. The heat dusted over me and I heaved a huge sigh while waiting for my teeth to stop clicking.

Major apparently was glad to see me and he yowled and trid to crawl up my pant leg. He didn’t realize that he sank his claws into my leg.

A thought came to mind that the down filled feather tick, (as I called it), would fit over me as I sat in front of the stove. When I stepped up a couple of steps to the loft, I was able to grab the comforter and took a further chance and laid it on the stove for a couple of minutes. There was a slight burn mark when I picked it up and threw it over my shoulders. Warmth never felt so good.
And major curled up on my knee.

Sitting there for an hour or two I thought. We had avoided freezing to death out there.

Death! Is absolute. It arrives like the eye of the blizzard we were in and then---silence.

Thank you, God, for helping me. Thank you, Annie, for being such a strong soldier. Thank you, Jake. Thank my lucky stars!!

That’s what I call survival.

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