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Thursday, 15 August 2013

Red Deer River Journey - Conclusion

The Bull’s Forehead

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong as its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”- Marcus Aurelius
Looking across the south Saskatchewan and back up the Red Deer River

The next day I climbed a hill above the south bank of the South Saskatchewan river called “The Bull’s Forehead”. It was covered with small tufts of grass and sage brush. Prickly pear cactus, in full bloom, dotted the landscape. The ferryman at Estuary had told me that there was a rattle snake hibernaculam in the area and it wasn’t hard to imagine there being one in this desert-like environment.

I looked over the confluence of the two rivers. This spectacular scene was certainly a site of historical significance. Peter Fidler had built Chesterfield House next to the forks, in 1800, as a trading outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The outpost was later abandoned as being too costly and dangerous.

Although David Thompson didn’t travel the Red Deer himself, due to injury, four of his men became the first Europeans to travel down the river in 1800. Had they reached this point?

In those days this region was rife with dangerous grizzly bears and even more deadly, warring factions of this land’s original peoples. The area had gained a bad reputation and when, in 1857, John Palliser announced his intention of proceeding up the South Saskatchewan to the this spot, the men of his expedition were so horrified by the idea that he had to abandon it and go north to Fort Carlton instead. He did later visit this region. In July of 1859 he left the main party of his expedition, which was heading south, and diverted to this spot. “From the tongue of high land between the two rivers he studied a huge, beautiful sweep of country. He noted that the Red Deer River was a serpentine stream with broad alluvial promontories crowded with willows and rough-barked poplars, while the South Saskatchewan ran between high, precipitous banks.” Palliser encountered wapiti, buffalo, pronghorn in the area near the forks and many grizzly bears. They had several confrontations with the grizzlies, shooting several and breaking a rifle while fleeing a charge by another. At a large Blood encampment, south of the Saskatchewan an unfortunate woman was carried off by one bear while picking berries. After several braves killed the bear, they found her badly mutilated body nearby. Today only the pronghorn remain on this section of the river.

I sat on top of the hill for quite a long while, surveying the country below. I could see my eagle, flying below me and quarreling with a lone crow. I could see my camp, in its place below the sandstone cliffs and decided it was time to head back.

By the time I had packed up and traveled downstream to the ferry, I only had to wait a couple of minutes before my wife arrived with the truck. It was miserable loading everything up, due to the mud and thick swarm of sand flies. The kind ferryman helped me lift my boat onto the roof rack of my truck before he ferried us back across the South Saskatchewan. Then we were off, driving into the darkness of that warm summer night and towards our home.

At Journey’s End

“On those who step in the same river, different and different waters flow . . .” - Heraclitus

Hanging out in the riparian zone
For me, the Red Deer River isn’t just a stream that cuts through our land. It also marks a time that cuts through the middle of my life. For several years I had worked towards my goal. For a few weeks, I briefly departed from my everyday life to experience an adventure unlike any other. Like some small island in a sea of ice, my Red Deer River journey stands starkly apart from the rest of my life. In the midst of my travels, I was given a chance to reflect on my world at arm's length and get a small glimpse of the spirit of adventure that lies beyond this mundane existence. I hope that, by enabling me to compare it against old experiences and new challenges, time will provide some perspective. My memories are all that remain of those waters, which I journeyed during those two incredible summers. Of course I may still return to the river and probably always will, but it is different now…

1 comment:

  1. It would be interesting to know how many people have made the same journey you have? How many people have done the whole river. I don't think the river was used by the aboriginals for transportation and the fur trade didn't go that far.
    Did you ever think of putting this into a book? With your photos and some more research on the river's history I think you would have an excellent story to tell.