We had spent the day repairing bluebird nest boxes and were about sixty kilometres off highway 97 in ranch country west of Clinton. The freshly graded road allowed us to zip along at eighty if we chose to; we had averaged thirty; our eyes were too thirsty for colour and novelty after a winter of white. That said, it was four in the afternoon and I was ready to find a motel – I distinctly recalled my husband saying we would likely stay in Clinton. Twenty -eight years of marriage still hasn’t taught me that there’s no cutting the day short when there’s a Forest Service Road and many branches unexplored.
“Now, there should be a way to get from here to Dog Creek and then from Dog Creek we should be on Enterprise Road which will take us out on 97 north of Lac la Hache – see it in the map book?” he asked as he took a left at the three way intersection and headed west expecting me to guide us on a route he’d obviously planned out ahead of time.
I had devoted lots of thinking time already that day to the reasons why creatures act as they do – we had talked about sharp tailed grouse leks (mating zones where male grouse strut their stuff while females observe and perhaps choose a mate) and killdeer injury fakery ( the birds will pretend to have a broken wing while they lure predators away from their nests by flopping across the ground) to name just a couple of our topics. My mind was whirling with questions about how these behaviours had evolved but truth be told, I was ready for some wine. I wasn’t ready to tackle the map book, glasses, binocular balancing, keep your eyes peeled for hawks thing that happens in the cab of our truck. But here we were, literally heading into the sunset on a gravel road that should lead us somewhere.
I resigned myself to a couple more hours of jouncing about, grateful for an old dog who needs to get out and stretch and a bag full of snacks that could last us for a day and heated seats for when it hailed.
Of course, we took a wrong turn and eventually we could see that we were spiralling out of the hills and down towards the Big Bar Ferry which traverses the Fraser River. I did not want to cross the Fraser – that would put a roiling muddy river and about 100 k of bush roads between me and that comfy motel and my glass of wine. I thought about feigning a broken arm or at least a stomach ache to lure Gary away from the call of the open road but resigned myself to the fact that we had no choice but to continue on our chosen path and hope we ended up in Dog Creek or turn back (never, ever an option-who am I kidding?)
As we descended towards the Fraser, the road got sketchier. “People live here,” I reminded myself, though we had only passed one vehicle in eighty kilometres. I scrunched my weight to the inside and tried to get the dog to lie on my side of the vehicle so the outside wheels would have less chance of toppling us over the bank. My strategy worked because we made it through and behold there was a sign that said Upper Dog Creek just where we would have to descend to the ferry. The map book and the road matched up but we still had about 70 k of road to travel; My earlier musings about the wonders of the natural world were a little tainted by my quest for comfort by this time. I hoped we saw no creatures or only squirrels doing normal squirrel things – nothing camera worthy!
By the time we hit the 1100 road (Enterprise Road) I was over my hissy fit; it seemed clear we would reach the highway in about fifty kilometres. Now we picked up speed – the road trended northeast but was basically straight; punch drunk, I began to feel like we were in a spaceship hurtling alone through a green universe. We saw no one; we saw nothing. When we made it to the highway, I was shocked to see a car approaching.
In Lac la Hache at our motel, I had trouble understanding the desk clerk. Now, he did speak English but it was like we were on different planes of existence – I was back at the grouse lek and he was saying something about ducks and bets – not your typical motel conversation till I clued in that we were not to invite the dog onto the bed. Then he kept pointing at his eyes as I walked out and I thought he meant he was going to be watching us to make sure we followed the Dog Policy until he said “grasses” and I remembered I had borrowed his reading glasses.
It seemed I had returned to a somewhat normal wavelength later as I put my feet up to enjoy my glass of wine and that was when the owl decor caught my eye and I started to giggle.
“Fancy,” said my husband, causing me to laugh even harder while I grappled with my phone to capture the metal artwork. Just as I took the shot, I distinctly heard ‘whoo, whoo, whoo” from the next room. Whether they had just arrived and were just as taken with metal owls on their walls as we were or whether they we watching a nature documentary, I’m not sure but once again, I found myself wondering whether we had driven to another galaxy.
Outside, the sounds of highway 97 dwindled as we contemplated an early breakfast at the Hungry Bear. A strange motor noise roused us and we gazed across the street in time to see a man pulling on the cord of a motor bike about the size of a toddler’s push bike. He got it started, flung a pack (a packsack like you use for cross country travel!) onto his shoulders and scooted on up 97 and out of sight. Disconcertingly, he looked a lot like the motel clerk who had checked us in. I’m certain that our intergalactic flight across the plateau will take a few days to wear off and in the meantime, I will think some more about the complexities of human and animal behaviour.