In winter, 1969, two friends and I were hunting grizzlies on the south shore of the Lesser Slave Lake in Northern Alberta. We rode down off of a ridge and through what remained of an abandoned ranch. The barn was tumbled in, the fences down and the old log style house stood open to those winds that never cease. One of my hunting partners had ranched near there for a number of years. He told us the story of the family that had homesteaded there many years before. This is their story.
On the Lesser Slave I froze. I’m here to tell you how I froze.
You know you just can not believe how cold that wind blows.
At 45 below the moaning of the wind becomes a living mournful noise.
Elizabeth Anne left me and she took the little girl and the boys.
And our cabin became a cold and dead thing,
As cold and as lonely as when the wolves sing
The news of the death of a rider on the ice whose horse has broken through
Or when starvation takes another Indian at the reserve on the Louchoux.
On the Lesser Slave, I froze. Oh let me bear witness how I froze.
The cheap whiskey took my mind and the ice took my fingers and toes.
I forgot about my cattle and I drove my horses away.
I was drunk through each night and slept through most of each day,
My lips frost bit and the cold sealed up my mouth
While I laid in my buffalo robes and ached for the woman who’d gone south.
I guess I would have died wrapped in self pity and buffalo hide
Except Rupert Broken Leg Wolf and his new Hobema wife
Came by, looking for a place to get warm, and they saved my life.
They started up the fires and they pulled me back into my head,
Though now I curse them when the memories flood back and I’m almost dead
For want of that woman, when the wind blows,
And the memory of her drifts about me like the blowing snows.
Dale “Doc” Hayes ©1975, renewed© 2001