Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Hill, the Rabbit, and Me

The Hill

The Stringam ranch buildings were ringed on three sides by high cliffs, and dominated on the fourth by a high hill. As a result, there were only two entrances to the ranch, on either side of the hill.
As a fortress, it would have been ideal. Easily defended and defensible.
As a playground, it was perfect.
From the top of the hill, one could see, quite literally, for miles. The lack of any trees or large vegetation allowed for a completely unbroken view to any horizon.
And if one climbed up the tower perched firmly, but terrifyingly on top of said hill . . . well the possibilities were endless.
As I well knew.
After much experience.
On many occasions, my heroic mother did the sprint to the top of the hill, scampered up the tower, and plucked her small, but adventurous, daughter from the jaws of certain death.
Death being the sudden stop at the foot of the tower.
I just thought I'd point that out . . .
There was much of the Olympiad in my mother. I think of the numerous air and land speed records she broke, all without the witness of a single stop-watch or measuring stick.
But I digress . . .
The hill was also the resting place for the mouldering bodies of many, many derelict machines, both agricultural and civil.
Parked neatly in rows were such identifiable things as threshers, mowers, combines, tractors, rakes, cars and trucks, all having outlived their ‘best before’ date.
They had all been replaced by something new and improved, but had not been sent to that great ‘tribute to rust’ that is the local parts yard because of the possibility, however slim, of still being useful.
It was this collection of . . . old and intriguing, that drew my brothers and myself day after day.
They, to explore and dismantle.
I to . . . get in the way and fall on something sharp.
Or climb into derelict vehicles and create worlds.
Or finally get bored as they tinkered and start climbing . . . but we’ve been over that.
Our responsibilities were clearly laid out, and we did them with a will.
From my brothers’ point of view, imagine the potential.
Armed with nothing more than a screwdriver, wrench and pliers, you could attack and dismember any of the inmates of this glorious, magical place.
You could tap into engines and other secret places and uncover intricate systems hidden to the incurious and unaware.
You could emerge, covered in grease, but triumphantly holding aloft the flywheel of . . . the . . . the behemoth parked between the car and the truck.
I could really only identify the cars and trucks.
Four years old.
Moving on . . .
The three of us spent many happy hours there.
They in their grease and machinery parts.
I in my exploring and imaginary worlds.
For three ranch kids growing up on the prairies, it was perfection. Truly the place where dreams come true.
And then, into our peaceful little world came . . . the rabbit.
It wasn’t anything unusual, as rabbits go. A large jack. Cream and dark brown fur. Long ears and . . . really jumpy legs.
I should mention here that I was - and am - crazy for animals. Any animals. This rabbit would be the perfect pet for me.
At least from my point of view.
It had other ideas.
At first I approached it slowly, hand out, friendly smile firmly affixed. Coaxing.
It sat up and eyed me, nose twitching.
Then when I was still several steps away, it hopped. In the wrong direction.
Stupid rabbit.
I moved closer once more.
It waited until I was, again, several steps away, then it . . . you get the picture.
This went on for some time.
Finally, running short of patience, I increased my pace.
It caught on to the change in strategy with astonishing speed, and also moved faster.
I ran.
It ran.
This was getting us nowhere. I finally flopped down on the ground and scowled at it.
It stopped and looked at me again.
I stood up hopefully.
It ducked into an irrigation pipe.
Ha! My . . . erm . . . strategy had worked! It was mine!
I carefully blocked both ends of the pipe and ran to get Mike’s cage.
A little background here.
Mike was our Saint Bernard.
He was huge.
But he hadn’t always been so.
When he had first come to live with us, he had been a puppy. For about two weeks.
Then he had outgrown his little wire mesh kennel and moved right into the only other place big enough to house him.
The garage.
That had left the kennel vacant.
And totally right for a pet rabbit.
I lugged it to the top of the hill.
Now the tricky part. How to coax the rabbit into his palatial new home.
I opened the door of the kennel and pulled one end of the pipe inside.
Then I went around to the other end of the pipe and began to lift.
Fortunately for my four-year-old muscles, aluminum irrigation pipes are fairly light. I lifted the pipe higher and higher, until I was stretched nearly to the limit of my height.
It wasn’t far.
But it worked!
I could hear the rabbit scrabble for purchase inside the pipe and finally give up and slide downwards.
I smiled broadly as his furry rump emerged from the end of the pipe.
He landed in the cage.
I was filled with triumph.
And elation.
And dismay.
The moment his feet touched the mesh of the kennel, he was off like a shot.
Through the bars of the cage.
Who knew that a four-inch wide rabbit could fit through a two inch wide space?
Not me.
But I was learning.
I watched, disappointed, as my pet headed for somewhere far away.
I kicked at the cage.
Stupid cage. It had let me down.
Then I noticed that some of the rabbit’s fur had caught in the mesh. I plucked it off and examined it. I rubbed it on my cheek.
I stuck it in my pocket and patted it tenderly.
My rabbit.
A few days later, when Mom was doing the laundry, she discovered the little patch of rabbit fur in my pocket. But, being my mother, she just shook her head and smiled.
And later, when Dad was loading pipe to start irrigating and found one with an end stuck inside Mike’s old cage, he did the same thing.
After all, they were my parents.
They knew me.
I was back on the hill with my brothers.
On a new adventure.

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