By Craig Funston
As sit here in the brave solitude of my lonely office, I marvel at yet another anniversary that I have just celebrated. That would be the twelve-year one, not the sixty-year one.
That latter was fodder for a recent column. This one is about the twelve years that I have lived here in Alberta. That would make twelve chilling winters, twelve searing summers, twelve years of Flames broadcasts…
Cousin Reggie, Aunt Bob, and Maurice the Distant Relative all wrote and asked me (okay, I lie: Reggie me sent a smoke signal) to reflect on my years here in Alberta. They all seemed anxious to hear what practical lessons I have learned as a BCingya-cum-Albertarian.
(Just made those two words up, Maurice, so don’t quote me.)
The following is the sort of thing I should have heard from someone back in 2002, before moving out east. I am happy to pass along some things that I have learned over these past twelve years. It’s mostly a lot of common sense, something rural Albertians are known for.
I’m sure there’s more, but here they are, in no particular moral, numerical, or sentimental order:
Phones. Technically, they’re called “cellular telephones,” but who’s going to quibble over a few letters, especially among friends? So, own one, give your number out to select people, and always keep them charged up. Let those select people know where you are and where you’re headed. There are too many empty roads (which, ironically, have limited or no cell service) to be without a cell phone. A fully-charged cell phone when you’re in trouble can be the difference between life and death.
Fuel. Never let your gas go below a quarter in your truck. (Maurice, that would be somewhere in the space between the “E” and the bar in the middle.). Everything in southern Alberta is a distance, and sometimes those distances are, or at least appear to be, longer than usual. With all the rural roads down here, it’s a long stretch between gas stations.
Fences. Make sure your fences are tight. They look good, your cows stay in, and you save a lot of money—missing cows aren’t cheap and grumpy neighbours aren’t fun. I have learned this the hard way, but I think after twelve years I’m getting better at making tight fences.
Neighbourliness. Good neighbours are a pleasure. A wave here and coffee there goes a long way. It’s a lot safer and better when neighbours get along. Now I’m not suggesting block parties—or, in my case, pasture parties— each weekend. Even a tight fence goes a long way to encourage neighourliness. Maybe even tie up your dog a little more often.
Water. As oil is to the north, water is the south. Well, a little over-simplification perhaps, but the point is, we need water—and lots of it. Access to water determines what crops you can grow, what your lawn looks like, how tall your trees get, and how often you can take a bath—and not necessarily in that order.
Wind. Love it or leave it. In other words, either love the wind in your face on a regular basis or leave the area. Move to Mali or Maui, where the wind isn’t as destructive. There are three degrees of wind here: windy, really windy, and out-of-my-mind windy.
Lingo. I now know what a swather is, what it means when a cow has “caught,” and how to measure rainfall in fractions. If you live with the locals, you should understand the locals. Whether I know what I’m talking about is irrelevant.
Vermin. Either you go the Hollywood way or the Southern Alberta way: The mice, badgers, gophers, and deer on our property either have names and can dance, or they destroy gardens, fields, and harm your livestock. (Hint: the latter is true.) They are not cute and shouldn’t be portrayed as sweet little critters. They should be shot on sight and hung from fence posts. That’s gross, but not as gross as chicken guts strewn all over your property.
Fingers. Fingers come in handy for any number of things, and waving to other drivers is one of them. I have learned that with your fingers on the steering wheel, just flick up two of them—two, as in not one—when you see another driver. And do it casually and carefully. You don’t want to appear too excited. That’s just not, well, cool. And make sure the other driver sees the two: Anything less than two is, well, not cool either.
What is cool, of course, is that I feel like a full-fledged Albertian, after these twelve years.