driving with Beth in the west county

they burnt our old house
just burnt it, Beth told me
as we drove down dirt roads
to the homestead

that’s the barn that Dad bought
from a neighbour

it rides the waves of this prairie
its peaked roof a prow above the door
two cupola jutted into late-day blue sky

my camera clicked
just as sunlight faded
just as a shaggy pup
moved towards me
from his place on the steps
of the shabby new house
he didn’t bark

I crouched for one last shot
the camera whirred rewind
as he watched, waited for me
to walk back to the truck
past piles of broken furniture
upholstery sodden

we drove
Beth spoke of the trip to school
three miles down these hills
on horseback or in a cutter

she chose to walk alone one day
when the older kids
were at school in town
she crossed three miles of fields
arrived at school too tired
to even wiggle

we drove east, the sun a peach
and almond glow behind us
there’s Tipi Mountain, Beth said
pointing to the Rocky peaks
protruding from the southern horizon

we stopped by a farm
where her friend
was just leaving the barn
that big red monument

leaning against my door
window down
his hand felt cool when we said hello
they visited I listened
and looked at his grey hair
weathered face, his hands
that gentled a horse
loved his woman

who’s farming your land now, Beth asked
he hesitated just a minute
he’s okay I guess
that’s right, he’s still alone
I doubt he’ll ever marry, he drawled

had I noticed his way of talking
Beth asked later
I didn’t say it made me wonder
where in the world was I

this is a new place for me
country folk
who know their neighbours
who lean into the cab of the truck
nodding yes, it sure is a pretty sky
but you missed the best of it

I looked to the east
saw the snow glowing green now
just beyond five horses in the paddock
the snow green beneath a sky, blue pink
sun setting, sweeping colour
for its last show of the day

I said look
the snow is green

they nodded at my interruption
yes, and did you see the fence
to your right
I noted curved chunks cut
from the silvered wood

the horses do that, he said
they get to chewing
just bored I guess

I said I’d like to return some day
in different light
bring my camera
shoot the barn, horses, chewed fence
and he said
if you like

back on the road, Beth confided
one day they walked to school
in blistering heat
turned to the west
and there was Mr. Edgerton
walking upside down
he was just walking

a mirage, they said
and she knew
she would always

~ Catherine McLaughlin

Catherine McLaughlin recently celebrated 35 years in the Peace Country. The land has always felt like home for her and she responds with her pen, her camera and her heart. She writes non-fiction articles for newspapers and magazines. Catherine’s poetry has been published in many collections, anthologies and special publications. Twice she toured parts of central and southern Alberta, sharing her Peace Country poetry and photography with seniors, high school students, community groups and a women’s conference. Her poetry has also been recognized in numerous contests, including the People’s Poetry Fall Contest (1999) and Expressivo (2000) sponsored by Oliver Music and Edmonton Stroll of Poets.

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