Ten years ago this summer I made a dear friend. We were hired as summer students, to hike around some of the most beautiful parts of southwest Saskatchewan and identify plants, measure shrubs, and assess habitat for a particular species at risk (SAR). This gal and I spent four months working and living together, and also depending on one another for field safety. It was fortuitous that we became friends, but I think we balanced each other out well. She taught me everything I didn’t even know I didn’t know about native prairie plants, and I brought a sensitivity towards landowner rights to our dynamic (deranged?) duo. At the beginning of summer, we were handed topography maps, a GPS unit, and the keys to one dilapidated quad to share between the two of us with instructions not to ride double (wink, wink).
Some landowners allowed us to access sites with our unreliable quad, while others restricted us to foot traffic only, which we respected. Some days were literally a walk in the Park, and we would lace up our boots and hike upwards of 25 km. We encountered rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, greater shorthorned lizards, numerous bovines, the occasional tourist, an eastern yellow-bellied racer, and many other birds, mammals and SAR, small and large. We came across the humble remains of many abandoned homesteads and tipi rings, we befriended landowners, we waded across the Frenchman, we planted a geranium in a mysterious toilet present on our deck, and we stayed out of the flat when it rained 1mm or more. We had a blast.
One day, we were heading to a location that we were allowed to access by quad, provided we kept our route short and sweet. We parked our truck at a central spot, unloaded the quad and drove down the pasture trail towards our site which was about 8 kilometres away. Just before we arrived, we encountered a low spot that was semi-full of water. We paused briefly before confidently proceeding through this watery depression, only to find that our quad, when weighted down with field supplies and summer students, didn’t have the stamina to make it through to the other side. It glugged, sputtered, and stopped. We pushed and pulled, swore and kicked, but it was no use, that quad would not budge. Resigned, we set off on the brisk walk back to the truck, accepting the fact that we weren’t going to get too many assessments completed on that beautiful summer afternoon.
Hot, dusty, and somewhat disappointed with our day, we arrived back to the truck in about two hours. I hopped in the driver’s seat and declared to my friend, ‘I’ll have the keys.’ ‘You already have them,’ was her response. We looked at each other in horror. Neither of us had the keys. They were clipped to the quad keys. Which were still in the ignition of the quad. That was stuck in an ephemeral riparian area. Eight kilometres away. Our fatigue and frustration made the lines between laughter and tears rather blurry, and by this point in our day’s adventures, we found the situation a bit hysterical. The facts that our keyless truck was still parked several kilometres away from the nearest landline and that cell service was negligible didn’t help our state of mind.
While we hatched a plan for our next course of action, we heard a distant buzzing that gradually got louder and louder. Before long, we had made a rare sighting of a cowboy riding a quad, one that seemed to operate better, or at least faster, than ours. It turned out this fellow was loaded with posts to fix some fence and was headed right towards us. He cheerfully offered us a ride back to our collection of keys sunk out on the prairie, and towed out our quad to boot.
We didn’t have too much to show for that day’s work other than some life experience and a sincere appreciation for helpful cowboys who show up in the right place at the right time. We were tired when we arrived back to town, but we laced up our boots for one last walk: down the street for a welldeserved brew.