Tired from nine days of following the movements of hunters in the basins and along the ridges straddling the park boundary in the Moosehorn Valley and adjacent Wolf Pass area, I hit the hay not long after dark. Sometime around midnight I awoke feeling fully refreshed. I had slept soundly. Moonlight was filtering through the windows, casting a soft light on the interior log walls of the old warden cabin. The window nearest the bed was partially open, with a light cool breeze wafting through. It was dead quiet. A silence one only experiences far from human activity, a peacefulness that city dwellers may never know. “This is my element,” I thought, “the only place I feel truly connected—in the wilderness.” It was the last night of my shift in the Moosehorn and the horses and I would be heading out to Devona on the banks of the Snake Indian River in the morning. I didn’t want to leave. I rolled over and closed my eyes.
I was wide awake again at 4:00 a.m. The moon had sunk behind the towering peaks, but a light still glowed through the windows. It was an eerie diffused light, a different spectrum, and it was pulsating. I looked out. Half the sky was lit up with incredibly vivid green arcs of light, dancing and flickering against the backdrop of mountains on each side of the valley—the aurora borealis at its best. I dressed, walked out into the meadow, and watched the show. The majestic mountain panorama encircled the valley and the galaxies extended endlessly above. I felt small, but not alone. I stood and gazed in awe and wonder: the vast expanse of the aurora surrounded by bright stars along its glowing flanks; the silhouettes of ancient peaks against the gigantic movie screen in the sky; a reflection of the iridescent green aurora in the sparkling clear waters of a cool mountain creek; and the musky autumn scent of mother Earth at my feet. Life couldn’t be better than this. I felt…this moment is my life.
I thought of a poem that had been carved into a wood plank by Park Warden Monrad Kjorlien at Adolphus warden cabin many years before. Inspired by the scenery near the headwaters of the Athabasca River, RCMP Officer Sydney R. Montague had written the poem in the early 1900s.
THIS MOMENT IS MY LIFE
Here on the dust of countless ages past,
I stand, this moment is my life.
All the past is but a memory,
therefore the future is only hope.
Amid the towering peaks so cold, serene and high,
Life is eternal.
The roaring rivers at my feet,
the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky,
I am a part of all this universe,
I am tomorrow’s dust.
Here on the dust of countless ages past, I stand,
This moment is my life.
As I stood spellbound by the brilliant display around me, I heard the familiar “ting” of a horse bell. Indeed, I was not alone. My companions were close by, perhaps a couple hundred metres upstream from the cabin. The sound of the bell told me that they were awake and had commenced their morning feeding. Enraptured by the lightshow, I didn’t feel like going back inside the cabin and I certainly wasn’t going back to bed. I wanted to make the best of my last day in the Moosehorn Valley. Picking up a halter, I went for my last jingle, the glow from the stars and aurora lighting the path enough so that I could find my way. I found Lucky and Harvey grazing in their favourite meadow. I sat near them for half an hour as they continued to feed. I drifted to thoughts of thankfulness for my cherished companions in the wilderness, for their countless hours carrying my weight and guiding me along ancient trails. Lucky and Harvey took a break from their feeding, sauntered over to where I sat, and stood over me. “Yes, buddies, it’s time,” I said. I slipped the halter over Lucky and led him back to the cabin, with Harvey following behind. They both nickered in anticipation of their treats and Lucky impatiently pawed the ground as I filled their canvas bags with oats from the 45-gallon bin. By the time they had finished their morning treat, the aurora was fading and I went inside.
Not wanting the bright hissing light of the gas lantern in the cabin to interfere with the now softening glow of the aurora outside, I lit a few candles and then placed some kindling in the wood stove. With the strike of a match, I soon felt the warmth of the fire. Before long I had pancakes on the griddle, my last ration of bacon sizzling in a pan, and hot tea in my mug. The horses were dozing soundly at the hitching rail, their stomachs satisfied. I ate my breakfast slowly and reflected on the last nine days. I didn’t care to hurry—we’d be out to the trailhead at Devona, and from there, back to the busy world soon enough.
I wanted to prolong this moment that was my life.