“There was something that I knew as we stopped by the bridge.”

Last Sunday, we drove from Edmonton to Drumheller with our Edmonton family — they were in a second rental car and their route paralleled ours going and returning so that when we got a speeding ticket on the way back, just south of Camrose, they were on a different highway and got their speeding ticket ten minutes later just north of Stettler (even though we’d texted them to tell them to slow down!). Anyway, we arrived at the little miner’s cabin we’d booked and then we decided to drive out to Wayne for lunch. (I sent a postcard from Wayne for those of you who read this blog on a regular basis.)

I love the bridges on Highway 10X. The ones between Rosedale and Wayne are painted an aqua that echoes the sky in certain lights and reminds me of robin eggs, duck eggs, the paint on fading farmhouses from my childhood. I keep thinking about those bridges, the geometry of their construction, the way they focus the way you look at the Rosebud River through them, the way you remember the walk you took with two of your grandchildren from the Last Chance Saloon, Henry confiding that mooses wear antlers (the way we might wear a favourite hat), and Kelly musing about the lights flashing from her sneakers. We were heading to the play area adjacent to the Wayne Community Campground (featuring a horseshoe pit, self-registration, and drinking water) and it seemed, in a moment when the earth tilted, that we were walking back in time, that we might not stop but simply enter the hills and never return.

our bridge

I wrote about the river and its bridges here . It’s become established in my consciousness in the way something does, without bidding, and you dream about it, you smell it (sharp scent of willow buds and muddy water). The bridges and the river I first encountered in 2016 have an added layer now, children talking quietly as we head towards the slides and swings and the opportunity to self-register. It’s cold. We all huddle a little more snugly into our jackets and stick together for warmth. You can’t hear the magpies everywhere in this picture but I’ll never forget them.

9. The Rosebud River, between Home Coulee and the Red Deer River

A Blackfoot word, Akokiniskway, meaning “the river of many roses”.

Stop, I kept saying, stop. It was cold, we’d slept one night in the honeymoon suite at the Rosedeer Hotel in Wayne after an indifferent dinner in the atmospheric Last Chance Saloon. Our room was on the second floor. The third floor was apparently haunted, rooms where Klu Klux Klan thugs hired by the mines had beaten men identified as Communists. Burned them with cigarettes. Tarred them and feathered them and sometimes went too far. Our sleep was uninterrupted by the past. We’d risen, shivered our way to the cold car, and we left before 7 a.m., everything around us silent and crisp with frost, though we’d hiked in shirtsleeves the afternoon before above the townsite to look into old mine shafts, to lean down to prairie crocus, sunlight warm on our arms. Stop,

stop. Because the river had something to tell me. I couldn’t quite hear. Something, something, about miners my grandfather might have known and hardship and what the fallen fenceposts had kept contained. Magpies squabbled in the willows. The wild roses were not in leaf, not yet, but the bushes grew on the banks, promising faint perfume and a profusion of pink blossoms by June.

There was something that I knew as we stopped by the bridge. Air, the light falling over the hoodoos on Highway 10x. Magpies, whose ancestors may have shadowed my grandfather on his way to work, my aunts and uncles on their way to school, their lunch in lard pails. My thumb on the rusting blue of the bridge rasped a few syllables I’d never heard before, a whisper, You could live here. This road could be your route home. Stop.

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