Works Quirks

     It had been a long night. It was five hours into the morning and daylight was a couple of hours away when we stopped for fuel off
the highway in a small ranching town in the Cariboo region of BC's interior. This late in the deer season put us well into winter. We'd been out all night, covering a maze of roads through some of the best mule deer winter range the province had to offer, in heavy snow, on unplowed roads, trying to catch up with pit-lampers working the area.

    Our truck told the tale of the patrol with snow packed in the wheel wells, the box full of fresh powder, and tire chains hanging loosely off the headache rack. As my partner fueled the truck, I headed towards the only restaurant for a hundred kilometres in any direction. The place wouldn't be open for a while yet, but the lights were on, so I knew the cook would be in and the coffee pot would be full. We'd
been talking about breakfast for the last hour, anticipating bunkhouse size portions and bottomless cups of coffee.

    In the parking lot there were three trucks, all relics of times gone past and showing the signs of hard use. The green International
with a yellow roof was an old timer. The bubble gum machine red light on the roof was almost buried in the fresh snow. A single cab Ford half-ton that had been built about the time I graduated from high school was parked beside the International. It had a box full of traps in the back and a peeling gold and black oval “Fish & Game Branch” sticker on the door. The third wasn't a government issue. Stock racks in the back kept a load of hay bales from falling out. The doors and tailgate were all different colours and patches of rust had claimed most of the front fenders. The last to arrive, boot tracks were still clear on the path to the door of the restaurant from the driver's walk inside.

    The mix of cold and warm air caused a fog in the doorway as I entered the room and covered my glasses. I took them off and removed my uniform winter parka, hanging it on a peg next to others that hadn't been issued for years. The shoulder patches on one were the green and gold of a time long gone, and the patches on the other jacket were from the very earliest days of my career. Muskrat
fur hats topped the parkas. A weathered and stained felt Stetson Drifter hung on the next peg.

    I walked over to the counter and filled a coffee cup. Table service wouldn't start until the waitress came in. I carried the pot over and filled up the cups on the only occupied table. “You're getting old,” said the gruffest looking of the bunch. His years working alone as a predator control officer had made him contrary and independent. He'd once sat on his snowmobile having a smoke and laughing as an irate trapper's wife punctuated her displeasure with me for seizing some hides by using an axe to knock blocks of wood out of the woodpile that separated us. “You'd already outrun her once coming out of the cabin, so I knew you could stay ahead of her around the woodpile,” was his excuse for not coming to my rescue.

    “It did take a while to wear off that city edge you brought north with you,” said the cowboy. He was a game guide I'd crossed horns with soon after moving north. Posted to the city for the first few years of my career, I'd gotten used to dealing with problems quickly and efficiently and not bothering to get to know the people involved. “Still got the bottle in your truck?” he asked. On my first trip through his area, I'd given him a ticket for something that now I'd find pretty trivial. “Maybe next time you come, bring a bottle of whiskey. We'll solve a lot more problems with that than one of these,” he'd said as he folded the paper into his pocket. Eventually, I'd taken his advice and we'd come to an understanding one night at his lodge. I'd carried his advice and friendship with me for almost all the remainder of my career.

    “Tried to teach him that before I left,” said the eldest person at the table. He'd been my first boss when I started. He had always
approached any issue by looking at things from all sides. With years of experience behind him, he had often made me stop and
think about what I was going to do before I did it, rather than try to get myself out of trouble afterwards. Over time, I'd seen the wisdom
of his ways, but not before an adventure or two from failing to heed his teaching.

    “You've had quite a year,” the cowboy said. He was right. Heart by-pass surgery had benched me for several months. I'd given myself
a goal of returning to work fit enough to be cleared for field duty and had come back a couple of months earlier than anyone expected. “Where's the stripes?” my old boss asked. He was referring to the empty epaulettes on my shirt. My sergeant's stripes were on a shelf at the office. “Last while, my career path has been kinda like Snakes and Ladders. When I came back, I hit another snake and someone else was in my chair. Stripes didn't mean much after that,” I said. “Bet you handled that well,” the wolf trapper said, and a grin traced across his face for a split second. “Not really, but I got over being mad, grabbed a set of truck keys, and have been pretty much on the road since. Travelled some great country and getting back to being a game warden again.”

    “You can't have long to go 'til you're done, eh?” the boss said. “It's down to a few months now,” I replied. “You gonna miss it?” he
asked. I'd thought about that for a while now. For the best part of thirty years, my job had defined who I was and dictated how I lived
my life. It had been a great experience and full of opportunities that most people would never have. “A whole lotta life out there when
you're done,” said the trapper. I didn't answer. Instead I got up to get the coffee pot for a round of refills.

    As I grabbed the pot, the cook told me the grill was ready and he'd be out in a minute to see what we wanted. I heard the door open
and my partner stomped the snow from her boots as she walked in. I grabbed the pot and an extra mug and headed back to the table.
The parkas were gone and the peg that held the Stetson was empty. “What?” my partner asked. “You look like you're missing something.” I looked past her, out to empty coat hooks on the wall and beyond to the parking lot that held only our patrol truck.
“I'm not missing anything yet – but soon.” I said
Steve Wasylik.
Steve is a member of the
Society of British Columbia
Conservation Officers and
is a regular contributor to
WCGW Magazine

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