When I was seventeen, my Dad sold the Stringam Ranch in Milk River.
And bought another ranch in the shadow of the Porcupine Hills near Fort Macleod, Alberta.
New land to explore.
New worlds to discover.
A lot of riding to do.
Dad immediately got the animals organized.
The main herd was pushed into the southeast quarter.
Where the *gasp* trees were.
The yearling herd went straight east.
Easy access to the main ranch buildings.
They were my first assignment.
Every day, it was my duty to ride through, checking for abnormalities.
Animals in distress.
Animals in trouble.
Animals donning gang colours and getting ready to cause some trouble and distress.
It was a relaxing, wonderful way to spend every morning.
Our east pasture bordered on the neighbour’s west pasture.
Together, they formed a broad sweep of prairie, unbroken and untreed.
I was able to look over the gate in the far east fence and across the neighbour’s property - almost to the highway, seven miles distant.
Not far away, I could see the roof of a building. A large, abandoned building.
A barn, I thought.
It demanded . . . more exploration.
I knew the neighbor wouldn’t mind.
I opened the gate and, closing it carefully behind me, started out.
A short time later, I stopped my horse beside what turned out to be, not a barn, but a two-storey, formerly beautiful house.
Abandoned for some years, I judged by the windowless, shingleless, paintless, doorless condition.
I tethered my horse and went in through what had once been the front entrance.
I was immediately in a large open room.
Trash and debris were littered about, including a huge, old, wood-burning kitchen stove.
I moved nearer.
It had been a beautiful piece. Probably top of the line.
Nickel-plated and fancy.
Someone had used it for target practice.
Large holes had been blown through the doors and walls.
Shotgun, I believe.
I sighed and moved on.
In one of the bedrooms, the shelves were filled with . . . stuff.
I pulled out an old shoebox filled with letters written eighty years before, from a girl who had moved east, to her parents still on the family farm.
I stuffed the shoe box back on the shelf and continued exploring.
A set of stairs beckoned.
I climbed to the second story.
Which proved to be one large room.
The windows at either end were, like those on the first floor, gone.
A layer of bird droppings about six inches thick covered everything here.
Clothing and other personal belongings were discernible.
There were some boxes against one end.
I pulled them neared the window and scooped away the decades of bird manure.
The boxes were filled with old ‘Life’ magazines.
The kind you pay mega bucks for at the antique stores.
Some of them dated back to 1903.
For a moment, I pictured stuffing my saddlebags full and riding away with a small fortune.
If only I had saddlebags.
Then, the smell hit me.
I dug down through the pile and pulled out a magazine from near the bottom.
Then moved closer to the window and held it to my nose.
Did you know that decades of bird poop really smells?
Well, it does.
And, over the years, it had trickled down through the pile of magazines to those at the very bottom.
Visions of wealth and riches disappeared.
Who is going to buy a magazine soaked in bird manure?
I put the magazine back and returned to my horse.
For a moment, I looked up at the house.
It had been a beautiful building.
Someone had constructed it.
Then they had abandoned it.
I don’t know why.
But doesn’t it make your imagination soar?