He reminded me that it was time. When was I going to visit?
We had exchanged emails or phone calls a couple times a year since we first met in 2010. March 28 2023 was his 80th birthday. I called to wish him a Happy Birthday as was my habit. After a brief but cordial discussion, he simply said “Kent I am 80 years old and you have never been to my home. I will leave it at that”.
HE is Terry Rock. HE is my brother. I discovered this in my mid 50s, after a revelation from my/our mother. I described the moment I found out in an earlier blog.
I acknowledge I was delinquent. Life was busy with work, with any number of things. But he was right. I had not made the effort, despite that fact that Terry had been to Ontario several times since we first met.
It was time.
After some consultation with Terry to align dates, I booked a flight to Saskatchewan – Saskatoon to be specific. He lives near Prince George, about 2 hours from the airport. Serendipitously, my arrival date would be June 20th – both Mom’s birthday and the date of her passing.
How is that for coincidence?
I had never been to Saskatchewan, let alone Prince Albert and was fascinated as we flew over the plains, to see the endless straight lines marking roads – and oh my goodness – the lakes – so many lakes. When I was on the ground, it seemed roads went forever, with no bends anywhere in sight. All mesmerizing to a new visitor to this beautiful province.
Terry and his lovely wife Mary Lee, live in a beautiful log home on the edge of a river. It is a stunning view. His daughter Kim and granddaughter Ellie live with Terry and Mary Lee while Kim’s husband Nathan works away from home – often in the oil fields to the north.
Untill recently, they owned 4 quarters of land – 160 acres per quarter – in rural Prince George. A year or so ago, they sold one quarter to a neighbour.
Up until that point, Terry had raised roughly 120 bison on his farm. The animals were becoming too much to handle, so he sold his herd to a bigger operator, having more than 1000 head. If my memory serves correctly, this operator trucks his bison to Colorado to be processed. If you have not tried bison, it is delicious – similar to beef, but better, in my opinion.
Proud of his foray into raising bison and the experiences it afforded him – not withstanding losing part of an ear to an over exuberant animal – he wanted to show me the herd, up close and personal. While I expected this to be over a fence, he had other ideas.
Terry made a phone call to a nearby operator and arranged for us to drive to the pasture so I could experience what it was like to be near an animal that size. We subsequently drove to a nearby farm. Arriving at a pasture, he asked me to get out of the vehicle and unlock the gate – “oh and be sure to lock it behind you. We don’t want to be responsible for any animals escaping”!
After driving through a large pasture, we soon arrived at another gate and then another – all the while opening and closing behind us. How far away are these animals and how big is this farm?????
Eventually we came to a hill where we could see the herd in the distance – and proceeded to yet another pasture – once again opening and closing the gate behind us.
“Bison are very curious animals”, Terry proclaimed. “I will just park the truck up here on this knoll and they will find us”.
Sure enough, a herd of about 120 animals began to move as one to ward the truck.
Now, I am pretty confident in Terry as a rancher and his knowledge of raising bison. So as the bison continued to meander closer, I was not concerned. First a dozen or so, then another 20, followed by another 50 – well you get the picture. We were soon surrounded by about 120 bison – calves, cows and several bulls.
As nature often dicates, the bulls (about 5 of them) began to assert their dominance, and soon had the truck surrounded. Terry was not showing any signs of concern, so I was confident we were not in any danger.
THEN – they started to rub up against the truck. 1100 pounds of horny and curious bull- or is it curious and horny? – rocking the truck back and forth as they rubbed against the front grill and then the side mirror – sometimes simultaneously.
Terry, in his calm cool and collected manner says “I have never had this happen before. If Mary Lee was here with me she would be terrified.”
In my infinite wisdom, and still trying to take my cue from his calm demeanor, I wondered aloud “what would happen if he got his horn stuck inside the window and panicked?”
“Oh he would flip the truck over in no time” – SHIT!
“Maybe I should roll up my window. I will start the truck and see if they will move away”.
YA THINK???? Geezus Terry! Cue the puff of gas that just escaped my shorts!
Terry did start the truck and the animals slowly made a path for us to make our exit. What an amazing experience. To be able to literally reach out and touch one of these majestic animals was a thrill I won’t soon forget.
Prior to raising bison, Terry was a biologist with the (equivalent of) Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. Having a Masters in Biology, his career involved studying moose, deer, bear, elk, caribou among others – often involving tagging these animals via helicopter or airplane. There doesn’t seem to be a plant that he can’t name. He is a pretty interesting guy.
Terry is in a word – methodical. He walks slowly, talks slowly, but always with a purpose, measuring his words carefully, while seemingly taking in every plant, insect and animal around him. Always circumspect, he has opinions on the world and the changes that he has seen throughout his 80 years. DO NOT get him talking about politics, or Justin Trudeau in particular. In fact most people I encountered in the area are staunch conservative. Politics, particularly coming from an “easterner” is a topic to avoid at all costs!
Daughter Kim is a psychologist and has a burgeoning business in the Prince Albert area. Additionally she is a gardener extraordinaire – growing about a half acre of beans, corn, radishes, lettuce, berries – you name it. The garden is about a half mile from the house and I discovered that it is not uncommon to make that walk at least twice a day. They kept me on my toes – and in shape.
Granddaughter Ellie is both adorable and smart as a whip and like her grandfather can name almost any plant you challenge her with along the side of the road. She is going into grade 2, but seems much more mature. She will be a heartbreaker as she gets older. She is a gem.
Mary Lee could not have been more accommodating. So kind and generous with her hospitality. Vertically challenged, the family teases her, calling her “Captain Short Legs” as she scurries to keep up. Good things come in small packages though as she is clearly in charge and runs the ship and keeps everyone organized.
Terry’s eldest daughter Jody and husband Colin live nearby (in Saskatchewan that means within 50 miles).
Colin and Jody have a lovely home and 2 adult children – a son and daughter. Jody is an accomplished dog groomer, while husband Colin works with SaskPower. While Jody is quiet and reserved, Colin wears an easy smile and a brandishes a quick wit. They are a lovely couple.
I did not have an opportunity to meet Tyler, Terry’s son. Tyler is a professor at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology). He and his wife Julia live in Calgary and are renowned in the glass blowing industry, having had pieces commissioned by the Emperor of Japan and the Canadian General Governor’s office in Ottawa. In addition they have a huge piece displayed in downtown Edmonton, that had to be put in place with the use of a crane. They are clearly both very talented. A small example of their artistry below:
Terry and Mary Lee were the perfect hosts. I learned a lot about Saskatchewan, and most importantly filled in some gaps in our shared history.
Life can throw some curves at you.
I’m glad that I met my extended family.