Wild Sheep in the Mountains

Wild Sheep in the Mountains, Illustration by Diane Wood

Wild Sheep in the Mountains, Illustration by Diane Wood

We were doing mining exploration at Godlin Lake in the Mackenzie Mountains, and the geologist told Roy and myself to camp out for two nights in a high valley in order to collect certain rocks he needed to finish a geological map he was working on. “The Jet Ranger will take you to that valley,” the geologist said. The Jet Ranger was a helicopter that could skim over the mountain peaks like an enchanted deer.

“Will I need my parka?” Roy asked.

“Yes,” replied the geologist. “Even though tomorrow is July 1 , and we’re getting 24 hours of sunlight every day, the temperature can drop below freezing at night, and I’ve seen snow in these mountains in July.”

Roy was a thoughtful young man from Vancouver who had always lived in the city. When he arrived at our base camp at Godlin Lake, in the Northwest Territories, he gazed in amazement at the lake, the wide valley, and the surrounding mountains. “Nobody told me about this,” he said.

“Nobody told you about what?” I asked.

“About this beauty,” he replied.

The helicopter took us to the high valley in late afternoon. It was above the tree line, and we couldn’t see a single tree. A small stream divided the two sides of the valley, and each side was like a green meadow. With the sun shining, the valley seemed like a mountain paradise, but if a storm arrived we would be in trouble because the valley offered no protection from fierce winds or snow.

We cooked supper on a Coleman stove because there wasn’t any firewood, and then we sat in the sunny evening silence and told stories. Roy said that he had grown up in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and he liked the people in his community because they cared about each other. He said that this land in the north of Canada opened up a new dimension in his life, and he repeated a phrase that he had said before, “Nobody told me about this.”

I said that the beauty of the land had pointed me in the direction of justice. “How can people live in a cruel, selfish and violent way in the face of such beauty?” I wondered.

“They can’t see,” Roy said. “People like that are blind.”

I woke up at 5am in the morning to the sound of sheep baaing in the valley. At first I thought I was back on a farm we had when I was a child, but then I remembered that Roy and I were in the Mackenzie Mountains. “How can sheep be in this valley?” I asked myself. Quietly I got dressed in our tiny tent, and then I crawled out to greet the coming day.

The Dall sheep were easy to spot. They were travelling on the other side of the valley at a higher altitude than our tent. There must have been about fifteen of them. All ewes with their lambs. All mothers with their children. They moved majestically across the land, calling back and forth to each other. An Elder led them, in the early morning, with the sun shining on them and on the valley.

Roy was out of the tent by now. He heard the sheep. He saw them.

“Where are the rams?” I asked.

Roy looked with the binoculars. “They’re higher up,” he said. “I can see five or six of them.”

Then I saw the rams with the sun flashing on their horns. They were looking down at the ewes and the lambs. They stood so strong, so proud, on their own land.

We watched the sheep until they disappeared into the next valley. Then I heard Roy mutter to himself, “Nobody told me about this.”

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