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Fencing in the Mountains

by Janaya Laqua

     For the past five years, my summers have been spent getting pulled behind a boat or relaxing on the beach at 40-Mile Lake in Southern Alberta. My last summer before college was supposed to look like this: droplets of sweat forming on my face as I suntan on the sandy water's edge, jumping in when the day’s eye heats my bare skin. But the need to earn money for college blocked my vision of an ideal summer and I found myself three hours away from the lake fencing in the mountains. 

     I live on a farm one hour away from any city and I am used to watching the sunset on the empty horizon with no vehicles or people in sight. The cypress hills that connect Alberta and Saskatchewan took me even farther away from civilization as I found work fencing deep in the Mountains. My job was to build a border fence separating the two provinces and to keep cattle in on both sides. I was given a hand-written map of the location I was supposed to work at on my first day.  My GPS was of no use with no service, failing to guide me any further as the mountains swallowed me up. My mother packed my lunch and told me to call if I got into any trouble on my way, she ignored the fact that I would have more success walking home than finding a cell signal to call. The written directions took me onto a gravel road right away. The further I went, the less traffic I saw until it was just me and the scenery of cows and trees. I had to double-check the directions when I came across a prairie trail. Surely my boss, Neil, would not make me take my little car off-roading, right? With no service to check if I was going the right way, I carried on, hoping to find the right place. My poor car bounced around and bottomed out on the uneven route. Nearing to the destination, I saw a figure off in the distance, I hoped it would be my boss waiting for me. I was relieved to be right as it was Neil sitting on a quad with fencing supplies. I parked my car—just put it in park as I was in the middle of a field surrounded by nature; there are no actual roads, let alone parking spots—and hopped on the quad with Neil to get a ride to the place I would start fencing. There was no longer an off-road trail, just us and fields of trees and cows for miles. We had to maneuver through the heavy vegetation while going up steep hills. This made it extremely difficult, and I dared not to look back on the hill we were climbing. 

    Neil dropped me off at a cliff with supplies to build a fence. The fading rumble of the quad driving off and disappearing into the trees would be the only noise of humanity I would hear until he came back to pick me up at the end of the day. The reminder that I was miles deep into the forest was deafening as the leaves whispered to each other in the wind. Neil had told me to focus on the task in front of me, rather than the sheer drop of the mountain I was working on. The first step in fencing is pounding posts into the ground. Usually, this is done quite quickly with a machine; but with the trees being too thick for the machine and the cliff being too steep for a quad, I was left with my hands. A big rock-like object with handles called a post driver made it manageable for me to manually pound the posts in the dirt with my arms and body weight. Along with the weight of the object, I also had to work with the struggle of not losing my footing and tumbling to the escarpment on the cliff. More often, I found myself staring down the cliff imagining the possibilities of “What if?” What if I take a step and the dirt from under me gives way and then... who knows? What if I fall to the bottom like a rock tumbling end over end rapidly? I stumble a foot or so and get back up to work like nothing happened? I go down as if I am on a slide with the soft dirt pushing me along the way and have fun? 

    The thought of all the possibilities made my heart race and sent a surge of energy rushing throughout my body, making it tense but at the same time, so relaxed and free. Adrenaline heightened my senses and made me more concentrated at the work in hand. I used the posts I stuck in the ground to help pull me back up the cliff to string wire back down. I held onto the wire and slid down the cliff, digging my feet into the dirt when I picked up too much speed. This was much more manageable than pounding posts as I did not have to stand tall, increasing the risk of falling. I tied the wire to the post at the bottom of the hill and filled my pockets up with staples. Struggling up the hill the last time,nailing up the wire to the posts, was the worst. The burning sensation firing up my arms and legs was the consequence of walking up and down a cliff many times before the day's work was done. However, this was a familiar feeling to my sunburns that I would get back at the lake.

    Looking back, the thought of my ideal summer relaxing on the beach feels so emotionless and bland. I was on repeat going through monotonous experiences and never connecting with my emotions. When facing the danger of uncertainty, it makes me completely focused in the moment and relieves the stressors of the busy outside world. Simultaneously, everything is running through my head at once. All the possibilities of what could happen and what could go wrong. Feeling pure excitement from the sensation of adrenaline rushing throughout the mind and body is refreshing. Adrenaline is something I never knew I needed until it swept me off my feet and I became addicted to the emotional and physical state it put me in. The unknown excites me. It is why I love my job and the danger that comes with it.

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