Bruiny’s Infinite Loyalty
In the Kulish district, from spring till fall, my folks, (as well as all the other farmers around us) always pastured the cattle in the nearby wide open spaces of the Duck Mountain Forest Reserve. Nobody had private pastures in that area. The cattle were simply let out onto the road and they made their own way into the boundless bush where they grazed freely. They never roamed far out of range. We always found them somewhere within about a four to five mile radius of home. Every evening after school, it was the chore for one of the children to bring the cattle home for the evening milking. “Bruiny” our stately gold and white Lassie-type collie, was always an important aide on this errand. When Betty was home, this task was hers.
One time, she had plans to go somewhere in the evening so she was in a hurry. She decided to ride Jessie, the mare, to the bush to get the cattle. She didn’t ride often and we had no saddle so she rode bareback. Perhaps an hour or two later, she arrived home, breathless from running, no cattle and no Jessie, just old faithful Bruiny at her side. Mom finally got the story out of her. She had come upon a bear, got scared, jumped off Jessie and run for home, leaving Jessie there in the bush. Jessie eventually came walking home by herself. The cattle missed their milking that evening because they didn’t get home till the next day. Betty became the brunt of many community jokes for years after that incident.
Anyway, after that she never took the horse for cows again, but asked me to accompany her instead. I was probably eight at the time. What help she expected from me if we ever encountered a bear, I could never even imagine, unless she planned to use me as a decoy while she ran for cover. I would probably have just frozen in my tracks, too scared to run anyway. Still I obviously gave her a sense of security. At any rate, we never did meet a bear and those jaunts “into the tember” proved invaluable training for me, because when Betty left home for good, the responsibility of fetching the cattle home fell to me. I was eleven years old by then.
Every farmer’s herd had a dominant cow as a leader of the herd. This cow carried a “cowbell” permanently hung on a leather strap around her neck. Once in the bush, you stopped to listen and invariably the sound of that bell would tell you where your cattle were. Everyone knew the sound of all the bells so you knew if the bell you heard belonged to this neighbor’s or that neighbor’s herd. If you didn’t hear your bell you just kept walking or changed direction until you heard your bell and located your herd.
The area where the cattle roamed was a vast reserve of bush land. There were only two trails, one curved its way westward and the other straighter trail led north. These were old roads now seldom used except for Seneca root expeditions by natives, occasional hunters in the fall, local farmers for mushroom or berry picking sojourns or for bringing home firewood for winter. Otherwise there were only a couple of indistinct paths made by cattle who followed their leader.
Off the western trail was a place in that reserve that I particularly feared. It was a swamp area about a mile and a half into the bush just south of the trail, about two miles from home. I had been there with Betty once. It was all muskeg and spongy moss that sank under our feet.
If I heard our bell in that swamp, I would get Bruiny to get them out of there. Standing safely on the trail above the swamp, I would cup my hands around my mouth and yell at the top of my lungs: “Do domoo” (go home) to the cattle and “Bruiny sic’um.” Bruiny would take off into that swamp barking all the way and in no time, the cattle would be out of there and on the trail. I would then simply follow them home. Why I was so afraid of that swamp, I have no idea, but thank God for Bruiny, who understood my orders and always herded those cattle out of there on his own. Very rarely did I come home from that “tember” alone because I could not find the cattle. As long as the wind was quiet, the bell could be heard for miles.
I never lost my sense of direction either and that seems a miracle to me now because, put me in the bush these days and I can be lost within a single acre, let alone miles of boundless bush. All the neighbors used to go bring cattle home the same way and each of us always went alone. Primitive instinct, I guess. You do what you have to do. That training with Betty paid off. I never did encounter a bear in that bush either, although I often came across their dung piles both in the bush and even along the road to school, especially in the fall season. I saw my first live bear at the Winnipeg Zoo when I went to summer school for teacher training.
Bruiny was a faithful and loyal aide on all our cattle hunting missions and he probably would not have let me get lost even if I had tried. He never left my side in the bush unless I sent him off to herd the cattle. After he did that, he always promptly came back to my side.When we moved to town, Dad tried to take him with us but he refused to ride on the wagon so we kept calling him and he followed us all the way to town (ten miles away). Maybe he thought we had a job for him there. The next morning he just went back to the farm. We got him to town twice more after that but he always returned to the farm. Dad gave up then because Bruiny just would not stay in town. I guess he was waiting for us to come back. The neighbor told us he would sit on the doorstep of the house there and howl all night. The neighbors took to feeding him there because he would not leave the yard no matter how they tried to coax him away. The second winter after we moved, Bruiny died (or froze to death) on the yard that had been his home for eleven years. I felt sure that he had simply died of a broken heart.