Features & Stories


Photo of tractor crossing courtesy of Mona Saemerow

Story and all other photos by Trudy Frisk

Don't hit me!

We’re hearing a lot these days about the split between urban and rural Canadians. Pollsters ponder us, politicians compete for our votes, professors published learned essays on our differences.

But, none of these studies considers a truly fundamental division: traffic. More and more urbanites flee the cities for the supposed quiet and comfort of rural life bringing with them their attitudes towards driving. To their shock, the city style of motorized propulsion doesn’t endear them to their new neighbours.

Accustomed to bullying their way through intersections, they are astounded to find that, in the country, a herd of cattle, their out-riders and a couple of cow dogs DO own the road. Driving stubbornly along stampeding the cattle quickly teaches them not to mess with riders who can lasso a hood ornament off any SUV.

No Honking Please

Traffic signs are no help. They knew the signs in the city; the triangle marking the pothole, the flashing pedestrian light which serves an indicator to step on the gas and run down someone’s granny. But, along country roads are signs they’ve never seen before.

‘Horse and rider’ for example. What does it mean? When they greet a roadside rider with a loud honk and a jovial wave, former city dwellers are puzzled and hurt by the rider’s reaction of profuse bad language and shaken fists. “The horse liked it, didn’t he? Did you see the way he reared up and pranced around?”

The profile of a man on a strange machine decorating the roadside shrubbery is equally confusing. They don’t see machines like that on Marine Drive. What is it? Is it big? What does it do? Most important, where is it? Is it apt to come roaring out of the bushes at them? If so, do they flee or hold their ground? Should they speed past and try to force it off the road? No answers, just a cryptic sign.

Lurking in the Bushes

Animal signs, and we’re not talking tracks here, are even more worrisome. ‘Large, fearsome animal with antlers Xing’? Whatever it is, does it ski? Seems improbable. Discovering that it means ‘moose crossing’ adds to the bewilderment. “So, it’s crossing; why is that my problem?” The first time the transplanted urbanite hears stories of drivers killed and their vehicles demolished by collisions with moose, he scoffs. “Just exaggerations to scare city folk!” When he realizes the stories are true, that merely hitting this colossal animal can cause injury, perhaps death, and certainly damage, he’s terrified. Why didn’t someone warn him about the wildlife? His real estate agent, maybe? His driving, formerly on a par with the winner in the last lap at the Indy 500 becomes cautious. He crawls down the road, ready to avert carnage caused by any renegade ruminant. Neighbours chortle as he’s passed by small boys on their bikes and dogs out for a stroll.

Red-eyed Elk

More frightening yet are signs along western highways; large, high, signs, featuring creatures with an even more impressive rack of antlers than the dreaded moose. And eyes, red eyes that glow in the dark. Nightmare visions out of an ancient First Nations story. Who knows what they might do? Often there are bullet holes in the signs, likely the locals trying to kill the animals by proxy. When one of these looms up in the night, the thought crosses the city guy’s mind that this country living might have been over-praised. Maybe Toronto wasn’t so bad.

Of course, there are other signs which mystify new residents. “No Trespassing”, “No Hunting”, and “No Vehicles”, all translate in the city person’s mind to “WELCOME!”

“After all, there was no house visible, so the land doesn’t belong to anybody; that old grain was just standing in the field; and those cows will come back, won’t they?”

This behaviour will continue till the day the newcomers open their door to find a delegation of mounted neighbours prepared to instruct them in the fine points of getting along with livestock. Or they read a notice in the local store about a committee forming to build a fence around the nearest city and strictly limit exits from it to the countryside. That’s serious. Who knows more about building kilometers of fence over rugged landscape than ranchers and farmers?

Can nothing be done? How about a Country Driving Course: a book of rules to be memorized, followed by a road test supervised by a local resident? Only when the newcomer demonstrates knowledge of livestock, crops, wildlife and the word “No”, is he or she issued a rural driver’s licence.

Bridging the two solitudes. We owe it to Canada.

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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