Within the land of the living skies, there lived a man whose life was defined by the wilderness and whose faith resided in the depths of the province’s forests. Born and raised in the Qu’Appelle Valley, he grew to be a woodsman, a true hunter, and a man of the land. This man was Lemuel Gray.
On one particularly cold November day, he woke to the delicate sound of the wind chimes swaying from the old elm tree in his backyard. He noticed a slight chill in the air and a quiet ache in his bones as he rose to boil water for his morning tea.
His fluffy companion jumped up to greet him in the kitchen; Lemy gently cradled her smiling face in his hands, thankful for her enthusiastic reception. He proceeded to the porch and slipped on his well-worn canvas pants, flannel shirt, and work boots.
The crisp air struck his face as he opened the front door and stepped outside to start his pickup truck. In its prime, the Ford was a source of great pride for him, but its rusting frame couldn’t help but give its age away. Lemy carefully placed his rifle on the backseat and headed out to the Qu’Appelle Valley.
When he arrived, he parked about ten metres from a small gorge at the top of a hill. He stepped out of the truck and admired the hoarfrost clinging to the bare-boned branches of the swaying poplar trees out yonder. He stood for another moment and watched the sunlight cascade onto the fresh snow across the rolling hills. This was his home.
As on many late autumn days before, Lemy started his walk across the land he grew up on, the same snow-covered slopes his father had trekked year after year.
Lemy brushed off a few snowflakes from the shoulder of his orange suit before starting through a wooded area. Chilled branches crunched beneath his heavy boots as he drew in full, intentional breaths of the clean air – the same air others had breathed in generations before him.
The sun snuck through the tree tops, attempting to fool the maple, poplar, and lonely bur oak all at once. Lemy watched as the sunlight danced its way to the forest floor. It seemed to create an illuminated trail as it frolicked between the spaces of the sparse undergrowth, which was covered quite methodically by a thin layer of snow.
Suddenly, he could hear rustling in the bush ahead. He paused just as a wary whitetail scampered twenty metres in front of him. She was small, and Lemy was not looking for a doe this year. Besides, he did not walk this land simply to hunt; this wilderness, this earth, was a part of who he was. He had learned the land well as a child. He shared a pulse with it and the animals who called it home.
The breeze began to pick up just as a coyote howled in the distance. Soon enough, gusts of wind enticed the snow to play and swirled around him. Visibility decreased, and Lemy knew it was his cue to return home.
As he pulled into his yard and shut off the engine, Lemy could hear the sweet chirping of the sparrows eating from the bird houses situated in the bush behind his cozy Wapella home.
After supper, he headed out to his woodworking trailer, located fifteen strides from his front porch and chocked full of handmade furniture, bird houses, lawn ornaments, children’s toys, fence posts, air plane models, and much more. His work was so meticulous and intricate that the nooks and crannies of every elegantly created coffee table seemed to tell a story, nearly leading a gazer into another world. The energy and care put into each piece was evident. The imperfect wood was made perfect by human hands – human hands that respected the lumber and its origin.
Lemy applied a glaze finish to the bench he was working on before heading back into the house. His little poodle, who was always happy to see him, hopped in circles, showing off her ability to chase her tail – round and round. She made Lemy laugh his memorable laugh – a laugh which tightly scrunched up his face, pursed his lips, and rumbled through his upper body.
Those who shared Lemy’s company felt how his laugh brought a palpable lightness into his home, a home filled neatly with artefacts he had collected throughout his lifetime. The mounts on his living room wall rivalled those that held world records, but he spoke of them quite casually. He possessed pride without arrogance, and the walls within his humble abode seemed to tell the stories of a life lived with integrity – a life lived with a deep connection to nature.
As Lemy rested his head on his pillow and pulled the covers tightly over him, he replayed the day’s events in his mind. He had spent the day the way he wished to spend most of his days; he felt fulfilled. In a way, the Qu’Appelle Valley was Lemy’s church, and the relationship he shared with the great outdoors was nothing short of spiritual.
Lemy passed away on a brisk December day in 2005. He was eighty-three. His memory forever lives on – ingrained in the wilderness – as a man of the Saskatchewan wild.