Winter Run on the Rat River

Rat River
Rat River

Every year, nestled among the wrinkles between bald winter fields, southern Manitoba’s meandering rivers emerge as a network of ice- and snow-covered trails.

In what has become an annual tradition, Gord and I took to the Rat River early on a Sunday morning in February as the full moon set in the west and sunrise lit the eastern sky.

The Rat River, named after muskrats, winds northwest through the towns of St. Malo and Otterburne, eventually spilling into the Red River near Ste. Agathe (at the location of the Mennonite Memorial Landing Site).

We dropped in at the bridge in Otterburne, ran northwest passing Crystal Springs, and returned by the same route.

As the crow flies
As the crow flies

Like so many of southern Manitoba’s rivers searching for a path downstream on the flat muddy land, the Rat River winds, weaves, and folds itself towards the inevitable sea in no hurry at all, covering a lot of ground without traveling very far, and running in blatant disregard of the surveyor’s square-mile grid covering much of the prairie.

Elevation profile

Rivers in any season are a gathering place for all kinds of wildlife. This is no less true in winter. On this particular occasion we saw several creatures, including two bald eagles perching near their large nest. We also smelt one we were happy not to encounter as we scrambled over a section of rocks (aka, prime skunk den location).

Wildlife tally
Fears on a river run

“For [the stream] knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

– A. A. Milne

The meandering river path and our run upon it, buoyed by easy-flowing conversation, worked on us quietly, even as a slow ache crept into our muscles and the sun’s warmth spread across the sky. Re-emerging at the riverbank by the bridge a few hours later, I felt satisfied and somewhat grounded, feeling maybe a bit of the river’s assuredness, in no hurry but knowing I would get there eventually.