October 3, 2017
I’m not going to use a lot of words for this tale. Hopefully, my images will provide the words that I don’t know how to write. I’ll just highlight those things that stuck with me—things that were different, new, or heart-felt.
Never mind my late exodus from Cochrane. My 4 pm departure was an hour later than I planned. This meant I would be driving in the dark for the last hour and a bit on my way to Leader, Saskatchewan. Not my favourite time to travel.
My bagged, sandwich supper that I ate at the almost-ghost-town of Dorothy under grey, rain-threatening skies. It was alright, but I was back on the road within fifteen minutes. The real blackness of the evening hit just before I crossed the Saskatchewan border. That point was punctuated by the change from smooth, well tended highways in Alberta to the well worn if not dilapidated Saskatchewan secondary highways. I remembered the trick for these roads—drive down the centre line until you see something coming towards you or something catching up with you. Then, slow down, pull over, and dodge the potholes on the shoulder-side until the interloper passes.
This was harvest time. Evening is often when equipment is moved from field to field, so a set of lights coming toward me signalled some unknown mass on the road. Often, a combine spreading half into my lane. The trouble was that I couldn’t see that until I was almost on it. I soon succumbed to my paranoia, pulled way over on the shoulder every time I approached lights on the road, stopped, and waited until the dark shadow passed. That last hour of travel in the dark seemed to take forever.
The next day was to be a sunrise moment of photography at the Great Sandhills. You know, the low angled sun skimming off the ripples in the sand, giving an artistic repetition of light and shade, hopefully with no footprints to interfere with nature. Iconic and done by hundreds of other photographers, I know, but I didn’t care, I wanted my own images. No sunrise, heavy cloud, some rain, and, surprise, surprise, nobody else was there. Yet, I did see some wonderful things at the Great Sandhills: a beautiful hawk moment, a flock of Sandhill Cranes, and a lone, curious antelope. So, I was rewarded after all.
The rest of the day I ambled through the prairies, stopping regularly just to listen to the silence and stretch my eyeballs. Always makes me feel good.
At Cabri, I gassed up and then coffeed at House of Heart Cafe, where the coffee was good and the freshly baked cookies outstanding.
What is most memorable was the trust offered to this stranger in town. The only gas available was at one of those card lock places set up to service truckers, farmers, and ranchers. It is self serve and you need a special card. Desperate, with only a needle-width of gas showing on my gauge, I hunted down a pleasant, young fellow at the place who came right out to help.
“Sure, you can get gas here.”
“How do I pay?”
“Oh, that’s easy. When I finish you just drive up the road to the Co-op and go in the end door. I’ll radio to them what you owe.”
Casual and confident. Confident that I would do as he said. Refreshing.
Several hours of driving later, I arrived at Lumsden and the Qu’Appelle Valley.
There is something spiritual for me with the Qu’Appelle valley. As soon as I dropped from the flat plains into the gold coloured valley I felt it. I’m sure the fall beauty of the place had something to do with it, but there was something more. Familiarity? Memories? Probably that and more. Whatever came over me, I felt good just being there.
The second night was at a friend’s place. She is a writer and she and her husband have a cottage on Last Mountain Lake. The views over the lake were stunning, both that evening and the next day.
We talked over our writing and I learned of two new books that I now have.
Looking out on the sunset that evening I was reminded of an advertisement I read about travel in Greece.
“The Sunset of Santorini, Cyclades, Greece: Santorini is one of the best places on earth as far as sunset viewing is concerned.”
Ha. As we watched the sunset over the lake I mentioned this bit of trivia I had read about and said that I didn’t think the people who wrote it got around much. I’ve travelled to many places in the world and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunset to match that on the prairies when the conditions are right—and they are, most evenings. My hosts agreed,
I’ve wanted to visit Manitou Beach for sometime and on this trip I did. However, even with a modern hotel that has mineral pools and spa, and ‘Danceland’ where you can dance on a floor suspended on horse hair, which makes dancing more comfortable, I’m not sure I’ll suggest booking-in to my wife.
I’ve also always wanted to take some time in Saskatoon to walk around the University of Saskatchewan campus. What beautiful campus grounds and buildings. Somehow, even the new buildings on campus seem integral with the old. Stone and brick is everywhere. Some of the buildings constructed of modern materials somehow were architected to fit in with the old. I was impressed.
I couldn’t help compare what I saw with the stark surroundings that I lived and studied in at the University of Alberta in the mid-sixties. At the UofS almost every building had eating and lounging facilities. Study rooms were spread throughout and everything seemed to me to be well architected. Mind you, the new buildings at the UofA are also well architected, so it’s not so much about location, but rather time passing, population growing and, along with that, a demand for an improved student ambiance compared to what we had in 1966.
There is something energetic about a university campus that rubs off on me whenever I tour them. It is the students, of course. Always hundreds of them, talking together, racing between classes, studying in their cubicles, exploding noisily out of classrooms, feeling the freedom of the interlude until the next hour of concentration is upon them. It somehow seems so incredibly healthy to me. Healthy to one’s mind, but I also know that relationships and memories are being built that will live with these young folk for the rest of their lives. If they’re anything like me, they won’t realize this until they’ve graduated and left the campus.
A place in Saskatoon that I want to mention is the McNally-Robinson Bookstore. It is much more than a bookstore these days and well worth making time for a prowl around the bookshelves. After book browsing, I had a meal at the ‘Prairie Ink’ restaurant in the store. Excellent. You must go if you’re in Saskatoon.
The day I travelled home, I left Saskatoon at 6 am. I didn’t feel like eating breakfast that early, so I planned to stop in Rosetown. Picking the restaurant was easy. As I entered the town, ahead I saw a small restaurant with about twelve pick up trucks parked around it. Ah ha, I thought. The local hangout. Inside was filled with the local farmers eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and chatting about what was going on at harvest. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop and I think I caught wind of a few rumours and tales going around the town as well. That was at 7:30, but by 8 they were all gone, back out to work on their spread. No sluggards in that group.
Between Rosetown and Kindersley, I encountered a scene that was my highlight of the day. I came across a slough surrounded by grain fields that were covered by what looked like a thousand snow geese. I stopped and, as I was making photographs of them, they exploded from the ground in one huge, white mass. The sound of wind whistling through their wings masked all other sounds of the morning. They showed their flight power as they climbed, formed one ‘V’ group after another and headed south. Their movement through all of this remained graceful. What a wonder to witness.
Another prairie trip over, albeit without the best of weather. Regardless, I arrived home content that I had spent my time well.