I can’t take credit for these pictures. Recent road trip photos captured by my husband –
I can’t take credit for these pictures. Recent road trip photos captured by my husband –
Tomorrow afternoon notes boards a plane for Saskatchewan. Battleford Saskatchewan to be precise, home to my mother and marginally older sister. Growing up we were “the sisters” – born 10 months apart in the same year, two people who couldn’t have been more different. Family is complicated, two sisters born the same year, thrust into one whether they liked it or not proved excruciating. Leaving home eradicated “the sisters”, forget drifting apart – we bolted in opposite directions. Decades passed, barely speaking to each other, years of judgement and mistrust with sporadic sprinklings of obligatory niceties.
Can’t say why I dialed her number, we hadn’t spoken in several years. All I knew was suddenly it mattered. Suggestion I was about to meet my best friend would have produced a “shut the f**k up”. We had nothing in common, let alone hope of setting assumptions aside long enough to hear each others voice – couldn’t have been more mistaken if I tried. Our lives changed that day, we heard each other for the first time and liked what we saw.
I fly away with giddy anticipation, tomorrow promises precious time with my curiously peculiar sister. We’ll dance, call bullshit and howl at the moon. She’ll indulge my affinity for the stars, and I hers for wine and sewing dance costumes. We’ll bemoan lost time and embrace whatever trouble our proximity evokes. We won’t squander our time together, although I must remember to apologize in advance to her infinitely patient husband. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, know I’m well and having the time of my life.
Today arrived with seasonal grumpiness – an unconscious, yet predictable mid winter moment when pining for Northern Lights took hold. They always find me – Auroras are like that. Caught in their spell – never letting go, knowing precisely what I need. I’ll let my family believe a trip to Saskatchewan is for them – Aurora knows better.
Fresh off the plane, barely a foot in my door, and trying to decompress enough to put my week on the prairies into words. It isn’t an easy task; I feel like someone who’s surfaced from a deep rabbit hole – a little dazed, still adjusting to the bright light of day. Don’t get me wrong – everything I’ve ever written about the prairies holds true. The prairies haven’t lost their magic, despite skies too cloudy for auroras and nary a blizzard to assault my rain forest sensibilities; Saskatchewan never disappoints.
My family thinks I’m completely out of my mind; from the moment I stepped out of the terminal in Saskatoon, a silly grin invaded my face. It was -17, snowing, with a 60 Km/hour wind wreaking all manner of havoc – wind chill measured at -27. “No” I replied, “I’m not cold, this is outstanding, I couldn’t be happier”. Every snow drift, grain elevator, freight train or dip in the road, worthy of a photo.
I’ve travelled many places yet never get over the gob smacking starkness of our great plains. A starkness possessing an inexplicable quality – perhaps simply a place where the seasons make sense, where frivolity has no place. Around every corner light skips between anything sturdy enough to brave the elements. Prairie sun predictable as winter’s road closing tantrums; glorious sunshine transforming vistas into landscapes that rival any I’ve witnessed.
On Monday notes will be on a plane, landing in the heart of the Canadian prairies. Our prairies; vast, hard working, practical – a place so foreign from my city life, I might as well be travelling to another planet. A planet full of wonders and beauty: a place to regroup, take stock and re-charge. Saskatchewan beckons for practical unpretentious people, exemplary work ethics, a sense of community and lets not forget – that endless sky.
Travel serves many purposes; sometimes we want to explore foreign lands, at times to full fill obligations or simply step away from our daily routines. More and more, travel involves a “destination” , cruise or “all inclusive” experience. All too often we over look travelling to those places in our own back yards, places that can provide the tonic our lives are missing.
For me, a trip to the Canadian prairies reminds me of what’s important; it gives perspective to my nation, and restores faith in our great country. Maybe I’ve been a city dweller far too long – maybe cities have become so bloated, so driven by money, greed and status that I’ve forgotten how it feels to be welcomed by a stranger, smiled at as I walk down the street or had lunch in a restaurant without bleached, silicone “Barbies” presenting my menu on an IPad.
Prairie people don’t blither on about “farm to table”, don’t survive on Quinoa and tofu, they don’t announce for all the world to be organic vegans or lactose intolerant, gluten sensitive environmentalists while handing their Escalade keys to a valet.They simply live; they live sensibly, without pretension or airs.
Saskatchewan isn’t “quaint”, uneducated or backwards in any way – Saskatchewan is real. A place supporting the arts at unprecedented levels, a place where people know who their neighbour is because people are there to help each other. The prairies remind me of how life should be; a sense of community, work ethic and unity.
Perhaps I’m clinging to some romantic illusion of the past, or maybe, just maybe prairie people have the secret to that empty feeling so many of us have. Ponder not the size of the place you live in, rather the size of your capacity to be humble, honest and hard working. All I can say for certain is I’m a better person after each and every visit to the bread basket of my great country.Strip away pretension or status and life appears to fall into place. Life finds rhythm when you smell the seasons while gazing at an endless sky. Life makes sense when community means a way of life rather than a centre to lift weights.
I wouldn’t be a particularly responsible space weather geek if I neglected to report on uppity sunspots. Sunspots AR 1730 and 1731 are getting cranky; currently a 40% chance of M-class and 5% chance of X-class flares in the next 24 hours. Ho hum you say? Most likely the case – but never fear, I’m on the job and will let you know if any spectacular eruptions take place.
I just heard from my sister in Saskatchewan; feeling green with envy as she’s sitting on her front steps watching the Northern Lights dance. Auroras are a magical gift – they find you, wrap their arms around you, and feed your soul. Argh – so jealous.
Solar eruption on the far-side of the sun – courtesy NASA
I learned something interesting about the Beaver of all things. Once the backbone of Canadian fur trading, this rather large rodent may adorn our nickel, yet is considered nothing more than a nuisance. Their fur of little value in a world of synthetic fabric draped political correctness, the Beaver inhabit a realm known as pest. In parts of Canada like Porcupine Plains, Saskatchewan they even have a bounty on their seemingly worthless hides.
Not so fast people. According to David Suzuki they could be the most important animal on our planet. It seems their relentless dam building serves a special purpose. By creating ponds, they trap water destined to evaporate from small streams. By building dams they make deep ponds out of trickles the summer sun would have turned to dry creek beds.
Dr Glynnis Hood studied the impact of beavers on water levels in a given landscape. Elk Island National Park near Edmonton, Alberta had seen every last beaver trapped by the late 1800’s. In the 1940’s seven beavers were introduced and park rangers kept meticulous records of their activity. Looking at park records, Hood noticed a dramatic increase in water levels once these beavers got busy.
A fish hatchery in Methow, Washington is using the beaver to restore pools of late season water to areas where salmon stocks are dwindling. In Montana cattle country, conservationists introduced beaver to what had become dry valleys by late summer. Limiting livestock access, and letting the beaver do their thing; remarkably these bone dry valleys became lush and green the following year.
Pondering the beaver I can’t help but think of the greatest man made disaster in North America. The “dust bowl” of the 1930’s was the result of poor farming practices; stripping indigenous grasses from the great plains removed nature’s perfect defense in times of drought. Protective layer gone, complete with five foot deep root systems; the top soil simply blew away.
It worries me to watch arrogance grow, believing we control our environment. Anything getting in the way of progress is eradicated with nary a thought. It makes me crazy to think this might come across as preachy, there just isn’t any other way to put it. All of us need to ponder the “balance of nature”. Today’s nuisance beaver might one day be our saving grace; in times of drought – find a beaver.