Category Archives: Ribbon of Highway

Scale

Nearing Regina, extending to the Manitoba border, big agro assaults you. The tableland has been entirely given over to vast operations where nary a human vestige can be found. Only transports ply the highway east of Regina. Three miles north of the Trans Canada heading towards the jewel of the Qu’appelle Valley, I looked around 360 degrees and could see not a house, not a tree, not a haystack, not a bail – round or square, not even a car: nada. Is this where Al Gore’s predictions have come true? Vast poisoned land with nary a bird?

To my huge relief, human scale returned, along with water, as hedges and marshes defined the prairie of southern Manitoba. Ahhh, some ducks and geese at last! Little towns, little farms, trucks, friendly people to chat to…A dinky toy scale world that I cherished, a world where community wrapped you in warmth at the corner gas station. I soaked my roots in the area where my great grandfather pulled oxen from a swamp full of mosquitos.

In the history of the open land, the women often went mad, alone on those unending stretches with no other farmhouse in sight. Scale affects our well being, as any architect knows…

Memory

Winnipeg, where I grew up, had a shock in store. My old house gone, property changed beyond recognition, the small community of immigrant farmers along our country road had become a desecration of “advancing times”. The only vestige of those seemingly salt of the earth lives was in my memory: chickens scratching around the pump, accordion music livening the tiny kitchen crowded with it’s wood stove, Eaton’s catalogue for t.p.in the outhouse. Seeing the change took me beyond mourning; it was truly ruined. Nothing familiar existed any more. Even the river had the exhausted look of a toxic run off.

BUT, In my memory, at least, it is still beautiful, still the way it was in those free days with the wind whipping our hair as we tore down the road on our bikes. The train still runs, I think, down to the US border. Sometimes, out west, the train tracks and the telephone poles are the only constant, but even the telephone poles have sunk half their length into the gulping earth…markers of time.

Thank God for memory – at least some of the time…

Deposits of Place

My friend and fellow healer, Shelley, believes that every place we live, leaves a special deposit in us. This wonderful idea stayed with me all across Canada, as I absorbed the deposits from this land I love.

The wild vastness of the Rockies had already been layered in me over two years: the pure scale and awe of rock, wilderness of fir cut by turquoise rushing rivers, a cleanness of air, a vigor. The give-no-quarter harshness of life lived in these mountains, where my son’s friends are guides, both invites and lurks in the shadows. Fate is very present.

Not long after my last glimpse of the pristine line of peaks, just before Medicine Hat, the sacredness of the grasses in the rolling eastern Saskatchewan hills gave me another breath of soul. So much of the land here seemed close to the way it was for millenia before the whites came. One can expand here. The purity of the land can still be felt, the air alive with the vibration of the sentient grasses. I gulped it in deep draughts…the endless sky, the elements unbridled.

Birds appeared in Manitoba, drawn by marshes and lakes. Here was the homestead of my great grandfather who broke the prairie sod, one of those who began to tame this flat land defined by rows of arctic willow.

The Shield: Kenora to the Sault. Rock and Wind and Fir arranged around lakes and little hills. Two bald eagles by the road. Wildness again, on a smaller scale. And then The Lake. Aptly named superior. Ice floes forming white, wacky chessboards on the flat of water before it reaches to infinity. How to take in such immense and extraordinary beauty? Like the sea but not. Humans reduced to ant size. How ever was this land opened up by men in canoes, men on foot? My regard for those voyageurs of old catapulted off the scale.

I tried to ignore the rest of Ontario. Although, Sudbury always has a horrific fascination with it’s stunted trees devoid of needles. My deposit valve shut down tight. Al Gore should take some photos. Still, the city is bustling and giving people work – a complex problem, without glib answers.

And Montreal? Those three hours are worth a whole blog on human confusion, rushing everywhere at once and nowhere. And this was 11 am on Sunday morning – (on purpose, but to no avail). C’est fou.

Once out of gloomy Maine, winding through the St. John River Valley, a sense of gentleness and calm gradually seeped into my bones. Its human scale and gentrified farms, long civilized, gave me the relief I’d come back for.