16 August 2012


Steve and I got to see the prairies on the weekend. Well, I did, anyway; Steve mostly saw the inside of my backpack and the bedside table in our hotel room. But that's okay, as he's a little agoraphobic. And in case you've never been on the prairies, let me tell you that they're a very bad place to be if you have a fear of open spaces.

I had never been on the prairies before - not really. Only on the westernmost part of it, in Alberta; and while I was impressed with them then, they're nothing to the immense, astonishing, enormous vastness that is Saskatchewan. The immense, astonishing, enormous, FLAT vastness. There is, as Connie Kaldor sings, "Sky With Nothing To Get In The Way". And that nothing that doesn't get in the way, it goes on for miles, and miles, and miles -for a whole quarter of a continent, in fact. Steve isn't the only one who felt a little agoraphobic out there.

Really, there is no reason why I should be so astonished at what the prairies are. I heard them talked about for most of my adult life, not least by the friend whose wedding was the reason for our quick weekend trip. But immensity like this, it has to be seen to be imagined. I had no idea that there is a landscape like this, so wide, so flat, so endless, with just a few clumps of trees, sheltering farmhouses from the wind, seemingly randomly dotted across the plains, far, far away from each other across the fields. And then occasionally, equally randomly, the houses cluster together into little towns, by the side of the arrow-straight road which could take you on, and on, across the vast flatness, until it dips over the horizon.

Our friend took us out to see his family's old farm, where his brother, his father and his grandfather tended the land for nearly a hundred years. It's been sold now, and his family's home, heartbreakingly, stands abandoned. But the land around it is still being farmed, still used to grow food. Right next to the house, there are some granaries (our friend nearly snapped our heads off when we called them "silos") which are in use by the people who farm the land now, and spilled on the ground in front of them there were some lentils, just sitting on the dirt like so much gravel. I could have scooped them up and cooked soup out of them right there (after a little help from Cinderella's doves with sorting out the grass and dirt from the lentils themselves). Of course I knew legumes grow on plants, but somehow I had never really pictured where they would come from - those vast acres of plants, translating into food just like that. There were the bronze and ochre fields, and here the lentils lying on the ground.

I have conceived an enormous respect for the source of our food, for the people who dwell on those vast open plains and work this tremendous, beautiful wide land. I have also come to a new appreciation for the mountains, the lakes and the trees that I see every day when I look out my window. Beauty comes in so many forms - some awe-inspiring, some intimate. Here, back at home, in the orchards down the street the peaches are ripening, and the pears and apples won't be far behind. But now, when I dip my measuring cup into the flour bucket to make the pie crust to go on the fruit, I can picture those wide open prairies where the wheat blows in the wind, and I can see the farms and little towns where the people live who plant, tend and harvest.

Life, the Universe, and the Immensity of the Prairies. It has to be seen to be imagined.


  1. Anonymous17/8/12 05:10

    My uncle grew up among trees and foothills, and when he moved to Kansas as an adult, he said he couldn't get over the flat bareness of it all. People literally gave directions by the single trees in the landscape, because they were so rare. I try to imagine it, but it's just about impossible to wrap my mind around. I have friends in Saskatoon, and I hope to visit them sometime and learn for myself what it's really like.

  2. I've lived my whole life on the prairies – childhood in southern and central Alberta, and summers visiting family in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Some of them still farm, but family farms are so hard to hold onto, these days. Anyway, I didn't see BC until my honeymoon, and I remain enchanted by the closeness of it. The mountains, trees and lakes are so near, and even the ocean seems a secret until you're away from the coast and out in its vastness.... Yes, beauty does come in many forms. How wonderful that you got to enjoy it :-)

  3. And BC even has its own astonishing vastness compared to, say, the Alps. You want closeness, try a Bavarian mountain village.
    I love how varied North America is. So many places to fall in love with...