Clink on the link below for the article that will appear tomorrow (Aug 28 2015) in the Prairie Post. Thanks to Matthew Liebenberg for his questions and writing!
You can find here the radio broadcast of my interview with Radio-Canada, in French, as well as a photo essay by William Burr, also in French, about the trail and our pilgrimage.
Kathryn Scott, Madonna Hamel and Matthew Anderson try to remember the words and harmonies to Java Jive. We were camping overnight at Chimney Coulee, near Eastend SK, and half-way through our group’s 350 km trek along the North West Mounted Police Patrol trail. This is a moment from a summer 2015 pilgrimage organized by Hugh Henry and Matthew Anderson. The video was shot by James Page, photographer, from Val Marie SK. on the NWMP Patrol Trail pilgrimage July 30, 2015
Tonight Greg Gust and I sat in the darkness on the dock of their cottage, heads back, cool wind coming off the water, Scotch in our hands, and looked up at the stars. We saw two shooting stars and several satellites. I tried with my usual lack of success to identify constellations other than the Big Dipper. The sky was so alive that even the Milky Way made an appearance, stretching its belt from horizon to horizon, one tree-shadowed end of the lake to the other. On the NWMP trail pilgrimage, I remember several times standing breathless beside my tent, under the dome of such a night sky, amazed at how alive the heavens could be when I was far from the ambient light of a city that never stops. Even though, because of 24-hour artificial light, many of us never see such a bright night sky now, for most of history it’s been the reverse. We are among the first generations to be denied, or better, to deny ourselves, the most amazing cinema of all – the stars that have been humanity’s companions in the deep darkness from the beginning.
Likewise with movement. We tend to think of walking as an alternative activity – something we do only if we have time, something that we choose to do. For most of history walking was not a choice but a necessity. Our default is car travel, and so in the last hundred years only, we’ve come to think of distance in terms of hours (three and a half hours from Montreal) and of vectors (green line metro until Place des Arts, then bus 80).
In walking – feeling the real, physical distance in our feet, in actually seeing the night sky, and in so many other ways, we don’t even know what parts of the long and rich human heritage we’ve been missing. It’s been good to rediscover some of this. And there’s so much more. Even when there are only two shooting stars.
There were times, walking, where I forgot about our guides on the trail – the North West Mounted Police markers that Everett Baker put up in 1960 and 61. After all, that was over 50 years ago. Even eight foot concrete posts don’t always last that long, when neglected. We couldn’t always find them. Sometimes they’d been knocked down by cattle or vandalized. And sometimes, to avoid walking on crop, or because they haven’t been seen for decades, we just couldn’t find them. But Hugh, who is responsible for the posts on behalf of the SK History and Folklore Society, always had them in mind. In our three weeks of walking we found about 25 that were not on their maps or databases. Every time Hugh would kneel by the post and get the GPS coordinates for their survey. More than once he looked like an old-time pilgrim, kneeling at a roadside shrine. Which, in a sense, those posts are.
The magnificent post photos were taken by Branimir Gjetvaj, whose photography website is http://www.branimirphoto.ca. The photo of Hugh kneeling is mine.
airports have sometimes been called ‘non-places’, empty of local flavor and culture, distressingly similar, spots that only exist to be on the way somewhere else. It’s true that reality here seems far from the wind and grass. I miss the feel of grass working its way into my socks, the smell of sage. From where I sit I can count eleven screens, without turning my head.
But that ‘not interesting, only good for passing through’ description has also been leveled at the prairies. And the truth is, all spaces can become places if we pay attention and know their story. Here is a drawing I made the first day I arrived, of our route (and my roots). Imagination is also a transitional place. We imagined this long walk, and it came to be. Space became place, in the walking and the telling. Still, I miss the prairie.
My thanks to George Tsougrianis, who did a great job on this documentary, putting it together in two days! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLUdJZC72GU&feature=youtu.be&t=2m45s