So yesterday, at Cando SK there was a stiff breeze. I set up my tent, but didn’t peg it down, and went to help others. Judy Erickson turned around: ‘is that your tent?’ My tent was rolling away like a thistle, half a field away. I caught it finally just before it reached the paved road. This morning, which was cold, dewy, wet and still, Fred put his tent to dry in the ramp space of the community hall. ‘It’s my tent escape prevention mechanism’ he teased me.
At four km an hour, you notice different things. The little garter snake, length and width of a pencil, stopped on the gravel road but turning and trying to snap at your hiking stick when you check it out. The red-tailed hawk that circles above, complaining at your presence (or welcoming you to the land?). The golden fawn that bolts from the brush ahead and in three bounds, is back into the impenetrable bush. The badgers, the skunks, the coyotes, the yellow butterflies that jump up from a wet depression in the dirt road to flutter, a blessed cloud, around you as you walk. The chokecherries, much too sour for life in the city where there is chocolate and café au lait, but on this walk a welcome juicy mouthful for which you are immensely grateful. Maybe that is the word that sums it all up: grateful. For life at four km/hr.
This is what Sharon Pasula’s tee-shirt from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission says. It’s the reason we’re walking. Sharon drove from Edmonton to join us in Herschel. She led us in a smudge the day after Rick (who had led us regularly) returned home to Regina. It matters to me. It matters to us, that the trail we walk has been used for hunting, for freighting, and for settling. It matters to us that a trail that now sits on private land be remembered as of public interest. It matters to us that we remember the three groups that used the trail – First Nations, Métis, and Newcomers (including the military) – and recognize and remember the positive contributions and also the failures and mistakes made along this trail. Most of all, the land matters to us. It doesn’t belong to us. We belong to it. As with the Métis flag Sharon carries, it matters.
Took this short video today, while walking into a very strong wind from the south-east. It may be bringing rain. There were seven or eight white-tailed deer in a nearby field watching us pass. Shortly after we found tracks, in the dirt road, of a cat, probably a bobcat.
After 150 km or so, I’m surprised by my hands. They’ve been chipped and cut and scraped and burnt, pricked by mosquitoes and cactus and sharp straw and torn by caraganas and baked in the constant sun. They seem like different hands from the ones I started out with, at the beginning of the Battleford Trail. If a pilgrimage is a journey of transformation, I hope that what’s happening to my hands is also happening to my mind and heart. Today and yesterday we stayed at the Herschel Retreat House, where from the Ancient Echoes Archaeological Centre we walked out (on our first and only day off) to see petroglyphs that have been radio-carbon dated to the first century. The same years as Jesus walked, some ancestor of the Blackfoot carved these symbols into the dolomite rock.
and this was a potholder at the Herschel Retreat Centre (Herschel SK, population 31). We used the potholder for a day before actually realizing the design, which echoes the petroglyph:
My intentions were to blog every day about this walk, but I hadn’t taken into account the amount of time it takes to set up camp and cook. I’d thought that it might be hard to find a cell signal, but that hasn’t been much of a problem. And the solar panel that’s attached to my pack has been doing a pretty good job of keeping my phone charged. But aside from a few cryptic Facebook posts, I haven’t had much of a chance to share stories of this walk–until now. We have a rest day today, at theHerschel Retreat House, and assuming the cell signal here holds out, I’m going to pass along a few stories and photographs from the first half of the Swift Current to Battleford Trail walk.
Yes, the first half. We’ve covered some 150 kilometres–and one of the interesting things about this walk…
Bit by bit, as you walk slowly across the land, senses you don’t use normally come to life. For me the most surprising is smell. You can smell canola fields from quite far away, if you’re downwind. The smell of fresh hay is a smell of my youth…it makes me happy. Sage is everywhere – that beautiful prairie perfume that fills your nostrils with such a welcome. I have some sprigs of it drying in my hat.
Buffalo berries (above) don’t smell that much, but the green patch they’re in did. The green, or dry, smell of prairie grasses, as you walk through in the early evening especially, is a treat. Even the smell of cow manure, or bull manure (two days ago they fetched a young bull out of our camping yard just hours before we got there apparently, is a dark spice – just don’t step in it! I’ve learned, in the smudges, to appreciate the good smell of moist, clean and unchemicaled tobacco…so different from the cigarette addictions I grew up witnessing. Caragana bushes smell like shade. Alkali water stinks as you walk by, tickling your nose with the falseness of water that you can’t drink. And here and there, the best: the smell of green things, of dark earth and poplar shadow under an unblinking sun.