Listening to the Land

NWMP post Wood Mountain post

It would be presumptuous to say that we’ve learned how to listen to the land on this prairie pilgrimage. Some – Hugh for instance – already know the flora and fauna very well, and Rick from his Metis and First Nations background has a sense for how the ever-changing terrain contains messages and directions, and listens intently for them. Hayden has the stamina and openness of youth, and the local people gravitate naturally to his enthusiasm. Me? I’m not sure. I’m listening, but not yet sure what I’m listening for, exactly.

The barmaid/waitress/innkeeper at our first hotel stop last night is from Australia, near Brisbane. In talking with her we spoke about walkabouts, and it came up again this morning as Rick talked about his trip to central Australia some years ago and his contacts there. I guess in some ways this is a prairie walkabout. Or if not a walkabout, then perhaps what the Lakota elder who smudged us the first day called it in Lakota. I cannot remember the term, but he described us as taking a voyage as they once did, where a group of people simply pack up and leave the safety of the camp to go out and explore. He said it was a good thing to do, and smiled at us.

And so we walk, and listen. Yesterday, as the wind abated, we heard so many different bird calls – the eagle, the killdeer, the lark bunting, the meadowlark. The cattle were speaking to us at times, not always happily. And the wind, as it changed, and moved over the terrain, was always new.

A pilgrimage, among other things, is a journey of transformation. Yesterday as we started out Rick started humming some old classic rock tune. Then another came up. Then Hayden sang the first few lines of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”. I guess this is a bit of a prairie wild-side walk, but the transformations in our case are quite different from the classic song! They say there might be some rough weather today. Should be an interesting time of listening.

The Wind Through Empty Spaces

abandoned farm house

This morning I awoke to such a heavy dew on the tent that it took almost 45 minutes in the morning sun to clear the tent of moisture. But that was the last time in the day that too much moisture was a problem. We set out and about an hour into the walking realized what was different: for the first time in three days we were not walking into a stiff westerly breeze. The last two days, it’s been difficult even to hear one another over the constant, buffeting, hot wind. I borrowed some earplugs from a local SK author at our community event, just so I could keep my ears from ringing in the wind. So, of course, today there was almost no wind.

By the afternoon we were praying for even just a slight breeze to cool us off. The lark buntings and kildeers were prancing up and down ahead of us on the dirt road, and in the mud we could see tracks of coyote and deer. We stopped in an abandoned farmhouse, chasing the reluctant cattle away so we could find the only shade for miles, where I conducted a phone interview with a Saskatoon Talk Show, the John Gormley show. The wind had been active there too, bleaching boards and wearing away at the lathe and plaster walls. The four of us walkers peered through the windows, and tried to decipher the clues that might tell the history of who had lived there, what they liked, their thoughts and dreams, and why they left.

Tonight at our second community event someone asked me what animals we’ve seen. When I mentioned that we had watched a badger lumbering away from us two days ago, she clucked her tongue: “that means there’s going to be rain,” she said. “That would be too bad for your walk.” Then she smiled. “But good for the rest of us!”

Ten Days to the Trek

NWMP sign Chimney Coulee brighter

My North West Mounted Police Trail walk (AKA Sitting Bull Trail Walk, Lakota Trail pilgrimage, Metis Trail pilgrimage) begins very shortly, on July 17th! Our small group of pilgrims will be greeted at Wood Mountain (Lakota) First Nation with a smudging ceremony and a blessing to send us off. As well, there will be a Royal Canadian Mounted Police ceremony to send us off, as we begin our three week walk. If you would like to donate to help create the documentary of the walk, please see https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/walking-the-medicine-line#/story. We have already met our initial goal, but additional funds raised will go toward hiring a sound person and camera-person to make the documentary even better. Thank-you!

govt sign three