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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!”

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Jellied Salads and Howling Coyotes

jellied salad McCord

I’m writing this from a tent behind the museum in McCord SK, listening to the howling of what sounds like a hundred coyotes. They’re making quite a joyous racket to the south and east of town. Our tents are pitched just behind the old railroad station which is the museum….I had a sponge bath in what must once have been the platform for departing passengers, since this is day three with no running water or electricity close for us. Wondered if someone on that platform could travel in time, what they would think of what they saw, and of this town.

McCord may not have a cafe or more than one main street, but it has palpable community spirit. They took us in and gave us a wonderful potluck supper, and then came out in numbers (50 people) for our presentation on the North West Mounted Police Patrol trail walk. Thelma Poirier, a poet from neighboring Glentworth, talked about how lovely it was to think of this as pilgrimage. Many others loved the slides Hugh showed from the 50s and 60s, people from this area, even one sitting in the audience.

After another day of walking (today only having to cross 4 barbed wire fences and not over 20 like yesterday), we actually got here early today. There was much less walking through waist high hay fields or over bog. Today much of our path was on a lovely dirt road and we had lunch in the lee of an old farmyard’s trees, while the grasshoppers blew around in biblical proportions.

People here, when I ask them on camera, are far too polite to say that they think we’re crazy to be walking. They even brought out the best: jellied salads, potato salad, sweet and sour meatballs, and Saskatoon pie for dessert! And sent us home with our lunch for tomorrow….

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From Here to There (and in between)

IMG_2304

It’s only a matter of a few hours, but oh what a difference those few hours can make!

sunset elevator 3 full tree

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May 23 a red-serge letter day

NWMP trek

May 23, 1873, the Dominion of Canada created the North West Mounted Police. Many were misfits. Quite a number of the first recruits were sent home, some went home when they saw the conditions. But they proved themselves, acting bravely, often honourably and occasionally even nobly, despite bureaucratic bungling and sometimes terrible direction from a far-away government.

The NWMP were poorly equipped, fitted out with red coats (Macdonald didn’t want the Americans to think they were a military unit, but rather a police force), and had to go through the States to get to their Canadian posts, because there was no railroad. Their first task was to trek to the North West Territories so recently acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and to take advantage of the temporary power vacuum in the west created by the American Civil War’s effects, to seal the border against the United States (a number of the American “wolfers” were themselves Civil War vets and perhaps sufferers from what we would now call PTSD). They were to gain the trust of the First Nations, which they for the most part did, a trust that their political masters later occasionally asked them to betray, a turnaround that deeply disappointed and forever marked some of the first recruits.

Canada would not be the country it is without the red coats. But we could do a lot of learning from their first years, still. Or again.

govt sign three

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Every Day a Bit More Real

Pine Cree Park 2014

While I plan conferences and teach pilgrimage classes here in Montreal, my colleague Hugh Henry has been doing the heavy lifting of contacting folks along our planned walking route in Saskatchewan. Some of the on-the-ground details remain to be determined. But the route is set, and those who would like to walk with us for a day, a few days, or longer, are encouraged to contact the SK Historical and Folklore Society, at http://shfs.ca/contact/   for more information and to register their names for the walk.

Today I met with two young film-makers who would like to be part of the project. Some of you may hear from them soon, as they are setting up a crowd-funding site.

In the meantime, here is the tentative itinerary:

NWMP Trail – Walk Schedule

July 17   arrive at Wood Mountain Post Prov. Historic Site  Accommodation: camp at Wood Mountain Regional Park (adjacent to Post – pool, showers, food service)  Activities: tour Wood Mountain Post; Rodeo and Ranch Museum; NWMP cemetery

July 18 trek ‘commissioning’ event in morning at Wood Mountain Post; walk through W. M. First Nation to Orthodox church south of Glentworth  distance: est 13 miles/21 km  Accommodation: tenting at church yard; hotel in Glentworth (food service)  Bike Hwy 18 – 19 mi./29 km to Glentworth

July 19 from church to McCord     distance: est. 12 mi /19 km Accommodation: tenting at campground next to McCord museum (store and service station in town)  Bike Hwy 18 – 8 mi./13 km to McCord

July 20 from McCord to Mankota   distance: est. 11 mi /17.5 km Accommodation: hotel in Mankota. or tenting in town; showersOther events: public presentation about history of NWMP Trail markers; reconsidering the history  Bike Hwy 18 – 11 mi. to Mankota

July 21 from Mankota to Walker farmyard     distance: est. 13 mi / 21 k Accommodation: tenting in Walker farmyard  Bike Hwy 18 – 41mi. to Val Marie

July 22 from Walker farm to farm at corner of Hwy 18, E of Val Marie. distance: est. 14 mi / 22.5 km Accommodation: tenting in farmyard    

 July 23 from farm to Val Marie. distance: est. 9 mi / 14 km  Accommodation: Val Marie hotel / convent / The Crossing, campground in town  

 July 24 rest day in Val Marie Activities – visit Grasslands N.P. interpretive centre; Prairie Wind and Silver Sage; etc. Program in evening – presentations at Prairie Wind & Silver Sage (Museum); campfire sing-along Note: `Sleep under the Stars` event at Grasslands National Park on July 25.

 July 25 from Val Marie to Range 15/16 road.       distance: est. 13 mi /21 km Accommodation: tenting in abandoned farmyard

 July 26 from Range 15/16 road to Jensen family ranch. distance: est. 13 mi /21 km Accommodation: tenting in Jensen Ranch yard

 July 27 from Jensen Ranch along Frenchman; detour to Bible Camp. distance: est. 8 mi / 13 km Accommodation: Riverview Bible Camp on Hwy #37, south of Frenchman (toilets, showers, campfire)

July 28 from Bible Camp to Gronhovd farm. distance: est. 13 mi / 21 k Accommodation: tenting in Gronhovd yard

July 29 Gronhovd farm to Wig farm (?) along Frenchman river. distance: est. 13 mi / 21 kmAccommodation: tenting at farmyard  

July 30 Wig farm (?) to Chimney Coulee. distance: est. 14 mi / 22.5 km Accommodation: tenting at Chimney Coulee  

 July 31 Chimney Coulee to Eastend. distance: est. 3.5 mi / 5 km Accommodation: Cypress Hotel, Riverview Motel, B&Bs, camp at Pine Cree Reg. Park

August 1 Rest day in Eastend SHFS-sponsored field trips and presentations (archaeology, geology, paleontology, local history, etc.). Communal supper (café or catered) Accommodations: hotel, motel, B&B, Park

Aug. 2  from Eastend to Ravenscrag corner, Hwy 13. distance: est. 13 mi /21 km  Accommodation: tenting in Arnal farmyard

Aug. 3  from Ravenscrag corner to farm near Robsart. distance: est. 11 mi /18 km  Accommodation: tenting in farmyard near Robsart

Aug. 4  from Robsart to Cypress Lake. distance: est. 15 mi / 24 km Accommodation: tenting at Cypress Lake (no facilities)

Aug. 5             morning at Lake; Cypress Lake to Brost Ranch distance: est. 6 mi / 9.5 km Accommodation: tenting at Clint Brost ranch.     NWMP patrol station (Cottonwood Coulee ?)

Aug. 6  Brost ranch to Parsonage Ranch. distance: est. 14 mi / 22.5 km Accommodation: tent at Parsonage Ranch

Aug. 7   Parsonage Ranch to Ft. Walsh distance: est. 5 mi / 8 km Event: welcoming celebration

 *Home*

 

Notes

  1. Walkers are responsible for providing all of their personal needs. A support vehicle will follow walkers to carry food, bedding and other supplies. Note the towns passed along the route and the possibility of booking motel or related accommodations. (On your own for this.)
  1. Suggested bike route at beginning of trek is on paved Hwy and parallels the NWMP Trail. There is the opportunity to join walkers during stops at Wood Mountain, McCord, Mankota or Val Marie. Daily travel distances and pace to be determined by individual bikers.
  1. There may be opportunities to trace the Trail on horseback, along dirt roads or through pastures. Details on dates and locations will be determined after landowners have been consulted, and may be affected by weather events.
  1. The daily walk schedule may be affected by weather, so distances and stops are approximate. Also, the number of walkers able to access cultivated fields may be restricted by landowners.

NWMPT map SHFS

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Dream-walking the Trail

NWMP trail map Eastend

This week I sat down and traced a trail across southern Saskatchewan. I had help: two photocopied RM (rural municipality) maps provided by Hugh Henry of the SK Historical and Folklore Society. For a few hours over a couple of glasses of good Spanish wine I guess-timated how far we could walk in a day, where we might stop, where there might be abandoned farmyards or churches with outhouses, where we could park an RV and when we might hit a small town where there would be showers. Then I sent the schedule off to Hugh, who with his better knowledge of the land made some important corrections, and suggested places where we might need horses to scout the trail ahead of us.

Wow. Just having the 20 day schedule in front of me makes this summer’s walk seem so much more real. Outside it was -19 in urban Verdun. But in my mind’s eye the prairie grass waved, the heat beat down on us, and we looked for miles and miles over rolling prairie toward Val Marie, or Mankota, or Eastend.

“Build it and they will come” are the famous words from Shoeless Joe, Kinsella’s novel, also about the plains, that became “Field of Dreams”. We are building it, step by step, in our imaginations. We will see when, and how, we actually walk this path of dreams.

NWMP Trail general