In this part of Saskatchewan, which everyone knows is flat, the ground rolls a bit, in a way that’s gentle on the eye. But the license plates have it right, the real scenery’s up there over your head. Herewith some pretty prairie pictures, a few words on grasshoppers, and an argument that it really is like Manhattan, if you look close enough.
What happened was, a loved one bought a farm here, in a good area but run-down, and they’re working on fixing it up and making it go. Along with the farm came the sky over it.
Where? · The nearest city you might have heard of is Regina. The nearest Wal-Mart is in Yorkton. The nearest bank is in Esterhazy, a town made prosperous by its potash mine to the extent that it has a working Main Street (pictured below) despite being less than an hour from a Wal-Mart. The farm’s ostensible address is Stockholm, Saskatchewan, which it’s tough to find on a map.
I’m comfortable with the mountain-bounded often-grey skies of Vancouver, comfortable with its patchy rocky ground whose green is always there but often just a thin skin of moss, with its sedate climate, with the sea always there, it’s where I’m from. But Saskatchewan is very beautiful.
Beautiful, But... · There’s nothing soft-edged about it. Granted that the hayfields’ brush-strokes glow verdant against many shades of sky.
Granted that the plants themselves are in massed detail lovely to look at.
Granted also that living sky, there’s nothing like it anywhere, our skies at home are poor small things beside.
Even the cloudy skies are done better here.
And they routinely expect fabulous sunsets, even without the sea to quench the sun.
Still, it’s tough country. This year in this district the rains have been OK, but then it’s a bad grasshopper year, round about 25,000 hoppers per acre in these parts which isn’t enough to call in the airborne WMDs, but is pretty intimidating when you walk along and they boil away from you in waves, nothing appealing about them to my eye, and then they get caught in your clothes.
And between the clumps of grass and alfalfa, the ground is hard, hard, the colour’s there only in the large and in the aggregate, a poor clump of thistles grabs the eye in a long walk across a hot field.
And there’s the brutal climate, “it’s a dry heat” they say, but 38°C with a brisk wind, no shade, and grasshoppers swirling round your knees is brutal, wet dry or anywhere in between. Something stung Lauren in four places up the arm, three days later it was no better and she got some cortisone from the Esterhazy drugstore. The ground doesn’t welcome you walking over it, it’s too scruffy and too buggy and most of all just too big.
Manhattan · The land lives intensely; every square inch, more or less, is fertile, and gets lots of sun, and in a year such as this when there’s been rain, produces grasses and legumes and weeds and trees in totally unimaginable volume, they talk routinely about the harvests in these parts in tens of millions of tons.
Along with all those flora there are, most obviously, the tens of thousands of grasshoppers and among them enough crickets that there is never silence, and a dwindling few of the spring’s cohort of mosquitos. We see swallows and hawks and there’s a hummingbird feeder just outside the living room window, a family of flying jewels drains it every couple of days—the remarkably deep-pitched hum of their flight sounds like nothing else on the planet. I hear stories of bluebirds and there’s a likely-looking hollow fencepost, but don’t see them.
In the fields and copses (scrubby poplar and beech mostly, these winters are tough) there are gophers and moles and racoons and skunks and lots of mice and badgers and tree squirrels and deer and coyotes and bobcats.
It never stops. It’s never silent. There’s no square inch left unused. It’s just not possible for the action to be any more intense, just being among it with open eyes is exhausting. It’s Manhattan. But only in summer.