A good long look at Big Sky Country

Merrilyn reminices about Saskatchewan—"there is a part in my genetic memory that tugs at my heart."

Saskatchewan has been on my mind these days. I have only lived there for a year when I was very young so it can’t be homesickness. I have visited many times over my life and for a couple of years we owned a lot in the Eco Village at Craik which is on the Louis Riel Trail, also known as Highway 11.

We bought the lot in a moment of temporary insanity brought on by retirement and a dream of building a self sustaining part time home. It was a project that had long interested me for many reasons, not the least of which was curiosity about my paternal grandparents’ true grit, a grit that came in handy a little more than a century ago.

My grandfather bought his first quarter section of land less than twenty-two years after the execution of Louis Riel for whom the highway is now named. Grandpa’s land was within a short buggy ride of the highway, only a rutted trail in those days. Even more interesting to me was that Grandpa’s land was also the same short buggy ride’s distance from where our little quarter acre was located.

That first summer of ownership, I had sat on a knoll near our land and looked out over the Arm River and the prairie beyond. There were wild flowers in bloom and a cooling breeze for comfort. A soddy, similar to my grandparents’ first home, had been preserved just at the bottom of the knoll and I could imagine my grandmother’s view of this endless prairie and those enormous blue skies that would build up towering cumulous clouds by afternoon.

Often, there would be a cleansing rain to nourish crops and gardens and to fill the rain barrels for washing and the dugouts that collected water for the livestock.

Our family folklore had always included stories of hardship for these two brave souls. They had both left Ontario as young adults, leaving behind a relatively civilized life for a part of Canada that was virgin prairie of overwhelming space. The buffalo were gone and the railway was bringing inexorable change. Grandma had the first three of her twelve children in the soddy, most likely with little or no help. The skills she developed to survive had to be learned on the run in the wildness of those prairie spaces. It wasn’t until I sat on that knoll and looked out at the stunning beauty of her environment that I experienced an insight about my history.

When I was a little girl, my father would take us for car rides in the countryside around Southern Manitoba. He would roll down his window and point out the meadowlarks and the red-winged blackbirds to my brother and I. He would show us the wild tiger-lilies and once a very rare lady slipper. He told us of snaring gophers for a nickel a piece to buy new shoes during the difficult depression years. The view from the knoll where I sat was what my father grew up with. Grandmother had no doubt spoken to her children about the birds and flowers, pointing out how wonderful the birdsong was, how lovely the colors of the flowers were. She was a Christian lady and I have no doubt that her faith and her deep appreciation of nature made her life rich and satisfying.

Eventually, we sold our little plot of land and of course, we are most happy to be year round residents of Princeton. The weather here is kinder to old bones and the mountains are lovely and sheltering. Still, there is a part in my genetic memory that tugs at my heart.

Every year or two, I need a good long look at Big Sky Country and to catch a glimpse of an antelope herd loping across the wild, high prairies and to hear the sound of the meadowlark. Grandma and Grandpa would approve.