It seems every time the forecast calls for moisture we are thwarted. The rain keeps moving elusively out of reach and our fields and pastures have become thirsty, desolate wastelands. That might be a touch melodramatic, but it’s close to the truth. However, the prairies are always beautiful and always have a story to tell.
Yesterday, my step-daughter Shelley, and her daughter Avery, popped over for a walk and Kayden and I led them as we trudged out across the farm with a spring in our steps and a crunch of dry grass beneath our feet. We traipsed through the horse pasture first. Chili our dog loped ahead, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth as she cooled herself between gopher hole inspections. The horses paid us no mind at all. Intently, they nibbled at the few tiny shoots of green that had dared to appear.
Next, we passed a few cattle. They are the last to calve, and so are kept close to home. Two tiny newborns stared warily at us from their nest in the greenfeed bale that my brother Bill had taken out with the tractor.
Onward we went. Daughter Aliyah paused to peer into the high nest of a wood duck. Slowly, she leveled her phone (Aliyah not the duck) into the cavity of the old hollow tree, and took a picture. This way we all had a chance see the small, brown bird sitting quietly on her eggs, without disturbing her too much.
A hawk wheeled overhead, his piercing cry causing us to shield our eyes against the sun as we gazed up to follow him through the clear blue sky. We began to climb up onto the highest hills that flank Dead Horse creek below, on our right. These hills have never been broken by a plow. They are the same now as they have been since the beginning of time and will remain so, as long as they be in our care. They are purple with crocuses in spring and alive with the pale green tangle of prairie wool grass in summer. As we crossed theses hills I told my companions a story my father had shared with me this past winter.
“In about 1902, three years before my grandfather would settle this piece of land we Row’s now call home, one of the first settlers of this area built a small shack further west of where we stand today. One night, as the moon stole into in the eastern sky and summer breezes blew warm, the young man heard loud thumping noises such as he had never heard before. At first he thought it was only ruffled grouse beating their wings in the poplars near his home, but, it was too slow and rhythmic for that.
He stepped outside his door, following the sounds with his eyes, and beheld, on the crest of the highest hill, not far away, the flames of a great fire leaping into the heavens. Shadows created by the forms of many people moving around the flames were cast in sharp relief against the tall peaks of teepees arranged about the blaze. The evocative sounds were created by the drums of the First Nations people, and the man listened, entranced, as they began to sing their haunting music. For a long while he watched them, feeling thankful to have witnessed such a wonderful sight, and then he crept back into his little house and left the first people of this land beneath the canopy of twinkling stars, singing and dancing to songs they had sung for hundreds of years.”
As we stood on the very same spot almost 120 years years later, each one of us slipped backward in time to envision that poignant scene, and sighed. I fancy some part of that night still remains in that place, and am grateful to know and to have been able to pass along this tiny, yet beautiful piece of Canadian history.