Tuesday, 10 March 2015


To gain a sense of the size and scope of Canada and the USA, you need to slow down. It is the speed of your conveyance which dictates your sense of the landscape. In a jet, from Winnipeg to Calgary, you make the voyage in 120 minutes, a trip of 2 hours at 600 miles per hour. In a fast moving car, barreling down Highway 1 at the highest legal, and sometimes illegal speeds, the voyage can be made in about 13 to 14 hours, depending on fuel, food and bathroom breaks. If you wander a bit, take a detour here and there, follow the old trails, the car ride can take a couple of days. By Red River cart and on foot, it took months.

Yesterday we made the drive from Swift Current, SK to Williston, ND. We took our time, wandering first to the south, then east along the Red Coat Trail, the old route used by the NorthWest Mounted Police as they slowly fanned their way across the Canadian prairie, combating whiskey traders and railway drunks. It is a fairly straight line from Cadillac, SK over to Weyburn, SK, at which point we made the turn south to the US border, to an almost none existant town called Fortuna, ND.

The roads along the way were classic prairie roads, long and straight, cutting into the far horizon, with few turns and even fewer distinguishable landmarks along the way. Every 15 kilometers or so, a small town would appear, the differentiator in "small" being paved roads. A town with paved roads would be considered substantial in this landscape.

The landscape itself was largely unvaried, with low sloped rises, where the elevation change was measured in inches instead of feet. In many places the flat, open plain stretched infinitely off to the horizon, disappearing over its edge with no promise of return or change. The fields were a riot of beige, brown, gold, and even some yellow here and there, all of them waiting for the spring plow to turn their surface into straight rows of black soil, ready for the planting. This is a rich soil, ready to grow almost anything, and so rich that beneath its surface, deep beneath, there is oil waiting to be grabbed into the hands of a greedy society.

There is a beauty to this land, a soft and gentle beauty which gives the lie to the bitter cold of winter, the endless winds that blow year round, the harsh and heated summers. The farmhouses all have barriers of fir, birch, and aspen planted round them, creating a micro-climate free from the blast furnace winds of summer and the massive snow drifts of winter. Yet even in this defense, the weather wins. The soft colours of spring, the warm green of summer, the golden harvest of fall, the icy white of winter; it takes a special person to see the beauty in this land. They are called "farmers".

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