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March 1, 2013

“Farewell to Lucky Lake” from Toronto Star. Sunday, June 3, 2012.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 1:11 pm

Two years ago, I moved from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, SK (pop. 295) to serve as a minister for the United Church of Canada. I’m a city girl through and through. When I moved to the country, I was worried I might pass out from all the clear, clean air. Someone would have to administer smog.

Though the city is my home, the country has been my classroom. Travelling to new places always teaches us something. For instance, when my mother travelled overseas last year, she was annoyed to learn that only one company in Europe would rent a car to someone over the age of 80. For my part, I was sorry to learn there was even one.

Since moving to rural Saskatchewan, I’ve learned there are similarities between city and country folk. Neither can imagine why the others want to live there. And, I’ve discovered a few myths about country life.

Myth No. 1: No stress.

When I lived in Toronto, I often thought we should stop arguing about whether the government should continue lacing our drinking water with flouride. Instead, we should demand they spike it with Valium. Frankly, we Torontonians are anxious.

Being in a rural community has made me realize, though, that I knew nothing about stress. True stress is not fretting about whether the car ahead of me will run the red light in time for me to also run the red light. Or that the line at Starbucks is so long, I’ll be at my appointment at 8:17 instead of 8:15. Real stress is having a $500,000 combine in your yard and five centimetres of water on your field.

No 2: No crime.

The first time I left Lucky Lake, I mentioned to neighbours that I’d given my key to Mavis across the street. They exchanged bemused looks and  I began to wonder whether sweet, grandmotherly Mavis was actually the town kleptomaniac. Finally someone said, “You locked your door?”

That doesn’t mean there’s no crime here. Recently, in nearby Birsay, the town hall was defaced with graffiti. The RCMP suspect gangs. Debate raged among local coffee clutches as to whether the entire population of Birsay, which totals 40 adults, children and octogenarians, is enough to make one decent gang. Someone suggested, “Well, maybe, but who would they war with?” This is seeding time. Everyone’s busy.

No. 3: No fun:

Entertainment? The annual Birsay Turkey Shoot. No turkeys are harmed at this event. No turkeys are actually present, except frozen ones to be given as prizes. There is a game involving a live chicken, though. Participants “purchase” one of 40 squares drawn on a paper, which is then slid into the cage under the chicken. Whichever name the bird’s poop lands on, wins. City folk likely find this an odd way to spend leisure money. Out here we find it odd to pay far more  for the roughly equal delight of seeing whether the Leafs will manage to land a shot.

No 4: There’s no place like home.

After two years, there are still things I don’t understand about rural life in this province. I’ll never figure out how the women here hold down jobs, cook for entire harvest crews, get their kids to a baseball game in a town two hour away and still make sure no store-bought cookie ever turns up on a table after a church service or funeral. Or why such fiercely independent people, who view the concept of “daylight savings time” as unnecessary government interference, are also deeply commited to SaskPower, SaskTel, SaskEnergy and the Wheat Board.

What I have learned is that home is definitely where your heart is. And that a heart can be stretched just like a life view; made big enough to include both our country’s largest city and one of our smallest towns. When I return to Toronto, I suspect the office towers will remind me of grain elevators. And the ebb and flow of traffice will sound like the sweep of wind through prairie grass. So, there really is “no place like home.” And for me, I think home is wherever I find kindness, open hearts and generosity of spirit. And so far, that’s everywhere.

“I am woman. See me hunt.” from Toronto Star. Sunday, March 11.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 12:39 pm

Spring approaches. And with it comes the return of thousands of snow geese, making their annual migration to the Arctic with a stop just north of my town. Since moving from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, SK (pop. 295) to serve as a minister for the United Church of Canada, I’ve learned that local attitudes toward the geese change with the seasons. In spring, we marvel at their grace and beauty. In autumn, we head out and shoot them.

Being eager to participate in all the activities of prairie life, last fall, I decided I should shoot a goose. Frankly, I consider the existence of ducks and geese positive proof that God does not intend for us to be vegetarian. And, reason that if I eat meat, I should be prepared to kill it. Here’s how I fared.

Mid-September:  Very excited. “I am woman. See me hunt.” First step: must learn to use gun. Local rancher and gun safety test-giver, John Peters, agrees to teach me and outlines some basic rules. Bottom line seems to be: don’t aim at anything you’re not prepared to eat.

Get 98% on written test. Very happy. If being a minister doesn’t work out, perhaps I can become town sheriff. Have not actually held a gun yet. But, find myself now viewing fluttering geese less as “breathtaking” and more as “lunch.”

October: Practical exam. Discover that firing a gun is like having sex. Alarming at first, but pretty soon you start to see how this might be fun. John suggests I not screech every time I pull the trigger, as it may unnerve whoever I’m with. So, also like sex.

Hunting enthusiasts Gary Boon and Terry Shaughnessy offer to take me out. Swagger a bit in town. Someone says, “I hear you’re going to shoot a goose.” I have to be truthful. “I’m going to shoot in the general direction of a goose.”

November: Weather finally deemed sufficiently filthy enough for goose hunting. Furthermore, apparently all expeditions begin at 4:30 am. Wonder at wisdom of being around people who have guns, but not enough sleep or coffee. Shaughnessy asks, “What’s life without risk?” My response? “Longer.”

4:30am: Gary and I meet at Shaughnessy’s place. Discover that you cannot just go hunting. First, you have to talk about hunting.

5:30 am: Finally load into truck and head to fields.

6 am: Glacial north wind gusting over prairie. In total darkness, jam metal-spiked bottoms of 200 goose-shaped wind socks into frigid ground. The brisk breeze fills the white canvas cut-outs immediately. We pull on white pants, jackets and hats and hunker down in the midst of a bobbing sea of decoys.

7:10 am: Sun a red line across the horizon. Suddenly, howl of wind combines with pulse of flapping wings. Trails of black specks against a lightening sky. I lift my gun. Line after line of geese appear, hovering briefly, then spiralling down on top of us. Shaughnessy shouts a signal. I click off my safety latch. I squeeze the trigger. Four or five geese thud to the ground.

I choose to think one of them was mine.

9 am: Back at Shaughnessy’s place we clean our “take.” He shows me where to push my fingers into the feathered breast plate and crack the chest cavity. In minutes, 18 geese are lying opened on the table. Shaughnessy slices out the breast meat, plopping it into a plastic bag. We drive the carcasses out of town and leave them for the coyotes.

Head home for a late morning nap. Very happy. I am courageous-amazing-hunter-woman. Toss meat into freezer.

Two weeks later: Given combined cost of gun safety-certificate, hunting licence and permit to carry gun, could have treated friends to steak dinner.

Instead, have bag of goose meat in freezer that I cannot bear to look at. Also, have a stack of recipes for wild goose dropped off by helpful neighbours, that I will never use.

All I can think is, “I turned a goose into meat in a bag.”

Have decided, I am not a hunter. Also, that if you eat meat, it does not mean for a minute that you have to kill it.

As for the life lesson in my freezer, I’m going out soon to make some coyote very happy.

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