Greetings again from God’s country!
As I write today, the sky above my house is filled with snow geese making their twice daily journey from the marsh north of town to the cleared fields to feed. Line upon line of geese cross so close overhead I can hear the beat of their wings. On Main Street one day last week I had to pause in mid-conversation due to the din of their honking. It’s an awesome event every time.
Our local fisherman/hunter/hell-raiser/heart-of-gold import from the US, Terry Shaughnessy shoots geese and serves them up at community suppers each Tuesday night. So far we’ve been treated to spagetti with wild-goose sauce, wild-goose Tex Mex meatloaf and we’re looking foward to wild goose cutlets this week. No five star city restaurant turns out more delicious meals than Shaughnessy serves up to some 200 people each week, and he does it all in aid of local charities.
I’m working, writing, preaching, visiting and feeling blessed to be living amid wide open spaces, fresh air and warm-hearted folk. I’ve ridden on a combine, bought a cowboy hat and joined in conversations about whether shooting a moose that’s wandered into town is still good sportsmanship or if you have to shoo him into a field for it to “count.” Strangely, while the question of what was sporting was hotly contested, no one seemed troubled by any possible safety issue that might be involved.
I’ve been too busy to blog (please see list of preaching, visiting, participating in moose-related discussions etc. above… ) but did recently contribute a piece to the Toronto Star which I offer below.
Cheers till next time and may all your wheat be grade A!
(From Toronto Star, October 10, 2010)
Today, I’m musing about that old saying, “You never know where you’re going until you get there.” Last May, I was happily living in Toronto. Then, I was ordained as a United Church minister and our head office determined that since I have decades of experience living and working in a major city, the best place to post me would be small-town Saskatchewan. In a few short months I’ve gone from “Hey, there’s a parking space!” To, “Hey, there’s a car!”
My friends were concerned. One called insisting, “I checked the population of this place you’re going to. There isn’t one.” This is not quite true. Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan has almost 300 people. The town motto is, I’m told, “Lucky Lake. We’re not the middle of nowhere, but you can sure see it from here.”
My new ‘hood is certainly a change from Toronto, but if you look for the positives in any situation you’re bound to find them. So far, my list includes:
2 *Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan is almost never likely to be chosen to host a G20 summit.
3 *You can drive your car for an hour here and actually get an hour from your house.
4 *Then, there’s the question of air quality. We have it.
And while the learning curve has been steep, I’ve now got a little local knowledge to share with anyone ready to trade in reasonable cell phone coverage and take-out lattes for breathtaking quiet and a big- screen sky.
A trip to the bank, post office or grocery store takes the same amount of time here as in the city. Not because you’re standing in line but because you’re stopping to chat. There are no friendlier, nicer people anywhere. The height of incivility is to pass someone on the street without waving. I have finally mastered the art of the two-digit-finger-raise while driving which means I am no longer gesturing wildly from my car causing passersby to wonder if I’m having a seizure.
When visiting, it is considered polite to enter by the back door. I don’t know why this is. Every house has a front door but they are used so rarely you’d think they would have evolved out of them by now.
If you wake up at 4:30 on a summer morning and hear the crop dusting plane roaring six inches over your house, you know it’s going to be sunny. Otherwise, there’s no need for a weather report. Just look across the prairie and see what’s coming at you.
In Saskatchewan they play many sports but there’s only one Team. “Go Riders” is an entirely appropriate phrase to use as a greeting, farewell, indication of general goodwill, or condolence for the loss of a loved one, aimed at focusing the attention of those left behind on what really matters.
The Team is never, ever losing. They are “just not winning yet.” Lately, they have been “not winning yet” by a long shot.
You do not joke about The Team. A couple weeks ago I asked in our local Co-op whether, given how poorly they had played that day, Rider merchandise was now on sale. I now know that this is not funny.
The only thing rural Saskatchewanians take almost as seriously as The Team is politics. A recent local obituary read, “Our dad loved prairies sunsets and watching Conservative politicians go to jail.”
Driving in rural Saskatchewan requires a certain amount of flexibility about what is considered a road. A road is, “Any surface you can drive your car over without actually damaging the wheel base or getting stuck so bad that someone’s Cousin Ed can’t tow you out attached to the back of his combine.” This includes, but is not limited to, dirt paths, lawns, pasture and mud flats. It also includes the many farming grid roads where a popular summer pass-time is fishing tourists out of the ditch who hit the gravel too fast.
A highway is “any surface made of any material that has a line drawn down the middle of it.” There are also roads designated for “seasonal” use. Having driven several of these, I’m hard pressed to say what season they’re for. So far I’ve ruled out spring, summer and early fall.
All directions are given in miles. All car odometers are, of course, in kilometres. GPS will be useful here the minute they can be programmed to locate, “The farm Don Erikson had before the second to last time the Jenson’s shed caught fire.”
The pluck that keeps folk here driving like rockets down “nearly a road” is the same spirit they bring to the rest of life. Recently, I commented to a farmer about the devastating amount of rain that’s fallen on rural Saskatchewan lately. He smiled, “Oh well, it doesn’t do any good to complain.” This was not a philosophy I have been acquainted with. Local wisdom goes, if you want to make sure money, forget farming and head for the casino. You’ve got a better chance.
When it comes to meals, timing is everything. Dinner is what you eat at noon. Supper is what you have around 6 PM. Lunch refers to any food eaten at any time that is not dinner or supper. Unless you’re in a city such as Saskatoon or Regina, in which case dinner is at 6PM, lunch is at noon and supper doesn’t exist.
Everyone here cooks, bakes, cans, pickles, plucks and preserves. Everyone shares. One of our local hunters even brought me roasted crane. It tasted like steak. Soon Canada Goose hunting season starts. In the city, we could only dream.
Are there downsides for me here? I miss my partner, Liz, who stayed behind in Toronto. She’s used to the luxuries of big city life. Like employment. And last night, I was sitting at home thinking, “I am 50 years old, living thousands of miles from everyone I love, in a house I don’t own, eating leftover crane. This is not really how I saw my life working out.”
Then, I slathered a neighbour’s cucumber jam onto someone else’s fresh baked rolls, walked outside and was treated to one of those spectacular prairie sunsets. Sometimes the middle of nowhere is a pretty fine place to be.