Thursday, 21 September 2017

Prairie Tour

    Beauty and wonder are everywhere, including the vast prairie of southern Alberta. We took a drive to see what we could see last weekend.
Once comfortable prairie home overlooking the land, can you imagine the lamplight welcome

     The first thing that grows on us as we travel is the distance and the size of the prairie. It is not flat, it may seem so, but it undulates and dips and rolls and then is cut by a dry coulee or shallow river and dotted with duck-dabbling potholes, small lakes and waterfowl filled wetlands. It is anything but featureless, or boring if you see.
     I often think of the pioneers and immigrants that settled western Canada and the USA who traveled across this expanse in a wagon drawn by oxen or horses. Some people went mad by the distance. For weeks they bumped and rattled and banged across the land.They came upon obstacles such as creeks, gullies, hills, bumped over rocks, forded rivers and were buffeted by wind, thunderstorms, blizzards and feared grass fires and bison. With great optimism, one foot in front of the other, they forged ahead to a lonely homestead somewhere beyond the next hill. Often their homes were made from the sod they lived on and eventually, perhaps, a small house with a wood floor. We have to remember as we travel along our modern highways at 60 miles an hour that they were lucky to cover 10 or 15 miles per day. We also have to remember that it is not so long ago, barely 120 years that Alberta was beginning to be settled and much of it in the past 70 years. My grandparents settled in Heart Valley in 1927.
Dreams, aspirations and hard work abandoned to relentless prairie elements

     I have an aunt of my Mother who left Gosper County, Nebraska in 1898 or so with three or four kids in a Red-River cart drawn by oxen headed for Wetaskiwin, Alberta, about 2300 kilometers, to join her oldest sons on their farm. She made it on her own and I can't imagine what her experiences must have been.
     Now, all we can do is admire the land and wonder about past dreams and lives as we speed past old homesteads, tumbled down log homes and barns and old school sites left, today remembered only by a metal plaque. Faded white churches and groomed graveyards dot the prairie landscape reminding us of and commemorating brave and adventurous pioneers who worked hard to build our country.
Pumpjacks, gas wells, train tracks, fence lines, and cattle all compete with native Pronghorn Antelope

    This weekend was a reminder of the durability of the place and the wildlife we watched as well as the continued trials of living on this vast land. We see so-called progress wherever we look. Gas wells, train tracks, fences and invasive cattle graze where once herds of buffalo wandered. Small herds of Antelope compete with the cattle and struggle with barbwire fencelines. Huge grass fires that are so troublesome and tragic for modern-day residents were once a natural rejuvenation of the prairie grassland.
Human-caused prairie fire killed cattle and destroyed homes and property.
     Let's enjoy the beauty that is still here despite our best efforts. The wildlife can adapt if given the chance. We see antelope grazing in harvested wheat fields and geese, grouse, and larks enjoy nothing better than a harvested field of peas or wheat.
Watchful antelope, a good looking buck watching over his harem
Curious White-tailed deer with Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes fly over antelope at smokey sunset.

      We enjoy the richly coloured sunset caused by smoke from forest and grass fires to the south and west of us.
Mule deer trail through prairie buckbrush toward early evening

     It is a good land, a resilient land, a rich land but it requires care. There is very little real prairie grassland left. It must have seemed easy to early pioneers; just stick the plow in the ground and plant your seeds. They worked the vagaries of weather, desolation, and isolation. Neighbours and friends were valuable assets, bartering labour and goods, and building communities. Piles of rocks and abandoned homes are stark reminders to us that it may not have been so easy after all.

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