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Spirit Sands Hike September 2013

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Reid Dickie

I love the Canadian prairies. Here’s a few more of the thousands of reasons why.

A brisk south wind blew in warm temperatures about 25 degrees C. The clear sky beckoned me westward along Hwy #2, past the parade of little towns I’ve come to know so well. When I arrived in the parking lot of Spirit Sands, I was alone, the only vehicle. Two hours later there were a dozen cars and half tons lined up, people grabbing onto a hot day in September for the rarity it is.

SPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 031Stripped down to cap, shorts and hiking boots, I headed out on the trail. Through the mixed forest at the start of my hike, the flora was beginning to take on fall colours. The greens are paler, less convincing. Some of the trees are fading to yellow. Scattered everywhere and the most colourful thing in the park today are the arrays of yellow-red-orange poison ivy.

Shy against the sand, the glossySPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 025 red hips of wild roses gleam out, the eerie white berries of creeping juniper and the bright red fruit against the shiny green leaves of bearberry add small blasts of colour.

Overhead goose music filled the sky several times, most other birds now gone. A few murmurations of blackbirds propelled across the sky on the drive out.

The dunes in autumn are at their lushest, a growing concern for some people as the open dunes succumb to ground cover, mainly big bluestem, which is drought hardy, and wolf willow, the silvery shrub. Assorted sedge, SPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 023cinquefoil and such have found purchase on the open sand, too. Though less abundant this year, horsetail abounds in damper areas like the oasis.

The problem, as seen by some in the tourist industry with stakes in the state of the dunes, is that the open dunes need to be freed of the growth, plowing it up and taking it away. This would restore the open sand, the wind would continue to move the dunes forward toward the forest and the unique tourist attraction of a desert in the middle of the prairie would be reinstated.

SPIRIT SANDS SEPTEMBER 2013 016There are several “Wow it’s a desert” places to enter the dunes: at the top of the two log ladders from the eastern trails and out of the mixed forest trail on the south side. This area is where the covered wagon rides first approach the dunes. In the last five years the first dune face the tourists see from the wagon has become almost completely overgrown, diminishing the effect of the open sand. The same holds for the log ladder entrances. Vistas of the dunes now include large overgrown swaths, especially noticeable on the three rows of dune faces. It isn’t anything like a desert anymore.

Traditionally, since Duff Roblin established the system, provincial parks have been sacrosanct places where interference with natural forces is taboo. Apparently, and ironically, Shilo, the military base which uses the dunes just north of the park, rousts out the flora with its training exercises enough to have more open sand than the park.

So, what are the options? Leave it as it is and let Nature do the do. Sounds fine with me. Plow up the overgrown areas (tricky on some of those steep faces), clear-cut the place basically and let the wind do its do renewing the desert. Sounds fine, too. It really doesn’t matter what we little humans do in our hurry and scurry, using our big brains to try to control everything. Nature bats last. Always has, always will.

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I suppose the next step is in the hands of the provincial government. Heaven help us! This bunch of past-their-due-date burn-outs are spinning, clueless and unruddered, in one spot where their banality is  surpassed only by their irrelevance. Unfortunately if the NDP are the whoopee cushion, the PCs are the exploding cigar. The usual choice!

However, now that the “problem” at Spirit Sands has been identified, the “solution” must be studied and studied to make sure lots of money gets into the hands of the correct consulting agency. What better way to end a rant than with a truth for every day of our lives: “We are governed by the least among us.” – Terence McKenna.

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First Spirit Sands Hike of the Year

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Reid Dickie

This year’s model of mighty Avenger and I ventured out to Spruce Woods Park for my first hike to the Spirit Sands for 2013. Perfection in every direction.

Along the trail the rich yellow hoary puccoon is in full bloom. That’s a picture of it above. Delicate avens are starting to lift their furry magenta heads. Anemones and poison ivy abound in the shade. The trees are alive with birdsong as the young spruce already sport plenty of  bright green new growth at the tips of the branches. Winter was unkind to the low growing creeping juniper. A lot of it is brown from winter kill.

Because of our late cold spring everything is about a month behind so today several flocks of geese arrived, flying northward.

The areas of the park severely flooded in 2011 have rebounded well this year. Work still continues on lower campground but upper campground and yurts are open for the season. Most of the hiking paths in the park have been restored after the flood damage. I noticed several are indicated by fresh white gravel.

One of the many uses of Spruce Woods Park is for aboriginal sundances. The first of the summer will occur June 6 to 9 on a dancing ground near the trailhead for Epinette Creek Trail. The event is open to the public, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. watch for signs near the trail entrance. This website gives you some details on the planned events.

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This Week Along the Road

Reid Dickie

In just over two months, the mighty Avenger and I achieved our first 10,000 kms together this week. A pleasant Spirit Sands visit on Sunday with friends Liz and Kenn resulted in pictures of the latest flora along the trail. This is a beautiful wood lily. They dot the green landscape with vibrant orange and black, a favourite of butterflies.

Manitoba has two cacti: prickly pear and pincushion. In the transition zone between the mixed forest and the sand dunes, pincushion cacti are just coming into bloom, their scarlet buds a mere taste of their bright open blooms. The blossom will be replaced by a brown nut that tumbles off the round cactus, landing next to it and germinating there. Frequently, clusters of pincushions form as a result, some with dozens of individual cacti. Pincushions are delicate and usually die if stepped on.

Spirit Sands can always be relied upon to offer up at least one breath-taking cloudscape during every hike.

2011 Flood Update: Souris Will Swing Again! Many areas of Manitoba continue to recover from last summer’s floods. One result of the raging Assiniboine River was the strategic cutting of the historic Swinging Bridge in Souris, MB. The Town of Souris announced this week that the bridge will be replaced and work restoring one of the town’s major attractions is expected to be completed by the summer of 2013. The new bridge spanning the Assiniboine, to be built by Stantec, will be 184 metres in length. This is an artist’s rendering of the new swinging bridge.

During my 1960s youth, one of the highlights was seeing rock bands at the Brandon Summer Fair, the biggest attraction in southwestern Manitoba. Buddies and me drove the hour to see Witness Inc. (Kenny Shields) sing their first hit Harlem Lady in 1968, watch the grandstand show with an assortment of up-and-comers and down-and-outers performing.

Brandon fairgrounds had three large display buildings: Buildings 1 and 2 and the long building. Building 1 is gone but Building 2 remains, though much worse for the wear. It’s four distinctive gleaming domes dominate the grounds. A cherished federal and provincial heritage building, the old place is getting a complete restoration. Significant for numerous reasons – you can find out much more about the building’s history and restoration project at  http://www.brandonfairs.com/Display_Building/index.php?pageid=477 it’s heartening to see the grand old place reclaiming its former glory. And good on Brandon for its stewardship and recognition of heritage as an important contributor to their quality of life. I find it rather ironic but hopeful that Brandon, a city with runaway, out-of-control residential and commercial development, maintains a healthy connection with its past and finds value there.

My most vivid memory of the building is walking in the wide front doors and smelling lavender which was sold fresh in sachets by a vendor next to the entrance every year. Display Building #2 will be restored for the 2013 fair, a hundred years after it first opened for the 1913 Dominion Fair.

One of the oldest and most enigmatic headstones in Wawanesa Cemetery.

There’ll always be a Ninja, no, that’s Ninga.

Thrift shop find-of-the-week was at the MCC in Brandon which turned up a set of four 1950s glass tumblers with multi-coloured tulips on them in mint shape for 75 cents apiece.

This week I am Criddling and Vaning, hiking the moonlit sands and day tripping with an old friend so will have much to report next weekend. Happy trails, every mile a safe mile.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Earth Phenomena, Flood, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Natural Places, Parks, spirit sands, Uncategorized

Gathering Moonlight at Spruce Woods Park

Reid Dickie

“The moon’s a harsh mistress, it’s hard to love her well,

The moon’s a harsh mistress, the sky is made of stone,

The moon’s a harsh mistress, she’s hard to call your own.”

– Jimmy Webb

These are the buttery days of a new ancient summer. In their fluttering perfection, butterflies dot the world. Their true colours range from solid black through red, orange, yellow to iridescent blues, always stoned on some intoxicating nectar or other. Dragonflies have started to appear; mosquitoes aren’t far behind. Such was the world I entered Monday when I checked into Yurt #4 at Spruce Woods Provincial Park for a two-day stay.

Ensconced on my deck facing WNW, the temperature around 28 degree C, I have found a little Eden. The late afternoon breeze plucks music from the oaks and cottonwoods along the Assiniboine River, which I can see shining below. A dozen kinds of birds twitter in the trees, their songs striving to capture the counterpoint of the afternoon. They are successful every moment.

A huge yellow butterfly with blue trimmed wings dances above my glass of wine. Unable to resist, it lands on the rim, sips delicately and does a backward somersault off the glass into its fluttery world. My plan is to await dusk then hike out on Spirit Sands to watch the full moon rise over the dunes.

The day is cooling perfectly as I head out to Spirit Sands about 9:30. The golden sky deepens to red then crimson then purple and darker as I surmount the log ladder up the dune face. Arriving at the place on the dunes Linda and I always visited, I hear voices among the trees below. The last of the humans are clearing off the trails. I am alone.

As I await moonrise, coyotes howl in the west and are answered by others in the east. The flies and mosquitoes find me extra attractive with my coating of sweat from the hike. As a slight evening breeze cools my skin, a pale glow on the northeastern horizon heralds the full moon. It swells into view bulbous and red, and I am filled with bliss and gratitude for this witnessing.

I spend an hour watching the night deepen and the moon whiten. Hiking back during the very last moments of twilight, the shadows are flecked with occasional fireflies. After decades of gathering moonlight, the long-fallen bodies of blown-down trees shine like silver. Standing armies of wolf willow glow eerily in the moonlight.

Back at my yurt I light a fire and watch the stars come out. Hundreds of fireflies flicker on and off in the trees around my yurtyard. Fireflies are a positive sign of a healthy habitat. Crickets and choruses of frogs, the small cries of night birds, crackle of the fire and rustle of the constellations harmonize around me.

After a long sound sleep I awoke Tuesday to another perfect day! I took a drive to the nearby Criddle/Vane homestead (blog post to follow), toured the area a bit, lunched at the Robin’s Nest in Carberry where I see the temperature to be even hotter tomorrow. The Robin’s Nest is a quaint little restaurant and motel along the TCH. I recommend it for its good country food, friendly staff and it’s now licensed.

Back at Yurt #4, the drone of a bumblebee intoxicates me in the heat. A red-headed woodpecker taps out a secret message on the trunk of a gnarly old oak. The park is still and quiet today with just the warbles and sighs of the denizens. The day wears away and night captures the land. Like stars, the fireflies are continuous tonight. Everywhere I look I see them, flitting through the treetops or winking shyly from the pitch-black understory.  As I stand, a firefly zips by my face exploding like a tiny flashbulb.

Crickets and frogs keep time with the pulse of the night and, later, dozens of coyotes in all directions create an exhilarating aural experience making it sound like the whole world is composed of nothing but coyotes and their haunting theories. Another thoroughly restful sleep ensues.

Crews continue working to bring Spruce Woods Park up to its standard before last summer’s flood. Today as I was pulling out I noticed the road to Spirit Sands was cut and a large culvert was being inserted under the road. The ditch along the highway is being worked to remove some of the flood cake that still coats parts of the park. Daily horse-drawn covered wagon rides to the dunes and punch bowl begin in July and summer nature programs are scheduled. So whether you are gathering sunlight or moonlight, the park’s numerous trails await your hiking boots and your curiosity. (Take water. Do a tick check.)

Two other things to mention about Spruce Woods:

  • Turkey Vultures: from my deck I saw several large black birds soaring high on the thermals when I arrived on Monday. I took them to be ravens due to their size. Later they soared lower and I saw they were turkey vultures with their stubby necks and bright red heads.  Abandoned farm buildings around the park make excellent nesting places. I also saw turkey vultures perched on the roof of the ruins of the Lyon’s mansion just outside Carberry north of the park. The old house would be a perfect site to raise their bulky young. I will keep an eye on both locations to see where they are actually nesting. I have blogged about turkey vultures and the Lyons house before;
  • Sundance: a large sign at the Epinette Creek turnoff pointed toward a sundance being held this week in the park. Sundance is a days-long ritual of sacrifice and transcendence where prayer, piercing and offerings of flesh open the path to personal healing. The public is welcome, however, please remember, no drugs, no alcohol at sundance. A step-by-step guide to the daily ceremonies for this particular sundance are here.

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Filed under Ancient Wisdom, Birds, Carberry, Day Tripping, Natural Places, Parks, spirit sands

Spruce Woods Park Today

Reid Dickie

I am such a lucky man! I had my seventh hike so far this summer on Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Park today. After a cool rainy week, the weather is warming. No wind, a few popcorn clouds and an upbeat attitude made it a perfect day for a hike.  The hoary puccoon – it’s just fun to say, go ahead, say it out loud – and three-flowered aven are still  blooming wildly everywhere, tiny violets wave trailside and the poison ivy is having a great year. I loll at the special place Linda and I have on the dunes. Back at the parking lot two and a half hours later I’m a little sunburned but happy and calm.

This is a shot of the kiosk at the trailhead with The Sentinel in the distance.

At Marsh Lake I pitch my camp chair between the four red maples located at the picnic shelter. All four trees are in full delicious bloom as witnessed by the bees and butterflies swarming the trees. The air is abuzz with happy insects and redolent with the precious scent of the maple blossoms. In the fall these maples turn blazing red. I saw my first red-tailed hawk of the summer in the park today

It appears Spruce Woods Park will have its amenities mostly prepared for the full tourist season in July and August. Other than the lower campground, most of the park will be in operation. Access to the campground and day use area is much easier now off Hwy #5. Crews are working on further repairs to the washed-out sections of the highway through the park.

I’ll be back to Spirit Sands later this week and again next week when I’m booked in at the yurts. Check for wood ticks. Happy hiking!

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Filed under Linda, Manitoba Heritage, Natural Places, Spirit

Equinox Journey

Reid Dickie

The mighty Avenger and I are just back from welcoming in the fall season with an 800 km loop around Manitoba. The weather is way above normal and sunny, perfect days. On Friday morning I headed north out of Winnipeg up Hwy #6 along the east side of Lake Manitoba, Dauphin my destination for the night. The leaves on the trees in the early part of the journey were just beginning to turn but the further north I got the brighter and more spectacular the display became. My first stop was at Percy Moggey’s cabin north of Eriksdale to do a video report. Percy was one of Manitoba’s most notorious boogeymen. My report is coming soon to a blog near you.

I turned onto Hwy #68, one of the better highways in central Manitoba, and headed towards the Lake Manitoba Narrows. High dykes still protect the areas at and around the Narrows. For the first time this year I stopped at the Thunderbird Nest, just a few kms west of the Narrows, wondering if the peninsula it sits on had been flooded. No flooding was apparent, just a wonderful feeling of happiness which struck me as soon as I stepped out of the car and persisted the whole time I was at Thunderbird Nest. The site was peaceful and calming with unrelenting happiness. It was different from Linda’s Be Happy but just as effective. I felt blissful the whole time I was there. When I returned to the car, suddenly I received the story behind the happiness I felt.

I relay it: Not that long ago her family brought Old Mother, an elder on the nearby nation, to the Thunderbird Nest. She was so excited because she hadn’t been back to it since she was a girl and something very important had happened on that visit. Even though her family had to wheel her in her chair across the rough and rocky trail to the place, Old Mother stayed happy and full of laughter the whole time. As we passed a certain tree, she tied a gift to the branch of a tree, something she had made with her old and gnarled fingers. It was a piece of jute string tied around a stone she found with a striped feather floating at the bottom. When we got to the Thunderbird Nest she held her breath and when she let it out, it was full of laughter. The trees echoed her happiness back to her and birds began to call. She prayed and sang, tears of joy flowing from her old but keen eyes.

She told us why this place was special to her. When she was a girl she received her power animal here: it was flicker, a large woodpecker. They still frequent the bur oak forest in the area. She said the bird loudest in the forest was the flicker. We listened and sure enough a large flicker came flying through the trees and landed on a branch above Old Mother. She smiled and sang a little song to the bird. As they wheeled her back down the trail she said she had never felt more peaceful in her life and was ready to die. Three days later she died with a smile on her face. Old Mother was 93. I thanked Great Spirit for bringing me safely to this place and for the happiness message. I have recounted another experience at Thunderbird Nest here.

Though the quality of Hwy 68 deteriorates somewhat on both sides of the Narrows, mostly it’s smooth with wide shoulders, a pleasure. This time of year though it got a little gruesome with the number of dead garter snakes on the road. They are heading to their underground caves below the frost line for the winter, lots of them on the move. This was especially noticeable west of the Thunderbird Nest. Even writing about it makes me a little sickish, driving it was grim. By the time I got to Ste Rose du Lac, the snakes were much less frequent; skunks were the other unluckiest roadkill.

I stayed at the Super 8 in Dauphin (excellent steam room!) and wined and dined with two lovely and attractive women: my cousin Vonda and our delightful friend, Cheryl. A perfect sunset promised another hot day. After a leisurely breakfast at The Bully (Boulevard Hotel) with Vonda, I drove through Riding Mountain National Park. The north face offered a garish array of fall colours from the red and brown understory through to the lush electric yellow of cottonwoods, poplar and birch all broad stroked against the solid stoic evergreens. The south face was a few days less colourful. Best time to drive through RMNP for the fall colours is likely mid to late this week and next week (Sept. 28 to Oct. 8). Not many leaves falling yet but a frost or two will hasten that, along with a few windy days.

Mountain Road (PR 357) always has majestic Manitoba vistas, today dabbed with autumn hues. The view of the lakebed misted with dust and chaff was breathtaking and the chute to the bottom always a thrill. The harvest is proceeding well with fields of late crops now dotted with combines and trucks. I passed through Neepawa, Tim Horton’s in hand, and went south to Carberry where I did some visual heritage recon and gleaned great shots of two old historic sites near Carberry. I will have full reports on both sites but here is a picture of each.

The hike on Spirit Sands today was perfect at 25 degrees C, sunny, slight breeze I wished was a little more frequent once I got to the dunes and the fulfilling effervescence of Spirit that percolates through me. Boots off, feet bare, the sand is hot today, cool an inch below. At our special place I sit and commune, Linda reaffirms a recent message: “I’ve only been gone a minute, Reid.” Her wonderous experience of eternity and her attempt to tell me what it’s like sends me into new realms of bliss. I laugh and roll on the sand. Linda died 21 months ago.

Since it opened for the first time this year in early August I have visited Spruce Woods Park several times. Sinkholes have appeared by the side of the highway, another aftermath of the flood. Some have sunk due to residual river water and have small fish gasping for oxygen swimming in them. Others appear to be more recent and their water has a slight emerald tinge to it not unlike the punchbowl.

On my return to Winnipeg along Hwy 2, I saw several massive flocks of blackbirds, thousands of birds moving as one across the blue sky. It went on for about a mile with birds arising from the trees along the road to join the throng.

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Filed under Carberry, Earth Phenomena, Flood, Manitoba Heritage, Natural Places, Parks, shaman

Take a Hike on Spirit Sands

This is the video of my hike on Spirit Sands yesterday.

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Filed under BEAUTY, Day Tripping, Flood, Local History, Manitoba Heritage, Natural Places, Sacred Places