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The Lonesomes #10 – Squatters

Snapshot 14 (06-02-2012 2-04 PM)

Click pic to watch The Lonesomes #10 – 5:30


A resourceful pioneer scares off an opponent and his dream ensues.

Reid Dickie



Greetings. I’m Angus Marshall.

I wanted that whole quarter section of land at the end of that lovely blue lake but Aubrey Briers, a farmhand from Ontario just like me, was squatting on it, just like I was. Off in one corner Briers built a lopsided sod hut that looked about to be tumbling over any minute. I don’t know how long he’d been there but I was keen to find a way of getting rid of him so I could build my little dream.

What was my little dream? Well, before me stretches to the south a narrow shallow lake, five miles long. A little stream comes in from the north and feeds the lake. The land around rolls in gentle fashion, rich for farming. I feel in my Scottish bones that a town will grow on this very spot.

(BECOMING WISTFUL) One evening when I was sitting under a cottonwood tree watching the sun reflected off the lake, the shimmer of light and water sent a vision afoot over the landscape. Suddenly around me I saw little houses, churches, hotels and stores built along a railroad track, people scurrying about building and doing, building and doing.

I saw yet-unborn Marshalls: my sons and daughters walking on this land, growing and building here, too. And sharing, always sharing, for if the Good Lord teaches us anything, He teaches us that “there’s enough.”

Sitting under that old tree, I suddenly heard a sound from the future, the wet lonesome whistle of a steam train in the distance. It would be eleven years before the track was laid through here but I heard that train coming just as plain as day. I knew at that moment a town would arise here.

That was my dream but Briers was in the way. I needed to get rid of him. He didn’t know me very well. I liked it that way so I came up with a plan.

I waited until the next starless night, dark as a dungeon. I had an old horse collar with a couple of cracked bells that sounded eerie so I put the horse collar around my neck and went to visit Briers. When I got to his hut the thought occurred to me to just push the precarious pile of mud over and smother him. But I didn’t need to resort to murder to get what I wanted.

I started to howl like a wolf which got Brier’s attention. When he came out of his hut, I introduced myself as Satan and asked if I could be of any service to him since he was squatting on Satan’s land. I transformed into a horse and snorted and neighed and whinnied, pawed the ground, telling him I lost my wagon a few miles back and would he help me fetch it. And so on, mad gibberish. Briers didn’t know how to react so he went inside his hut. I could hear him securing his door. As I left, I shouted I’d be back every night to see if he needed anything from Satan. (SMALL CHUCKLE)

It rained hard that night. The next morning, when I stepped out of my little hut, I saw a different landscape. No longer did Briers’s hovel stand out against the raw horizon. In its stead lay a pile of mud. I rushed over thinking the hut had finally fallen onto Briers and smothered him but a thorough dig among the muck revealed no Briers…or anything for that matter.

I never saw hide nor hair of him again. He had vanished. Gone as gone can get. I claimed that whole quarter and the rest of the section, too. (PAUSE) That’s why this town is called Marshallville and not Briersville.

That’s also why the war memorial in town has a monument that looks just like Reginald, my first born, who was gassed at Ypres in 1915. (PAUSE) People call the monument The Unknown Soldier (PAUSE) but I know who it is, (PAUSE) I know who it is.


Character Backstory

Now we move off the farm into town and hear stories of town life starting with the genesis of Marshallville as explained by its founder and namesake.

Angus Marshall is in his late 70s and looks back over a long life to recount a turning point.

The first paragraph sets everything up. Take it slowly, evenly. Tho Angus and Briers are equals in their squatting rights, being a wily Scotsman, Angus has the edge and he knows it.

The second, third and fourth paragraphs become increasingly wistful as he recounts his dreams and visions. Paragraph five about the train gets almost spooky.

In paragraph six we return to the Briers problem. Here Marshall has a firmer tone.

Marshall gets great enjoyment recounting his plan in action in paragraphs seven and eight ending with a chuckle. Paragraph nine tells of the morning after and paragraph ten the plan is a success. He gloats a little over the town name, affirming his significance in the town.

The last paragraph explains what we have been watching for the last four minutes. Angus’ tone gets a little spooky here. He is still grieving. The implication is that Angus paid for the monument and had it built to his specs. His personal assertion of the statue’s identity is very satisfying for the old man. He tells his story with wisdom, kindness and understanding gained by a long hard life on the prairies.

The story and the image are both quite personal for me. The story is, in fact, the true story of the founding of my hometown, and the war memorial stands in the first village I lived in.

The genesis of Shoal Lake, Manitoba rests with Matt Thompson, the original settler who had to scare off another squatter to claim his land. My story, based on reports in the Shoal Lake history books, follows events closely including the horse collar and feigning madness. For the purposes of The Lonesomes, this is how Marshallville came into being.

Steve Black did a wonderful job bringing Angus Marshall to life.


Location Information

The first town my parents and I lived in after I was born was Margaret, Manitoba, south of Brandon. I have vague memories of it since we moved when I was about four years old. I have returned to Margaret since and noted the lovely white statue of the soldier that sat in the small park. I wanted to use the statue for The Lonesomes but when I returned to shot it, it was no longer in the village park.

Fewer than a dozen people still live in Margaret. I chatted up the postmistress who said they had moved the statue to the cemetery just outside of town which is where I shot the scene. The water effect I created in my backyard and applied to the image.

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Filed under Prairie People, The Lonesomes, video art

Two Days Out On the Prairie

Reid Dickie

Hot and windy, the temperature hit 30 degrees today (about 86 F.), amazing for early October. Something similar for the next two days before seasonal temperatures prevail. The warm weather stoked my wanderlust and I headed into southwestern Manitoba on Tuesday, doing a couple of video reports and gathering images for a large video project I’m working on.  This red maple at Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park was in full blaze.

I stopped by Campbell Lisk Heritage Park below Hwy 10 next to the Souris River. The first picture is the flooded park taken in June and the second one I took yesterday.

The little park, at flood peak, had over seven feet of water in it from the Souris River. Now the water is gone, the flood cake has dried out and turned into a fine grey powder that sails on every gust of wind. The vegetation has started to return; the spruce trees suffered and each is surrounded by a circle of brown dead needles, waterkill from the flooding. The other difference in the two pictures is how everything has dried out. The recent shot shows how arid we are now after a hot virtually rainless summer.

I took a hike halfway around Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park today to survey the hiking trail. The flood cake from the flooding Assiniboine extends well back from the lake, in some places over fifty feet. The grey floodcake is dried out but several plants have asserted themselves quickly, notably grassy sedges and horsetail along the wettest parts. Further back and in the shade poison ivy, now scarlet and quite evident, flourished in the grey dry soil. Though the day was hot and sunny, I didn’t see any turtles sunning along Marsh Lake. The flood changed the ecology of the lake so it will take time to restore it or evolve into a new habitat. The turtles know what to do.

I haunted some cemeteries on my drive and have some interesting epitaphs to report. In the little cemetery just outside of Margaret, MB I found these three, the first rather common but profound: Sleeping in Jesus, the comforting Under His Wings and, chiselled into an old old stone, Nevertheless he lives. In my hometown cemetery, I found the most effervescent one of the trip: She has joined the dance, the sprightly dance, the dance ever-existing.

By the way, everything is up-to-date in Treherne, MB. Besides having buildings made of bottles, nice people and a pretty location, Treherne has the Birch Motel which is all mod cons as you can see! Waterbeds and direct dial phones…a little slice of heaven on Hwy 2.

Ghost towns are appearing more frequently now. The siding of Kelloe and fading village of Solsgirth are no longer acknowledged with signs along Hwy 16. Kelloe consists of a family home with modern kids stuff in the yard and a few tumbledown houses in the bush. Solsgirth appeared to have two houses being lived in. The entire population of McConnell when I went through it this morning was two horses. Although the school, church and an old house or two survive, no people live there. Instead the people erected a cairn to signify where McConnell is/was. Apparently you can’t rely on the memories of horses for this kind of thing. Cardale was pert and mowed, the few souls it supports keep busy and wave at me. Margaret has 9 people and 30 boxes in its post office, mostly farmers. I mention to the postmistress (how quaint does that sound?) that my parents lived in Margaret when I was born and so did I until we moved to Hayfield four years later. She remembered hearing our family name in the district.

I’ll end with two pictures of a delightful old weather-depainted Queen Anne style house I gaped at in Newdale today. The lovely gables with elaborate carved bargeboards and the over window and door detailing make this almost ghostly pile extra special. I wonder if it glows in the dark? It has a little satellite dish!

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Filed under Day Tripping, Flood, Ghost Towns, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People, Roadside Attractions

A Cup of Coffee With the Folks

Reid Dickie

“There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” – Deepak Chopra

        I had a sister I never knew. Dayna Lee died a year before I was born. She was ten months old.


            She had me on tenterhooks.

            Every day, in the week preceding my sixteenth birthday, Mom mentioned the surprise gift she had for me. Day by day, I coerced tidbits of information from her about the mysterious gift.  Mom was way ahead of me, of course. Everything she told me was a red herring.

            I came straight home after school on my birthday and found a note on the kitchen landing. “3:15 Darling, Gone to Phil’s for coffee. Love Mom.” I don’t ever remember coming home from school and not finding a note that said where she was if she wasn’t at home.

            Phyllis was Mom’s school chum from down the street. Mom lived five miles from where she was born. Phil lived ten miles from her birthplace. They’d been little girls together. Now they were Moms having coffee together.

            Frig snack in hand and TV on, I was prone on the couch when the familiar tinkle of the oriental chimes that, for thirty years, ‘rang’ every time anyone opened the door, announced Mom’s arrival.

            She gave me a big hug after putting her shoes carefully on the landing and stepping into slippers.

            “Phil wishes you happy 16th and a big kiss. Make it a wet one, she said, so…”

            Mom lathered up her mouth with her tongue and planted a big wet one on my lips from Phil, and another from her. Laughing, she handed me a towel.

            “So when do I get my surprise gift?” I could barely contain my curiosity. Mom’s tantalizing tidbits had worked their necessary magic.

            “Just as soon as I get my soda.” She plopped ice cubes into a ceramic coffee mug and poured in fizzy 7-Up.

            We went to the couch and she sat next to me. This was important! She wasn’t sitting in Her Chair. The cup of 7-Up sat on the coffee table beside the fruit basket with the beautiful butterfly spread-eagled under glass at the bottom.

            “Well, Happy Birthday son.  Dad and I pillow-talked this over and we decided it would be a good idea for you to know this now.” A long pregnant pause.

            “Wow! What can this be? I’m enthralled. Umm…”

            “Don’t start guessing. Just listen. Back before you were born, Dad and I lived in the village of Margaret, south of Brandon. He was a grain buyer. It was just after the war and we had already started our family. Your sister Dayna Lee was born in September of 1947. She was a happy robust baby, always smiling and laughing, carefree. We were new parents, green and scared, though I did have a good idea of the process having been one of six daughters of a midwife. You know all of this so far, right?”

            I nodded. I did know it all…so far.

            “This, you don’t know. One bright early May morning in 1948, Dad and I were sitting on the stoop with Dayna Lee, enjoying the sun and the smell of the apple tree in bloom. A stranger came walking down the street toward our house. There weren’t more than 100 people living in Margaret at the time so we knew a stranger when we saw one.

            “He was a friendly sort. Spoke right up and introduced himself as James Reid, a writer by trade he told us.”

            Mom paused and looked deeply into my eyes. They had named me James Reid.

            “He was older than us. I was 35, Dad 30 when Dayna was born. I’d say James Reid was in his early 50s. We invited him in for a cup of coffee. Much obliged, he joined us in our little kitchen. Bruce played with Dayna Lee; I made coffee, set out some cookies and we chatted.

            “We talked about the weather and the crops. He asked Dad what occupied him in the little town. We asked about his career as a writer, what he wrote about, his travels. He had seen some very strange places, experienced some incredible things. I remember he said he was having some heart problems. It sounded serious but he didn’t go into detail.

            “All the while he’s talking I’m thinking how familiar he looks. Where do I know this guy from? It became such an intense feeling that I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. Dad was bouncing giggly Dayna on his knee and, as James bent near to tickles her chin, it struck me. The stranger looked very much like Dad.”

            “He was a long lost brother?” I exclaimed.

            “No. Be quiet and listen. He even sounded a little like Dad. Anyway, at that moment, the telephone rang, it was Winnie Seeback, Dayna needed changing and was getting moody so James excused himself, thanked us for the coffee and left. No one else in Margaret saw him coming or going. He’d been in our house maybe 25 minutes.”

            “Ss…who was he?” My curiosity was dancing from foot to foot.

            “He was…” she paused, took a deep breath and said, “…you.” She watched closely for my reaction. Bewilderment described it accurately.

            “He was me? What do you mean? I’m confused.”

            “The resemblance was so great, son. It was you, visiting from the future, from after your Dad and I die. I saw Dad in your eyes and lips and on your brow and in the way you held your chin in your hands almost as if you didn’t know you were doing it. Dad shares the same mannerism with his own father.”

            “What did I look like?” I asked.

            “Like an older Dad, less hair, frailer. You were very handsome too, I might add. Your hair was cut very short, just like Dad’s during the war. Dad let his headful grow back after he was discharged, so you two were quite a contrast: Dad’s dark bushy hair and your sparse salt and pepper buzz cut, both overarching a similar face. You weren’t fat and you had a good tan. You wore blue jeans and a blue shirt.”

            “Good one Mom! You got me good.” I was sure she was pulling my leg.

            “Okay. Ask Dad when he gets home.” I recognized her earnest tone. She wasn’t kidding.

            “So did Dad recognize me too?” I thought I had her.

            “After you left I asked Dad if the stranger had seemed familiar to him. Dad thought for a moment and said he had a strong sense of having met him but couldn’t place where. I waited several days before I offered my theory to your father.”

            “Oh oh. He just became ‘your father.’ He didn’t agree with your theory, right?”

            “Eventually he did. As life’s circumstances began to play out for us, he came to realize what had happened. I was certain all along, a mother’s intuition.”

            “What did I do while I was there? Did I ask you questions? Did I snoop through your drawers?”

            She paused, pensive. “You watched, I guess you could say. You watched with a sly pleasure as Dad and Dayna played together. You enjoyed laughing with us in a certain way that only family can. You looked wistfully around the kitchen, studying everything that was on the counter as if you were trying to imprint every detail for later. You actually apologized for this at one point when you thought I’d caught you staring. You said it was part of the writer’s life to soak up detail but I knew something else was up.”

            “If you’re so certain it was me, why did I visit you?”

            “What are you saying, that you’ll never visit me after you leave?” She was being playful with me. “That I’ll never hear from you again? Not even a phone call?”

            “Maybe a phone call,” I jibed.

            “Okay. That would be nice. Why did you come to visit? You know I’ve often wondered about that, son. I never have come up with a satisfying answer. Maybe you wanted to meet your sister before it was too late. Maybe you were “shopping for parents.” I can’t be certain. Which is part of the reason I’m telling you today. Maybe you’ll figure this one out. If not now, then in about 35 years, when you are a writer. I’m so proud of my writer son.” She kissed me on top of my head. “Happy Birthday!”

            She got up and left me on the couch alone, befuddled with my gift, my mystery.


            She was right.

            Tonight in my trance as part of my shamanic practice, I journeyed for myself. I journeyed to sort out some problems that were plaguing me; health problems, mental problems, spiritual problems, all the realms represented. It was late in my journey, with my power animals and spirit helpers out in full force that I went to Margaret.

            Webbed Flight, my central spirit ally, took me to the village, to the street, to the house, through the door, into the kitchen with the smell of the apple blossoms wafting in. He made me watch them first, their happy smiles and easy love evident.

            “Why have you brought me here? Why are they in black and white?” I asked him.

            “You know why. Watch. In a moment, you’ll visit them,” Webbed Flight said.

            I watched and saw them tending a person I’d never know, a baby that would be dead before the winter, claimed suddenly, senselessly. Their happiness was so full of hope and expectation.

            “You’ll visit now,” said Webbed Flight and I found myself walking down the street toward my parents. I was my current age, fifty-two.

            I did visit, enjoying every precious minute, gazing into the faces of family that wouldn’t know me for over a year, if ever. I saw the rooms that I would inhabit for the first three years of my life. I was nourished once again by the imaginal world, the realm of the soul. I found, inside this place, the connection to the personal source and the universal source that I needed to relinquish the pain of my problems.

            A healing happened there in that old kitchen with a new baby and strangers who were future family. On that day and in that way, a pang of the universe was relieved in a mysterious beautiful union, just as it always is.

Spring 2002

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Filed under Family, shamanism, Spirit