Tag Archives: poison ivy

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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Filed under Earth Phenomena, Spirit, spirit sands

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