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The Lonesomes #5 – Prairie Fire

JULY WEST 2011 067

Click pic to watch The Lonesomes #5 – 2:28

Prairie Fire

Wildfire races across the open prairie toward a homestead.

Reid Dickie

Script

YOUNG GIRL

I ‘member Papa and I standin’ after sundown and watchin’ the red glow far off in the distance. I was skeerd and I think Papa was a little skeerd too. The next night the glow was even closer. In the mornin’ we all could smell the smoke.

Papa got the team out and ploughed a wide circle round the house, the barn and haystacks. We filled everything we had with water: barrels, troughs, pots, pans, kettles, pails, basins, jars, even the chamber pots. We soaked brooms, grain sacks, sheets and anything we could find that sopped up water and could be used to beat back the fire.  My big brother Ivan pumped water so long that day his arms was swole and sore by the evening.

After dark we all stood and watched the fire comin’ straight toward our farm. The prairie grass was so high the fire ate it like it was breakfast. I can still hear the loud roar of the fire. We was lucky. Just when we started to beat at the flames, the wind changed direction and sent the fire across the ravine, away from us. Burned out half our wheat crop though.

The other thing the fire took was the outhouse. It was tinder-dry and it took but one spark to set it on fire. It was gone in no time. Mama and us kids talked Papa into digging the new outhouse closer to the house. Mama had to tickle him to get him to agree.

When we was lookin’ for things to fill with water, we even used the pretty teacups Mama brought over with her on the boat. There was only two of them and one got broke. (PAUSE) Mama cried.

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Character Backstory

Raging prairie fires were a frequent danger for pioneers after the buffalo were extirpated and the prairie grasses grew tall and dry in the summer heat. Often fires could be seen approaching for several days across the flat land. It was an all-out battle to prepare for an oncoming fire: from ploughing a wide fireguard around the property to collecting water and gathering materials to beat back the flames.

This story is told from the perspective of a bright eight-year-old girl who lives with her family on their prairie homestead in 1899. The girl’s English is colloquial giving the piece an atmosphere of the era when children’s education was often secondary to farm work. She recounts the story with increasing wide-eyed fear but comfort from having her family around her. There is palpable relief in her voice when the wind changes and their farm is saved. Things lighten up considerably with the outhouse story and we think everything is going to be okay.

Reality rears its head again in last paragraph when one of the two teacups gets broken and Mama cries. The irony and the happy/sad balance is maintained. The broken tea cup was a dramatic and poignant afterthought.

Once again, Nora Nordin-Fredette did an excellent job bringing the fearful little girl to life.

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Location Information

This lone abandoned farmhouse atop a rise in southern Saskatchewan was the inspiration for The Lonesomes. I had driven past it dozens of times over the years and everything about it was mysterious to me. It seemed to cry out for an imagination to commemorate its hardships, its joys and fears, its life and death.

It is located in extreme southern Saskatchewan along Highway #18 in the Missouri Coteau near the Big Muddy area. The symmetrical little house with its four dormers was familiar to me from my trips visiting sacred sites in Saskatchewan.  One year turkey vultures nested in the house and when I drove by a vulture was perched on each of its dormers like elegant gargoyles.

I took a guided tour of the area in 2011 from Tillie Duncan, an elderly lady who’d lived her whole life in the region. She explained the house was built in the late 1890s and the family had to bring wood across the border from Plentywood, Montana, about a mile away, because there were no trees in this part of the country.

Combining live action with my still photos of the house the place looks vulnerable enough to suit the prairie fire story I had in mind. The close-up moving pan across the facade details the intricate decay of the old house.

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Filed under Prairie People, The Lonesomes, video art

Journeys of the Heart, Journeys of the Soul

Reid Dickie

“Do not think you will necessarily be aware
of your own enlightenment.” – Dogen

My new life purpose has been revealed to me with great clarity during my travels this summer. In a few words, one part of my current life purpose is to learn and be hurled into new experiences then to report what happened with honesty, without proselytization. That is what this blog aims to achieve.

Another part is helping other Old Souls find their clarity, their purpose. Spirit has given me three incredible Old Souls whom I am honoured to assist with their life work. All men, of various ages spanning two decades, my “suns” as I have come to call them, bring vast richness, comfort and energy into my life. I thrive on that and I am grateful everyday for their presence in my purpose.

Wind and rain sculpt the soft sandstone of Castle Butte in southern Saskatchewan

Most Old Souls spend much of their life soul building; for some, life is only about soul building. This is another part of my current purpose. The long trips into the Saskatchewan hinterland have given me the stimulus, the space and the solitude necessary to reclaim my humanity, to proceed with my personal evolution in a world dead set on stealing my humanity from me. Since shamanism begins at Nature mysticism and moves outward from there, my time surrounded by raw Nature enchants my soul, quickens my evolution and drives my purpose. I get healed! I get happy!

People I encountered this summer have surprised me with their understanding and  acceptance of my spiritual needs. I think of octogenarian tour guide from Coronach, SK, Tillie Duncan, who told me she meets people all the time who do ritual at these places so “you’re not the only one, Reid.” I was heartened to know that bit of information and humbled by her gracious silence while I did my small rituals.

At Jack’s Cafe in Eastend, SK, over a long breakfast as I scribbled in my journal, I noticed a 30ish local couple across the aisle eying me repeatedly. When they rose to leave, she came over and said to me, “Are you a cop?” I smiled and said I wasn’t. “Well, you got something, some kinda power.” Her husband stood behind her, nodding and smiling strangely. “Do I make you nervous?” I asked. They agreed I didn’t. She sputtered a bit and said, “You make me feel…” She was grasping for the word and surprised herself it was so simple. “You make me feel happy!” We all laughed and I told them it makes me happy to make them happy and to have the best day they’d had in a long time today. I’m sure they did. He kissed her as they were leaving, giving the old town codgers gathered in Jack’s for their morning coffee something else to gossip about.

Weathered farm house built about 1905 in Big Muddy area of southern Saskatchewan

I get enormous satisfaction knowing that I have incited several people to travel to sacred places this summer, to personally explore themselves within the context of ancient aboriginal holy sites. For some, it has been life-changing. I hope to get permission to share a few of their stories with you on my blog.

I plan to keep the mighty Avenger for a few more weeks as I have a long list places to visit and record around Manitoba. Thank you for watching my videos and being my passenger on some of my travels. Many more miles ahead, the curious and the arcane await us. Stay tuned! Be happy!

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Filed under Blog Life, Day Tripping, Prairie People, Roadside Attractions, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, Soul Building

Out There It’s Summertime

Reid Dickie

I’m just back from a eight-day ramble on the prairies, mostly in the Missouri Coteau and Cypress Hills areas of southern Saskatchewan. I visited half a dozen new sites, revisited some familiar ones, shot almost 2 hours of video (expect plenty of reports from afar as a result), met wonderful new people and spent time with some old favourites. My intuition quickened, Spirit whispered through the trees in Pine Cree Park and Old Souls aided and abetted me along the way. My reward for the 2800 kms and ensuing events is serenity, a renewed sense of purpose and a bolstering of my humanity. You get what you intend.

The trip began with a perfect Saturday at the Regina Folk Festival with Linda’s cousin, Mike Panko and his beautiful partner, Brenda. Mike’s an Old Soul and a ton of fun. Here’s Mike and me at the fest.

A day of great music culminated with an energetic set from k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang closing the evening concert which also featured Taj Mahal. k.d. is in fine form these days with a new band, high energy, great new songs from her Sing It Loud CD (buy it if you haven’t already) and a back catalogue that would be the envy of any singer with perfect pitch. The show began with the lead-off track from the CD called I Confess, to my ears a Roy Orbison homage of high order. (That was one of the Tunes of the Tour as was Moonglow because Wendy Thomson performed it beautifully with the moon rising above her on the second floor balcony at The Convent in Val Marie. Both tunes sift through the inattentive spaces in my mind as the miles go by.) k.d. covers two songs on the CD and performed both of them: Heaven “by that great country band, Talking Heads,” as she introduced it, led eerily, perfectly into a new arrangement of Hallelujah; and she swung the Little River Band hit Reminiscing. She sang Miss Chatelaine, Western Skies, ending the show with a rockin’ version of her now-evergreen Constant Craving. To end the encores and evening she sang Neil Young’s Helpless.

After a restful night on Mike’s futon and a long, leisurely breakfast with him and Brenda, I was westbound onto the Missouri Coteau. The Coteau stretches from the northwest in central Saskatchewan south between Moose Jaw and Swift Current into South Dakota. It’s the next step up on the prairies after the Manitoba Escarpment and features lots of hills and gullies, some of Saskatchewan’s best scenery and worst highways, friendly people and endlessly changing vistas that surprise and enchant the curious seeker. It’s one of my favourite places to drive. The highways are lonesome and long, the sky runs ahead of me just as far as it extends behind me and there’s enough room to think, to evolve, to expand my awareness and discover what’s there. I head south from Moose Jaw to Assiniboia then west toward Pine Cree Park, my camping destination for the night.

Located in the foothills to the Cypress Hills between Shaunavon and Eastend, over the years Pine Cree Park has sheltered my little tent more than any other campground on the praires. This is a shot of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek, which runs right through Pine Cree Park; its pleasant burble can be heard from most campsites in the park.

Set in a deep mysterious coulee on a Continental Divide, Pine Cree Park is a truly rustic camping experience. There is no other like it in southern Saskatchewan. Soft-shell camping is encouraged, the park is non-electric, the width of the road and bridges prevents any unit longer than 28 feet from using the park and weight restrictions on the bridges apply. It gets extremely dark. Great for stargazing. Here’s another shot of the little stream through the park.

The little park has custodians this year, something new. Joan Hodgins and her nephew Darcy tend the park and live in two trailers just at the entrance. Both wonderful helpful people. I bought a generous tailgate load of firewood for $5 delivered. Joan offers outdoor programs at the park and both her and the lad demonstrated a great love for and understanding of this sacred place. Joan helped me understand the significance of a gift Spirit gave me just after I arrived in the park. I will have a video report on the gift soon.

The next night I moved from soft shell camping to luxury on the prairie, staying at The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie. A former convent saved from demolition by Robert and Mette Ducan about 15 years ago, this is my favourite bed and breakfast out there.  Other guests included Wendy and Eldon Thomson from Saskatoon who’d also attended the Regina Folk Festival and were out for a drive on the Coteau. Up on the second floor balcony, Wendy serenaded us with her lovely singing and guitar playing until way past dark. The balcony affords a wide view of the Frenchman River valley, Grasslands National Park beyond and the star-filled night sky. The Convent is for sale, a bargain at $525,000. Video coming soon. UPDATE: Watch my video tour. Here is a picture of me in front of The Convent.

Two more shots of The Convent: the first floor breakfast room and the second floor sitting room.

The next day I took the eco-driving tour of Grasslands National Park. There is some development occurring in the park. A small, primitive campground has been set up at the Belza Place which has a vast view of the Frenchman River valley, and closer to the prairie dog Dogtown, another development is being built. Spend a couple of minutes with the prairie dogs in GNP. Here’s a shot of the vista from the Belza campsite.

After a night at the Stage Coach Motel in Willow Bunch, I took a private tour of the Big Muddy Badlands offered through Coronach Tourism. Tillie Duncan, who’d lived in the area her whole life and knew it like the back of her hand, was my guide. She took me through the Sam Kelly Caves where outlaws like Dutch Henry and Butch Cassidy hid the horses and cattle they rustled back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We also visited two sacred sites that were new to me: a ceremonial circle and a turtle effigy, both high atop a butte on the Giles Ranch which is private property and accessible only through guided tours. Though elderly, Tillie was spry and full of vigour, offering countless entertaining anecdotes about the area. She still farms 13 quarters, growing durum and lentils this year! I recommend her highly for the Big Muddy tour. Here’s a shot of me taken near the turtle effigy.

A night in the Country Boy Motel then I re-explored a couple of the accessible sites Tillie had shown me, like the 1902 Big Muddy North West Mounted Police barracks and the family cemetery of an early pioneer, James Marshall, all with magnificent vistas of the huge Big Muddy valley. I revisited Castle Butte and took some great video of the place. Again coming soon to a blog near you. The only rain of my eight-day journey occurred Friday morning when I awoke in Weyburn. By the time I got to Manitoba, the sun was shining again. I was thrilled to discover Hwy #5 through Spruce Woods Park is now open and the park is slowly getting back on its feet. This is my report on the park’s current status.

I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and fully in touch with my humanity. The mighty Avenger and I will travel the prairies for another month. There is always room in the virtual passenger seat for you. Hope you are up to the drive all the way “out there” and back. Come on along.

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Filed under Accommodations, Ancient Wisdom, Natural Places, Parks, Pioneers, Prairie People, PRAIRIES, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, Spirit, spirit sands, Video