Tag Archives: val marie

The Lonesomes #2 – Chimney Jim

Snapshot 8 (06-02-2012 1-53 PM)

Click pic to watch The Lonesomes #2 – 1:14

Chimney Jim

A red brick chimney fulfills a phlegmy prediction.

Reid Dickie



Old Barrelass Cruthers, you remember how he used to talk as if he was horkin’ up a lung all the time?

Anyway, he said to me when my brother Carl and I was building the house, he said, That’s one fine chimney Jim. After the boards of that old house have crashed into the ground, those red bricks’a yers’ll still be pokin’ up outta the prairie…like a hard-on. (LAUGHS AND COUGHS)

You oughta be prouda that chimney Jim. (COUGHS) You oughta be prouda that chimney Jim. (COUGHS)


Character Backstory

This is a part I wrote for myself. I do two voices: Jim, the narrator, and old Barrel Ass Cruthers, a real character, who has a distinct way of talking that requires vast amounts of phlegm and coughing to acquire speech.

Jim is late 50s, early 60s. This is a remembrance of building the house with his brother when they were young men. The house was built in 1910.

Cruthers is a busybody, obese, has a barrelass and is full of mucous from all the gluten and fat he’s eaten in his life. Nonetheless, he still gets around enough to comment on new construction in the area. You can see Jim and Carl saying, “Oh shit” when Cruthers pulls up in his sweaty horse and oversize buggy. But he is tolerated. What are you going to do?

The image of the house collapsing onto the red chimney inspired the story which Jim truly enjoys repeating because he does the full phlegm version so well. And there are fewer and fewer people who remember Cruthers.


Location Information

I found this old tumbledown house out on Highway #18 in southern Saskatchewan west of Val Marie. The two collapsing sections of the house seemed to be supported totally by the still-red and robust chimney. We brightened the red chimney a little in post production and heightened the contrast to make the scene more dream-like.

Originally I had the characteristic of speech then I just let the place create the story. Nothing complex. 

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Filed under Prairie People, The Lonesomes, video art

It’s Grasslands National Park Day on ReadReidRead

Reid Dickie

For the second year in a row, February 1st is Grassland National Park Day on my blog. This year I’m offering two new videos, one of prairie dogs in GNP and a video tour of The Convent Bed & Breakfast in Val Marie, SK on the edge of the park.

Grasslands National Park is an enchanting place. Features of the park include its recent designation as a Dark Sky Preserve, in fact, the darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. Critterwise, GNP is celebrating its first wild-born black-footed ferrets. The park reintroduced black-footed ferrets without much success until last year when, for the first time in 70 years, a wild black-footed ferret was born in Canada. Watch a park video of the ferrets.  

Another reintroduction to Grasslands National Park is plains bison. For the first time in 150 years, a herd of plains bison now numbering about 250 head are part of the prairie ecosystem. Adaptable and comfortable, the plains bison population is increasing quickly with about 75 calves expected to be born in spring 2012. The herd has increased from the 70 bison first released in 2005.

Read posts from last year’s Grasslands National Park Day.

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Filed under Critters, grasslands national park, Heritage Buildings, Natural Places, Saskatchewan

The Convent B&B, Val Marie, SK

Reid Dickie

I’ve spent more glorious nights at The Convent Bed & Breakfast than any other lodging on my prairie travels. Its appeal is powerful and pleasant, relaxing yet stimulating at the same time. The combination of a serene old building and the caring owners creates a peaceful and rare experience. The picture above is The Convent’s charming dining room overlooking Grasslands National Park.

Val Marie (pop. about 130) is located at the western end of Grasslands National Park and features the park office and visitor centre. It’s about an hour south of Swift Current off the Trans Canada Highway. Few accommodations for travelers exist in the little village making The Convent even more precious. An actual convent used as a teaching facility into the late 1960s, the Ducans converted it into a bed and breakfast in the late 1990s. They retained many of the features, such as blackboards, chapel including confessional and woodwork from the original building. Take a video tour of The Convent inside and out with me by clicking on the pic below.

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Filed under Accommodations, grasslands national park, Heritage Buildings, Old Souls, Saskatchewan, Spirit

Dusk in Val Marie, Saskatchewan

The Antonioni cottonwoods (watch Blow-Up!) nuzzle the prairie breezes leaving symphonic rustles hanging in the late afternoon air. Nuance consumes nuance. I am mostly naked, cooled by the day as I am heated by the wine. The second floor balcony of The Convent is close to heaven. Linda occurs! I am a blessed being, lucky times infinity, living that same dream in the middle of now here, an exclamation point on the endless prairie! This is what dusk in Val Marie looked like that night.

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Filed under Accommodations, BEAUTY, Heritage Buildings, Linda, Prairie People, Saskatchewan

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.


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

Prairie Dog Rapture? Repost

Reid Dickie

It’s been floating around for years and landed a few days back in my sidebar. I mean this painting of the prairie dogs with their paws and heads raised performing en masse what appears to be a ritual. Titled where I’ve seen it as Prairie Dog Rapture, I got curious about it. Do prairie dogs do this?

The painting is by a contemporary artist named Anthony Falbo, a multi-stylist who sometimes paints in Dali style, sometimes cubist, other times representational. His God Art site gives you the gist and gamut of his work. I learned that the artist’s actual name for the painting is Praising Prairie Dogs, giving it a slight twist, otherwise Anthony wasn’t much help.

Since image is the language of the soul, any picture on the internet will create its own mythology, as did this one. Some people stated and many believed that every morning and every evening prairie dogs stop whatever it is they are doing and spend anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour grouped in this pose honouring the sunrise and sunset.

Over the decades, several of my long treks, including two this past summer, took me into southwestern Saskatchewan and Grasslands National Park. GNP has two large dog towns, which comprise the only Canadian habitat for prairie dogs, those varmints whose burrows broke the legs of horses and cattle. Easily accessible, the dog towns are part of the self-guiding driving tour the Park offers to visitors. Linda and I visited there together one year and spent hours watching the funny little critters run and play, hug and kiss each other and bark like, well, prairie dogs. I thought if anyone in the country can tell me if prairie dogs do sunrise and sunset rituals, they’d be at Grasslands. And they were.

Pat Fargey, a species-at-risk biologist at GNP, returned my call and was curious about the picture. Without seeing it and based on my description, Pat thought the only time prairie dogs made that gesture was when they were barking which was usually not formal as in the picture. I scoured internet images to find a prairie dog making the gesture.

There’s the gesture – prairie dog barking! It does have an element of Hallelujah in it, to be sure and I can see how Falbo adapted the pose turning it into praise. If prairie dogs spend an hour a day gesturing like this for whatever reason, that behaviour would be a well-known part of the prairie dog description and wouldn’t need a painting on the internet to suddenly bring it to light.

Nonetheless, the image remains evocative, even edifying. As a group, they share joy and passion, prompting me to imagine them about to sing as a choir of little prairie dog voices and wonder what hymn they picked and what it sounds like. Let’s listen…


Filed under Art Actions, Critters, grasslands national park, Parks, Saskatchewan

Fifteen Museums That Don’t Exist


 Reid Dickie  


            At Ipswich McCauley’s Museum, you will see five hundred sixty one pairs of baby shoes dating back to 1750; one hundred twenty of them are bronzed, some are moccasins worn by Sioux babies.

Down the road apiece is Doanne Skweizer’s grandfather’s collection of wrenches, 184 in all. Next to each wrench is a glass jar of nuts and bolts the wrench was used on.

In Lipton Seeback’s farmyard is a small shed that contains three hundred eleven early electric fans and a couch made of horseshoes welded together. Not even one of the fans work but, improbably, the couch is extremely comfortable.

Astwurst Shfickins brought his mother’s collection of dolls made of goat dung – all two hundred seventy three of them – from Norway. She made every one herself. He keeps them under locked airtight glass domes, each dome lit by an intense overhead beam.

A mile detour gets you to Ditdit Kbeema’s House of Coconuts. It is not a house made of coconuts but rather a collection of all the varieties of coconuts the planet provides.  Ditdit will always try to sell you a polyester Hawaiian shirt. Do not buy one.

Lukas Smallth claims to have about $30,000 worth of coins that he watched being run over by trains after he put them on railway tracks. When you ask him the obvious question, Lukas will likely weep.

Pershing Dowhauser inherited an uncle’s collection of clothespins and displays them on a clothesline holding up an aunt’s collection of Irish linen tea towels with birds on them. Everyday is laundry day at Pershing’s house.

As a school project when he was eight, Gorse Grass started keeping a diary of his toilet habits and still persists at this fifty-three years later. He will show you his twenty-seven volume diary, point out highlights, explain his rating system and, if he is in a good mood, show you the entry for his most favourite bowel movement ever.

Dawn Intrafficschool’s museum features the two things she collects: ribald stories about nuns and obscure laundry detergents. Dawn will enthrall you all day with her nun stories, which she reads aloud in her bold voice. Since she blushes easily, she will spend most of the time beet-faced and embarrassed. Next to her wringer washer is her collection of rare laundry detergents with names by Pek, Jer, Poomt, Durf, KKKleen and White World. Whether removed from the market due to corrosive natures, unhealthy emissions or witless naming, all her detergents have a story to tell, just like Dawn herself.


            I stopped at a pay phone outside a garage in Val Marie, Saskatchewan at 3:00 am to call in my report. A small green ball of light shot around the streets of the tiny village the whole time I made my call. It ignored me and, making a tiny rocket noise, zoomed about four feet off the ground up and down the dozen dusty streets that comprise Val Marie. The few streetlights in the village were the old-fashioned, loaded-with-shadows white light types so the brighter-than-neon green gave an eerie organic illumination to the scene.

As I drove out of town, the green ball streamed by me then turned down a street it had traveled 80 times in the last 5 minutes.

A few miles on, I stopped at the side of the highway. As I stepped out of the car, Orion stepped out of the sky and rubbed my shoulders. I palpitated next to Highway 18, massaged by a constellation.

By a stream, I fell asleep. I know this.

I am eastbound now, horizon speaking directly to me in the dim yellow language of morning.


            Toodhow Klippenhaus will show you his collection of Venezuelan toreador hats for a small fee, usually from $5 to $8. He has over 800 to show you. Set aside a day.

At Aurora Gaunt’s Soup Museum, taste sixty-six kinds of consommé.

Watch for the dozens of flags flying at Biffyland, the world’s largest collection of outhouses, all in working order. How many? They have lost count but you can count on getting lost in the Biffy Maze. This is a recommended pit stop.

For some odd reason Clynmyst Gigglougg kept everything his mother told him never to put in his mouth. And here it all is, awaiting your perusal. Warning signs are posted.

The Old Testament is written on the west wall of Bryton Galosheski’s barn, on the east the New Testament. The gable ends are painted to look like the fore and aft of Noah’s Ark. All along the ridge top of the gambrel roof is a large wooden cutout of the Last Supper, elaborately painted on both sides. The entire roof area is covered with antlers, horns and hooves of wild animals fastened securely with airplane wire. Some say “awesome”, others say “ghastly.” You decide.

If broken scissors are your bliss then do not miss the stimulating displays at Dayton Drayder’s Home for Wayward Half Scissors. Dayton can answer all your scissor-related queries, even “Is half a scissor better than no scissor at all?”

  March 15, 2004

 None of these museums exists. Sorry.

Val Marie does exist in southwestern Saskatchewan at the western edge of Grasslands National Park. It has 137 people, an excellent bed and breakfast called The Convent, interesting tour guides and the Information Centre for Grasslands National Park. It is often the Canadian hot spot.

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Filed under Fiction, grasslands national park, Saskatchewan

Prairie Dog Rapture?

Reid Dickie

          It’s been floating around for years and landed a few days back in my sidebar. I mean this painting of the prairie dogs with their paws and heads raised performing en masse what appears to be a ritual. Titled where I’ve seen it as Prairie Dog Rapture, I got curious about it. Do prairie dogs do this?

            The painting is by a contemporary artist named Anthony Falbo, a multi-stylist who sometimes paints in Dali style, sometimes cubist, other times representational. His God Art site gives you the gist and gamut of his work. I learned that the artist’s actual name for the painting is Praising Prairie Dogs, giving it a slight twist, otherwise Anthony wasn’t much help.

            Since image is the language of the soul, any picture on the internet will create its own mythology, as did this one. Some people stated and many believed that every morning and every evening prairie dogs stop whatever it is they are doing and spend anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour grouped in this pose honouring the sunrise and sunset.

            Over the decades, several of my long treks, including two this past summer, took me into southwestern Saskatchewan and Grasslands National Park. GNP has two large dog towns, which comprise the only Canadian habitat for prairie dogs, those varmints whose burrows broke the legs of horses and cattle. Easily accessible, the dog towns are part of the self-guiding driving tour the Park offers to visitors. Linda and I visited there together one year and spent hours watching the funny little critters run and play, hug and kiss each other and bark like, well, prairie dogs. I thought if anyone in the country can tell me if prairie dogs do sunrise and sunset rituals, they’d be at Grasslands. And they were.

            Pat Fargey, a species-at-risk biologist at GNP, returned my call and was curious about the picture. Without seeing it and based on my description, Pat thought the only time prairie dogs made that gesture was when they were barking which was usually  not formal as in the picture. I scoured internet images to find a prairie dog making the gesture.

            There’s the gesture – prairie dog barking! It does have an element of Hallelujah in it, to be sure and I can see how Falbo adapted the pose turning it into praise. If prairie dogs spend an hour a day gesturing like this for whatever reason, that behaviour would be a well-known part of the prairie dog description and wouldn’t need a painting on the internet to suddenly bring it to light.

            Nonetheless, the image remains evocative, even edifying. As a group, they share joy and passion, prompting me to imagine them about to sing as a choir of little prairie dog voices and wonder what hymn they picked and what it sounds like. Let’s listen…

Leave a comment

Filed under Art Actions, grasslands national park, Parks, Saskatchewan

Lise Perrault

Reid Dickie

UPDATE: Lise Perrault passed away on March 7, 2015 at age 91. Funeral information here

On my second visit to Val Marie, SK in August 2001 I met a local woman named Lise Perrault who, among other things, ran a small museum in her home. Lise collected and proudly displayed all 24 first editions of the cowboy novels written by western writer and actor Will James who ranched in the Val Marie area. Besides the books, the museum featured other James memorabilia and pictures. Lise sometimes loaned her collection to other museums, claiming it to be the definitive Will James collection in Canada, of which I had no doubt.

               Lise in 2001 when I first met her at her Val Marie house.

Lise thought Will James and his connection to the district was never fully exploited for its tourist and educational value. “We have one of the greatest stories right here in Val Marie,” she said, “but instead of preserving his homestead and making a display of it, we’re not taking advantage of it.” Today in the self-guiding driving tour of the Frenchman Valley in the Park, one of the featured stops is what remains of the Will James ranch.

Making use of her detailed knowledge of the area’s history, geography and special places, Lise offered interesting and well off-the-beaten-path tours of the mysterious Frenchman Valley and Grasslands National Park. In addition to the stories of local ranchers, aboriginals and settlers, Lise could recount tales of bootleggers and point out relics such as the trail the North West Mounted Police used on their patrols between Wood Mountain and Cypress Hills, an ancient half-moon effigy in the dry grass and where the prairie rattlesnakes spend their winters. The day I met her, I waited at her house/museum while she escorted a vanful of tourists around the sights. Her credentials for providing tours were solid.

                     Lise Perrault painting titled Buffalo Rub Stone         

Born in the district and a third generation descendent of Max Trottier who homesteaded in the region in the 1880s, Lise claimed that her grandfather participated in the last buffalo hunt in which 482 buffalo were killed southwest of Val Marie in 1885. Lise is a big fan and promoter of another relative, now-retired hockey player Bryan Trottier who grew up in the Val Marie area and played 18 seasons in the National Hockey League for the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ferdinand and Lise Perrault ran the Rocking 4 Ranch 24 miles east of Val Marie for 38 years where they raised nine children. In 1984, they sold their land to the Park with their ranch becoming the cornerstone of the new 900 square kilometre Grasslands National Park. A strong and vocal advocate of the Park, Lise stated, “Our hills are beautiful. There is colour in our country. It is for discerning people who have time to stop and look.”

Lise was also an accomplished painter who spent her life paying attention to the landscape and capturing its nuances in a unique folk art style. Her depictions of the prairie she saw every day and the critters who roamed it brim with simple honesty both in subject and in style. The vast dun hills rolling back and away dotted with the dark forms of buffalo and deer, the huge blue sky and the subtle connection between land and people were effortlessly captured by Lise’s brush.

Lise is now in a personal care home in Ponteix, SK, her museum closed and the fate of her paintings largely unknown. A few of her paintings are still accessible in Val Marie. The Val Marie Museum retains two of Lise Perrault’s most evocative works. Painted in 1982, one is a hilly and treed vista that may have been the lowlands of the Cypress Hills just west of here. The other, from 1998, depicts two cowboys shaking hands in the middle of the prairie. Nothing in the picture suggests the men’s motive or meaning, no points of reference. There is amicability between them but mystery as well.








The two paintings by Lise Perrault at the Val Marie Museum. Neither are for sale.

The Val Marie Hotel features a mural by Lise depicting the broad prairie with buttes, buffalo and prairie dogs. Located in the hotel restaurant/pub, the scene covers most of a wall. The cattle brands, burnt into the wood above the mural, come from local ranches.

Lise’s prairie mural in the Val Marie Hotel with brands from local ranches along the top.

Lise’s prescient depictions of buffalo roaming the open prairie have come to life. Buffalo returned to the muscular prairie we call Grasslands National Park in December 2005 when seventy plains bison from Elk Island National Park were released into the Park’s West Block. Hoping to enhance the park’s ecological integrity by restoring grazing to the landscape, the buffalo enclosure covers approximately 181 square km and is part of the self-guiding driving tour.

I treasure the time I spent with Lise. She was welcoming and generous with her knowledge of the land and sparked my curiosity to explore and look deeper into the Frenchman Valley, Grasslands National Park and Val Marie. As well, one time she took me to Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site via “the back way,” as she put it, when the pasture gate was locked. For all that, I am indebted to her.

Lise’s home was lined with dozens of paintings, all in her whimsical folksy style. As she spoke a bit about each picture and what it meant to her, her love of the land and all its secrets welled out of her. It made her joyful. At the time, I was highly inclined to buy one of her paintings but my finances didn’t permit it. I regret that.


Filed under grasslands national park, Prairie People, Saskatchewan

BE HAPPY! Reid’s 2010 Year-End Review

           I begin my year-end review with a picture taken New Year’s Eve 2009, one week after Linda died. Snapped by dear Kenny at his celebration, people who saw the picture thought Leonard Cohen had attended the party.

         Alas, it is I, the horrors of the recent past inscribed on my face, a small attempted smile, sad eyes.  Since Leonard Cohen is 14 years my senior, I guess I got a little behind in my Fountain of Youthersize. I will conclude my year-end review with a picture from New Year’s Eve 2010.


            When a good person dies, their benevolent energy is released into the world. It hovers nearby, surrounds those the deceased loved and provides angels to ease their grief. Evident angels bring casseroles and pies. More subtle angels appear seemingly by coincidence. You can recognize them because they always turn up in a timely fashion and they always know what to do. Travis was one of Linda’s angels.

            A licensed massage therapist, Travis was recommended to me in early January to iron out the tension and kinks my body had accumulated over the past few months. The moment I saw Travis I knew he was an angel, an Old Soul come to help. That day I received the best massage of my life. He knew what to do, what I needed. The subsequent seven massages he gave me became increasingly healing. While I tried to come to some kind of reckoning with my state of shock after Linda’s death, Travis kneaded and stroked grief out of my body with kindness, compassion and love. His hands found the pain of grieving my body held and gently, with coordinated breathing, released it, leaving me more relaxed than I’d been in months, unbound, at home in my skin again.

             It is a luxury to be understood. Not only did Travis recognize the needs of my body by relieving its tension, he realized my mental condition and offered solace of the most intense kind. Soul to soul, a bond formed between Travis and me that silently acknowledged the pain and the process required to survive it. In that bond, hope took root, was nurtured, grew and helped me immensely with proactively processing my grief for Linda.

Travis. Can you see the light behind his eyes?                    Click any picture to enlarge.

           Travis showed me grief wasn’t new to me. I had grieved for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and pets in this life and others. Death is necessary. We are all tomorrow’s food. Grief ensues. I knew the territory and I knew the steps. I printed off the 10 steps of grieving, tacked them up at my desk and used the list as a map to figure out how to get through this.

            Travis returned to Vancouver in late March to his family and to pursue his career there. We have kept in touch in many ways. I have a feeling Travis and I will be reunited soon and he will again act as a catalyst to propel me fully into my new life.


      The distance: just over 27,000 kilometres in 6 months from mid-May to mid-November, averaging 150 kms a day all over southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The vehicle: The Mighty Dodge Avenger.

The Mighty Avenger

      I am proud to report that at age 61 I have never owned a car or any motor vehicle in my life. I drive but choose not to. I am independent. This summer I needed to be mobile, to escape this hive and haunt the blue dome that nurtured and inspired me growing up in little Shoal Lake. I needed the elbowroom, the mental room to deal with my grief over Linda’s death, to run the grieving steps in a wide-open space that I knew and that knew me. Enterprise offered me a great deal on a month-to-month rental with plenty of free kilometres. I could not resist and didn’t. The Mighty Avenger arrived in my life. A little sporty, a little daddy, peppy and utterly reliable for the ensuing thousands of kilometres we spent together. We were a team.

   The Mighty Avenger at Pine Cree Park, SK, the farthest west we traveled this summer.   

            At the end of July, Mother Enterprise decided the 2009 Avenger had reached it rentability zenith and was ready to be sold, put out to pasture. Just like me! A lovely irony! I will always cherish and admire how the Mighty Avenger easily contributed to my personal mythology as I created a new life for myself, how every mile it accommodated Linda’s spirit and all the wild spirits we found along the road.

      We’d been comrades in kilometres from Bannock Point Petroforms in the east to The Convent B&B in Val Marie, SK in the west. We’d driven PLP to Wpg during the Once In Fifty Year rainstorm in late May, basked in the heat next to an ancient dancing ground at the top of the highest hill around, maneuvered the blind hills and vales of the Missouri Coteau and the sharp curves of the Canadian Shield with aplomb and dodged most of the gophers we encountered. After traveling 1800 km with me in the Avenger and driving part of the way, my friend Chris can attest that the Avenger is a most amicable driving machine. The Avenger is a mighty sweet ride! Arriving at Enterprise, I turned in my reliable friend, anxious about its replacement.  

The Mighty Avenger and I stopped on a tablerock on the Canadian Shield. 

      Little wheel spin and spin, big wheel turn round and round – it was another Avenger! Same design, same colour but a year younger, fewer kilometres, just a kid really. I would more than double the 14,000 km it had already gone. The myth of the Mighty Avenger lived on as we prowled the prairie hill and dale together.    Our adventures are recounted in most of the 12 Sacred Places reports 

      However, after six months and one week, it was time to say adios for good to the Mighty Avenger. I had extended the rental for three extra months and never regretted a mile of it. Over the summer, I kept all the gas receipts from the Avenger but never totaled them. I waited til just before I gave it back to add them up. Not to say it was hard on gas, it wasn’t but the whopping total made our parting much easier!

      My friends keep asking if I miss the Avenger but I don’t. I enjoy the slower lifestyle, the pace of walking, being patient, it’s familiar. I do miss one thing about it though: hearing the great break in “I’ve Got You under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra, arranged by Nelson Riddle, really loud going 110 kms an hour down a perfect highway aimed at the vanishing point.



      When traveling any path, it is essential to have as many allies as possible in as many different worlds. I am blessed to have my young friend Chris as a spiritual ally. We’ve been friends for 12 years, grown together spiritually, traveled together, aided and abetted each other’s development and personal evolution. We are Old Souls, the ones who find each other in times of need and know what to do.

      If you have followed 12 Sacred Places, you have heard of Chris often enough to make you curious about him. In addition to being an effective and respected therapeutic drummer, imaginative musician, Old Soul and a fine writer, Chris is a deeply spiritual man. He is an embodiment of Universal Love. It shines from his eyes. Time and again when we talk of our lives and our challenges, Chris distills everything to Love for which he is a positive change agent and future attractor. His smile inspires hope.

     Over the years we’d discussed traveling together to the sacred places I told him about. This was our year. Starting solstice sunrise in June (Day 6 of 12 Sacred Places) we spent five blissful days together on the road, traveling through southwestern Manitoba into southern Saskatchewan visiting a dozen ancient places, contacting local spirits and getting grounded. Total kms of shared driving:1867 kms.

      To have an intent then watch for both the intended and unintended to occur is the heart of every sacred journey. Chris and I began our June journey with a simple intent: to humbly visit sacred places seeking grounding and discovery. Although I had driven this path many times, the journey was new to Chris, but being Old Souls, together we cleared the path to our intent. The journey gave both of us the clarity, courage and strength necessary to deal with our life changes.

        Sometimes Chris liked to get out and run along side the Avenger. I always waited for him to catch up when I left him in the dust.

All Mod Cons

       The town of Boissevain, MB in the southwestern part of the province is served by twin water towers, the tallest things in town. Of course, one is hot, the other cold, as you can see.

  BEST HIGHWAY: MB Hwy #68 west of The Narrows 

         Manitoba highways are still superior to Saskatchewan in some areas. The best road was MB Highway #68 west of the Lake Manitoba Narrows. Smooth and easy, no patching and few winter lumps. Infrastructure cash flowed like water this summer with highway construction around every corner of my travels. Brand-new sections of TCH between Portage and Brandon are so smooth they resemble runways and flight feels inevitable.


          The worst is easily SK Highway #18 which I drove three times this summer. Seemingly, I just couldn’t get enough of it. Along the US border west of Estevan the highway dissolves into something the road map calls “thin membrane surface.” It means 100 yards of gravel, 100 yards of broken pavement, 100 yards, of not so bad pavement, back to gravel, no gravel and so on for miles and miles. Some of the most spectacular scenery in Saskatchewan, a dozen ancient holy places, constantly changing landscapes and geology and a broad assortment of rural eccentrics can all be found along Hwy #18 but I still don’t recommend driving it. You can deek in and out of many of these places from much better, more drivable Hwy #13 to the north.

      Curious Cowboy Picture

      On my second visit to Val Marie, SK in August 2001 I met a local woman named Lise Perrault.  Besides collecting original volumes of western writer Will James and offering interesting well off the beaten path tours of the mysterious Frenchman Valley, Lise was a painter with a unique folk art style. Her depictions of the prairie she saw every day and the critters who roamed it brim with simple honesty both in subject and style. Lise is in a personal care home now and her paintings have largely disappeared or been sold by her family.

      Today the Val Marie Museum retains two of Lise Perrault’s most evocative works. Painted in 1982, one is a hilly and treed vista that may have been the lowlands of the Cypress Hills just west of here.

           The other, from 1998, depicts two cowboys shaking hands in the middle of the prairie. Nothing in the picture suggests the men’s motive or meaning, no points of reference. There is amicability between them but mystery as well.

           It made me think of Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx’s well-spun cowboy story. Proulx writes mainly about Wyoming and Wild Westerners, so Val Marie, with its similar landscapes and lifestyles, could well have been a place she visited, saw Lise’s picture and got the notion for Brokeback Mountain. I asked several people in Val Marie if they knew of a visit by Annie Proulx. No one had. I’m probably just adding on here.

 Best Accommodations of the Summer

       I stayed in 30 different hotels, motels and inns over five months this summer, returning to a few of them several times. Quickly I realized there are two completely different business plans going on in hostelry. Most of them rent rooms for people to sleep in. Sounds right, what they do. A few others, the really good ones, sell sleep. They rent rooms too, but they also sell sleep. Big difference. That accounts for the hundred-dollar price gap between the Ramada Inn in Weyburn and Barney’s Motel in Brandon.  

       Ramada in Weyburn is Best Accommodation of the Summer thanks to their $4000 Simmons industrial mattresses that feel like you are being held in the hands of God, stylish and sophisticated décor, pool and hot tub, great continental breakfast, tremendous highway and railway view and a good night’s sleep.

      Also in Weyburn, the Canalta Inn is a runner-up. Next door and related somehow to the Ramada, Canalta Inns, an Alberta company with hotels in the three western provinces, offers almost comparable accommodation including a hot tub and wonderful wet steam room. They, too, are selling sleep.

       Adding charm to the mix, I recommend The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie, SK. An actual convent, saved from demolition at the last minute, is now a serene yet playful bed and breakfast run by wonderful people. I first met Robert and Mette Ducan over ten years ago not long after they had opened their venture. With years of experience behind them, they are expert hoteliers now. Here is a hot tip for recent empty nesters ready to take on a new adventure: The Convent is for sale! The all-in price is reasonable and the location exceptional. This is a Do Not Miss opportunity. Investigate.

The front entrance of The Convent Country Inn. The red brick has a beautiful patina, the renovations retained the serenity of the building and most of the interior design including the chapel. It’s for sale! (The building isn’t tilted, my picture is)


Worst Accommodations of the Summer

       A shoo-in, a hands-down winner for Worst Accommodation of the Summer: Miniota Inn, Miniota, MB, a shrinking village at Highways #83 and 24. What makes it a winning loser? Let me count the reasons. Comprised of either six or eight seedy rooms, the joint is just an excuse to have a pub to service the eight local alcoholics all of whom howled late into the evening. The room reeked of cigarette smoke and when I asked the guy at the desk, so to speak, for non-smoking, he said, “Oh, everybody smokes.” Ah, I was in the wrong town.

      Nonetheless, I stayed the stinking night on a flat saggy mattress below a rendering of Michaelangelo’s Creation on black velvet (truly) which was not bolted to the wall yet survived pilfering, that’s how bad it was. Adam appeared to be wearing jockey shorts. I wondered what velvet delights haunted the other rooms of Miniota Inn and shivered.

      Wait! There’s more. Miniota Inn wins again! A double winner! Add in Worst Restaurant Service of the Summer! My evening meal in their restaurant was reasonably easy and edible, breakfast more of a challenge. A hobbling, elderly man, I guessed in his mid 80s, was the morning waiter and cook, again so to speak. Morning clientele consisted exclusively of working and retired guys getting away from the wife and kids early to spend a few minutes of mindless camaraderie with men of similar destiny. The demands of the morning men were simple: coffee, cream, sugar. Luckily, for the waiter coffee is self-serve at the Miniota Inn giving him time to sit and wheeze. When I ordered toast, a completely new order of expectation, confusion and amusement kicked in. I eventually made my own toast when he brought out the toaster for me to use. This is somewhat of a default win for Worst Service since I thought the toast I made was just fine and I smiled when I brought it to my table.

      Wait! Even more? Yes! Miniota Inn is a triple winner! Not only was the inside ambience and décor of my room toxic in so many ways, the view out my window was Worst View Out a Hotel Window of the Summer. Here it is.

 Any guesses?

      Strangely, the lawn surrounding Miniota Inn is actually a miniature golf course. This structure suspends a swinging pole over the hole (Par 3) as its challenge. I shivered imagining the view out other windows here. Nutshell: Miniota Inn – don’t stay there.

          Runners-up: Barney’s Motel, Brandon, MB for the red ants in my room (Day 8 of 12 Sacred Places has the scoop on Barney’s); and Whitewood Inn, Whitewood, SK for dilapidation. The room was rumpled and over medicated. Their hot tub had a foot of what looked liked creamed corn in the bottom of it and nothing else. Their pool was jittery and toxic but alas, their dry sauna worked up a sweet sweat for a travel-weary Joe. Still, don’t stay at either of these joints.

Big Beaver, SK

            Situated SSE of Regina about 10 miles from the Montana border, Big Beaver claims a population of 20 people. At its height in the 1920s, Big Beaver boasted 300 people, a six-room schoolhouse and four grain elevators, including, in 1925, the biggest inland grain terminal in the British Empire. Today, serving the hamlet and area is Aust’s, a classic country general store. Their motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” Aust’s, one of two businesses in Big Beaver, offers the full gamut of merchandise. Groceries, farm supplies, stationery, clothing, garden supplies and a myriad of merchandise fill three large joined wooden buildings. Each room has its own distinctive odour, rich and rural. There is even a “coffee shop” with classic advertising and a few locals who love to jaw with strangers.

             My first of three visits to Big Beaver was in June with Chris. As we pulled up, I commented we would buy something completely unexpected and we did. See us sporting our new Big Beaver t-shirts.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Texaco Sign 

      This sign has a nostalgic meaning for me. My dad was a Texaco consignee (he delivered gas to farms and stations) for 10 years in Shoal Lake, MB. I grew up there and worked with him, even delivering fuel myself when I got my license. Dad wore a Texaco uniform and cap that featured the big red star with the green T emblazoned on the white circular background. The slogan of the day was, “Texaco. You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” I saw this perfectly restored sign in front of a business on the outskirts of Dauphin, MB with the threatening sky beyond.

Best Music On The Road

Dave Matthews

Big Whisky & the Groo Grux King is Dave’s best music in 5 years.

Tom Waits


Frank Sinatra

Van Morrison

Martin Sexton

The Hip

Chris Scholl


Leonard Cohen

Classic Country Vols. 1 – 4






Traveling Companions

      No matter who or if anyone sat in the passenger seat, Linda rode with me every mile this summer. We developed a loving contraction, for lack of a better term, where she watched over me, softened my loneliness, understood what I needed to do and believed it would be done.

      Webbed Flight, my spirit helper and guide, traveled most of those miles with me as guardian, less for me than for deer on the road. If I was approaching a deer, Webbed Flight gave subtle but firm notice of it. I dodged three deer that way this year. Sometimes he even predicted roadkill deer. Some of the sacred places resonated deeply for him.

      In addition to Chris, I was blessed to have several other organic beings share the road with me this year. Old friends joined me on some of my jaunts about this summer, like Terry, dear friend from my hometown. Together we explored eastern Manitoba in the Whiteshell and Pinawa area. I have known Terry for 50 years, both of us are mostly retired and we “pick blueberries,” our name for driving around, getting out of the car, exploring and just generally living. Easy company, fine sense of humour and long shared history make Terry a welcome passenger anytime. This is Terry’s picture of a metal sculpture in Pinawa.


      My good buddy Mitch comes from Emerson, MB (named for Ralph Waldo Emerson), which I had never visited til this summer when he gave me the guided tour one hot August afternoon. With his great memory for detail, I got the inside scoop on Mitch’s youth in his little town. It felt very similar to my upbringing in a similar environment, familiar, friendly and warm. We visited historic site Fort Dufferin, or the remains of it, just north of Emerson on the banks of the Red River. The site resonated strongly for both of us. Mitch’s diverse background meant he had a story about something along the way nearly every mile. We explored north as well, venturing out to Hecla Island, which was new to both of us. Very enjoyable company with fascinating stories. 

      Another friend from my youth, Susan, met me for lunch several times in Minnedosa, MB this summer. We ventured into Brandon one Sunday for lunch then toured around south of Brandon where I first lived. Sharing comparable life situations, it was terrific to have her company, familiar and easy, comforting and true. 

Working Up an Appetite

Off by itself under a tree in Rounthwaite Cemetery southeast of Brandon I found this simple epitaph.


    No, this isn’t Ken Wilber. It’s a large knot on a tree bending toward the trail around Marsh Lake, an oxbow of the Assiniboine River in Spruce Woods Park, MB . Linda and I discovered this on our first hike there years ago. Pucker your imagination a little and it looks like a face, the North Wind in fact blowing down the trail! I just couldn’t review the year without mentioning Ken Wilber. Done. You can watch Ken stop his brainwaves on my blogroll. You really can. Similar reason to mention: Bill Hicks.



            Honouring and memorializing my beautiful Linda took three significant forms this year, all of them tremendously satisfying and healing for her friends and me.

 The DickTool Kit

             Thirty-five years in the making, nine months in production, The DickTool Kit, a compilation of Super 8 film, video and audio created between 1976 and 1984 by Linda Tooley and Reid Dickie, became reality this year. Linda and I had often talked about putting the old video art we did in our youth onto a DVD and giving it to friends. The actual DickTool Kit turned out to be more comprehensive. The limited edition of 100 Kits wound up consisting of four DVDs, one CD, a 64-page book I wrote describing The Kit’s content and some memorabilia from IF…, our vintage clothing store, all tucked into a metal box. Over six hours of DickToolery!

            Operating both as an archival project and homage to beautiful Linda, The DickTool Kit celebrates us when we first fell in love and how we used the enormous creative energy our union ignited. As it says in the accompanying book, “These are the images we chiseled onto the cave wall and lit with a tiny flickering fire.” How wonderful to be able to share them with our friends and family decades after they were created!

          I first approached Video Pool, the Winnipeg artist-run video production studio, about converting our analog video tapes into digital files on February 3, 2010. Rick Fisher, technical head of Video Pool, was open and very responsive to the idea. My good fortune continued when a young technician named Nicole Shimonek offered to work on the project. Together Nicole and I spent 73 hours in the studio over the next five months viewing, deciding, tweaking and digitizing the DickToolery on the tapes.

            After we created master copies, the DVDs and CD in your Kit were printed and duplicated by Ironstone Technologies who came highly recommended by local musicians and artists. I was not disappointed. Bryan Buchalter and his crew did a fine job.

 The whole kit and kaboodle.  The DickTool Kit and all its components: metal box, book, fours DVDs, one CD, IF…memorabilia

            I had considered various materials and styles as the Kit’s container but it was love at first sight when I saw the windowed metal box at Mayer’s Packaging. Although slightly larger than I needed, the metal box eventually offered a snug fit for the DVDs, CD and book with the addition of the soft foam insert. The metal box gave me the name for the compilation, as it resembled a tool kit. 

            After several months researching through the vast files Linda and I kept about our art endeavours, I wrote the 64-page book in the Kit. The book contains details about all the individual works on the DVDs and overviews of the CD and IF you have to get dressed in the morning, our vintage clothing store. In the envelope at the bottom of your Kit you will find several pieces of memorabilia from IF… which I discovered while researching the book. The introduction to the book gives a feel for the times and the lifestyles we were pursuing.

            I hired June Derksen of Junebug Designs to design the book. She did a great job of retaining the aesthetic of the video works in printed form. Admiral Printing completed the book. All production services and materials for the Kit were purchased in Winnipeg. After gathering all its bits and pieces, I assembled each Kit myself by hand, numbering and signing each one.

           A gift to family and friends, The DickTool Kit cannot be purchased but you can see 22 of the videos from the Kit on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/DickToolCo More videos will be added in January.

The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back

             Linda’s favourite place was the Spirit Sands in Sprucewoods Provincial Park. We hiked there dozens of times over the years and discovered our special place at the top of the dunes overlooking the spruce forest below and the prairie beyond – a grand vista. This is where Linda requested her ashes be scattered. She gave me a short list of people she wanted to attend and all but three were able to come.

            It was hot and windy on Sunday, August 22 when we trekked out to Spruce Woods, our convoy of three Winnipeg cars meeting Linda’s cousin from Regina at the site. At the Spirit Sands, I had hired a private horse-drawn covered wagon and driver to carry us all out to the base of the dunes, below our special place. The private wagon left the parking lot of the Spirit Sands at noon and waited for us at the dunes while we did the ceremony.

Covered wagon ride out to the dunes.

            Chris and I had done several recon missions to discover the path of least resistance up the dunes to the site. We found several routes to the top depending on abilities; some of the angles are quite steep. Usually the Sands are 5 to 10 degrees hotter than the lowlands around them. Today it’s 30 degree C with a south wind blowing, the opposite of the prevailing northwesterlies that usually shape the dunes. In spite of that, everyone made it up the dune just fine.

            Our special place has a 360-degree panorama that encompasses three different types of prairie terrain. To the east and below the high dune is a green aspen forest against the rich dark green of the dense spruce. To the south, the forest opens into savannah with the distinct wagon trail disappearing in the distance. Behind us, to the north and west, stretches the desert, red and changing, muscular and soothing. 

            Once at the top of the dune, each of us spoke of Linda, remembering her, letting her go. Each of us spread some of her ashes in a shallow trough in the sand. Fittingly, I added the ashes of our dear old cat Teedy in with Linda’s. The light wind that blows almost constantly across the sand will do the rest. I intend to join them someday. A fine place to spend eternity.

The ever-changing vista. Late autumn view from our special place of the aspens, now bare and white, against the deep green of the spruce.

            My plan offered two possibilities to get back to the trailhead/parking lot. Riding on the covered wagon was a popular option in the heat.  Linda’s cousin, our dear neighbour and I hiked the trail back. It was an enjoyable and familiar walk for me, made special by the company and the occasion. The hike is mainly through mixed forest and savannah with a few moderate climbs and quite enjoyable.

            Our return to Winnipeg featured a stop at the Summer Shack in Carberry, just north of the Spirit Sands. Linda and I feasted on their chicken burgers and chocolate milkshakes after most of our Sands hikes. The traditional was well upheld as we all had some form of chicken. For details on Spirit Sands and Summer Shack, see Day 12 of 12 Sacred Places.

A Celebration of Light and Linda

“From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

            Kenny suggested last January that I have an event honouring Linda. “Rent the Park Theatre,” he said. The idea appealed to me but seemed a daunting and hazy affair in my state of shock. I filed it on my mental priority list for future consideration where it waited until one day in late August while driving out there somewhere when it all came together in my head. Even the name, A Celebration of Light and Linda, came to me though I didn’t know what the light part would be.

            On September 11, I booked the Park Theatre, an innovative conversion from movie theatre to popular multi-purpose venue, for the evening of Tuesday, November 9 for the Celebration, giving me two months to plan it. Suddenly I was an impresario!

             I had the first part of the evening: a screening of Stadium Trash, a 50-minute sampler of DickTool videos from the Kit edited into fast television format and shown on the big screen at the Park. Nicole and I had come up with the new Stadium Trash. The original was half as long, submitted to Video Culture Festival in Toronto in 1983 and was one of three finalists in the General category. What to do for a second half?

            I knew of Wild Fire, a local fire dance troupe, through Chris who does live drumming for their performances at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. He said they had a blacklight show that would work for the event. I connected with Stacy from the troupe, she “got it” and our show was on the road! Wild Fire worked up a completely original 31-minute all-blacklight show to mostly original music by Chris. I never attended their rehearsals. Instead, I tried to be a mystical muse, evoking, believing. My basic direction to Wild Fire was: create a sense of wonder and send them home talking to themselves. No pressure, kids. Using a jungle theme – minimum clothing, maximum body paint – the five-member troupe excelled. I had a show.


    Images of Wild Fire’s performance at the Celebration

         Invitations went out to about 140 people, in Winnipeg and elsewhere. It was a hard one to turn down as we had about 110 of our closest friends at the Park for A Celebration of Light and Linda. I greeted each one personally, did a 15 minute monologue on stage (which I secretly enjoyed much too much) and presented an evening of unique entertainment, something wild, retro cool and future primitive all at once.


 Detail of Wild Fire performance (time exposure)      

     My wonderful creative friends came together and made it possible for me to enjoy the event and my guests worry-free. Our friends enjoyed seeing Linda and I as young people, in our late 20s and early 30s, in Stadium Trash. For the Wild Fire performance, loud recorded music accompanied live by Chris and two other drummers throbbed through the Park, the darkness glowed with mystical figures inhabiting an arcane unknowable place where they held us transfixed for half an hour. Now and then during their show, I could hear Linda laughing in my head. She was having a ball, as was everyone else in the room. I know for a fact they did send some people home talking to themselves.

Five old buddies from high school around me at A Celebration of Light and Linda. “First you’re green, then you’re grey.” – Joni Mitchell

            At the Celebration, I reconnected with old friends I hadn’t seen in decades, had my picture taken with no less than FIVE of my high school friends who came to the Celebration, made new friends, young friends who keep me alive and interested and, best of all, Linda was well celebrated. The response afterwards was often astonishing. Here are a few quotes from emails I received.

“Great commemoration of Linda and your creative project.
Dancers were a marvelous addition and reflection on the novelty and creativity of your video art.”

“Thank you for the wonderful party last night. Suddenly I feel 25 years younger!”

“What a fabulous tribute to your wonderful lady and we could
all feel the unique love the two of you shared, through your videos and through your commentating.  We certainly felt her spirit there and you did a wonderful job of arranging that whole scenario at the Park Theatre.”

 “It was a wonderful experience. You could feel the love you had for each other, as you created your life together. I felt so energized by the end of the evening. I found it very inspirational. Linda would have loved it.”

 “Her memory will live forever in the hearts of us ‘peggers and hearing that she loved Winnipeg so much has made me open my eyes to the idea to try and appreciate our city and see it the way Linda may have.”

 “I always knew that Linda and you were quirky.”

            Quirky, indeed! That we were.

Wild Fire dancers and drummers pose with me after the performance. I’m the one in the suit. More photographs from the Celebration  http://www.flickr.com/photos/56088356@N02/sets/72157625302256879/

             The Celebration was an amazing emotional high all evening for me, buoyed by the love and respect of so many friends gathered in one room for one purpose. The high lasted for days. Linda and I had often imagined the party that unites our diverse group of friends and here it was happening around me! Well documented in both still photos and video, the Celebration will soon be distilled into YouTube format. More vintage DickTool videos will be added as well.

         When our videographer for the Celebration took ill, we lucked into Scott Carnegie of MediaCircus.TV who documented the event superbly. Here’s how Scott described the night on his website which includes a testimonial I did for him http://mediacircus.tv/2010/12/a-surprise-night-of-tribute/?utm_source=MediaCircus.TV+List&utm_campaign=4de10bf03f-MediaCircus_TV_Newsletter_November_2010&utm_medium=email


              You’ve seen his name pop up here and there in my year-end review. Kenny worked with Linda for 15 years in retail and in the City of Winnipeg Film Office. They were an accomplished and amazing team. Kenny loved Linda beyond how best friends love each other. He loved her like family. It was a beautiful relationship. Loss has made Kenny and I true brothers. We have grieved together, understood and loved each other and always tried to find be happy in the warm afterglow of Linda’s life and love. Kenny is yet another Old Soul in my life. I am so blessed.  


           Okay. After a year of consciously driving my grief process over Linda’s death and reporting it willfully and honestly here and face to face with many friends, where do I stand in the big picture? Am I floundering at the deep end of the pool or floating blissfully on the the sunny surface?

          A fine friend sent me a quote by Gail Caldwell telling a friend about not knowing what to do or how to do it after the death of her partner. She writes, “He was quiet for a minute, and then he said something of such consolation that I will hear him saying it forever.  ‘You know, Gail,’ he said, ‘We’ve been doing this as a species for a long time.  And it’s almost as if – it’s like the body just knows what to do.’

           We do know what to do. Grief was not new to me, as Travis pointed out and, though intensely personal, I was able to put my grief for Linda into a larger context, follow the 10 steps of grieving and push push push it all summer. Although I have found much acceptance, I have not fully resolved some of the steps but at least I’m aware of them and how they effect me.

        I have never been alone on this journey. Never! I have found enormous clarity and inner strength from the shamanic work I have practised for 16 years, from the spirits I am connected with, from my wonderful extended family (The Four – they know who they are and that I love them all dearly), from old friends and new and all of Linda’s many angels. Thanks to all of you, I am doing well.

         Most of all, my dear Linda watches over me. always near. Her message to me in our many communications this year has always and ever been simple and direct, though sometimes not particularily easy – be happy! Be happy! I try to live that.

         On Boxing Day last year, the day after Linda died, in my journal where I’d written thousands of words about the past two months, all I wrote was that old 1960s nugget: Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Its truth rang loud and clear for me every day this year.

            Be happy!


As promised, Kenny’s picture of me New Year’s Eve 2010


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Filed under dicktool co, grief, ken wilber, Saskatchewan, spirit sands, Year-End Review 2010





August 31, 2010

“Excited to get inside”

            Val Marie, SK is a small village with a large history situated at the western end of Grasslands National Park (GNP) and offers the Park office. During my first visit to Val Marie in August 1999, I saw the archeological surveys of the park done in the mid 1980s. The woman at the office mentioned a site had been “discovered” nearby but outside the park. Robert Ducan of The Convent Country Inn can tell me more about it, she says. I introduce myself to Robert, we hit it off and 20 minutes later, we are heading to the site in his half-ton.

            Another wild desolate location! The swoop of the land south and northward away from the site is dramatic. Off down the distance, gently rolling hills spill away in all directions. To the east 70 Mile Butte, a steel-grey monolith in GNP, dominates the landscape. Ragged as a meteor, 70 Mile Butte rises against the sky with subservient hills all around bowing in homage. The site lies south of the continental divide.

Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site. Cinderblock hut and tower are obvious. Less so, the circles in the grass in the foreground. You can see a bit of an arc left of centre. At the extreme left, the geodetic survey marker is visible.

              Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site, a long high ridge, is dominated by two huge concentric stone circles, one 120 feet across, the other 90 feet across. The circles lie in a slight indentation two feet lower than the hilltop. It has a wonderfully enclosed feeling though the indentation is slight. This area was at one time on the hilltop but the land sank. Inside the circles are a birthing arc opening east, where mothers came to give birth, and a dying arc opening west, where elders came to die. These are extremely rare in North America, somewhat more common in Europe.

            The ridge displays evidence of long usage, tracing the history of the region. To the west of the circles is an area that felt like the location of several burial platforms, reused for decades, perhaps longer.  At the top of the hill next to the circle is a small oblong enclosure of stones that is a vision quest site. It opens to the south, the heat, the visions, the hope.

            There are several tumbledown cairns, two of them, I sensed, signified water and were visible from different directions. A snake effigy seemed to materialize but I will have to recheck this. It may have been state-specific. I’m certain of the geodetic survey marker from the late 1800s though.

            Southeast of the large circle is an odd rectangular shape of stones with what appears to be letters inside, maybe ME or MB, WE or BW., possibly graffiti left behind by some bored survey crewmember, North West Mounted Police officer or wandering wrangler.

            A hut made of cinder blocks next to a tall red and white tower sit at the top of the ridge. An electrical line runs over the pasture to the hut but I have been unable to discover its exact usage. Three guy wires hold the tower in place. A deer had scuffed off its antlers by rubbing on the wires, its four-prongers lay on the ground. The tower doesn’t interfere with the ambience much and serves as a too-handy landmark to locate the site. The land is rented Crown land with roaming cattle and cow plop everywhere, though I see no cattle today. The day is warming quickly.

             During the hike over two-miles of rolling pasture, I watch for rattlesnakes and notice how my mood has improved vastly from my sad morning drive. Tipi rings litter the hills. I check downwind often to make sure I am still at the top of the food chain. Up the final hill, I’m tingly with holiness, welcomed and exhilarated. I am excited to get inside.

            In a light trance, I recognize the long-time ritual use of the place as much as 9,000 years before present. The arcs are a very old aspect of the site. They are also rare. They come from the imaginal realm in my dreaming. My feeling is that the people who used them are, as a race, now extinct; lost shards of human action, their world gone, even their mythologies now mute except for these stones.


My rough hand drawn map of the site made after my first visit. I hadn’t added the inside circle yet. Suggests the numerous uses of the place. Click to enlarge.

                 The required presence of mind one needs at this place is intense and sharp. There is very serious and powerful intent at work here, not to be toyed with but to be respected and honored. The illusions of time and death dissolve into the present here, a perfect Witnessing place.

            “Balancing change” broadly describes the emotional temperature of the place.  All manner of flux and mutability occurred here, some easy and organic, some difficult and deadly. Transformation and transcendence are soaked into the earth under my feet. A Overhead a red-tailed hawk cries, “Every moment sacred.”

            Standing in the birthing arc I hear a vague turtle shell rattle, its dry brittle sound complements the landscape. During my 2 ½ hour stay I often hear voices traveling on the wind. Sometimes they are conversations, often a bit of shy laughter. No agony, no pain on the wind today – only the bliss of place and life. Voices often come out of the earth. I walk past a richly lichened rock and a crackle of communication arises from it, the groan of the stone. Attracted by one such voice I realized I am looking at a disturbed turtle effigy.

            Spiritually, the site provides easy access to soul via the present and benevolent spirits alive to the needs of those seekers who come here. There was a time when this place was used almost exclusively by shamans who created special conditions so people could move in and out of life in a place and fashion they knew. Shamans were born and died here, heyoka arose out of contracted consciousness to live their duality here, women who would be matriarchs were born here only to return and give birth themselves.

            Tucked between two stones in the centre of the dying arc are signs of recent medicine making: a brown and white hawk feather and a small bundle of sage bound with grass. Beautiful! 

            Though not used ritually by any present day aboriginals the place is visited by tourists, many of a spiritual nature who stay at The Convent Country Inn. Robert and Mette often speak of the power of this site to their guests. Access is now limited to hiking in, no vehicles allowed. More shamans than archeologists have visited here. Apparently, no archeologist has ever visited the site, leaving it virtually unstudied.

Prairie Rock Graffiti. Stone rectangle with initials inside. 

                I find this spot fascinating not just for its active and helpful local spirits, but for its long and varied usage. A power place re-interpreted often over the millennia, this is a list of uses from the present back:                         

                                            Cow pasture

                                            Transmitting/receiving tower?

                                            Geodetic Survey Marker

                                            Graffiti in rocks


                                            Platform burial site

                                            Turtle effigy and cairn site

                                            Vision quest site

                                            Rites of passage initiated/celebrated

                                            Rituals performed

                                            Birthing and dying arcs

                                            Big stone ceremonial circle

                                            Animal trail

            On my little digital recorder as I am leaving Buffalo Butte, my voice is quavery and hushed. “I’m alive! I’m alive! Here, there and everywhere. Linda is alive! Here, there and everywhere. Wherever there is beauty, that is where Linda lives.”



September 24, 2010

             My first yurt experience proved to be damp, cold, warm, fuzzy and not without many magical moments.  It rained most of the afternoon as soon as I arrived. The park gives you two keys: one for the yurt and the other for your little red wagon! Chained up to a railing at the parking lot are ten oversized red metal wagons with inflated tires that you use to haul your crap to the yurt since you can’t drive right up to it. An excellent idea! 

            Yurt #4 (of ten, three more added for 2011) at Kiche Manitou Campground in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, just a hoot and a holler from the high dunes of the Spirit Sands, is a fine little affair. Sixteen feet across with hardwood floor raised on a short foundation, the yurt has ample room, both floor and headspace, that even three adults wouldn’t feel crowded. It opens into a large dome that lets light and tree laughter in. The proportion and angle of the ceiling gives the room airiness.

            Furnished in rough hewn natural wood, heavily shellacked, the yurt has a comfy futon (my bed for the night), a lamp, a round table with four chairs, each weighing fifty pounds, a coat rack, the curtain rods, a bureau and bunk beds, double on  bottom, single on top. The beds have the hardest mattresses I’ve ever laid on. The room has a small wall heater, which ran all night and barely kept the dropping temp at bay. The yurt has a roofed wooden porch/deck with cooking area and electrical plugs. The view from the porch is spectacular with the yellowing oak leaves and the Assiniboine River flowing by below.

            The strangest part of the yurt was the diamond-shaped lattice that covered every interior wall space, even the windows. The lattice is used in the basic structure of the place but exposed 340 degrees around you (the door isn’t covered), sometimes the room would start to spin. In my peripheral vision, it would move but stop when I looked that way. Somewhat disconcerting at first but an easily-won tolerance to tacky design.


             When I first arrived at the yurt, I heard a sighing sound coming from under one of the three windows. After a few times, I named it Debbie as it had a definite human resignation to it. I suspect it was some communal scrapping of nature and yurt but Debbie offered her small sounds many times during the night, changing from startling to reassuring.

            Coyotes gave several insane choir recitals in the night, making me laugh every time. It was the full moon and I was sorry I wouldn’t see it for the rain. About 5 o’clock I got up for a pee and the clouds parted and the full moon shone heavy and gorgeous, illuminating the area around my yurt with a mix of shadows and sensation. A little smile from Linda. Beautiful!

            Yurts are for non-campers who still don’t mind smelling of wood smoke for a few days. The accommodation for the price – $54 all in – was more than fair, for a family, very economical. It would be most enjoyable on warm summer days and nights. The view of the stars off the porch would be grand.

             To make moonlight hikes on the Spirit Sands much easier with a place to come home to, I thought I would try to book a yurt there every full moon next summer. This can be done online starting in February. From Mongolia to Manitoba, yurts are funky!

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Filed under Accommodations, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, shaman, shamanism