Saskatchewan land of the living skies. Well thats the quote on vehicle registration plates. And boy oh boy did they get one right!! Theres a 360 horizon of soft hues of vivid yellow that saturates to a soft pink across a cloudless canvas of sky blue. Only to lose itself to a steel gray and fades to black. The colors linger for hours after the suns buried into nothingness. A mcflurry of clouds shooting from the last scratchings of mountain range boarding the Alberta BC Rockies. Theres crazy rains that drop like heavy mists, rays of sun slicing them at the heart and reflecting prisms forming rainbows. A spectrum of light radiates the sky. Thunder rumbles deep and the sound carries due to the flat prairies. Flashes of forked lightening threating farms with blazes, raises the excitement but the blow is far from softened when a smoke filled horizon greets the morning view. But all is forgotten come the evening when a big hard sun as red as blood bleeds a smeared trail into a night sky. A clear evening brings the milky way in its wake as it wipes the slate clean. And just when the stars make themselves apparent even for me who is night blind. The lens of my x series paints a vision that lingers. I walk the gravel road and everything comes alive! A meteor shower dropping light or flashes in my mind. Either way you cant but help feel small.
If you open google maps and toogle zoom Climax Saskatchewan you will notice the a checkerboard of earth tones. And endless chess grain game. The Queen the victor in the endless race for property. I hum Bright Eyes lyrics in my mind “whether corporate or colonial the movement is unstoppable”. Once free land to whomever would stake there claim and maintain. Now, big player farms jump pawns in the hope the younger generations see no future in the praires. A vast flat nothingness of grain spanning the width of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and as far south as the Dakotas. Zoom back in to saskatchewan the grid of land locked mass is broken in DLS (Dominion Land Survey) which is the method used to divide most of Western Canada into one-square-mile (2.6 km2) sections for agricultural and other purposes. A number runs alongside each town with a name, Val Marie No.17, Lone Tree No.18, Frontier No.18 and so it goes. Ask for a street address and your more likely to receive a longitude latitude keep the right attitude. Otherwise instructions like 60miles south on 37 then west at the yellow house will leave your iphone dormant and as useful as your bars of reception. Nowhere has a name, a satellite image of where you ought to be, but when your there, names are as good as the reference point, a lone tree. It sounds like loosing ones self is easy. But the grid of roads don’t run too or fro, just up or down, left to right you’ll be right.
Visiting friends is as easy as around the corner. Evelyn low sleak body a stranger to the roads. We pass a single F150 easily spotted in a community of pick up trucks. Alas our tail-gateleas ride gets us where we need to be, 30 minutes to friends David and Sheila’s. We pull into a garden manicured by us on our previous trip. Sheila the crown jewel of MP for the area David. A conservative politician who takes the community to heart. Me a scraggly traveller with holes in his pants and hair that splits at the ends. But David still finds time to turn burgers on the grill. We were even as fortunate to have a private tour of parliament a few years back, painting a picture of political power in our Canadian brain. Tonight the burgers are limitless and the converstion inquisitive. A world of questions to a man so close to the dealer in the house of cards. I throw curly questions with illuminati corruption flavour. David smiles and brings his conservative behaviour. The region shares the view, Christ first followed by family. David may wear a shirt and tie for a living but where not much worlds apart. Him and sheila share a place in my heart, even more than her incredible rhubarb pie that sits snug in my stomach. Next time we shake hands we hope its after shukas in Maui! The invitation is on the table.
It might seem all work no play during harvest. But id say its work hard play hard. Each sunday a funday of activity. The area definitely a Christian country flavour and what better way to kick thing off than checking out the Frenchman River Gospel Jamboree. This year drawing a big name artist to the Canadian Country scene and in his prime, my man Paul Brandt has found his way into the hall of fame. The Shaunvan ice hockey rink, melted for an artist so hot! People flock from near and far to hear hit songs such as “I Do” and “My Heart Has A History”, despite not being able to string two lines of his lyrics together. I found myself atleast making an attempt. And after the show in total fandom ripping his setlist from the stage and boycotting him backstage to add value by acquiring his scribble and a picture surrounded by girls and a puddle of dribble. While I was overly surprised by how much I enjoyed a genre I usually wouldnt have alot of time for. On arriving to the gig, we were greeted by a tall, strong handsome chap with a stern handshake. He had a country swag dressed in all black with a shiney buckle. Greg informed me he was a ‘Hunter Brother’ one of five brothers who were born in raised amongst the wheat, local legends for there catchy tunes and organisers of the event. We learnt that they would be opening for Paul. The morning consisted of a church service. And in true kiwi form we were fashionably late, leaving us without seats. We were suprised by the humility of the brothers. Local legends but still putting out seats for folks like us, I couldnt but help offer them a hand. I thought I understood how these country brothers had pulled the musical wool over the townspeople’s ears with there charming attitudes and good looks. So when they hit the stage with cowboy like stances and rock ‘n’ roll bravado I was completely taken back. For the following couple of weeks I found myself humming there tunes. And with there awesome stage presence, light camera action baby, I was left with the sense that these guys are bigger than hiphop. You can check out both artists music here:
Paul Brandt Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/11Rb0Ax3Q2dZJ7jNlOvxxP?si=mefZ3iDa
The Hunter Brothers Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/13WkWlzyPWxHSfnNQxPsFT?si=scuuUgUY
Purchase there CD from Amazon here
Frenchman River Gospel Jam: http://frgj.ca/
Not to far from the grydes a hidden gem, a sparkling lake amongst cattle grazing green hillside. A mirage set against the vast grain. For some a leisurely place to dip your toes in the sleek cold blue, imagine wrinkled retirees throwing crumbs to duck and the highlight if the day a crane spreading wings across the lake. Well we tear that up! Wake flying, cheap american gasoline guzzling through a throttling engine as Kirk throws the hyperlight board strapped firmly to my feet. The choppy lake in the wake as we duck around the far side of the T shaped waters. Now hidden from wind the glass emerges and ripples made only by board and low cut hand swipes. Clearing the wake a fast affair of tossing turns. Airtime, board tuck, grab front side! Playing hard never felt so good, though tomorrow my body would tell a different tale. The family communes on the lake cruiser, Gregs plontoon to kick back and relax and take in one of the endless sunsets. Forget the life jacket, cracking cans of sodas, pick up pizza hut and gooey chocolate pudding the boating essentials.
It would be sacrilege to not give thanks at the end of a safe harvest. And nothing compares to the worship at Bethel church. A good family vibe, a place to raise holy hands, a place where prayers are asked and answered. Jamie and Thyra one of our favourite family’s never miss a beat. Guilt threads through me as I write there name. Jamies scriptual encouragement was a daily boost, his texts kept my beat for Jesus alive and gave Greg and I inspiration in talks of worldly pick aparts, however mis-understanding his phone call caused reason to miss out a trip into town and the busyness of harvest left us without much time spent together, even a church service in the same room we missed communications. I love ya brother and we forever keep your family in our prayers. Even the encouragement of seeing there eldest son on stage playing drums reminds me of how beautiful and dedicated to Christ a family can be. The church community in Frontier No.18 couldnt have a greater bunch!
Contact Bethel Here
Bethel is looked down upon and its members are all going to burn in the firey pits of hell, well this is the mindest of some other friends we made and the gates of hell open so large the rest of humanity is marching through too, unless of course you are a Hutterite! Not marmite or vegemite, Hutterite. A small religious colony in the area. Essentially a collective of American/German lineage who settled in the vast deserlite area for solitary community away from the temptations of society and its sins. Colony members live a life of absolute unity and community. They work mainly within the confines of there land, using it too its fullest potential as an agricultural mecca. The main camp is a collection of buildings set out in prison-camp or school yard formation with womans lodging plumped opposite the mens, cradling the central hub which is the dining kitchen area. Dont let there pre 1900 matching attire fool you, these folks are not Amish and there not in poverty. There knack for making a buck to add to their evenly distributed accumulation of wealth, spent on forever developing a more efficient colony to better maximise profits. The yard encludes a state of the art commercial grade kitchen, large sheds with latest and greatest machinery for combing the land around the property, greenhouses with an array of flora and herbs to be sold at market. While personal essentials come sparse in a box that matches that of your neighbour its hard to stand out with creative difference amongst your peers. The only diversification in life would be that of your manual labour. Skill sets utilised for repetitious colonialism. We spent time with a lovely group of young girls who worked either the kitchen, the garden or the schoolroom. Yes they have there own schoolroom with an outstanding library of Hatterite inspired books, in which any of the colony are free to check out. On exploring the basement of the school the girls where giddy with one of the few creative projects they have had in there life, a collection of un wanted colourful tiles donated to decorate the interior and they were given free reign to explore a side seldom encouraged. The girls informed us despite early worldly desires for life outside the colony there love for the lifestyle was steadfast. There only option of leaving the colony would be if they found a suiter at a gathering with outside colonies, prehaps through one of the annual dances. If a partner suited as a potential future husbandry they could correspond via letters and if they hit it off, marriage was expected before she the woman would pack her life up from those she loves and move to his colony to live out the rest of her days. There was conflicting emotions behind the eyes of the girls at this conversation. The family connection is strong and it is for this reason a life of celibacy spent amongst family awaiting your weekly box is a life choosen by many of the woman in camp. Its not as gloom as it sounds though. These folks have lived this life for some time, there sense of community is precious and this is reflected in a ladies afternoon tea. The pantry is that of the walk in kind and the shelves are stocked with chocolate wrapped goodies to the extent of a local sweet shop. The gossip flows over sugary treats and cups of tea, the conversations are bursting with contempt. We delved into the life of such unknown and these people despite them thinking were headed feet first on the highway to hell, they poured out there hearts to us and exposed a life so foreign.
The land of the living skies is a place for the soul. Wide open spaces free of visual clutter is a place to level out. Vast expanses to expand the mind, to find heart outside your hearts desires. Commune at a local tea shop and strike a conversation, learn from someone without outside worldly influence. Take only lungs full of country air and an appreciation for a life so satisfied by a hard days working the ground. Bask in the grace, eat, drink with families that sit around the table together. You’ll find home in prairies.
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