The Drying Days

Dry August, arid, warm,

Doth harvest no harm.

                                                        – Farmer’s Almanac

August 27, 2014
August 27, 2014

The crops have headed out. Summer begins to retreat. 

My good friend Elva, a Newfoundlander, uses a term to refer to the quality of the air. Her daughter, my good friend Allison, relayed it thus: “the air has no dryth to it,” meaning it was too dampish for clothes to dry properly on the line.

Saskatchewan’s August air is rarely lacking in dryth. This year has been something of an exception, with much more rain than we’re used to in August. The grass is as green as in June. It’s odd, actually. Usually grass this time of year has a yellowish cast to it. The other night, after two days of soaking wet and cold weather, I was driving somewhere with my brother. It was near dusk, the rain had finally cleared, and it was a strange sort of night. “It looks like June and feels like October,” I remarked. The cast of the sun was at odds with the brilliant green grass, and there was no August heat to speak of. It was a very in-betweenish sort of evening, as if it didn’t quite know to which season it belonged.

It was an anomaly, though. Within a day or two, the normal August weather was back. Hot. Dry. But more than sight or sensation, the month of August for me is characterised by sound. August is a month of sibilance. Sibilance is exactly what it sounds like: sssss sounds. The dictionary defines it as “characterised by a hissing sound.” Grasshoppers, the wind soughing through the ripe crops, the slight rattle of the flax heads, the whispering wheat fields, the rustling grasses – these are the sounds of the dry days of late summer. All the sibilance is set against a vocal backdrop of crickets…cricketing. What is the way to describe cricket noises? I never was very good with onomatopeia. These are the sounds of the prairie in the drying days of August, and there is nothing so Saskatchewan as that soundtrack. If you have ever heard it, you know what I mean.

August 27, 2014.
August 27, 2014.

For me, though the weather has been wet, August has been a drought creatively. It’s gone past and I feel like I have nothing to show for it. I barely touched my camera all month. I found it difficult to write about anything. I’ve gone through my days as if in a mist, just existing. There are reasons for this – a good friend of mine passed away, I’ve been sick, work has been busy, and so on. But I’ve also learned that creativity comes in fits and starts, in ebbs and flows, and it’s better to ride the swells without resisting than force something out that isn’t real.

The other night, for the first time in weeks, I felt the urge to go for a walk in the hills, and I took my camera. I captured the beautiful light and felt the familiar heart-swelling. I listened to the sibilance all around me and knew that the drying days of my soul were coming to their end, this time around anyway. The crops have ripened. It’s harvest time, and I am a harvest girl.

August 27, 2014.
August 27, 2014.
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Eggs and Potatoes

“Eggs for winter were kept by filling two gallon crocks with eggs and covering them with a mixture of “Water Glass” and water.

Boiled potatoes, old and new: Your great-grandmother knew this secret, and you should too. Always start boiling old potatoes in cold water. Cook new potatoes in boiling salted water.”*

Boil these in salted water. Kristin Catherwood.  September 26, 2012.
Boil these in salted water. Kristin Catherwood. September 26, 2012.

 

*Anonymous. 1982. Prairie Grass to Golden Grain, Ogema and District Historical Society, Ogema.

 

Proving Up

Prove up: Homesteaders were required to break ten acres of land for three years, build a house and live on their homestead quarter six months of the year to “prove up” their claim.

exempli gratia: Tom proved up his homestead in 1909 after which time his wife and children arrived with a carload of settler’s effects from Ontario. 

Buckskin Sky

It was one of those evenings when the air is close. A storm was coming. It was just after supper and I was on a mission to collect wildflowers. I wanted to get it done before the storm came, so I hopped into my dad’s truck. I hesitated, realising I’d forgotten my camera. I almost drove off without it, but at the last instant, decided to run back inside and grab it, “just in case.”

As I drove down my favourite back road, scanning the ditches for wildflowers, a mule deer stood up suddenly in the ditch right beside me, no more than ten feet from my open window. I stepped on the brakes and we stared at each other. I felt like I had stumbled into a secret. I made a move for my camera, and he leapt away. But not far, not far at all. He stood there and eyed me up as I fumbled around with my camera. He wasn’t scared of me. Just curious. He posed for awhile, them ambled away, apparently bored by my clicking shutter. He marked his territory, ate some flowers, watched me. Then, when he decided he’d had enough, he was off, bounding away through the fields as the dark storm clouds gathered in the distance.

July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
Bored, the buck wandered off to do some grazing. July 25, 2014.
Bored, the buck wandered off to do some grazing. July 25, 2014.
Having granted me enough of his time, the buck departs, antlers stark against the backdrop of a stormy sky. July 25, 2014.
Having granted me enough of his time, the buck departs, antlers stark against the backdrop of a stormy sky. July 25, 2014.
My camera lens is not fancy enough to catch the movement of the buck's flight, but blurry as it is, I think this photo captures just a bit of his grace. July 25, 2014.
My camera lens is not fancy enough to catch the movement of the buck’s flight, but blurry as it is, I think this photo captures just a bit of his grace. July 25, 2014.

I cannot describe the purity of that moment, the awe I felt, the deep calm. It was like I had been in the presence of God, or a god, or Nature itself condensed into the beautiful form of this buck. I watched as he made his getaway, south. Then I had to get home before the storm, the wildflowers momentarily forgotten.

The storm was short and violent, high winds and a driving rain, flashing lightning and booming thunder, and no damage, thankfully. As I waited it out inside the house, I wondered where the buck had gone, if he had shelter. I almost wondered if he really existed at all, or if the whole encounter had been a figment of my imagination.

After the storm, I ventured out again, to take advantage of the post-storm light, the most beautiful light there is anywhere. It did not disappoint. I half hoped I would see the buck again, but he was nowhere to be found. But the sky was there, and the light. You can always count on that. The calm after the storm and the calm in my soul matched each other that evening. It’s one I won’t forget soon. And to think, I nearly left my camera at home. Though, it must be said that these photos capture only the barest simulacrum of the magic that was that evening.

July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.
July 25, 2014.