Category Archives: Reflections

Change of Season

– George Santayana

I used to try to hold desperately on to summer. I hated winter with such a vengeance that every sign of autumn was unwelcome, no matter how beautiful. I dreaded the first honks of migrating geese while simultaneously feeling moved by their sheer numbers, their incredible journey. I resented their Vs flying south because it meant winter was coming. I’ve learned to appreciate autumn more, and even winter. I’ve learned to love each season for what it is.

This year, I feel ready for winter to come. I’m not exactly looking forward to it, but I can accept it. This change in mindset has been slowly changing for years, but it solidified last year when I was working on Master’s thesis. I spent nearly every day of September, October and November outside. I had never been so intimately acquainted with Nature on a daily basis before. The autumn unfolded slowly in front of my eyes. When winter did come, it was not an unwelcome shock as it had always been when I lived in the city away from Nature or when I was younger and blinder. It was simply the natural unfolding of events. It was time.

Because I spent so much time outdoors, I also noticed things I had never paid attention to before. I’ve always considered myself a Nature lover, someone who goes gamboling about just because I enjoy fresh air and the beauty of the natural world. But I had never had the opportunity to just be in it for such a stretch of uninterrupted time before. I had never had the chance to let it seep into me. It changed my life. This blog exists because of it. And so here are some of the harbingers of the coming winter.

Leaves and lack thereof All trees have their own schedules and agendas. Here in Saskatchewan we don’t have the brilliant foliage displays like they have back East; the trees go about their business more quietly. Some begin to change in early September, some trees have shed their summer adornment completely by the first of October. Others take their time about it, like the stately poplar in my yard that just changed colour last week and is still clinging onto the last of its leaves. It has also shared some of them via a west wind with the evergreens across the lawn.

Bearing of fruit My garden (my first) came into its full fruition. The spuds were the last to go, and what a harvest it was. Wild plants have also borne fruit, like the wild roses along the ditch who are proudly displaying their hips.

Birds There is nothing as awe-inspiring as the great autumn migrations, nothing. The sandhill cranes have been and gone, uttering their strange guttural cries. The geese are just coming now in their giant flocks – tens of thousands in one field, sometimes. I can hear them at night as they rest on Stink Lake a few miles to the northeast. The blackbirds left earlier. Some of the smaller birds leave so quietly that I don’t notice until they return with their happy songs in the spring. Right now I am obsessed with the Tundra swans that have taken up temporary residence on the wetland north of home and the slough south of home, hence the excessive amount of swan photos. I’ve never seen so many in one year before. I hope they like the looks of the Gap and decide to come back next year, too.

Digging in Burrowing mammals are digging in and getting settled for the cold to come. The most obvious form of this is the muskrat house. Muskrats live in sloughs and other bodies of water. Around this time of year, their houses start popping up, built of mud and grass and other local materials. Truly vernacular architecture. Folklore says that the size of muskrat houses determines the severity of the coming winter. Judging by what I’ve seen so far, we might be in for a cold one.

Light and shadow It wasn’t until last year that I truly understood the  movement of the sun and how it determines the seasons. As I photographed barns every day, I had to keep changing the settings on my camera as the days progressed. I finally realised the obvious: the sun was changing position in the sky, slowly but surely. It sits lower in the sky. Shadows lengthen – even in the fullness of the afternoon, they are longer than in the summer. The angle of the sunlight casts a golden hue on everything. To each season, its own light. And me, chasing it.

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Solar Return Reaping

Sorrow and scarlet leaf,
Sad thoughts and sunny weather.
Ah me, this glory and this grief
Agree not well together!”
–   Thomas Parsons, 1880, A Song For September

Sheaves: wheat, two types of durum, flax. September 16, 2014.
Sheaves: wheat, two types of durum, flax. September 16, 2014.

I’m often a bit melancholy on my birthday – the inexorable passage of time and all that. But perhaps another reason is what the poetry above captures so well about September, both its glory and its grief. September weather is often brilliant and beautiful, but the ever changing colours of the landscape and the slanting of the sun remind us that summer is truly on the way out. Maybe the fact that I was born in mid September explains some of my tendencies toward melancholy, to having trouble enjoying the “now” for thinking of how it will soon be the past.

That September is harvest time also fits with this theme. Harvest is the reaping of the fullness and ripeness of the crops that were sown in spring. It is the end of a cycle. It is a kind of death. Of course, it is also life because what is reaped from the fields sustains us through winter and beyond. But it is also watching the fields, which have been so full of vibrant life throughout the summer, be stripped bare in a few swipes of the combine.

These themes of harvest are universal and worldwide and if you read about Virgos that’s the sort of symbolism that is described. But it takes on a literal significance for me since I grew up and live in an agricultural place and so I see it right outside my door.

I have always been my dad’s “harvest girl,” ever since I was born on this day in 1988. That year, one of the very dry years of the ’80s, “we” were already done combining for the year, which was unusual. So my dad could be at ease, or at least some form of it, when my mom went into labour and he drove her up to Regina so I, their firstborn, could come into the world.

I think everyone has some birthlore – the story and circumstances surrounding their birth, the memories that stick out of that day to parents and family members. I’ve heard lots about mine, so much that I can vividly imagine my dad speedily but carefully driving up the Correction Line in the maroon Oldsmobile, puffing away at a cigarette.

Though we were done harvest the year I was born, it is typically not the case on September 16th. When the sun makes its seasonal revolution back to the point in the sky where it was when I was born, harvest is almost always in full swing. So I usually don’t get to spend a lot of time with my dad on that day. We are very close, and apparently have been since September 16, 1988. I came quite a bit earlier than exepcted (thankfully, I am so NOT a Libra), and so I was in the special care newborn nursery where he came to visit me. As the story goes, I grabbed his pinky finger in my tiny fist. When I was a little girl, instead of holding my dad’s hand, I would hang on to his pinky finger. Harvest supercedes pretty much everything else, and so I understand that my dad is usually not available for celebration on my birthday.

This year we are definitely not done harvest. The weather has been unseasonably wet and cool and harvest is well behind. Thankfully this week seems to be a return to the much needed drying days, and so harvest has resumed. My own little birthday ritual every year when I’m home at the farm is to go out and make my own small harvest of various crops to make a harvest bouquet. That’s what I did this morning, this time with my camera along.

Kyle Durum. Sidehill. September 16, 2014.
Kyle Durum. Sidehill. September 16, 2014.
Flax. Janelle's farm. September 16, 2014.
Flax. Janelle’s farm. September 16, 2014.
Bearded Wheat. Uncle Jim's farm. September 16, 2014.
Bearded Wheat. Uncle Jim’s farm. September 16, 2014.

My dad was home for a bit at lunchtime, and he came out to investigate the crops I had brought home: flax, wheat and durum (which is a kind of wheat, the hardest and most protein rich and this is why it is used to make pasta). He broke the heads in his palm and examined the kernels within. By colour and form, he could make an estimation of the overall crop yield and quality. It was a lovely moment. Then he had to get back to work, and I had things to do, too. But it was a harvest moment for a harvest day, and all in all, I can say it was a good birthday.

Threshing by hand. September 16, 2014.
Threshing by hand. September 16, 2014.
Farmer's palm. September 16, 2014.
Farmer’s palm. September 16, 2014.
Three grains - can you tell the differences? September 16, 2014.
Three grains – can you tell the differences? September 16, 2014.

The Itch (or Betwixt)

“You look at your life, and the two countries that hold it, and realize that you are now two distinct people. As much as your countries represent and fulfill different parts of you and what you enjoy about life, as much as you have formed unbreakable bonds with people you love in both places, as much as you feel truly at home in either one, so you are divided in two. For the rest of your life, or at least it feels this way, you will spend your time in one naggingly longing for the other, and waiting until you can get back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there…

To live in a new place is a beautiful, thrilling thing, and it can show you that you can be whoever you want — on your own terms. It can give you the gift of freedom, of new beginnings, of curiosity and excitement. But to start over, to get on that plane, doesn’t come without a price. You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home.”

– excerpt from What Happens When You Live Abroad, Chelsea Fagan.

November 2, 2012. Petty Harbour
November 2, 2012. Petty Harbour.  Yeah, I miss sights like this.

Newfoundland isn’t exactly “abroad,” but it’s close enough. It’s certainly a world away from the prairies. It is my second place.

I think I have a four month attention span. Four months is the amount of time I can spend in a place, a job, a circumstance, before I become bored and antsy and ready to move on. I call it “semester time.” I’ve been a student for a long time now. About 21 years continuously, the past seven of the post-secondary variety. And I won’t even have a “Dr.” in front of my name at the end of it. But seven years of life compartmentalised into semesters has trained my mind to think that’s what life is – four month segments of something. I just finished off a four month summer of working and being completely in love with the prairies. It’s been just over four months since I returned from my final four month stint in Newfoundland. And now I’m feeling that itch again.

The itch to go somewhere else, to try something new, to explore something different. For someone as attached to the prairies and my farm as I am, it’s rather a nuisance. I’ve written about this conundrum before, in Chasing the Light.

Let me back up just a bit. About a month ago, in the midst of a very short-lived August heat wave, I was conducting a tour of the museum where I worked in Ogema when I quite suddenly and dramatically fainted in front of the twenty people listening to me try to explain false front architecture. When I came to, I was lying in a doorway. My first coherent thought upon waking was, “well, I’m in a doorway. There’s some folkloric significance to that” or something of the sort.

A doorway is the ultimate in-between place, a liminal space. It’s neither here nor there but both at the same time. It’s outside and inside, but neither. It’s a threshold. It’s a gap. And by a strange but precise sequence of stumbling backwards, I managed to fall exactly into one.

I have only ever fainted one other time, and that was during a ghost tour six years ago. A tale for another time. After recovering in my office, being fussed over by friends, and a trip to the doctor, all was deemed well. A knock on the head and some confusion, a bit of worry about my health. But it all turned out to be a mild case of low blood sugar levels. So, with the practicals out of the way, I could return to the esoteric thoughts about falling into a doorway.

I texted my good friend, Meghann, who is a folklorist, and told her what had happened. Her response: “Ye be cursed or charmed. Liminality. Betwixt and between.” A bit tongue in cheek, yes. But I couldn’t quite overlook the significance. At that time, I was starting to feel the itch again. I was getting bored with my job, bored with summer, antsy. I was browsing the internet looking for opportunities to teach overseas. I was daydreaming about going somewhere else. And all this just when I had nicely got settled in back home.

I am betwixt right now. I am entering the final stage of my Master’s degree, the homestretch of my decades long scholastic odyssey. There are hopeful and exciting opportunities bubbling up for me right here in Saskatchewan in the not-too-distant future. I have work to do here, I know that. I may just have to learn to live outside of semester time, to ride out the itch and stay still for awhile. See what comes to me, instead of going out looking for it.

To return to the beginning (of this post): “You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home.” I think about Newfoundland a lot. Especially now that it’s September and school has started and I keep getting emails in my student account about the cool things happening there, and I see my friends’ Facebook photos of the St. John’s harbour, and I read blogs written by Newfoundlanders, and I miss it.

Somewhere in Newfoundland, I can't remember where. November 2, 2012.
Somewhere in Newfoundland, I can’t remember where. November 2, 2012.

Today I’ve been drinking from the nectar of my beautiful friend Brittany’s beautiful blog, Southcott style (click the damn link). I’ve been looking at all the amazing photos of Newfoundland architecture and remembering how it used to be the scenery of my everyday life, how I walked past it every day and lived in it. How I was always a little bit in awe of it, and yet now, from the bungalow basement where I’m writing this in small town Saskatchewan, I think I didn’t soak it up enough when I was there. I look at it and am shocked that I was lucky enough to live amongst it for a time. I read the blog of the Folklore grad newbies going through their field school experience in Witless Bay, and I remember my field school experience in Keels, and the blog I contributed to, my first. And how the field school very literally changed my life, and the people I met there who are now lifelong friends. They are so far away from me now.

Cochrane Street and Gower Street, St. John's. November 3, 2012.
Cochrane Street and Gower Street, St. John’s. November 3, 2012.
St. John's. September 8, 2012.
St. John’s. September 8, 2012.
Keels. September 29, 2012.
Keels. September 29, 2012.
Keels. September 24, 2012.
Keels. September 24, 2012.

So yes, I am held by two countries, I am divided in two. I am betwixt.

But if I had a plane ticket in my hand, I know I would feel sick about leaving here. So, until my imagination is captured by something new, I will be here, in the Gap, living.

Yeah, there's stuff to look at in the Gap, too. June 24, 2014.
Yeah, there’s stuff to look at in the Gap, too. June 24, 2014.
Flax in bloom. Some prairie people imagine it's the sea, when seen from a distance. Do you think Newfoundlanders ever see a ripe crop in an ocean view? July 30, 2014.
Flax in bloom. Some prairie people imagine it’s the sea, when seen from a distance. Do you think Newfoundlanders ever see a ripe crop in an ocean view? July 30, 2014.
September 3, 2014.
September 3, 2014.

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.

Badlands Solstice

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee.
– Emily Dickinson

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Badlands sky. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

I wrote the first post of this blog on the Winter Solstice, the longest night. Yesterday was the longest day, the summer solstice. Throughout time, humans have marked the solstices and the equinoxes with special rites. They have built monuments precisely aligned with the rising or setting solstice suns. They have gathered in places that are sacred to watch the first or the last rays of the sun on these tipping points in the year.

The summer solstice is a culmination. Though the fullness of summer is still a few weeks away, the solstice marks the time of year when everything reaches toward the sun – every growing thing, every living thing. It is a bittersweet day, for it means that tomorrow the sun’s light recedes from us a bit every day, imperceptibly at first, until darkness comes earlier and we begin to approach the autumnal equinox, when everything has borne fruit and must dig in for winter.

When you live in a rural place where you can see the sun and how it moves throughout the year, this cyclical routine of the sun seeps into your bones, just as the lunar cycle does. We don’t even notice it, usually, because it’s so much a part of us.

A sacred place in southern Saskatchewan is the Big Muddy Badlands, also known as the Big Muddy Valley, or more simply, just the Big Muddy. This is a place of spectacular beauty, of exhilarating history. The Big Muddy was the Wild West. Outlaws, cattle rustling, horse thieving, rum running, it all happened there. Sitting Bull rode through it. Countless horses and cattle have grazed its grasses. Before all of this, the aboriginal peoples considered it a holy place, judging by the amount of effigies found there. Thousands of tipi rings stand in silent testimony of lives lived there for thousands of years.

The Big Muddy will be referred to again and again in this blog, I’m sure. It is a place of mystery and magic and legends and lore. It is one of my favourite places on earth, perhaps second only to the Gap country, its nearest neighbour to the east.

I travelled with good friends to the Big Muddy the evening of the solstice to watch the sun set at its late hour. No monuments are needed to mark the sacred solstice in the Big Muddy. The landscape itself is the most perfect venue imaginable for such a rite. The Big Muddy is a place of light and shadow, of constant contrasts. It is the only place I wanted to be to watch the sun set on the Longest Day.

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Badland buttes. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Grass, Sky, Song. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Clouds over a coulee. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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By the shores of Big Muddy Lake. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Badlands flora. Kristin Catherwood. June 21. 2014.

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Solstice shadows. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Big Muddy Lake. Krisitn Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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Hole in the Wall. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

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The last light of the sun. Kristin Catherwood. June 21, 2014.

Stink Lake

“The sensually descriptive folk names which people attach to the flora, fauna, and topographical features of a place provide a similar view of the local knowledge and interpretation of the physical components of that place, as do a few types of place-based narrative – like local legends and tall tales – which rely for much of their meaning on the nature of their physical setting. Such lore goes beyond cartographic symbols to get its hands dirty among the things that the symbols represent”

      – Kent C. Ryden, Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place*

Stink Lake

By Shawn Catherwood

  Stink Lake is what we call it. I’m sure there is a proper name for this elegant body of water. Whatever that name is, it is not of importance to me. The name we gave it is all too perfect. This so called lake has quite the distinct smell that one would not pass by without commenting on that foreign stench traveling through their nostrils. Don’t be thrown off, this lake is as beautiful as it gets this close to home.

Just a meagre three miles from the place I call home, I turn my steering wheel and smoothly slide along the gravel as I turn onto the goat trail that will take me to the majestic Stink Lake. The koisha weeds scrape the bottom of the vehicle like sand paper. I try not to focus my attention to the chilling century old house alongside the trail, as the glassless windows seem to be watching me trespass into this pocket of the world.

I trek a few hundred yards down to the sand where I have arrived just in time for the mysterious ball of fire in the sky to recede below the horizon. I sit there in silence, taking everything in. The rolling hills of the gap in which a glacier passed through millions of years ago are in the background, the golden stubble of a recent wheat field in front. The stench of the lake hangs in the air like fog. I’m not fazed by it because the glare of the sunset on the lake eliminates my other four senses. Motionless, I sit as I take in this beauty. It is now dusk and if I want to escape this foreign corner of the province I need to leave right now before it is too dark. Today there is no full moon to guide me, I’ll be trapped. So I leave, “til’ next time Stink lake”.

Nothing compares to the beauty of this body of water crevassed between fields and hills. It’s a place of complete stillness, it is surreal. To release all emotions and feel nothing but relief and happiness. Stink Lake is as real of a place as there is. A place I can call mine.

There’s nothing I can add to that beautiful piece of writing to describe Stink Lake. It’s beautiful not only because my usually taciturn, practical little brother wrote it – someone who does not enjoy writing or consider himself talented at it (though I would beg to differ), but also it is beautiful because of how strongly centred in place it is. Shawn wrote this for a Grade Twelve English assignment last fall that required students to write about one of their favourite places. We folklorists talk a lot about space and place because we’ve figured out that place is absolutely essential to a community’s sense of identity, as well as to individuals’ sense of who they are. Often we go through our lives without really thinking about what the place we live in means. We absorb it into us, so that it becomes part of us, but we don’t often talk about it except in practical terms.

Stink Lake, as my brother wrote, is just three miles from our farm. It has always held a special place in my imagination. It’s an alkaline lake – hence the stink. There are times, in dry years, when it is empty of water. The last few years have been wet, so it’s full, and it truly is an impressively large body of water in this dry region. During the fall migration, it becomes a centre of bird activity. The cacophony of all the geese, cranes, and other migrators travels over its waters and right into our farm yard. I can hear it at night when I’m falling asleep. During the spring and summer, a squadron of pelicans can usually be found on the lake’s island, which we call Pelican Island, of course.

When I was about eleven, I wrote a dramatic murder mystery story in which the unfortunate victim’s corpse was dumped in Stink Lake. My relatively rare excursions to the shores of Stink Lake are exciting because there are always interesting birds and animals to see, and as my brother captured so well in his essay, there’s just something about the place that stimulates the imagination. It’s not very easy to get to. The stink is not all that strong these days, since the water is so high. In low water years, it smells sulfurous, rotten eggy. I found out recently that the body of water is properly named Cockburn Lake, probably after an early homesteader or a surveyor. But that name evokes nothing. This body of water is known simply as Stink Lake by everyone in the area because, as my brother wrote, “it is as real of a place as there is.”

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Stink Lake. Photo: September 14, 2013. Kristin Catherwood.

*Kent C. Ryden. 1993. Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 63.

The Gap No. 39

“The Gap country, as it was called when our first pioneers came, was rolling prairie land covered by native grasses. As the settlers followed the Willow Bunch trail, they entered this area close to where the town of Brooking would be built and as they looked westward they could see this large gap between two ranges of hills, hence the name Gap country.”

– Joyce Catherwood, “History of the Gap,” Builders of a Great Land.*

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My great-great grandfather Thomas and his seventeen year old son Sherwood were amongst those first settlers to this part of the country in 1905. The surveyors had not even come through yet. Saskatchewan would not be a province for another two months and was known still as Assiniboia, Northwest Territories. But they were not the first people to set eyes on it. The First Nations doubtless travelled across it countless times, though it appears they did not live in the area for any significant duration. Also, there was the Willow Bunch trail. It connected Winnipeg to Assiniboia and passed through the Willow Bunch region sixty miles to the west, which had been settled by French ranchers in the 1870s. The trail was comprised of giant ruts dug into the virgin prairie by the cumbersome wheels of Red River carts. Apparently the ruts were visible for decades after the Gap country was settled. They’re gone now, perhaps replaced by the Correction Line grid road which forms the northern border of the Gap, just a quarter mile north of my farm.

Perhaps it was one of my grandfathers who suggested the name “the Gap” for the new municipality which was formed in 1911. Maybe  my great grandfather Sherwood, who because of his minority had had to request special permission for the right to file a homestead, said at the inaugural meeting: “let’s name this the Gap country because of that gap in the hills, the one we saw when we first set eyes upon this land that we would break so that we could make ourselves new homes.” He might have done. Or maybe it was one of the other men. Or maybe the whole story of the Gap being named the Gap because of a gap in the modest ridge of the Missouri Coteau is all folklore and there’s little truth to it all. Whatever did happen, or who said what, this place is called The Gap, specifically, the Rural Municipality of the Gap No. 39. R.M. of The Gap for short. 

The municipality, like those all around it, is 324 square miles in size, which can also be measured as nine townships (36 sections in a township; four quarters in a section). The gap in the hills for which it is named comprises only a small part of its overall area. But it is in that part that my family has lived for 109 years. The gap in the Missouri Coteau is not dramatic. No one would drive for miles and miles to see it. But it’s my home and it’s the landscape that shaped me. No matter where I go in the world, all of my experiences are filtered through my perspective as a girl who grew up in the Gap.

There are a lot of different definitions for the word “gap.” No matter which definition you prefer, the etymology of the word remains the same. It’s one of the roughly 20 percent of basic English words that comes from Old Norse. It was exactly the same word in that ancient language, though today it is translated as “chasm.” It’s also related to the Danish gab for open mouth or opening. A chasm is a deep, dark place full of secrets, at least in my personal dictionary. And so I hope this blog will be: a place full of secrets. The secrets of the world we see around us every day, but rarely stop to ponder.

Of all the many definitions of gap, I like the first one best: 1. a break or opening in a wall, fence, etc. Since it’s a dictionary (specifically, dictionary.com) there’s no connotation or implication provided, though at first glance it might seem to be a negative one. Who wants a gap in their fence or wall? But one could use a gap to wriggle through into a secret garden, or peer into the dusty gloom of an ancient castle. A gap is really a gateway, an entrance into another place. Folklorists like to use the word liminal a lot. A liminal space is an in-between place, a threshold. It can be literal or symbolic, though folklorists usually use it symbolically. A gap is a liminal space. A place in between.

The second definition is good, too. 2. a break in continuity; an interruption; hiatus. Again, this definition might be perceived negatively at first. But I think breaks in continuity, interruptions and hiatuses can be good things. Necessary things, in fact. I need interruptions to my daily life, to routines and schedules. I may not always want them, but I need them. We all do. This blog, and the adventures I intend to create in order to fuel it, will be a hiatus from the daily grind – a gap in the orderly routine of everyday life.

There are several more definitions, but I’m going to stop at the third one. I like groups of threes; there is a long history of folkloric and mythological significance in the number three. Also, this third definition brings us back to the beginning. 3. a break in a line of hills or mountains affording a route through. The rolling hills of the Missouri Coteau are not overly rugged, and the thought of finding a pass through them seems a bit silly in this age of all terrain vehicles. But in a Red River cart, the flattest route possible would have been vastly preferable to a hilly alternative. And so the Gap was a pass of sorts along the Willow Bunch trail. In “affording a route through” it allowed travellers to make their way more easily from one place to another. Perhaps this blog will allow me to afford a route through the mundane to show that there is another destination: one full of mystery and, dare I say, magic. To find out what I mean, you will simply have to keep returning here to the Gap.

ImageThe Gap. Can you see it?

* Builders of a Great Land: History of The Gap No. 39 Ceylon and Hardy. 1980. Ed. History Committee of R.M. of the Gap No. 39. Altona, MB: D.W. Friesen & Sons Ltd.