Located 200 km south of Regina, in one of the driest, most rugged environments in the province, the banks of the Big Muddy Valley are so far apart that its floodplain is 3 km wide in places. Some 60 km in length and up to 160 metres deep, the Big Muddy was part of an ancient glacial melt water channel that carried vast quantities of water southeastward at the end of the last ice age.
– Claude-Jean Harel*
Like so much else in Saskatchewan, Castle Butte changes with the light. I make a point to go at least once a year (though it’s so close to home, I should really go more often), and each trip yields a different experience and a different view of this sandstone monolith. I have heard Castle Butte referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Big Muddy Valley. It’s a stunning landmark, to be sure. And yet the very forces which created it – wind and rain – work ceaselessly to undo their masterpiece. Every year, Castle Butte’s sandstone foundation erodes just a little bit more. Heavy rains are particularly hard on it, and those have not been in short supply the last few years.
Castle Butte is an icon in southern Saskatchewan, but it is certainly not a static one. It changes day by day. It changes its appearance according to light and shadow, and it changes imperceptibly at first, but noticeably over time, as the environment wears it away. In the meantime, it is a “must visit” in Saskatchewan. This last visit, rather than climbing to the top (my boots were not cooperating with the slick mud), I wandered about its perimeter and saw things I’d never noticed before. Sometimes it pays to make poor footwear choices.
All photos copyright Kristin Catherwood. July 1, 2014.
ha·rangue [huh–rang] noun. 1. a scolding or a long or intense verbal attack; diatribe. 2.a long, passionate, and vehement speech, especially one delivered before a public gathering. 3.any long, pompous speech or writing of a tediously hortatory or didactic nature; sermonizing lecture or discourse.
If you want to get my blood boiling, say something like, “Saskatchewan is boring and flat” in my presence. Today a visitor to the museum where I work said, in response to my question about his ride on the Southern Prairie Railway, “It was all right. There’s not much for scenery in Saskatchewan.” If I bit my tongue every time I heard a phrase like that, I’d be tongueless.
What I wanted to say to the gentleman was, “First of all, sir, please take of your sunglasses; you’re inside now. Also I want you to look me square in the eye when you utter such a flagrantry disrespectul and ignorant remark. Secondly, you’re completely wrong, and here’s why.”
But I didn’t want to get fired. So instead, I said calmly, “Wow, you must not get out much if that’s what you think.” He laughed until he realised I wasn’t kidding, then said, “I guess you have to learn how to see the beauty here.” It’s a fair point, I suppose. To the uninitiated, Saskatchewan might seem a little less exotic than say, the Rocky Mountains. My step grandmother, who came from England, told me that it took her awhile to see the beauty of the prairies, but now she can’t imagine living anywhere else. A lot of people’s experiences of Saskatchewan are limited to cruising along the abysmal Trans Canada highway which cuts jaggedly (though sensibly) across the flattest part of the province. Those who have ever landed at Regina’s airport can attest to the absolute flatness of the Regina Plains, which might seem “boring” or “ugly” if your aesthetic sensibilities require a beauty that shouts loudly in your face, mountain style, rather than murmuring softly, prairie style.
Nothing to see here, folks. Please move along to a place where the grass is greener. June 7, 2014. Kristin Catherwood.
It turns out this man actually grew up in southwestern Saskatchewan, one of the most beautiful regions of the province, in my opinion, but has since located to the more standardly accepted picturesqueness of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. I’d be the last person to deny the awesome beauty of BC’s mountainous landscape. However, I still don’t think it compares to the prairie. And to know that he had grown up on the prairie and never learned to love its beauty before jumping ship eliminated any slack I would have cut him.
I was so riled up by this encounter (though I should be used to them by now), that I mentioned it to my boss. She grimaced and said, “you know, we used to be called “the gap” – the space between Manitoba and Alberta.” I’ve heard similar comments, but never the exact terminology of Saskatchewan being known as the “gap” province. Hm, another reason why this blog is called From the Gap, perhaps? We in Saskatchewan of course have our own ideas about our position in relation to our neighbouring provinces. A popular phrase is: “Alberta Blows, Manitoba Sucks,” ostensibly in reference to the prevailing winds, but obviously a dig at the (perceived) shortcomings of our prairie sibling provinces.
There is that old phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Perhaps instead of vigorously arguing why my province is so spectacular, I should just smile in sympathy at people who utter ignorant statements about Saskatchewan’s apparent lack of aesthetic qualities. After all, it must be a pitiable existence to have so little poetry in the soul that one is oblivious to the beauty of the prairie. I should let such people go merrily on their way, content that I know a secret they do not. Their definition of “gap” is different from mine – all the more tragedy for them.
These Canadian geese understand the value of a gap. May 25, 2014. Kristin Catherwood.