Monday, August 20, 2012

The Great White Combine

Well, summer is passing into autumn. Though the days are still long here on the southern prairies of Alberta with the light lingering till ten in the evening, fall is in the air. Harvest has begun, but what might have been a bumper crop has fallen victim to the Great White Combine in some areas. Last Tuesday was hot and dry, the sun burned bright in the blue Alberta sky. Bees buzzed happily in my garden, clinging to the bobbing stalks of delphinium and crawling into the sweet depths of the roses. I hung my washing out to dry in the sweet prairie air. Peace lay on the land in a blessing as the prairie dreamed under the sky.
In a mater of minutes, the sky darkened to a greenish gray, almost black, and the clouds gathered on the northwestern horizon. Piling up and moving fast until there was almost no light at all. Darker than twilight. The wind rose and howled through the wires, the huge lilac tree that embraces the whole southwest corner of my little house beat itself against the window. Tree branches whirled and danced in circles. The rain came in sheets, waves of it blowing like curtains across the yard, the wind increased and the rain became horizontal. Then the storm demons opened their pockets and hail bounced six inches off the ground as it hit and rebounded. I ran to hold a pillow against the only north window the house has to absorb the force of the ice balls hitting the single pane glass. (I live in a very old small farm house built in the early 20th century. The caraganas whipped in the howling wind, their tiny lace like leaves plastered against the glass. The visibility was non existent, the air so white it appeared to be blizzarding outside. Thirty minutes later and the thunder rumbled to the southeast, on its way to the Siksika Nation where it tore the roof off a house and tossed grain bins around like toys. The earth drew a sigh of relief. The yard was covered in broken limbs, shredded leaves and puddles of icy water. Hail lay in drifts where the wind piled it like seaweed on a beach. My laundry was everywhere, blown 50 feet or more from the line. Broken clothes pegs littered the lawn. My beautiful garden lay trashed and broken. But out of the chaos comes hope. They will recover and bloom again in the spring. We have been spared many storms this summer and having the chance to enjoy my garden this far into the summer is a boon. Life on the prairie is never predictable.The barley fields all around me are full of broken stalks and shattered seed heads. The shredded leaves and almost ripe grain are strewn across the road, there are so many leaves ripped from the trees on the road that there are two tire tracks through the mass of crushed green where cars have passed. The Great White Combine of the prairies always leaves a devastating path behind it. It is a good thing farmers and gardeners are an optimistic bunch, because just like the end of hockey season- There is always next year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August Dreaming on a Summer's Day

The blue cup of the sky is above me, deep and infinite with that intense blue that only an Alberta sky is capable of. The water breathes against my skin cooling my body as the sun heats my face. Behind me the snap and pop of caragana pods bursting is a sharp counter point to the chatter of birds crowding the weeping branches. High above the cry and echo of the hunting hawks pierce the somnolent dance of the afternoon. The land lays dreaming under the sky as do I. The ripening barley ripples in the wind as it sweeps out of the west.
Great anvil thunderheads gather in the north, beautiful in their power they tower thousands of feet in the air. The tops white and silver touched with gold, darkening to pearl and gray and finally the dark plum of bruises as the behemoth nears the bottom. Somewhere, there is hail and rain and strong wind, but here on my little bit of prairie the sun shines and the breeze dances in the delphiniums of my garden. I dream with the land of the days when the buffalo were spread across the undulating landscape. Moving to the rhythms of the seasons and the earth beneath them. When the storm demons lash the earth buffalo do not run before the storm like cattle and horses do but instead turn those shaggy heads and massive shoulders into the storm and meet it head on. Rather than be driven by the elements, buffalo challenge it and by going against the wind travel through the weather and emerge on the other side into the sun.
A hawk settles on the fence post nearby and takes my attention from the buffalo memories to focus on the fierce feral golden gaze. The bird preens his feathers for a bit and then stretches his wings wide. In a single motion the hawk is airborne and floating on the updrafts, circling the city of gophers by the slough. Tiny whistles of alarm ring sharply into the dust gold air as the dark shadow slides over the prairie grasses. August dreaming on a sunny afternoon, peace and stillness spilling over me.