My work in progress, Carl and Naomi’s story, is set in the fictional town of Mackenzie, Saskatchewan. Why? Partly because Carl had to get away from Nova Scotia, and partly because I’ve been in love with the prairies since I visited Saskatchewan on a 4H club exchange as a teenager.
I stayed with a Ukrainian family on a wheat farm near the tiny community of Donwell. My hosts were almost completely self-sufficient – they grew all their own meat and vegetables, and bought only a few staples. I experienced the delight of fresh cream and brown sugar on raspberries still warm from the sun, of homemade perogies and borscht. As for the landscape, my reaction was very similar to Carl’s. It reminded me of the ocean. The wind, the endless distance. The sky. It dwarfed everything.
I was used to seeing the stars peeking through spaces between buildings, or hedged in by trees. I’d never seen anything like the prairie sky at night. I’d never seen soil so soft you could dig it with your hands, so soft it won’t support buildings more than two stories high. On that trip, I realized how young a country Canada really is. A fifty-year-old building was a rarity.
I know that if I were ever to live “out West”, I would miss the ocean, but there’s something inspiring in the openness of the prairies, something that helps put things in perspective. And, while I was there, I fell a little bit in love with a prairie farm boy.
Yes, there’s something about those Western stars.