Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Creativity on Saskatchewan's Country Roads

A couple of weeks ago, just as the leaves in town were beginning to fall, my daughter Veronica and I drove north of Regina, up highway 20 toward Craven, and then north and west on 322.  Because she's a gifted photographer, I wanted her to take some pictures of enormous stone cairns and shoe-clad fence posts I'd seen earlier this summer. 

It's as if a farmer has built a story on the side of the road.  These enormous stones are certainly the debris left by the ice age that created the Qu'Appelle Valley.  An early settler undoubtedly found them in the fields he'd hoped to break and plant, and had to dig them up to get them out of the way.  What prompted someone else, probably another farmer, to gather them up and poise them so carefully and playfully on top of one another?

Perhaps the story here is one of determination to get the best of the stones that littered the fields.  Maybe their maker felt playful:  perhaps some early spring when the frost had heaved the boulders even further out of place, he felt like growing something before his fields were ready to plant.  Or his daughter had come home from university where she had been studying physics, and they decided together to create a beautiful demonstration of balance and gravity.  Or maybe an art student decided he could rival Henry Moore with the stones in his father's fields.  Whatever the reason, we have been given something for our minds to play with as we drive toward Rowan's Ravine or Bulyea.

Further down the same road, another farmer has decorated fence posts with shoes, boots, wellingtons, and sandals.  The footwear has been taking over his power polls and fence posts for quite a number of years, and now they're beginning to appear in groups that look as if people have been dancing in defiance of gravity, so ecstatically that they haven't noticed they've lost their footwear.

Or they've been playing tag or hide and seek.  I am told that this is a fairly common artform on prairie roads, yet certainly each display is different and tell a story of a larger or a smaller family, one with lots of girls, of a farm wife who decides to buy a pair of stilettos for her child's high school graduation, of the runner who practices on country roads and made it to the Olympic games, of the single Wellington the pigs ate.

What is it about the creative spirit that these farmers, who doubtless work very hard, can't resist playing and making; can't resist giving the traveller something to play with, a story to spin, a snapshot of human striving?

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