Sunday, June 30, 2013


Wednesday my car was having its oil changed and its brakes serviced.  But it was also the day I have lunch with my daughter, Veronica.  We often meet at Tangerine because the jazz is great, the food is fresh and healthy, and it's close to her office.  Tangerine is certainly within walking distance from home (given all the walking I did in Paris, perhaps anywhere on Regina's bike paths is close to home), so I set out a little early so nab a table in this very busy "food bar."  I was a little startled to rediscover how wonderful walking is.  What I found was how joyously all my senses were aroused.  In The Critique of Judgment, Kant talks about one of the world's minor miracles:  how it seems that the world around us appeals so perfectly to our senses, how we and the world seem made for each other.  Yesterday I felt as if the sensuous world celebrated my senses:  as if the play of light and shadow, the flashing green leaves, the roses and Stella d'Oro lilies, the bright blue dragonflies were made for my eyes.  The wind seemed made to remind me how wonderful skin is, the bird song made to remind me how to listen to the world beneath the city's perpetual growl.  The smell of mown grass--is someone always mowing the grass on perfect summer days, or does a perfect summer day have its perfection completed by the smell of grass?--and of my Henry Hudson roses, which you can smell from the sidewalk in front of my house, reminded me that one of the difficulties of winter is that is has no smell.  Any Saskatchewan poet will tell you how the light and the skies are different here.  Even over the trees of Wascana Park, the whiter-than-white clouds looked monumental and serene.

On Thursday, nature was back on the menu with the dinner at the Hotel Saskatchewan marking the end of Margaret Atwood's and Graeme Gibson's time here touring Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and some of the PFRA pastures in the southwest corner of the province.  A remarkable video by Red Studio Productions allowed us to see something of what Atwood and Gibson, guided by Trevor Herriot, saw in their days here.  My walk down College Avenue reminded me that we don't really see the world from the window of a car, or we only see a kind of distant, mediated version that isn't unlike TV, our windshield our screen.  In the city, we mostly need to slow down to take a closer look.  The prairies, on the other hand, need two kinds of seeing:  we need to stop long enough to take in the shapes, the camber of the landscape.  In many parts of the province, prairie isn't simply flat.  The province has been a sea; its skin has been rubbed and sculpted by glaciers several times over.  What we see from a car window as we boot down the Number 1 at 110 km/hr isn't really prairie.  But the prairie also longs to be see close up:  there is so much that's beautiful going on, especially on land that hasn't been turned over to industrial farming.

Because this was a Saskatchewan event, it began with lots and lots of thanks, from Trevor, and from one of our co-hosts, Candace Savage.  Trevor in particular established one of the evening's motifs:  there are stories and they need to be told.  (Please see his blog, Grass Notes for the stories he has to tell.  I'll give you a link below.)  The provincial government's decision to attempt to lease or sell the lands doesn't simply operate on some abstract  principle (however wrong-headed) that dictates letting the market and free enterprise decide policy issues.  There are people--farmers, cattlemen, and stewards--whose lives are dramatically affected by that principle; there are subtle, beautiful and delicately-balanced ecosystems that have been healthy for the 75 years  of  PFRA stewardship that are being put at risk. Trevor told us that Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is one of the quietest places on the planet--not to mention extraordinarily beautiful.  Yet budget cuts there have left no one to manage the bison herd.

Sheila Coles introduced Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood by thanking them for "fixing your gaze firmly on Saskatchewan."  Gibson talked of our need to understand land that is "spectacular and wild" and of our need to support the people who live there, people who are concerned with the full implications of what they do on the land.  He spoke of a note of melancholy that pervaded his conversations with people who feel their government is betraying them by not approaching this complex problem with a plan that "makes sense."

Margaret Atwood, after establishing her nature credentials with stories about growing up in the northern Ontario bush, talked about the importance of an ecology that starts--in our case, literally--with the grass roots, with people who understand the land and can tell you what's changing.  She suggested that the decision to sell or lease the land had been made on a two-dimensional map, whereas land exists in four dimensions--the fourth being time. Both authors emphasized the fact that there is a knowledge, a lore, a library of knowledge gathered over time by the pasture managers and the pasture patrons that is not part of the government's decision-making process.  And they both emphasized the fact that the province is asking people to make decisions too quickly and without enough knowledge about what the province's goals are, what it wants to achieve, what is planned for these people and their landscape.  Atwood likened it to asking people to make a business plan without all the facts.   What the people that live with this land every day want from their leaders is respect for their knowledge and their way of life.

Earlier this week, David Suzuki write in his blog about the work of Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet, a psychologist at Trent University.  She has found that people who are connected to the natural world are, simply put, happier than people who don't feel this connection.  Her work puts all this talk about walking, about bird-watching, about the stewardship of the PFRA pastures, about the profound quiet that can be found in the Cypress Hills in a slightly different context.  What will happen to us when the land and light; the the darting, looping flights of barn swallows; the scent of roses; and the visual music of prairie grass is only defined by its market value?

You can help by signing the petition at Protect the Prairie.
Read about Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet's work here.

1 comment:

  1. Such a beautiful piece. "But the prairie also longs to be see close up: there is so much that's beautiful going on, especially on land that hasn't been turned over to industrial farming." I think the land does long for our attention and oh how we are repaid when we look close.