Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Saskatchewan Experience

During our recent week long trip back to Saskatchewan I simply did not make time for writing. One reason is because I usually only blog when on vacation, and going home to visit doesn’t feel like a regular vacation. A second reason is that there was simply no alone time during this trip as we were constantly surrounded by family and friends, which is a very good thing, but makes it difficult to devote any time or energy to the literary arts. Most of my time was focused on the culinary arts (shucking and then eating delicious fresh corn) or the beverage arts (drinking Saskatchewan beer) or the hunter/gatherer arts (shooting guns, catching fish, raiding gardens).

It had been five years since our last visit to Saskatchewan so Stella really didn't have any memories of it and Magnus had only a few. I was quite excited for the kids to spend some time there to get in touch with their "Saskatchewan roots" and believe me, Saskatchewan is a very different place than where we live in southern Ontario. In fact, it's been so long since we've been there that I too had forgotten much. When we lived in Calgary over ten years ago we used to visit Saskatchewan frequently, so it did feel like our second home, especially since we owned a cottage there. But at that time the kids were infants, and the trips back home were usually characterized by excruciatingly long and boring car trips, episodes of vomiting (the kids, not me.), sleepless nights taking care of babies, busy and chaotic days as we worked tirelessly fixing our cabin, and only rare moments when we could relax, visit and take it easy.

Well, this time all we did during the entire trip was relax, explore, visit and basically just goof around, which made it a whole different experience. We spent the first few days at my Mom's place in Clavet, Saskatchewan which is located just ten miles from Saskatoon. The last time we visited my mom and Rick they were at the peak of their tomato and herb farming career – they had five giant greenhouses, worked 15 hours per day and grew thousands and thousands of pounds of vegetables, selling them to local restaurants and at farmers markets for highly inflated hipster-friendly prices. At some point they must have realized they were working themselves into the ground (not to mention getting tired of tomato and cucumber sandwiches), so they sold the business and equipment, and are now back to an easier pace of life.

When we arrived at Mom's (it happened to be Magnus's birthday) we were surprised to find my aunt Tammy and her kids there, as well my aunt and uncle from Regina, my aunt and uncle from Saskatoon, and my grandma. So we had a great birthday party and did some long overdue visiting. My brother Curtis and his kids were also there, and would end up spending almost the entire week with us, so the cousins kept very, very busy.

Saskatoon has changed a lot since I lived there. For one thing, it has grown like mad. There are new subdivisions all over the place, new office buildings, traffic everywhere and so many visible minorities. When I was in high school, there was a single black family and a small group of Salvadorians that kicked everybody's ass at soccer. That was about as exotic as things got – everybody else in the school basically looked and acted like regular Saskatchewan urban cowboys. Now, arriving at the Saskatoon airport was hardly any different than arriving in Toronto – a colourful and vibrant collection of saris, hijabs, turbans, shalwar kameez and people of all races. It was quite honestly mind-blowing for Ana and I to see such diversity in my old hometown. It seems Saskatchewan has finally been discovered.

The highlight of our time in Saskatoon for me was the day we went to the beach. "Beach?" you may ask. Yes, there's a beach; actually, several of them. We packed up Mom's giant motorhome early one morning (this thing is longer than our boat, maybe longer than our house) and she drove us battle tank style down fifteen miles of exceedingly dusty gravel roads with soft shoulders and space for 1.5 vehicles at the widest. We arrived at the Fred Heal canoe launch and squeezed our magnificent vessel tight into the shrubberies on the outside ring of the roundabout that we barely fit around. We unpacked all of our gear (and Rick and my mom have more gear than anybody I know) and carried it down a short pathway through the trees and onto the expansive, clean, marvellous beach on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. We were simply amazed to find such a lovely beach so close to the city, and before long the people started streaming in and claiming their own plots of beachside real estate.

We had a terrific day.  Curt brought his paddleboard and we all took turns going for rides, even all the kids, who seemed to have no trouble at all keeping their balance and paddling up and down the river. Of course we had soccer balls and Frisbees for the land entertainment, and a nice Bose speaker with fine tunes pumping all day. The water was a little chilly (maybe just for us as we're used to balmy 29 degree water in Lake Erie) but very clean and the current was not too strong. At midday a colourful platoon of paddleboarders appeared upstream and arrived en masse to the beach – there was probably close to a hundred people in the group. We learned they had left Lake Diefenbaker two days previous to this and were paddling all the way to Saskatoon, something like a 120 kilometre run. Funny how we never though of doing something fun and adventurous like that when I was in high school. Back then, our standard idea of adventure was walking drunk down the train bridge in the middle of the night, clutching bottles of rye and hoping to run into a gang of horny females with shockingly low standards…which never happened. Not even once.

owards the end of the day we went back up to the parking area to survey the possibilities of getting our massive RV out of there, and the possibility was zero as there were vehicles jammed in everywhere, on both sides of the road, and in places they shouldn't have been. So we returned to the beach for a couple of hours longer, hoping it would clear out. Eventually we were left with what looked like a possible path out, but it would rely on some clever manoeuvring of our land based airplane carrier. I had offered to be the designated driver (it's always good to try new things) so I sized up the available space between the idiot who had parked his car right on the roadway and the car across from him and there seemed to be sufficient room. I was feeling pretty confident, maybe a little overconfident. We all piled into the motorhome, I fired her up, and with spotters looking out the windows on both sides, we slowly creeped forward. It was all going great until I started turning the beast and the back end, which hung about 15 feet past the rear tires swung over and creamed the front corner and bumper of the poorly parked patron. Shit!!! After surveying the damage to the car, and finding nothing but a small scratch on our behemoth, we managed to squeeze the beast through the rest of the cars on the narrow gravel road and got her parked safely near the entrance, and then walked back and left a note on the smashed car with our information. The note read: "Hey dummy, you shouldn't park your car in the middle of the road in front of a giant motorhome. Signed, Count Chocula, 555-1212".

One evening we went to my aunt Maxine and uncle Ron's place and met my cousin Jason there. Now Jason and I were attached at the hip for most of our childhood and even into early adulthood too, but these days we don't get to see each other too often. He and his wife Nicole have twin daughters who are the cutest and goofiest little girls you can imagine. While we visited with the adults, Magnus and Stella played with the girls and when it was time to leave those little girls followed them right out the building and wanted to go home with them! Jason had to peel them off the kids and physically restrain them while we made our getaway.

On the Wednesday we packed up and drove out to Fishing Lake where my Dad and step mom Loretta live. It was Stella's birthday that day so they had arranged a huge birthday lunch for her, complete with balloons and presents so she was very happy. Fishing Lake is very close to Foam Lake, 250 kilometres south-east of Saskatoon, and is where both of my parents grew up. As kids we spent every summer at the family cottage with our cousins and friends and the days were filled with golfing, swimming, fishing, wandering from cabin to cabin looking for sugary treats, and spending an awful lot of time on the bunk beds reading Archie comics. Those truly were some of the best days of my childhood. When Ana and I lived in Calgary we decided to buy our own place at Fishing Lake so we purchased a lot and also a house about 150 kilometres away which we had moved onto the lot. This resulted in a massive amount of work, such as building a foundation, getting permits, rewiring the house, repairing all the plaster walls that cracked during the move, repainting, fixing windows, landscaping and furnishing the entire place. So the time we spent out at the lake during those years were the opposite of carefree. Our typical trip to the lake was making the 9 hour drive from Calgary with an SUV and Uhaul trailer jammed full of crap and baby Magnus barfing in the back seat, and then once we arrived we would work 12 hours a day fixing the cabin. Just as we got the cabin into reasonably liveable condition we decided to move to Ontario, so then used it as a rental for several years. So these years of lake visits bring back many memories, but none of carefree and fun variety.

This trip was different as we had no cabin to fix, no work to do, and Dad and Loretta had arranged for meals and had the family cabin all ready to go for us. It was glorious! We spent the days doing things we used to do and simply had so much fun. Curtis and the boys were out there the entire time so we got to spend many hours with my nephews and the cousins had so much fun together, especially when they were ripping around on my Dad's quad. Ana and I saw old friends out there that we hadn't seen in many years and enjoyed some nice long walks, many hours sitting on the beach, an afternoon session on the legendary "Ford diving board", and some evening campfires. We caught many, many fish so one afternoon we had a giant fish fry and the aromas from the deep fryer attracted all sorts of people to stop by for a snack.

In the lead-up to the trip Dad had promised the kids that he would take them out shooting, so one afternoon he gathered up a few guns and a pile of ammo and we took the kids out to a field to blast the hell out of some targets. We set up some cans and bottles with a giant hay bale as a backdrop and the kids let loose. Now this is why I love the prairies – regular rules just don't seem to apply. Magnus even got to fire a shotgun!

The time went quickly and soon we were in Saskatoon spending our last day and night at my brother Curt's place. They arranged for a final get together with a bunch of family and we enjoyed a last meal together and plenty of laughs. We flew out Monday morning and on the way to the airport the kids were already asking when we would be able to visit again. I am hoping that sometime soon the kids will be ready to do a trip on their own and we can send them out to Saskatoon for a longer visit during their summer vacation.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear you made it back to Sask and loved it!