“And ice cream castles in the air.” So said Joni Mitchell, a Canadian singer-songwriter. And that was my life behind the wheel yesterday as I crossed a lot of prairie on my way to Weyburn, Saskatchewan. The flatness of the land embraced the vastness of the sky. Clouds billowed. Others wisped their way across my windshield. I was enthralled. Sometimes, as I was rocking and rolling to my tunes, a shaft of sunlight burst through a break in the clouds to say hi. “Pay attention, Bruce. The songs are nice, the lyrics and melodies transforming, but look past your nose to the beauty of the world.” So I did.
Then all those clouds would just go poof, and I was left with an empty blue sky. Maybe somebody had called for a celestial coffee break. First of all I was disappointed but then the blueness seeped inside. and I got to see another vastness … of the soul, of all our souls. Compared to our daily routine of tasks and responsibilities, there’s a silence of love that falls upon us all. The sky didn’t have little flecks of darker blue activity in it. It was all one.
I also loved sloughs yesterday. They’re pronounced “slew” … little ponds ringed with tall grasses and usually populated by small ducks, or so my prairie memory told me. I started seeing the waters in southwestern Manitoba but there weren’t any birdies. I was sad. Where were the ducks? And then … “There’s one!” Happily, their numbers multiplied as Scarlet floated west. I was happy. I’ve been in some environments where it seems that the wildness, and all its creatures, have been squeezed out. Not yesterday.
Then there’s the world of pumpjacks, the devices that pump oil from the ground. They look like the mechanical beasts from The War Of The Worlds. Their elongated heads continually dip down towards the earth. At one point, there was a slight rise to my right, and two of the pumpjacks were silhouetted on the horizon. I could just imagine what was going on over there – assorted Saskatchewanians being devoured by the aliens. Horrifying!
Did I mention yellow? The greens and browns are usually muted on the Prairies but once in awhile a mass of canola blasts my brain. So bright. Another time I passed at least two miles of sunflowers, stretching to the ends of the earth. They were all lifting their happy sunflowery faces, welcoming me to their land. I nodded back.
Okay, how about a pleasant interlude? I’m staying with my friends Henry and Louise in Weyburn. It’s morning and I’m sipping my coffee. Here comes Louise.
“I think we have enough milk for cereal.”
(Why not, Bruce? Go for it.)
“I once put a box of cereal on the floor and stomped on it. I was arrested for being a cereal killer.”
One cool thing about travelling is that you come across things that jolt you, things that the locals probably don’t even notice. Such as logging trucks and “Do Not Feed The Bears” signs in northwestern Ontario. Somewhere east of Weyburn, I saw this billboard:
Do you have a problem getting your casing to the bottom?
Truthfully, I’ve never really thought about the problem. Things seem to be working fine. But it’s nice that someone wants to come to my aid about such a delicate personal matter.
Now, Henry and Louise. Henry and I went to social work school in Ottawa and were roommates. One evening, he was clearly distraught. “Bruce, I’m getting old. [25!] I need to find a woman. [Sex is great but I think Henry was especially referring to a life partner.] I’m going to the lounge at the Chateau Laurier to find someone.” So he did. He met Louise that evening and invited her to dance … and so began a waltz that’s lasted 43 years. Wonderful. Last night the three of us sat in a restaurant and laughed and laughed. Love means being able to pick up with friends where you left off … in our case, in 1980.
Quite often, I forget my life. Someone says I did or said something years ago and I have no memory of it. For instance, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t walk around Ottawa one day with a roasting pan on my head. I mean, really. What fool would do something like that? Henry told me that I used to say “Go shit” a lot. Hmm .. that doesn’t sound like me. Then he added, “No, you were saying ‘Gauche it’ as I was driving, as in ‘Turn left.'” Okay, it’s coming back. Louise and Henry also reminded me that I went to a Hallowe’en party in 1972 wearing a sleeping bag over me. Ahh … I remember, especially the part about having trouble breathing. My costume was actually an orange mummy bag. I came dressed as a penis. Think I called myself The Pumpkin Pecker. These added details were news last night to my friends. We laughed.
Today the three of us will see what beckons. Scarlet gets to rest. We’ll all have fun.