I used to love living here on the dry prairies of central Alberta, Canada.
My Mother used to write to me and tell me how they called it the "Parklands", and when I first arrived I could easily understand that one word.
The landscapes of Alberta take your breath away no matter where you look. Here, undulating fields of barley, wheat, corn and canola stretch to the horizons and you can watch their progress so easily from winter through to harvest and back again. It's truly a beautiful progress. It entraps me!
I love to see the farmers out in the fields in the spring, plowing and fertilizing and seeding. Their huge machines tear at the soil, working deep into it, begging it for succor while their masters beg their machines not to break down and the sky for the perfect recipes of sun and rain.
Then as the summer comes so does the growth of the seed and we watch as the heads pop from the soil and the plants reach for the sun and stretch and grow. Here then again is reason to beg the sky to leave us be and farmers pay exorbitant sums to eager hands for wind, hail and tornado insurance. And every year it is paid out as the winds get fiercer and we are pelted with ice in the middle of hot summer days as the clouds swirl in circles above our heads.
I was once caught in the middle of a 'plowing tornado'. I huddled in my little thirteen foot trailer and looked out the window at my brother across the lawn in his house and we talked to each other on the phone - afraid to severe the connection in case something happened to me. Sometimes we couldn't see each other and all we had were each others voices and his anchored me in that terrible storm like it always has. When it ended there were his wetsuits spread across the next field and garbage and hailstones piled over a foot deep in a drift up against his building. But we had survived and that is what mattered!
Then as the nights start to get colder and the leaves start to change colour, the air is suddenly filled with the sweet aroma of ripened canola and it is bright yellow. Everywhere you look the fields stretch for miles and it is an incredible sight to see. It always catches me without my camera and I swear that I will have it the next time I go back in a day or two. But by then it is too late. The farmers have already harvested the sweet and beautiful crop and the fields lay bare and there is nothing to see. I lay my camera back down on the passenger's seat and drive sadly on, always wishing I had remembered to bring it earlier. I do that every single year even though I can see that it is ripening before my very eyes and I know that they will be harvesting soon! Silly old me.
Then comes the harvest of the rest of the crops and the air is full of dust and chaff and it continues for a month if not longer and driving is a hazard and so is breathing! The farmers work 24 hours straight trying to get their crops in while the weather is good; before the rains, before the snow, before they plan to go south for six months. Whatever their plans are - I don't know. And what is left are huge bales of hay or straw - sitting like sentinels out on the fields. They too are a beautiful sight with the lone hawks sitting on them waiting for a stray mouse in the early morning light or the late evening sun. The hawks are like the farmers, they too head south eventually to warmer hunting grounds. And all we are left with are the hay bales. Some farmers move them in under cover or wrap them in white plastic which almost look like some kind of an abomination. I can't imagine how much more it costs to put plastic wrap over your hay than to just bale it but I suppose they have their reasons. Sometimes you see long snakes of them in the fields where farmers have gathered them and lined them up head to toe and side by side. I myself prefer the old fashioned way that is very rare now where instead of bales they make what look like 'bread loaves' and then they tarp them. But you don't see that very often any more. Those were the older farmers. The new farmers do things differently and have bigger machines to do them for them. No wonder they complain they aren't making any money at farming. The cost of their equipment boggles the brain!
And then comes winter. Oh dear God! When I first arrived I came from southern Ontario where you didn't need a little thing called a 'block heater'. My car froze solid when I parked it at my parent's farm and the temperatures plummeted to -40C for six weeks! At first I thought that was a fluke of the weather. Now it happens all the time and it feels like we are prisoners trapped here at the whim of Mother Nature. The forecast shows we are to have snow today with a low of -24C/-11F. Tomorrow we can look forward to a high of -19C/-2F with a low of -31C/-24F and then on Sunday we will have a High of -28C/-18F and a low of -32C/-26F! Of course just on time for all those on holiday to go back to work, the temperatures will rise to a lovely -14C/7F for those who want to go out for lunch and then plummet again for those who have to work late to only -17C/2F, not bad considering!
The cold started early November as I remember sitting in the hospital on the 23rd floor and looking out at the curls of vapor rising from chimneys from every building far below and feeling the chill emanating from the plate glass windows that stretched across each room giving marvelous vistas of the Rockies and keeping out the -40C chill. That weather continued on into the Christmas shopping season, giving the vendors fits as people didn't want to venture out in the cold and in all reality, who in their right mind would if they didn't have to? And it hasn't been until just this week that we've been given a break and we've seen the weather come up into a single digit - still below freezing in this area - and now again back to -31C. I can tell you riding in a car on frozen roads after surgery is no fun at all! It doesn't matter how luxurious that car may be or how careful a driver you may have - the frozen roads will get to you every single time! Mark my words on that!
Still - for one who feels she has a zipper in her back, I don't want to venture out in the cold and feel it seep into that wound. Even bundled up I ventured out once and it was -30C and I was only out for one little 5 minute walk and it did me in for two days. I couldn't leave my chair and heating pad nor could I sleep comfortably. Those kind of temps eat at your bones and gnaw at your brain. And I mean seriously gnaw at your brain. I don't know how those scientists live at the stations on Antarctica! Or how anyone could have trekked to the North Pole, or even live much farther north then we do where these temps go on forever.
People make a joke about Canadian Snowbirds, but you can see why. I look out my studio window and watch the snow blow past and cuddle up to one of the many little heaters we have stashed around this big old barn - and we have two furnaces for central heating as well! If you are lucky enough to be retired and have the money and means to leave and head South, then by all means - do so! Our regulations require that you must reside in Canada for six months plus one day - so many Snowbirds drive South then fly home for a short period so that they may extend their stay South longer. Why you ask? We've had snow - blizzards on the 24th of May! That's the first long weekend of our 'summer' so to speak - so many of us are out 'camping' - and often in canvas tents. Waking up to snow is not a lot of fun. Believe me, I've done it. I've peeled my frozen sleeping bag off of the canvas floor, listening to the ice particles as they rip and tear. Marvelous fun as you shiver in your flannel pajamas! Then crawling back into it later that night is never much fun as it never dries out and you can never really warm it up. The trick is to take rocks from around your fire and to wrap them in old sweaters that you bring along solely for that purpose. You only hope that while you sleep you don't slowly knock them out of the sweater and burn yourself on the hot rocks. It's nasty. Believe me.
I've seen snow here every single month of the year. It's crazy! Simple crazy!
So why do I live here? I often ask myself that lately. In fact we asked ourselves that every day we were in New Zealand. Do we have to live in Canada anymore? Can we move to New Zealand? Please?
But really. Why do I still live here where the cold is making me crazy and I am trapped in my home for months of the year? If I don't have a reason to go outside - I don't. I'm lucky that way. Being on a disability pension I don't - have to - go outside. And it's a good thing 'The Barn' is so big and I can wander the vastness like a huge ship I guess. But I'm not answering the question. Why do I live here? Why do I not move to some place warmer?
Firstly. My brother lives a 40 minute drive away. That keeps me tethered here, like a balloon on the wind. Just bobbing along. Now he's talking about moving, but not about moving somewhere that involves me. Oh well.
Secondly. The Man works a 40 minute drive away. Not that that would keep us here forever as he would change his workplace in a heartbeat.
Thirdly. There are NO SNAKES here!! Now to me that is VERY IMPORTANT!! It is TOO COLD here for snakes! Isn't that marvelous! Of course New Zealand doesn't have any snakes and oh how I would love to live in New Zealand! They don't have any bears either and we have bears! Oh my goodness do we have bears! And bears terrify me so I don't go where the bears are - but my brother lives close to where they are and that scares me on a regular basis. Of course when I go to my brother's for the summer season, then I am close to where those bears are too.....hmmmmm. BTW - we have Grizzly bears, and Black bears...Such Fun! Oh! We have Cougars too! Groan......
Fourth. I don't know if I have a fourth. The Man still works and that keeps us here for a while. Maybe that's all there is to it. Neither of us want to move back to southern Ontario. We both came from there and we don't want to go back. There are too many people there and not as much space. You can't see to the horizon as you can here. You can't drive for an hour and all of a sudden see The Rocky Mountains of Canada loom suddenly into view.
Yet there is this biting cold and all this snow. And all this snow is going to make for incredible flooding this year again. Which is going to change the rafting season once more.
Wow. I wonder what spring will bring.