Stegner House April 3rd

The sun is strong today and warm but still some chill in the air with a brilliant uninterrupted blue sky. At the grain elevators, I run into a gentleman walking his dog a newcomer in the last six years. Bought a house on the main street Red Coat Drive. A Reiki master he tells me among many other skills. Retire at seventy with new eyes behind ophthalmologist sunglasses is out walking his dog. After years on the West Coast, this Icelander from Manitoba has settled in with his Mexican rescue dog and wife in this small town, to learn its ways. 

As we talk my mind wanders to the abandoned house the night before up on the highway, full of years of equipment and vehicles. I wonder at the reasons, perhaps they just built a new house across the way and left this one to wind, or had they moved? Perhaps the town was more comfortable in the Valley, or as someone told me the land could have been drawn into a larger operation.

He tells me the town was once 1500 people with three car dealerships, and many more businesses selling farm equipment. Now the now 503 are living in this valley 85 kilometers from the border. He tells me it’s the third year of drought, throwing ranchers into survival mode. Selling cattle before they calved, he says, is not sustainable and very hard to recover from. Also, he says the water in town is also expensive, I think to myself so is mine. His house had cisterns in the basement used to gather water from the roof. Now he says it is not unusual to see others pump water into a reservoir on their pickups from the Frenchman River. 

My mind wanders again wondering how much of the abandoned farm equipment I have seen in the fields around me, was from this town? We keep reinventing things then we cast the old aside, and rearrange and adapt to the inevitable change it brings. It is a constant forward movement, with a few individuals preserving where we have been, the history that should keep us from reliving mistakes. The conversation comes to an end and we part company.

At the corner, someone is raking the winter from the lawn, a wilderness guide who after hearing about this special town, uprooted and move to settle into this quiet and peaceful town, and in the evenings take in the sunset at Jone’s Peak; or the river at Ravenscrag which meanders poetically with the boundaries of the valley.

My mind wanders again thinking of the porcelain peeking out of the hillsides, and the potters gathering clay to mix in their potteries. How in the schoolhouse basement there used to be pottery classes. How a ceramic artist wearing his Order of Canada pin walked these slopes in his blue jean tuxedo stooping to feel the different clays in his hand and reveling in the richness of his country.

…there is little to interrupt the eye. Roads run straight between parallel lines of fence until they intersect the circle of the horizon. It is a landscape of circles, radi, perspective exercises — a country of geometry.
Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow