Friday, June 3, 2011

At Beaver Creek

Saskatchewan #1

There`s no way to hold back the future,
but we can shape the course of events by
engaging - fully, deeply, and passionately -
with the present... This approach is
sometimes referred to as a strategy of “No Regrets”,
because the work is worth doing now,
no matter what happens next.
‘Prairie - A Natural History’. by Candace Savage

The South Saskatchewan River surges across the prairie in a broad Spring flow, scarcely contained by its banks. All across the flat lands are sheets of water slowly being drained away by a myriad of little creeks. Beaver Creek is a good example: starting in farmland, winding through the sand hills of an army range and finally cutting deeper into the valley sides of the big river itself and adding its jot to the common flow. Imagine a very large quilt, a patchwork of fields and hills, with the quilting stitches being the creeks.

A few days ago I canoed a section of the upper reaches; a strong even flow contained by built-up banks: mallards looking for nesting sites, coyotes and hawks looking for mallards, willows, tall yellowed reeds with fluffy tops waving in the wind, river bank beavers. Now I am twenty minutes drive away from there and near the place where the creek will end its course in the big river. Here the creek winds within its canyon, remnant snow drifts lie in shady spots, a mass of deciduous trees and bushes beside the creek - new buds just breaking -, and slopes of native plants reaching to the prairie above.

This place is a conservation area complete with an interpretive center. The land was a gift long ago of an early settler who farsightedly realized that something was being lost as he and many others plowed up the natural vegetation. It must have helped his decision that this little corner of his land was sandy and cut up into steep slopes. Whatever it took, here is preserved a little piece of a natural grassland that used to stretch for thousands of miles up the center of North America. Those plants that seem so ordinary, those grasses and scrubby trees, are an ecosystem: an assembly of plants adapted over a very long period of time to prairie conditions. Not only that, they are adjusted to this particular place and even to differences in soil, moisture and whether they lie on a north or south facing slope. This place has an individual`s face.

What I am learning today is that once one has gazed his fill on far horizons and spectacular skies it is what lies hidden at his feet that needs to become his consuming interest. It is here, down in this little valley beside Beaver Creek, that the real lessons begin if we are to begin to understand the land and our place within it.

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