Sunday, June 24, 2012

Feeling Home

Hello! I'm Megan (posts to be tagged as MR), based in Saskatoon probably forever, currently working as an engineer-in-training-if-I-ever-submit-my-reports at a construction company. My favourite sport is trivia and I have the hobbies of a 70 year-old woman. I blog about good and bad novels and my thoughts on engineering, relationships, language, gender, and whatever else I can reasonably justify at Two Hectobooks.

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Lesson learned: post early in the month or Cat and Scott will steal the words right out of your mouth (or fingers, I suppose, considering that this is typed and not dictated). I was going to write about how important I think it is for all of us to respect each other's strengths and weaknesses in this province, and I was even going to bring up the zombie apocalypse. So back to square one.

Instead I think I'll go the very Can Lit route of discussing place.

I'm not well-travelled enough to say that Saskatchewan is unique in the entire world, but I do think that the mix of demographics (relatively homogeneous), population density (extremely low), and so on that we have here is at least unusual nowadays. Even though the rural population has shrunk over the last few decades, there are still a huge number of first generation city kids like me, ones who have relatives that are still farming or grandparents living in small towns. I'm not sure that every single kid born in SK can tell the difference between a swather and a combine anymore, but I'd venture a guess that the vast majority of SK kids have at least been to a farm at some point by the end of their elementary school days (St. Denis, anyone?). One of my grade five field trips was a bike ride to my teacher's farm not far from the city. The urban to rural border is extremely easy to cross. Not to mention the crops, cows, sheep, etc. that are literally right in the middle of the province's largest city thanks to the university's agriculture program.

My mom is a small town girl and my dad is a farm boy, and both sets of grandparents are still living in two towns a few kilometres away from each other on the same highway. I have several aunts and uncles who are still farming, and my dad actually still owned land up until about five years ago. All this to say that when I think of rural Saskatchewan, I think of family. I spent a lot of school breaks staying with relatives when I was younger, and I have a lot of amazing memories from those visits.

There was a decaying park across the street from my grandparents' house, where I played with my cousins for hours, always avoiding the shiny steel slide because it was skin-meltingly hot in the sun. Other times we played in my grandparents' yard, dry grass on our bare feet, with the smell of baked dust blowing over from the dirt road. Then in the evenings after supper, we'd go out to check crops and maybe spot wildlife of some kind, standing on the bench seat of the truck because we were small enough and that was the only way to see over the dash, hopefully clutching binoculars. I spent hours eating oreos, or sleeping in the back, or standing beside my grandpa while he combined at harvest time. My cousins always had kittens, and usually they were tame. One summer I watched my oldest cousin hoist an old couch into the two-storey fort he'd built, and another summer got covered in burrs, and another, worst of all, went through a patch of stinging nettles. We dodged cowpies on most of our walks, shelled peas, had water fights, built snow forts, went sledding. I babysat ten kids once while the adults went snowmobiling. Speaking of snowmobiling, I started several poker rallies and always ended up waiting out the end of them at one of the checkpoint houses because I was pretty much the wimpiest kid. During swimming lessons at the lake one year, we circumnavigated the lake in a pedalboat. And it seemed like every day we caught hair snakes, minnows, and frogs. Every Christmas we played the kind of epic hide and seek games that you can only have in basements while the adults are all talking upstairs (boring). And best of all, straw bales in the wintertime.

Luckily I never had to help with any of the chores.

I know my childhood experiences are romanticized now. Sometimes it rained, or it was boring, or we went to church, or my cousins almost certainly thought I was a huge tool and I'm not really very close with any of them now. I have good city-centric memories, too. But I think the difference is that those country memories have a solidity and portability that the others don't. When you leave a city, you feel displaced. But it's not hard to get back to the country. You just find a grid road and stand on the edge of it. And it's the same gravel, and the same weeds and grasses growing in the ditch, the same cloud of tiny flies hovering a few feet away, so that even if you're far away from the place you're thinking of, you still feel connected to it, because somewhere the grid road you're standing on meets up with the one you're thinking of. It's not all sunshine and wild roses, for sure, but it's pretty special, a feeling you can't separate yourself from without leaving the continent.

6 comments:

  1. Nice post Megan. I thought with an engineer's salary you afford to dictate your blog posts. You must be doing something wrong.

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  2. What! Doing something wrong? I, for one, enjoy a wide swath of blog posts spread out over the month (perhaps somewhat bimodally distributed due to procrastination and keenerism).

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  3. I'm glad you posted this when you did, Megan, because I had almost forgotten about this blog and appreciated the reminder. Lo and behold, you also wrote an excellent post!

    You know what this made me think of? The ubiquity of geography. Undoubtedly, there are places where the landscape, flora, or people feel strange and completely disconnected from previous experiences, but there are also environments where I've felt unusually at home despite a large distance between there and my actual 'home.' I'm thinking specifically of a time on a train in Italy when I looked out the window and could've sworn I was in rural Saskatchewan. It's those wheat fields, I tell you! Different geographical categories (rainforest, mountain ranges) are likely more alien than a country halfway across the world covered in plains.

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  4. Thanks guys. Maybe we should be scheduling our posts, so that we don't get such a hilarious cluster of them? I say this out of self-interest so that I won't look like such a slacker next month.

    Cat: There can also be a weird dissonance when some parts of the landscape are familiar but the rest doesn't match up with what you expect. I remember being in England in early May, going "Oh sweet, the canola's blooming! Wait, what?!"

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  5. Hi guys-- it's your biggest not-remotely-an-engineer fan!
    Megan, I think you nailed it when you wrote about how easy it is to go back to "the country," even if it's not the same place. It's something I feel really lucky to have experienced in Saskatchewan... there's an ease of access which is kind of "get on your bike for 30 minutes and you're not in the city anymore!" Trips to farms, bike rides to pike lake, long drives up to Prince Albert, and (in my teen years) leisurely drives out of town for no good reason at all made up so much of my life in Saskatchewan. Now, living in the largest and perhaps most sprawling city in Canada, I miss that possibility. I also (and I know it's wrong) feel a vague sense of superiority, as if I got to experience the Canadian landscape in a more genuine way (probably untrue), and I feel a little bit sad for kids raised in Toronto who don't necessarily get the experiences I had as a kid. I guess what I mean is that it feels really strange to realize the extent to which the landscape has informed my sense of self.
    You're totally right, Megan. It's so Can Lit it's not even funny.

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    1. Oh man, our first non-contributor comment! Thanks Alison!

      One of the greatest and also most difficult things about Canada is how different everyone's experience of the country is, depending on what part of it they live in. I know what you mean about your feelings of superiority and how it's wrong to invalidate the big city experiences of people in the GTA (or Montreal, or Vancouver, etc) just because they might not be as close to the landscape. At the same time, since I've never lived outside of the province, I can't understand or relate to those experiences at all. And thus we have our western alienation and two solitudes, and all the rest.

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