How do you know when you are well and truly home? Three vignettes from my life in Treaty Four Territory, under the prairie sky.
I am well and truly home!
Our two farm dogs, Lady (mum) and Herc (son) fell into their own routines when I abandoned them and went to Ontario. That routine involves hunting muskrat in the dugouts, clearly an absorbing task for a pair of canines. I would head off on my morning walk, call the dogs and to my great dismay, nobody came. When I was a few kilometres down the road and on my way back, I would see two distant black dots racing down the road towards me, wearing signs of dugout activity when they arrived. Wet, with flecks of lime green duckweed on their coats!
Now, some weeks and many morning walks later, the dogs have caught on and have let the dugout go in favour of a morning walk.(Muskrat relief, to be sure!) They can barely contain their joy when I come out the door. All the way down the lane, they do doggie backflips, fall over each other, contort their bodies and tails in movements of joy and excitement and anticipation. Lady even smiles, a kind of ugly but sweet grimace. They trip over each other. Sometimes I can barely move down the lane. I occasionally remember kicking one of these dogs predecessors once because I was so frustrated that I could not move. (Shame!) The walk down the lane is a good a barometer of how crusty (or not) I might be feeling in the morning.
I am now able to walk across the south field because it has been combined. Field walking is even more pleasurable than walking down the road. I like the unexpected dips and swells, the curves and surprises of walking across the fields. I like the wild untouched areas – a grove of willows here, a wetland there, an unexpected rise over here. The dogs follow their noses, read each other’s body language, their tails erect and a certain tension in their body when they pick up a scent. They bound ahead, disappearing at times, surprising me later by coming up from behind. Their movement is like a dance, is like the swoop of the grass birds as they fly hither, is like the curve of the land itself, under this vast bowl of sky.
Last week, I was able to visit Pheasant Creek Coulee almost every day, sometimes with my paints, sometimes not. Colours are just beginning to change. The pinks of the bluestem grass on the hills is astonishing. This morning when I arrived, there were four Swainson’s hawks flying just over the hill where I often sit. I stopped and sat and watched them, listened to their sharp cries, wondered if they were a family or just a group of hawks who liked to hang out. The cry of a hawk is like the pungent scent of sage – no matter how many times you have heard it or smelled it, it catches you unawares, urges you to wake up, pay attention!
I come to Grandfather Rock, a place where I have painted often. In a certain way, trying to paint in this place is a way to come to know it better, to see all the shades alive in the pink of the bluestem, to wrestle with all of the troublesome yet beautiful greens. After some attempts to catch the feel and colour of the day, I return to what it is that I love most about this place – how to paint the shape and curve of the land – the skeleton, the bones beneath these hills.
Treaty Four Powwow, under the arbour. Flashing colours of dancers everywhere. Sound of drums beating here and there. A beautiful fall day nestled by Mission Lake in the folds of the hills of the Qu’Appelle Valley. Garbage floating off in the wind, or trampled underground. The smell of sweetgrass, of home fries, of deep frying. Powwow announcers trying to get people to come for the Grand Entry.
I have just been to see our daughters, Jessie and Marina, and their horses Missy and Gatty. They have camped out here all weekend with other riders who made the trip here on horseback to honour the late Chief Irvin StarBlanket. Marina tells me that they have been asked to take part in the Horse Ceremony which will occur before the Special (Dance Competition) in honour of Chief Irvin. She is nervous. Gatty will do fine, she tells me. She is worried about riding in front of such a big crowd.
I am sitting directly across from where the riders will enter the powwow arena. Elder Mike Pinay, the announcer, shares something about the Horse Ceremony, and then says that two girls from outside the community have been asked to take part in this ceremony, to ride for the mothers and for the grandmothers. He goes on to say that it is unusual to ask outsiders to take part but that these girls are great friends of the community, and know some of the ways of the community. It is a great honour for them to take part in this ceremony.
Mike then asks the StarBlanket Juniors drum group to begin their song and all of us stand. I stand tall, full of prayer, or pride, of love for these two daughters and the great honour they have of taking part in this. Marina nods in my direction as she rides by.The five horses circle the arbour four times, going slowly the first time around, then trotting, then loping. Drums beat, hooves beat, hearts beat…. I think of their grandmothers and great grandmothers….They look beautiful. Our daughters sit tall in the saddle.
When they are finished, I see them heading off towards the hills to let the horses have a good run, to let the horses loose. I have been proud of these girls many times before, but never like this.