I’m afraid I’m in danger of running through my supply of superlatives before this trip is over. My daughter described the territory between Jamestown, ND and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan as “hella sky,” and I’m going with that.
I love the Great Plains. I find them fascinating in the same way I find the ocean fascinating. They’re mysterious and endless, with waves of grasses blowing in the ever-present wind. I painted in Terre Haute, Indiana, many years ago, and I’ve been through the American prairie many times, but that didn’t prepare me for this drive. The road between Jamestown and Saskatoon is a painter’s paradise.
It’s also in the midst of an oil boom. I love pumping jacks like I love the Great Plains. They move slowly up and down like prehistoric birds, their counterweights moving in opposition to their awkward big heads. As we continued north, the pumping jacks got bigger and denser.
Both state and province are dotted with abandoned houses, but they’re different from the ones in the east. These are on well-maintained, successful farms, and in many cases a new house has just been built next to the old homestead.
People here probably want up-to-date homes where they don’t have to worry about the winter wind whistling around the windows. But they also seem to have some kind of respect or affection for the old places built by their ancestors. The old homesteads have the space to just gently subside into the landscape.
We’re in a small SUV with insufficient legroom, but we’ve worked out a system where we rotate places every three hours. That forces us all to get out and walk. Each seat has a spot where it pinches, so moving from seat to seat distributes the pain. It also means a regular rotation of drivers so we are able to travel long distances with no breaks.
I feel most sorry for my husband, who is a scant 6’5”. He’s bearing the brunt of the small car agonies.
The back seats are difficult to take photos from, so I’ve decided that when I’m sitting there, I’ll watercolor. I see something, commit it to memory and get it down with a few brush strokes. Of course, I should have counted how many pages there are in my field sketchbook. This morning I’m going to rule each of the remaining pages into four blocks each.
In the front passenger seat, I use my time taking photographs. We don’t have time on this drive to stop and see landmarks, so the best we can do is snap a picture as we whizz by. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to paint from my reference pictures sometime in the future.
All the way from Jamestown, we played “those cows are my cows,” a silly car game that apparently has more variations than there are blogs on the internet. Every herd we passed was fat, sassy, healthy, and lounging around in God’s country.
That made me realize I haven’t had a piece of grilled beef since I left Rochester at the end of May. Searching for a restaurant in Saskatoon, I learned a sad fact: minors are not allowed to eat in bars or pubs in Canada, and our youngest child is a minor by Canadian standards. Feeding him tidbits over the patio rail did not appeal. Finally, we found a restaurant that served beef and would serve him. I had a steak from a happy Canadian cow, and we retired for the night.
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