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Published: December 30th 2011
CANADA ON THE RAILS, WEST THRU THE PRAIRIES
We left Winnipeg at about one in the afternoon, Saturday, September 24, having spent the morning in the train station visiting family of choice we had not seen for far too long and enjoying them and their two-year old first grand child.
Let me tell you, there is nothing so engaging as a freshly minted Bubby in her junior years. And if you give her as much space as the entrance of the Winnipeg railway station in which to engage the child, it is just extra-ordinary, quite extra-ordinary, while Zaida simply wears that same smile of quiet content he did some forty years ago.
We sat on the hind of our train in the bullet dome, pre-lunch aperitifs on ice in hand, quite content, as we watched the engine at the front glide its way out of Winnipeg, past historic Assiniboine Park, treed, grassed and gardened; sister to Mont Royal in Montreal and Central in New York, from a time, late eighteens, early nineteens, when North American city elders were persuaded to set aside and landscape open spaces of greenery, where their populations could enjoy life in fresh air,
as respite from their time at work in factories of the era.
And then, Assiniboine, its river, valley and ridges, imposes itself on the contour of the land. As river, contorting itself into serpentine form and lazy crawl. As valley, sheltering marshes, swamps and lagoons, while bringing shrubs, bushes and grasses into colourful play in muted tones, shades of brown, bronze, gold and tope appearing, a veritable bowl of vegetal splendour. And, as ridges, bearing trees whose leaves and blades flutter gently under the sway of a slight breeze, and taking the entire expanse up an elevation and down again to the pervading lay of level land without end. All, as the rays of a forgiving sun bestow a translucent haze over this beauty in the Prairie.
Before long, the dimensions of prairie geography were revealing themselves as expansiveness, encircled in the distance by evergreen trees at the omnipresent horizon.
It is customary to express farm sizes in acres and they can often get to be hundreds of acres but what spread before us today were farms arraying themselves over thousands of acres. On this clear Prairie afternoon, we could see each farm forever, past highways
and byways, until, many miles down the track, we would come upon clusters of evergreens, giving shade to long-settled homesteads and overlooking ponds aflutter with waddling ducks.
As we forged further afield, huge combines created dust storms in their wake and spoke to wheat farming, as did sky scraping grain elevators built in antique, old and modern modes of construction. Myriad cows dotted the landscape, heads down, munching; dairy and grain husbandry shared these farmlands along with dull white mounds of potash, harvested from underground, that blended in with crops and live stock above ground.
Gradually, we slip into a great bowl of the open and a feeling comes over me there is nothing out there, not a thing, just space, endless swaths of it. Dusty roads come from nowhere and appear to be going no where, until we breeze by another clump of vegetation playing its role of wind break.
After a while, our train slows and is quiet within the glass bubble it creates in concert with the still outside. And the Prairie sky above and around presents as horizontal strips in pale white, against a bright blue spread, persistent, all around, tracing the
full periphery of my view. And, there are dancing clouds in all vistas; I can count flowing ribbons of them wafting through the sky, like streams at the longitudes, rushing toward our train still easing along in slow motion. Each stream of clouds is carrying bundles of frothy balls that roll to a lower plane on the skyline, which weaves itself into soft images in varied forms that flirt constantly with the enchanting scene around us and meld into the endless sea of land at the level of mine eyes.
Land for ever more, dotted with islands of green vegetation, conifers all, to withstand the winter winds. And swooning over these islands of green are flocks of migrating birds, in flawless formations, dipping and diving, disappearing, momentarily, behind one isle of greenery, only to emerge for another round of flight over yet another island of evergreens.
Meantime, we come upon a colony of white geese in the hundreds, who have found a pond in a lonely marsh of the landscape and are sitting peacefully, swaying imperceptibly, one large feathered blanket spread over a restful hammock. Observing all of this from behind the glass screen of my carriage, I
can see a certain silence in the world out there.
And a little town passes by, boasting mixing machines and box cars and storage facilities, all items that prepare and send produce of this land to us. And I know it is such industry that yields us food. So, midst of my reverie, I concede this endeavour as an essential intrusion on the pristine world that was engaging me a moment ago. And the train speeds up. And the spell is broken.
Further along, around and about, there continued to be this wrap around horizon, all three sixty degrees of it; and above, a now clear sky traces a perfect semi-sphere; at first, white; then, blue laced with white; later, blue subdued. And a bold early evening sun began its dance of disappearance into the western horizon.
The sun became as full as a harvest moon, molten and ice blue, emitting soft suffused light into the sky around it. Then it went all red, got deeply focussed and burned its way through the trees distant in the west, leaving us gazing into its afterglow bathed in quiet tones of filtered bronze.
We took crème of asparagus
soup, ahead of our principal dinner plate which was Grilled Breast of Duck under an Apple and Rhubarb Chutney, with three scoops of Blackberry Ice Cream as dessert. Our obligatory night-cap, in a dome with new best friends, prepared us for bed.
Tomorrow, the Rockies.
24 September 2011
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