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Further to my post Prairie Beginnings, these are more images from my family archives, featuring the vast prairie horizon as manifest backdrop.

But before I reveal more of that horizon, I want to include a couple of photos of my younger siblings so that they are not left out of the story line. However, the bald prairie did not figure into the photographs that were taken of them. Although it still existed in The Land Beyond the Wind Break, they arrived at a later and more lush time on the farmyard.

Marlena, Mitch, Janice, Granny with Tracy                                        Me, Mitch and Janice in front, and our Granny (maternal grandmother) holding my baby sister Tracy behind us. Our cowboy/cowgirl outfits were sewn by our very talented and hard-working mother. I loved that cowgirl shirt with its fringe and satin, and still have it kept safely in a box. We are standing in front of the lilac hedge that ran the entire length of the house beside the dining room window. The lilac blossoms filled the dining room with their fragrance for a brief and intoxicating time each June.

Todd and Nikki                                    My little brother Todd with our faithful German Shepherd Nikki in the yard in front of the garden. This is one the few rare B&W photos of Todd. Not only did he enter the world during the lush time on the farm, he also made his debut in the colour era.

Now back to bald prairie….

Baintree and its grain elevators no longer exist. The buildings for the businesses that my grandparents owned slowly fell into decay and collapsed into the landscape, and the grain elevators burned to the ground in a sensational blaze.

The next nearest community to the farm is Rockyford, about 8 miles away, where I went to school.

flood damaged tracks at Baintree                                              Flood-damaged railway tracks at Baintree. That’s my Dad’s beloved dog, Scooter beside the tracks.

Barry 001                                           My Dad as Cowboy Barry

My maternal grandmother, Marie, came to the Alberta prairies from the big city of Vancouver, BC, in the late 1940s as a divorced mother of two teenage daughters. My mother was the eldest.

Granny (Marie Merrifield) [1950s]                                            My glamorous maternal grandmother, Marie, who brought leopard-skin print to the prairies. A rare inclusion of some scrubby bushes here, overlaying the prairie vista.

Doreen 001               My Mom, Doreen, on horseback, settling into the prairie lifestyle. My eldest sister, Janice, took after her both in family resemblance and horsewomanship. My riding abilities were less than stellar. My sister Tracy and I got to ride Fury, our cantankerous, wide-backed Shetland-Welsh cross, who regularly scraped off his riders with the assistance of barbed-wire fences. 

I am the keeper of the family photo archive, and as I look through I see aunts, uncles and cousins photographed over and over in the barren prairie prospect.

Roberta and Lily                                                            Aunt Roberta and Grandma Lily. The prairie imposes itself in this photograph, commanding the camera,and leaving the apparent subjects out of focus.

scan0007       Cousins Shawne and Robert. Prairie mud – the perfect playground.

Barry, Jim and June                                                               My Dad, cousin Jim and Aunt June. Scooter again, lower right.

Karn 001                                                       Uncle Karn, in his military uniform, beside the homestead house. Uncle Karn,  Uncle Jack  and one of my two Aunt Junes (the one who was married to Jack) all served in the Second World War.

Jack & June 001                                               Uncle Jack and Aunt June at Monument Hill, the highest point of land in the area. I love that distant view of the quilted prairie; legacy of the Dominion Land Survey land division system for homesteads that made its way across the prairies in the 1870s and 1880s.

As the story goes, the cairn on Monument Hill was originally built by First Nations people as an orientation landmark, and my ancestors later rebuilt it each time that it succumbed to the extremes of prairie weather.

scan0012 - Copy           Aerial view of the farm, with of the prairie making its way to the far-flung horizon. Here are the windbreaks that defined the farmyard at this point; a nod to civilization on the  wild prairie.

In her book The Perfection of the Morning, Sharon Butala often speaks of the prairie “wilderness” and living in “nature” on her and her husband’s land near Eastend, Saskatchewan. As a prairie girl, I tend to think of wilderness and nature as mountains and forest, but the untouched expanses of prairie grasslands are just as much wilderness and nature. Parts of the prairies still exist where there are no signs of civilization – no buildings, no fences, no roads, no cultivated land – in any direction as far as the eye can see. It is a landscape where, in a winter blizzard, both bearings and lives can be lost.

The prairies are also a place where a beautiful and delicate balance of flora and fauna exist. I remember springtimes when purple crocuses briefly blanketed the hill above the creek, and I would sit among them and imagine that the fairies had planted them. I was definitely more of a dreamy, fanciful child than a rough and tough farm girl! I would rather sit and draw than run around outside with my siblings. Fortunately, my parents encouraged me to do both, and I had a marvelous childhood as a result.

Marlena sketching in Aunt Roberta's yard                                            Me drawing in my Aunt Roberta’s back yard, Calgary.

Wallace Stegner, who wrote in Wolf Willow about his boyhood home of Eastend, Saskatchewan, became a wilderness conservationist, and no doubt the wilderness and nature of the Saskatchewan prairie was part of that legacy. I will be staying in his childhood home at my artist’s residency in Eastend in the next few weeks, and no doubt his creative influence, as well as that of the other writers and artists who have stayed there before me, will be felt.

It is that aesthetic of the prairie landscape, and the pioneers’ stories within that landscape that I attempt to capture in my drawings and paintings. I don’t know what my travels through the prairies and archives of Saskatchewan will bring me in experience and inspiration over the next few weeks, but I am happy to go along for the ride.

I will be posting the sketches and watercolours that I will create from my time there, so watch for future posts!

Posted by Marlena Wyman

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