Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Prairie Gold

(Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 - for some reason, my blog is not posting the date above this entry)

Matthew and I are in Drumheller, Alberta - on route to visit my dear friend Shelley in Calgary (whom Matthew has monikered "Mrs. Fun Shelley").  We left home two days ago and drove about six hours on that and the next day; we arrived yesterday evening.  In fact, it was while we were on the #1 Highway around Herbert or Swift Current Saskatchewan that I learned the results of yesterday's restrucuting vote...when phoning in to check my messages.  I'll likely always remember where I was the moment I heard the news and the twenty or so minutes following that while I blubbered my way down the highway!

Anyway, one of the benefits of homeschooling is that we can be flexible in how and where we do our school work. Now that the busy touristy season is mostly over and the weather is perfect for a driving trip, we decided that this would be a prime time to do something adventurous and relatively spontaneous - partly educational, mostly fun!  I prepared curriculum in advance for a couple of weeks' worth of schooling, and we're 'doing school' on the road for the next 10 days or so.

The drive here was absolutely spectacular - I enjoyed it from the first moment until we drove into Drumheller yesterday.  First, it really is the perfect time of year to travel, not only from a low-traffic perspective, but from an aesthetic point of view:  the prairie fields are rainbows of fall and harvest colours; they are unbelievably beautiful, with every panorama eclipsing the last.  Though my siblings and I drove this route as children many times with my parents (while my Dad did business), I have no recollection of the scenery...my memories of the drive are more structured around: the three of us kids fighting for space in the back seat of the Chrysler; my brother's hairy legs taking up most of the back seat; my sister whining about having to sit on the middle 'hump' seat; and Dad's hand snaking back to where we sat, trying to catch one of us in in a whack with his hand as he tried to control our behaviour.  Ahh, memories...I need some background music.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the scenery right through the prairie provinces.  I've often heard people talk about the boring highway stretching from border to border in Saskatchewan, but I beg to differ. Though the occasional curve in the road was welcome relief for arms tired of holding the wheel straight, my eyes felt full of spectacular golden prairie landscape.  Not once were my eyes tired or tempted to close.  Once, appreciating the view around Swift Current, I noticed that my panorama was cut into two halves, horizontally.  From eye level up, from one side to the opposite side pretty much all I could see was robin egg blue sky - only three small clouds broke up the simple pallette and they appeared to be suspended from a heaven-held string, so perfect were they in gracing the skyline directly in front of me.  Then, from my eye level down, the colours were all gold, brown, russet and green - from one side window, across the front windshield, all the way to the opposite side window - the cornucopia of colours was broken only by the vertical gray line created by the exclamation point of the highway. Some of the rolling hills looked like they'd been hand-sculpted; I kept thinking of pottery as I looked at them.  I could picture a hand smoothing the curves, with a thumb easing up at the top to create an occasional ridge.  Perhaps it was a Potter.

Perhaps the most startling picture of all was in the final few minutes of our drive.  About forty minutes before we arrived in Drumheller, we turned north and left the #1 for the first time since leaving home, and we enjoyed a hilly, golden drive through to the last hill that would take us into Drumheller.  Cresting that last gentle hill, we were completely unprepared for the view of the other side - I almost drove onto the shoulder in my astonishment.  Below us, spread as far as the eye could see, were the famous hoodoo land formations that I'd read a bit about but hadn't seen yet.  I'm not able to describe that valley in any way that could possibly do it justice, but I will say that I've never seen anything quite like it.  The sandy and crevice-lined hoodoos were everywhere:  large ones the the size of the foothill mountain ranges west of Calgary; small ones that could be dashed up in less than five minutes; and some on top of other ones.  It was a valley dominated by crusty brown and craggy, miniature mountains that looked like they were made of sand that was desert-dried into a water-starved collection of fissures and clefts. How do you describe a valley of mountains?  You don't.  But it was an idyllic ending to a glorious drive.

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