Prairiescapes

The views over the prairies in late summer are wonderful. They embody the richness of the land and the dream of so many settlers who came to these wide-open spaces.

However, the arrival of farmers shattered the former ecology of the prairies, contributed to nearly wiping out the bison and inflicted indescribable hardship on native cultures. I felt this dilemma as I looked out on the present-day landscape, the product of genrations of farmers’ hard work. Despite my conflicted feelings, I had to acknowledge the beauty I saw in the fields that rolled passed.

In Yorkton SK, we stopped at the town’s tourist information centre. It’s set just off the Trans Canada on a parcel of land that is surrounded by golden crops. To my delight, it had a sample field of the grains that are grown on the prairies: wheat, barley, mustard, canola, soy and flax, and to in a lesser percentage corn and chickpeas. Each crop was identified with a sign.

I spent a while in this field memorizing the characteristics of the different grains so that I could identify what I was looking at as we traveled along the highways. I figured out that it was mostly golden Durum wheat, duskier barley, and the look-alikes canola and mustard with seedpods like delicate twigs. The only difference I could see between these two was the size of the pods, with mustard being bigger. Once, I think I saw flax with its tightly packed stems standing very straight.

The harvest begins when the combines take to the fields. They’re so big they take up both lanes of the country roads. After drying in the fields, the grain is loaded into transport trucks. They take the loads to grain elevators, big round metal ones now although many older wooden ones still stand. From there the grain is transferred to railway cars. The trains are endless, and if you come to a level crossing where you have to stop for a one, you might as well turn off your motor. The longest train I counted had 201 cars.

The vast stretches of ripe grain testify to the hard work of the farmers. A drive through the prairies at this time of year makes you appreciate their commitment and the work that goes into putting food on our tables.

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