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Ronan's report

Saturday August 4th, 2007

As miles kilometers of wheat and hay fields wheel by at dizzying speeds of 100 or more, I glance over at the speedometer to see the conversion. (Shhh... don't tell me it's not that fast. I'll be re-starting the metric campaign in the US to see these speeds more often.) Small bits of clutter and tackle obscure the gauge and compete for my focus. Lines, rods, spools of tippet, and other miscellaneous items lay across the dash. Even the tiny shelf below the instrument panel holds a small spray bottle of deet. The headliner and visors are home to strange collection of flies from Paul's past couple years of North American travel. A nest of wires reaches out from the cigarette lighter, charging electronic devices and broadcasting techno with its heavy bass throughout the cab. A few small mottled brown and tan caddis crawl across the cracked windshield as the echo of the exhaust, battered by rocky roads, and the grind of the transfer box - its front drive shaft amputated earlier in the trip - bounce back off road divides and guard rails. A collection of trash and bottles from the previous night's damage keep my feet off the floor boards waiting for the next collection barrel or bear-proof bin to present itself. Ahead in the distance, there's more water and more healthy strong Canadian trout. The ropes holding the kayaks' noses down stretch forward over the hood and point on. Socks flutter like Tibetan prayer flags as the Eggplant charges onward.

The expansive rolling prairie of southwest Alberta, criss-crossed by agricultural roads and likely green a month ago, is now golden. The hay has been swathed, bailed and is sitting in huge rolls waiting. Most of the wheat is still standing in the summer heat swaying in broad windswept waves as the afternoon breezes turn huge windmills lighting the farm houses scattered across the plain like stars in the sky. Out there, prairie dogs with their tails held high are chasing each other, collecting grasses, and poking their heads up neurotically to see if anyone is watching. Small birds are fighting with grasshoppers that have given themselves away with their clicking. Only a few small clouds spot the pale blue sky in the heat of midday. As it all passes quietly, you wouldn't guess that there are rivers cutting their way east down to the huge waters of the central North American heartland.

At first glance, the prairie seems to continue on forever, smooth and gentle, until you come to one of the river canyons that presents itself like a broken stairway. Beneath the grassy hills, the same story as the Rockies lies hidden. The river's cuts belie the truth. Time's saw has exposed the cracked broken and uplifted ancient sea bed, once horizontal but now pitched and shifted. The soft layers scoured away, the hard stone layers try to deny passage. Ever victorious, the clear water cascades over the steps and shelves forming deep blue-hued pools and trenches. Within these bulletproof holds, fit rainbows and cutts (much stouter than those I see back home) lie cautiously looking up while keeping an eye below for the bulls that sit skulking in their depths. Dried stonefly shucks frozen in the moment of their hatch cling motionless to the rounded stones along the bank in contrast to the blur of caddis fluttering and bouncing spastically over the current. The splash of a rise, sometimes quick and fevered, sometimes a slow gaping maw followed by the swirl of dorsal and tail, send quivers that make my heart pulse adrenalin into my neck and cause my fingers to fumble.

The residents here are gracious and real (apart from the silent sentinel taking customs cards at the airport near midnight. You're forgiven; the fluorescent lights would get to me too.) A quick smile and a forward hello quickly melt away any misgivings. In the broad quiet land punctuated by the stray passing farm truck, there's a warm heart. When they find I'm from the States (I don't stick out as much as I thought I might), conversations often turn to politics. Sharply informed and globally conscious, mindfully keeping frustration and anger from becoming personal, difficult issues are raised from true concern rather than vented arguement. There's a warden spirit here, proud and protective of their people, their land, and those who come to visit. I've enjoyed Alberta and couldn't hope for a kinder neighbor.


Pic Of Day

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