We Went to Grasslands National Park, And All We Got Was This Completely Amazing Experience

Aidan and I took a trip down to see Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan over the weekend, and we stayed at Sky Story Bed & Breakfast, which is owned by friends of ours, artists Diana Chabros and Joseph Naytowhow. We only stayed one night, but I miss that part of the world enough already that I know it was not a long enough visit.

As an example of what I miss, we ate at Harvest Eatery in Shaunavon only once, and that is something that should happen more than once to everybody. I mean it. Drive 200 kilometres to eat their roasted bone marrow. Do it.

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I ate the black angus brisket, which came on a bed of savoury mashed potatoes on a second bed of a carrot purée with stalks of broccolini, but I did not get to also eat the bison carpaccio or southwest chicken flatbread because of the physical constraints of my stomach. I am willing to drive hundred of kilometres again to make that happen.

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After supper on Saturday night, we tried driving back to the bed and breakfast, but the landscape yelled STOP YOUR DAMN CAR ALREADY AND DRINK IN ALL OF THIS AMAZING NATURE, YOU FOOLS, so we pulled over, and we did indeed drink it in.

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I was born in Alberta and moved to Saskatchewan when I was seven, so I have lived on the prairies my whole life, and for 42 years I have had no appreciation for it. I have always professed a dislike for flatness and boring fields. I have bemoaned the fate of my birth.

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Something overtook me when I drove to Saskatoon to take part in a CBC DNTO with Sook-Yin Lee live show, though. It took me over four hours to make what is usually a two-and-a-half hour drive, because I couldn't stop pulling the car over so I could get out and crawl around in ditch grass.

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My newfound appreciation of our wide open land made last weekend in Grasslands National Park a brilliant experience. It's like I've just learned to see it all. It may have taken me 42 years, but it was worth the wait.

I MEAN, LOOK AT IT. GOTT DAMN.

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The rest of this post is really just about how very big the Saskatchewan land and sky is and how very small we are in it. For example, check out that picture of a tiny, little Aidan standing on the edge of Frenchman Valley below. It's a veritable Where's Waldo, only without any other people in it:

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I desaturated all my outdoor shots from this weekend, because the damp, overcast weather created such deep colour that there was no way these images could be at all believable in their untouched state. If you had had to look at tiny, little Aidan perched on a field of emerald green below a deep indigo sky, you would have rolled your eyes at me.

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There are herds of bison that wander all over the park, and everywhere you step you have to keep an eye out for giant mounds of bison poop. It's also a good idea not to step in holes that might house poisonous rattlesnakes. I was stumbling around, pinballing from bison poop mound to animal burrow and nearly twisting my ankles while I gawked at the wonderous sky until Aidan said Something something something hibernaculum, and I said What?, and he said Hibernaculum! This area is a snake hibernaculum!, and then I stopped bumbling around like some city fool who'd never seen the natural world before, because I had neglected to think to wear snake gaiters, silly me, and rattlesnake bites are a nasty business.

And, yes, they suggest that snake gaiters might be a good idea. No one got bit by snakes, though, so all is well. 

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And then we ran into this campground where you can pitch tents or park campers or rent these tipis. I crawled into one of these tipis, closed my eyes, and felt beautifully protected from the heavy wind outside as I heard it snap the tarp and rush through the grass. When I emerged, my three-day-long headache was gone and I felt several inches taller. I literally ran across the field back to the car to express my pain-free tallness. I'm not saying that these tipis are magical, but they're pretty magical.

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You don't realize the true extent of the distance your eyes are travelling until you look through a lens at it all. We were tiny little dots. Buffalo spread across the valley looked like black pepper flakes.

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When we exited the park, we came up out of it onto a boundless stretch of higher ground and had to stop the car. We live in a world where it is increasingly difficult to be nowhere, and yet there were. We stood in the middle of it and turned in circles. There was not another car, house, cow, or person in sight for as far our eyes could see in every direction. I had the distinct feeling that part of my head could break off and toddle away across the scrub. I'm pretty sure that didn't happen, but it felt entirely possible.

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Lastly, these cows on this curve of shallow hills slung below a sky dark with distant rain: they were the best and last great vision of our trip. Most of them were grazing close along the fence when we pulled up, and Aidan walked over to try to get a shot of them. One of the calves was skittish, though, and he let out a throaty moo before kicking his feet and skip-jumping away to a group further along. The rest shifted and followed, so we couldn't get a shot of their broad, soft faces. It's alright, though. They strung themselves out to define the slope in the most delightful way.

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And then we proceeded to drive back to Regina during six of the most harrowing consecutive hours of highway driving I have ever experienced. We saw the wind tear right through metal signs, hurl small bushes at us, and hold the position of a flock of birds still in the air as they tried but failed to fly eastward. At one point the wind lifted and tilted the car from right to left, threatening to tip us into the ditch, but thankfully we held steady. Then, one of our tires went went flat. Then, it poured sheets of rain on us in the pitch dark so we couldn't see the road. Then, I got lost in our own city.

It was like the world had to exact a cost for the wonders we had seen. Damn world, being so beautiful and terrible like it is. So much happened that I haven't even told you about like stargazing in the darkest dark sky preserve in Canada or almost hitting that derpy dog on the highway by Climax or learning how to get gas in the country when you're city people who don't know much about anything not in the city.

But we came out of it alive so I could show you that picture of cows. Isn't life sweet?