The morning was muggy, with rain threatening to make the day a challenge. When we started walking, though, the sun came out, and the rain didn’t materialize. It was a perfect day for walking.
Everyone was up early this morning, which was a good thing, because there was lots to do. We had to launder our towels and bedding, and clean the kitchen, which was filled with boxes and coolers and debris from last night’s supper. That supper was fantastic, and contrary to my prediction yesterday, we had just enough food. We gave Hugh Henry a book about Saskatchewan history, signed by everyone in the group. It was a token of our appreciation for the hard work that went into planning this walk.
It took less time than you’d think to return the rectory to the state it was in when we arrived. Raeann even vacuumed upstairs and down. Chaos resolved into order, and after a smudge we were on our way back to Beardy’s-Okemasis First Nation, where we stopped yesterday.
The first couple of miles, through the reserve, were on pavement. We passed a trio of beautiful horses, and Hugh Garth made friends with them. Soon we turned north, onto gravel, but it wasn’t long before we turned again, onto a dirt road, everyone’s favourite walking surface. Shortly after lunch, we came to the site of Ste. Anne de Titanic, a francophone Catholic church that closed in 1964. The building is gone, but there is a memorial and a cemetery that clearly is still in use. There is a pair of outhouses, too. The whole site is well cared for; clearly it means a lot to the people connected to it. Honestly, that’s where we should’ve stopped for lunch, although the spot we chose, shaded by aspens and dogwoods, was pretty good too.
In the afternoon I walked down a grassy road allowance with Larry’s son, Ryan. He’s a conservation biologist with an interest in grassland birds. He knows a lot about prairie plants, too. He told me that the grassland ecosystem is poorly understood; scientists just don’t know how the parts of it beneath the surface of the soil–nematodes, microorganisms, soil chemistry–are interrelated, or how they affect the mix of grasses and forbs we see on the surface. That makes prairie restoration projects a challenge. There’s more to them than just spreading seeds and waiting. For instance, some plants don’t propagate well from seed; plugs work better for those species. And it’s best to start by seeding the grasses first, and controlling broadleaf weeds with herbicides for the first few years, until all the weed seeds in the soil are gone. Then the forbs can be over seeded. But the issues of soil chemistry and microorganisms will remain. Given the challenges involved in restoring grassland, it would be better to stop ploughing it under altogether. That’s what I took away from our conversation. Also the fact that Ryan is a crooner with a fondness for the great America songbook.
We got to Fort Carlton by four o’clock, tired and bitten by mosquitoes but happy. There is a restoration of the fort, which burned, accidentally, in 1885. It would be worth coming back for a closer look. The young woman at the reception desk could hardly believe we had walked all the way from Humboldt. “Just stand downwind of us,” I told her.
We sat together and reflected on the walk and what we had learned. I’ve been thinking about those Cree words Louise gave us the other morning: pêyatihk, meaning patience, and sôhkitê, or courage. I think we put both virtues into practice on this walk: courage by carrying on even when we were tired and sore, and patience and forbearance by attending to each other’s positive qualities. There’s no way such a disparate group of people, from so many different walks of life, could cohere so quickly without pêyatihk. We became a team, and I’d like to think deep bonds were formed over the past eight days.
Then we returned to our vehicles and parted. Some of us will camp at Fort Carlton; others, like me, are heading home. The past week has left me with a lot to think about, and I hope for an opportunity to walk with those folks again.