Will Travel For Words: Big Sky Country by Karen A. Chase
It is easy to write about the influences of traveling to new places. What author doesn’t love to discover a new adventure. New foods. The mind expands, which pushes the pen. But what of traveling to old places? A place visited long ago?
Saskatchewan was not where I lived. I lived in Calgary, the big city. Saskatchewan was Big Sky Country. It was where friends and relatives lived. It’s the place we went for some holidays, special occasions or because it had “been too long since our last visit.” Too long was the case with me, so I flew back to visit in June.
It had been nearly thirty years since I had been to the prairies and visited many of my friends and relatives there. I was a teenager. In my memory, Saskatchewan was three things. A sepia-toned postcard; vast expanses of brown wheat fields waving as far as the eye could see, broken only by small clusters of trees or weathered, wooden grain elevators. It was a punch line; in Saskatchewan it’s so flat, you can drive across the province with “the club” locked to your steering wheel and the gas pedal so you can nap. No turns required. Lastly, it was family. My grandmother, her cookies. Piles of people gathered around telling jokes or stories–heaven for the only extrovert in a small introverted family.
My parents joined us for this June trip, and around the province we drove and reconnected. It was easy to see what has changed. Twenty some years of Canadian prairie hot summer winds and deep-freeze winters have been hard. Hard on skin. Hard on roads. Nearly every wooden grain elevator is gone, with shiny metal ones dotting the fields–fields that are no longer just wheat, but now grow canola, chickpeas, mustard, soybeans and more.
What hasn’t changed is the sense of family, and not just mine. There is something about a people that endure harsh seasons, coupled with a culture that takes care of the sick and aging that makes everyone realize we are in this world together. So we look one another in the eye when we speak. We hug. Nurture. Share Tim Horton’s donuts. Lift a glass of good Canadian beer. Play golf while the sun shines.
And for heavens sake, laugh, will you! There, in my cousin’s home, just as I remembered, was the newest edition of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader–books filled with silly facts and jokes about darn near everything. I now have proof of where my humor comes from, and where it often goes. And I have proof of where my love of stories comes from. My dad told of his childhood home and we walked the barren land upon which it once stood. My mom pointed out the places they first met and where they were also married, in a far away town called Moose Jaw.
And in the midst of the trip, my head and eyes performed this crazy act. I saw back and forth, then and now. Who they were and who they are now. Who I was and who I am. What I saw then versus what actually was. What now is. My head rationalized nostalgia with the present, wrapping the old memories in new memories. What did those new memories do? Yes, they expanded the mind. Which pushed the pen.
The trip made me realize that this is exactly what my characters must do. They must change. Things around them must change. And they must see the change. Our characters and stories are built by showing how their vision grows. And now I know I don’t have to travel only to new places to find the words for them. Sometimes I have to go back where they began. Where I began. Back to Big Sky Country.
Karen A. Chase is a regular contributor to Shelf Pleasure, sharing journeys near and far in the pursuit of stories and novels in her monthly feature, Will Travel for Words. She is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of three Independent Book Publishing Awards for travel and design. She is currently working on an historical novel set during the American Revolution. Find Karen on Facebook, or on Twitter.
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