New water. How I love paddling a stretch of water for the first time, testing myself and my kayak. Antelope Lake lies about 22 km north of the Gull Lake intersection with #1 Hwy. I met Barbara, my best paddling bud there on September 18. She travelled from Calgary. I drove the truck loaded with two kayaks, Joy and Bubba,from Sask Landing.
We had no trouble finding Antelope Regional Park, and the boat launch access. The smell of rotting vegetation hit me as I arrived. Weeds from the lake lay brown drifts along the west shore, covering the rocky base. To the east the receding water left reeds and grasses exposed. The smell of their decay overpowered the dry prairie air.
The forecast called for intermittent clouds, with 20 km winds from the west. The lake stretches in a gentle curve from west to east and I hoped for quiet waters. I was told it was approximately four miles by five miles in size, spring fed and stocked with fish. However, we discovered weeds covered almost every inch of the bottom, rising to the top of the water in many places. I would think running a motor boat through them would be quite a challenge. I wouldn’t swim here.
By the time we launched the wind was gusting 35 k. We had to paddled south and east around a large peninsula of grass and rock. The wind caught our sterns and pushed, making paddling a chore rather than a pleasure. Bubba’s rudder gave Barb better control than my skeg.
I no sooner launched and started paddling away, than a man on a riding lawnmower, arrived at the launch. “You can’t leave your truck there,” he called across the water. There wasn’t another boat or vehicle in site, it was early Friday afternoon, and chances of one showing up were minimal. But back I paddled, and moved the truck onto a grassy stretch thirty feet away.
The man told me there was a dance hall on the north side of the lake, only accessible by vessels with a shallow draw. So, we aimed in that direction, and after about thirty minutes paddling closed on a grey building low on the lake shore, surrounded by trees. Weathered, with a screened veranda and closed entry, it looked more like an early farmhouse. No other building appeared. Even in our kayaks, we could not maneuver through the grasses along the water’s edge for a closer look.
Reversing direction, I hugged the west shoreline and kept to the glassy strip of protected water, generally no deeper than eight inches. Birds were migrating and we saw clusters of cranes and Canadian Geese, red-eyed Grebes and what we think were Coots, their short wings slapping the water into silver bursts, as they fled before us, never quite taking to the air.
Ghostly bushes rose from the lake bed forming a passage into sheltered waters. We drifted through the leafless branches and found a quiet place out of the wind to eat our lunch. The sun shone brightly, and as food always tastes more delicious eaten from the cockpit of a kayak, we dined in style.
After lunch and a floating visit, we headed south past the launch and paddled the west side of the lake to the end. The occasional small building, sheltered by looming cut banks, hugged the shore, begging the question, where they old cabins, or early homesteads? An abandoned rowboat melted into the earth.
Although we managed to stay in fairly quiet water, by the time we turned at the end of the lake the wind was gusting 50 km – our good old prairie wind, always teasing anyone on the water.
We returned to the launch, had no trouble landing and loading. After a drive around the park, we headed for home, taking the memory of our Antelope adventure with us.
On Saturday, I attended a writing Workshop with Steven Ross Smith. I travelled with four other members of the Prairie Quills Writers’ Group, from Swift Current to Val Marie. Unfortunately, this trip required going over the infamous stretch of blacktop that leads south to the border. As writers our immediate response to the potholes and trenches, ragged shoulders and gravel stretches was, “We need to write our MP.”
Arriving safely, we gathered at the Half Moon café, where Madonna hosted a coffee and muffin get together, while we waited for the stragglers. Why do we always have to sink to the lowest common denominator, instead of expecting them to rise to our level?
The highlight of the workshop was a hike through Grasslands Provincial Park, led by Pam Woodlands, who did an excellent job of setting the pace on the Two Trees Trail. I had never been to the park, and my expectations was of miles of long rolling grass. However, I discovered the terrain and horticulture much like the hills where I live at Lake Diefenbaker. The one difference – the great range of space, forming vast vistas, and giving me a sense of endless time.
We wove our way upwards, curving around hills and dipping into coulees, until we settled at the top of a hill. The temperature was hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, so I was happy there was a strong breeze cooling us. To this point we had hiked in silence, making notes on what we experienced along the way. The emphasis was on recording sensory input. I had pages of images, smells, sounds, tastes, and found no difficulty walking the trail and scribbling down observations at the same time.
Now Steven had us sit and close our eyes. After settling us with a short breathing exercise, he asked us to be still for five minutes. One of the writers used the colours she found behind her closed eyelids as the take-off point for her piece.
We returned to our vehicles at a smarter pace, and stopped for a de-briefing session, which Steven held in the shade of an old elm tree, with us sitting at a wooden bench. We shared what we had taken away from the hike.
Back in Val Marie, we arrived at the Senior’s Centre, where Kathryn and Loreen, two of the Board members for the Prairie Wind and Silver Sage program, fed us a delicious lunch of autumn soup, scones and cornbread, veggies and fruit and squares. Our bellies full and enervated by the 2.5 k hike in the heat, we just wanted to nap.
Not happening. It was time to address ourselves to learning and writing. Steven led a discussion on genre, ideas for pieces, and point of attack. We then separated and worked on our own, before gathering again to discuss our pieces, progress and plans. I wrote a short story and a poem during our two work sessions. I don’t write poetry often, but I had such a rich vault of images, it just seemed the natural genre in which to display them.
We adjourned at 4:30 pm. And, after visiting the local grocer to put some money into the community, we headed home. At the suggestion of our driver we stopped at the bar in Cadillac, for a dinner of bar food, a look at the gift shop and a tour of the upstairs rooms set up with antiques. It was an interesting end to a stimulating day.
Workshop always feed my inner writer. I highly recommend them. During a discussion about what the attendees got out of this one, I heard: new learning, camaraderie, a differing perspective, time to write, a place to relax, a way to give back to themselves, and a partially finished piece they could continue to develop.
Worthwhile indeed. Our thanks to Steven and the Prairie Windand Silver Sage Board members for making it happen.
Photo: Steven Smith Ross at Val Marie museum.