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?001

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.007

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. 010I 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.


  1. Laurie Hutcinson
    Sep 14, 2015

    Thank You Madelon — a great reminder to get out and try something new — to be with other writers to hear different points of view — to find comraderie for our minds and words rather than isloation of thought. How wonderful to read all about your day and I look forward to planning one for myself.

    • Madelon
      Sep 14, 2015

      Laurie, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had quite an insight into how isolated I had been this summer. When you’re trying to out talk an ninety year old woman, you know you’ve been alone too long.

  2. Gail Beuhler
    Sep 14, 2015

    Hi Madelon,
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I really enjoyed reading this piece. It sounds like your time was well spent.
    I think the people in the Val Marie area would appreciate if you all wrote letters to the MLA’s regarding the road. It came close to being declared the worst road in SK this past Spring!

    • Madelon
      Sep 15, 2015

      Gail, glad you enjoyed reading about my experience. I did feel I benefited by going, pushing myself out of my tidy little writing nook and into the vast vistas of Grasslands Provincial park and area.

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