Thursday, March 1, 2012

Land of Living Skies

Stand on any street corner or country road in Saskatchewan and you will see the proud slogan on the license plates of all the vehicles: Land of Living Skies. As a sarcastic teenage newcomer in the 1960s, I wondered who made up this alliterative advertising phrase, vaguely similar to “Land o’ Lakes.” Living as opposed to dead? Was I supposed to watch the sky because there was nothing else on the vast Canadian prairie worth looking at?

But a huge, uninterrupted expanse of sky simply swallows up both cheesiness and sarcasm. I hadn’t much noticed the sky while living on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains because the horizon was a spectacular frame for my life, and the visible amount of sky was more limited.

On the prairies, the sky seems to touch the land, which extends farther than the eye can see. Like a medieval map of the heavens (“Here be Archangels; there be cherubim”), the prairie sky shows a variety of moods at the same time. It can be dark and stormy in the west and cerulean blue in the east. A brilliant sunset can coexist with a star-studded blanket of black velvet.

Lie flat on the prairie ground (I recommend this exercise only in summer, lest you sink into four feet of snow), look up and feel yourself illogically sinking upwards, being pulled into the clouds. It’s an illusion, of course, but it feels real at the time.

Prairie painters, even those who specialize in abstract shapes, all seem to paint the sky in its various guises.

Here is a factoid: Saskatchewan is said to get more hours of sunshine in a year that anywhere else in North America. The sun glares down on us like a spotlight in summer, and it shines misleadingly even in winter, when temperatures below -40% (Fahrenheit OR Celsius) create a kind of shining mist in the air and the brilliance of sunlight on snow creates a need for sunglasses as well as parkas.

If you can freeze to death in bright sunlight, OR become seriously burned by its ultraviolet rays, a perception of sunlight as God’s love is dangerously sentimental. But then, who knows the will or the nature of God?

As a child, I was taught that God the Father lived in the sky, from whence he could be expected to hurl thunderbolts as punishment for bad behaviour. (Good behaviour was supposedly rewarded by benign neglect.)

Scary things can definitely come from the sky, especially here. Hailstones the size of golf balls can demolish a ripening wheatfield in minutes during a summer storm. The destruction of a garden that someone has tended all summer is less newsworthy, but more disappointing on a personal level. Private gardens are rarely insured like wheat, which plays a big role in the local economy.

I no longer see Michelangelo’s God in the heavens above me, but I’ve lived under this sky for so long that I’m not always consciously aware of how much it inspires me.

Here is the opening of “Swoop,” my unpublished erotic story about a were-falcon:

Until I was turned, I never really saw all the shades of lavender, mauve, gray and blue that fill the prairie sky at twilight. I might as well have been blind. There are so many consolations for the divided life of a were.

You probably know my byline: Ava Peregrine of City News. If you've guessed my secret, you're probably too ashamed to admit that you believe in shapeshifters, or afraid of where you could end up for telling what you know. Silence and closed minds give us enough room to survive.

I seek out what others want to keep hidden. It's my job. My wings and talons are just some of my tools.

* * * *

As a truth-seeker who can fly (some of the time), Ava finds what is hidden in plain sight: in the sky, a mysterious kaleidoscope to the earthbound.


  1. "...look up and feel yourself illogically sinking upwards, being pulled into the clouds."

    Wow. I hadn't thought about that in a long time, but that's exactly how it feels. Very nice.

    Hope your trip went well.

  2. That's the way I feel on those very rare occasions when I get ot see the Milky Way.

    A were falcon is unique, I've never heard of that. It seems like a uniquely Indian idea.


  3. Welcome back, Jean! We missed you.

    I had a boyfriend from Nebraska, years ago. We met in the east, at grad school. He told me that he always felt closed in in the east, because he couldn't see all of the sky. When I visited his home town, I finally understood what he was talking about.

    You've captured the feeling of the prairie expanses, above as below, beautifully.

    And I really want to read this story!


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