Friday, March 5, 2010


Even on the peneplain of the northern prairie, there are little knots and variations.

This is Thunder Hill! Seen from the south. I don't know whether it's a glacial moraine or a primordial reef in an ancient sea or simply a more durable and therefore less erodable stretch of land. Those clumps of vegetation, groves of trees planted to be windbreaks, are called "poplar bluffs."

Glenn has found a roadside berry patch. Looks like buffalo berries to me and that would fit the terrain. They are small, intensely red, very astringent berries that have good flavor when sweetened or, as the Indians did, mixed with dried pounded meat to make pemmican, a source of vitamins through winter. One doesn't eat many off the bush! They have formidable thorns and are usually gathered by spreading something under the bushes and then thrashing the bushes vigorously with a stick.

But now I see that my father's caption is "Picking 'Saskatoon berries' on Thunder Hill." Saskatoons, sarvisberries, service berries, are fairly tasty and also make good pemmican. They are blander than huckleberries, but an important ingredient in the sacred soup at ceremonies and easy to dry for preservation.

The back of the photo says "Henderson and Strachan families picnicking on the Swan River." The picture is blurry and it's hard to tell whether that "boat" is actually afloat or resting on the bottom of this shallow place, possibly the "rapids" though I don't see that slanting tree. The women in their white dresses are clustered while the boys, as usual, are all over the place. The dark man on the gravel bar to the right seems to be looking down or holding a camera in front of himself. This idyllic scene calls out for a Impressionist painter to capture the afternoon light, the reflections, the trees like a palisade.

This is dated September 5, 1920 and says, "Rose Henderson and Doverspike's tame coyote." Animal theorists would have a lot to say about the human habit of making pets out of the infant versions of predators we otherwise try to kill, but it DOES look like a dog! Might not stay tame very much longer. Puberty tends to make even humans a little feral.

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