- At first, I thought they were hulls of sailboats, gleaming white and smooth in the morning sun. But that couldn’t be right; I was in landlocked northern Alberta. What were they? Giant pieces of sculpture?
They were laid end-to-end on flat deck railroad cars, just outside of Rycroft. They were massive, simply massive; each of these beautiful structures took up nearly two railcars. They were lean, smooth, and as graceful as the wings of a trumpeter swan in flight.
They were wings of a sort, the massive blades of windmills used to generate electricity. Seeing them on distant hills gives you no sense of how big these are, how much air they must move with every turn.
It was early on a Thursday morning when I’d been on the road early enough to watch the sunrise. I was headed northwest to visit Savanna School, as part of the Writers-in-Schools Program, sponsored by the Canadian Authors Association. Although it’s practically in my backyard, it is one of the few areas in Alberta where I’ve never been, either as a touring artist for the CAA or for the Young Alberta Book Society.
I’ve always believed that getting there is the adventure and I wasn’t disappointed. Just down the road from the windmill blades were root piles as big as houses, at least half a dozen of them in a single field. I expect they were giant burn piles, which I’d love to see lit up, particularly if it could be at night.
I’d never been much farther west than Spirit River on Highway 49, and truthfully, I didn’t really know how to get to Savanna School. I had a vague idea of where it was, was sure I’d find it on the map I kept in the car, but it seems someone borrowed the map or threw it out because it was so tattered with years of folding and unfolding. I’d briefly considered putting the GPS I’d gotten for Christmas in the car, but I didn’t even know how to turn it on and en route to a 9 a.m. gig, I didn’t think it was the time to learn. So, I drove west of Spirit River, trusting that eventually, I’d find a road going north and hopefully, a large green road sign to confirm I was headed in the right direction.
I drove and I drove and I drove and I drove. I watched the undulating shape of the Saddle Hills to the south, snow patches on fields that made them look like deltas, and noted the changes of geography — hardwood trees, swamp spruce, open fields. A pair of geese honked loudly as they circled overhead, then swooped down to their nest. I spotted a herd of mule deer, then a young moose who was devouring a patch of willow with great fervour.
Although I’d been vigilant, I was sure I must have missed the turn off. Minutes were ticking away on my dashboard clock, bringing me closer and closer to the time of my performance, and I hate being late. I thought about turning around, but experience tells me I tend to turn around when I’m just shy of the actual turn-off. But what if I’d missed the turn-off? What if I was heading in the wrong direction and was going to need to back track, then head north? Just a little farther I convinced myself. Just a little farther.
Yes! A nice, big road sign. I turned right. I noted the long-forgotten Moonshine Lake, felt the pull of the Blueberry General store, and made a mental note to pull in on my way back. I spotted a field of Black Angus playing follow-the-leader, and a herd of Charolais having breakfast. (I’m not sure precisely that they were Charolais, but I only know two types of cattle and they weren’t Black Angus.) As the road moved up and down, through valleys and creeks, I couldn’t help but wonder how it would look in a couple of weeks when nature would change the scene completely with fresh tinges of springtime green in forests and fields.
I turned west again at Fourth Creek and was delighted to so easily find the small, K-12 school a few miles down the road.
I slipped on my impractical pretty lady shoes and was about to update my facebook and twitter status to let my 36 “fans” know I was safe when “No Service” flashed on the screen. My technological, emergency back-up electronic map wouldn’t have helped me any more than my missing paper map had.
Teacher Nadine Leiske waited at the door while I gathered my props. She welcomed me, asked about my drive, toured me through the school, and introduced me to staff. Librarian Kathy Hingley had coffee and muffins waiting for me in the staff room and a few moments to spare with a visit.
The children — both in the K-3 group and in the Grade 4-6 group — were lovely, engaged “got” most of my pathetic jokes, and had thoughtful questions.
School trustee Sharilyn Anderson, who came to my second session, graciously bought me lunch from the cafeteria — one of those frozen steamer pasta things in cool plastic bowls that I’d always wanted to try. (With a teenager at home, even if I ever bought something like that, I wouldn’t get a taste. This was a real treat.)
My trip home, that included a stop at the delightfully quirky Blueberry Mountain Store, a
mini-tour of Spirit River, and a stop in Sexsmith, was a perfect, relaxing end to a “school visit” day. My thanks to the CAA for organizing and sponsoring WISP, which offers free author visits to schools, and to the staff at Savanna School for making me feel welcome and loved.
© 2012 Sue Farrell Holler