The Rain Came
"With the rain came Life again...and in the Dust Bowl was hope instead of despair"
Editor s Sote Miss Juques' vivid picture of the return of Life to the Dust Howl should fre read in the light of the fact that there still are large areas in Saskatchewan which süßer frión crop failure. Grasshoppers, rust, hail, atul in some cases, insufficient moisture, all levied toll on this year’s harvest, thus robbing many communities of the experience so movingly described in this article.
THE HAPPY DAY S started last winter. Unto the driven fields the snow came down in great misty clouds of white; clean as a new blanket, beautiful as manna from heaven.
It took even the old-timers to remember such depth of snow, and even they quarrelled about it. Some said it was in ’15, some said it was farther back than that. We didn't argue, we weren’t in a stormy mood; we were too glad to quarrel, too thankful to raise our voices in vain remembering. All that mattered was that the snow was here again, belly-deep to the horses, waist high to us as we plunged across the jjasture to my brother's house lying in great curving drifts around the barns and sheds.
It was good to walk calmly over fer>*' again and never know they were there; to cut great chunks of snow, white as alabaster, to put in the "melting barrel" behind the kitchen door; to see the little folk on homemade sleighs flying down the banks behind the barn.
The air was still too, still as a holy night, quiet as a Sabbath; no drifting soil, no screeching, tortured wind to snatch at you with fiendish hands.
Under its gleaming whiteness the land lay healing from the tortured years, packing down, gathering invisible strength from the deep places below.
Spring came softly owith balmy skies and peace still upon the land. Little "saucers" of blue water sparkled like sapphires on a brown breast. We had forgotten in the nine years where the low places were on the farm; but now it came back to us just where they had been. We remembered the low place that used to grow’ such grand mushrooms, the piece that was always too wet to seed with the rest.
To the little three-to-ten-year-olds. n was a new world this spring. Never in their small memories had there been
such a thing as a raft upon blue water, the icy delicious thrill of bare feet walking gingerly out to reach a submerged wagon box, climbing on it and beholding with enchanted eyes acres of dancing beautiful water, of pretending they were pirates and buccaneers; every day was a voyage of discovery for them, every hour alive with rapture.
And the little wind flow'ers came back in their lavender attire, their small furry stems clinging as of old to the brow n sweet earth. Wouldn’t you think they would forget their very sha[X‘ in nine years of oblivion? But they didn't; here they were, smiling and nodding their heads in the sun, the faint sweet fragrance coming from them as it used to long ago when we were children and roamed the unplowed fields, holding their wonder and beauty in small hot hands.
And the meadow larks came home again. The little silver-throated singers of the plains once more built their nests in our fields, hollowing out a place in the warm earth, lining it w ith grass and string and feathers, brooding in the still nights.
My brother, who is a keen observer of nature, had said one day nine years ago. "There is something wrong; the meadow larks are not stopping this year. They only stay a few days and go farther north; I wonder what it means?”
Well, we found out—to our sorrow—what it meant. It meant there would be no water for them; and somehow in their infinite wisdom they knew, and for nine years in the dust bowl there were no meadow larks.
But they're here again in countless numbers, trilling their gay songs from every fence and tw ig, washing themselves in the
clear water of a million sloughs, making the twilight and dawn a symphony of praise.
The snow had melted slowly, a day at a time, seeping down into the soil. There was no run-off, or waste; every precious drop was gathered into the thirsty pockets of the earth; the shrunken cracked subsoil drank and was filled, the deep places rejoiced.
'“PHE SEED went into the warm pulsing ground crumbly and wet, with moisture far down that would creep up gradually as the summer w'ore on, feeding the young stalks, making strength and milk, filling the yellow’ kernels, giving life from life.
W’e could hardly wait to give it time to come up. We’d go down to the summer fallow after supper, run our fingers along under the warm earth to find a grain of wheat, lift it carefully out, lay it on the palm of our hands and kxrk with wonder at its small swelled sides, the little green snout of it already seeking the light, the threefold root boring down in the moisture, uniting itself with the earth, securing its existence.
And something swelled in our throats too, and in our hearts. Here was Life again; the barren ways were made glad, the desert w’ould blossom as a rose.
May came in like a bride, gentle and alluring. Up from the twisted shrunken dead roots of grass, pale shining stems came forth to clothe the earth, as fresh as if there had never been such a thing as a drought. They looked like conquerors; every blade had the proud air of a survivor; every stem was a miraclea resurrection from the dust of the earth into life eternal. They didn't know it but w’e did.
who had seen them lie dead in the choking tomb of the drought. And all the bells of heaven rang in chorus across the green trembling earth.
Everyone had their gardens in before the 24th of May, the magic dead line, as all good gardeners know. Some of them looked kind of hilly where the drifted soil had blown and ridged up against the trees and fences. But it had been harrowed and dragged out, and the brown rich soil was as smooth as rakes and eager hands could make it, with little sticks at the end of the row's, the empty seed packages turned down over them to show w'hat had been planted—as if we could forget.
The potatoes came up too in little clumpy groups. There is Continued on page 50
Continued from page 10
something about potatoes growing that warms your heart. You know there’ll be something on the table in the winter. My mother was Irish, and if she just had a little piece of ground where she could grow them, she was as happy as a clam.
Aunt Mary will have carrots now. All through the gardenless years she had longed for carrots, little tender ones drenched in butter. I used to watch her with an old teakettle, walking along the crooked, spindly, half-dead rows, watering them iti dribbly streams, being careful that the good man of the house was out of the way; he’d never forgive her for taking a teakettle of the precious water, even for her carrots. And now they grow tall and beautiful like ferns, and she eats them raw, rubbing the soil from them with the bunched leaves and finishing them off on her apron; and then the first snapping bite. Sweeter than snow apples they are. Satisfying, good, they lie in your stomach, warm and comforting like a good meal at the end of a tired day.
In June the rains came; gently at first, little experimental showers here and there, as if Mother Nature felt a bit sheepish about it, having withheld her bounty so long, not quite sure how we would take them.
We tcxik them all right, both hands upraised in welcome, faces raised tooand hearts.
All through the lovely growing month of June they kept up, gaining in volume, spreading over the whole of Southern Saskatchewan — cloudbursts, torrential rains, drenching showers. Railroads were washed out, bridges gone, rivers ran wild; little naked creek beds with gnashed sides and white bleached stones now ran full and sweet from bank to bank, purling over their gravelly course, sparkling in the sun as if created anew.
Dikes that had lain bone-dry for years slept in the hot afternoon as placid as mirrors, reflecting the lazy clouds, smiling back at the friendly sky.
Rain Was News
PAPERS printed headlines. Rain was “news,” up-to-the-minute, living, vital news, flashed from radio stations, quivering from national hookups, received in little one-horse sets. It was news in
country stores, and at ladies’ aid meetings; news where men gathered at conventions, in garages and banks and filling stations. Ministers mentioned it from their pulpits, thanked God for it when they prayed.
From little clouds no bigger than a man’s hand the grandest showers would fall, like music beating into the brown soil, going down and down into the dead dust of nine rainless years.
But it took my brother’s littlest child to stage a real come-back celebration. Donnie, going on two. spied a swimming tub of rain water in the yard, and it gave him an idea. Leaning over it he tried to drink, but he went too far—as folks wiser than he have done before—and in he flopped, head first, his little blue-rompered legs sticking out like sticks, helpless as a kitten to pull himself back.
No one saw him at first; then there was a piercing shriek from a five-year-old sister that drilled through boards and plaster and doors into the kitchen, where we all sat talking, that galvanized us into action.
I had been nursing a bad dose of sciatica for days, unable to move without shivering pain, but I beat the whole family to Donnie and never knew how I got there.
We pulled him out, dripping as a submerged log. white as a sheet. My brother held him high in the air, shaking him violently to get the water out of him. He came toin self-defense, I guess—and clung weakly to my brother, telling us between sobs that it was wet water.
Aunt Mary sat weakly down on a bench behind the house and cried into her apron. “To think,’’ she said, “there hasn't been a tub of water in that yard for nine years, and the very’ first time one got full a young one had to nearly drown in it. It’s a corker!”
We laughed her out of her tears, hut she went over and with one flip of the tub sent the precious water out onto the ground. We watched it pouring out and no one said a word, for there in the jade twilit sky a new moon hung, its tiny prongs tipped down as if to spill the precious rain into the waiting fields and crops.
Old Indian Joe claims that if the new moon is tipped downward so he cannot hang his powder hom on it. it will he wet. so he must stay home from his hunting; and who were we to doubt it when every cloud, no matter how small, poured its
bright blessing down, and roads were blocked and impassable, and every picnic during the summer was a failure as far as good weather was concerned.
At one little sports day I attended in July, everyone got a good soaking. A great blue-black cloud rose slowly in the West, covering the sky, shutting out the sun.
We watched it come. Little spirals of dust blew across the summer fallow; jagged lightning pierced the clouds from side to side; thunder rolled across the plain, echoing like an empty church, fading off into the far hills that lay to the south of us.
Everyone scurried to cars and sheds for shelter, but the rain came in blinding sheets that cut our vision to a few feet. Yellow puddles lay everywhere, weeds were flattened and bedraggled, babies cried in terror.
Then it was over. The great cloud rolled away, out came the sun in grateful warmth; children splashed gaily, barefooted; grownups laughed together; the ball team went back to its diamond as muddy as only Saskatchewan gumbo can be, and the game went merrily on, everyone in high good humor.
A neighbor woman came up to me, leading three very dirty, muddy little girls. “Look at my kids,” she laughed, “mud from their heads to their heels;” adding hastily lest I should think she was grouching about it, “but I’m not kicking, I hope they waller in mud all summer, it looks good to me;” and she went along with them as happy as a millionaire.
We were all happy. Laughter came easy to people now; that strained terrible look was gone from their faces; the pressure of screaming wind had lessened ; hope was again in their hearts, healing them, smoothing out the lines of despair, giving them new courage.
The Wonder of Nature’s Ways
JULY saw the wheat in the shot-blade, green and lush, rippling in the sun, forming heads. We’d go out and pull a stem, counting the kernels gratefully, marvelling anew at the eternal wonder of nature’s way, that every small ridged seed should know its shape, drawing its milk up through the stem, feeding itself from the earth.
The big brother sits in dad’s old chair by the window and kx)ks across the west quarter, all in summer-fallow wheat; watches it standing waist high, its heavy heads gently swaying in the wind. A seething sound drifts in the open ckx^r— the welcome, beloved swish of wheat fields, rich, inviting, ripening into harvest.
The mother, with new shoots of silver in her shining hair, is patching underwear with flour sacks; so ma ' patches that it looks like a jigsaw puzzk She bites off the thread with a snap and dreams of new underwear for everyone, soft woollen things, sound in crotch and seat; shoes all around; little things for the house, cups with handles on, maybe new paper for the kitchen.
Field after field of wheat, hundreds and thousands of acres; a quarter section in a block, clean and free of weeds, as it used to be in the early years before it was polluted by bad seed and bad farming.
We drove mile after mile between the sweet, rippling grain waving like a dark sea, reaching to the faraway horizon. My father was almost speechless from joy. He said once, “I wish I didn’t have to sleep between now and harvest time, so I could feast my old eyes forever on the sight of green fields once more.”
I don’t know what has happened to the weeds. Perhaps they all blew away; perhaps they germinated and never came up, or took wings and left for unknown ways. They’re gone anyway—Russian thistle, stickweed, mustard, pigweed.
Of course you will find odd clumps of them here and there in neglected fields and along roadwrays; but not in the fields that have been sown, and the heavyheaded wheat waves in the wind like banners hoisted joyfully for victory.
And out across the wide plains and little hills of Saskatchewan is bread being multiplied again, the hungry multitude fed.
The Darker Side
OF COURSE it isn’t al! good. Saskatchewan has wide borders, and there are districts where the grasshoppers came in sickening clouds with a sound like the droning of airplanes, settled on the crops and gardens, feasted upon the shimmering fields, bored holes into the very ground in their lustful search for food.
We even boasted about them, their size and color. An old friend visited us from Estevan and we talked about grasshoppers. “Oh,” he said, “you ought to see ours, they’re the size of canaries. Why, they sit on the verandah and bark at us when we are at a meal.”
Rust had its evil way in many areas too; a red canker like rusty pollen, eating holes in the stalks, sapping the lifeblood from the plant, stealing the strength from the struggling head, shrivelling the doughy kernels.
Yes, tragedy stalked on the heels of rust and hoppers in many districts—tragedy made all the more bitter by the early promise of glorious harvest. The rain came; but there will still be povertystricken homes in Saskatchewan this winter.
Hail came too in jagged chunks, cutting wide swaths of destruction, beating the defenseless wheat into the ground with evil hammers, leaving behind it stricken fields steaming in the hot sunshine that usually follows such freakish storms; leaving behind too, brokenhearted women sopping up their kitchen floors, grey-faced men trying to gulp down the lumps in their hot, dry throats.
But the battle went on. There were other frontiers where the valiant fields held their golden lines against the enemy— the old old battle of Mother Nature to bring the seed of earth unto its fullness, that every shining kernel shall fulfill its destiny and bring forth seed “after its own kind.”
Cutting began in August. The binders had been made ready, repairs bought, new canvasses set up, broken slats renewed, the bearings cleaned and oiled.
Shiny new combines strutted out like mechanical Goliaths aware of their strength, passing up and down the milelong fields with tireless energy from dawn till dark, cutting and threshing the wheat as they moved along, feeding the rushing trucks that drew it, golden and warm from the fields, into the elevators.
Three hundred and thirty million bushels of w'heat from Western Canada—that’s the estimate that has been put on this year’s crop, and it’s a lot of wheat in any language. But it’s more than wheat to us, more than golden fields and ffxider for cattle, more even than money in our jx>ckets again or gtxxd on the table.
It is faith in our hearts, faith in the country, in the soil, the rain—in God.
“The Tide Has Turned”
THEY told us that the country was done for, the soil worn out; it had been a desert before and would be again. They brought out old Indian legends to prove it, old maps to show us dried-up river beds and forgotten lakes. People moved out by the thousands, cattle died of thirst, horses were shot—seventeen in one day on my brother’s farm—to save them from starvation.
And now the tide has turned, the fkxxigates are open again; that quiet moving force behind all great things again works with us. You can feel it in your bones, sense it somehow as you go about the fall plowing, hear it in the wind.
I saw wheat brought into the elevator at Briercrest this fall that weighed sixty-four pounds to the bushel, No. 1 Northern, a deep red color, hard as flint, beautiful as rubies. The smile on the man’s face was good to see; he choked and swallowed hard
when told what his wheat would grade.
“Gosh.” he said, “ain’t life swell? Say, you couldn’t buy my farm now for a million dollars. I wouldn’t live anywhere else on earth.” Adding in a hushed voice, “Gosh, I can get mother a new stove now —and teeth.”
One woman said to me. “I know I’ve been mean and hard to get along with, I've grouched and nagged and hated the country; but if we get this crop off I swear I’ll be different. I ’ll keep a smile on my face if I have to stick it on with adhesive tape. I’ll make it up to dad.”
And she will; they all will. With a crop behind them, they’ll take a fresh hold on courage and happiness. They’ll shed their troubles like outworn garments, glad to be rid of them, glad to have the sun in their faces once more, the wind in their backs.
“Feed in the Loft”
IT IS the middle of August, the golden flood is at. its crest, a hundred trucks a day moving back and forth from the fields to the elevators, bringing in the wheat, like shuttles weaving the pattern in the beautiful fabric of life. We, who are working close to it, cannot see the design we make, but it is there, visible, shining—a promise redeemed, a pledge kept.
Cattle stand knee-deep in stubble again, the everlasting gleaners, gathering the fatness of the fields, “after the reapers have passed by.”
Winter will come again but there’s feed in the loft, potatoes in the cellar—mother has a new dress to wear to ladies’ aid Dad figures his old suit will do tor another year; he’s used to it now, wouldn’t feel at home in a new one, and the buildings need a lot of fixin’—they get run down in nine years of crop failure; he promised the horses new oat boxes anyway . . .
It will be a long road back, mortgages are not paid off with one crop, debts cannot be all squared, taxes pile up in rainless years.
The crop, after all. wasn’t what we used to call an old-fashioned "bumper,” but it’s a crop. (This year’s estimated 140.000.000 bushels of wheat for Saskatchewan is a long way better than last year’s 37.000,000.) In spite of all the things that beset us, the heart-warming fact remains that rain has come again to the dry plains of Saskatchewan. The “dust bowl” doesn’t hold dust any more; it holds wheat and oats and barley and cheerful people. It holds hope instead of despair . . . courage not desperation.
And Briercrest, the little village of two hundred souls (counting some of them twice), again lifts her face to a golden sky and in the heart of her . . . is a new song.
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TN THE article, "Tent City.” published •*in the September 15 issue of Maclean's. the population of Trail. B.C., was stated as being approximately 3,000. This figure, taken from a somewhat outdated gazetteer. was a long way out. The 1931 census gives Trail a population of 7.573, and according to the latest edition of the “British Columbia Directory,” the population now is 12,000. To Trail. B.C., therefore, which seems to be growing rapidly during a period when many other Canadian cities are either losing population or standing still, apologies and congratulations.
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