Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Saskatchewan Sky and Pumpkin Pie

September 21, 2005

After a long day of travel, we’ve made it to the province of Alberta. I can tell that we’re getting closer to home because the cable TV system here carries the stations from Spokane.

The prairies unfurled beneath our wheels today, from the wheat fields near Brandon, Manitoba, across the breadth of Saskatchewan, to the rolling rangeland of eastern Alberta. Hay bales that look like rolls of shredded wheat dominated the eastern landscapes today; later, grain elevators took over the horizon. By evening, I’d spotted sagebrush amid the roadside vegetation. After leaving the lakes and forests of western Ontario yesterday afternoon, we’ve somehow shifted from the east to the west. The landscape tells me, but so does the quality of the air: drier, crisper, tinged with a hint of sage.

Prairie driving is easy for me, with wide-open roadways and minimal traffic. The sky is what holds my attention here, the changing colors and clouds and shadows. Everything else seems small under the immense spacious heavens. And yet odd details grab my eye: a duck in that teardrop of a pond, diving as we pass; the rich copper of the swaying grasses; a lone hawk perched high atop the tree at the edge of the windbreak.

Early autumn has settled gently on the Canadian prairies, although the calendar marks today as the last full day of summer. The grasses and trees glow with the tawny shades of the season to come. Combines gather the last of the wheat harvest and long trains of grain cars haul the bounty to distant markets.

We hit another fun little lunch place today: The LC Corral in Broadview, Saskatchewan. I had missed the turn to a restaurant in the previous town – and I really hate to turn around when I’ve got momentum going. Broadview is not much more than a wide spot in the road, and the place didn’t look like much from the outside, but the parking lot was full – always a good sign. Everything was delicious, down to the homemade pumpkin pie for dessert, and it was a bargain besides. The God of Hungry Travelers smiled on me.

Before stumbling upon the LC, I was pondering what it means to be open to the experience of the road. In order to have the joy of discovering a place like the LC, or like Lorraine’s the other day, I have to remain open to the possibility of a mediocre or even bad experience. There are times when a standard product – like you’d find at a chain restaurant – is comforting, but the most memorable meals are found elsewhere. Buying a standard brand means we never have to have a bad experience, but is that what we really want? By eliminating the risk of the truly bad, aren’t we also eliminating the possibility of true joy?

Of course, there are times when I’ll choose the comfort of the familiar over the risk of the unknown; I’ve had several meals from Subway on this trip, not to mention my newfound fondness for Tim Horton’s coffee. But I hope I choose places like the LC and Lorraine’s more often than not, because I don’t want them to go away. They don’t just feed our bodies; they feed our souls.

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