Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Suzerainty and Saskatchewan

Always going off on these Saskatchewan tangents. I could have made a whole section for it by now. But, write what you know, eh? So, I'm going to write a bit more about what I know: a trend in the province that has been on my mind for awhile. Now I've found a word for it, sort of. So lets put this word to work (as words are meant to be): 

Suzerainty: A situation in which a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which allows the tributary some limited domestic autonomy. The more powerful entity in the suzerainty relationship, or the head of state of that more powerful entity, is called a suzerain. The term suzerainty was originally used to describe the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and its surrounding regions. It differs from sovereignty in that the tributary has some (limited) self-rule.

(Thank you again, Wikipedia

Now, I know this term might be a little bizarre in application to a Canadian province, and its not entirely accurate either, but humour me a little.

The prairie provinces are places with a whole lotta space, and not a whole lotta people. In Saskatchewan, there are approximately 1.8 people per square kilometer, compared to Ontario's 14.1. So, there is a lot of space, and few cities. But! But, these cities have near infinite space to expand in, and they are. They spread across the province, consuming smaller towns as they go. This is a process that has occurred in other, now more population dense areas around the world. It is interesting to see it developing in the here and now. 

One could almost call these cities the suzerain to these small town tributaries who, while not exactly providing tribute to their parent city, provide a large portion of its workforce (slaves/commuters) and income. These units maintain some autonomy, but over time come to be more and more governed by the city as a whole.

But what about those towns too far out for the city to reach them? Towns in the far and distant drab dead corners of the province. Boom towns, that once had high aspirations to being the provinces best and greatest, but failed miserably in those goals. What becomes of them?

We call those the ghost towns, and to look at them, the name fits. These towns are ghosts of hopes and dreams of times long past, when this was the new world, and anything was possible. Now, houses stand empty, sagging. Windows broken in, glass crunching gravel beneath the feet of those who dare explore them. Barns have collapsed. Houses have been vacated with cupboards still stocked, closets still full, as everyone got out in a hurry, to gravitate towards the city--the suzerain--where the jobs, the money, and the hopes are. In the more recently abandoned towns, you will see schools, their playgrounds overgrown, jungle gyms looking their name, rusted, shrubs growing up around their metal bases. You can see the kindergarten wing, paint faded, sun-bleached construction paper butterflies still taped to the windows. 

My father's family at one point settled in one of these towns, before it had died . .. when it was still kicking, teeth bared, fighting for life in the vast prairie. My father's grandmother was buried there, outside of a small church in the area of what once was Spring Valley. If you visit the town now, there is not much left. What once was a settlement, a small one, is now nothing more than a couple of farms, clinging to the land, trudging on through hell and high water (and believe me, Saskatchewan has plenty of both) fueled by pure stubbornness.

Back to the church. Perhaps because the church itself is an institution of hope, they are often the last to fall to this sweeping blanket of rural decay. The church my great grandmother is buried outside of still operates--sometimes--when the weather allows, and a preacher is available. It is maintained, not always well, but it still stands, its windows holding glass, its roof mostly shingled. What is more well maintained than the church is the graveyard. The markers still stand, stand as strong as memories do, until even those fade. Some of the markers are quite new, as a new generation, gripping those memories, pay tribute to those who have passed. The lawn is green, kept trimmed, and the whole space is surrounded by a crazy tangle of prairie grass and wildflowers (brown eyed susans, my favorite).

My dad makes a pilgrimage out there once a year, to visit a grandmother he never knew. He'll pick her flowers on the way (nothing bought), lay them upon the grave. Get back in his truck, for the eight hour drive back home. I'd like to say I will keep up that tradition, but I know that is not likely. The grass will take the grave, and the church will fall. 

There is something peaceful about this, however. As man drifts towards the populated areas, the land is left to reclaim what it owns. Part of me hopes the cities will never reach that far. That it will leave the ghosts to their rest in silent peaceful places. I want there to still be corners of the world where that sort of peace can exist. I want a tangled patch of wildflowers, a collapsing barn, brown eyed susans in quiet sunlight. A sound of crickets, wind, birds, nothing more. 

I suppose that is why Saskatchewan comes up so much here. As much as I dislike some of the puritanical morals, the religious close-mindedness of many of the people, there is still some sort of perfection in the places where the people are not. There is peace, which is hard to come by, and it is something I would like to carry in myself, even as those peaceful spaces are consumed by the grasping urban fingers of human progress. 

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