I have so much love for this place I don’t even know where to start. To my readers, some of you will get it, and many of you might wonder what the heck I see in this place in the middle of nowhere. After all, it’s not the sexy California coast. But the coast is so transient, at least for me there is no soul or history or stories that connect people across generations and time. Honestly, I have not even known how to write about the land here in the middle of Canada. There is so much history, beauty and love here. But maybe you will all relate when I say, it’s because family is from here. The places we “grew up” tend to stay romanticized in our brains and hearts. As I try to decide if I will continue ownership of some family acreage, I waffle back and forth in my mind. How much is family? How much is heart? How much is a great business idea? Does it even matter if it’s good business? Writing about stuff ussually brings clarity so I figured I’d attempt to share what this place is about to me with you. You know by now I’m not great at brevity but I’ll try.
This 80 acres is a small part of a century plus farm that my father grew up on just before you get to Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, Canada. I wish I had, maybe will start, taped my dad telling all of the old stories. Maybe I can convince him to write a book. My mom is documenting it in photo albums. First of all I found it kind of fun that my grandma and grandpa were rebels in their marriage because one was Swedish and one Norwegian and mixing like that was a bit rebellious…. and well…. if you look at a photo of me, you can guess why I find that fun. Anyhow, there are more stories than I can write about here, but I’ll say their farm to me was that magical place we ventured to every summer from the states. We drove out of the the big city of Chicago and headed north to spend time with, I don’t even know… maybe 40 some cousins? We knew that if we drove to the farm, that is where eveyone would be. Anyone coming through stopped there and Grandma would have some good food cooked up, my dad’s brother Uncle Lenny who farmed the place since Grandpa had passed would always have some old barn that had to come down, so there would always be a huge bon fire, and there would be more cousins than anyone could dream of to chase through the woods catching fireflys, riding horses, and going on other adventures. The rest of our stay would consist of going from farm to cabins on the various lakes visiting. We’d have coffee, ruhbarb, tons of saskatoons, and more. I mentioned earlier in my blog the trendy “farm to table” was going on long before it was a thing in our family. It was rare we had to go into town to get fresh vegetables to eat. As kids we would also get to shoot rifles (at targets of course), “drive” the car through the fields, even ride up in the old tractors. All of the farms in the area were owned by family.
There are so many more stories about that, but as anywhere, things change. Farming is expensive and hard work. Over time, once my Uncle passed, the farm, like many around, rented out the land to farmers who would come in from elsewhere and farm the land. Connecting meant relying on cell phones that may or may not come in, and driving around and catching people at home. There is a two lane paved highway that takes you up into the area about three hours northwest of Winnipeg. From there you’ll find a whole maze of back gravel roads that look like nothing is there, but in reality, there is so much. Driving these roads and figuring out where everything is, is a lot of fun too. Many farms have shifted into recreational venues, such as camps and golf courses. There are several gorgeous golf courses, of which many of the areas’ summer visitors come soley to participate in the tournaments etc. Traveling on these back roads, you’ll also find the remains of an era passed, like the old Tales School House. My father used to ski to the old one room school house in the winter and ride horseback in the summer. Of course, some come up here to their cabins to enjoy a little R&R. And then there is the old church and graveyard where most of the folks from the past are burried and many present day celebrations happen, like family reunions. Sometimes the loss of all of our loved ones sinks in but I choose to keep seeing all of the beauty that exists from the grain fields, to the prarie flowers (wild, planted and weeds), to the wildlife (which I will dedicate a different blog entry.)
The local tourist attraction that brought people in from all over the world, and eventually attracted Elkhorn Lodge just outside of it’s boundaries as an RCI spot was Riding Mountain National Park and Clear Lake. I always love the story about my grandpa builing the first cabin on the lake. If Minnesota is Land of 10,000 Lakes, Manitoba must be Land of 100,000 Lakes. There really is no shortage of lake fun, from kayaking, fishing, swimming, skiing, hunting and simply enjoying beautiful sunsets all over.
Earlier I introduced you to what I call The Original Tiny Home. When we first came up here we camped in a tent at our lake spot. We felt so lucky to finally get a cabin…. which can’t be more than 100 square feet and used to be used as an old hunting shack. My mother worked her charm and creative eye on the place making creative use of space like todays modern day tiny homes, and really making it a beautiful place to live for the summer. In this photo it’s getting a scrape down for one more layer of fresh paint. Before we grew into bigger cabins and buildings like our boat house, this charmer faced the lake with a big screened in deck with that modern day idea of making a tiny house seem larger by bringing the outdoors indoors. Today, with an eery absence of mosquitos, fireflys and dragonflys we no longer need a screen. Who knew I would miss flying insects.
Anyhow, today there a few relatives my age still coming up to cabins on a few of the lakes. My parents are a couple of the few “oldtimers” who are around and have all of the stories and history. My dad was the youngest and he and his sister are still here. My grandpas original lot is still in the family. We still have some farming relatives who fill us with pies and cakes and coffee forcing us to go for hikes in the woods. But there is a noticeable change. Now there are official hiking trails to enjoy, trying to capture a little of the history and landscape. And there are lots of new people that would not even know our family name. The nearest town about five miles away still has about 500 people, I think, but not many familiar names there anymore either, and the old drive in movie theater is gone. Most of the young folks went away to university and then needed to find jobs so live further away in the more populated parts of Canada. It kind of reminds me of the floating island peopleI wrote about earlier, from Lake Titicaca in Peru. Maybe that’s why I felt such a connection when visiting there.
One thing I definitely learned from my folks is the importance of love, love of family, community and history, and love of the land, as well as a strong faith that will carry you through anything tough. In these photos I can still see the two teenagers that met years ago. I’d say those values fit quite well with my love of Airstream life.
Somewhere down the road, there may be some parking for my RV friends and family… if I choose to keep that small plot of land in the family. I had hoped to decide on this trip, and am still sorting out, what kind of Airstreamer I am. Am I a true Nomad, or do I have a couple of landing spots that ground me to my history? Do I boondock on my own land or do I want to boondock across the country in National Forests? Can I offer boondocking here, if I don’t come up every year? I have learned over time, if I don’t have a clear answer in my head, I dont’ have an answer yet. However, was it a sign, walking into the local coffee and art spot, Poor Michael’s, that I ran into my cousin’s kid? This would be my cousin who owns the rest of the farm, where the original homestead farmhouse sits. I’ll have to reach out and visit with her. Funny, maybe things have changed, but maybe they haven’t! The land still brings us together.
In the words of Gerald O’Hara: “The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts”…..Gone With The Wind.”
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