April 8, 2015 - Ulysses Never Sailed Saskatchewan

Still plugging away here at all my social media responsibilities as well as trying to line up shows, get with some players, rehearse, write, apply for grants, keep lining up and realigning all my wee ducks out on the coast before it falls into the sea, and then there's earning cash to eat and be. I'm not complaining here, just trying to bring some balance to the picture I've been painting the past while in these blogs.

Playing shows, recording music, and getting to share those experiences with other artists and audience members can be very fulfilling but there sure are significant periods of downtime.  These are the moments when you don't get the immediate feedback of those around you; when motivation would often rather lie under a nice comforter and watch a crappy movie. I've been trying to battle this urge by being as proactive and constructive as possible and this has meant reaching out to others to get their support and advice, something I have always been poor at.  

Although I've lived the majority of my life in urban centres, I very strongly identify with the Canadian prairies and the experiences of the homesteaders who settled there in the early 1900's.  This was the story of my folks who came from Galiciaa part of Europe that no longer exists and that contains a family history that I have no details of. With the exception of voyages (from the countryside to Vienna, across the ocean, hauling everything you have and will need from the middle of nowhere to somewhere north west of there with a team of oxen) my families' stories start in Saskatchewan, and even these stories are becoming lost.  The small parcels of land that were 'given' to homesteaders, the subsistence farms that used to dominate the prairies, are almost completely gone now. The Dominion Land Act is seen historically as a gift to the immigrants who settled the prairie, turns out (surprise working folks!) that the actual gift was a prairie prepared for profit by those early settlers. The folks who turned that wilderness into the breadbasket of Canada were later judged to lack the business acumen needed to sustain it and have been evicted from the land that is now dominated by agribusiness.  The history of my folks is the history of people who have been evicted from the histories and landscapes they were instrumental in creating.  This happened to them both here and in Europe and goes a long way in helping me understand my wanderlust and distrust of governments bearing gifts.

I have very few actual regrets in life but missing the opportunities to engage with the cultures that were available to me while growing up is one of them.  My father speaks Ukrainian, my mother, German, and I was taught French in school yet I only speak English.  A big part of this was that my grandparents wanted to leave the old world behind, life was very difficult there and history houses many closets that prefer to be closed. Speaking German or Ukrainian in a land mostly settled by the French and British exposed you to ridicule and even danger (speaking German during WWII was not recommended).  I grew up with the stigma of an Eastern European background (we were the "Newfies" of the prairies) but I can only imagine how difficult it was for my grandparents and parents.

These wee history lessons I've written above help me to understand why I find it difficult to reach out to others for help.  The experience of the prairie homesteaders was one of pride and self-reliance; one of trying to make a piece of land in the middle of nowhere, with some of the harshest weather conditions in the world, barren of your bloodline, a home.  This is my history. 

So, yeah, I've held my hat in hand quite often in the past couple of months reaching out to folks to give me some support while I try to settle my own wilderness. Thanks to all those who have been helping me out here.

My song today is a product of the experiences discussed above.  As has been my tradition, I will share with you here the lyrics for this song followed by the poem I reaped them from:

Ulysses Never Sailed Saskatchewan 

Sweet yellow songs, clover voices
Stir the dust to its feet
The black dunes waltz with the fencelines
Where the green shadows drift and swell

Stricken hands, emptied of horses
Rust brittle cling to the earth
Sink slowly with every winter
Where the wheat used to stand and sway

And I'm bound
I seasick weary wonder
See me going under (X2)

Bent over churches, grey fathers' homes
Allow the wind their hold
The walls billow with emptiness
Strained planks scream like gulls

Big red barn, the last building standing
Leans towards its fall
Its large doors swinging sadly
Like the slow beating of my heart

And I'm bound
I seasick weary wonder
See me going under (X2)

I moved out to the West Coast in the early '90s after spending the majority of my young adult life in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta.  The first thing that struck me when moving there, and something that stayed with me ever since, was the contradictory similarities between the landscapes of the ocean and the prairie.  The obvious similarity is that they both challenged the horizon, but I was often fascinated by how these landscapes dictated the pace of life they contained.  My favourite story to illustrate this is in how Pig Glass is formed. Pig Glass is an inland phenomenon that refers to smooth beads of glass that are formed by the action of soil shifting slowly over pieces of formerly jagged broken glass for decades, and called Pig Glass because pigs, being partial to shiny things, often root them up from their graves beneath the dirt. Anyone who has walked the urban beaches of Victoria or Vancouver knows you don't need pigs or the action of decades of shifting soil to form glass beads, the sea churns out these gems daily. The landscape's role in the process of turning a piece of waste into a jewel fascinates me.

This fascination, along with how the history and landscapes of the prairie and coast have shaped me, led me to write the following poem that plays with Ulysses' episode with the Sirens

Ulysses Never Sailed Saskatchewan 

sweet yellow songs, clover voices
stir dust into a slumbering dance
black dunes waltz around fencelines
green shadows drift and swell
stricken hands, emptied of horses
fingers rust brittle
claw at the earth
sink slow under weeds
bent churches, grey fathers’ homes
allow the wind their hold
walls billow with emptiness
strained planks scream like gulls
and I am bound

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