20th September 2018
Weather: whatever it is doing, the prairie knows it. You just have to hope that the roads can withstand it.
South of Assiniboia, lonely grid roads flanked by black-eyed susans roll towards remote border huts on the US border. Vaguely I recall fighting the selfie-snapping crowds at tourist hotspots in Banff – this is the other Canada, the raw Canada: stark, blunt and unforgiving, with a gruff charm all its own.
It carves human beings who venture into it, whittling us with rain and wind. In turn, the native people of this land once carved petroglyphs into its bones.
For a place so open, its secrets are subtle. History is a matter of tipi rings and extinct lakes, but also written within flesh and bone. Once upon a time, so the story goes, pronghorn were pursued by the lightning-fast American cheetah. Like the vast majority of North American mammals, the cheetah became extinct at the end of the last ice age, but its prey has survived, its incredible speed now redundant.
Pronghorn are not deer or antelope but distant relatives of giraffes.
Cheetahs were hardly alone in the Pleistocene prairie: lions, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves and short-faced bears also roamed. Today, the most visible predators are a bewildering array of raptors.
And what would the grasslands be without the sweet song of the meadowlark?
The skies are still uneasy. Mule deer roam amidst droplets.
If you go the prairie, you adapt to fit in with its moods. The road to the park is too dangerous in these conditions. We watch the vast sky fade into night over Val Marie, and hope for sunshine with the sunrise.