Gowan’s Grove

Back in the late 20s or early 30s my grandfather’s brother Gordon, who farmed just south of my grandfather, planted a grove of poplars along the Swift Current Creek. The spot became a gathering place for the community: picnics and parties and that sort of goings-on. My father remembered it with intense fondness and regret. It was only a distant memory by the time I was born because sometime in the early 40s the beaver invaded and razed every single tree.

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Uncle Gordon with unidentified companion at the original Gowan’s Grove

Beginning in the mid-60s, under my father’s direction, the whole family took part in the planting of Manchurian elm and poplar at the edge of the field and along the Swift Current Creek across the grid road to the north of our house. Dad left a wide enough swath between the rows of seedlings that he could cultivate them with the tractor, except down at the northern-most tip. There we planted the trees in circles, and had to rototill them to kill the weeds. Lodgepole pines were transplanted from The Cypress Hills in the 80s or early 90s.

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Acres and acres of trees. I’m sure some people thought Dad was crazy, planting trees where he could have planted grain. Nurturing and protecting them has become one of my brother Ray’s major projects.

The prairies are a dry country and trees like rain. Over the years many of them died (or were dying back in the case of the particularly hardy Manchurian elm) and so during the two years before Dad died, Ray started pumping water from the creek directly into the ground. There’s an underground slough fourteen feet down that the trees will suck dry on a bad year. His experiment revived many of the elm and poplar and the stunted pines along the creek bank.

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The Grove is used by the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and various other community groups as a campground and retreat. Music and art camps are held there every summer. And other goings-on: Fred Eaglesmith has played a concert there.

Dad’s ashes are buried at the foot of an oak planted a few years before he died.

This is my father’s house.

It’s impossible not to feel my father here at the same time as it’s impossible not to feel his absence here. Everything around me was planned and built by him.

I’m at the kitchen table, in the dead-end of the nook where I sat for most meals growing up. It’s breakfast time, but there’s no food in the fridge, none of my mother’s canning in the cupboards in the basement, no vegetables in the root cellar.

A thin layer of plaster dust partly covers the wood-grain Formica that covers the table. Someone, probably my brother Ray, started mudding a spot of water damage on the ceiling almost directly over my head; got so far as sanding, but it looks as though it needs more mud, or perhaps the water that damaged it in the first place is still getting in, and the job was abandoned until the roof is fixed.

I listen for my losses and my ears ring.