Paint your palette blue and grey
There are some songs that you sing for years without really understanding the lyrics. Maybe the music is catchy and you mumble along or you even know the words, but never get the meaning. There is an old Don McLean song called Vincent that someone recorded as a punk song that is like that for me. I’ve been singing about a starry, starry night and painting my palette blue and grey for years without ever being struck by the words until, that is, my first week with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).
My boss and I were travelling from my first couple of days of training in Manitoba to my first natural area management plan workshop in Alberta, and we needed a place to stay (and I think Dale wanted to impress me). After hours of driving, we finally arrived at our destination. And then, even though I said I wouldn’t, I ended up saying the same thing I’d been told every visitor says when they arrive: “Oh, wow! Amazing! I can’t believe it.”
Dale just shook his head, rolling his eyes, as he laughed at my broken promise. At least, I think he did. It was really dark and my urban eyes weren’t used to the complete lack of artificial lighting out at the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB).
I had arrived at Saskatchewan’s flagship property and Canada’s soon-to-be newest Dark Sky Preserve. At least, we were pretty sure we had arrived. It was difficult to tell if we were even in the right yard.
We rolled down the gravel road leading to OMB in the pitch black of a September night with very little moonlight, and I can tell you that the only available lights in the neighbourhood (property manager Sue’s lone yard light, five miles north and the slow blink of the warning light at the top of the cell tower to the west) were not helping navigate at all.
But what a night!
A sliver of moon, with clouds scuttling by — I suppose they were thundering by, it is a bison ranch after all — anyway, you get the idea. Just enough light to not bump into anything, but only just. Wind enough to want to pull your coat in tight, but a sky full of stars that made you want burrow into the grass and tuck in for the night.
Couldn’t help think of Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow, with its mix of personal exploration and fictional ranching struggles in a setting I imagine not unlike this place, where the wind and the open space remind you of Saskatchewan’s wild past.
The next morning, with a few hours sleep on a bed not long enough for a lanky fence-hopper such as myself and on our way to Elkwater and our management planning meeting in our rental car, I had a bit more trouble imagining the wildness of this place, but I knew that night, that starry, starry night would be available the next time I visited OMB. I guess you have to have a song to sing to ever get the meaning and you have to have a place with no lights to really see a starry, starry night.