Excerpt: A Geography of Blood by Candace Savage

geographyofblood-100.jpgFrom Havre onward, the land is reduced to a kind of primal simplicity, a tawny expanse that tugs our eyes to the farthermost edges of the world. Somewhere over there, in the white haze of distance, earth and heaven collide. Although I have always thought of myself as a prairie person, I am out of place here, dazzled by these spinning horizons and this unbounded sky that bleeds off into infinity. The prairie landscapes of my childhood had been softer, more contained. If instead of stopping at Eastend, Keith and I were to continue driving northwest clear across Alberta to the edge of the plains and into the scrubby fringes of the northern forest, and if we then pushed on through swamp spruce and muskeg for half a day more, we'd eventually break into the tree-fringed grasslands of the Grande Prairie in the Peace River Country. That's where I was born.

My parents were teachers, not farmers, so we always lived in town. But it was seldom far to the nearest pasture, where pale crocuses poked their furry snouts through the dead thatch first thing in spring and shooting stars launched their ardent magenta rockets around the margins of saline sloughs. As far as I knew, I was enjoying the total prairie package. But my mother knew differently. Her name was Edna Elizabeth Sherk, née Humphrey, and she was a true prairie girl, born to the high, wide, windswept plains of southern Alberta. She'd scarcely seen a tree in her life before coming north to the Peace River Country to teach, and at first they'd frightened her--so she told my sisters and me--looming over her in the darkness, rustling and shadowy.

She'd be in her glory here, I think, as I watch the light spin past the van. If it weren't for the occasional farm site with a struggling stand of box elders (or Manitoba maples, as they'd be called on the Canadian side of the line) braced against the wind, there wouldn't be a tree for fifty miles in any direction. At the international boundary, we pause momentarily for formalities, leaving behind the euphoric American promise of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" for the less stirring Canadian virtues of "Peace, Order and Good Government." But the land flows on unmarked by national aspirations, as the road heads north and then east, on the final leg of our journey. By now, the day is fading, and we soon find ourselves tunneling through the dark. Highway signs leap into view, announcing places we have never heard of before: Consul, Robsart, Vidora. Even though we are theoretically back home, in our own country and province, the land that lies around us is enticing and unfamiliar.

We count down the miles to our destination, now so close at hand. There is nothing to be seen but liquid darkness, nothing to be heard but the gentle snoring of dogs and the hum of tires on asphalt. Then, with perhaps ten minutes to go, the headlights pick up a glimmer in the ditch, a flash of green-gold.

"Do you want to stop?"

Silly question. "Yes, of course!" We always stop.

In the wide bottom of the ditch, two coyotes are gnawing on the carcass of a road-killed deer. Caught in the flare of the headlights, their eyes glint; their muzzles are bloody; their bodies jitter in and out of the glare. There is something unexpectedly fleshy about them, something carnal and wild. We watch for a few minutes, then, with a nod of agreement, leave them to their feast. A door has opened into the darkness, giving us a privileged glimpse of the life that goes on, in secret, around us. A thrill of expectation rises in my body as we roll on toward Eastend. Whatever this place turns out to be, it's going to be an adventure.

Excerpt from the book A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape, © 2012 by Candace Savage, published by Greystone Books in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.