Sinclair Ross’s “One’s a Heifer” made me a fan of prairie literature at the tender age of fifteen. During university years, I worked my way through the canon—Willa Cather, Sinclair Ross, Frederick Philip Grove, W.O. Mitchell, Wallace Stegner, Martha Ostenso, Margaret Laurence. Even published a paper on this topic in the early 80s. I love the stories of isolation, humans against the elements, disappointment, wind and weather.

Goodwater Saskatchewan undoubtedly fed my interest. My dad had worked the fall harvests here as a young man, staying in bunkies, and he made friends with some of the farmers who were his contemporaries. When we were kids, he took us some summers to the farm of one of those friends, Hjelmer Erickson, and I fell in love with the big sky and golden fields. This style of farming intrigued me; the scale was huge compared to eastern Ontario, and farming success was intertwined with the stock market, politics, and weather in a more obvious, more pronounced way than what I knew back home. I slept in the same bunkhouse that had sheltered my dad, in an old iron bed piled high with quilts. I felt like a cowboy, all the more so because we were occasionally allowed to ride [very gentle and docile] horses.

Goodwater is a bit off the beaten path of the TransCanada, but time was on our side, so we made the southeast trek.

The village was completely unrecognizable. Grain elevator—gone. Train tracks—gone. The school has closed in 1995, though the playground equipment remained, swings moving gently in the ever-present breeze. (Constant wind is a prairie lit trope, but it’s a real thing too).

That said, there were a few new houses and a farm machinery repair business, so Goodwater wasn’t a ghost town yet.

I found a man puttering in his garden who looked to be the right age to know the Ericksons and the right kind of guy to know farmers. Sure enough, he knew the whole clan—where the home farm was, who the girls had married, what direction the farm was going. I hadn’t really intended to visit, but Ken listened to the directions carefully (five miles south and on the right) and drove us right into their yard.

More prairie lit tropes here. Dallas Erickson with dad Milo farms 2000 acres of wheat, barley, and lentils. It hasn’t really rained in five years, and they have water shortage problems. The grasshoppers were bad last year. It feels as if climate change is recreating the 1930s.

Dallas‘s partner Tamara toured us around the farm, assisted by children Mila and Anders. We saw the cattle, the horses, the gardens, the dugouts, with Anders pointing out gopher holes and Mila describing operations.

Originally from Alberta, Tamara is no stranger to farming, but she finds it tough here in a way that it wasn’t in the Foothills. Tamara loves animals, loves the farm—but feels the isolation that so many prairie wives have felt—yet another prairie lit theme.

I think it was W.O. Mitchell who called the prairies next year country, and it was that expression that came to mind meeting this 4th and 5th generation of Ericksons. It’s still a hard way of life, and fewer and fewer people are leading it. But the Ericksons are still there, strategizing and pivoting and succeeding against the odds.

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