This blog post comes at you two days late, and with more than 7000km of travel under my belt; 6000km of it by plane, and over 1000km by car. Such is the Alberta way: road trips.
Late last week, my kids and I took advantage of some soon-to-expire Westjet vouchers and hopped on a plane to Calgary for six days of soaking up family and friends and exploring Southern and Central Alberta. (Unfortunately my husband couldn’t join us, since he’s a teacher and the school-year has not yet wrapped up in Burlington.) I grew up in Sundre, Alberta, an hour’s drive Northwest of Calgary, but until I was ten years old, I lived in the tiny village of Hughenden, about 100km west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. I still have lots of relatives in and around Hughenden, so this trip was a chance to see many of them and to give my kids a taste of their heritage. My children are older now, and at nine and six, they’ve got improved stamina for car travel and a bigger interest and awareness of their surroundings. So while they’ve been to Alberta many times, it’s usually a Christmas visit, and it’s usually centred around Grandma and Grandpa’s house. This trip was the opposite of that, and we put in more than ten hours of car travel, slept in three different beds, and threw in lots of coffee and cookie visits with their Great Aunts and Uncles for good measure.
Our first adventure was the Sundre Pro Rodeo. Sundre hosts a three-day professional rodeo annually, on the third weekend in June, so if you want a true Western experience, this is it. And….. since I’m not one to do things halfway, I registered my daughter as a mutton bustin’ contestant. For those non-Albertans reading this post, mutton bustin’ is a children’s rodeo event, whereby five and six-year-olds who weigh less than 50 pounds can don a hockey helmet and ride a sheep across the rodeo arena. Hang on the longest, win a prize. I’d prepped her for months; YouTube videos, storied descriptions, and promises of fun and accomplishment. My city girl was about to get a country girl experience. After taking in the local pancake breakfast and the main street parade, we headed to the rodeo grounds, and in true Sundre Rodeo fashion, the infield was a mud pit from the rain the night before.
Undeterred, my brave girl stood above the chutes thirty minutes before her event, and we scoped out the sheep, who were corralled and waiting. The grandstand began to fill, the rain-jackets and hoodies came off, and after a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, it was time. Into the chute I climbed, onto the sheep she went; the whistle blew, the gate opened, the sheep ran. Fast. If you’re picturing this scene in your mind, you can now picture a sheep darting across the mud, then slipping and falling onto its side, with a little girl still attached; orange rubber boot in the air, she only let go when the sheep got up. She came up crying, upset not about falling off, but about being covered in mud. As I’d hoped, dry clothes and a trophy quickly changed her tears to laughter. Oh, what a show-and-tell she will have at school today.
Our next adventure took us to Provost, Alberta, my birthplace, to visit my Aunt and Uncle’s farm. We spent two nights there, under the big prairie skies, and had more fun than I can describe within my word count here. Ironically, my kids missed their end-of-the-year field trip to a farm earlier this week, but got an up-close-and-personal look at a working farm instead. We checked on the cows, played with the cats, and rode the ATVs for miles across wide open spaces. We breathed in the fresh Alberta air and watched a storm roll in across the prairie, we shot slingshots and pop cans, rode in tractors and played cards and boardgames and shuffleboard. I saw my childhood flash back through them, saw life come full circle, saw the next generation see and feel and taste my memories, my nostalgia, my experiences.
I should also mention the several Aunts and Uncles and small towns that we stopped in throughout our 1000km of travel; we drove by the house I grew up in, we visited two cemeteries to see my grandparent’s headstones, and we climbed the big dinosaur lookout in Drumheller. I saw dozens of high school friends, ran on my favourite trails, and threw rocks along the riverbanks where I learned to skate. Our final night in Alberta was spent in Calgary with my brother and his family, who had also joined us in Sundre earlier in our trip. We filled up on pizza and ice cream, playgrounds and cousin hugs, neighbourhood walks and familiar streets.
All in all, this week was about roots. These people, these places, these experiences; these are the components of me. And while my life has changed dramatically over the years, their importance and value remains, so sharing these people and places with my children is something I’ll cherish forever. You know, roots and wings and all that…..