It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I grew up on the fertile prairies of Manitoba. My family home was in Winnipeg; it was a 2-story white and yellow wood-framed house on a middle-class Fort Rouge street teeming with children. Life was spent playing outside, helping with the garden, going to visit the relatives on the family farm or spending quality time with my grandparents.
Our Heese family farm was just outside a small town named Gretna, Manitoba. It was in a huge agricultural belt, and was one of the largest dairy farms in the area. My great-uncle and my uncle ran the farm, with houses just across the path from each other. Uncle Micha and Tanta Agatha, Uncle Willy and Tanta Mary, were true farm stock. I loved to visit them, riding the horse, chasing the kittens, antagonizing the bull, driving the tractor, "helping" milk the cows and picking fruit in their orchard. It was a little piece of heaven for me, but in retrospect, a lot of work for them!
|Manitoba Hay Bales|
|The old red barn|
Farm town names roll off the tongue and advertise the heritage associated with residents: Rosenfeld, Rosenort, Grunthal, Gretna, Winkler, Steinbach, Morris, Vita, Erickson, Gimli. Altona, Sanford, Stonewall. My relatives were Mennonite, so those names of German or Russian origin are as familiar to me as the Cree name of my home town, Winnipeg, which means "muddy waters."
I also miss the lakes, streams, creeks and especially my rivers: the Red and the Assiniboine. I miss Grand Beach and Victoria Beach with their endless cresting wavelets and water everywhere, When I see them at a distance, or even more so when I am almost close enough to touch them, I still wonder at the black and beige shale mountains surrounding Las Vegas - my dirt mountains as opposed to green hills, Occasionally, I find myself wishing that I could see the horizon again, or that I could walk the forests and green spaces of my home. But this vista has its own beauty. The desert is more stark, but amazingly alive. Small creatures stir as the heat of the day passes: rabbits, tiny lizards, the occasional snake. We have different birds, but we still see the robin and sparrow, thrill to the call of the Canada Goose as it passes overhead, smile at hummingbirds flitting by our feeders. The trees are so different: desert pines, Arroyo willow, Joshua tree, mesquite, Desert Oak, the Utah juniper, the Desert Hackberry. Catclaw Acacia and Arizona Ash give a unique beauty to the Mojave desert. And the smell of the desert air, the lightness and sage, is delicious.
Our evenings are much shorter than those of my youth, but this is balanced by the more temperate climate of winter and fall. The winter desert winds are harsh and surprisingly chill, but snow is a very rare event (once in the 6 1/2 years I have lived here). Sunrises and sunsets are occasionally brilliant, if cloud formations allow, and life in the bowl means days on end of heat and very dry conditions. But when the rain hits, our monsoon can give us days of relief and thunderbusters of our very own.