Medicine Hat, Alberta, Wednesday, Aug. 8th
I left Waterton with no regret while knowing that I was being unfair, I did not explore many of its most beautiful trails. The drive to my next city, Medicine Hat was about 300 km, and as I left the mountains behind, I was entranced by the beautiful colours and textures of undulating hills, huge farms, and big, big sky. I felt the immensity of the open space and enjoyed the long straight road that allowed me time to relax and look around. I thought of of this land and how it changes so deeply each season and yet remains the same. So many writers have written about the prairies and the stories captured in the small moments of time – stories about the vastness of the land, its isolation, secrets, beauty, harsh conditions, and the people who live here, alone with their courage and hardiness, and hope, pinpointed by the sometimes stifling complexity and rigidity of life and roles in small towns.
It seems like I am sitting still and the land is rolling by. The farms seem prosperous, more so than many BC farms that I have seen. The outbuildings, fences, and equipment look well maintained and freshly painted, and the houses look like they could be popped up and floated down into any nice suburban neighborhood. The fields are golden in the hot sun – fields of hay or barley? I think of the late Eva Cassidy singing, “When we walked in fields of gold…You’ll remember me when the west wind blows.”
When I arrived in Medicine Hat, I found that this city is not as small as I thought it was. On the outskirts, I didn’t see a big hat with medicine supplies stuck in it as a welcome sign either. I have always found that name intriguing. “Medicine Hat” is the English translation of ‘Saamis’ (SA-MUS) – the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men – or ‘Medicine Hat’. (Wikipedia)
I spent the next hot and tiring hour driving who knows where to try and find the Gas City Municipal Trailer Park-my GPS kept stating that there was no such thing. I wanted to throw it out the window. I needed a map, or Internet; right now what I needed most was a human navigator sitting beside me, not a dog that was panting and drooling.
Frustrated, I pulled over and phoned the campground office but the receptionist spoke so fast I was unable to write down all the directions, even when I asked her to repeat them a second time. She also made an incorrect assumption about where I was calling from-I can’t even locate the first turn.
As I sat staring at the map, I realize with embarrassment that I can’t translate the directions upside down to where I am, and the direction I want to go in, and remember all the turns. Is this a form of dyslexia, or is it my own little quandary? I turn down the volume of the noisy voice in my head that’s calling me names like idiot, fool, how can you be so bloody stupid? I am very tired and both Baloo and I are licking our dry lips. He’s panting, and sweat beads are running off my forehead and down my cheeks and my shirt is sticking to my back. Such a lovely sight I’m sure, but the terrific thing about this is that I don’t have a mirror. Can’t see it, then it’s not a problem! I am sure it’s close to 100’F outside, but feels close to 212.
This city, the sixth largest one in Alberta is known as the “Gas City” because of its large natural gas developments. While stopped here on a train trip Rudyard Kipling is said to have described it as having “all hell for a basement.” That’s kind of a scary thought and I wonder what this kind of heat does to all those gas pipes and tanks and rail cars. Finally I drive towards what I am sure is a one way exit to the #1 highway East and face my fear of leaving town with no way to turn around. Sometimes it’s just not fun driving a trailer around, and I think the signage here sucks. But it turns out ok, there’s another road to turn off before the highway and I finally arrive at the registration office. On the radio while waiting for the people in front of me to buy ice cream, I hear warnings of possible tornados in Calgary, which is 300 km away. I have only seen tornados on TV– most notably the one that provided lift off for Dorothy in Kansas so I wonder if they will strike in this area? Where does one hide when travelling in a lightweight trailer over incredibly flat land? After paying my fee, I find my camp site and back in perfectly on my first try – like a pro, I say to myself, and I smile.
I walk to the blessedly cool laundry room to get that chore done and then set off to town. The heat and humidity have been suddenly vanquished by a strong wind and driving torrential rain that floods the streets, but amazingly, it’s all over in ½ an hour. I wash and vacuum the truck–it’s hairy and dirty thanks to my canine pal and the dust at Waterton Park. Travelling with a dog really affects the gastronomical pleasure of dining out. It’s too hot to leave him in the trailer, and too hot to leave him in the truck. I dine reluctantly at McDonald’s because I am too tired to go grocery shopping and its associated waiting, cooking, and clean up. As I munch on a burger in front of the window that overlooks the parking lot, I realize it’s getting dark fast and that the street names will be hard to read. Not good. Once I am back in the truck, I unplug my old GPS thinking it’s had its day and is out of date and plug in the new one. It has instructions, but I haven’t read them yet. I put in the street names for an intersection that was near the campground and blessedly, after ½ an hour of driving on some really strange streets, the GPS guides me back to the campground. All the worry that had been sitting with me the whole time- what if I couldn’t find my trailer-disappears like a popped balloon.
I walk Baloo around checking out the style of other Rvers and he did his doggie thing. I dig around in my pockets, but come up empty. The thought crosses my mind to just leave it, but no, I walk all the way back to get a bag and then I need a flashlight to find his little deposit. Even though it is now very late, I opt for a shower and it feels divine as the water rinses off all the dust from the Waterton campsite, and all the sweat that followed it. As I dry off, I notice that the flies here like to bite-at least at Waterton, all they did was land on me.
So, another town, a lot of miles covered, and lots of dollars spent on gas, way more than I had anticipated. My new truck is a V8 and an astonishing gas-guzzler. As I get ready for bed, sirens are still going one after another, so Baloo is not relaxing, he jumps up and barks at each wail. Inside the trailer, his barks are magnified and in response I jump too. We are like two puppets, first he leaps up and then I startle and tell him to please be quiet. Actually I am much more graphic than that, and the level of complexity depends on what time of the night it is. The power had gone out during the windstorm and no doubt the police had lots of traffic intersections and accidents to look after. The temperature has dropped to a stuffy and uncomfortable 78’ inside my trailer and all the windows and the door are wide open for air. I hope nothing exciting comes along like a mouse or a squirrel – I’d hate to see Baloo bore through the screen door, with me flapping after him in my nightgown and bare feet. Now that would be a sight.
I send out thanks to whoever may be listening for the safe drive and for the growing patience within me, and the awareness of the harm that negative self-talk can cause. Yes, I don’t know what I am doing sometimes, yes this trip is a big stretch, and yes, it’s very challenging to tow a trailer and navigate in unfamiliar cities while trying to read a map, but along the way I can be kind to myself, laugh at myself, my idiosyncrasies, my map issues, just like how I would be with a friend – that’s far kinder than beating myself up, and hey, I’m here to have fun on this adventure! I truly love seeing the new sights, travelling through places I have always heard about, and being totally immersed in the joy of being fully present in this day, in this moment. I am so glad I am here, right here, right now. And if I can feel this happy after being dusty, hot, and lost, dinner at McDonalds, and bitten by hungry flies, then heck, I’m on a roll…
Night Photo: Medicine Hat Directory http://www.medicinehatdirectory.com/photos.htm