In the room where I’m writing, editing, drafting and, admittedly, doubting, the last pages of my book before it’s sent to my agent for review, there hangs a little piece of my great-grandmother, Eleanor. It’s her daily egg tally: Eleanor’s writing in pencil on two whitewashed wooden planks, long columns of numbers, calculations of her gains and losses. It’s the only physical evidence I have of Eleanor’s work as a farmer.
The quarter acre of prairie land outside Woseley, Saskatchewan, where she and her husband, David, built a little house from sod, a barn and a chicken house, has grown fallow. Where they grew maize and potatoes, where Eleanor kept a garden of carrots, cabbage, beans and peas, where they raised their two sons, Desmond and John, the land, the farm, the story is no longer visible. The physical evidence of their existence on the land has disappeared to a prairie that’s remembering how to be a prairie again. No longer under cultivation, the fine thick mane of prairie grasses grows so tall that the stalk heads tickle my belly and I can literally wade through the land as though walking into a lake. The house is long gone, the barn rotted, dismantled. And all that remains is Eleanor’s egg tally on the wall of the room where I write from Peace River, a small northern Canadian town positioned at the 56th parallel.