Friday, March 6, 2009

Day Five - Whitemud

(View from the backyard of the Frenchman River)

I have been setting up shop, so to speak.

It was a good thing I took some more pictures around the house and in Eastend when I arrived, because the previous weather of near 40 degrees has been replaced by frigid temps and a howling wind that never stops. The Cypress Hills (Highest Elevation in Saskatchewan) are right outside my window. Tall pine trees surround the house, and are the only ones of their kind here in town. The sweet smell of pine nettles fill my sinuses every time I enter the house. Badlands surround the town, Coyote howl at night and deer scat is all around the backyard near the frozen Frenchman River - nicknamed "Whitemud" for the deposits of white clay around the valley.

(view from the window of the study - Stegner's Childhood Bedroom)

(view of Cypress Hills from backyard)

I had horrible nightmares sleeping in the house the first night. I don't know why. I don't believe in ghosts, but Wallace Stegner did say he would haunt the place, just to see what goes on. However, his father built the house, and he was a scary guy. He met his demise 2 decades later in Salt lake City - when he murdered his estranged lover, and turned the gun on himself in a hotel lobby. If he showed up last night... then he saw me sleeping in the bed he once shared with his wife!

I had a wonderful dinner at Jack's Cafe with Ethel and Ken Willis of the Eastend Arts Council. Ethel is a charming woman with a quiet voice and is full of conversation. The flat iron T-Bone sirloin that is in front of me is sizzling so loud, I can barely hear her talk for a bit. Ken is even quieter. He is a man of few words, but he is respected around town - A hard worker, and no-nonsense kind of guy. It is only when the subject of their children (grand and great-grand children) come up that he starts to really engage in conversation.

I go into the local bank to exchange my US currency to Canadian dollars. It's 20 cents to the dollar in our favor, and so I get nearly $75 in return. Hot dog! In fact, hot dogs is among the few choices you have out here... as long as it's meat, you are fine. Steak, steak and more steak. Oh yeah, and Bison Sausage. $75 gets you a lot of steak, eggs, bread, milk, OJ and whiskey (the latter I purchased in the back of a florist... they recognize me as I walk in... those posters are EVERYWHERE).

I settle back into the house, and I start getting ready to record, but the phone rings- it's the soundman for the show. Darrell has been wanting to meet me for some time, and I invite him over. Darrell plays in a country band called the Ranchmen. I used to play in a band called The Ranch, and so we have plenty to talk about. We are not so far apart, and when the conversation about Hockey comes up... he lights up. I used to live in Boston, and followed enough of the Bruins to know of Gordie Kluzak, and everybody out here knows Gordie.

Darrell and I head over to the Community Arts Center and see where I am playing on Saturday. he also loans me an acoustic guitar for the show. Their rehearsal space is in the room next door, and it has amps everywhere! I eventually return to the house, but now I am starving. I make one of my steaks and I attempt to do some recording, I only get a couple of songs done, and they are little more than sketchy demos. I am slowly resigning myself to the fact that I am doing so much writing, that all I will be able to do are demos, and they will likely be live ones... with little overdubbing. I look at the clock and it is 10PM. I give up on the recording, and resume writing. I have many friends to contact, and my wife especially misses me. She has been holding down the fort, and I am in constant contact with her, I have no Cel Phone and no TV reception, only a stack of VHS tapes. I pop one in that says "Wallace Stegner - House Copy".

It is his life documentary - made shortly after his death in the early '90s. Narrated by Robert Redford! I get to learn more and more about the man. Pictures of him are all over the house, and his spirit is forever embedded on the walls.

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