Love Letter to Rural Ditches

I’m a farm girl. I grew up on a small family dairy farm, located between the communities of Kleefeld, Grunthal, and St. Pierre-Jolys. While I didn’t really feel like I belonged to any particular town or village, I did feel like I belonged on that farm. Well, I should be clear, I did not like the farm work. Or really any work in general. But I loved my long quiet walks along the roads and ditches. I felt a deep sense of belonging exactly there. Just me and the trees and plants and rocks and roads and ditches and fields and the mysterious neighbouring HBC quarter-section that had remained wild and undeveloped.

And my walks really were very long and quiet, because this was before hog barns began popping up on every quarter section. (Say what you will about how many jobs they provide, or how much bacon they’re responsible for creating; for me, the bottom line about those hog barns is that they increase traffic and stench. It sucks to walk by hog barns. You know I’m right.)

This is the same water-filled ditch you see in the feature photo (the one on the left). Just a different year. And decade. (And taken from a different approach.)

Back in my farm-girl-growing-up years, I spent a lot of time wandering the ditches, studying what lived there. I found beautiful rocks, sweet-smelling flowers, scary-looking spiders, sticky clay mud, frogs and tadpoles, and mesmerizing tall prairie grass waving at the edges of the gravel road. In winter, snow drifted and billowed in the ditches. One year there was so much snow, the drifts towered much higher than the road itself, and the snow hardened so that me and my brothers could run along the tops of the drifts without breaking through. In some spots there was lots of ice that we could slide on.

In the spring, the ditches flooded and we were addicted to exploring, splashing, and getting booters. (You know, when you test how far into the water you can wade before the water spills over the top of your boots… at first, just a little bit, but then your brother pushes you and or you slip a little bit and your boot is instantly filled with ice-cold ditch-water? Yeah. A booter.)

I found the ditches endlessly fascinating. But I never really talked about it. I’m a quieter sort, and just didn’t see how that would make for great conversation, you know? (Though, to be honest, I don’t quite feel I’ve cracked the code on what makes “great conversation” yet, anyway, even at age 40.)

As I grew older, I spent less and less time in ditches. I drove places, I worked places, I moved away from the farm. In short, I grew up. But a piece of my heart has always remained there in the world of the ditches and their fascinating ecosystems.

Then I met Alexandra, and was introduced to her Last Wild Space project via her social media. She’s a magnificent artist, and her photos take my breath away. She sees in the ditch precisely what I saw as a little girl. And that is why I love this page:

Now, usually at the end of my blogs I talk about the feature photos… just a reference, in italics. But this time, it’s different. The first photo, on the left, is from maybe the late 1960s. My father is steering the raft, and one of his sisters is also on the raft. Another of his sisters watches from the side. The second photo, on the right, well, that’s me with my brothers. There were a few blissful days when we’d head out there every day after evening chores, to float around on our homemade ditch-faring vessel. It was strangely exhilarating. One day, our raft was stolen, and it all came to an abrupt end.