There’s Nothing Here

After traveling, most people return home to declare that this place is boring, they’ve seen more interesting things, and “there’s nothing here”.

I react a little differently.

As I’ve traveled, I’ve become more curious about, and fascinated by, the place I call home.

I’ve learned that it’s difficult, painful, awkward, potentially dangerous work to be curious about the place you actually live. Because you live there. And so… whatever you discover, you have to live with. Or now strive to ignore.

Also. There are other people here in the place you live… seeing the same things you see… and they do NOT interpret things the same way. They may find your interpretation of your surroundings and events to be highly offensive. So now you have to live with the fact that you disagree with someone else who is right here in your community, about whatever it is that’s right in front of your face. And that can be really uncomfortable.

So, what is it that I’m dancing around here?

Well, it’s the question I’ve always wondered about. Even at this young age:

Scan 01

Springtime, 1981.

In my childhood, I spent many long hours staring into those wild trees, daydreaming about all the little girls who may have lived in that forest before me. I mean, surely I wasn’t the first little girl to live here.

I asked, “Who was here before?”

Weirdly, I never really got an answer. Other than a somewhat awkward, “Well, nobody.”

It just didn’t seem possible to me, that I was the very first little girl to daydream about those trees over there.

Now that I’m older, and travel fairly regularly, I see how reading about the places I visit deepens my understanding of the significance of each place, gives me a different lens through which to view the sights… and I’m realizing I have a lot of reading to do about the place that I’m in right now. Where I live. And where I grew up. And how my family came to be in this place.

Sometimes I try to ask older people about this and they’re not always cooperative. Their hackles raised, I sense I may not get much more out of them, as they declare, “This land was empty when we got here.”

Was it though?

It’s difficult to look history in the eye. Especially the history of the land you’re currently comfortably sitting on.

But at the same time… I feel it’s important to do what’s difficult. Especially facing the truth head-on.

Here in our region, in school, all we really learned about First Nations was this: a pleasant overview regarding food and shelter. Then we also learned about European explorers. But somehow we didn’t learn much about their interactions. As if it didn’t apply to us, because “the land was empty”.

Well, that’s what the government told the Mennonites when they extended the invitation to move out here to the prairies and take up residence as Canadians along the US border. But once they got here… surely they met Indigenous people at some point. Right? I think just now we’re beginning to try talking about these things. It’s markedly uncomfortable. And complicated.

In my reading about local history, I’ve discovered that the land I grew up on was adjacent to a large plot of land reserved for the Hudson’s Bay Company. I had so many dreams about that land. The further I ventured into the trees, when I scrambled under the fenceline, the trees became taller and sunlight didn’t always filter down, it was dark even in the middle of the day. Birds would cry out in the distance, echoing among the trees, to haunting effect. And I was the only one there.

But others had been there before.