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Nellie McClung: There is real magic in the gentleness of a Prairie rain

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on June 12, 1937. When eastern people think of Saskatchewan, I am afraid the only picture that comes to their mind is that of a dry country, parched and dusty.

This column first appeared in the Victoria Daily Times on June 12, 1937.

When eastern people think of Saskatchewan, I am afraid the only picture that comes to their mind is that of a dry country, parched and dusty. But travelling the CNR from Winnipeg to Edmonton on a warm day at the end of May I saw a bright land of promise where lovely young poplar trees edge the cultivated fields, and the plowed land is so richly black it has a shade of purple in the furrows. The trees have that gentle shade of green that Emil Walters puts in his pictures of the prairie in the spring.

There seems to be no problem of moisture here in northern Saskatchewan. The ditches are full of water, and away to the north I could see lakes and ponds glinting in the warm sunshine. These, no doubt, supply the clue.

The south country unfortunately is flatter, and has fewer trees, than the northern part, and so the water made by the melting snow runs away in a useless flood. If the south is ever to be redeemed it will have to be by the building of reservoirs to hold this runoff. Last year would have been a favourable time to begin, for the snow came down in abundance, standing up in some places to the second storey of the houses, filling all the railway cuts and blocking the highways for months.

Northern Saskatchewan, rich in water surfaces, has an air of activity and confidence. Cattle graze on the meadows, contented and peaceful, and stand silhouetted on the grassy hills against the sky. Men are working in the fields now with six-horse teams, and women with shawls on their heads plant potatoes.

These are an industrious people, as shown by the borders of stone which edge the fields, lying prim and set. I wonder about these stones. I hope the people who carried them had something pleasant to think about. The horizon is dotted with little houses, shapes rather than colour against the sky. Occasionally I saw a big red barn, though not many of the little farmhouses are painted. No doubt there are new houses in the minds of the people, and that’s why they have not painted the old ones.

There is an air of security in the little towns, with their carragana hedges and trim gardens; piles of lumber and shingles all ready for building; horses tied to wagons, new cars, freshly painted signs, red-roofed service stations with their picturesque pumps; a few new cars in front of the general store, many horses and buggies; groups of children of pre-school age playing with little carts and balls.

I like these little towns. They radiate a cheerful contentment. The people, I know, have money in the bank or in a sock or some place where they can lay their hands on it, and why shouldn’t they? They get rain in its season, so all these things are theirs — peace, plenty, the pursuit of happiness.

They should look happy and relaxed, and carefree, these favoured ones who live in a part of the world where rain falls in the summer time.

Later, I spent four days in Regina, that stately city of the plains into whose building much thought and foresight have gone. Regina did not just happen. There was no following of winding oxcart trails in Regina, no following the line of least resistance. It has the beauty of a formal garden, with its lovely park in the centre crossed by concrete paths as symmetrical as the spokes in a wheel, with stately buildings grouped on its borders, and straight streets lined with trees at regular intervals; the dome of the Parliament building in the distance; church towers pointing heavenward; educational buildings set on great shaven lawns.

Nature did not do much for Regina, but its people have done much. Having the matter in their own hands, they drew careful plans and followed them. Someone suggested that a lake would be nice for boating in the summer evenings, and that was seconded and carried. Now Wascana Lake actually rolls great waves when the wind blows. Its banks are beautiful with flowers and shrubs and there are bathing beaches and boathouse and a promenade pier.

Hard water, black mud had no terrors for these city builders. They put in water softeners and turned the black mud into green lawns, smooth as velvet. They garden scientifically and with fervour. I have seen as lovely dahlias, peonies, delphiniums, sweet peas and roses in Regina as I have ever seen anywhere.

One thing baffles them, and that is the dust. It comes from the four corners of the world, sifting, searing, seeking out the weak places in their houses. They have ingenious ways of defeating the dust, but even these are not always successful. There is only one sure cure, one way of escape, and that, of course, is the rain; and in Regina, city of hope, they always know it is going to rain and even when the wind is roaring through their street, carrying its full content of dust, they do not speak of it.

They discuss books and art, and poetry and music. My last sight of this dauntless city was at the time of sunset. The dust was rising in clouds, darkening the evening before its time for darkness. Great clouds of dust rose into the air as if the tortured earth were beating itself with many cords in supplication before the God of Rain.

Two nights afterward, as I travelled westward, the rain came, wakening me with its soft murmur as it streamed down the train windows. Its sound filled the night, sweeter than the song of any bird, or any peal of music; more odorous than a bed of wallflowers at evening; the blessed healing rain, laying the dust as it fell on the parched crop and gasping fields, making pasture for the cattle.

There is magic in the rain, which only those of us who have looked for it, as shipwrecked sailors look for sail, can know. There is magic, and music, and healing in the rain.

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