The Wild Imprint of Saskatoon

The Wild Imprint of Saskatoon

By Kathryn Riley

As an Australian, I had never even heard of a place called Saskatoon until I met a lovely lady from this prairie city along my travels through Central America in the summer of 2015. Then, after a three-month hiatus from ‘real life’ lying on the beaches of Costa Rica, all of a sudden, this strange sounding place was the next destination on my itinerary, as I decided to make the journey north to visit my new-found friend in Saskatoon. I was a seasoned backpacker, exploring many wild and wonderful parts of our planet, yet arriving to Saskatoon in the early evening of a mid-summer’s day, I was instantly struck by the 8pm luminous glow, scents of coniferous forests in the air, and visions of a wide, slow meandering river cutting through vast open spaces of prairie vistas. In the time between the car and my friend’s front door, before I had even removed my backpack from my shoulders, I knew that I was in love with this strange sounding city. Wildness seemed imprinted everywhere and my Canadian imaginary came to life when I witnessed a herd of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) grazing in the fields inside the city limits. 

After living in Saskatoon for four years now, seeing deer does not have the same visceral affects as my first encounter. They have become quite common place, much like seeing kangaroos (Macropus giganteus) bounding along in rural parts of Australia. Yet this wild imprint remains. Sometimes this imprint is difficult for me, as it asks me to withstand ridiculous temperatures through the deep freeze of mid-winter. In these times my mental health is sent into complete disarray. But mostly, Saskatoon’s wildness captivates me with such awe and amazement, that I can’t help falling more and more in love with this city every single day. As in my first meeting with Saskatoon, its summer hues and glows ignite my spirit like wildfire. I have never been able to read my book by 11pm light, and it is in these long, lazy days of summer that I look out upon the prairies and feel an immense sense of spaciousness emerging. Almost like these spaces and times will never end. But they do, as the autumnal reds, oranges, ochres and yellows send us back inwards, offering respite and rejuvenation after boisterous summer celebrations. The luminous summer skies now take on a soft rose tint, and as I watch white spruce trees (Picea glauca) creating jagged horizons, I too am awash with their deep bottle greens, tinges of silver, and metallic blues. Winter comes around again, and while I can’t say this is my favourite time of year in Saskatoon, I am humbled and grateful for my place upon the fabric of this land. Trees stand in solid defiance, stark and naked against quiet skies. There is no sound of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), robins (Turdus migratorius), finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis), or flapping aspen (Populus tremuloides) groves; just the occasional coo and caw of the crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). The only other sign of wildlife is the odd white-tailed jack rabbit (Lepus townsendii) footprint, leaving traces across the snowy yards of smoke-billowing homes as they roam local neighbourhoods. The land is frozen in silence. And then once again as the city turns from white to brown, through the gusty winds of spring I stand in amazement as I notice tulip buds reappearing in my garden year after year. Walking along the banks of the South Saskatchewan in May, as cumulous clouds return to these northern skies promising an afternoon downpour, sightings of scurrying beavers (Castor canadensis) (re)engineering their summer homes remind me that change and transformation is always imminent. 

And that’s what I love most about our city: its unpredictable wildness of iridescent and changing colours that continually reinforce a very humbling truth that we, as humans, are just one part of this magical cosmos and that we must transform with it. To enact this change, community conversations exploring our wild connections with place are a worthy conversation. Not only because these conversations can enrich our lives, but given that wildness has the capacity to nourish our spirits, having these conversations is the least we can do in return for the land that ‘homes’ us here in Saskatoon.