Who Has Seen the Wind

W.O. Mitchell - High River, Alberta

And all about him was the wind now, a pervasive sighing trough, a great emptiness, as though the prairie itself was breathing in long gusting breaths, unhampered by the buildings of town, warm and living against his face and in his hair. (W. O. Mitchell – Who Has Seen The Wind)

I remember being profoundly affected by reading W.O. Mitchell’s novel, Who Has Seen the Wind. I was in my thirties and I had a deep curiosity about the various landscapes mapped out across this huge country I call home … Canada. The way in which Mitchell so artfully described the prairie stayed with me. I had never experienced such a landscape and Mitchell’s words sparked my imagination and engendered a desire to hear the wind hum and twang in the telephone wires, to walk to the edge of a town and feel the prairie all around me. Because the book is set in Saskatchewan, I just carelessly assumed that W.O. Mitchell lived his life in Saskatchewan.

Museum of the High Wood - High River, Alberta

Imagine my surprise when Bruce and I visited the Museum of the Highwood in High River, Alberta and discovered their wonderfully constructed W.O. Mitchell exhibit. I learned that Mitchell had lived for years in High River. That he raised his family in the community and that, in fact, he and his wife were buried in the High River Cemetery.

High River Cemetery

For some background, I’ll turn this over to an article by Kevin Rushworth that appeared in the High River Times in 2014 to celebrate the opening of the exhibit.

By Kevin Rushworth ( http://www.highrivertimes.com/2014/03/10/museum-exhibit-to-celebrate-high-rivers-wo-mitchell ) High River Times, March 9th, 2014

MULTIMEDIA EDITOR

Who Has Seen the Wind, written by late Canadian author and broadcaster W.O. Mitchell in 1947, and his other literary works might have made him a national icon, but a new exhibit at the Museum of the Highwood will shed light on one of High River’s most prominent citizens 100 years after his birth.

William Ormond Mitchell—more commonly known as W.0. Mitchell or Bill to his friends—was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan on March 13, 1914.

Canada would come to welcome this literary figure with open arms, ultimately providing him with the Order of Canada and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, but Mitchell’s 20 years spent in High River started simply—he arrived in the community by bus in 1943.

By 1945, he fell in love with the community, brought his wife Merna to High River and his first and arguably most famous book, Who Has Seen the Wind was published in 1947.

W.O. Mitchell exhibit at the Museum of the High Wood

Irene Kerr, curator and director of the Museum of the Highwood, has found herself laughing out loud during research for the exhibit. The exhibit focuses on the years Mitchell spent in High River. “It’s so Canadian, so prairie and it’s so small town,” she said. “His humour was brilliant. He tells all these stories that we often tell at the museum, but he tells them in a little skewed, more humorous way.”

Mitchell drew inspiration for many of his characters from real people he met living in High River. His three children were born and raised in the community. While going about his daily routine, Mitchell would jot down notes about the people he met. Many of them became the so called ‘salty characters’ in his novels.

While being interviewed, Mitchell himself once said much of the inspiration for the town of Crocus—as seen in his Jake and the Kid novel and the CBC radio show—came from High River.

Mitchell wrote that High River was always a special place, “She’s a town with a conservative personality which makes you love her and lose patience with her, but she’s still a cowtown that takes her rhythms with the seasons,”

Rocky Mountains as seen from outskirts of High River, Alberta, Jan. 4, 2017 - bruce witzel photo

We thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring the Museum of the Highwood. The curator – I didn’t get her name and sure wish I had – responded to our questions about the flood in 2013 by sitting us down at a table and bringing out several books with graphic photos. She regaled us with stories that made the whole event come to life and that, I must say, was a scary experience!

Have you ever discovered something previously unknown about a favourite author? Was there ever an author or book that made you want to experience a certain landscape?

Britney, Grandma & Emma at W.O.Mitchell's headstone in High River cemetary, Jan. 4, 2017 - bruce witzl photo

When I visit High River in the summer, I want to walk to the end of a street and have a W.O. Mitchell experience of prairie:

I would walk to the end of the street and over the prairie with the clickety grasshoppers bunging in arcs ahead of me, and I could hear the hum and twang of wind in the great prairie harp of telephone wires. Standing there with the total thrust of prairie sun on my vulnerable head, I guess I learned — at a very young age — that I was mortal.

Outside of High River - Guenette photo

Holiday Reflections

Saint Benidict's Anglican Church (2), High River Alberta, Jan. 04, 2017 - bruce wtizel photo

Reasons to spend holiday time staying with family in another province:

Grandkids change so fast. The opportunity to reconnect with where they are in their lives is a precious one. We took Emma and Brit on a snowy outing to the High River Cemetery. More about why in a later blog. Emma was so excited to run between the gravestones and brush off the powdery snow so she could read the inscriptions. She is at that wonderful stage when the ability to read has clicked and she can’t wait to decipher the written word anywhere she finds it. The day was quite cold and when Brit headed back to the car, Emma looked disappointed. She told me, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her we would come back in the summer and spend as much time as she liked. She said, “Can I wear a dress?” I felt that would be perfectly fine.

High River Cemetery

A couple of snow angels visited the High River Cemetery.

A couple of snow angels

Kristen - Bruce Witzel photo

 

 

 

Grown kids still need their moms. Well, they do! Especially when mom can bite her tongue now and then. Listening matters more than always heaving the proverbial two-bits into every conversation.

 

 

 

The opportunity to do things one wouldn’t do at home. For example, watch ten episodes of The Crown on Netflix – I loved it!

The Crown - Goggle Image

Experience a white Christmas. For someone who grew up on the coast of British Columbia and hasn’t strayed far from coastal waves, this was new. As was watching Emma and Brit skate on an outdoor lake and multiple sledding trips down what passes for a hill in High River.

White Christmas - High River. Albe

Emma sledding - Bruce Witzel photo     Brit sledding - Bruce Witzel photo

Brit - winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Understand what -30 with wind-chill feels like. Britney told us that her school doesn’t let students play outside at recess if it is colder than -20 with a windshield. I guess announcements over the PA system are hard to decipher whether it be at a school or in an airport.

Tsunami warning - Goggle ImagesBe terrified over one’s first experience at a wave-pool. When the waves hit me, I was standing in the worst place possible – near a wall and in the outflow from one of the water slides. Add to my terror the fact that Kristen told me to stay close to Britney. I seriously felt as though I was on the beach as a tsunami rolled in with no hope of keeping my head above the water let alone staying close to anything. Suffice to say, as Brit bounced towards me with a grin and helped me get my footing, I realized I was to stay close to a five-year-old for my safety not hers.

Baking with grandkids. Making and decorating sugar cookies is my Grandma baking specialty.

Emma & Fran decorating  Christmas cookies

Playing cards and games. We discovered Phase Ten this year and enjoyed it. Pass the Ace continues to be a favourite. As usual, I stayed on the receiving end of loss after loss at crib. Good to know all is as it should be with me and the gaming universe. One day, Emma, observing yet another of my losses, patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry Grandma. I’m on your side because you’re the thunder-dog.” And so I was.

Candy purchases at the Bulk Barn. Hot Tamales by the pound, anyone? This is the sort of good time you had to be there to enjoy!

Getting familiar with a new, family-oriented community. I am helped to put the day-to-day events of kids and grandkids in context with such information. And we did such a good job at this that we ended up in the local High River paper. Can’t complain about that.

New Year's Eve in High River Times

Reasons why it is wonderful to come home:

No matter how comfy the bed I land in, nothing can replace the tried and true of my own bed and pillows.

The opportunity to eat in tune with personal preferences – fresh baked bread, homemade soups and a spicy black bean dip made with balsamic vinegar that is to die for. Unfortunately, Bruce is not a fan of three things – balsamic vinegar, cilantro and lentils. All of which, I love. But I had read in my Bean Cookbook that balsamic vinegar is a bean’s BFF, so I had to throw caution to the wind. The consequence I am willing to live with is that I must consume all the spicy black bean dip on my own.

The off-chance that I may finally return full-time to writing the fourth book of the Crater Lake Series – yippee!

Significant blocks of quiet that allow me the time to enjoy the memories of a great family holiday. Life is good!

Kristen & Matt - Bruce Witzel photo