Spring on the Prairie

Spring in a small prairie town is an exciting experience for any young boy, but it seemed to me to be mine alone. As the snow melted, water cascaded down Main Street in a muddy swirl. It begged to be dammed up and walked through. It was cold and wet, but felt great. Wherever a low spot on the prairie existed, these running waters formed a miniature lake. The weekends were really exciting. More to do than I could fit into a day.

Spring flowers sprung up everywhere, and filled the winter-dead prairie with color. There were little white and purple star flowers. We called them snow flowers because they came early and often stuck up through the snow. Next came crocus, then buffalo bean, followed by the delicate violets. A carpet of beauty, each with it's own delicate aroma. What a beautiful place in the spring.

As soon as breakfast was over we were allowed to head out for play, along with mother's warning "Boys be sure to stay dry". This warning went unheeded as we headed for the nearest slough.

Now if the night had been cold, as it most often was in the early spring, these sloughs, of which there were many within one half mile of home, froze over to a depth of about two inches. This ice was what we called "rubber ice" since it was very flexible and could hold your weight only if you kept moving.

We boys developed a great game of dare, which went like this.

A leader was chosen to be the first one to test the ice by running across in a path of his choosing. As he ran the ice would sag and creak with fearful noises, but if you were lucky, and chose your path with some care, the first one across usually made it safely.

This safe trip then had to be followed by the next boy in line, who went screaming across the now somewhat weakened ice. Followed in turn by boy number three, four, and so on, until someone broke through, and got soaked to his knees.

The soaked boy was now automatically the leader, as we set out for a new slough challenge. By noon when the sun had taken it's toll on the ice and we had to go home for lunch, the only dry kids in town were a couple of girls who had come along to watch, so they could tell their mothers. At that age I had no use for girls of any kind, since they were all tattle tales, and always caused trouble for us boys.

I can't say enough about the advent of spring on the prairie. Every winter was hard, with most of the time spent in doors trying to stay warm, and breathing stale dry air. Snowstorms, blizzards, short days and long cold nights, dulled the mind and chilled the feet, but when spring came, the sun shone like never before. The snow turned into little streams, and the land became a blanket of flowers.

First came little white and purple snow flowers, poking up through the melting snow. Then hillsides of crocus, which were quickly picked and placed in vases in every house in town. After crocus came the buffalo bean with it's bright yellow blossom. This was an even better table bouquet since it outlasted the crocus, and brightened the house for days.

Gopher Drowning

As spring melted it's way into our young hearts, the urge of the hunter grabbed most of us town boys and with pails in hand, we took off to drown out gophers. These little animals were in plentiful supply, and since our little town was surrounded by flat land and prairie grass it was overrun by the little devils.

Since water was the most essential item in the drowning out process, this activity always took place during spring run off, a. A short window of opportunity unless we had had a late spring snow storm.

The procedure worked something like this: at least four boys and two dogs, a five gallon pail, a wagon, plus a standard pail with handle (bail) were employed.

We started out looking for the hapless gopher as close to a good water supply as possible. If close enough, each one of us filled his standard pail and on signal pail after pail was poured down the gopher hole as rapidly as possible.

If the hole was a fair distance from water, the five gallon pail was filled and hauled up to the hole as a reserve supply, before each of us brought our own full pail of liquid ammunition.

If we were successful, the drowned rat of a gopher would tear out of his flooded residence at top speed heading for a dry hole. The dogs knew their jobs of course and were crouched muddy and cold, tails wagging furiously in anticipation.

Between kids yelling, water splashing, dogs barking, and pails flying, the gopher quite often got to the next hole, and the process began all over again.

By supper time, boys and dogs soaked to the skin, mud to the eyeballs, dog tired and ice cold, could be found with empty pails and wagon, dragging themselves home. It was a truly memorable sport, and since the spring run off never lasted long we never tired of it.

Prairie Birds

Our prairie really came to life in the spring. As the snow melted and water ran, all the birds came back. The Canada geese flew overhead in great vee formations, honking their way north to the summer nesting grounds, while the noisy crows cawed their morning message.

We had horned larks, meadowlarks (with their yellow breast and black bib), multi-colored black birds, ducks, coots, prairie chicken, partridge, crane, ground owl, and hundreds more.

Dad built a bird house out of an old battery box and mounted it on a tall pole in our back yard just behind the garden, and for seven years we had the most beautiful pair of bluebirds nesting there. They would arrive about the same time every year, raise a family and be gone again before fall.

The real prairie bluebird (male) is breathtakingly blue while the female is almost gray. They eat only insects, and would swoop and swirl over our garden in pursuit of a moth, while we boys watched from our kitchen window.

We waited and watched every day for their return. The year they didn't come back, I still remember how painful it was to finally have to admit they weren't coming. The bird house sat empty for a couple of years until the sparrows realized it was vacant and took it over.

June Mornings

June was one of the most exciting months for any boy growing up on the bald headed prairie, but it seemed especially great for me. By seven a.m. on a June morning I was always awake and watching out of the sloping walled bedroom which I shared with brother Keith. Lorne being the youngest brother had his own room. I never did understand the reasoning behind this arrangement, but few people ever won an argument with Mother, so that's the way it was.

I couldn't wait to dress, creep downstairs quietly (Mother liked to sleep in) and run out into the back yard to smell the power plant diesel, and watch the perfect white smoke rings puff out and rise as Dad started the old one-lunger that powered the town's electricity every day. Often Dad would let me come with him to watch the start-up procedure, and when the big flywheel was up to speed he showed me how to put my mouth close and whistle into the spokes, to make a beautiful melodious sound as the spokes broke up my tune. This was accompanied by the Bang Put Put, Bang Put Put, of the diesel as it drove the 110 volt D.C. generator.

Dad was a very patient kind and gentle man who if it hadn't been for the depression and in hind sight, poor choice of location, would have enjoyed a prosperous and happy life. As it was however, Chinook was not at all kind to him. It demanded that he rise early and work late in order to provide for his family.

No doubt because I was the oldest I felt close to Dad, and spent more time following him around the garage than Keith or Lorne did. Dad was always ready to tell me how and why something worked, and I felt close to him.

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