Finding “spiritual me” in the Qu’Appelle Valley

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Millennials finding yet another hobby that’s better with dogs than kids. holly mandarich via unsplash

The Saskatchewan landscape jumps to life with Friesen’s take on hiking the Tansi portion of the Trans Canada trail

by mindy friesen, contributor

This is me being spiritual. This is the spiritual me. Early on a quiet Sunday morning, or a holiday Monday, I get my backpack and the dog harness. Lucy supervises the packing. We take bottles of water, Lucy’s pop-up water dish, dog biscuits, “poop” bags, my phone, wallet, and keys. I help Lucy get her pulling harness on. She makes sure that I am putting my harness on; I step into mine and buckle it around my waist. There is a tether and bungee that attach us as we hike, walk, and jog together. Lucy likes being the leader, but I get to call the directions.

We live near the Town of Fort Qu’Appelle, which is about a 45-minute drive from the city of Regina. Our favorite trail is a section of the Trans Canada Trail beginning at the highway junction of Highways 35 and 56. We park at the Robo-Sales Gas Station and hike five kilometers of the Trans Canada to the village of Lebret and back. This is part of a larger portion of the Trans Canada trail in the area known as the Tansi.

Lucy and I began hiking here because it is an accessible pathway, free of charge, and enough distance to satisfy us without exhausting. We are parallel to the highway most of the way, but oftentimes dip down into little treed crevices or crest hilltops viewpoints that delight just as well as if we were miles away from mankind. This is the Qu’Appelle Valley.

The trail smells like sage and wild cherries and damp earth. The late rains paint the far banks of Mission Lake a deep, emerald green right on the cusp of autumn. Pelicans are brilliant white against the green as they rise, fish, and land simultaneously across the scattered blue surface. The lake lolls today, it laughs. It knows. The dark cormorants are gathering around the fringes, and the sun is high and bright, but cool. Blazing Star dots the grassy byways with clumps of purple spires, and Goldenrod sweeps the grass with its yellow brooms. I trail my fingers through the tickly soft grass heads just as I did as a child, far from here. Sometimes I grasp them and pull them clean from their stems and let the seeds trickle between my fingers as we walk.

A pair of doves shuffle down the powerlines ahead of us, occasionally flying to keep some space between us. Always forward, never back. Lucy sees as much with her nose as with her eyes, and we pause sometimes so that she can examine inviting smells. It’s her time too. The crickets are piping, and the hoppers snap across the trail as we stir them up. Rosehips are plump and nearly ripe.

This is where we remember who we are. We don’t come to get fit, we come to keep healthy. Mind and body and the natural world are entwined for us, inseparable. It is being among others – whether plants, trees, insects, birds, mammals, or the elements – that puts the human-made world into perspective.

That world becomes quite small in all this space. The freer we become, the more we run. When Lucy is happy running her ears fold back against her head, and the tips bounce together over her shoulders. If she gets distracted when she is running her right ear starts to swivel forward. We stop for a water break on a little hill overlooking Lebret.

As we near the end of our hike, a golden eagle circles over the hillside. It is joined by another, and another. I can feel my breathing slow as I stop and gaze up at them. One eagle circles closer, as if we’ve caught its curiosity. No doubt we are a somewhat curious sight out here. A golden dog wearing a pink harness and a dishevelled curly-haired human with a pack on its back. The dog is attempting to pin and devour a grasshopper during this pause in activity. The eagle makes eye contact with the human and brushes its cool-winged shadow across her sunny left shoulder. In the space of that touch, she is hollow there and full somewhere else, at once. In an eagle eye. On an eagle day.

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