Saturday, July 02, 2011


“You’d think this was Manitoba!” This was a common remark heard along the sandbagging line in Benson this week.

It’s been a crazy spring. We’ve gone from wondering what the spring melt might bring, to witnessing how the winter’s snow added to last year’s soil moisture content to produce some of the wettest conditions anyone can remember. Fields under water, roads either being washed out on their own or purposely cut to save property, sump pumps in every basement. It was a trying time, but all we had to do in Saskatchewan was watch the news every night to keep up with what south western Manitoba was dealing with, and we could go about our business thinking it could be worse.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet. Week after week, rainstorm after rainstorm it got worse. Farmers couldn’t get out on their land, roads turned to quagmire, and still the rains kept coming.

“Saturation” is a word that has been overused lately but there is nothing else that describes the situation. The ground is saturated; it can’t hold another drop, so when yet another weather system dumped another two to four inches of rain on us in one day the stage was set for a flooding event like we’ve never seen before . At the moment Manitoba has nothing on us.

The hamlet of Benson made the news this week because it has the misfortune of being caught between a lot of water and Highway 47. Runoff from the deluge last weekend has collected itself into a river that doesn’t even exist and is making for the USA border to cause further havoc on the other side of the border – but first it has to cross #47. Suddenly prairie people found themselves students in the school of sandbagging ... and I found myself delivering a pump and some hose to my daughter and son-in-law who live there.

I don’t know what I expected to find when I got there, but what did greet me was pretty impressive. Parked along the west lane of the highway was a mile of pumping units, mostly oilfield pumper trucks with a few farmers’ tractors and pumps as well, 52 units in all, sucking flood water out of the ditch on the Benson side and over the crest of the road to send it on its way to the town of Lampman. I hoped the dike I had seen them building as I had passed through was going to be done in time.

Although a major amount of water had been flowing from the north for a week or two, this last rain had really compounded the problem. Benson authorities had been informed of the danger they were in on Monday; by Tuesday the town had been surveyed and stakes had been placed where the sand bag barrio would need to be built. I learned that the black line on the stake told where the level had to be to be 4 inches higher than the highway, meaning the water would have to flow east, and not west further into town. If it was painted orange at the top meant that the stake was too short to show the appropriate level.

Let me tell you, four feet of sand bag dike is a lot of work, but by the time I got there at sundown on Wednesday, they had accomplished a lot. Tractors with front end loaders delivered pallets of bags to the work stations; the weight of such traffic had reduced the streets to mush and people’s lawns to pudding – something you don’t think of when you’re watching it on tv.

Neither do you think of the “sand burn” along the inside of your forearms from the constant movement of the rough material over your skin all day long. The sore shoulders and back are easy to imagine, but the skin rash? The soaked feet from water in your boots? The mosquitoes the size of pterodactyls?

Shortly after I arrived there was a helicopter flying over. Its presence gave the feeling that people who know about things like floods were on top of things, but as time went on it was frustrating that what they saw from the sky never filtered out to the people doing the work. The townspeople had been told that there would be a significant surge at one point, but no one was sure when that was supposed to happen ... afternoon? Evening? Night. Tomorrow?

It made for a restless night. With the roar of the pumper trucks and the uncertainty of what was happening out in the dark sleep was hard to come by.

The sun came up on a much different scene than what had greeted the day before. The trucks had taken the high water mark from halfway across the church parking lot down to the ditch being almost empty. Unfortunately the town’s first line of defence, a hastily built berm, was beginning to leak with the water pressure behind it. It was decided to do a controlled breach and refill the ditch where the trucks could continue to pump it away. This worked for a while but they had another crisis later on when the soggy dike failed again. This time the gap was filled with large round flax bales which have managed to hold the flow to what the pumps can handle. Benson appears to be out of the woods – or in this case, the water.

As of Saturday afternoon the long line of pumper trucks have been replaced by two gigantic pumps provided by Enbridge.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


You wouldn't believe the mess we're in. I'm having a bit of trouble trying to take it in myself. South east Saskatchewan is making the record books these days - in fact, I think we make a record one day just so we can break it the next. The water is everywhere.

It was a wet summer last year. The snow pack this winter was significantly higher than usual. The spring melt filled the potholes and creek beds, washed out roads and flooded yards and roads and low lying buildings. The roads have all but melted into frost boils. There was a blizzard at the end of March, and at the beginning of May we had another that dumped rain and snow on us. The ground was so soft and wet power poles were tipped over like sails in a gale, and many people were without power for hours - even days in some cases.

The melt from that storm had the runoff raging through the bridges and culverts again. Sloughs filled even fuller. Glen and I had gone out for a tour on the quad one evening the previous month and he remarked that he had never seen the sloughs that close together before - now the same bodies of water are actually touching.

No one even cares any more how much more rain has fallen since then. Once you reach a certain point, it ceases to matter. No where near 50% of the crop was planted in this corner of the province. Up until now Glen and I have found some comfort in the fact that we have no crop to put in, but as time goes on and the rain keeps falling, we find ourselves worrying about our hay crop instead.

With all the moisture the hay crop is coming along nicely, although it would be doing better with some strong sunny days as well, but the ground is like a sponge. We were out on the pasture last weekend and every step we took sounded like a "squish". How are we going to put heavy tractors and equipment out there to cut and bale it? It's got to be dry before it can be baled - with humidity this high, how is that ever going to happen? Is it ever going to stop raining?

One of the reasons we were out on Saturday was because Glen had to move the electric wires from his fence up higher so that the water in the sloughs didn't ground out the electric current. The water is so high he did this job in chest waders. The second thing we were doing was trying to find a three day old calf whose mother was quite frantic about it being lost. We never did find it - Glen thinks it could well have drowned, or at least got stuck in the mud trying to cross the creek, and coyotes decided that it looked like a tasty lunch. Including the two we lost in that last blizzard, that is three that the weather has cost us.

And yet, I guess we shouldn't complain too much: Weyburn is under a boil water advisory because their sewage system was compromised, Roche Pierce had to be evacuated in the middle of the night and is now under water, and Minot, North Dakota is expecting the worst flood in it's history when all this water hits them on Thursday.

They are starting to refer to this year as a "once in every 500 year event". Normally prairie people love to own the bragging rites to having been there to see such a thing, but I'm starting to think it would have been okay to read about this one in a history book.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I just re-read my last post and I don't know that I have anything new to say - will this rain ever stop?

There was a week in there that actually had wind and sunshine and the creek running through our yard slowed to a trickle. I even got out and managed to mow perhaps 2/3rds on the lawn. It wasn't a great job, and I found myself out in the water a couple of times, but it was the best I could do. I had planned to get right back out there last weekend but Mother Nature did not cooperate. we got almost two more inches of rain. the creek is back up to river status, the puddles are now ponds, and we had to install a new sump pump in the basement because the old one died on us.

Actually calling it "old" is misleading - it was new 14 months ago, but except for the months of December, January, and February, that poor thing ran non stop. Glen had seen pumps on sale this spring and had a feeling that having a spare might be a good idea - it made him the hero yesterday afternoon when I got home from work and discovered an inch of water in the basement.

It can finally be said that some of the neighbours have managed to get into their fields. I think that was from Tuesday until Friday night last week. By Saturday noon it was poring again. I took my life in my hands yesterday and started asking farmers how much crop they had got in the ground. The answers varied: one guy said he had planted three fields and had two sown meaning that he had lost a whole 160 acres out of 480 to water and mud. Another said they had barely started with a mere 45 acres in. Another said he was waiting on a big high clearance sprayer to come in and "burn off" the weeds, so his hands were tied until that was done. The answer that was the most telling was the guy who said he had suddenly taken up a great interest in what Crop Insurance had to offer. He said that every other year the Crop Insurance package would arrive and he would just toss it in the corner, this year he was treating it like the bible, and reading very carefully. It's the 25th of May and there isn't a 5th of the crop in in our corner of Saskatchewan. On a normal year there would hardly be a 5th left to be done by this time. The Canadian prairies have only so many growing days to a season - you have to plant after the last frost of spring and the crop has to ripen before the first frost of autumn. That window of opportunity is sliding closed.

As of the rain last weekend my mind has been made up about putting a garden in; it's just not going to happen this year. I've never not had a garden but I can't even walk on it at the moment without sinking past my ankles. It hasn't even been worked yet and it's that soft! Thank goodness asparagus is a perennial - we'll have had at least one green thing not bought at a store this summer! The rhubarb will probably be okay, but my apple trees might be drowned out - they've spent the last 6 weeks standing in a foot of water; I don't think apple trees like that kind of treatment.

Glen has bought himself some chest waders to go fencing in. His electric fence has been giving him problems and the most likely root cause of the drain of electricity is the wire being under water. he spent the day out there standing in chest high water fighting with wires and feeding mosquitoes - made my day at the office sound like a piece of cake!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

It Just Keeps Getting Better and Better

Well, it's not like it's been a fine spring so far - the cold went on and on, slowly softening to merely being cool which melted very little of our way-too-much snow. Environment Canada had predicted a long, cool spring and unfortunately they got that one right.

Next up was the eventual melt - and what we all knew was going to happen. The ground being still saturated with all the rain we got last year and covered with extreme amounts of this winter's snow. When Mother Nature finally did turn up the heat, there was water running everywhere. In this neck of the woods every spring has runoff. The creeks all fill and run for maybe a week - two if there was a lot of snow, or it rains during the melt, but this year they have been running - no, make that gushing - for almost a month now. Roads washed out, bridges were plugged, yards and fields were flooded, people had to deal with water in their basements. It was crazy

Looking back, those were the good times. Last weekend along came the worst blizzard of the winter - maybe even quite a few winters - and dumped two inches of rain on us before the unwelcome moisture turned to snow and carried on falling for the next 24 hours. The temperatures weren't so bad but the wind was unreal; steady at 60 kph and gusting to 90. Neighbours lost the roof to their brand new shed, bins tipped over and rolled around in the wind, and if you have a shingling business, you could be busy here all summer. The toll was pretty high for cattle producers too - newborn calves can't take that kind of treatment. I don't know how many died over the weekend. We lost two but I have heard that one herd lost 40 - not nice, not nice at all.

Being as it was May by this time, Mother Nature lost no time turning the thermostat up. By Tuesday it was 18 degrees again. If we thought we had water problems before, we learned that we hadn't seen anything yet. What is normally a small pond in a regular spring was a very large one this April, and now is a small lake with waterfalls running into and out of it. And there are many many many such lakes per quarter section. Seeding is a distant dream and will be an exercise in exasperation when they finally do get out on the land. The plantable acres will be a fraction of normal and very difficult to get to. I don't know how many times Glen and I have thanked our lucky stars that we only have pasture land any more!

I took a walk up the road tonight after I got home from work - the two places where water was running over the road (within a mile and a half) are now stopped, but the road will need fixing and a new culvert put in one place. I should ask the RM administrator how many places they have like this - my guess that they don't have too many miles that don't have this kind of trouble. They have even had to cut some roads in places to save property; just three miles east of here they cut through in two places to save six or seven bins full of grain. It's been a spring for the record books ... and the weatherman says that there is more rain on its way tonight.

Today I heard that Environment Canada is predicting that June, July, and August are all going to be hotter than usual. On the one hand, we all feel that we are due something good from them, but on the other hand heat has a habit of brewing up storms on the prairies - after seeing the damage in the States caused by tornados, I'm not sure that's a good thing either.

Monday, April 25, 2011



By Jocelyn Hainsworth

Be careful what you wish for.

All you people out there who buy lottery tickets and promptly take up dreaming of spending their winnings on a remote island where they will live out their days in peace and luxury – pay attention – a word of caution here; you need to be more specific!

We’ve all seen the lottery commercial with the young, gorgeous couple wandering their personal island, ending up on the patio of their exquisite beach house to relax in the sunshine ... the beach sand is white, the palm trees are perfect, the rum and colas are ice cold and are served with as much lime as they want. There is a boat on the beach in case they should ever want to leave, but get serious, who in their right mind ever would?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the desire to live where the weather is warm year round. It’s a perfectly great idea to want the peace and solitude of living separate and away from the mainstream world. Who doesn’t dream of being served by handsome cabana boys – oh, whoops, probably about the half the population, but you know what I mean - when you’re dreaming you may as well dream big.

Dreaming big is fine; my warning is to be sure to dream more precisely. This can be very important. We had a little lesson in precise wishing last week, and I thought I would share the experience with you so that you don’t make the same mistake we did.

You see, even though I’m enthralled with the tropical island dream on TV, and picture myself wandering those same beaches, when I actually speak of what I would do with my imagined lottery winnings, what I actually say is “I sure would like to try that island living!” Did you note the lack of detail? Did I mention all the things I was picturing? Did I even imply the sand? The rum and colas? The cabana boy servant? No, I did not. How is Lady Luck to know about all of these things if they are not spelled right out for her? She’s a busy lady, you know. She can’t be blamed for the lack of information.

This subject comes up this week because last Thursday we woke up on an island. I can’t say as it was due to a big win in the money department, but I can assure you, it was a big surprise! There was water to the west of us and a waterfall just up the road. There was water in the Quonset and completely covering the Sask Power box in the front yard. There was water to the east of the house and the sump pump was running steady. There was water covering the entire yard, garden and well into the spruce trees in the shelter belt. There was water running uphill out of the barnyard to the east, and there was water within a foot of the top of the well cribbing. There was water across the driveway. We were on an island.

But it wasn’t at all like I had imagined it to be.

It was cold and dark, and dirty snow protruded from the water like icebergs. There was not a single palm tree on the horizon, and although I really could have used a good stiff rum drink for breakfast, there was a real lack of serving boys around as well. Sunshine did not warm my shoulders. Exotic tropical birds did not flit from tree to tree. The dog stood at the water’s edge and tried to get his bearings. This was nobody’s dream come true.

But, it was a lesson learned: be careful - and PRECISE - in what you wish for. I went to work and the Farmer took up some serious wishing of his own – mostly that the weatherman was right and it was going to get much cooler for the next few days so that the meltdown would slow down. He must have done something right because we’re only living on a peninsula now.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


It's been a rocky start to spring - we've had two substantial blizzards since the official first day of spring and the weatherman says we might well get more rain or snow tomorrow - people around here are starting to think that this is never going to end. I swear I'm going to dig out my spring coat and just wear it in defiance! Maybe we can ignore winter away.

When the sun shines there is good strength to it - I was amazed tonight when I left my office at how much the snow banks had receded from the sidewalks since I had walked in this morning. And the puddles are definately growing, which is just a warning of what is to come. All around town today you could here pumps running trying to keep the water at bay. I saw on my way out of town that they seem to be winning at the elementary school yard - yesterday there was a lake, today there was a large-ish pool. I'm sure the kids were fine with the water theme park, but the teachers are probably relieved that it's gone.

Farmers are sitting still. There are some years that they would be out on the land already, or at least have the equipment out in the yard getting ready to go. This year nothing like that is happening. Too much snow, or if the snow is gone, there is deep water or mud in its place. Glen is home from his work in the oil patch and expects that "break up" will go on a very long time this year. The ground is so saturated that they were having mud problems when it was 40 below. They would clear off the top frozen layer and find mud - which of course, being warmer than the air, would let steam of all day long. By dark the steam would be gone, they would go home and the next morning they would open it back up and start all over again. Even though these stories are great to tell, I think he would be pretty happy to just have dry earth to work with. There is no finesse to a job done with mud - frozen or otherwise.

I've spent the day thinking of my sister who spent most of her day in surgery to deal with cancer and reconstruction. Sounds like everything went as the doctors planned but texts only give the bare minimum of news - guess it's time to go give them a call.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

History in the Making

> By Jocelyn Hainsworth
> This planet is a small place. It doesn’t seem like it when you are trying to get to someplace, but it’s a whole different story, I think, when you are trying to get away. Just put yourself in the shoes of the people in Northern Japan: how far away is far enough when a nuclear reactor is in its death throes? The people in western Canada don’t think they are far enough away, so the poor, earth-shaken, tsunami-struck, overwhelmed people of northern Japan must feel vulnerable indeed.
> I am a Baby Boomer. I grew up watching reruns of the movies made about World War II. These films were nothing more than propaganda Hollywood style, of course, but in the first decades following the war we didn’t think about that. It was much easier to think in terms of good guys and bad guys. Everything was either black or white. You were either an ally or a foe; a friend or an enemy. In the cowboy movies of the time they made it super simple to spot who was who – the good guy always rode a white horse, and the bad guy always rode the black. The viewer needn’t be troubled to do any thinking at all.
> This past week, while I sat in front of my TV set, mesmerised by the pictures and stories coming out of Japan, I did a bit of thinking ... and subsequent learning about, and then developing a respect for ... the people of this tiny country.
> I can’t help but be struck with the calmness and dignity these devastated people are utilizing to deal with their circumstances. Compare the scenes of Japan this week with those in the streets of Haiti last year. There is no looting or civil unrest, no anger and frustrated shouting for help to come quicker. I don’t mean to belittle the people of Haiti because I shudder to think how I would react to such trauma, but this only makes the Japanese people’s grace under such horrible conditions all the more awe inspiring.
> And, by far, the most awe inspiring act being carried out on the planet at the moment is the on-going effort to prevent a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Electrical Plant.
> It occurred to me, as I watched the news stories about the men (and possibly women) who are going into this crippled nuclear plant, day after day, that the concept of “kamikaze” had resurfaced, but in such a good way.
> The true translation, I found when I asked Google to enlighten me, is “divine wind” and refers to two typhoons that saved Japan from Mongolian invaders almost a thousand years ago, but to anyone who grew up watching the same movies as I did, “kamikaze” means a warrior who is willing to sacrifice his life for the cause that he was fighting for.
> There was a time that “kamikaze” was only something to be feared. They were the suicide bombers of their day, men who measured their success in how much damage they could inflict and how many deaths they could cause with the sacrifice of their own lives. They were serving a cause, and were willing to die for it; as we have learned since 9/11, there is hardly anything to be feared more than that kind of extreme allegiance.
> Isn’t it strange how, without altering the “willing to die for a cause” definition at all, suddenly we find ourselves cheering on these Japanese warriors of today? What the workers at the Fukushima plant are doing by just so much as entering that building, is no less deadly for them that flying a plane into a target. And yet, that’s what they have been doing for a whole week now.
> I am struck with the poetic justice of the situation, too – that it is the Japanese people who get to redeem this term “kamikaze”, and in this new light, make it a thing to be admired by all the nations of this tiny planet.
> And maybe, if they can win the battle against meltdowns and superheating, this kamikaze sacrifice will stir up a new breeze – a divine wind of peace ... and may it blow straight to the Middle East.