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Waskesiu: Could it be the Lost City of Atlantis?

No. Of course Waskesiu is not the Lost City of Atlantis. I mean, that is completely absurd. Why would you even think that?

Anyway, with Saskatoon being Home #1, and Lago de Atitlán as Home #3, then I suppose that makes Waskesiu Home #2, or maybe #1.5, or maybe just the place I learned that drinking an entire 2 litre bottle of Rockaberry in less than 30 seconds will make a person puke in such a violent and definitive way as to make them averse to all grape-flavoured alcoholic drinks for a period of roughly 27 years (and counting). But for simplicity’s sake we’ll stick with #2. Where that leaves Martensville, though, is anyone’s guess. Someplace about which I have fond memories, continue to play slo-pitch, and notable for its distinct pungency when the wind hits the town “lagoon” just right in the spring and where people where hockey jackets all year round.

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But I digress. The second, and final, instalment of my riveting Summer of Dean series takes us about 250 kilometres north to the Prince Albert National Park and its bustling epicentre, a strange confluence of pristine nature and boredom-fueled consumerism unrivaled in Northern Saskatchewan, and oddly reminiscent of a 19th century trader outpost with wildly unexpected technological capabilities, or a giant over-sized Wisconsin mini-golf course featuring real water hazards and a full range of collectible muscle shirts. Make sense yet?

All right, fine, a simpler description would be that it is a lake town with a lot of cabins, a few of which are near the water, a few more of which are near the classis 87 year-old golf course, and most of which are huddled together on tiny 10 x 16 metre lots close enough to their neighbours to keep fully informed about both their choices in barbecue meats and how many individual gargles they use to conclude the brushing of their teeth. While it lacks the tranquility and lakefront opportunities of some of the smaller, less federally-regulated lakes around the province, it does put those places to shame in terms of urban entertainment possibilities – everything from a movie theatre to lawn bowling to tennis to fine dining to crap dining to places where you can get drunk and watch the game and get some food to a variety of shopping opportunities to golf to a liquor board store with the most liberal opening hours in the entire province. Or you could even rent one of those two-person tricycles that are a constant menace to “traffic” throughout the summer months. Although, seriously, never, ever, do that. Those things are truly awful. And, of course, there is an amazing beach (and by “an amazing beach” what I really mean is “a beach”, with a non-committal shrug) that fills to bursting every weekend with raucous children, their exhausted parents, packs of hung-over teenagers engaged in half-hearted swearing contests, dazzled foreign visitors who’ve thought it through very carefully and still decided to stick with the jeans, at least for now. Plus, you’ve got fishing (boring), boating (why?), wake-boarding (ever face plant off one of those things? That was craziness even before I went and turned 40 and suddenly became as fragile as a week-old Dorito), swimming (in water this temperature that only makes sense if you are a wizard trying to make a set of testicles magically disappear) and, of course, camping, also known locally as “spending the night at a mosquito feed”.

Beach sunset

Now, despite all the completely unwarranted scorn I just heaped on those otherwise very popular Waskesiu activities, I have actually engaged in all of them at one time or another (although never actually while sober that I can recall). And some of them have even been fun, although had they had the misfortune to overlap with NFL Sundays they may have remained mysteries to me to this day. Hard as it may be to believe, though, there are a few things I do actually enjoy doing at the lake. Getting drunk on a deck obviously goes without saying (our deck, Jim’s deck, any deck, really), as does golfing one of the two world-class courses in the vicinity (Waskesiu for views and tradition, Elk Ridge for a humbling assessment of my “skills” and to watch ducks wallowing in algae), but what about hiking? That’s right, as much as hiking often just seems like a way for us to stay busy in places around the world famous for their hills, there is actually a small element of enjoyment to it as well, enough so for us brave the mosquitoes on the multitude of easy, scenic trails scattered around the lake and throughout the park. And of all the places we’ve hiked around the world, Waskesiu’s trails still manage to stand alone in one important area. To the best of my knowledge there is no place in the world that can boast a more vast and remarkable network of tree roots. Yes, the hike is beautiful, but look away from your feet at your own peril.

Hiking the Narrows Peninsula

Which brings me to trail biking, probably my favourite form of exercise/entertainment these days, despite the horse flies, the mud and the somewhat different effect of the roots, essentially 45 jolting minutes to a roughly-shaken hour of making sure that thumb I jammed playing soccer in May will never truly feel right again. But, oh, how I love to create my own windstream.

Speaking of bugs, which I’ve obviously done more than once already, seems fitting since, while Waskesiu has always had its fair share of annoying insects to deal with, this year nature took things to a level beyond that which I can remember previously (although doesn’t it always seem like whatever the current hardship is just happens to be the worst ever, or the best ever, or unlike anything we’ve ever seen, etc., whether we’re talking about bugs, rain, water levels, the boldness of crows, or just how dead sexy the squirrels have become these days?). Mosquitoes, horse flies, black flies, no-see-ums (or are they gnats, I never know what the politically correct term is these days), spruce beetles (the armored tank of the insect world) and, this year even caterpillars. All of which we managed to encounter in a single round of golf at Elk Ridge toward the end of June, as a group seemingly exercising unanimous agreement to each stake their claim to certain holes only, and never the twain shall meet. One hole mosquito swarms chase us out of the bush, the next horse flies dive bomb the back of my head while I’m trying to concentrate on putting my drive as far into the bush as possible, on another the black flies congregate under the brim of my hat like a furiously milling group of airborne carp, and every few holes or so my putting was rendered even more random and pointless than usual thanks to a thick carpet of caterpillars blanketing the green from fringe to presumably green fringe. Just imagine what it would be like around here if the whole place wasn’t frozen solid for seven months every year…

The ice hanging on at the end of May

The two big draws this year, however, besides the usual joyous reconnections with old friends and the annual nostalgia borne of newspaper delivery kids who insist on immediate payment, were the massive influx of increasingly fearless deer and elk, and the arrival of our shiny new cabin, a massive upgrade in overall size, comfort, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, televisions and dishwashers (one). Sure, we all struggled with bouts of sentimentality for the old cabin from time to time (in particular when walking on the nice flat laminate flooring that never bothered to randomly bubble up and trip me when I least expected it, or whenever I remembered a little too late that I wasn’t supposed to be peeing in the shed any more). While Lyle (Laynni’s dad) and Torin (Laynni’s brother) and friends (Laynni’s acquaintances) did all the heavy lifting, spending most of last summer and fall building roughly 95% of it, that still left more than enough manual labour to seriously test my meagre abilities with such unfamiliar implements as shovel, screwdriver and even – under careful supervision, mind – power drill. In reality it was dad who really had his hands full with all the finishing touches (and the big new deck), while mom handled things indoors, and Mark and Laynni made themselves unceasingly useful whenever present, although I never failed to be lurking somewhere in the shadows (occasionally the couch was in shadow, if you must know) enthusiastically prepared to hold a ladder, pass some more nails or, under just the right circumstances, hold the business end of a tape measure just as steady as can be. So, yeah, obviously May and June were pure hell. But by the beginning of July we were fully reaping the rewards of our investment, sprawling listlessly on either of two couches, actually walking to the kitchen rather than simply standing up, luxuriating in back-to-back showers for the first time since the old communal showers were taken down (in which back-to-back held an entirely different meaning) and sleeping late in our own personal bedroom way up on the second level, a full flight of stairs and real door away from my where my parents sat riveted to the exact same news shows at 7 am as they had already watched the previous night at 11 pm, just in a different light, but still plenty loud. And, after much experimentation, trial and error, and petty sniping, we eventually worked out the population limit of the new cabin, which is, apparently, 8 adults, 1 toddler, 1 cat, and 1 quarter-century old cockatiel (RIP Lucky). Shockingly successful Chevy Chase movies have had less material to work with.

The definition of unskilled labour

So, in light of all this wonderful information, is there really any question why we delayed our annual fall departure until the end of September this year, other than to spend even more time around fellow Saskatchewanians? The magic of Labour Day – most of the people leave, the bugs mostly disappear, the leaves begin to change, the muddy trails dry up, and finally it gets cool enough that I am no longer expected to join in for any “family beach time”. Throw in a herd of elk, say, twenty-four females and one arrogant male with giant antlers who lounges around the park with a smug look on his face and soothing mud pack on his genitals, who as a group embark on a constant mission to shit on every flat surface in town while several lone males and would-be suitors spend their nights screaming in what they presumably believe is an irresistibly sexy manner, and even drunken nights of cow tipping in Neuanlage can’t compare with Waskesiu in September. So, until next year…

Coming soon: more pointless anecdotes about life in Guatemala, with even more pictures of volcanoes.

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