The land on both sides of the deeply rutted North Battleford Trail consisted of undulating plains or rolling hills, rock studded, and covered with native grasses, which grew thick and lush during years when rains come often enough and thin and prickly on the more often dry years, particularly during the long hot summer and on into autumn.
In the fall one could find spear grass, with its barbed seeds and long, thin, curved tails. These could be thrown at your friends and siblings, and they stung if you threw well, and were miserable to remove from your clothing, where they poked and jabbed the wearer like slivers. In certain places lacy grasses flourished, grasses with numerous delicate tassels of tiny seeds balancing daintily at the end of each slender stalk.
On slopes of the hillsides, one could find prairie wild flowers, each in its own time, from the early crocuses that came with fur coats to withstand the low temperatures of the neighbouring patches of snow, and the snowy white Mayflowers which slowly gave way to dusty pink three flowered avens, red-orange moss roses, showy brown-eyed sunflowers, purple vetch, and yellow buffalo beans. Briar patches of buck brush and sagebrush sheltered wild rabbits and other small prairie creatures. In the fall one could pick bouquets of Gaillardias, brown-eyed Susans, the Mexican hat flower, Candy tuft or wild yarrow, pale purple asters, and daisies. Being careful of thorns, one could pick wild roses, most in varying shades of pink but on one particular bush, snow white blossoms perfumed the air. There was another flower growing wild, a yellow flower topping a sticky green, soft thorned globe, which we called the sticky goo flowers because of the sticky substance with they were covered.
Of all the beautiful, and unique flowers growing wild, none could rival the bluish-purple of the velvety crocus with the bright yellow centers, mainly because after the long and monotonous winter, it was such a welcome harbinger of spring.
Spring meant the return of birds. In early spring meadowlarks called back and forth across the plains, sounding like, “Hurry up and dig your stubble up”. The blackbirds clicked from sloughs where they nested in willows and cattails. The killdeer called “Deeeee, dee, dee, dee, dee,” and ran so swiftly and smoothly on long thin legs. that they appeared to drift along about four inches off the surface of the land like miniature hovercrafts. Snipes called, “Currick, currick, currick,” and laid their eggs in non-nests on the bare prairie. The unforgettable meadowlarks hollowed out a depression behind a tuft of dry grass, and lined it neatly with grasses and downy feathers to hold their four to six tiny pointed eggs, feigning injury and flopping along on the ground to lead intruders away. Hawks, crows, and owls nested in the few trees that struggled for an existence along the edges of sloughs. One species of owl called the ground owl or burrowing owl, nested below the surface in gopher holes. These tiny birds could be heard calling mournfully in the early hours before dawn. Wild ducks nested along the sloughs where ducklings could swim, find food and safety from most predators. Geese sliced the skies into pie shaped wedges and sent their lonesome calls ahead on their way north in the spring and back south with their new hatchlings the next fall.
The prairies of Saskatchewan are covered with a natural phenomenon called hummocks. These small hills, about a foot high and three feet across are extremely successful at making the surface of the prairie an excellent habitat for small wild creatures. They also make them very rough for human transportation. Paths, laid down across the prairies by domestic cattle, follow a torturous winding trail since they follow the depressions of hummocks, weaving much like the path of a snake.
Another interesting sight on the prairies was the buffalo wallow, depressions around huge rocks called glacial erratics, deposited during the last great ice age. The buffalo walked around these rocks rubbing on the uneven surface to relieve the itch of shedding thick, shaggy winter coats. Many trips around the rock by numerous beasts over the years wore a deep hollow, in the spring these hollows filled with waters from melting snow, creating drinking spots for various wild life.
On prairie like this, Frank Sklapsky homesteaded. His children crossed the hummocky land going to and from school or herding cattle. It was Mother’s job as a child to stay with the cattle. As she got older, she rode her horse, as someone had to keep the cattle and ensure they returned to the homestead at days end. While we were out visiting the homestead one day Mother pointed out the hills the cattle ranged, where she spent many a long, hot day herding and where she had made somewhat of an acquaintance with a badger.