University of Regina students studying in a diverse range of disciplines are getting valuable health care mentoring by volunteering at SEARCH, a student run, primary health care clinic in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood.

Irene Mosquito sits stitching beads carefully onto a pair of leather gloves lined with soft rabbit fur. Her ease with both the stitching and the noisy children surrounding her are telling. Just behind her are various pictures of other crafts that she has shared with people who enter through the doors of the Four Directions Community Health Centre every Saturday. One of the crafts stands out.

“It’s called a moss bag,” she says with a warm smile. “They’re used for more than just keeping babies warm.” Mosquito explains how the moss bags are meant to simulate a baby’s life in the womb. “There is even a cord with criss-crossed threads that sits on the inside of the bag,” she says. “Every criss-cross of the thread has a traditional teaching related to it.”

Irene Mosquito (right) used to be a SEARCH client, now she works as a support worker at the after-hours clinic. Mosquito sits with volunteer Busi Mabhena.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Amidst the hustle and bustle of people, many of them nervous University of Regina students, Mosquito is a calm oasis. Her beautiful black hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Calling her older than most of the others here doesn’t seem quite right. The term grandma seems much more appropriate because ever since she entered the room, the younger children gravitate towards her. She also has that unmistakable presence that makes certain people seem more like an elder than just elderly.

Mosquito is the support worker for SEARCH (Student Energy in Action for Regina Community Health). Started in 2009, SEARCH was the brainchild of a group of post-secondary students who wanted to get involved in a community health initiative in Regina’s inner city. Their partnership with the University of Regina and the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region led them to Four Directions Community Health Centre, a clinic that had been offering primary health  care in the North Central neighbourhood for more than 20 years.

Using student and professional volunteers, SEARCH builds upon the great work that Four Directions is doing by extending the hours of service into the weekend. Professionals at the facility include doctors, social workers, counsellors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physical therapists and dieticians. Beyond offering these essential services to clients, the professionals provide mentorship to the student volunteers. This community of learning between professional mentors, student volunteers and clients is one of SEARCH’s greatest assets.

Started in 2009, SEARCH was the brainchild of a group of post-secondary students who wanted to get involved in a community health initiative in Regina’s inner city.

Mosquito first got involved with SEARCH because she needed its services as a client. “It did a lot for me,” says Mosquito, who lives in North Central but is originally from Whitefish, Saskatchewan. “For example, for physiotherapy, I didn’t have to go far, because sometimes I didn’t have a vehicle.”

A convenient location was only one of many benefits that SEARCH offered. “When I needed to see the doctor or the physiotherapist, I knew that [SEARCH] was there for me and that I didn’t have to worry about waiting, waiting, waiting.”

The convenience and the friendliness of the people at SEARCH compelled Mosquito to work there herself. Recognizing the importance of Indigenous culture, SEARCH ensures it has staff who can provide leadership and guidance in traditional ways. “I let [the clients] know that it’s okay to be Indian, to use their language, because a lot of people have lost their culture in this community.”

Started in 2009, SEARCH was the brainchild of a group of post-secondary students who wanted to get involved in a community health initiative in Regina’s inner city.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Mosquito says that the ability to perform cultural activities such as beadwork and moss bags was lost as a result of residential schools. “The grandparents were the ones that were supposed to pass on the values and teach the kids,” she says. “Now that piece is missing.”

She sees her role at SEARCH as a way to bridge that gap. “We’re trying to get all of that back, slowly … Even here.”

As with the other mentors, Mosquito sees her job as providing services to both the clients and the student volunteers. “If you are wanting to teach or work in the North Central community, you need to know the cultural aspects of it and I’m always here to help answer those types of questions, not just for the clients that come in, but also for the students,” she says. “So teaching people all of these protocols – how to dress, what to bring – it’s all an important part of being here.”

Kelly Husack BKin'15 is SEARCH’s executive director. She also leads the Blue Dot Movement, an organization that advocates for a healthier environment. Husack first heard about SEARCH in Christian Thomson’s Indigenous Studies 100 class at the First Nations University of Canada. She still remembers her first day at SEARCH. Following the SEARCH orientation session, she was nervously standing against the wall when one of the social workers approached her and said, “Jump in there and go have a conversation.”

This invitation would alter the direction of Husack’s life and fundamentally change her perspective on community health. After three years volunteering, and having entered her second year as executive director, Husack sees health as so much more than just offering treatment. She says that the community aspect SEARCH offers is its greatest remedy.

“We spend a lot of time with our clients,” she says. “Often, needs that are presented on the medical side tend to be a lot more complex than just, ‘I have a sore throat, etc.’ There tends to be a lot more compounding factors, so we try to allow more time for that.”

The Four Directions Community Health Centre in the North Central neighbourhood is home to SEARCH. The clinic has been offering primary health care in the community for more than 20 years.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Husack says that SEARCH helps lighten the load on the Regina health care system. “By coming here, people aren’t utilizing emergency services, which reduces cost and strain on the emergency rooms at the main hospitals.”

SEARCH also offers unique educational benefits to its student volunteers. “Students come in with their own backgrounds and their own sets of knowledge that they’ve gained through their university experience thus far,” says Husack. “Then they get to meet and work with people in the community.”

After years of working in interior design, Jessica Dunster BSNU'17 decided that it was time for a change. “I dealt with people that had lots of money to spend,” says Dunster. “The materialism and the greed started to get to me.”

That led Dunster to seek a career where she felt she could serve others. She quickly enrolled in a nursing program. It wasn’t long into her program that Amanda Kukartz, SEARCH’s previous director, came to her school on a student volunteer recruitment trip. Dunster had a choice of ten different placements and she chose SEARCH.

“I just felt that there was a lot of stigma to this area,” says Dunster, “and as someone who was going into a health profession, I think that it was very important for me to understand the background that people from the inner city were coming from.”

Jessica Dunster left a career in interior design for nursing in order to serve others.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Now a registered nurse at the General Hospital, Dunster says that her learning at SEARCH is something that you can’t get in a classroom. “You can go and take an Indigenous health class and learn about the residential school system and everything that happened, but here you have the opportunity to sit down with someone and learn about their particular experience: what it has done to their family, what’s going on now and the issues that that has caused.”

“It was the individuals and families that I connected with that made it more personal for me,” she says. “It kept me wanting to come back.”

After completing her one-month course requirement, Dunster decided to continue volunteering. She eventually joined the student-led SEARCH Board of Directors and is now a board co-chair. “It was the individuals and families that I connected with that made it more personal for me,” she says. “It kept me wanting to come back.”

Dunster says that her time at SEARCH has opened her eyes to the judgement that marginalized people feel from our health care system, and, in turn, how she can become a better advocate. “Being at SEARCH has given me much more of a catalogue of contacts for help and supports that [marginalized] people can use.”

Connecting with other students and professional mentors was also “huge” for her. She not only got to observe and perform pre-interviews with clients, but also to have key conversations with mentors about the clients’ diagnoses.

Above all, Dunster says that SEARCH has helped her dig deeper and look beyond the clinical aspect of what’s happening to people. And this, she says, has made her a better nurse. “It’s made me more aware of getting to know what’s going on in a person’s life, so you can have more of an impact,” she says. “It’s having a more holistic approach. For some Indigenous people, this may mean getting them access to an Elder.”

Dunster believes that without SEARCH, she would not have had the same depth of sensitivity to people—that she wouldn’t be doing the same “digging” that she does now.

A black string with a large plastic white bat is wrapped snugly around the neck of Matthew Pechey BScHons'15, a second-year medical student and SEARCH volunteer. “I’m a fan of Batman,” says Pechey. “I like to go to the Fan Expo in Regina—it’s a good conversation starter.”

Like Bruce Wayne, Pechey comes from a place of privilege. “I’m in a pretty advantaged situation as a Caucasian male coming from a middle-income family,” says Pechey. “Acknowledging that lack of fairness and knowing that there’s a responsibility to work towards something better is important, even if it’s going to be slow and difficult.”

Matthew Pechey, a second-year medical student and SEARCH volunteer.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Pechey speaks of the humility that he has learned as a SEARCH volunteer. “I am learning too. I might be doing one thing that I think is helpful, but then find out that it is completely inappropriate, that you need to be informed on what the specific needs are in the community rather than imposing your own prejudice.”

Pechey first volunteered with SEARCH during his undergraduate degree in psychology. Seeing how the professional counselling mentors worked with clients and their family members was eye-opening. “[The mentors] have worked within the community and the insights they bring are very valuable,” he says. “They know the events and the health care issues within this neighbourhood.”

If Irene Mosquito is the wise SEARCH sage, then Sam Berg is the Jedi master. A veteran counsellor of more than 20 years, Berg’s warm disposition is matched by his handsomely lined face and silver hair. “As mentors, we provide the services that we are professionally equipped to do and then we are observed,” he says. “We then debrief after each session.”

Berg says it’s fascinating to watch the professional and educational progression of the students during their time at SEARCH. “It gives them the opportunity to get out of the ivory tower and get involved with people on the ground,” he says. “It’s been a really wonderful experience working with them and with the clients that come here as well.”

Berg says that the students that come through SEARCH’s doors give him hope for the future. “If there’s a problem with millennials today, these aren’t typical,” he says with a laugh. “These are the type of people that get up in the morning, work hard and have dreams and ambitions.”

Sam Berg a veteran counsellor and SEARCH volunteer.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

One of those millennials is Aimee Kowallski, a second-year psychology student at the University of Regina and one of the ten people experiencing their first day at SEARCH. Like Kelly Husack, Kowallski first heard about SEARCH in Christian Thomson’s Indigenous Studies 100 class. Originally from Moose Jaw, Kowallski says that the things she’s been learning in her Indigenous studies class are “blowing her mind” and that she sees SEARCH as a great way to learn and help Regina become a better place.

Peter Boyko is a larger-than-life character. He is one of those rare people that can be loud and endearing at the same time. As soon as he rolled through the SEARCH doors, waves of smiles came over people’s faces.

“I’m really happy this place is here,” says Boyko.

Boyko has been coming to SEARCH for the past four years. While he’s definitely used the medical and counselling services, Boyko makes it very evident that the staff and students here are his friends and that the social aspect of SEARCH is extremely important to him. He often refers to different staff members, such as Kay Yee (a dietician) and others as if they were his regular chums on coffee row at a small-town diner. “Chats with these people ranged from the efficacy of hydroelectricity, to the KKK, and then the limited uses of solar power,” says Boyko.

A resident of Argyle Park, Boyko says he first noticed the Four Directions Centre when passing by on the bus. Now he doesn’t know what he’d do without it. “I had an ear infection once, a cold another time. I saw the doctor a few times. I saw a counsellor when the social worker wasn't here,” he says. “It’s truly important that these [extended Saturday] hours are available.”

Boyko brings up the sign that hangs above the kitchen in the main room. It says, ‘Love is the best ingredient.’ “It’s not just a statement, but something that is lived out by the staff, and that includes those that come and volunteer on Saturdays,” he says. “I’m really happy this place is here.”

About the Author

Joshua Campbell is a high-school teacher, freelance journalist, and proud husband and father who lives in Regina, Saskatchewan. He has a passion for investigative stories related to social justice, the environment, and Indigenous peoples.

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“You literally can feel it pushing you down. You would swear someone has their hand on your head and they’re just lowering you to the ground.”

That’s how Jennifer Johnson, a Regina mother of two teenagers, describes the lows that have hit her frequently since she entered perimenopause, also known as the menopause transition, the period of a woman’s life when she is approaching menopause and starts to experience symptoms of declining estrogen levels. Johnson has been feeling the impact of perimenopause for several years. First came the night sweats, soon joined by hot flashes, insomnia, irregular periods and the relentless lows.

University of Regina researcher Jennifer Gordon University of Regina assistant professor of psychology, Jennifer Gordon. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Those lows first appeared when she was dealing with other problems, including conflicts with her son’s father and a cancer diagnosis. All the burdens sent her to her doctor to ask for help, which is something she says she rarely does because she is “fiercely independent.” Now, she is better able to handle the lows herself.

“I think when you have been going through it as long as I have, the sadness or depressions don’t last as long anymore,” she says. “You also know you are going to come out the other side, so that makes it easier. I just don’t let it affect me the same way.”

Now, Johnson has joined other sufferers and researchers to try to change the plight of women plagued with perimenopausal depression. She is a patient-investigator in a University of Regina research study led by Jennifer Gordon, an assistant professor of psychology.

The menopause transition brings mood changes for many women, and an increased risk of clinically significant depressive symptoms for a significant number. In fact, the menopause transition is associated with a two-to four-fold increase in the risk of depression. Fluctuating hormone levels may be the cause, although scientific research has not confirmed the link.

Jennifer Johnson, patient-investigator in a University of Regina study led by researcher Jennifer Gordon.

(Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

Gordon has chosen to build her research program around women’s reproductive health and much of her current work is focused on depression in perimenopause. She was working towards a PhD in clinical psychology at McGill University in Montréal, focusing on depression and cardiovascular disease, when she took a class from Barbara Sherwin, a renowned expert in human psychoendocrinology (the study of the relationship between the endocrine system and mental health). Gordon chose to do a presentation on depression and estrogen. She was fascinated and knew immediately that this was where she wanted to focus her research.

About the same time, she met Susan Girdler, an American researcher whose work is focused on the effect of reproductive hormones on mood, specifically during phases of reproductive change, including post-partum depression, perimenopausal depression, and depression tied to the menstrual cycle.

“We really hit it off,” Gordon says. The meeting convinced her to apply to the Québec Health Research Foundation for a post-doctoral fellowship to study with Girdler and colleague David Rubinow at the Women’s Mood Disorders training program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It was a very intense three years,” she says. “It’s a very demanding program but it’s very good training. You learn how to write competitive grants and publish high-quality papers and learn all about women’s reproductive mood disorders, very much focused on the biology and physiology, which was good because my background had been in clinical psychology.”

Jennifer Gordon Jennifer Gordon is a leading researcher in perimenopausal depression. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

At Chapel Hill, Gordon worked on the Perimenopausal Estrogen Replacement Therapy (PERT) study, a $4 million trial that looked at the use of estrogen replacement therapy for the prevention of depression in the menopause transition.

“It’s the first trial to look at estrogen for the purpose of preventing the onset of depressive symptoms in the menopause transition,” Gordon says. “There have been a few small trials finding it can reduce depressive symptoms in already depressed women in the menopause transition … so this was looking at recruiting initially emotionally healthy women, putting them on estrogen and seeing if they show any mood benefits from that.”

Results of the study, recently published in the JAMA Psychiatry medical journal with Gordon named as lead author, were impressive. Seventeen per cent of the women receiving transdermal estrogen through estrogen patches developed clinically significant depression, while 32 per cent of those receiving placebo developed depression. Two groups of women benefited more than others – those who had experienced stressful life events in the preceding six months and those who were in the early years of the menopause transition.

“The effects of estrogen were pretty striking in preventing the onset of depressive symptoms, especially in the early menopause transition. Of those who were on placebo, nearly 50 per cent of them had clinically depressive symptoms at some point in the study, whereas in the estrogen group the percentage was only three per cent,” Gordon says.

Gordon’s long-term goal is to establish a women’s mental health research unit at the University of Regina to facilitate patient-oriented research in women’s reproductive mental health.

Critics say that giving estrogen to prevent depression is out of line with current recommendations. Gordon doesn’t dispute this statement, but she says those recommendations were based on research that showed giving estrogen to older women who are late into menopause could be dangerous. More recent research proposes that estrogen is much safer in younger women who are in the menopause transition or early postmenopausal period. It is generally agreed that more study is needed.

When Gordon began searching for a place to build her career, she found the combination of smaller community and robust, friendly psychology department at the University of Regina. Plus, the psychology department welcomed her focus on reproductive mood disorders.

“And I could see that there were very successful people in the department,” she says. “I wanted a department that had mentors built in … so I liked that too.”

She continues work on the PERT study – among other things, she will write a paper on the impact of estrogen therapy on the cardiovascular health of participants. At the same time, she is building her own women’s reproductive mental health research program. With her background in clinical psychology and her training on the biology and physiology of women’s reproductive mood disorders, she is in an ideal position to create a program that encompasses both.

Her first Regina-based study is the Fluctuating Estrogen and Menopausal Mood (FEMM) study, funded through an establishment grant from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF), which she says will be the most detailed look so far at the correlation between hormones and mood in the menopause transition.

Gordon is hoping to broaden her research program to include other areas of women’s reproductive health. As a first step, she is proposing the development of a psychological intervention for women struggling with infertility.

“There haven’t been any studies looking closely at the correlation between hormones and mood in the menopause transition. We think that extreme estrogen fluctuation may play a role in triggering depressive symptoms during the menopause transition, but previous studies have generally measured estrogen too infrequently, making it difficult to figure out what hormonal triggers may be involved in perimenopausal depression.”

The study will measure estrogen and progesterone levels in participants, as well as mood, depressive symptoms and other factors that can impact mood, such as sleep and hot flashes, and baseline factors such as recent stressful life events, history of trauma, history of mental illness and sleep quality. Separate funding from the Banting Research Foundation will allow researchers to look at levels of cortisol, a stress hormone in saliva, to see if it is affected by hormonal fluctuations.

As a clinical psychologist, Gordon is also interested in exploring non-pharmacological interventions for the prevention and treatment of women’s mood disorders. She has initiated a study that will look at the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to reduce the risk of depression in the menopause transition. This study will be funded through an SHRF Sprout Grant.

“Some of my research suggests that the hormonal environment of the menopause transition increases sensitivity to stress and that’s why women are more likely to develop depressive symptoms,” she says. Reducing stress using MBSR might help those women avoid depression.

This study will be the first time Gordon has undertaken “patient-oriented” research, a style of research that involves patients, families, health professionals, researchers and policy-makers working together to plan research, carry out research projects and help interpret and make use of the findings. She is enthusiastic about it and hopes to become a leader in the field.

“Across Canada there’s a big push towards patient-oriented research,” Gordon says. “The idea is you are doing research that is addressing patient-identified priorities, things that matter to the people who are affected by whatever you are studying. And they would be involved every step of the way.”

Gordon has named two “patient-investigators” who were involved in the study design and will sit in on the first MBSR sessions to make sure they are tailored appropriately to the target population. They will also be involved in tasks such as the approval of questionnaires, analysis of results and dissemination of information.

Tracy Morgan, a participant in the FEMM study, is one of those patient-investigators. Morgan is excited to be involved in the MBSR study. She says her role fits with the skills she has developed as a medical lab technician and trainer at Canadian Blood Services, as well as her interests in subjects such as yoga and meditation. She feels the study may even help her deal with her own symptoms of perimenopause.

Tracy Morgan Tracy Morgan, a patient-investigators Gordon’s mindfulness-based stress reduction study. (Photo by Trevor Hopkin)

“I will be participating in this study and helping others,” Morgan says, noting participants may feel more comfortable dealing with someone like her who is experiencing the same life change. “But it may also help me find a routine, maybe meditation and yoga, and I can keep using that long after the study is over. It will help me build my own routines, rather than trying to figure out all this on my own. I will have some input from some very knowledgeable people.”

Gordon is hoping to broaden her research program to include other areas of women’s reproductive health. As a first step, she is proposing the development of a psychological intervention for women struggling with infertility. She says patient-investigators will be especially valuable in designing this project because “better understanding their experience of infertility will allow us to create a more effective treatment program.”

“The rates of depression and anxiety are very high in women struggling with infertility, even if it’s their partner with the diagnosis. Approximately 30 to 40 per cent of women experience significant depression or anxiety as they are undergoing fertility treatments, and so far, psychological treatments are not terribly effective at improving that.”

Group interventions have proven better than individual interventions, she says, but even group interventions have not been that effective in improving psychological health in this population. She proposes working with infertile women to learn more about their experience and the significant psychological challenges they have. The next step would be to develop and pilot a psychological intervention that maps on to those specific problems.

Gordon says the idea for this project grew out of discussion in the third-year Women’s Reproductive Mood Disorders class she teaches. She created and loves teaching this course because the syllabus covers all her interests – including premenstrual dysphoric disorder, infertility, depression in pregnancy, postpartum depression and perimenopausal depression. She says that a class discussion about infertility distress highlighted the idea that coping with infertility is even more difficult for women in Regina because they have to travel to get help.

Gordon’s long-term goal is to establish a women’s mental health research unit at the University of Regina to facilitate patient-oriented research in women’s reproductive mental health. Most other provinces have clinics specializing in women’s mental health, including reproductive mood disorders, but Saskatchewan does not and she hopes to help close this gap. The research she envisions would directly inform clinical practice and promote training for medical professionals in the assessment and treatment of women’s reproductive health disorders.

“This mission is directly in line with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health’s mandate to improve the province’s treatment of mental health,” Gordon says.

[post_title] => Depression and the menopause transition [post_excerpt] => University of Regina researcher Jennifer Gordon is at the forefront of the study of perimenopausal depression. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => depression-and-the-menopause-transition [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-06-01 16:28:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-06-01 22:28:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=1215 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1272 [post_author] => 1 [post_date] => 2018-05-10 10:12:54 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-10 16:12:54 [post_content] => Drenched in light. Invaded by light, startled into being by light. This is what it means to grow up in southwest Saskatchewan, the country of my birth and my childhood. Though I’ve lived a thousand miles away for over twenty-five years, in the blink of an eye I place myself, notebook and pen in hand, in the centre of a vast plain where no trees or hills or towering buildings hold back that luminous deluge from the sky. Eudora Welty, the world-renowned fiction writer who grew up in Mississippi and who left her mother’s house only for a short time to return and eventually grow old there, said, “Every story would be a different story if it happened somewhere else.” The same is true of people and poems. If I’d grown up where I live now, on the edge of the ancient rain forests of Vancouver Island, I would be a different person. My writing would be different too. It wouldn’t be simply a matter of west coast plants invading the space in my poems where prairie vegetation once grew; it wouldn’t be simply a matter of birds native to this region chasing meadowlarks and redwing blackbirds from my lines, or wind sifting the yellow pollen of giant firs instead of dust onto the covers of my books. Something intrinsic would change. Something that comes from the particularities that define a habitation and shape the characters who thrive there, even those like me who moved away but continue to set their poems and stories in their original place. Lorna_Crozier Lorna Crozier is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has received five honorary doctorates, including one from the University of Regina in 2004. (Photo by Angie Abdou) What is it about the land of my birth and upbringing that influences the sensibilities of a writer such as me? The plains that surround my hometown of Swift Current confound those who first encounter them. In all directions the grasslands stretch far and away like a desert. Shadows from the clouds swim over the wild grasses and heads of wheat. The rills and shallow coulees shape-shift as daylight declines. With the dry land, the spare rain, come no sounds of rushing water, no stands of trees shouting to the wind, though the wind is always there, a companion of loneliness, a keening that invades the imagination and leaves a solitary traveller speechless with wonder. A stranger to this land complains there’s nothing to see, nothing to hear. So many of my friends from the mountains or the coast tell me they drive for hours on the Trans-Canada through the Prairies, and they feel they’ve gone nowhere. If you’re sensitive to this landscape, I reply, this nowhere is somewhere uncanny and true. Your ear and eye become subtly, exquisitely tuned. Writers must, above everything else, develop the ability to listen, not only to other humans but also to the land itself, though its homilies can’t be translated into any known tongue. Outside of the towns and cities in southwest Saskatchewan, when you’re used to the noise of urban life, the silence you encounter seems impregnable. At first it could be mistaken for the muteness that arises out of emptiness. But it’s not that. It’s a quiet that demands attention. Something significant is about to be uttered, and silence has prepared a proper place for it. It is up to you to respond in kind.
The Book of Genesis begins with God’s first words: “Let there be light.” Surely He said that in the middle of the grasslands, perhaps on a small rise smack in the middle of what would become Swift Current to the west and Moose Jaw to the east.
If you are patient and attentive, you’ll hear what the grass says as the wind passes over. A susurration as soft as the brush of an owl’s wing across the snow will vibrate the small bones of your inner ear. Your task will be to name that sound, to sing it into poetry, to find words that will speak it into being on a page. This is a place that has grown a multitude of writers. Could the silence here be so strong that it demands an equivalent speaking? A man and woman faced with such a muffled eloquence must cry out, “I am here, I am alive, I am dying. Who will hear me?” Only to the uninitiated does the openness of the grasslands appear empty. To the person who feels at home it is charged with possibilities. Something meaningful exists just beyond the grasp of our hearing, touch, smell, sight. It requires all the tools we have to coax it into language, though language will never have the final say. “Look up, look up,” you tell anyone who claims this country of your heart, of your imagination, is monotonous. In every season, every hour, the sky, spiralling above you, unrolls its clouds, its cobalts, its paler blues. The sky is an antidote to boredom. It’s easy to lose yourself in its weathers and the beauty of its sheen. There is change in everything, it tells you, including in you. The essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson claimed that a writer must be “a transparent eyeball.” I can’t help but see the prairie sky itself as that — a gigantic, clear orb that holds everything below. We are small inside it. No matter how important we might feel, we are merely specks in its huge seeing. That could be a humbling, depressing thing, but it’s a blessing for a poet. When you feel so seen, are you not drawn to look more closely, to gaze more fiercely and fearlessly at what takes shape under the sun? If you pay attention, you’ll glimpse a darkling beetle climbing over a blade of grass. In early morning you’ll see the small fog of a chickadee’s breath suspended above the feeder. You may even decipher a line or two scrawled across the clouds or the shimmer of something that just passed out of sight. Lorna Crozier Crozier lives on Vancouver Island with writer Patrick Lane and two cats who love to garden. (Photo by Kamil Bialous) A South African writer I met this past fall at a poetry festival in Hong Kong tells me of a word that means “the sky just after a swan has flown through.” That scrap of blue looks different from what surrounds it: the swan’s beauty, the energy of its being has left a vestige of its flight. This is the kind of thing a poet is looking for, a brilliant trace of what can’t be seen. It is the poet’s task to make the unseen visible with reticence and grace. The Book of Genesis begins with God’s first words: “Let there be light.” Surely He said that in the middle of the grasslands, perhaps on a small rise smack in the middle of what would become Swift Current to the west and Moose Jaw to the east. His radiant invention, spoken into existence, rolled out of the darkness of his mouth onto a long, undulating stretch of land. No wonder after 40 years of writing, I return here in the lines of my poems. It was words that created the light. And the light that shone on every worldly thing claimed this place as home. [post_title] => Drenched in light [post_excerpt] => Poet Lorna Crozier reflects on the prairie landscape of her childhood and how it has shaped her writing. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => drenched-in-light [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-02 11:13:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-02 17:13:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=1272 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )