I had hopes for Swift Current, seeing the name on the map. Such a Tolkienesque name; straight out of the Shire. Like Crow's Nest Pass, which I like even better. If you are heading west out of Saskatchewan, Swift Current is on the way out. Now, I didn't stop there for anything but coffee, so I have no right to say if the place is good or bad, but the name gave me hopes. And the sign on entering the town raised my hopes even more.
You know those signs, like: Winnipeg: A Great City.
I'm not sure how much effort they put into that one; it begs for a little more specificity.
The sign on entering Swift Current? Swift Current: Where life makes sense. Yes, you can see why my hopes were raised even more. Where life makes sense? Wow, maybe in Swift Current they are devoted to agrarianism and localism, and reject all chain outlets and support one another through a self-sustained community: such were the thoughts running through my mind, about this place where life makes sense.
My hopes were immediately dashed on first seeing the Wal-Mart. But I would be guilty of misjudgment if I went into any criticism, since I simply don't know the place. I went through and into Alberta, into the Badlands.
Alberta on a lucid sunny day: the wheat fields bristle so gold that the blue of the sky by contrast becomes the main feature. Blue to the point of making the eyes stutter with delightful incomprehension. The distant belt of a train goes by a lone structure for grain that looks like some giant space age Jack Daniels bottle with a row of four silver beer cans attached. The subtle flats and smooth curves of Saskatchewan give way to more perky uprisings and stark erosions.
A wolf in a field not too far from the road pries his narrow jaws as far as they can open on another animal that looks much like him, dabbed with blood. He masticates his jaws on the furry carcass, irreverent and unknowing of who may be watching. A late breakfast.
The wolf tells me it is a new day, and that he did not bring it about, with its wide dome of immaculate cobalt overhead, set with the distinct burnished clouds like billowing white linen on a clothesline.
And nor did I.
A sign tells me I am entering Alberta's Badlands. The sign back in Swift Current is in the wrong place. They should have it here, beside the long forlorn ice cream stand and other joints that are the abandoned parts of a still-living little town - though I could be wrong about its being still-living - across from which a clutch of appaloosas whip their tails in a fenced field.
They should put it up with a base of stone-work, where the gutted truck holds up a sign for a liquor store that is no longer there - or which is there but defunct; where the tall weeds reinstate themselves through the concrete right up to the empty ice cream counter and mark the place where limber children, buzzing on the energy of their summer family vacations, waited eagerly for their ice cream cones:
Alberta Badlands: Where life makes sense.
I'm sure the affirmative irony would not be lost on people.