Dave is mourning the passing of the lake that almost surrounded our house for seven years. It covered 15 acres at its peak, in fact a large slough, but “lake” dignified what was a difficult situation. And now he mourns its loss.
Our lake arrived suddenly and unannounced in April 2011 with the flood that inundated much of the province of Saskatchewan. We’d been in residence at what we’d named Dogpatch for less than a year, and we didn’t yet have a sense of the strategies that any resident of an old house in a rural setting can tell you are de rigueur.
We went from dryland to nearly drowned within a week, as the winter’s large snowmelt met an unexpectedly high water table, gift of a very wet summer and fall. Water over a metre deep in places covered the low-lying driveway, swamped the fields south, west and east of the yard, drowned the contents of the pole barn, and knocked at the house, lapping 20 feet from the front door.
Fortuitously, our cars were parked at the outside edge of our long driveway — that half-kilometre now an impassable stretch of water — so we did have wheels once we reached the road. But getting in and out was interesting. Our good neighbours, Ken and Sharon, did us the biggest in a long list of helping hands over the years, and gave us the use of an ATV.
For almost a year, as we awaited the rebuilding of our flooded road, we splashed through the adjacent field on board the ATV, hauling in groceries, computer parts and paper, dog food, kitty litter, wine, beer. On a dark, cold or rainy night, surrounded by mosquitoes, there was nothing pleasurable about that trip except for its end — and the carolling of the coyotes a few hundred metres away.
Eventually, in an amazing feat of winter engineering, the driveway was built up into a causeway, with front-end loaders breaking through metre-thick ice to build the foundation. A berm went up around the house as well, burying the well-tended garden beneath its protective shoulders.
But outweighing all these challenges was the sheer beauty of the new ecology that engulfed our land. Shorebirds, water birds, boreal tree frogs, cattails, bulrushes, black snails, muskrats, dragonflies — we were suddenly in a birder’s paradise. On my daily walks, I learned to identify a dozen species of waterfowl, among them grebes, coots, canvasbacks, teals, pintails, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, and mergansers; and shorebirds that included avocets and killdeer by the dozen. Occasionally a blue heron or pelican showed up, and Canada geese by the multitude.
We were forewarned. Within weeks of the lake’s arrival, I’d called Trevor Herriot, a Saskatchewan naturalist. “Lakes come and go on the prairie,” he said. “In eight or 10 years, it’ll be gone again.”
Sure enough, it’s gone. But the raised beds we built after the garden drowned have borne a wondrous crop. And for that, and for the memory of all those birds, we are grateful. So before embarking on our annual autumn yard cleanup, first we eat — new-crop vegetables made into pickles as addictive as any dessert.
The best pickles ever, from my Eastend friend Shon Profit’s prodigious kitchen. Hot packing and stuffing the full jars into the fridge without processing makes a crisp pickle with a dense bite. Processing softens the end result somewhat. Yield: 2 x 2-litre jars plus 8 pints.
- 5 c. white vinegar
- 5 c. rice wine vinegar 10 c. water
- 3/4 c. salt
- 1 c. white sugar
- 3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
For 2-litre jar:
- 1 tbsp. coriander
- 1 tbsp. mustard seed
- 1 tbsp. cumin seed
- 1 tsp. fennel seed
- 1 tbsp. peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp. hot chili flakes
For 1-pint jar:
- 1/2 tsp. coriander
- 1/2 tsp. mustard seed
- 1/2 tsp. cumin seed
- 1/8 tsp. fennel seed
- 1/2 tsp. peppercorns
- A pinch hot chili flakes
In each 2-litre jar; reduce amount to taste for pints:
- 1 lime, rind in strips, flesh in 1/8s
- 1-2 whole hot peppers
- 6 peeled garlic cloves
- 6 batons ginger root cut in narrow strips 3 inches long
Your choice of raw vegetables
Cut in batons to length:
- Carrots in several colours
- Zucchini in 2 colours
- Beans in several colours
- Cauliflower florets
White/yellow and purple onion wedges
Bring brine to boil and keep hot. Measure spices into hot sterile jars. Drop in seasonings. Pack in vegetables, softest textures first, packing with a pair of chopsticks for a tidy vertical look. Add carrots last to line outside and fill gaps.
Either refrigerate for 4-6 weeks before eating or process in canner.