I certainly didn’t see this coming – quite literally – because it hit me from behind. The truck tailgate, that is (don’t ask). I said many words, none of which are fit to be shared on-line.

The doctor observed my speech and movements, did the “watch the moving pen” test, and declared I had a minor concussion. “Get lots of rest, don’t work too hard or too long, be patient. Also, no TV and no computer, the blue light is bad for your brain.”

What? No computer? I live on my computer. How am I supposed to read email? Read the papers? Play Wordle? Revise that manuscript?

“Oh, and by the way,” she said, “it could take about six months to recover.”

What? Six months! Well, two months on, and I must admit, the doctor was right.

The doctor says I have only a “minor” concussion. Minor or not, it had some interesting effects, especially early on in this new journey.

I was not exactly dizzy but my head and body seemed to work in different space-time coordinates, especially if I moved suddenly or something startled me. My poor synapses had to slog through crankcase oil that should have been changed 100,000 km ago. I had very little energy – I no longer ran up and down our stairs – and I had to nap. Nap? I never nap! Never used to, anyway. Now, I had to sleep for at least an hour every afternoon.

And yes, watching TV or doing anything on the computer quickly tired my eyes, which I took to mean my brain was tired, too. I limited myself to five minutes, once a day, on the computer to check for urgent emails that had to be answered. There weren’t many. Now, two months later, I’m up to 15 minutes at a time (like composing this post a few paragraphs at a time) before my brain starts to rebel.

Two months later, my body and head seem to work together, most of the time. But I still have trouble, sometimes, finding a word that I know I know but it just isn’t there. Yeah, yeah, you get to my age and that is normal, but now it seems to be worse than Before Concussion.

I still tire easily, and when I get tired I get cranky, well, even crankier than I used to be when I was tired. Then my brain begins to feel like a bowl of stodgy overcooked porridge. I still have to nap at least an hour every day.

What is really weird, though, is when I am talking, suddenly, for no apparent reason, I stop right in the middle of the sentence. It’s not a case of searching for a word, or trying to remember where I was going with that thought, it’s just suddenly there’s a . . .

. . . pause in my speech, and then I pick up right where I left off.

* * *

Our brain is a most marvelous and yet most mysterious organ. It is the seat of our reasoning, our emotions, our memories, our speech. It receives, processes, sorts through, responds to, transmits, and stores bazillions of stimuli bombarding it from everywhere. Yet, the brain, that organ that receives and interprets pain stimuli from various parts of our body (Yikes! That was hot!), can itself not feel any pain. Go figure!

Kick a bowl of jelly across the floor and watch what happens when it slams into the opposite wall. That’s your brain on concussion.

A concussion is an invisible injury. The brain cannot tell us it is bruised and damaged, or how bad the damage is. We have to rely on proxy symptoms from elsewhere in our body – double vision, dizziness, nausea, mood swings, change of personality, sleep disturbances – to tell us something is seriously wrong “upstairs.”

Even a minor concussion is no laughing matter. But many people have to live with a serious concussion. They endure double vision, constant headaches, a constantly twirling, topsy-turvy world, never-ending brain fog. They may have no idea when they will recover. Some days it must seem they will never recover. They, and their family and friends, may have to spend the rest of their lives living with – or in spite of – an acquired brain injury.

Being an invisible injury, there is no cast, no wound, no stitches to signal to people that this person is living with a brain injury. With no visible sign, they may think the brain-injured person is drunk, or on drugs, or mentally unstable. It can be so unfair.

Fortunately, there are numerous organizations that provide assistance, advice, and support to people with acquired brain injuries and to their families. Emotional support is absolutely vital. Being able to talk with someone who has “been there, done that,” to know that you are not going crazy, that what you are experiencing is normal, that you will get better, that you are not alone in this recovery, is just as important as medical intervention or physiotherapy. Maybe more so.

I’m not suggesting you always wear a hard hat or a crash helmet, although my husband thinks perhaps I should the next time we hitch up the trailer. But do take care of that noggin of yours. It’s the only one you have.

#Concussion #AcquiredBrainInjury #BonkOnTheHead #InvisibleInjury #BrainInjurySupportOrganizations #NonFiction #MargaretGHanna

P.S. What about those manuscript revisions? you ask. Did you abandon them?

Thanks for asking. I had, but a couple of weeks ago I had one of those “Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” moments. I print a chapter, then instead of staring at a computer, I stare at a page and write revisions, by hand, in pencil, in the margins, between the lines, and on the back of the page. How retro can you get? Now, if only I could read my chicken-scratch.

#ManuscriptRevisions #RetroRevisions

Why the Hiatus?

Hello, faithful readers

Where’s Margaret? you’ve been asking. Where are her stories about the farm? About the prairies? Her particular (peculiar?) take on life in general?

The reason is: for the last couple of months, I’ve been preoccupied with finishing a manuscript. And now, for the next couple of months, I will be preoccupied with doing all the revisions and editing. Sorry, faithful readers, I’ve never been good at multi-tasking.

Never fear, I will return once this manuscript is off to the publisher. In the meantime, here are some teasers for what to expect when I do return:

  • Farm Rules for Kids
  • What Happened to the Family Farm (thanks to DMc for that suggestion)
  • Drought and Depression (depressing, yes, but a fact of farm life)
  • And maybe even a sneak peek at The New Story (Hint: it’s more family history)

See you then, faithful readers.

#NewStoryComing #FutureStories #MargaretGHanna

Springtime (?) on the Prairies

“April is the cruelest month.” So begins T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. He might as well have been writing about April on the prairies.

Come April, Old Man Winter is not about to give up his dominance. Never mind that he’s been haranguing us with cold and snow and ice and blizzards since November, mid-October if he was feeling particularly malicious. Benevolence is not part of Winter’s character.

He teases us with a few days of blue skies, sun and temperatures above freezing, even at night. Then Wham! A dump of snow. A howling wind. Day time temperatures well below freezing, never mind the night time temperatures.

We shake our hands at the sky. We scream, “It’s been five months already. Go Away!” Then we get out the snow shovel and start clearing the walk. Again. For the fourth time.

We live for that day when the trees are suddenly surrounded by an aura of green haze that, the next day, turns into full-fledged summer green. When the much hated dandelions poke their green leaves above ground. When cheeky gophers (a.k.a. Richardson’s Ground Squirrels) hop, skip and jump across the highway, daring us to run them down. When the hills of unbroken prairie grass are covered with the purple haze of prairie crocuses.

We breathe a sigh of relief. Spring, brief as it is, is here. Daffodils. Tulips. Robins. Calves. Lambs.

Then, one morning, we wake up to snow. Again. In the middle of May.

On the other hand . . .

We are not living in a tar paper shack. Or a log house. With only a cook stove to keep us warm, if we sit right beside it. With the wind knifing in through every crack and crevice. With the snow creeping in under the door and around the windows. With bedclothes freezing to the wall. With ice inches thick on the windows. Like my grandparents, Abe and Addie Hanna, endured for 17 years before they built a “proper” house.

Nor are we living in the midst of bombed-out buildings with death and destruction raining down all around us. Fearing the sound of bombs and missiles and explosions that rock the earth. Wondering if we’ll live through the night. Or the day. Wondering if our loved ones are still alive. Wondering if we’ll find safety as refugees living amongst strangers.

Compared to what millions of people elsewhere are enduring, snow in the middle of April is nothing. And, to quote prairie farmers, “We need the moisture.”

Every snowbank has a silver lining.

#PrairieSpring #SnowInApril #Gratitude #WorldProblems #WeAreFortunate #CountingBlessings #NonFiction #Contemplation #MargaretGHanna

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boreal Forest

I’m a prairie girl, born and bred. Where the horizon is down around my knees, maybe even my ankles. Where there’s nothing between me and that horizon. Where I can see yesterday leaving and tomorrow coming. Where the only trees are those planted around farmsteads.

So why was I sitting on a dock in northern Manitoba, surrounded by nothing but trees and water, watching the Twin Otter that had deposited me and my crew slowly disappear into nothingness?

The answer: I’d been hired to lead one of the crews conducting archaeological excavations as part of Manitoba Hydro’s Churchill River diversion project of the early 1970s. I had no experience with boreal forest archaeology. I had no experience leading a crew. I didn’t know how to operate an outboard motor. I didn’t know how to read a topographic map. I didn’t know how to use a transit to survey excavation grids.

Boy, was I qualified!

My only previous encounter with the boreal forest had been in 1969 when I was an assistant at a camp just south of Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. I hated it, the boreal forest, that is. I couldn’t see anywhere. I couldn’t see the weather coming. Driving down the highway felt like driving down a tunnel. I didn’t feel claustrophobic but I certainly felt boxed in.

Yet, here I was, in 1973, at Lake Opachuanau on the Churchill River, fly-in only, for two whole months. Egads! How would I survive?

By the end of the first week, I had learned how to operate an outboard motor, although I had yet to finesse docking it. I had learned how to read topographic maps which is why I now hate highway maps – they don’t have enough detail. I had even learned the rudiments of using a transit and stadia rod. And I was getting intrigued by the archaeology, the geology and the natural history of the boreal forest.

But most importantly, I was falling in love with the boreal forest. Driving a boat down the river or across the lake was completely different from driving down a highway cut through “The Bush.” Those mornings when the wind was perfectly calm and the lake was perfectly still, the boat seemed to be floating in space between the forest and its perfect reflection. I could see the forest in all its complexity – alders and birch and poplars and quaking aspen lining the shore, White Spruce and Black Spruce behind. The shoreline varied from sand to mud to low rocky outcrops to rock cliffs. Inland, the ground was soft and spongy, covered with bunchberry and raspberries and strawberries and Labrador Tea and Sphagnum moss in which you could sink up to your knees.

Since then, I’ve spent a fair number of summers working in the boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan. A summer just didn’t feel complete if I wasn’t cruising down a river or lake in a boat, slogging through The Bush, digging test pits or excavating sites.

It isn’t just the forest itself I’ve come to love. It’s also the people who live there. Especially the people who live there. Interested and interesting, genuinely concerned about their history and its preservation, willing to share their knowledge and their stories, and more than willing to work with us (and I wouldn’t have it any other way). They have enriched my life and my work in ways that cannot be measured.

But, aren’t there black flies there, you ask? How can you love working in a place lousy with black flies?

Oh, them. Well, that’s another story.

#BorealForest #RetiredArchaeologist #ArchaeologicalMemories #ChurchillRiver #NorthernManitoba #NorthernSaskatchewan #MargaretGHanna #NonFiction

A Bridge in Time

The video clip appeared frequently on TV last month. In the background, a destroyed bridge, the roadway dangling. In the foreground, two soldiers helping a frail elderly woman across three wet, slick planks mere inches above the icy cold river raging below. Behind them, a crowd of anxious desperate people, waiting their turn to cross those same slick planks.

The elderly woman shuffles forward, slow step by slow step. She hears the river rushing below her. She sees light reflecting off the wet boards. But most importantly, she feels the strength of the two soldiers supporting her. She knows she is not alone. With their help, she knows she can make it.

I suspect they are talking her across as much as physically helping her. “That’s it. We’re almost there. Don’t worry, I’ve got you. Just a little farther. You’re doing fine. Look straight ahead at the other bank. Just a few more steps. Don’t worry about your family, we’ll go back and help them across, too. You’re doing fine.”

The video clip ends before she reaches the other shore. We can only assume she made it across safely. We can only assume all those anxious waiting people made it across safely, too.

Which was the bridge? Those planks? Or the two soldiers?

Times of trouble can leave us desperate, disillusioned and demoralized. Perhaps we’ve lost a job. A beloved family member has passed away. A long relationship has ended. A spiral into addiction. We feel trapped, helpless, hopeless, doomed. All we can see is that icy cold water raging below us, those slick wet planks before us.

We need a bridge to help us through and out of those times. That bridge is always a person. Someone who holds out his/her hand and says, “I’m here. I’ve got you. I’m with you.”

Knowing we are not alone in our time of trouble is our greatest source of strength and courage. Knowing that someone is walking beside us, helping us through the difficult times, helping us focus on the other shore, telling us, “You can do this, we’ll get there together.”

Sometimes we need a bridge. Sometimes we are the bridge.

#Bridges #WeAreNotAlone #DesperateTimes #HelpingHand #Courage #Strength #MargaretGHanna

Buy a Book? Or Help Ukraine?

BWL Publishing, the publisher of my book “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead, advised its authors that their books are for sale on Smashwords for half-price, this week only. I had planned a post that talked about the book that recounts my paternal grandparents’ story, but given what is happening in Ukraine these day, that seems rather frivolous.

So, if you want to buy the book, go ahead. But I would prefer you to donate to one of the several agencies who are helping the 1.5 million (and growing every day) people who are fleeing from the carnage that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine. Even if NATO thinks their hands are tied, ours are not. We may not be able to drive a tank or fly a plane or guide a missile or fire an AK47 but we can donate. We can help provide food, clothing, shelter and transportation and, through that, let Ukrainians know that we care. We care about them, we care about their country, we care about their future.

Those of us who have never known war, who have never known what it is like to endure ceaseless and terrifying bombardment, who have never had to leave a son, a father, a husband, a brother behind to fight knowing all the while we may never see him again, who have never had to flee leaving behind everything and everyone we know and love, who have never had to wonder if we could ever go home again, who have never had to wonder if “home” will even exist — we are so blessed, so fortunate, so unbearably lucky.

It’s time for us to repay that good fortune. Let us do what we can. Let us open our hearts and our pocketbooks. Let us tell Ukraine we have not abandoned them.

Here are some of the agencies you can donate to:

UN Refugee Agency

International Committee of the Red Cross

Book a home or apartment through AirBNB for a refugee family to live in.

Save the Children

#Ukraine #Refugees #FinancialSupport #WarEffort #HelpUkraine #MargaretGHanna


I must have walked a million miles in my day. Well, maybe not quite a million, but certainly many, many miles.

Part of an archaeologist’s work is looking for sites, and often that means walking. Walking across fields, across pastures, across sandy blow-outs. Walking and looking. Walking and paying attention. It became so much a part of my being that even today, 15 years after retiring, I still look down at the ground when I’m walking.

Surveying like that was almost an exercise in meditation. Be aware of your destination. Be aware of your route. Set a slow but steady pace. And eyes down sweeping from side to side.

Pace. Pace. Pace. Eyes centre. Left. Centre. Right. Centre.

About 75% of the brain is set to recognize known shapes, sizes, colours, textures. But the other 25% has to be alert to the unknown, the unexpected, the “Hmm, I wonder what that is?” moment.

Pace. Pace. Pace. Eyes centre. Left. Centre. Right. Centre.

That rhythm stopped for only two reasons. One, I found something. Stop, pick it up, examine it. Is it anything? Yes? Then record, map, collect. No? Put it back.

Pace. Pace. Pace. Eyes centre. Left. Centre. Right. Centre.

The other reason to stop was simply for the joy of stopping. For the joy of seeing where I was. To breath the air. To stretch my eyes to the horizon (remember what I wrote about Saskatchewan’s horizon?). To listen to a Killdeer or a Meadowlark sing their hearts out, to watch a hawk fly overhead, to wait for a Mule Deer to decide if I presented a threat to her, to watch a coyote watching me with a wary eye as it loped across the hill top. To listen to the breeze. To watch the ripening grain ripple in the wind. To simply experience where I was. To realize how fortunate I was to be in that place at that time. To be.

Pace. Pace. Pace. Eyes centre. Left. Centre. Right. Centre.

I walked across a good part of Saskatchewan – farmers’ fields and pastures, the Missouri Couteau, the Qu’Appelle River valley – but no matter where or when, it was always the same.

Pace. Pace. Pace. Eyes centre. Left. Centre. Right. Centre.

And I still do it today.

#ArchaeologicalSurveying #Reconnaisance #Memories #Meditation #Contemplation #Walking #Awareness #NonFiction #MargaretGHanna

Second Chance

‘Twas in that land of great antiquity,
in Egypt, land of pharaohs, pyramids,
shawabti, mummies and sarcophagi,
that two souls met amidst the dusty ruins –
those proffered promises of life eternal,
(not to be) – now only pillaged tombs
left violated, robbed of gold and gems.
The only laughter that of robbers’ glee,
then darkness, silence for eternity.
So, too, these broken souls with history,
now robbed of joy, of love and even hope,
seemed empty as that promised afterlife.

Yet in this theatre of dust and death,
a seed was planted and new life took breath.

(Happy Valentine’s Day)

#ValentinesDay #SecondChance #Love Poem #Sonnet #Contemplation #Hope #MargaretGHanna

Brick-laying, Fifteen Minutes at a Time

“Real writing, I was beginning to realize, was more like laying bricks than waiting for lightning to strike. It was painstaking. It was manual labor. And sometimes, sometimes if you kept putting the bricks down and let your hands just go on bleeding, and didn’t look up and didn’t stop for anything, the lightning came. Not when you prayed for it, but when you did your work.”
Paula McLain, Love and Ruin

For the past few years, I’ve been struggling with the task of writing my maternal grandmother’s story. I do mean, struggle. For the first couple of years, the story wandered here, there and everywhere. It had no focus. No purpose.

A course offered by the Alexandra Writers’ Centre in Calgary helped me find the focus and suddenly the story started coming together.

Until I hit That Chapter.

Some instinct deep inside me said, That Chapter is necessary to the story. I just couldn’t see how or why. I tried writing it a couple of times and got nowhere.

I stopped writing it. I stopped trying to write it.

It haunted me, stared at me, glared at me, dared me to put one word, any word on that virtual paper. I hid.

Until I read that passage above from Paula McLain’s wonderful book about Martha Gellhorn, an American journalist, war correspondent and author. If she could rise above the pain and struggle of writing, then so could I. I decided to use her analogy of writing as brick-laying and tackle That Chapter again.

I started with 15 minutes of “brick-laying.” You know, minimize the amount of self-inflicted pain, or something. So my hands wouldn’t be bleeding too much at the end of each session.

I set my timer for 15 minutes. I shut out the world. I starting writing. No editing, just writing. Just one word after another, one sentence after another.

Some days, 15 minutes went by in a flash. I was on a roll. I kept on writing. Other days, it was like pulling teeth (to use another metaphor). Those bricks were heavy and ill-fitting, and the mortar wouldn’t set. I was relieved when the timer went off. I went in search of metaphorical bandages for my metaphorical bleeding hands.

But guess what? That Chapter is now written. It’s terrible. It needs serious re-writing. And editing. But in the process I began to get a glimmer of why I first thought, way back when, that That Chapter was essential to my grandmother’s story. Now that I understand the purpose of That Chapter, it will be easier (relatively speaking) to write it.

Sometimes, even painful brick-laying pays off.

#Writing #WritersBlock #FifteenMinutes #MargaretGHanna #AlexandraWritersCentre #HighamFamilyHistory

The Cypress Hills

I long ago lost track of the number of times we escaped the heat and wind of our farm for the cool breeze sighing through the pine trees of Cypress Hills.

For countless generations before us, Cypress Hills was, and continues to be, an oasis, a respite from the heat of the prairies. They were once a common hunting ground for all the Indigenous people who lived around and about – the Blackfoot to the west, the Southern Nakota (Assiniboine) to the east, the Plains Cree to the northeast, the Lakota and Gros Ventre to the south. The Hills teemed with game, they were covered with Lodgepole Pine (the only place east of the Rocky Mountains) used for tipi poles, and they provided a host of plants for food, medicines and dyes. Numerous archaeological sites, some several feet deep going back several thousand years, are scattered throughout the Hills, testimony to their long-term importance.

Twenty thousand years ago, the Cypress Hills were a nunatak – a high ground rising well above the continental glacier that ground its way across the rest of southern Canada. It is the highest point of land between the Labrador peninsula and Banff in the Rocky Mountains – 1392 metres (4567 feet) in Saskatchewan, 1,468 metres (4,816 feet) in Alberta.

So much for Saskatchewan being flat!

You can see the Cypress Hills from the Trans-Canada Highway – a line of distant hills to the south, hazy blue in summer’s heat, shimmering white in winter’s chill. Turn south at Maple Creek and prepare to enter a very different world. The highway rises up and leaves behind the undulating grassy hills of classic ranching country. The air softens and cools. You are surrounded by pines and their scent fills your nostrils and lungs. Welcome to the Cypress Hills.

The Hills extend across the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, hence the name Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. They are not entirely continuous but rather present as three more or less distinct blocks. The Eastern Block is home to Nikaneet Cree First Nation, and the Centre Block is home to Saskatchewan’s part of the interprovincial park. The West Block extends across the Saskatchewan-Alberta Boundary. On the Saskatchewan side are two national historic sites: Fort Walsh, established in 1878 as the headquarters of the North West Mounted Police, and Farwell’s and Solomon’s trading posts, site of the 1873 Cypress Hills Massacre of a Nakota village by American wolfers that prompted the formation of the North West Mounted Police. The Alberta side of the West Block is home to Elkwater Lake and townsite.

Our family spent most of our time in the Centre Block, especially at one place on the north edge of the Hills where you can look northward across the prairies below, almost to the North Pole or so it seems. We often drove the gravel trail through “The Gap” between the Centre and West Blocks, and always imagined that the cattle grazing there were, in fact, bison in disguise. The road up (and I do mean “up”) to Fort Walsh is a classic switch-back, worthy of any mountain road.

A “good” portion of the trail to Alberta

It is possible to drive across the border into Alberta’s portion of the West Block but it is not a trail for the faint of heart, or for your usual puddle-jumper. It’s mostly a narrow, rutted and bumpy dirt trail, with trees encroaching onto the roadway. And don’t even think about driving it if it’s rained. But what a thrill!

These last five posts describe only a few of the places I came to know and love when I grew up in southwestern Saskatchewan. I really do recommend you get off the beaten track, head south to highways 13 and 18, and see the Saskatchewan that the Trans-Canada Highway avoids.

Once you’ve done that, I dare you to say that Saskatchewan is flat.

Further reading: The Cypress Hills: The Land and its People by Walter Hildebrandt and Brian Hubner.

A final note:
If you decide to see Saskatchewan (as opposed to drive through it), I recommend you buy a copy of Bob Weber’s book, Saskatchewan History Along the Highway (A traveler’s guide to the fascinating facts, intriguing incidents and lively legends in Saskatchewan’s past). I guarantee you will never again think of Saskatchewan as either “flat” or “boring.”

#SaskatchewanHistory #SaskatchewanIsNotFlat #SouthwesternSaskatchewan #CypressHills #FortWalsh #FarwellsPost #CypressHillsMassacre #MargaretGHanna