Drought and Glut
We sat on the running board of Hearn's truck. The old man had insisted on laying his torn sweater coat across the running board so that the mud wouldn't get on my trousers. Now he leaned forward and picked up a handful of the drying spring earth and rubbed it between his fingers to show me that there was no speck of grit in it. The best land in the world, he said, this ancient lake bottom of the Regina Plains.
Hearn had grown old tending it, plowing it, reaping it, mining it. He didn't look like the farmer of the movies or the cheerful harvest scene on an advertising calendar. He wore a peaked cap, like a locomotive engineer, black with machine grease, and mechanic's overalls, patched in a dozen places, the suspenders on them held up by nails for buttons, his feet in rubber boots. His hair was long and white, his face stretched taut, like rawhide, his eyes narrow and wrinkled from the sun. This lean, stooped man, sitting beside me on the running board, rubbing the soil between his fingers and calling it good, was the chief problem, the most bitter tragedy of Canada.
Around us, barren and bare, stretched the thawing plains of Canada, out to the infinite horizon. Specks of houses dotted the land, and, stark against the flat sky, stood the grain elevators with their jutting shoulders, like giant men. Miles away, so far that it seemed like a child's Christmas toy, a little train waddled across the land with a solid puff of smoke. These were the prairies that had once been our chief producer of