Whoosh and Crackle
Pentecost Sunday - May 11, 2008
Pentecost Sunday - May 11, 2008
Let us pray: Breathe upon us, Holy Spirit of God, with gifts of new life, new inspiration, and fresh energy. Breathe life into these words, O God, that they may tell of your presence within us. Breathe upon us, Holy Spirit of God, and fit us for serving you. Amen.
I don’t know if the following story is “real”, but I know that it is true.
February 19, 2007 was highly anticipated across the province of Saskatchewan. It was the very first family day - as declared by the province’s government in the previous year. On the Friday before, all across the province, people were making plans to celebrate the new long weekend. Some had scoffed at the idea of a long weekend in February in Saskatchewan - why couldn’t it be another summer stat holiday, when the roads were clear and the fresh warm winds of summer were blowing across the landscape. On the other hand, a holiday Monday in the long expanse of winter was certainly welcome, a helpful break in the span between the Christmas days off and Easter.
Accordingly, all across the province, plans were being made for a winter long weekend. Friday dawned clear, bright and cold. Just the right kind of weather for trips to see other family members, or to engage in a little winter time sightseeing in places near and far.
A Saskatoon seniors organization had rented a bus and driver to drive them south to North Dakota for a little weekend visit to a Bismarck casino. The Regina Association of Community Living had planned a trip to Saskatoon to visit the Western Development Museum, Wanuskewin Heritage Centre and the Ukranian Museum of Canada. There were three different van loads of girl guides and boy scouts taking advantage of the long winter weekend to do a little winter camping. The same was true for a few high school basketball teams heading south for a winter tournament, and some curlers heading north for a mixed bonspiel. There were also many car loads of families of all shapes and sizes packed with suitcases, board games, and weekend homework, as they headed to see aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, cousins, and friends in various places all across the province. Travel between the many first nations communities scattered across the province was especially brisk.
To sum things up, the streets and highways, driveways and garages of Saskatchewan were bustling with eager weekend celebrants as the late afternoon and evening of Friday approached. Not too many people noticed the change in temperature and the cloud front that was approaching the province from the west as they packed up their cars and vans, trucks and buses. Not too many of them had heard the weather news about the Alberta clipper that was supposed to arrive in the middle of the province by early evening. They all set out anyway, anxious to make this first family day weekend in Saskatchewan one to remember.
Little did they know.
The first storm clouds approached Highway 11 about 6:15 pm. The wind had picked up and the snow was quite heavy. Gusts were making the visibility close to zero for brief moments. By 6:40, the moments were turning into seconds, and by 6:47 the seconds were becoming tens of seconds, making travel absolutely treacherous. The vans and cars started to slow down and pull over to what the drivers thought were the shoulders. It was just too dangerous to proceed when it was as if a white sheet had been placed across the windshield. The first few drivers thought they were pretty much alone on the road. Pulling over to wait out the strongest gusts of wind seemed like the most prudent decision. It was only after a couple of drivers got out of their vehicles to see what was happening that they began to see how dangerous the situation had become. Some of those same drivers that had simply pulled over to wait out the whiteout, had narrowly missed hitting other vehicles that had done the same thing. Even while they gathered, chatted and tried to stay off the road, they saw other vehicles venturing into this maelstrom of blowing snow, people and vehicles. Unfortunately, not all the drivers were quite so lucky with their parking attempts. Fender benders started to occur with regular frequency as the cars and buses, vans and trucks, began to pile up on the road side. Lucky for everyone, the drivers had been prudent with their speed, and no dangerous impacts had yet occurred.
Someone had been listening to their car radio, and the latest weather reports were that this Alberta clipper was expected to last most of the night. Some of the weather people were now starting to call it a Saskatchewan screamer, as much of the province was being affected.
With travel too dangerous for anyone, a few of the gathering throng at the top of a small rise in the highway where the wind was blowing strongest decided to hike back a few hundred metres on the road to where the visibility was only marginally better. The plan was to stop vehicles before they ventured into the impromptu parking lot that had gathered at the top of the hill. Others had seen lights in the distance. The wind which was crossing the road at a right angle was easier to navigate when you could look into it. A few of them decided they could make it to the source of the light in the distance to see what assistance they could muster up. It turned out to be a farmhouse.
The elderly man and woman living there were at first quite hesitant to answer the knock on the door on a Friday night in the midst of a legendary Saskatchewan winter storm, but the insistent knocking eventually led them to warily open the door. They were quite surprised to see several men standing there. Quickly, the situation was described. The elderly farmers listened carefully. Things were very dangerous for the travellers who had been forced to park on the highway, and a place to get out of the wind and stay warm was desperately needed.
They had a heated quonset on their property and they guessed they could let people stay there for a bit until the wind abated and the snow ploughs had a chance to clear the road. They weren’t sure how they were going to feed everyone, but they would make some phone calls. There was a small women’s group in the area and they might be able to figure something out.
Quickly a plan was hatched. A human chain was formed.. The girl guides and boy scouts put their fabled preparedness into action as they helped seniors off their casino bound van. People in the Community Living van aided and were aided by others. First nations elders walked with grandma bound suburban teenagers along the path that by now was well worn and well marked by a shoulder to shoulder chain of fathers, teens and aunties.
Anyone, if they could have made it through the storm, to take a look into that quonset would have wondered. Somehow, a group of people had wrestled a wheelchair, complete with its occupant, off the ACL bus and had wheeled bumpily along the trail to the quonset. The young man in it, was busily engaged in conversation with a girl guide who had gone over to make sure that he was doing okay. Seniors from the gambling bus were cradling infants in their arms, and some Cree speakers were using sign language with three year olds, who stopped for a moment in the game of chase that had broken out amongst their impromptu play group.
A neighbouring farmer had a portable heater - the same kind that could be seen in early November at the Riders bench as they vyed for a spot in the Grey Cup. It was wheeled in and placed in a corner of the building to bolster the little gas stove that normally kept the bite off the temperature in the quonset.
Yes, someone, if it had been possible, looking in on that large equipment shed in Central Saskatchewan on the very first family day weekend, would have wondered at the circumstances that had brought this group of people together. But there they all were - eating sandwiches that had magically appeared along with community association cups of coffee that had brewed in community association sixty cup coffee makers.
A visitor might have wondered, but God was not wondering. This whoosh of the spirit was a strong one - the one that had blown in from Alberta. And the crackle of the heater in the corner wasn’t quite as pronounced as the campfire that some of the scouts wanted to build would have been, if the owner of the quonset had allowed it, but the tongues of fire could certainly be imagined. God was not wondering at all. God smiled. Something bad had turned out pretty well - the fender benders notwithstanding. The body of Christ had shown itself able. The commotion, the accents, the hand signals, the sharing of food and the communal cuddling of babies were all to be expected. What else would you expect. Pentecost and Christian Family Sunday had simply arrived a couple of months early in Saskatchewan this year! Amen.
By the way - it was a long night in the quonset, despite the sense of relief that they’d found it, and the new friendships and community that had developed on that home quarter that evening. But Saturday morning dawned clear and bright. The vehicles were all driveable. Some of them continued on their way for a shortened visit with loved ones. The seniors bus decided to head back home, they figured they’d used up all their luck already and there was not much desire to tempt it any further at the casino. God smiled at that decision too! Amen again.