In late 2008 I was lucky enough to travel to Alberta, Canada. I was there as part of an art team (led by Sans façon) we were on a research trip at the beginning of our commission to look at the City of Calgary through it's relationship to water. We traced the city's water supply from the Bow Glacier, through the urban area and out onto the vast prairie beyond. On the prairie we were shown the remains of homesteads
The Albertan climate is very dry, there are long cold winters and a growing season of approx 3 months in every year. The European migrants came from a climate where they were used to abundant water, where often the challenge had been to keep land drained to prevent crops, buildings and machines from rotting.
The new farming communities on the Albertan Prairie were shortlived with most people either returning to Europe or moving into the Canadian towns. But the climate means that the marks made on this landscape will endure....machinery abandoned in a Scottish field will be rusted solid in a year....yet on the prairie we saw machines that had lain for nearly a century and you could still turn a gear cog.
As our Canadian friend Heather said of her country
- 'we don't rot we shrivel'
It is odd how European culture should be considered so 'heritage heavy' ie that we are known for preserving things. On the prairie preservation is so effortless - nearby the homesteads is a First Nation 'Medicine Wheel', this is a monument contemporary with Stone Henge. The Medicine Wheel consists of a few smallish boulders and a network of walked paths, in the Scottish climate this place would have been very quickly lost under undergrowth. In Europe we have to work incredibly hard to preserve anything, I think this was part of the reason I found the prairie so troubling - I felt that every footprint and fleeting gesture made there was potentially 'lasting'.