Baxter Black: Cottonwood Silk In The Air
Many years ago this month, I was invited to the 75th Annual Southwestern Saskatchewan Sheep and Woolgrowers/Stockdog Trials in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.
The night before the big do, I sat in Bernice’s kitchen as she cut leg o’lamb into one-inch squares for shish kabob. I was helping Skewer. The banquet was sold out, over 400 expected so there was a lot of cutting and skewering.
“How ya gonna cook this meat?” I asked. She explained she had four backyard BBQ grills lined up with an engineer and a fireman for each. Sounded good to me.
Saturday afternoon I spent at the fairgrounds watching the dog trials. That evening at the armory, four BBQ grills ‘bout the size of a Toyota tire were set up on the lawn at the West entrance. A gentle breeze wafted through the cottonwood trees and carried the inviting scent of hot coals and sizzling shish kabob into the packed building. Inside, the crowd was excited, loud and beginning to perspire. Folks seeing neighbors and friends, jostling at the bar and anticipating. Soon, smoke began to thicken in the hall. It was taking a long time to cook
The first forty or so people were served. The lamb fat drippin’ on the coals forced a continual restoking. During the next two and a half hours, the crowd grew restless but remained ever Canadian polite.
By the time the last group was served, the tables, silverware and walls were slick. Sweating people were glistening with lamb fat. Cottonwood fluff clung to cheeks, hats and the occasional butter pat. The M.C., a big boy wearin’ a western suit and black cowboy hat took the stage. He looked like a bronzed statue of a draft horse somebody’d sprayed with WD40.
A succession of dignitaries brought congratulations from commissioners, premiers and prime ministers, not to mention a thorough review of the association’s history including a reading of the entire minutes of the first meeting in 1914. A dance followed.
It was such a success that two years later I was invited back for the second annual 75th Annual Southwestern Saskatchewan Sheep and Woolgrowers/Stockdog Trials.
This time of year, cottonwood silk in the air makes me think of those good folks in Maple Creek and of others in small rural communities like Burke, Blackwell and Berrian Springs. Sunray, Syracuse and Spring Grove. Portales, Bloomfield, Lifingston, Lacomb, Wisner, Omak, Big Piney and Xenia…They represent the finest we country people have to offer. I sure am proud to be a part of y’all.
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