Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 8: We have these things

Don't blame me if this entry is a bit disjointed. The whole Eastern Irrigation District resists narrative.

"And here," she said as she slid open the secret panel, "we have these things." I had terrified her minutes before, as the Eastern Irrigation District Museum in Scandia gets few visitors. I was her first in two weeks of working there. Now, she was opening doors previously invisible to me to reveal the museum as much larger than I had thought at first.

Indeed, there were many things. Old telephones, clothing "falling apart from the inside out", a stuffed hawk. An old shower. The original register of the Scandia Curling Club, which must have admitted every able-bodied man in town. Cabinets, even a display case of "japanese things". All of these things were unlabelled, except perhaps for a small tag to indicate who donated it. My guide knew little about any of these things, other than they were all "pretty cool".

But it isn't her fault, really. The Eastern Irrigation District contains many towns; indeed all their names are carved into separate stone boulders at the museum. These towns all contain many people and things. But the irrigation district is a vortex which strips allthings of meaning. It is a collection of objects stripped of their relationsips to one another. Why is a place called the "Eastern Irrigation District", without any qualifier on "eastern", found deep in western Canada? How come each time I try to write about it, I end up with a mess of descriptions, concluding with some meaningless summation like "Such is the human condition" or "It is representative of the postmodern condition"? Why is the boulder engraver's granddaughter my tour guide?

Outside was a collection of antique farm equipment, with dubious names recorded only on a secret decoder scrap of looseleaf paper held by my tour guide. Potato bug sprayer. That's the only one I remember. I don't recall if its purpose was to spray potato bugs, or spray something to keep the potato bugs away.

A building full of old stoves and other miscellania. It is as though the museum is largely a collection of junk no one has the heart to sell or throw away. Oh, but this is pretty cool, a blacksmith's shop which is actually made operational once a year during the fair. The fair is named after the museum's founder, who has some non-descript name like Frank Earlton. His main claim to fame is apparently founding the museum. He must have had a lot of pretty cool things.

My guide had never given a tour before, so she was very nervous and did not know how to give the presentation. I tried to help, by asking questions like "What's so great about the Eastern Irrigation District anyway?" and "Did Frank Earlton do anything else other than start the museum?" but those questions couldn't reveal any information in this vortex.

She didn't know what keys went to what buildings, and there was one building she never found the key to. She said it was full of kitchen furnishings and food and drink containers from the early days of the district, that a woman had been working in there to organize and label everything, to try to make some sense in this senseless place.

I guess the irrigation district responded by disappearing the key to make this place inaccessible. I fear if this woman continues to try to build meaning in this place then in some year to come, both her and her building will disappear, to disappear not only from reality, but from the memories of the townspeople.

If you are interested in visiting this place, the museum is located in Scandia, Alberta. The vortex itself must begin at the Bossano dam, where most of the Bow River's water is drawn off to irrigate the district. I definitely recommend it, as it is somehow representative of the human condition.

Day 8 ended: 50*54.326N, 109*58.362W

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