The skies were spectacular at a pioneer homestead on the Saskatchewan prairie.
Canada’a province of Saskatchewan bills itself as the “Land of Living Skies,” and that was certainly true last week when I spent three perfect nights under some of the darkest skies in the country.
The location was the Old Man on His Back Prairie & Heritage Conservation Area, deep in dry southwest Saskatchewan, between Grasslands National Park and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, two favourite places of mine for nightscape photography and astronomy.
The Conservation Area reclaims and preserves original short grass prairie habitat. It is named for the formation to the west that is said to resemble the profile of Napi, the creator being of Siksika legends, who after creating the world, lay back here to rest.
The land was once a working ranch first settled by the Butala family. The white pioneer house in my photos dates from that time. It was built in Montana and moved here in the 1920s.
In the mid-1990s Peter and Sharon Butala transferred their land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to create an island of original prairie amid the heavily grazed land around it.
For astronomers, the Area serves also as an island of darkness amid intruding light pollution. The region is very dark, with few lights and manmade sky-glows on the horizon.
My 360° panorama above shows that the greatest glows come from the arc of the aurora to the north and the arch of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. This is a stargazer’s paradise.
My 2-minute compilation of time-lapse videos and still images taken over three crystal clear nights attempts to capture the wonder of the night sky from such a dark site. Be sure to enlarge the video to full screen to view it.
It was in the little white house that Sharon Butala wrote some of her best-selling books retelling stories of her life on the prairie, notably The Perfection of the Morning, and Wild Stone Heart.
In the latter book, Sharon writes:
“At night the Milky Way glittered and gleamed above us, fathomlessly deep and numberless, the constellations wheeled slowly across the sky with the seasons, and the moon came and went, sometimes white as a maiden’s face, sometimes a looming orange sphere … under such an endless, open sky.”
– Sharon Butala, Wild Stone Heart (Harper Collins, 2000)
– Alan, May 25, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com