The following are my editorial comments for the Winter 2016 Issue of Folklore Magazine. To subscribe to the magazine and to become a member of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, go here and complete this form. Also follow SHFS on Facebook. Cover Photos: “Little girl holding two cats, Browning, 1920s”; Source: Adrian Paton Images.
After taking a step back and looking at Saskatchewan’s past from a broader, national perspective in the Autumn 2015 issue, we once again return to the individual and familial stories that make Folklore distinct.
This issue is bonded together by stories that illustrate the shared, yet deeply personal, experience of knowledge attainment. As the title of Richard Wood’s article denotes, the articles in this issue demonstrate that there are “Many Roads to Learning.” Wood provides a firsthand account of the length to which his family and neighbours went in order to ensure that the community’s children received an education, an experience that is and was shared by other rural Saskatchewan communities.
The standardized learning provided in school is only one way in which knowledge is garnered throughout life though. Experiential learning begins before we enter school and continues long after we put down the pencil at our last exam.
In “A Moose Hunt Story,” John Merasty relays a tale of the misadventures that he experienced on a hunting trip that he went on in 1980. Serving as a backdrop for the story is a learned Indigenous understanding of the natural world and a cultural tradition and skillset that has been passed down generationally. As the “greenhorn” on the expedition, Merasty’s narrative is coloured by his unique experience, as he relates the way in which his and his companions’ knowledge (or lack-there-of) affected the way in which their hunting trip played out.
Understanding the movement of a moose by looking at its tracks, having an intimate knowledge of the landscape, knowing how to survive frigid temperatures, these are all examples of traditional knowledge in Merasty’s article. Traditional knowledge can be passed down by way of demonstration, verbally, or by way of written word.
Irene K. Bingham’s “Saskatchewan Gopher Tales” is an example of written folkloric knowledge. In this instance the knowledge is familial in nature. In her piece, Bingham is relaying family stories to her great-nephew. The stories take a seemingly mundane activity, catching gophers, and turn them into charming stories, which connect the history of Bingham’s family to occurrences elsewhere in Canada and in Europe. The significance of these “gopher tales” is not necessarily the facts presented in the stories, but rather the way in which these stories have defined the identity of Bingham’s family throughout its generations and will continue to do so in the future.
The stories in this issue also connect human knowledge and experience to our interactions with non-human actors. Our relationships with animals, as illustrated in this issue, are complicated, at times utilitarian, at times heartwarming, and still at other times disconcerting.
In “The City Cat and the Country Cat,” Bev Lundahl demonstrates the way in which we often look to the animal world to better understand the intricacies of life. Looking back on her childhood, Lundahl smartly makes connections between her own experience and that of the cats in her past. The lessons that we learn in life come from a variety of sources, not just books.
What unusual or unexpected sources have provided you with invaluable lessons in the past? What stories or skills have been passed down through generations of your family? By what unconventional means have you gained knowledge? I hope that some of you take the time to share this knowledge with your fellow Folklore readers. And I invite all of you to let me know what you think of this issue; letters-to-the-editor are always greatly appreciated and help me steer the direction that Folklore takes in future issues.