As published in the Paisley Advocate, Oct 2007

Saugie Painting Liz 1

Saugie Painting Liz 2

A long, long time ago, there were no people, no families, no little boys or girls, no towns or cities. Long, long ago, the world was different. More land was under water. It was warm all the time and dinosaurs were everywhere.

The Brontosaurus (bron-tah-SAW-rus) was a giant, but its mouth was tiny. It ate plants – lots and lots of plants – because it had a big, big body! It had a cousin called Brachiosaurus (brack-ee-oh-SAW-rus), who also ate plants. This dinosaur was fat. It was too fat to run from enemies; that’s why it stayed in the water. It was safe there, and food was close by.

Bronto and Brachio loved the land as much as the water. It was fun to walk along the mossy banks, squishing mud between their toes, sometimes sunbathing in the long grass after a meal of wild leeks and fiddleheads. This was a good time to be a dinosaur.

In time, the sky changed; we watched the sun get lost in volcanic ash. The water turned into rivers and ran downhill to the sea. Lots of Bronto’s and Brachio’s descendants took to the forests, and lots took to the sea, but before long there were only a few who survived.

This is how I came to be.

Far, far away, across the ocean, there is a magical place called Scotland. In Scotland, there is a famous loch (lake). It is called Loch Ness. Loch Ness is very cold, very, very deep, and very, very dark. It has been said that they can’t find the bottom of the loch; they also say there are caves that take you under the land and out to the North Sea.

My great-great-great-grandfather came from Loch Ness. He loved the highlands of Scotland. He swim the shoreline looking at the hills purple with heather. He looked for wild raspberries and gooseberries to take home to the family. Wildflowers were also a favourite; they would make great-great-great-grandmother so happy, she would blush! They all loved to hear the bagpipes; sometimes they would put their ears out of the water to catch the sound. They would splash-dance in the water. Our ancestors were happy and loving.

One day, when great-great-great-granddad was paddling along the shore, he surprised a monk! The monk was lost in thought – monks tend to be preoccupied with god and god’s words; sometimes they vow never to speak. But this monk ran home and yelled out loud, “There was something out on the loch. He was monstrous!” The monk talked and told others what he had seen. After that, people who hadn’t even seen granddad started to talk and, as usual, distort the story. Some started calling him “the Loch Ness Monster”!

Great-great-great-granddad was monstrous, but not a monster – that is, he was big, but not scary. “Nessie,” as the Loch Ness Monster is sometimes called, has never hurt anything or anyone.

I’m Saugie, his great-great-great-granddaughter, and I have a long memory. It’s longer than my age. In my family, every story is passed on from one generation to another, never to be forgotten. My ancestors came to Paisley in the 1800s. At that time, Scottish people were forced to leave their homes and land and travel across the sea to Canada, into the unknown. The people were very sad. They brought along a few bits and pieces, given to them by the friends they left behind. It was a terrible, sad time. My family, the Saugies, knew what this pain was like, so they sent my mother, Old Saugie, to travel with the ship. After a safe passage, the ship arrived on the shore of Canada. Alas, on leaving the ship, the cries and tears were just too much for Old Saugie to bear. “I’ll just go up the river a little with them and see them settled,” she thought.

And so Old Saugie began a new life in a new river—the Saugeen. There were lots of new friends to meet: sturgeon, musky, bass, deer, foxes, and more. Lots of food grew on the banks of the river, more fiddleheads and wild leeks than she’d ever seen! The new settlers were busy, building homes and raising cattle and children. They were still sad at times and would sing the old songs together. They, too, had bagpipes! It was beginning to feel like home.

Old Saugie started to gain weight; “too many fiddleheads,” she thought. Imagine her surprise when she discovered she was pregnant and was going to have a baby! She sent a message back to Scotland; the family was overjoyed at the thought of a “Canadian” Saugie. Her Dad arrived soon after to help her prepare. A nest was built in a very secret place. Food was stocked. They cuddled and laughed and loved. It seemed like it took forever for the egg to grow, but at last it was the right size and weight. Old Saugie pushed and pushed and plopped it into her nest. A few hot and sunny days later, the egg got a crack and out came Baby Saugie – me!

Old Saugie’s dad, my granddad, returned to Scotland. He had work to do in the North Sea – something to do with oil rigs – but he promised to return.

It takes a long, long time to raise a baby Saugie and teach it all the ways to survive – my mother had to teach me not only all that’s past, but also to use my instincts for the dangers that lay ahead.

Today, I have a lot to contend with. Like all the Saugies, I’m very elusive; I can blend into the grass and trees as well as the water. I don’t always stay in Paisley; in fact, every May, when the crowds gather by the bank of the river to carry boxes marked “24,” it’s time for me to head for the lake. The natives are very restless, and extra city-dwellers come visit. Everyone wants to play in the river – I call them “the Pirates of the Saugeen!” Rafts overturn; even the fish hide. At night, they put fire in the sky. I hear the big bangs like when the volcanoes erupted. I return to the river when the sky settles again, and the town is at peace and everyone is happy for most of the summer.

The fish and I loved the duck races – all those orange ducks, hurrying downstream, their little bums going side to side. We laughed for days!

But the forest is thinner now (and Saugie is too)! The water is not as clear and fresh as I would like. My own colour his begun to change. The old ways are changing. I long for someone to walk the banks playing the bagpipes. I miss the songs people once sang together. The wildlife has become much more elusive, even the fish jump less. The sky is sometimes grey.

But I’m still here. Once in a while, I like to approach a friendly villager; I may even talk to you if you are very quiet and respect the land and water. (I think it helps if you have a Scottish ancestor yourself.)

I’ll be watching for you watching for me!

love, Saugie (and Liz) paintings by Liz Heron


P.S. Saugie would like to say hello to Luke Markus (and all the other Saugie lovers of Paisley, young and old alike). Saugie knows all about the love Luke sends her way. She knows Luke is a world traveler too! Come back and visit, Luke!