Brandon, Manitoba – Witch brooms on trees

Torrential rain for hours is inconceivable in Middle Europe. It’s tipping it down, but we don’t want to be kept from hiking by the rain. Armed with rain jacket, rain cape, water-resistant pants and rubber boots we are clumping into Spirit Sands. In the beginning sand dunes are grown over with dense vegetation. Double as much rain as in an average desert allows birches and oaks, firs and spruces, aspens and poison ivy to grow. Less pleasant for the trees are witch brooms called blackish branch swellings, caused by a parasitic plant belonging to the mistletoes. They manipulate hormonal balance of their hosts, and tap nutrient transport that leads to weakening and sometimes death of the tree. Attempts to chemically exterminate the parasite were extraordinarily successful. Unfortunately the host died each time as well.

Slowly vegetation gets thinner and grasses take over. Eventually we find the tiny cactuses. We are lucky they bloom in the middle of June. Finally plants disappear completely and there is just sand. We find traces of deer and a big cat, perhaps a cougar. For kilometres we follow the trail through the peculiar wet sand desert.

I don’t envy the man at Saskatchewan information centre. He tries to make the prairies tempting to the visitors. But he supports us with precious information about interesting spots. He also tells us that Trans Canada Highway at the provincial border to Alberta is closed due to flooding. Rain is in Saskatchewan as well. Here we meet Francoise and Dominique, two French travellers with a motorhome on a world trip. They plan to visit all the Americas, ship from Buenos Aires to North Africa, and head back to France then. We decide to spend the night together to exchange experiences.

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