A sequel to First Gear: A Motorcycle Memoir, Horses in the Sand is a collection of stories that document a queer Métis woman’s journey from her sparse beginnings as a child to becoming a tradeswoman, teacher, and artist. With courage, humour, and frank honesty, the stories describe what it was like to grow up as a girl who was starkly different from “normal” and how “coming out” became a lifelong process of self-acceptance and changing identities. Potvin’s tales also speak to the difficulties in participating in and maintaining healthy adult relationships when childhood foundations are rooted in violence and trauma, culminating with a triumphant account of fulfilling a long-time dream of buying land and building a home with her own hands. Ultimately, this memoir is a celebration of making art, telling stories, and of finding her birth father, a family of half siblings, and an Indigenous community whose presence she had always felt, but to which she never knew she belonged.
“Here’s rare and clear-eyed insight, without self-pity, into the complex life of a woman unafraid to have non-traditional dreams and to follow them. What a pleasure to read the story of a woman who has the courage to be all she can be, in the ways she wants to be it, with respect for the people around her and for her trade, but taking no guff. Thank you Lorrie Potvin!”
—Kate Braid, author of Journeywoman: Swinging a Hammer in a Man’s World and Hammer & Nail: Notes of a Journeywoman
“Lorrie’s stories had me laughing and crying. As an Indigenous woman who has had similar feelings and experiences I found her candor and humor refreshing. Stories from our women are certainly needed in a field once dominated by men’s stories.”
—Beverly Little Thunder, Two-Spirit Lakota Elder, author of the memoir One Bead at a Time (2016)
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- HORSES IN THE SAND
I headed south from Deadwood on Highway 385 and stopped to have dinner at the Pactola Visitor Center in the Black Hills National Forest.
I pulled up to the beach area and unloaded my cooler. Skinny Bitch, a shame and guilt expert, laid out cottage cheese, tuna, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and a mixed salad. Skinny Bitch’s sister, Fat Chick, had been dormant on the trip except for the time she made an appearance at Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper. When I was in line for a coffee, she kept poking me to look at a ceramic jar on a shelf. Written on its side in block letters was COME TO THE DARK SIDE. WE HAVE COOKIES. Skinny showed up, and we all argued back and forth, irritating each other in line until I got to the counter. We compromised on a berry muffin.
I assembled my salad at a picnic table on the beach and sat down facing the reservoir. The sun was setting on three kids and a black lab playing in the water. From their shouts and laughter, I learned the dog’s name was Bella. She came over to greet me with her tail wagging. She reminded me of Rafter, our very lovable black lab, who Paula and I euthanized right before my trip. That dog followed me everywhere. Whether I was in the house or out on the land, she was there. When I’d put her in the back of the Edge for a drive, she always jumped over into the back seat and sat with her front paws on the floor so she could lay her head on the centre console. I would reach back to pet her head, and her tail thumped the seat repeatedly.
Bella was a little taller and leaner than Rafter, but she had the same sweet disposition. Her tail frantically wagged back and forth, and her hips wiggled in time with its movement. I rubbed her ears and held her head in my hands to look in her eyes before she ran back to the water.
An older, mustachioed maintenance man wearing a ball cap and a light tan work shirt with a park maintenance logo on it walked the beach area in a grid pattern, picking up garbage along the beach. When he came close, I asked, “Is the gate gonna close soon?”
“No. You can stay here all night if you’d like,” he replied without losing a step in his grid walk. I overheard him talking with the woman whose kids were still in the water. They talked camping and touched on the fact that the concession people have all pulled out: “It’s the end of season, and Loop A is still open for camping.”
When he made his way back, I asked him about camping. He told me that I could camp for free. There was no one around to collect the fees, and the lower women’s washroom in Loop A was the only one open. He said there were lots of waterspouts available and that there should be enough firewood down there to have a fire. “Camp there until the Forest Service comes and tells you can’t,” he encouraged. I thanked him and told him I’d go over and check it out. I finished my dinner and packed up the cooler. It was funny how Skinny Bitch and Fat Chick always managed to skip out on the cleaning up part.
I thanked him and told him I’d go over and check it out. I finished my dinner and packed up the cooler. It was funny how Skinny Bitch and Fat Chick always managed to skip out on the cleaning up part.
He continued picking trash and then came back over to me. “Don’t you want to know how to get there?”
“Up there,” he said, pointing towards his left. “Turn right after about three-eighths of a mile, go past a cove with boats, and then turn right again. Then take your next left, go past the hut—don’t worry about it, no one will be there—go to where the garbage bins are and turn right past them.”
“So, right, right, left, and then right. Is that right?”
He chuckled. “I figure it is.”
I was closing my door when he returned again to give me directions to the gas stations that had laundry facilities, gas, and ice because “it’s good to know where those things are.”
I circled through Loop A and was blessed with a site overlooking the reservoir, Pactola Lake. At an uphill campsite was a Ford Transit with a Vermont licence plate. The couple who emerged were older, lean, and fit. There were two road bikes strapped to a carrier on the back of the van.
Down the hill to the south, at the next site over, were a young couple in their twenties. They had a truck, a boat trailer, and an old canvas tent, the style that used exterior galvanized poles to hold it up. They were enjoying a large fire.
I dressed in warm clothes, started a small fire of my own from scraps of wood that I quickly and easily scavenged from a couple of firepits, and used my headlamp to read a mystery novel I had been meaning to finish. I took the novel to bed around midnight and read until I fell asleep.
It had become a pattern, and not just on the road, that I woke up after three to four hours of sleep. That morning I woke up at four thirty.My mind was circling and looping, full of questions. Where am I going? What should I do? Why am I feeling the need to be on the move? Should I go home? What’s Paula doing? Should I call her again or wait for her to call me?
I read some more and then floated in and out of sleep until six-thirty, when a beautiful sun rose out the back window of the Ford. It was an exceptional sunrise, like a lot that I had witnessed—like a lot we had all witnessed, I suppose—but it didn’t meet the gold standard of the sun setting or rising on the prairies.
I thought I had experienced the most beautiful sunsets over the granite outcroppings and woods of the boreal forest, but my bragging rights were smashed when I saw my first prairie sunset driving west towards Saskatoon. I was awed, and it stirred a deep appreciation of the poems and prose that had been written in an attempt to fully capture the essence of the enduring prairie sun, as elusive as the spirit of the soul.
I hoped the rising sun would bring some needed warmth for the day. It had been a cold night, and I was very happy with my new blanket. I reluctantly got out of bed, layered on clothes, slid out of the Edge and into my boots, put on a jacket, and made some coffee with a percolator on my Coleman stove.
I noticed the young man running to his truck for wood. He used lighter fluid to get a fire going. His partner came out of the canvas tent, and they headed down to the shore along a dirt track, carved out of the ground like a snake winding around rocks and trees. It wasn’t long before I heard a motor start and saw them in their boat heading towards the middle of the lake. He was in shorts and a t-shirt, and she didn’t seem to have much more on herself. They were back within fifteen minutes. I saw her huddled up in the front, and he wasn’t sitting as tall as when they first left.
I finished my mug of coffee, putting the rest from the percolator in a thermos. The biker couple from Vermont were up and dressed in their bike shorts and tops. The young couple, buried in clothes, unhitched the boat trailer, got in the truck, and left. I suspected they might have thought catching and cooking their own breakfast would be kind of romantic, but a hot breakfast in town was a warmer alternative to spending time half-naked in the middle of the lake on a cold morning.
The young man kicked out their fire before they left, and plumes of smoke drifted through my site. I closed the doors to the Ford so my clothes and bedding wouldn’t absorb the smoke—a nod to Paula. She wouldn’t complain, but she always asked me to store the jacket I’d wear, either when keeping the fire for ceremony or burning brush, in the garage and not with her coats in the closet.
During my drive out of the reservoir, I pulled over to where some slate-like stone was exposed. It was the Sioux who called the area Paha Sapa, meaning “hills that are black.” The layers of stone were dark grey, and the ponderosa pines looked like they had been touched with charcoal along their bark edges and limb knots. The hills were also known to the Sioux as Wamakoagnaka E’cante, or “the heart of everything that is.”
I picked up a piece of stone and laid a pinch of tobacco down in its place before getting back into the Edge. I was taught by an Elder that when you take something from Mother Earth, you should offer tobacco in return because “tobacco medicine teaches us about reciprocity.” I stopped at the Hill City Café. Fat Chick was tired because she hadn’t slept well for a few days, and she was salivating over the potatoes, sausages, and bacon. Skinny quickly ordered what had lately become my usual breakfast: two eggs over easy, with wheat toast and sliced tomatoes. I imagined the tomatoes as potatoes, cut up and fried with onions and enough butter to make them crispy and tender.
When I got to the cash, Chick stared at the biggest cinnamon rolls she’d ever seen; they were as wide as a cantaloupe and as high as a short mug of coffee. Some had white icing, and others had melted sugar. I leaned into the counter. They smelled deliciously of bread, yeast, caramel, sugar, butter, and spice. She wanted to roll in them, to lather her breasts and belly in icing and soft yummy bits of dough. I yanked her out the door.