Slomo Snow

Big flakes falling near Longview. Shot at 1080p 120fps on my iPhone 6s.

The snow was coming down heavily near Black Diamond.

I could see maybe four car-lengths in front of me and the wipers could barely keep the windshield clean. Under the tires, the road was a sloppy mess and the truck was having a bit of trouble tracking along.

Somewhere up ahead, up along the Sheep River, I knew that bighorn rams were butting heads. But the road was too slick, the snow coming down too thick. They’d have to wait for another day.

I turned south and headed toward Hartell.

It was still snowing in the Tongue Creek valley but not as hard. I was on the southern edge of the heaviest snowfall and overhead I could see bits of blue sky starting to poke through. Now it was just squalls.

I stopped to take some pictures of cattle that had waded into a slough and were chomping on the green still growing there but they were shy and sloshed out before I could get a shot. But then they stood there and stared at me - as cattle will do - while the snow sifted down around them.

Then the sifting slowed and a few minutes later, it stopped. Grey mist filled in the gaps. Across the ridge in the Highwood River valley I found a bald eagle sitting in a tree while a gang of ravens picked at a road-killed deer. The wind was calm. I could hear cattle off in the distance.

I might be making it sound kinda miserable but it was actually really pleasant. It was cool and grey, true, but it was also quite relaxing. I passed through Longview and headed south, the sky brightening as I drove along. By the time I reached Pekisko Creek, the sun was shining.

What little snow had fallen here had mostly melted and in the sunlight the fence line, the grass, the aspens and cottonwoods all glittered with water drops. There were ducks on the roadside ponds and a family of trumpeter swans flew by low to the ground. Cattle were clumped in groups out in the open fields.

Behind me I could see the snow line, a bank of dark clouds on the northern horizon. It looked like it had hit the big hill at Longview and snagged un the ridge unable to move any further. There were still clouds above me but they were clumped like the cattle in the pastures, groups of them here and there dark against the blue, some casting shadows on the land, others trailing curtains of snow.

I stopped to shoot one of those curtains by Stimson Creek. 

Big feathery flakes were falling like down from an exploded pillow so I set up my phone to shoot in slow motion and let them fall around me. I could feel them landing on me, on my head and hands, and melting almost instantly. Magical.

The sun was shining just down the road, though, so I moved on and turned on Williams Coulee Road. Looking back from the crest where the road turns into the Porcupine Hills I could see my little snow storm sweeping along the ridge just south of the Bar U Ranch, a soft pigeon-blue broom sweeping across the brown hills.

The wind started up as I rolled down into the Mosquito Creek valley. There were still clouds and snow to the south, the mile-high ridges dark under their shadows, but the wind was shredding them, sending waves of them northward where they evaporated against the blue above me.

It was still clear here but off to the north where the cold front had stalled I could see clouds building higher and higher. A single white horse stood in a pasture with the sky churning behind it. A mule deer doe - the only deer I saw all day - looked up from feeding along the creek as a gust of wind swept down the valley.

I turned south and headed to the higher country.

It was much windier up here. I stopped to try for a picture of a golden eagle but it took off and was immediately swept away. A tractor loading round bales left a stream of loose straw trailing behind it in the wind as it picked up the hay. 

The light, though, was superb. 

The bright sun kicked speeding shadows across the valleys and hillsides as the clouds moved along and lit up the damp grass and green cover crops with a low-angle glow. I stopped to take a picture of a lone tree on a hilltop with a road leading up the ridge and every picture I took looked different as the cloud shadows shifted and flew.

I headed out through the magnificent slash of Williams Coulee and hit the wind again on the other side. There were horses bathed in sunlight with their manes and tails tousled by the gusts as they grazed along. A coyote bounced across the road in front of me like a tumbleweed, looking back over its shoulder before taking off like a shot. Snow seemed to fall from the blue sky sky but it was just the wind scattering the flakes falling a kilometre away.

I carried on westward and stopped again where the road rolls over the summit of the Porcupines. 

Looking north I could see the clouds building even higher while to the west they were absolutely flying over the hills, The wind was coming straight out of the south and it must have gathered strength as it pushed up the Willow Creek and Beaver Creek valleys just beyond the ridge before dropping off toward Mosquito Creek below me to the north. The clouds were being torn to pieces.

But the day was nearly done. I turned around by Willow Springs and headed back toward the city, the sun nearly at the end of its short early-winter arc and about to dip behind the clouds over the mountains.

A short day but a dramatic one.

East to Nanton, north to High River, a flock of tundra swans in a white V flying past between them and the day was done.

Heavy snow, soft snow, sunshine, wind, white landscape right next to brown. Yet another lovely southern Alberta day.

Bank of dark clouds in front of me, I headed on home.