If It's Foggy, It's Tuesday

Okay, I guess if it’s foggy, it must be Tuesday.

For the third time in the last month I headed out into a thick blanket of morning fog. Not that there was a choice, really. There was fog in every direction and no way to avoid it. 

But this time, instead of just heading out blindly, I checked the weather forecast. It said that the fog would clear as I rolled east and the morning wore on. Partly cloudy skies by mid-day.

Blind in faith and nearly so in fog-shrouded vision, I lit out for Bassano and Crawling Valley.

You already know how it goes from here. Still foggy at Gleichen, frost and fog at the summit of Cluny hill. Slightly better visibility at Crowfoot. No visibility at all at Crawling Valley.

The only real difference this time was that it was cold enough for frost to form. Not that crystally, feathery frost, though, but mainly just a concretion of tiny white crystals, more like the coating on a KFC drumstick than a scattering of down from a burst pillow.

Still, it was kinda pretty. And I’ve always been a sucker for frost. So I kept rolling on into it instead of heading south where I knew the sun was shining. But maybe the third time would be the charm.

There was very little ice on Crawling Valley reservoir, not a surprise given how warm November has been. And there were birds there, too. 

The big flocks of tundra swans and snow geese have moved on but there were plenty of mallards, Canada geese and coots. Family groups of tundra swans paddled around - usually the parents and a couple of nearly-grown cygnets - and harriers flew low over the frosty cattails and reeds along the shore. 

The light was dull and turned everything shades of grey but there was just enough autumn tawniness to the cattails and the shoreline ryegrass to add a bit of colour. Even the occasional clumps of aspens sitting in damp spots on the sagebrush prairie offered a big of brightness, their trunks a couple of shades whiter than the frost that had formed on them.

I passed several birds as I drove on toward Gem. Pheasants crossed the road in front of me while shrikes flew around the thickets of buffaloberry. I saw snow buntings and horned larks. And one snowy owl that took off and disappeared into the mist - like all the other birds I’d seen - before I could shake loose the camera.

I did manage to find a lone mourning dove that bobbed its head at me from a perch in a cottonwood in a farmyard, though. Not sure how well equipped a delicate thing like that will be for the winter weather that’s eventually going to get here. It should have headed south a month ago.

I’d hoped to find antelope north of Gem on the wide swath of prairie that leads to the Red Deer River valley but they must have better places to be. So I headed down to the Finnegan Ferry to have a look.

I know it wouldn’t be in operation but the coulee that leads down to the river crossing is just so pretty. And even more so today. As I descended toward the river I dropped below the fog line. The reds of the willows and dossier dogwood shone in the soft light. Cactus, although winter desiccated, glowed with a solemn green.

The grass along the coulee sides was fawn-coloured, tawny, milk chocolate and plain old brown. The spring-fed creek running through the coulee sang along, the water splashing up onto the moss and bankside grass and coating it with splash ice and ice bells. I scooped up a handful of its icy waters to have a sip and it tasted of iron with a touch of sulphur.

I hadn’t seen them on the way down the coulee but on the way up I spotted first one and then two more mule deer bucks. They should be with their harems at this time of year but maybe they’d just been unlucky with love.

Or maybe their girls were up top and wandering in the fog and these guys were just having a boys getaway. Either way, no ladies.

There were more shrikes at the top of the coulee - man, they are hard to photograph - and a whole flock of doves up the road. I watched a tractor knocking down sunflower stalks in a field and got pictures of some of the still-standing ones coated in frost. 

I started heading east now, circumnavigating Crawling Valley. I’d hoped there might be some more big birds on Wolf Lake but no luck there. And I saw another snowy owl sitting like a barely differentiated white lump in a frosty field. There were rough-legged hawks around, too, but they were easily spooked for some reason.

It wasn’t until I turned south from Crawling Valley that I could anything at all. And I heard them before I saw them.

The d Diet Coke and coffee I’d had for breakfast had worked their way through my system so I pulled over to, um, check the weather. And as I stepped from the truck I heard a chorus of honks.

There were a couple of hundred Canada geese on the ponds due east of Bassano, a noisy gathering of dark, noisy semi-silhouettes gathered on the ice along the open water near the middle. I figured they’d all take off as soon as I stopped but they held while I shot my pictures. 

Pictures which I have to admit don’t have a lot in common with something that’s in focus. Hey, it’s hard to focus through fog.

By then I’d had enough of blundering around half-blind so I rolled back west again. And as I neared Cluny, the sky started to glow. 

The fog was thinning, lifting, enough sun was getting through to start melting the frost. And then just north of Gleichen, the sun broke through. Glorious.

The fog wasn’t done yet, though. I cut west toward Namaka with the sun a silvery disc in the sky and stopped by Carseland as the disc turned from silver to gold. A soft mist persisted all the way back to the city.

But at least I could see. If only the forecast for Bassano had been right. 

Oh well, there’s always next week. But if it’s foggy again, I’ll know it’s Tuesday.

In which case, it’ll be Wednesday when I’m on the road again.