Sweet November

I really felt like walking over and snuggling up next to the moose.

She was lying in a comfortable-looking patch of willows and grass, her tiny eyes barely staying open as she looked back at me while I took her picture. The wind hadn’t come up yet and even now, just a couple of hours after sunrise, the temperature was already in the double digits.

I was poking around between Dogpound and Madden, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to just cruise and see what I could see. I’d missed the sunrise - and it was a nice one - but the chinook arch sweeping overhead was diffusing the morning sun and bathing the landscape in nearly shadowless light.

It was easy to see that the day was going to get windy, There were already clouds shredding on the peaks to the west and the shadows cast from the lip of the arch were making dark streamersin the the dust in the air.

And there was lots of dust. 

I’ve occasionally seen combines working this late in the season before, usually chewing up canola, but there were at least half a dozen of them working the fields between Cremona and Crossfield. Barley chaff and dry dust from the canola was nearly fog-like around some of the fields.

But the warm November air made it feel far less strange. The scent of the dust in the rising temperature made it feel more like mid-September than mid-November. It was a warmer, more pleasant day than we had during the entirety of the Calgary Stampede. Except for the bare trees, it could have been summer.

The wind was starting to pick up now, heavy gusts coming from the west. The arch above was separating into banks of lenticular clouds, oblongs that stretched and changed like blobs in a horizontal lava lamp. 

I put up my little copter to take a few pictures of the bends where Dogpound Creek twisted through a pasture and just as I started to shoot the sun broke past the edge of the arch and flooded the ground below with light. Looking down at the screen with the video flowing back from the airborne camera, I could see the light moving quickly across the land. And I could feel it as it reached me, my black jacket rapidly going heat as the sun bore down on it.

I flew the copter back and rolled on hoping to find a combine to photograph from the air. 

Finding one wasn’t a problem. The problem was flying.

Launching the copter near an empty field, I attempted to fly it low over some some swaths waiting to be picked up. It took off just fine but the wind was so strong that I could barely get it to move forward. Too scary. I brought it back and put it away.

Heading back toward Dogpound, I tried to find valleys that were a bit sheltered but the wind was so strong that it reached everywhere. Horses grazed in the scant shelter of the bare trees and the combines left streaks of dust churning off to the east like contrails from a jet. The wind was so strong that it was lifting the windrows of swathed grain and tossing them around the fields.

It was warm, though, nearly hot, the warmest November day I can remember. If not for the wind and low angle of the sun, it would have been as fine as any summer day. But the wind, especially, was wearying.

Stepping out of the truck I was buffeted and shoved around and stopping the truck to shoot from inside was nearly as bad, the wind shaking the it as much as it shook me. Tiring and tough. I was really starting to regret not walking over to nap with the moose.

Still, though, it was lovely day. But I had to get back to town for an appointment so I rolled southeast.

I woke next morning to an equally lovely day and thought, why waste it cleaning the house doing other decades-neglected chores. I headed out toward Dogpound again.

And promptly saw another moose. This one was a male, though, standing among some aspens and not looking nearly as snuggly as the female I’d seen the day before. It was a little cooler, too.

But the wind was much sweeter, just a slight breeze that carried the scents of cattle, grain dust and damp. The chinook arch still rolled overhead but its edge was a series of streamers, not the wind-rolled blows from the day before. The mountain peaks were clear.

I looked around for a combine to maybe fly over but I found none. They really must have worked hard the day before. the fields that had been wind-tossed windrows were now just stubble and there were piles of grain in several fields, the kernels harvested and now just waiting to be hauled away.

The sun made it past the edge of the arch and the land was bathed in bright light. There was barely a ripple on any of the sloughs and their surfaces mirrored the sky. Deer were everywhere.

I watched them walking through fields and nibbling on dry berries. I found one nice mulie buck and his harem of does near Madden, his antlers glinting in the soft sunlight. A dozen or so whitetails walked the greens at the golf course.

And just to the south of Madden I stopped at a place I’d stopped the day before. 

A slope green with a cover crop stretched out to the west, mountain peaks rose on the horizon. A line of cattle grazed in the foreground. The day before it had looked nearly identical but the wind was so strong that it was nearly impossible to get a decent photo.

Now, though, it was nearly calm. The sun was warm. I could hear cattle mooing in the distance. A dog barked. 

So relaxing. A bit strange in November but so nice that we were having a day like this.

All I needed now was a moose to snuggle up with.


Into The Fog - Again

The fog was thick by Big Hill Springs, thicker by Madden.

I could see maybe four car-lengths in front of me, the line of hills just to the east of Big Hill Springs obscured in the heavy mist. The Madden golf course to the west of the road was completely invisible.

I was headed north to nowhere in particular, just aiming into the mist and …

Okay, hang on a second. This is starting to sound mighty familiar.

A week ago I’d been heading out into pretty much the same thing. The fog was thick in the city and thicker the further I got beyond the limits. The only real difference was this time I was headed north instead of east.

But the results were the same. Pretty tough to shoot pictures of things you can’t see.

So just north of Madden I turned and headed for Airdrie. I didn’t know what I’d be able to see over that way either but there wasn’t much point in continuing on my present trajectory.

And then, just as I approached Highway 2, I had one of those head-slapper moments and pulled over to the side of the road. Still surrounded by fog, I fished my phone out of the detritus on the floor of my truck and hit the home button.

There I saw glowing at me an icon, blue with a little sunburst peeking out from behind a cloud. I tapped it and it sprang to life.

Before me unfurled a list that I had compiled over the years of places I was interested in, places I’d been. And for each of those places it showed the current weather conditions.

Irkutsk, Istanbul and Buenos Aires were a little beyond the hours of daylight I had left. But Vulcan wasn’t. I tapped on the name.

It was still foggy all the way there but an hour and a bit later I rolled over a rise and saw the town in front of me in the rapidly thinning, silvery mist. A line of clouds rose into a soft blue sky. The sun was peeking out from behind one of them, just like the app said.

The fog was thin by Champion, thinner at Carmangay. By Barons it was all but gone.

It was still a little misty, though, at Keho Lake and the swans that were gathered there swam across waters that shimmered with silver. The shallow west end of the lake was full of the big white birds, tundra swans stopped here on their way south. Their chirps and peeps carried through the nearly-still air, mingling with the laughs of mallards and barks of coots and trucks passing on the highway close by.

The southern shores held flocks of widgeon, teal and pintails. Harriers hunted along the edges while a bald eagle flew by overhead. There were fishermen at the east end where the irrigation canal exits the lake. The water was like a mirror, the horizon blending perfectly into the sky.

It was warm here, too, and the air smelled almost spring-like. It must have rained or snowed some time in the last few days as the roads were muddy and puddles sat in the low spots but the sun was pushing a lot of radiant heat through the clouds and the thin mist that still lingered.

In fact, it was fairly foggy not far to the east. Picture Butte and Diamond City were both obscured. But the valley between Coalhurst and Nobleford was clear.

And green.

This truly is the banana belt of Alberta, hot in the summer, milder than most places in the winter. With irrigation you can grow pretty much anything here. That’s why on the first day of November I found bright green grass and alfalfa, sugar beets with their tops still crisp and green and volunteer mustard still covered with yellow blossoms filling the fields.

It’s not like this every year, of course. November is a particularly nasty month. But on this day with the fog burned off and a freshening chinook wind blowing in from the west, man, what a stunning place to be.

I rolled on west and north and stopped to check out a sunflower field I’d been watching since springtime and found that all the plants were still standing and waiting to be harvested. They were brown and dried out - and a lovely colour against the blue sky - and they rattled in the wind.

A wind that was increasing in velocity by the minute. 

Not far from the sunflowers I found cattle grazing on a patch of bright green grain - winter wheat, maybe or some other cover crop - and hung my big lens out the window. The camera shook in the breeze and gusts rocked the truck. 

At a slough close by I found more swans swimming and flexing their wings as grey waves crashed around them. Turning their big bodies into the wind they were aloft in just a few sweeps off their wings and as they landed again at the far end of the slough they hung in the air like gigantic white hummingbirds as they settle back on the water.

The day was nearly done by now and I headed north again but the further I went, the lighter the wind became. By Brant it was nearly calm and over by Blackie I found a thousand or so more swans.

They evening light set them aglow against the pea field they were feeding in, a bright beluga white against the brown of the land. They’d flown here from nearby Frank Lake, one of the best places around to see birds of any kind, and they fed on spilled peas, plant roots and anything else they could glean, pretty much oblivious to my presence.

Just like back at Keho Lake, their peeps and chirps filled the air, air so still that I could hear their wingbeats as groups of them passed overhead.

The mountains to the west were nearly obscured by cloud while off to the north I could see that big patches of fog still lingered, the last light of day setting their top edges aglow.

But here all was beauty, the sights and sounds of a late-fall southern Alberta day washing over me. If only I’d come this way in the first place.

Yeah, I could have figured things out a bit better before I left the house but where’s the adventure in that? And besides, you don’t need a weather app to know which way the wind blows.

Sun gone, swans flying back to roost, I headed on home.