rose at dawn eastward to the sunrise

I don’t think the bull’s intentions were entirely gentlemanly.

Hock-deep in a slough, he was following a trio of cows that had waded in just before him. One of the cows had already started back to shore to reunite with her calf but the other two were headed to slightly deeper water. As they did, the bull picked up his pace. His tongue snaked out and he ran it across his muzzle.

It was a little past ten in the morning and I’d already been out in the area of the slough for about five hours. I’d spent the previous night tossing and turning and finally rolled out of the sack a half-hour before my 4:15 alarm went off and tumbled off into the blue of the pre-dawn.

Had I actually gotten some sleep, I would have had more appreciation for the crescent moon and the bright dot of Venus hanging in the eastern sky and had I thought about getting my tank filled the previous day, I might have been out of town in time to make a few pictures out of the lovely scene.

But by the time the coffee kicked in, the sun had cut a notch in the eastern horizon and salmon-coloured light washed out any view of the celestial bodies. Luckily, though, I was beyond the city limits when it happened and the world in front of me was every bit as pretty as the penumbral sky had been.

I’d been out this way with my pal Todd the day before and noticed the incredible amount of wild roses blooming along the aptly-named Rosebud River. The day had been parsimonious in its portioning of nice light, though - it kinda sucked, in fact - so we rolled on through. But there was potential there. I decided to head back the next morning.

And here I was.

The lakes east of Keoma were flat and reflective, the pinkish clouds repeating on their mirrored surfaces. Mist drifted along pushed by a slight morning breeze. Clouds of midges had started to rise and they milled in twisting pods], spinning in mini-murmurations. Blackbirds called, ducks quacked. A muskrat nibbled on a cattail breakfast.

The bank of clouds on the horizon dissipated quickly and let the morning light flood across the fields and pastures. Shafts of it pushing between trees along the irrigation canals lit the last of the lingering mist. The new greens of the grain fields and grass glowed like emeralds.

The roses, though, didn’t.

I’m not sure why. They were just as numerous as the day before but in the morning light they were harder to see. In the grey light of the previous afternoon their pink faces glowed against all the green. Now, in the direct light of the newly-risen sun, they seem to blend in. Not that they weren’t pretty, oh, my, no. But they just didn’t stand out.

The area I was in is kind of southeast of Irricana, a chunk of open prairie surrounded by grain and feed fields. Sloping down from the south towards the valley of the Rosebud River, it’s covered by a series of small, rolling hills that are actually vegetation-covered dunes. In places you can see where the fine sand under the grass and sage is exposed.

It’s porous country and most of the little dips have ponds in them, some quite big, others just barely there. On the north end, a few mossy little creeks flow, their clear waters thinning out the perpetual brown of the Rosebud.

Birds abound. Meadowlarks are everywhere and I must have seen a hundred of them either hunting in the grass or hollering from fenceposts. Clay-coloured sparrows continuously sing their buzzing songs while savannah sparrows chime in a little more melodiously. There’s Brewer’s blackbirds and cowbirds poking around among the cattle and redwing and yellow-headed blackbirds share the cattails and reeds of the numerous ponds with teal and gadwall.

Swallows and kingbirds flit around after bugs, Swainson’s and redtail hawks - think I might have seen a ferruginous, too - take advantage of the rising thermals to hunt from the sky overhead or rest along fences. Pheasants stalk the field edges.

On the bigger ponds - lakes, really - white pelicans paddle along.

There’s deer, of course, and thousands of gophers. Coyotes disappear over the horizon at the sight of a vehicle. Willows and aspens grow where their feet can get wet, pasture sage, fescue and wolf willow fill in the rest.

If not for the fences and cattle, this patch of land would be practically Pleistocene.

The morning rolled on and I headed over toward Rockyford to see what the light was like over there. At Stahlville Colony i found a patch of roses in the shade and nearby a group of cattle already seeking relief from the hot sun. Flying my little copter over a soft, green field, a farm sprayer passed by on the road. I swivelled my machine to catch its passing.

It was plain by now, though, that the light wasn’t going to let me get the pictures of the roses that I wanted but I turned around at Rockyford to give the pretty pasture land another try anyway.

And I was just about back there when I saw the cattle in the slough.

The cows had waded in first and one had just started to take a drink when the bull began to approach. They noticed him right away.

Splashing through the water and slorping through the mud, they moved out of his way. But he didn’t want them out of his way. No, he wanted them right where they were.

Licking his muzzle and quickening his pace, he sloshed after them. But the cows split, one heading to deeper water, the other heading back to shore.

The bull stopped and stood there, his ungentlemanly intentions thwarted by the diverging paths of the cows. Muck dripping from his belly, he was motionless, undecided. Finally, he turned and headed back to shore, mud sucking at his hooves as he walked slowly back into the grass.

No rush, I guess. He’s got all summer with these girls.

I rolled on to the Rosebud valley and turned toward Beiseker, my belly telling me that the day was moving on. The sun was high overhead now and hardly a cloud in the sky. It would be at least another eight hours before the sun was back in a position where the roses might look nice again.

But the roses would have to wait for another day. Me, I was kinda pooped. One burger later, I headed back to town.

Luckily, the roses will be blooming for a while yet and, like the bull, I’ll have more opportunities to take advantage of them.

My intentions, though, are entirely gentlemanly.

I headed on home.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

JUNE 20, 2017

Photographed with the Canon EOS M5, the Canon 7D Mark II, with the Canon 70-300, the Sigma 150-600C and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro.

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