lazy day sometimes you just gotta... RELAX

The horses could barely be bothered to open their eyes as I pulled up beside them.

Most of them were lying down on the bare grass, some with their legs folded underneath them, others flopped on their sides. The rest were standing, either facing south into the sun with their eyes closed or gently nipping off mouthfuls of the brown grass that surrounded them.

None of them were particularly interested in me.

I was on a ridge between the north and south forks of Willow Creek near where the streams meet just southeast of Chain Lakes Provincial Park. The sun was shining and there was just enough breeze to ruffle the horses’ manes. It was warm, not chinook warm but warm, the bright sun adding its strength.

It was a lovely, lazy day.

I’d idled my way out of the city before dawn and rolled southwest not heading anywhere in particular and once I cleared the city limits I cut west. I’d hoped for a nice sunrise figuring that the clouds overhead would catch the glow but they dissipated too quickly. In their place came bright, warm sunshine that flooded across the land and lit up the mountains.

I found whitetail deer along the Sheep River and a coyote out hunting for breakfast. West of Turner Valley I aimed my long lens at a rancher laying out a hay buffet for his herd. To the west, the mountains were still bathed in the amber light of dawn and I swung my lens along them shooting pictures to stitch into a panorama.

A moose wandered out of a spread of willows headed for a bigger thicket close by. Ravens flew overhead, their croaks mixing with sounds of vehicles carried over the hills through the cool air. There was frost on the willows.

Near Longview I saw a golden eagle flying along a ridgeline and more ravens circling over something undoubtedly dead and yummy out of sight beyond. More frost covered the back side of the big hill just to the north. Horses paused in their grazing to look up at me.

The broad valley that sweeps south along the Highwood River and Pekisko and Stimson Creek valleys was mostly snow-free, the chinook of the past week having eroded it away. There were still drifts, of course, and it looked like there might have been a light snowfall sometime in the last couple of days. The frozen sloughs and creek meanders were dusted with fresh crystals. I guess it might have been frozen fog, too.

Chain Lakes was dotted with ice fishermen, their shapes turned to silhouettes against the sun-brightened snow. Gangs of magpies thronged the broad swath of diamond willows along the eastern shore and their raucous calls filled the air as they flew around. Magpies really seem to like the sound of their own voice.

Below the dam that backs up Chain Lakes I stopped to check the outlet canal in hopes that I might find a few birds hanging around. Like water that comes out of a spring, the outflow from the dam is at a constant temperature so it’s able to flow for quite a ways without freezing even in the coldest weather. Also like a spring, it makes its own little ecosystem.

There were birds there but not in the numbers I expected. I saw one female goldeneye and a single mallard. Both took off before I could aim the camera. There was a pair of dippers there as well. My luck with them was equally bad.

The canal itself looked nice, though, reflecting the trunks of the poplars that lined its banks and making very pretty splash ice where the water picked up speed as it made its way to the original channel of the now-dammed Willow Creek.

And I found a fish.

It was just idling there, finning in the current, a white sucker near as I could tell. There were likely lots of other fish there as well. I found mink tracks in the snow along the banks and those guys pretty much live on fish. The sucker seemed unperturbed by either me or the mink that was likely close by.

It was having a lazy day, too.

I followed Willow Creek east into the Porcupine Hills where frost lingered on the shaded slopes and golden grass shuffled in the light breeze. A bald eagle flew along the valley, it’s shiny feathers catching the light as it banked against a background of dark spruce trees.

I cut south again.

And found the horses at the top of the ridge.

They barely noticed me. Most of them were sleeping, some of them were munching. Two of them sidled toward me. One walked around the front of the truck, the other around the back. And then the licking started.

I’ve had the road salt licked from my truck two or three times by moose up on Smith-Dorrien Trail in Spray Lakes Park but this is the first time I’ve ever had horses do it. The one in the front started licking the hood, the one behind slathered saliva on my taillights.

They didn’t keep at it for long, though - maybe that city salt wasn’t up to their standards - and they started to wander back toward their friends. But the one coming up from behind the truck paused at my open passenger-side window.

And stuck in its head.

It's not often that you can reach across your centre console and touch the velvety nose of a horse. It looked at me for a few seconds as I aimed my camera and then pulled back out again and wandered off with a soft snort.

I rolled on down into the south-fork valley. Cattle dotted the grassy hillsides. A big flock of ravens filled a cottonwood tree along the creek. Aspen trunks shone bone-white in the sun. Limber pines stood twisted and gnarled above outcrops of yellow sandstone.

I flew my little copter over meadows filled with the bright red and orange twigs of willow, their colours even brighter against the soft dusting of snow in the blue shadows behind them. Beyond them the bronzed hills rose up against a blue sky scattered with clouds. Below my copter I could see Willow Creek wandering along.

I rolled back north past a herd of elk grazing on a hillside and stopped at Longview for a coffee. I’d accomplished nothing all day and couldn’t have cared less.

Sometimes you need a day like that, a day to just kick back, relax and lie in the sun.

Maybe lick a little salt, too.

I gave a soft snort and wandered on home.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

JANUARY 29, 2017

Shot with DJI Phantom 4, Canon 7D Mark II and EOS M5 with Sigma 150-600C, Canon 70-200 f4 and Canon 18-55.

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