slough art colours apply as the sloughs go dry

I couldn’t find the slough.

I had saved it as a location on the maps app on my phone and I knew roughly where it was but I kept making wrong turns that pulled me first south and then west of where I was supposed to be. I’d last been there just a couple of weeks before but now, as my pal Stu and I rattled down the gravel roads east of Granum, I just couldn’t find it.

We’d been on the road for a couple of hours by then, driving aimlessly between High River and Barons, me looking for sloughs to photograph while Stu kept a lookout for anything else interesting. The sky was overcast with a bit of smoke adding a yellow tinge to the grey but we could see gaps in the clouds. By the time we hit Clear Lake Park east of Stavely, the sun was starting to peek through and blue was edging out grey in the sky overhead.

When I’d last visited the slough by Granum, it had been bone dry. The surface was a shimmering white, a scattering of alkali that not only had precipitated out of the water as it had evaporated and coated the exposed slough bed but had also grown into tiny crystals that glittered under the late-July sun.

I’d flown my little copter over it then and taken photographs looking straight down on the surface and the resulting pictures made the place look like an alien world. Along the shore there were streaks of red where iron-rich minerals had been sifted and separated by wave action when the slough was full and then left behind as the water receded. More toward the middle, damp depressions held decaying mats of blue-green algae that separated islands of alkali tinged pinkish by bacterial mats.

At an angle, the place looked like it had been dusted with sugar that had been left to melt. It was all quite beautiful though the heavy sulphur smell kinda knocked the beauty back a bit.

On that particular day, though, I didn’t have time to linger. I was after other things. But I planned to come back and as I drove on, I marked the location on my maps app.

Not very accurately, as it turns out.

Stu and I rolled back and forth among the corn, barley, wheat and hemp fields between Barons and Granum, passing old farm houses, combines sitting idle in the fields, dozens of hawks. Families of partridge scattered from the roadsides as we drove along until I finally gave up on the map and started looking for any landmarks I might recognize.

At last, I saw a row of granaries and a stand of trees around a farm yard that looked familiar. Then I recognized the shape of a field that had been covered with sunflowers the year before and finally, a jumble of ripped-up trees and farm detritus by the edge of a pond. The dry slough was dead ahead.

Except it wasn’t.

Well, yeah, the slough was there. But it wasn’t dry.

Some time in the previous few days it had rained and now the slough and all those glorious patterns were covered by a layer of water. It was still lovely with the clouds reflected in the mirror surface and it certainly smelled better. I put my little copter up for a higher angle and I could see the alkali and algae patterns just below the surface.

But I certainly wasn’t going to be able to get any more pictures of them. The rain was no doubt welcomed by the farmers but couldn’t it have held off for just a couple more days?

We rolled on over toward Barons to check out a few more sloughs that I remembered and then edged farther east. But few of the dried-up ponds held the same patterns as I’d seen on the Granum slough and the few that did have anything visually interesting were either too far from the road for my regular cameras or had livestock near them. And I don’t like to fly my copter near livestock.

So we headed east and north.

It was drier over here, the rain obviously localized to the area west of Barons, and combines churned through stands of barley and peas. The sky was nearly clear now and a light breeze was picking up and turning the long blades of the wind turbines on a ridge close by. We headed toward them.

And found another slough.

There was still some water in this one but it had evaporated away from the shore and left behind streaks of minerals, algae and bacteria that striated the shoreline. Bisected by the road we were on, it was in a perfect spot. We stopped and I launched my copter.

The breeze had stirred up the water and raised a layer of foam that looked like it had been skimmed from a glass of Guinness, a kind of creamy white that looked like a swirl of cloud from overhead. It was tinged pink along the edges where it met the blues and greens of the drying algae along the shore. There were goose and shorebird tracks in the mud and where the white alkali blended into the flats beyond the water, patches of alkali-loving red samphire grew.

There was alfalfa along the edge of the road and the blue and purple blossoms hosted flocks of white butterflies. Several of them had flown over to the slough to suck up some moisture and many had ended up floating in the mineral-tainted water on the south side of the road. Here, the water was nearly gone and the slough bottom was exposed. Looking like elephant hide, the mud was grey and cracked. Depressions that were still damp held sapphire-coloured patches of algae that looked even more blue as they reflected the sky overhead.

Finally, my slough obsession satisfied, we headed to Vulcan for supper at Amy’s and then followed the sunset through the hills out toward Milo. I wanted one more slough.

With the sun dipping below the horizon I put my copter in the air one more time and aimed down at the edge of a fairly large pond. Mats of algae spread along on both sides of a little spring-fed seep that dribbled through the mud left exposed by evaporation. The white of the alkali took on a blue tinge from the dusky sky above while the reds of the dry algae shifted toward cyan.

Another alien world.

The last of the shorebird sounds drifted over us as I shut down the copter. A dog barked, geese honked and we headed back to town.

But if the warm, dry weather keeps up, maybe I’ll give these sloughs another look. A little less water, a few more mineral deposits, another bloom of algae, they’ll probably look pretty cool.

That’s assuming, of course, that I can find them again.


AUGUST 8, 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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