the bow springtime along our river

I was remembering springtimes past while I was looking down at the Bow River.

From the height of land on the north side of the valley I could see upstream to the Legacy Island boat launch and beyond that to the mountains just starting to emerge from the morning haze. Downstream, the river curved off to the south and disappeared into the stands of cottonwoods on its way to the Carseland weir.

I’ve stopped to look over the valley from this spot many times before. It’s a perfect place to judge the fishability of the water and get an idea where I can walk along the banks before I head down to park. And the view is always lovely no matter why I’ve stopped to look.

On this morning, just an hour or so after sunrise, I could see that the water was running kind of a jade green, murkier than it was in the city but not bad. Knee-depth visability is just about perfect for fishing. There were geese floating along in pairs while more of their cousins flew along overhead, all of them honking like mad. Between their honks I could hear the whistle of duck wings as goldeneyes and mergansers flew low along the water.

Nearby, a meadowlark was singing and I could hear robins and warblers and blackbirds all pitching their songs into the pot of sound coming from the river valley. A train rumbled by over on the tracks that run through Carseland and it sounded its horn as it approached the highway crossing.

It was chilly and damp but beautiful, the morning music and the cold, blue mist nearly cancelling each other out.

The Bow River, needless to say, is one of the best things about our part of the world. I can think of only a couple of other rivers - the Red Deer and maybe the Oldman - that start among glaciers and grizzlies and end among sagebrush and rattlesnakes. It’s a rushing mountain stream that becomes a broad ribbon that bisects the prairie and, despite the fact that it flows through a city of 1.2 million people, it remains unsullied enough to support world-class trout fishing on top of its scenic beauty.

The Bow is an absolute jewel.

A jewel whose facets are constantly shifting.

I’ve been going through a couple of decades-worth of pictures for an upcoming project and as I spelunked my way through the digital caverns of my archive, I kept coming across photos of the Bow that I’ve shot at this time of year. April is an interesting time on the Bow.

On this particular April morning I was at the Carseland weir for the sunrise, a five-minute blast of red that shaded off to pink and then back to blue like a Christmas light burning out but at least the birds were happy. The noise from the water rushing over the weir mixed with the quacks and honks coming from the river and the more melodious birdsong coming from the trees and shrubs along the banks.

Mule deer wandered down to the water, harriers flew low over the meadows. The first pelicans of the year moved slowly through the water or slept with their massive beaks tucked under their black-tipped white wings. It was cold enough for frost in the shadows but the river was ice-free and has been for a couple of weeks now.

But in my archive I found pictures that showed bergs that would threaten a cruise ship jammed on the banks in mid-April back at the turn of the century. Ice blocked the side channels and lay decomposing in the shallow water along the shores. In other pictures, though, I found the river flowing like it was now but with a distinctive green tinge to the cottonwoods on the islands.

Beyond this, I remember floating the Bow in April and casting toward ice banks taller than me along the shore and hoping we didn’t run into an ice dam further downstream. And trying to avoid annoying the numerous geese perched on them.

No problem with ice this year. Further upstream, just below the city limits, I watched blue herons flying back and forth to the river from their rookery carrying sticks to reinforce their spindly nests in the high branches of the cottonwoods. I could see them walking through the tall grass on the opposite shore, their stiletto beaks aimed at the ground as they hunted or looked for more nesting material. No ice to block their view.

Every springtime is different, of course, especially around here. Away from the river, I found pictures of the first crocuses taken anywhere between late march and mid-April. I found photos of a spring blizzard that all but shut down the city one year on April 29. I found bluebirds I’d photographed in February and yellow-rumped warblers shivering in late-April snow.

In truth, though, I hadn’t really given much more than a passing thought to how variable April is until I came across those old pictures. Finding photos I’d taken crawling through hollows in the shoreline ice at the same time of year a decade ago, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t able to do that at all this year.

Was it warmer and the ice melted more quickly? Maybe. Or it could be that the flood of 2013 scoured out the river valley so thoroughly that the ice was able to just flush downstream uninhibited and melt in the flowing water instead of piling up on the banks. Looking down on Legacy Island boat launch I could plainly see that the river course had changed dramatically so maybe that’s a factor.

But of course, none of that matters. The Bow River is in a constant state of change, eroding here and depositing there. It’s meanders are gradually widening its valley, softening the steep slopes, expanding its reach into the meadows downstream.

On a different high bank, this one further down the river and on the opposite side, I looked down on the river again. It was evening now and the crocuses peeking up through the grass were beginning to close up for the night. A rainstorm was brewing off to the west and a stiff wind was flowing out from under it. Two goshawks perched on a snag. There were geese swimming below me and a pelican flew by. Strange to be looking down at it. Above me, five bald eagles glided along against the prismatic clouds. A robin sat on a branch, silhouetted against the silvery water flowing below.

And it was just like springtimes past. A few of them, at least. One or two for sure. Probably.

But then again, maybe this one is unique. Hell, maybe all of them are.

Rain started spitting as I sat in the grass and watched the storm roll in and I raised my camera to shoot the clouds.

Another one for the archive. Another beautiful April on the Bow.


APRIL 18, 2017

Photographed with the Canon 7D Mark II and EOS M5 with Sigma 150-600C.

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