just might miss the ice lemme think about that a minute

Ya know, I think I might actually miss the ice.

I mean, it’s not going to go away any time soon so I guess I have time to keep on pondering about that. But driving west from Sundre along the Red Deer River and looking at all that ice surrounding the short slashes of open water I thought, that looks kinda nice.

I was out that way hoping I might see some feral horses. The day was sunny and windy and I had visions of unkempt manes and tails catching the sunlight as they danced in the breeze. Rolling along I kept glancing up at the bare, south-facing hillsides hoping to see a small herd out grazing or maybe catch a glimpse of a patch of chestnut among the silvery aspens.

But I was glancing equally toward the river whenever it came into view. Up here, closer to the mountains, the breakup hasn’t started yet. The river is still mostly frozen over with only a few spots where it is running clear and ice-free.

Seeing it like that, the open water sparkling through gaps in the ice cover, made me think about how clean and pristine it looks. In a month or so all that will be left will be isolated bergs floating along or slabs jammed on gravel bars. Interesting to look at, true, but not all that pretty.

Those thoughts were shoved aside by a glimpse of chestnut. A small band of ferals was nibbling its way among clumps of willows on a grassy flat along the river. Their manes and tails were catching the sunlight as they danced in the breeze but they were so far away and obscured by the shrubbery that I could only see them in short bursts. I managed to get a few pictures but the hunt had to continue.

I crossed the Red Deer River onto Highway 40 and headed south. There are lots of clear cuts near there that the horses like to frequent so I was hopeful that I might find a few more in a more photogenic location.

All along the road were mounds of horse apples, signposts left by the horses to mark their passing, and hoof prints in the mud along the roadside. But after spinning my way up an ice-covered piece of steep road - this ice not so pretty - and passing the first couple of open areas, I still hadn’t seen any horses. I kept on rolling.

As I drove I kept noticing patches of ice. Some were on beaver ponds, lots of them were slabs of blue and brown where springs had seeped out and frozen over the winter. Plenty of places had ice cover that had formed as temperatures dropped and froze over the water accumulated from the meltdown of the week before.

No horses, though. The signs dwindled out as the forest closed in but when I turned to head east along Burnt Timber Creek, I started seeing the poop pyramids again and soon I found tracks along the road. None of them were fresh but hope rose.

But no horses.

Lots of ice, though.

The creek, like the Red Deer River, was frozen over but the beaver ponds looked pretty nifty in the view from my little copter hovering above. And there were more interesting spring seeps. Even the ice along the road was interesting. I could see where hoofed animals had broken through the ice on the puddles and it had frozen again, semi-concentric shards of ice re-frozen beside the hoof prints.

But heading back down the hill on the far side of the summit, I found ice that I just had to stop and explore.

Meltwater had backed up here during the melt and frozen over like it had in so many other places. But here, the water underneath the ice had managed to seep slowly out. That allowed the ice that had formed to settle onto the ground below.

Frozen into this ice was all the detritus that had floated up from the forest floor. Leaves, bits of grass, pine needles, little sticks, all kinds of things that had dropped into this tiny hollow over the fall and winter. Now they were stuck in the thin sheet of ice like flowers pressed in a book.

The ice had settled down on the grass underneath as well, adding to all the textures, and bubbles of air had been forced out of the spongy accumulation and speckled the underside of the ice. Looking down on it I was reminded of, I dunno, maybe a translucent show curtain or a piece of plastic left out on the ground.

The sun was in and out of the building clouds and it wasn’t all that warm but I could see where the sun’s radiant heat had built up in the darker-coloured leaves under the ice. Cool as it was, that heat had started to melt the ice above and the edges of the leaves poked through.

In other spots, the ice had snagged on rose bushes and aspen saplings as the water slid out from underneath and the forest duff was visible from below the tilted slabs of ice. Some of the ice still clung to the saplings themselves.

I spent a half-hour there poking around, hearing the ice crack and clatter like shards of glass as the sun did its work. But finally, throughly soaked, I climbed back into the warmth of the truck.

Horses forgotten, I rolled on.

I found fangs of ice hanging from ledges, icicles dripping into the dirt below, and frozen beaver ponds everywhere.

Turning along Harold Creek Road there was more ice, some along the hillsides left over from the melt, turquoise slabs where springs had seeped and frozen. More ice hung from the banks of the frozen creek. Lots of it reflected the yellows, oranges and reds of the willow flats the meltwater had flooded.

South of Water Valley I cracked a slab that had squirrel tracks etched into it to hold up to the setting sun.

All of it was just plain lovely.

Yeah, ya know, I think I just might miss the ice.

But, really, I can’t wait until it’s gone.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

MARCH 21, 2017

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

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