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Well, it was fun while it lasted.

And going through some of the several thousand pictures I shot over the last 12 months, it looks like I did indeed have a lot of fun!

So I put this mess together, a look back, month by month, at some of the pictures that brought me joy through the past four seasons. Every one of them holds a memory and when I look at them I can feel all those memories come flooding back and making every sense tingle again, just like they did when I took them.

I had a lot of fun looking at all these pictures again. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Quick note - to view the pictures full-size, just click on any of them and a gallery that you can leaf through will open up.

It started out cold because, well, it was January. But I found lots of deer and bighorn sheep, an elk with his antlers wrapped in rope, ducks and foxes and curious horses. The full moon rising through river fog. An eagle. And a snow fence that didn't seem to know whether it was keeping the snow in or out.

Oh, that big wall of ice? It's in Fish Creek Park, right here in the city.

There were ice bubbles galore on the frozen beaver ponds and some of my favourite pictures of the entire year were of those bubbles and bits of detritus trapped in the glassy ice.

But I also found frosty horses and calves being born and flew my little copter above the snow surrounding St. Henry's church. There were porcupines and deer and a confused white jackrabbit out on the snowless plains.

I saw the first gopher of the year on Valentine's Day and found a mallard that looked like he was preaching to his flock. And the full moon rising behind the elevator at Arrowwood.

It came in like a lion and left pretty much like one, too. It snowed and then got warm - I missed the one-day meltdown - and then got cold and then got windy and then Keho Lake started to thaw and the ice was beautiful and I saw a snowy owl with one eye and a field that looked like a latte and then it got really windy. And after that the snow geese and swans came back and the crocuses started to bloom.

And then it got windy and cold and warm and sunny and snowy and melted and...

Yeah, it was a typical March.

In April I set out on a quest, a quest to find one particular kind of duck, a duck more beautiful than any of the others.

And along the way I found cattle with new calves, blue herons building nests along the Bow, kingfishers and moose and trumpeter swans. And skies filled with stars and the swirling lights of the aurora borealis.

And among all of those things I found cinnamon teal, the loveliest duck of them all. Was the quest worth it?

Oh, my, yes. Yes it was.

Grizzlies and rattlesnakes, wide-open prairies and mountains still covered in a heavy mantle of snow. Ice covering grass in the morning, crabapple trees blooming in the afternoon.

Great grey owls, mule deer, calypso orchids, avalanche lilies in blossom beside ice-covered lakes. Dandelions already blooming and going to seed, bits of their fluff caught on spider webs.

Spring becomes summer and May is holding the door for it to step in.

The days are as long as they're going to get and the world is really coming into bloom. The sun has gained power and the days are hot and the nights are warm.

June means green and pretty much every other colour, too. True, there's still snow in the mountains and ice on the high-elevation lakes but the foothills and prairies are glowing and growing. Birds are all still wearing their bright breeding plumage, the deer, elk and moose have their velvety antlers starting to take shape. You see crab spiders waiting for their prey on any of the thousands of wild flowers now in bloom or a badger peeking out of its hole.

Or maybe even a bear jam as a grizzly ignores the traffic backed up behind it.

And the wild roses. Yep, it just wouldn't be Alberta without the wild roses.

Kelly the King's last roar around the chuckwagon track, the annual Calgary Stampede thunderstorm, smelly ol' canola in bloom and the rest of the crops starting to ripen.

And normally bright, sunny skies obscured in forest fire smoke as everywhere seemed to be burning. It made for spectacular skies but I could have lived without them.

But then there were powwows and pond lilies and another round of blossoms. And heat, that glorious summer heat. It is minus-30C as I'm writing this. July, please come back soon.

It happens every year in August and it is one of the most spectacular shows you will ever see. Oh yeah, and there was a total eclipse of the sun, too.

The Writing-On-Stone Rodeo is the best there is, a photographer's dream of a place to shoot and the best people you'l ever meet. Like my old friend Les. He always gives me good pictures. And I discovered the Brocket rodeo, too, another western jewel with a horse race you have to see to believe.

August was a pretty dry month and I had fun taking abstract, artful aerial pictures of the drying sloughs with my drone. But we're going to need a rainy spring in 2018 to fill them back up again. The dryness didn't seem to affect the crops much, though, and I flew the drone again to shoot the start of harvest.

And there was something else, too. Oh, right, my brother Rick joined me down in Idaho to see the moon pass in front of the sun, our second total eclipse. That's him and I waving at the sky in the first picture. It was an amazing thing to witness, an amazing thing to experience. Get ready for 2024. That's when the next one will happen near by.

It still felt like summer but the days were getting shorter. Dawn pictures got easier to shoot and sunsets happened at a reasonable hour so that was okay. Harvest rattled right along and glow night at the High River ballon festival was amazing.

But the fires of summer kept right on going and one of the worst ones rode the wind over the mountains and down into Waterton. The townsite was spared but ranch buildings and an awful lot of trees burned. But up on Sofa Mountain I photographed an area that suffered a similar burn over twenty years ago and it is now stunningly beautiful. And Waterton will just as beautiful a couple of decades from now, too.

But I found beauty everywhere in September, from soaring vultures and lush beaver meadows in the central part of the province to autumn leaves and migrating flocks further south. And then there was the first snowfall of the season.

September kinda had it all.

The snow fell and melted and rain sprinkled down. But it wasn't enough to stop the fires.

October is usually a mellow month and it started that way with a light snowfall that made the fall leaves even brighter in places like William's Coulee. And the skies put on a continuous show of sunrises and sunsets - now even closer together.

But once again, those skies filled up with smoke.

Flames blew through the trees in the Porcupine Hills while prairie fires pushed by hurricane-speed winds charged across the grasslands, charring everything in their path. On the Siksika Nation, the fire blew through like a blowtorch and left burning fenceposts still hanging from the wires and wiping out winter pastures. The good news is that what burned was mostly native prairie, an ecosystem evolved to rely on occasional fires. What is scorched now will be screaming green next spring.

Small comfort to the people who lost homes and livestock, though.

November decided to be December this year with nasty cold and and snow and screeching winds. Never the sweetest month, November is usually, at least, a buffer between autumn's cold descent and the full onslaught of winter. But not this year.

No, this year we had December weather a month early. There was no easing in at all.

But the bighorn sheep along the Sheep River were fine with it and they went right on butting heads. And the ice along the shore of Barrier Lake got really pretty before the entire thing froze over.

McGregor Lake did freeze over but the were some amazing pattern on the ice caused by water seeping through the cracks into a skiff of new snow. And my pal Stu and I had fun blasting our way through drifts to photograph a ground blizzard.

I worried about the silly little gopher I saw who should have been in bed weeks before, though. And just before I photographed the spruce grouse and the frozen grizzly tracks, I slammed my right index finger in the truck door. It still ain't right.

But November went out on a much more mellow note.

So December ended up with the weather we should have had in November. Better, even.

November's snow mostly melted away and the golden grain stubble and amber prairie grasses shone under a blue sky. Temperatures were mild, warm, even, and the bare ground and bright skies made spotting snowy owls pretty easy.

But nope, nobody who has lived in this country for very long would have expected that to last. And it didn't. Those bees that were out and buzzing around in the warm December sun likely didn't live long enough to even notice the cold and snow that blew in a week before Christmas.

Yeah, winter came back and slammed right into us but I was still able to scare up a couple of pictures that I'm not entirely ashamed of. I shot aerials of snowy spruce trees and snow blowing off Mount Kidd. I got geese flying past the full moon. I stitched together a panorama of December sun on harvested fields and down south there were still a few cobs of corn left in the snowy fields.

And then, just a couple of days ago, I found bald eagles with their feathers rimed in frost and gorgeous, should-be-tropical Bohemian waxwings gorging on desiccated saskatoon berries still hanging on the bushes.

Yeah, December. Not bad, not bad at all.

And now 2017 is done and 2018 is about to begin. Will it be a great year? I'm going to try my best to make it so. And I hope everything works out well for all of you, too. Keep smilin'!!

Happy New Year, friends.

See ya out there!!

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

JANUARY TO DECEMBER, 2017

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