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yellow season Southern alberta blooms follow a pattern. kinda

I left the house at 5:15 a.m.

And I was already too late for the sunrise.

It was a nice one, too, but I watched it glow and fade as I headed south through the city. By the time I made it as far as De Winton - the first place for a decent foreground - the colour had drained from the sky. But the great thing about sunrises is that they happen every day. I’ll hit the road a bit earlier next time.

I was headed south to look for flowers. By this time last year I’d already found lots of crocuses, violets and orchids but this year, with a much cooler spring - more normal, really - I was feeling a little florally forlorn.

But with the Porcupine Hills offering such a variety of landscapes and habitats, I figured that would be the place to pursue some petals.

Flowers around southern Alberta seem to follow a kind of colour schedule. We start out with the purples and magentas of crocuses and roam around the rainbow from there. It’s not a hard rule, of course, but there is a kind of pattern to it.

Purple is past. Now, we’re heading into yellow season.

I headed to my favourite high ridge up above the junction of the north and south forks of Willow Creek just east of Chain Lakes. It’s a crown of native grassland kept cropped by cattle and horses with magnificent views down the Willow Creek valley to the east.

In fact, it was more the view than the flowers that brought me up there.

From the summit you look down on a verdant valley, so green it almost hurts at this time of year. The wind hadn’t picked up yet and as I sat there looking through my lens, I could hear cattle mooing, a coyote singing, meadowlarks and robins chortling away. The valley to the east was shrouded in soft, blue mist.

The aspen-covered hillsides were a bright yellow-green, patches of them fully-leafed while others were still nearly bare, marking where the clones of single trees had spread across the hillsides like a quilt of trees. Curious cattle stared at me from the hillside above as I crawled around in the grass.

Buffalo beans - yellow beans, if you insist - were scatted everywhere in the pasture, their low, bright yellow flowers contrasting nicely with the blue sky. The first yellow flowers to come along, they brightened the grassland everywhere.

Nearby were the last of the crocuses, their fuzzy, feathery seed heads starting to move in the freshening breeze. Backlit against the climbing sun, they glowed against the shadowy background of the rolling hillsides.

It was cold up here, the warmth of the sun having a bit of a tough go against the effects of elevation, and crystals of frost decorated the grass in the shadows. Mist came off the south fork of Willow Creek as I stopped to photograph new poplar leaves transilluminated by the sun glinting off the water. A thin sheet of ice covered puddles in the ditches.

Further up the creek I found more buffalo beans and the start of the first yellow bells. Another week and they’ll be fully in bloom. It was a bit early to find flowers by the sloughs up there but as I turned to head back south, I found a swath of pink.

Shooting stars kind of go against my season colour theory, but I love’em anyway.

Members of the primrose family, they spread out in colonies wherever they can keep their feet damp so you’ll find them along the edges of the forest and beside creeks.

Pretty little things, they spread their pointy blossoms like a blanket across the new green grass. I watched robins and song sorrows prospect for torpid insects among them before heading on down the road.

I found the first of the balsamroot blossoms along West Sharples Creek Road but I would have missed them had I not seen the grouse.

A ruffed grouse, it decided to stop right in the middle of the road as I approached. I guess instinct told it that its camouflage plumage would make it nearly invisible. And that would have worked - as it did a few minutes later - had it been on the forest floor. Against a gravel road, though, not so much.

I noticed the balsamroot as I stopped to take pictures of the grouse. There were only a couple of plants starting to bloom, the first of the yellow petals just starting to sprout from the fuzzy flower heads, but I could see that within a few days there would be dozens of them.

But I’m going to encourage you not to head there to see them. There’s active logging going on in the area and too many big, long trucks on those skinny dirt roads. It’s a shame, really. Skyline Road, Trout Creek Road and East and West Sharples are some of my favourite places. But until the log haul is done, I’m staying away.

The sun was well up now and the wind was starting to blow. I headed south along the edge of the hills and found more patches of balsamroot in full bloom and fields covered in buffalo beans and dandelions. The world was a spread of green, blue and yellow.

I could have started heading back right then but since it was still barely ten in the morning, I kept rolling on toward Pincher Creek. And since I was so close, I continued on to Beauvais Lake Provincial Park.

It’s a gorgeous little place tucked into the folds of sandstone just west of Pincher Creek and a great place to find yellow blossoms. I thought maybe I might be a bit early but nope, they were there.

Yellow avalanche lilies - or glacier lilies if you prefer - filled the forest floor. One of my favourite flowers, they’re quite common in the foothills in the southwest and bloom in massive profusion. Truly, it’s worth a trip to seek them out.

And, bonus, the corn lilies have started to spring up.

Uncommon here near the city, they are easy to find in the forest from Waterton to the Crowsnest Pass. I love their leaves with all their rills and curves. The sulphury scent of cow parsnip and the tang of new balsam poplar and aspen leaves filled the air. So lovely.

I headed up the Gladstone Valley and then turned back to the Castle River. Clouds were starting to build and the wind was starting to roar. I watched a bluebird cling to a rose sprig as it thrashed in the wind and stopped to crawl through a lovely patch of balsamroot on Cowley Ridge.

Back in the Porcupines, clouds piled up and tumbled across the western sky.

Driving along the gravel roads toward Willow Creek Park, I spotted a Swainson’s hawk on its nest and stopped for a picture. And as I looked down, I could see big green leaves spreading from stalks pushing up through the roadside dirt.

Sunflowers.

They’ll be another month or so before they bloom but when they do, the roadsides will glow in their yellow glory.

And yellow season will roll on.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

MAY 15, 2017

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

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