wet/dry it's damp along the little trickles but dry everywhere else

The moss beneath my knees was strangely dry.

Even though I was barely an arm’s-length away from a little spring-fed creek, the moss I was crawling around on was almost crunchy. Even the little mushrooms popping up here and there on the green carpet looked desiccated and crumbly.

This was my second kick at this particular can. The day before I’d headed out to roughly the same area but discovered after shoving my way through the brush to a little spring-fed stream to photograph the flora in the dampness along the banks that the battery in my camera was on its last legs and the other two I’d charged overnight were still sitting in the chargers at home.

I shot a total of 22 pictures before the camera called it quits.

By 6:30 a.m. I was back on the road to give it another try and drove past frost-covered fields - yes, frost - back out to the Kananaskis valley. The air was full of smoke and though the light was lovely I have to admit that I’m getting a little tired of it.

I passed the place where my battery had ghosted and rolled on up the valley mostly because I was curious just how bad the smoke would be. It was bad. But I’d made it all the way to Smith-Dorrien Trail so I turned and rolled on.

The smoke wasn’t quite as bad up this way but the road was atrocious. The constant traffic on the gravel had turned it into a 60km washboard and driving on it wasn't much fun. The effect was kinda like those foot-massage chairs on the midway at the Stampede except that the vibration from the uneven road buzzed through my whole body and I couldn’t just get up and walk away when I’d had enough.

Finally, though, I stopped at Spurling Creek over beside Spray Lake. By luck, I’d hit the narrow creek valley just as the smoke-tinted morning sunlight splashed across the jumble of fallen trees, rocks and moss that the tiny creek runs through.

I stopped the truck and, still feeling like my body was vibrating, walked down to the water.

I’ve loved this creek for a long time and I remember it vividly from the days when it was a nearly solid mass of bright green moss that filled the narrow valley almost from side to side. It was bright green even in winter 20 years ago. Subsequent floods have stripped away a lot of that green since then - especially in 2013 - and tumbled many of the trees that grew along its banks.

But the moss is coming back and the new growth glowed in the amber-tinted morning sunlight as I stumbled my way down from the road.

Moss needs moisture to really grow and the springs that feed Spurling Creek provide that. But as I sat down beside the water, I noticed that my boots, just a few inches from the water’s edge, were kicking up dust. Normally when I get down beside a creek to take pictures, I expect to get wet. In fact, I really enjoy getting splashed on, getting my boots filled, getting mud on the seat of my jeans.

But the banks of Spurling Creek were dry. Yes, there was lots of moss around - noticeably more than this time last year - and yes, it was thriving. A few feet away from the splashing waters, though, it was bone dry.

I photographed the little waterfalls and the slicks running over the mossy rocks for a half-hour or so and wandered back to the truck. The light had shifted and the breeze had changed enough so that the smoke was thinning and brighter light was coming through.

I found some young Columbia ground squirrels when I stopped to check out the tiny creek that runs by Mt. Engadine Lodge and rolled on back down the washboardy Smith-Dorrien Trail. I saw coyotes running along the highway but they eluded me and a trio of whitetail bucks that all but ignored me. The mountain peaks, despite the shift in the wind, were still obscured in smoke.

So I headed back to Barrier Lake, parked and set off up a tiny trickle that dribbled among the trees.

It was chilly in there with only the occasional shaft of sunlight brightening up the glade. Moss covered the forest floor. It was green and quiet except for an annoyed squirrel and the peeping of small, unseen birds. And the trickle of water. I knelt down on the moss to take a few pictures.

It was soft and gave way beneath my knees but it was nearly crispy dry. Along Spurling Creek I could kind of understand the dryness away from the water running down the narrow valley but here it was nearly flat, the water running just a few inches below the level of the forest floor.

It was different, even, from the little creek where my battery expired the day before. There I’d found grass-of-Parnassas blossoms all fringed and pretty and shrubs heavy with red berries. There were figworts and saxifrage in the shady areas and lots of fleabane and fireweed on the edge of the forest. It was a little more open, true, so there logically would be more floral variety. But the moss was wet there. Well, damp at least.

Here, where it should be, it wasn’t.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at that. It’s late August and it’s been a pretty dry summer. I know that. But obviously, it has been even drier than I thought. Lying there on that crispy moss I noticed that there were very few mushrooms and only a few little moss-loving flowers. Even more strange was the lack of insects. No mosquitos, no horseflies, hardly even any midges.

So I photographed the fleabane and hare bells that grew along the banks and shot the brighter moss where the tiny creek trickled along. I debated going farther up the valley but the stream just got smaller and smaller as I walked along. And it was barely a couple of hand-widths apart to start with.

Pants and boots dry, I wandered back to the truck, hopped in and drove on. Smoke had once again obscured the valley. As it has for quite a long while now.

It’s dry out there, folks, so dry that even the moss on the forest floor will crunch under foot. Clearly, we need rain.

So be careful out there. Obey the fire bans. We photographers might enjoy all that smoky, amber-tinted light.

But we don’t need any more.


AUGUST 15, 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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