pretty, smelly i love the smell of canola in the morning. Kinda

Even after all these years, the scent of canola still surprises me.

I’m not talking about the bright yellow blossoms just now staring to spread across vast areas of farmland east of the city but the smell of the plant itself. Especially on a cool, damp morning.

There had been a storm out around Acme and Linden the night before and the peach-coloured light of dawn was spreading through mist that hung in the low spots along the Kneehill Creek valley. The road was damp and the edges muddy, making the truck bob and weave as I hit wet spots even though I was driving fairly slowly.

I’d left the city with the stars still shining an hour or so before and headed north and east with the idea that I’d maybe find some cactus blossoms along the Red Deer River. Hitting the seek button on the truck radio to sift through the few AM radio stations still pouring content into the air, I rolled along through the pre-dawn listening to staticky music and farm reports from who-knows-where.

The truck began to feel a little wobbly on a road north of Beiseker. I’d noticed, though I hadn't really paid attention, that there wasn’t much dust rolling up behind me and there were a few puddles on the road. But it was a damp morning so, nothing unusual in that.

The road, though, was soaked and soft. The storm the night before must have been intense and, in fact, I began to see piles of pea-sized hail in the ditches. Pulling over to take a picture of the blue mist coming off one of the piles, I nearly slid into the ditch through the mud on the shoulder. I drove on even more slowly than before.

The fields all looked fine in spite of the hail and the scent carried on the cool, wet air was heavenly when I rolled down the window to clamp on my camera and big lens.

The sun still hadn’t broken the horizon and the air was still but through the long lens I could see heat ripples spreading as the sun heated the air above and distorted the view. Farm buildings danced and the horizon shimmered as if I were shooting through water.

The air smelled of damp earth and the scent of horses in a pasture just up the road added their perfume. Somewhere close by a hay field had been cut and I could smell alfalfa and grass. It made me think of honey.

Down the road there were fields of wheat and barley just starting to head out. I rolled down the window again to grab a picture of a spider on its web and dew on the barley. That’s when I smelled the canola.

It reminded me of a sewage lagoon.

That might sound a little harsh but in truth, it’s not a smell that I find particularly offensive. I know some folks don’t like the smell of a barn or the scent around horses doing their business but, like the lagoon, I don’t mind them at all. I grew up semi-rural in an era before everything became so antiseptic so maybe I’m biased. Smells like these are just part of life.

But the smell of canola always surprises me.

I think it’s the flowers that throw me off. That lovely carpet of yellow primes my brain to expect the scent of a florist shop or a flower garden and, in fact, the hundred thousand or so blossoms in a typical canola field do give off a kind of sweet, peppery scent.

But the plants themselves are related to cabbage and on a cool, damp morning it’s that sulphurous, outhouse-ish smell that overwhelms nearly everything else. Those big, rubbery leaves give off a scent that seems the complete opposite of those pretty little petals. Fools me every time.

The first light of dawn had just started to stream across the land and it lit up the dew drops on the canola petals. The blue light I’d left the city in had morphed into amber and gold and now it was being filtered through the mist into a soft apricot glow.

An apricot glow that glinted off the massive horns of a quintet of longhorn cattle I found in a pasture not far up the road.

They were massive animals, the tips of their horns as far apart as a door is tall. Seeing them lying there in the mist, it was easy to imagine them as aurochs, their giant wild ancestors that roamed the forests and plains of Europe a thousand years ago. Cowbirds walked along their backs and perched on their heads. I could hear their horns clacking together as they shifted positions.

I spent nearly a half hour watching the longhorns so It was plain by now that I wasn’t going to make it to the Red Deer River to find any cactus. The mist and the morning light and the scents in the air had diverted my attention thoroughly. So I cut around a passing train and dropped into the Kneehill Creek valley.

It was full of birds. Robins, catbirds, song sparrows, savannah sparrows, goldfinches, magpies, crows, ravens, redtail hawks, everything was there. Damp grass and wet earth added their olfactory complement to the sound and light. And there was another scent, too.

Saskatoons. They are just starting to ripen and they added their sweet, mushroomy smell to the air. I watched a clay-coloured sparrow nibble on a few and then stepped from the truck to grab a handful myself. Nearly lost my shoes in the roadside mud.

By now the sun was a hand-width and three fingers above the horizon and it was just a bit before 7 a.m. Chunky clouds were scattering across the sky and the mist was starting to lift. I pulled into a broad part of the valley, launched my little copter and flew it straight up.

The fog was patchy in the valley below and the morning sun glinted of the waters of the creek. I could see the silhouettes of dark cattle on a pasture below. Looking east, the sun was a bright spot against the blue sky. Spinning the copter around to the west, bright green grain fields flanked the meanders of the creek. A patch of bright yellow appeared below a rising spread of mist.

Canola. I could almost smell it.

MIKE DREW ON THE ROAD

JULY 4, 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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