Springtime in the Bow Valley is well worth the wait

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 25, 2007

A sure sign of spring: Catkins hang from poplars at the confluence of the Ghost and Bow rivers. Photo by Warren Harbeck

“Springtime doesn’t hurry, but it comes.” I’ve been listening once again to those words from country singer Wayne “Cinch” Arthur’s “Springtime in Alberta” on his 1976 LP Alberta Gold. The words are as true this year as when he first wrote them.

As my wife, Mary Anna, observed as I’m writing this week’s column, “The calendar said that spring arrived a month ago, but for this part of Alberta, it has finally arrived this week.”

And has it ever!

Although crocuses seem a bit late this year, Sibbald Flats resident Darrell Davidson, who really knows his trees and plants, says that by the end of this week we should be enjoying one of the best displays of crocuses in a long time.

And just a few days ago, Cochrane coffee companion and avid birdwatcher Len Hills, University of Calgary professor emeritus of geology, stopped me outside Coffee Traders, really excited, to tell me the once nearly-extinct trumpeter swans are overnighting on Jumpingpound-area ponds on their annual migration northward.

Up west at Ghost Lake Village, Mitzi Watts has been seeing not only swans, but pelicans, geese, ducks, very fat robins, and bluebirds – which Mary Anna describes as “pieces of sky flitting about.”

There are lots and lots of eagles this year, too, Mitzi says. There are four couples of bald eagles who have set up housekeeping across the lake near the home of Stoney Nakoda elder and former chief Bill McLean.

As well, she says, her tulips and daffodils are only a couple of weeks away from blooming.

Mary Anna and I took a drive up west along the 1A Highway before writing this week’s column. What a delight to find pastures alive with newborn calves. Hawks were seated on fencepost bar stools at the road-kill café where fresh gopher was the special of the day.

Near Beaupre Hall, blushing willows served as backdrop to a half-dozen deer grazing in a field as the sun began to set, now north of the Devil’s Head Mountain in its joyful journey toward summer solstice.

Then there were the soft, kitten-like catkins hanging from poplar branches at the confluence of the Ghost and Bow rivers, a sure sign that springtime in Alberta is worth the waiting.

The fragrant breeze from the west brought back some very special springtime memories of life among the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley: the smoke of outdoor fires and the traditional scritching sound of scrapers against moose hide in preparation for tanning, the women stitching tepees for summer encampments, and the men stacking lodgepoles.

With Morley on my mind, I phoned elder Tina Fox to see how spring was coming in the northwest part of her community where she lives at the meeting place of valley, foothills and mountains.

“The grass is turning green,” she said, “and I’m hearing frogs again.”

We shared one of our favourite springtime images: a meadow of crocuses, with one more beautiful than all the others. Why was it so beautiful? It was growing right out of the middle of a cow pie!

Tina was preparing to leave on another rite of spring: the Gathering of the Nations, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This annual event brings First Nations people together from all over Canada and the United States. Last year, she said, there were over 2,600 registered dancers – way more than could be accommodated in the glorious grand entry.

Which brings me back to springtime’s glorious grand entry here in the Bow Valley and the virtue of patience. As Cinch says in his song I referred to at the beginning of this column:

When you think that spring will never come,
Rise up some mornin’ with the sun.
The days, they get long,
You’ll hear a robin’s song,
When springtime in Alberta comes along.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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