Crocuses notwithstanding, is spring in May ‘backwards’?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 2, 2007

Prairie crocuses are blooming, including in the Benchlands area west of Cochrane. Photo by Heinz Unger

It was May 2, 1940, and folks were humming Gene Autry’s “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies” while basking in the sunlit warmth of “flowers with their colors . . . aflame,” lyrics that bring tears to the eyes of coffee companion Ken Beckie.

“One of my fond memories of my maternal grandfather was his outhouse with the words to music written all over the inside walls by my musical aunts,” Ken said. One song in particular stands out. Yup, you guessed it: “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies.”

According to the youthful memories of Phil Minnaar, another of our coffee companions, however, Gene Autry’s hit piece has it all backwards. But more about that in a minute.

First, you’ll recall that in last week’s column, Darrell Davidson, of Sibbald Flats, predicted that by now we would be enjoying one of the best displays of crocuses we’ve had in a long time.

Well, that’s certainly the case, according to Heinz Unger, an avid observer of nature who lives in Benchlands, a small foothills community along the Ghost River near the forestry. He wrote:

“Just to confirm, yes, the prairie crocuses are out, more plentiful than ever, and I’ve attached a photo of one from Benchlands. The deer are out, too – in numbers, because they like to eat these lovely flowers!”

While some of our readers were basking in flowers, others had their own ways of basking in spring. Ernest Enns, who lives up Grand Valley Road in a breathtaking foothills ranchland setting, wrote:

“I was lying in my bathtub last week, the one in the bay window, and watched 15 swans fly north along the valley. . . . WOW! May your baths be as exciting!”

And from Rae Lakes, N.W.T., where she’s on a nursing assignment, Cochrane coffee companion Adele Dyall wrote:

“We are also seeing signs of spring up here in the form of flocks of snow buntings. They are just delightful when they suddenly take wing together, just like very-large fluffy snow flakes.”

Now back to Phil Minnaar and how the thought of singing about springtime in May seems all backward.

You see, Phil – whose recent book, The Positive Dictionary, for sale in Cochrane bookstores, is doing very well ( – instinctively associates golden leaves, and not pretty flowers, with early May. Although living in Calgary now, he grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, where it is presently mid-autumn.

Early spring, there, is in August and September. “The coral tree shows off its beautiful scarlet flowers before its new leaves appear,” he wrote. “Birds are in abundance, but the one that stands out for me is the nearly extinct little wagtail, or kwikstertjie. If one is lucky, one might see one on the lawns, searching for worms and continuously tipping its long tail up and down in sheer joy.”

Well, whether in Pretoria or in Cochrane, May 2 is the seasonal occasion for Phil to join two other local coffee companions in tipping their coffee cups up and down in a toast of sheer joy. May 2, 1940, is Phil’s date of birth, as well as longtime Morley friend Charlie Mark’s – two special men, born the same day on almost-exactly opposite sides of the world, now celebrating their birthdays as part of our Bow Valley springtime in the Rockies.

Oh yes, did I say there were three making the toast? Indeed, the third coffee companion born on May 2, 1940, is . . . me. Happy birthday to all of us, if I do say so myself!

Meanwhile, let’s raise our cups to another of our coffee companions, honoured in Edmonton, April 28, at AMPIA’s 2007 Alberta Film and Television Awards evening. Cochrane’s own Debbie Vandelaar took Best Make-up Artist for her work on Montana Sky. Congratulations, Debbie!    

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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