The trouble with the May Long Weekend is that, whenever “they” decree it shall take place, they just have to stuff Victoria Day in there on the Monday. I don’t need to delve deeply into my outdoors diaries to recall some major Victoria Day blizzards with tailing meteors of snow catapulting off bent spruce boughs onto the heads and down the necks of family and friends sitting around the traditional campfire.
This year the signs and portents were not propitious, not to mention this spring’s unusually unreliable official weather forecasts. But, thinking back, I can’t recall such a strange May Long, one long to be remembered.
Victoria Day was arbitrarily set this year for May 18th, a week earlier than the late Queen’s May 24th birthday; but the spring has also been a non-starter, a long, cold and grey time coming.
We outdoors people tend to become avocational naturalists and for many of us who habitually head out for the first long weekend of the summer, this year’s May Long would come down to a vain search for the usual signs and portents of the progress of spring, let alone summer.
As we neared the Stump Ranch on the Saturday, Herself geared down so I could, with faint hope, road hunt for morel mushrooms. It was just as I expected: nothing. In my experience, there has to be a short mat of greening grass with blooming early blue violets, and the aspens have to be into their heartbreaking lime green lace of young leaves before you’ll find your first morel.
Late on sunny Saturday I recalled it was May 16th, the date on which my Dad died 33 years ago and the day he often took me fishing when I was a kid, because that was when the fishing season opened down at Brooks. So I always do some solitary fishing on May 16th, mainly to remember the Guv.
Fishing portents had been good. On my first seven trips this season I have caught fish. A week earlier my friend Neil Waugh, outdoors columnist of the Edmonton Sun, ran into me along my home stream just as I had to head home. For a good friend I had the time to find several of the first rising trout I have seen this season, suggested they had to be eating march brown mayflies and left Neil to them, or vice versa.
Neil reported in his most recent column, March Madness in May, that he broke his personal season’s series of skunkings by taking four of those rising brown trout on dry flies, March brown dun imitations.
So I went to where I saw those rising browns six days earlier, but saw nothing on May 16th, perhaps it was too warm and sunny, and achieved my first skunking of the season, even dredging the depths with the heavy stuff that had been working since the ice went out.
In most years, blooming wild clematis tell me March browns should be hatching. In this everlasting winter I could not find a clematis even close to blooming and Herself could not find any wildflower whatever in bloom.
Sunday morning was grey and cold and, on my 5:30 a.m. patrol, I counted more than 100 deer, both species, out eating every shoot of new green they could find, a reliable weather forecast meaning hard times are coming.
But it warmed up later and enough sun showed that granddaughter Sarah just had to shuck most of her clothes and dig in a small wet sandbar with Beau, my Brittany, helping.
Later that day, while fishing far downstream, again I did not see a rising trout, or get a hit on any of the heavy stuff. There were ranks of spawning redhorse suckers in the tail of the pool. Apparently the fabled Victoria Day start of “outdoor loving” is “on” under water, but apparently not in the chill air where I have yet to hear the courting drums of one ruffed grouse.
Victoria Day morning was cold, snowing and seemed to be getting worse, so we decided to join the West Country refugees and evacuate.
This was the first time I can recall having to gouge, chip and melt ice to get the gate locks to lock, but I can recall being snowed in once on June 10th and having resort to shovels to get to the gates, then to vodka to melt the locks open.
Two weeks ago my friend Robert Short predicted there’d be morels “in a fortnight.” He turned up back in Red Deer late Victoria Day with my more than generous “tithe” of the five he had found tramping the woods out there before the snows came.
Now I’m predicting, and Robert agrees, there’ll be morels for eating, maybe even stoneflies for fishing, the second sunny day after all this Victoria Day snow melts: things to do before the June monsoons. . .
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.