Spring’s not sprung
By its date?
After a winter like this, when the computer insists that March 20th is the vernal equinox, believe it or not, you just have to head west to meet the first signs of spring.
At the Penhold Bridge the ice is stolid and solid on the Red Deer River, snowmobile tracks still sharply engraved on its deep snow cover.
The wide valley below the Dickson Dam is socked in, but the river is ice-free and running as it has been all winter, but it is now closed to all angling until May 15th.
Our Brittany, Beau, has a great run, but not as much fun as it would be if there were ducks for him to chase and hissing ganders to chase him.
One lorn Canada goose honks out there in the fog somewhere, and the few mallards stay grounded near the far bank.
This is the first winter in a few years actually rough enough to send most of the waterfowl on the open water below the dam off to somewhere warmer.
Up top the fog is so thick that we need to get off Hwy 54. So, at Spruce View I stop and make a call. Yes, Elmer Kure, Alberta conservationists’ guru, tells me the coffee’s on.
First, we congratulate each other on having — maybe — survived another winter and remember some who haven’t, then get onto the hot Alberta conservation topics: the potential threat of paid hunting and the relentless western spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
I also get to devour some of Helga Kure’s warm kanjers, delicious Danish doughnuts, with my coffee and a hefty helping of déjà vu: the last time I had kanjers was as a kid back in Brooks, kindness of a Danish lady in the neighbourhood.
Near noon the fog is still thick, but clearing, so we detour to check out an old favourite spring fishing spot.
Amazingly it is in perfect early season fishing shape: dark, clear water running between shelves of ice on both banks under which the brown trout like to shelter from sudden spring sunshine, should we ever get any.
But a man would founder in deep snow trying to get to that fishing and, even if he didn’t, the season doesn’t open till April Fool’s.
Back on 54 the fog is starting to clear and blue sky, fluffy clouds and bright sunshine are materializing from the fog as if on a developing print. So we decide to take the usual route up the North Raven River, the wide valley of which enjoys a micro climate that produces signs of spring earlier than anywhere else we know of in central Alberta.
But after a winter like we are enduring, there seems little point in slaloming the entire length of the little river from mouth to the springs at the source, so we blow by the weirdly-named Wall Street Road and instead turn north on Hwy 761 which takes us by the downstream end of the Bucks for Wildlife water. No spring there, frozen solid, and no vehicles parked at the turn-out.
There is one empty fishin’ rig in the parking lot at the upper end of the large tract of B for W land because the water is running there — barely — in pools between ice bridges.
A mile upstream the creek is even more open and one angler in hip boots and armed with spinning tackle wallows his way upstream through sodden drifts frosted with a brittle crust.
In the course of eating the signature spring streamside lunch of sardine salad sandwiches on rye with sharp cheddar, I note the scarlet handles of pruning shears peeking out from the usual stuff-jumble on the passenger seat of our rig.
Obviously Herself is hoping for the pussy willows for her Easter bouquets that are often the harvest of this annual quest for signs of spring. But not this year.
Where we are parked is our all-time favourite pussy willow patch and Beau and I give it a fair look up and down both sides of the gravel trail and spot only half a dozen small sprigs just starting to show miniscule white fluffs, not worth risking ligament and bone for, scrambling over the rough roadside banks, then into deep snow.
The more we went west, the worse it got. Fortunately I purposely had not loaded a shovel so I would not be tempted into gross stupidities, such as trying to drive into the Stump Ranch to get a spinning outfit with which to try some long casts over the drifts and into the North Raven.
So, home, where a lone robin sings and sways in an ominous north wind at the very tip of a neighbour’s spruce.
Equinoxes, spring and fall, frequently bring blizzards, and the next morning one was raging back at spring with so much wet snow that the annual April Fool’s season-opening trip may be postponed for a few days this year.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.