This year, the close juxtaposition of two memorial dates gave us an early look at the summer’s first long weekend, this year almost a week earlier than Queen Victoria’s birthday. On May 16, son John and I went west to have a look around and commemorate and remember my father, who died on that date 48 years ago.
We took our place in a parade of motor homes towing trailers loaded with shiny ATVs, “outdoors” people wanting an early start to the weekend’s traditional total destruction of all outdoors, particularly public land.
May 16 was also when the fishing season opened in our part of Alberta when I was a kid, and my busy dad always found time to take me fishing that day.
So, ever since on May 16, I try to get to a place where my dad and I fished together, maybe even make a cast or two. But casts this year would have been purely ceremonial, utterly futile: despite reports of 18 inches of visibility in some waters, heavy rains the night before had every river and stream we looked at raging high and brown under blue and cumulus-clouded “summer” skies.
The one exception needed no looking at. As the only clear water in Central Alberta, the tiny North Raven River would be awash and roiling with anglers all weekend, effectively ending the good fishing of the past 10 days.
Gleniffer Lake had become a Middle Eastern wadi, a dry, cracked bed of its former self as managers draw the lake down to accommodate anticipated flood waters from the mountain snow melt and June-July monsoons.
Old friend, the late Dr. Bill Parsons, always growled that it was folly to go fishing until the aspens were rimed with green. Well, they finally were out here — just — a good sign, maybe.
We met a fellow stump-ranching friend who mentioned that he had been seeing some March brown mayflies, which are hard for any human or trout to see on dark water or under grey skies. No morel mushrooms yet, the friend reported, but they might just start popping if the predicted rains materialize, which they did, the next day and the next, as they so often do — and worse — on the May long.
Many times I recall family and friends staying and toughing it out, stubbornly huddled around the traditional May long campfire as the snow fell and spruce boughs, bent by the weight of wet snow, would suddenly spring up, dumping glops of it down our necks. But, hey, it’s the 24th of May; outdoors-loving starts today!
In rare years, if you managed to catch the Clearwater River just before the snow-melt-monsoon caught it, the fishing could be fast and fabulous. One May long, my dad, the late Vern Caddy and I hiked into a remote area of the Clearwater and were happily hauling big brown and bull trout from one deep hole until we saw big grizzly tracks on a sandbar with water still seeping into them. We remembered that a fire tower watcher had been killed by a griz in the area a couple of weeks before and beat a hasty retreat back to the forestry trunk road.
Everything was perfect for the May long in 2001, but I hung around the Stump Ranch cabin listening to the radio, not wanting to miss a second of the Red Deer Rebels winning their one and only Memorial Cup by beating the Val-d’Or Foreurs 6-5 in overtime.
Within hearing of the radio dialed to “blast,” I did harvest a batch of black morels in the woods just upslope of the cabin; appropriate, “foreurs” can mean “foragers.”
The Foreurs are back foraging in the Memorial Cup tournament again this year, but the Rebels have been repelled in all of the 13 years since.
As so often happens on the May long, Monday was the best day, clearing from two days of grey skies, fog, drizzle, rain, even snow, just in time to pack up the rig and head home, mostly eastward.
The homeward cavalcade showed it had been a perfect weekend for the Kamikaze 500 warriors: those outward trailers of shiny clean ATVs were now loaded with mostly muddy vehicles, many actually with clumps of our torn-up public land still sticking to them.
More worrisome were the few ATVs that were still shiny and clean.
Was that because they had not been off the trailer all weekend, or because they had been illegally run into the nearest trout stream and washed off, and to hell with the regulations, trout habitat and spawning beds?
“Oh, when will we ever learn?” sang the late Pete Seeger, and I wonder if the Alberta government will ever learn that “responsible ATV user” is an oxymoron and do something effective about all of them, including the requirement to take a course and pass a test before a yearly $50 licence is issued to operate an ATV on public land.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.