Rocks don’t lie

10 03 2013

But paint does.

I can’t help it;in early March, the layered landscape of the Tranquille River burgeons with the beginning of spring, but oh so slowly.    Out with Maggie and Marc and Shasta on the floodplain of the Tranquille River, the shape of the hills to the north are lyrical.  Their colour, however, is of dust.  This is a world in which green has been sapped by winter’s press.  Home at my desk, playing with paint, I can’t help but push the colours further than reality.  It is a exercise in wishful thinking, of dreaming in the spring.

The reality is one of layered debris.  Nearly everywhere I look, I find the debris of the last fecund season.

Broken twigs of the last season litter the ground beneath the cottonwood trees; golden brown flower capsules curve on the ground.

 

This is a layered landscape, built of the shifting debris of the Tranquille River and the flooding Thompson River. Down on the delta, along the shores of Kamloops Lake, rocks pile in cobble bars and build terraces.  Their forms are varied and I collect them, weighting my pockets with their history.


Each year, each beginning spring, I haunt this landscape.  In the Thompson Valley, it is one of the first places to hear meadowlarks sing, to feel the sun ray’s build into warmth, to sense the building biology.  We come out here often, but this is the first time, Marc and Maggie have come with me out to the toe of the Tranquille River.  At 9:00 am, our walk is rich with biology:  redpolls flocking, beavercut stumps, pileated woodpecker holes.  There is the enormous eagle nest perched in a tall cottonwood and the hanging sock of an oriole nest.

Maggie finds an eagle feather in the debris; later I find another.  

 Two mature eagles and one juvenile soar and float overhead, intent on their own business.

In one week–from one Sunday to another, this delta, warmed by it’s south-facing aspect goes from slumbering to alert.  I watch nearly an entire flock of blackbirds (mostly females with a few males–wing colours just coming on) raise up a ruckus in the cottonwood trees, juncos call, and the ducks gather in ever-increasing flocks on the small pond in the wildlife management area.  Bighorn sheep cluster on the sleeps just above the CN tracks–remarkably nonplussed by the long train rumbling by.

It’s all a wash, a jumble of sediment and rock, a mix of decaying debris and returning life.  I’m not the only one to spend spring days out here.  By the time Maggie and Marc and I turn to walk back out to a car, the narrow parking lot along the road is filled.  There is no denying that this land carries the trace of human activities, some recent, many more distant.  Even so, there is such rich biology here, so much that it overwhelms, nearly exhausts a body trying to keep up.  Layer me a land.




February Depends

5 03 2013

February has me alternating between low and high–at least in elevation.  Looking back at my journal pages over the last month, time outside alternates between the unravelling of winter’s transformation at low elevations and opportunities to play in winter’s depth at high elevations.

Along the Tranquille River just above its confluence with the Thompson River/Lake Kamloops delta, February is the unrevealing.  The layers of snow peel back–a microscale re-enactment of the last Pleistocene deglaciation.  Rivulets of water rampage with muddy water sluicing off snow banks and then eddy into pools allowing the silts to drift to the bottom.  This unearthing proceeds in fits and starts–influenced by the shape of the land and its shade.   Within the river bed, ice extends, broken here and there by dark water rushing downhill.  Out on the flats, Tortula moss gleams green under the sage-blue umbrella of individual old sagebrush.  Does less snow accumulate here in the winter, allowing Tortula‘s photosynthetic machinery to start chugging earlier?  I’ve never totally understood the abundance of Tortula beneath large sagebrush before;  today’s pattern of snowmelt offers up one more potential hypothesis to consider.

In the unearthing, brown crawls upward from the valley bottom, hounding the irregular line of remnant snow on valley slopes.  The pond at Tranquille Wildlife Management Area is still frozen.  I’m disappointed, missing the stately forms of swans on its smooth surface.

 

A conference takes me up into the lean Subalpine Fir-Engelmann Spruce forest surrounding Sun Peaks.  I spend one glorious afternoon out alone gliding down the long slopes of the Holy Cow trail before diving into an intense two day meeting of teaching and learning scholars.  On the ski down, there is the deep comfort of muscle rhythm  with only a few stops to notice the little things–the sap green underside to the developing alder catkins, the solitude of lunch alone on the side of McGillivray Lake.

The final morning I leave my hotel room before it is fully light to glide through deeply falling snow.  I have  a full day  of meetings before me and I have only enough time to warm my muscles and quicken my heart before it is time turn around.  But it is in that one moment of stillness at the height of my morning ski that I realize the hidden weight of winter’s silence.

As I stand there, breathing hard, resisting the call of work, the world is alive with movement.  Snowflakes fall, drift, lurch earthward.  The muffled loss of winter’s sound echoes deepest when the normal noise associated with motion remains absent.   Only in deep winter can objects fall from the sky in an endless stream without accompanying thwacks and whacks and thuds.

Winter’s silence is expectation denied.