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North Saskatchewan River ice

North Saskatchewan River ice

Today would be my idea of an ugly day. Ugly. The temperature is superb, about 3, but the sky is overcast and the snow is dirty. I walked briefly in the Rossdale and Louise McKinney Park, and it seemed like twilight at 1:30! As much as I love Vancouver, I would not be able to handle the clouds. Puffy is good. Thundery is better. A sheath of grey sucks. I am GLAD that I got out for a walk in the river valley, but I was almost shaking my head in disgust. C’mon day, you can do better! Ah well, it was a walk, and that is always good.

Pigeons in Rossdale-the most colourful scenery

The most colourful thing in Rossdale

Louise McKinney Park in sepia. If I can't make it pretty, I'll make it old

Louise McKinney Park in sepia. If I can’t make it pretty, I’ll make it old

Throwback Saturday-The Bobcat of Mill Creek

OK, I haven’t been out for a walk, a proper walk, in about two weeks. I have a number of solid excuses, but the main one involves the deteriorated state of my cramp-ons. They don’t cramp on to anything anymore. The back bit, the part that pulls onto my boots, ripped last year. On both of them. They had a good run, but they’ve yet to be replaced. It’s very slippery outside. We had a lot of snow, then a big melt, followed by below zero temperatures. No snow to speak of since then, hence the sheet of ice that covers the ravine. I could probably manage without them, and certainly I did for YEARS, but I’ve become something of a wimp since I first discovered the pleasures of remaining upright whilst walking in winter. I have walked the dog around the neighbourhood many times, and today especially – it is very beautiful. Lots of sun and about -5C, but still, icy. So, here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago. My stupidity is still an ever-present threat, but I’m happy to report, no bobcat sightings…

 The Bobcat of Mill Creek

Now that we’ve officially entered the dog-days of winter, by which I mean, the shitty part, I thought I’d use the time I would have spent on the trails to relate my most embarrassing river valley story. This is a real whopper, although for the people who know me, it is neither surprising nor especially unusual.

It happened about three years ago, on a beautiful December afternoon. I was walking home, having been released from work several hours early as a sort of pre-Christmas gift from the boss. I used the time, not to shop or to bake, but to take a long walk in one of my favourite places on earth, Edmonton’s river valley, and in particular, Mill Creek Ravine. It has for many years, been a place of peace and discovery, the scene of coyotes and pileated woodpeckers, and even the occasional moose. A previous nights’ storm had transformed Mill Creek into a breathtaking marshmallowscape. Heaps of sparkling virgin snow piled knee-deep in the ravine, inviting the first perfect footprint. Irresistible.

Walking is my meditation. It’s easy to fall into a kind of altered state while traversing the many winding paths in the river valley. The constant birdsong of chickadees and sparrows and the ever-changing landscape is the boreal equivalent of Ommmm, erasing the extraneous and focusing my mind on the moment. In this state, I am apt to believe anything.

While most of the monkey trails in Mill Creek rely on hikers and cross-county skiers to tramp out the routes, the upper path is paved and maintained by the city, so by the time I emerged out of the deepest part of the ravine, breathing heavily from the exertion of wading through a quarter mile of soft-serve ice cream, the trail had already been plowed.

Squeaking along the snow-scraped surface of the trail, admiring the contrast of the cobalt blue sky against white, hoar-frosted spruce trees, I noticed an older gentleman standing by one of the exits to the ravine. Even at a distance, I could see he was angry. His hands were on his hips, and he seemed to be waiting for me, waiting to say something. I did not feel threatened, it was more of a relaxed sort of curiosity. As I approached, the man was shaking his head.

“God-damned bobcat!” he said, his face burnished red from the cold.

“Bobcat?” I asked.

“God-damned bobcat knocked over the post.” he said, pointing to the ground.

I looked down and saw a post, bent at a 90-degree angle and laying across the snow.

“Bobcat? You saw…a bobcat?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“God-damned thing. Came screaming down the path, hell-bent for leather. Don’t care what they destroy!”

“A bobcat? Here? In the river valley?” That is so awesome!” At this point in the conversation I was almost apoplectic, my brain madly flipping through its visual filofax, searching for images of bobcats. Thickly-furred felines with long black tufts on their ears, leaping through Mill Creek, smaller than a mountain lion maybe, but definitely bigger than my 20 pound house cat, flashed before my eyes.

“I had no idea we had bobcats!” I said, flushed with excitement.

The man stared at me, his face contorted in anger but shadowed by what I now know was a nuance of confusion. “Um yeah. About ten minutes ago. I was up on the hill, just over there, and I watched ‘em run over the sign. Started way down the trail and just wouldn’t stop. Unbelievable. If I’d been closer I would have said something, but the damned thing was too fast.”

“That must have been something. Where was he exactly?” I asked, my arm grandly gesturing toward the ravine.

“Just down there.” He pointed to the far end of the trail. “Came barreling through. Good thing no one was on the path.”

“Except for you.”

“Uh yeah. Except for me, although I was…”

“Lucky!”

“Um….”

Even through my barely contained joy, I noticed that we seemed strangely out of sync with one another, talking at cross-purposes. The more excited I got, the less vehement his tirade. Clearly, the man wasn’t digging this spectacular new arrival in the river valley. Must be an animal-hater.

I quickly pondered the possibility of searching for the bobcat, but as the mid-winter sun was already setting, I decided to exit the river valley, eager to share my good news with friends and family.

“Really, really fantastic. I’ve never seen a bobcat down here. Thanks for letting me know. Well, have a great afternoon!” I waved. Wow. A bobcat!

“Uh yeah. You too.” The man walked away, looking oddly deflated.

I headed toward the wooden staircase, stepping over the broken sign post. On the first stair, I stopped.

Oh.

Like the moment in The Usual Suspects when the camera flips from coffee cup to bulletin board and the detective realizes that Kevin Spacey is Kaiser Soze, my mind suddenly and brutally emerged out of its euphoric stupor.

Oh.

~the sign post was metal. No cat, bobcat or otherwise, could knock over a metal post, or even a wooden one, for that matter.

~Edmonton, including its lovely urban river valley, is Oil Country, not Bobcat Country.

~abandoned ravine cats, by species and temperament, are not bobcats, although they may have at one time been named ‘Bob’

~the old man, who in hindsight was understandably angry at the destruction of public property and seeking nothing but a little commiseration with a fellow river valley walker, was not, as I’d assumed, venting his anger at rufus felidae, but at a machine. A skid loader. A snow remover. A Bobcat.

I wanted to run over to the man and tell him that I understood (now) what he’d been talking about, that I was not functionally retarded, that I knew he didn’t mean a large spotted cat but a machine with a cage and a motor and a scraper thing. But, it was too late. I could not unring the dumbbell.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I was so embarrassed, I could barely walk. Bobcat? Oh_my_god. Hot steaming shame oozed out of my pores, turning the once jolly marshmallow snowscape into shriveled goo, sliding off the branches, sticking to my boots, impeding my quick exit out of the god-damned ravine.

Bobcatsaremachinesbobcatsaremachinesbobaalawaaawggggarawww…

Within a few hours, my shame had dissipated to the point where I began to feel just a little, I don’t know, impressed by the gargantuan stupidity of my error. It still impresses me. Years later, the episode has morphed into a kind of badge of dishonour. I am known as ‘bobcat auntie’ to my nieces, to distinguish me from my sister, aka: ‘church auntie’. (Don’t ask…suffice to say public humiliation runs in the family.) When I say things like, ‘You’ll never guess what I just saw!” the answer is always, “A bobcat?”, regardless of the respondent, or the situation. The mental torture is particularly acute in winter, when friends and family bombard me with reports of bobcats roaming the streets of snowy Edmonton. Ah well. I deserve it. I mean, really. A bobcat in Mill Creek? Seriously.

White, Blue and More White

Whitemud Ravine lookout (near Westbrook)

Whitemud Ravine lookout (near Westbrook)

Winter well and truly arrived last…I forget now, Thursday? Short memory for the actual date, but I do remember shoveling 35 cm over a period of a couple of days. And then it got cold. However, today is the perfect ‘winter’ day. Minus 4, with cobalt blue skies and sparkling white snow. Entering from the Aspen Gardens trail head, it was quite obvious that few people had ventured into Whitemud Ravine 7.Ravensince the big blizzard. Some cross-country ski markings and a sort of path that was not entirely packed down yet. Not slippery, just unsteady underfoot. It could have snowed last night it was so pristine and lovely. Sweet birdsong everywhere, and a big raven on the way out of the ravine. I think he was following me, but because of the sun, I could only get photographs in silhouette. When it flew away, his wings were incredibly black and shiny. Beautiful.

Maggie would have loved it, but she’s not up to long walks in the snow. I did, however, take her for a short one earlier around the neighbourhood. She insisted on wading into the deepest snowbanks to pee. I trust that she’s knows what she’s doing, but that’s gotta be cold on her lady business.

2.Aspen Gardens

Note the little snow cups around the twigs

Note the little snow cups around the twigs

4.Whitemud decline

5.Whitemud twigs

The mighty Whitemud Creek, taken from the lookout (first photo)

The mighty Whitemud Creek, taken from the lookout (first photo)

1:00 to 2:30/-4C

Snow Sunday

Whitemud powerline

Whitemud Ravine powerline

A vision of a day! Fresh sparkling snow, blue sky, and sun. About -5C, which is a great temperature for walking. Other than shoveling, mostly inside the last couple of days. Lots of snow, after rain and a melt Thursday and Friday. Took the dog around the block on Friday after getting my snow tires put on, and then a longer, dogless walk this afternoon. Didn’t go too far, just a wander around the creek, which is not entirely covered by ice. Yet. Left some seed for the little beasties, and then headed back. Refreshing.

Whitemud Creek half frozen

Whitemud snow

-5C/1:30

It’s Heeeere….

White-breasted Nuthatch

Well, the snow is here, but it’s not been too bad. Cold, yes, but not a lot of snow – not like Buffalo which just got more than six feet of snow. I’m a little envious. We rarely get giant dumps of snow like that, so with all due respect to the folks who have been inconvenienced, and of course those who have lost their lives (shoveling), I think it would be really something to experience that kind of snowfall. As long as I had ample supplies of peanut M&M’s, and whale blubber (to keep me warm).

Whitemud hill

Very little activity since the snow came last weekend. I’m feeling blah (or is that meh?), so not a lot of energy to take myself out to the trails. Today, however, was quite lovely. Went to Whitemud Ravine, just north of Snow Valley, in search of the oft talked about but rarely seen (at least by us) Barred Owl. No joy. But, I brought along some seeds and nuts, and at one point had a chickadee and white-breasted nuthatch feeding out of the palm of my hand (but not at the same time). Spread the rest of the seeds along the wood rails at one of the lookout points, and we were soon surrounded by chickadees, nuthatches, bluejays, and a squirrel. Feeding birds (and other animals) gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure, even when I’m feeling kind of crummy. Thanks birdies.

Chickadee

Whitemud trees in white

2:30/4C

A Perfect Day

By the river near Whitemud

By the river near Whitemud

This may be the last truly snow-free day until spring. Lots of below zero temperatures next week, and snow this weekend. Today, however, it was simply gorgeous. Crisp and bright. Blue sky. I made a point of enjoying the clear roads as a driver, and the soft browns and golds of Whitemud Ravine as a walker. It’s possible that the weather will unfold not as predicted – we’ve lasted well into November without winters’ grip taking permanent hold of the landscape, but it may be too much to ask for a few more weeks of autumn.

Whitemud Ravine Hoodoo

Whitemud Ravine Hoodoo

Leaves

Dainty Duck

Dainty Duck

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

4C/1:20 to 2:40