Tag Archives: Edmonton

Victoria Day in Mill Creek Ravine

It’s probably been six months since I’ve walked through Mill Creek Ravine. There was a time when that would have been unimaginable. That gorgeous green space running through the middle of Edmonton was just a few blocks from where I lived in Strathcona for almost two decades, and for most of that time, I was down in the ravine at least three or four times a week. I know it extremely well, in all seasons, but it’s ‘out of my way’ now in Oliver, so I have to make a special effort to get there, as I did on the Monday of the Victoria Day long weekend.

As per usual in spring, especially this spring, it was a very windy day, but once I was in the ravine, the winds became gentle, and my eyes were able to take in the amazing lime-green landscape before me. It’s about a week away from peak spring, so the leaves are still sticky juveniles and the blossoms have yet to go full petal. The creek itself is low, and in some places, the rock bed is exposed. It can go either way in spring. Sometimes Mill Creek floods, but this year, we’ve had little rain, and the creek is mostly a trickle, especially at the south end.  Still, every single dog I passed was wet, so they were finding a way. Towards the north end, the creek was more robust, and spectacularly rejuvenating to my soul. I posted a video on Instagram, saying that I went to church on Monday morning, and I meant it. Nature is truly my church. No where do I feel more at peace than in the river valley and ravines of this city.

Trestle bridge in Mill Creek Ravine

I am tree root

In June, I will have to find alternative routes for walking, especially on my commutes, as the river valley will be well and truly wormified by the annual green caterpillar infestation. It will definitely be a challenge since the part of the river valley that is most infested lies between my work at the University of Alberta and my home in downtown Edmonton (Oliver). Stupid worms. I’ve been dealing with them since 2003. If it isn’t the constant construction in the river valley interrupting my commutes, it’s those gruesome greenies.

Frog Bog!

Lily of the Valley

But back to Mill Creek. On the upper trail, I walked by the frog bog, and while there was water (yay!) and the bubble and chirp of frogs (double yay!), I didn’t see any of them, nor were they performing that weird, love-sick frog song – just regular, I’m-not-in-the-mood frog songs (to my non-expert in amphibious song-making ear). Also, I could see that the lily-of-the-valley plants were spreading but not yet in bloom. It’s the only place in the city that I’ve ever seen wild lily-of-the-valley.

May Day flowers (I think)

About 16C (in the morning)

Easter Monday in Whitemud

Stella surveys her territory

On the whole, this April has been very nice, with the exception of this weekend. It snowed Saturday and Sunday, worse in Calgary than here, but still, enough to whiten the ground and temporarily displace thoughts of spring. I was dog-sitting while Kate was in Calgary (driving in harrowing white-out road conditions) and Sharon and Vic were (and still are) in Scottsdale.

Stella of course loved the snow, but it was very cold and very windy, so in the afternoon we only walked for about 45 minutes, with two smaller walks Friday night and Saturday morning.

This post isn’t about the weekend, however, but Easter Monday, April 22 when my car was at the dealer getting its summer gear on and Stella and I had two hours to romp in Whitemud Ravine.

It was a beautiful walk! The ravine is snow/ice free and trails were open and wonderfully soft underfoot. Stella seemed very happy to have so much to smell, and she had her first dip of the year in the creek (along with two annoyed geese). The area  where she had her swim, by the rickety boardwalk, has been cleared of trees and bushes. Apparently, both the boardwalk and the stairs will be replaced. I hope they do it in a timely fashion. Many trails in our river valley and ravines are in need of maintenance or repair, but so often, the areas are just blocked off.

The geese were NOT happy

During our walk, I was able to get a few chickadees to eat out of my hand, always so cheering. Unfortunately, it’s been so dry there were no frogs in the bog, parts of which was either frozen or dry. The rest of the walk was uneventful, although that final part through Westbrook I think was a bit hard on Stella. She seemed disappointed that none of the cars at the trail head were mine. The walk through the neighbourhood added an extra half hour, for a total of about two hours.

It was about 21C, I believe. We had one day in April that was 23C!

Stella on Saturday

 

Sidewalk Flowers

Guess who’s baaaaaack! On a long and gorgeous walk on Sunday, I found a few dandelions poking their friendly little yellow faces out of some brown grass and a few cracks in the cement sidewalks. It’s no secret that I love dandelions, and it was very cheering to see this lovely andfor bees, very important first flower of spring.

In 2015, I wrote about dandelions in one of my favourite children’s picture books of all time, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, with illustrations by Sydney Smith. Read the review here.

On my two-hour walk a butterfly passed amiably by, as did some sort of buzzing insect. A bee? Hope so. My 12,000+ step walk took me into the river valley, Rossdale, over the beautiful Walt Jr Bridge, and then back again. I may have picked up a bit of a wind or sun burn. By the end of it, I felt like me. I felt like this is exactly what I should be doing on a sunny Sunday. Having said that, it was tiring, and so I took a short nap under a sun beam on my couch after I got home. All in all, a fantastic afternoon.

Bridge in Rossdale

View of the river just past the bridge in Rossdale

I can’t stress enough how wonderful this walk was, simply because this time last April, there was still a lot of snow and being new to the neighbourhood, I had yet to discover some the of paths I took today. This year, the river is far more open, and yesterday, the trails were packed with people biking, walking, and even skateboarding. We deserve this after the winter we had, especially February.

Walterdale Bridge, also fondly known as Walt Jr

1:15-3:00 pm/15C.

Stick Day!

Went for a walk in Whitemud Ravine with Stella and Sharon on Sunday. There is still snow in spots, but the path down the power line is clear, and the creek is running very high and very fast. Stella found a series of giant sticks and amused herself (and us) trying to haul them away.

 

It was overcast, but warm. Saturday was beautiful with a bright blue sky (like today, Monday) but I was mostly running errands so I didn’t go for a walk.

A gushing Whitemud Creek

I’ve been walking most work days home, and that will pick up now that the hockey season is almost over (thank god). One more home game, and then we are freeeee! I wish the Oilers were in the playoffs, but the regular season is such a time commitment already, so I’m not sad about gaining some more time in my life. More time, that is, to frolic in the woods after work and on the weekends.

8C (yesterday). 

What is this…warmth?

Emily Murphy Park

March came in like a lamb. A big, gentle, blue-sky lamb. There were a few lionesque days to start, but since then, it’s been above zero every day, and this week, it’s all double digits. I don’t recall what the sidewalks were like in Oliver last year at this time, but this year, holy cow. In the morning they are lakes of ice. In the afternoon, just lakes. I’ve been walking down the street to avoid slips and soakers. Both pairs of boots have cracks, which has become glaringly apparent. Out they go at the end of this season. I expect we will have a few more dumps of snow, but with 14C today, and 17C tomorrow, the snow we have now should have well and truly fucked off by the weekend.

Yesterday (Monday), I walked home for the first time in months. Bad Donna. Not bad because I walked home but bad because it’s way too long! My route was down Emily Murphy Park road, over the Groat Bridge, and then up Victoria Park Road. It was beautiful but I was filthy by the time I got home. The sidewalk down to the river valley was covered in gravel, and even though there were no huge puddles on the road, they were still wet, which meant I was lightly misted with dirty water all the way home. And I was hot. I brought my leggings, but I should have changed into a t-shirt. It’s that time of year when it is hard to know what to wear, although it was wonderful to have running shoes on my feet and not boots. I had a taste of that in Scottsdale, but since my return it’s been all boots all the time.

You’re a dirty, dirty city, Edmonton.

In total, I walked about 14,000 steps, and to make my way home without crowded buses or trains in the equation was simply wonderful. That bus down Jasper is the worst. Now, without the frigid temperatures, I can at least walk home from the train, which is about 14 blocks. I will be glad when the sidewalks are dry, which shouldn’t be too much longer. I will be especially glad when the river valley trails are clear of snow, ice and water, but that will take a month, maybe less…

12C (yesterday)

Arizona Calling

Where to start?

I was in paradise, otherwise known as Scottsdale, Arizona, from February 8-15. It was a much-needed reprieve from a month that has seen life-sucking, record-breaking temperatures in Edmonton. According to local weather prognosticators, our city has only been this cold for this long two other times in the last 50 years (2nd longest in the last 30 years), with extreme cold warnings issued almost every day since the beginning of February. (ADDENDUM March 1: We did it! We suffered through the coldest February in the last 40 years! The average temperature for the month has been -19.7 C)

But enough whining.

Did I mention I was in paradise for a week?

Sharon was in Scottsdale with Stella for her usual month of holiday. Joanne and Steve traveled at the same time, and I showed up a week later (sans Tom, who won’t travel to the US). On the same day I arrived, my cousin Cathy and her husband Larry also arrived from Winnipeg (via Palm Springs) for a couple of days. For 24 hours there were six people in Sharon and Vic’s condo, plus one large dog. It was a blast!

By mid-week, it was just the sisters, and Stella – an honourary if rather hirsute sibling.

This was the first time that I’ve been down to Scottsdale for more than just a few days. I don’t have a ton of holidays built up since switching jobs, but this seemed like exactly the right thing to do with one of my weeks. How often do I get to spend time with family like this, on holiday? Never.

The weather was on the cool side for most of my stay (around 15C), but we had a few days at plus 20C. It didn’t really matter. It always feels like some kind of miracle to sit on a plane for a few hours, only to disembark in an entirely different climate. One with palm trees, cacti and air that doesn’t want to kill me.

It took a long time for my suitcase to show up, so we were late back to condo. Larry had bought pizza for everyone, which was very kind, and oddly, very apropos. Earlier, while I was still on the plane, the seat belt warning suddenly came on. There was no turbulence, but at that moment the cabin filled with the smell of mushroom pizza. Maybe it was a way of keeping the passengers strapped down while the crew enjoyed a slice or two? No judgement, although my free packet of tiny pretzels suddenly seemed very inadequate.

The next day, after a walk with Stella around the golf course, we all headed to Old Town for a parade, or as it locally known, the Parada del Sol. The day wasn’t exactly sunny, but what it lacked in sol, it more than made up for in Americana, including marching bands, horses and flags. Lots of flags. No MAGA hats, thank god. It was interesting and a nice introduction to Scottsdale life.

Cousins Cathy and Larry at the parade

Sharon and Stella taking a break at the parade

Steve flew back to Edmonton around dinnertime, and we just hung around for the rest of the evening, drinking margaritas, before taking Stella for her final walk, which usually involves a trip down to the pond to see if the night heron was stationed at its usual spot. It was.

The nice thing about walking Stella in Scottsdale, other than walking Stella, is that the birds are very different, and therefore, the ambient sounds very different. No magpies. No chickadees. None of our usual over-winterers. They have grackles, lots of them, hummingbirds, mockingbirds, Gila woodpeckers, starlings, quail, cormorants, egrets, herons, cardinals, some Canada geese (which I warned not to return to Edmonton just yet) and many other birds that we just don’t see, or hear, in Edmonton – at least not at this time of the year, if ever. It was wonderful. A feast for the ears, and one of the biggest pleasures of traveling to this part of the world.

Desert Botanical Garden

Cormorant!

Angry Hummingbird is angry

Quail!

Starling Peekaboo

Day Heron

The landscape also speaks to me. I love the desert. I love the flatness spiked by saguaro cacti and terra cotta mountains. I love the smell of the air, the flat roofs, the shiny cars, and the ice-free sidewalks. In fact, the only thing I stepped gingerly around was a lovely little snail.

In the middle of a harsh winter, it is phenomenally cheering to be in the presence of living things like flowers and grass, and the huge variety of bird life. This place is surely a cure for seasonal effective disorder, or at least, a temporary break. I’m not sure that I suffer from SAD exactly, but the daily anxiety of walking on slippery surfaces and driving in snow storms is mentally and physically exhausting. And, it was so nice to say goodbye to the layers of heavy clothing and micro-spiked boots for a week.

We did lots of things, especially walking. One warm day we took Stella out for a hike to the Gilbert Water Ranch, which was extremely nice. A flat trek, with lots of dust, gravel trails (hence the dust), egrets, bunches of tiny scurrying bunnies, and wading birds like the Black-Necked Stilt or as I called it, the Black-Stilted Neck. Stella had a blast running after the bunnies (on leash), and to her credit, my shoulder eventually popped back into its socket.

Bunny!

Upon reflection, I have no egrets

 

Other highlights:

I really enjoyed the Queen Creek Olive Mill, which Joanne, Sharon and I visited on the Wednesday. I had bruschetta sampler plate, and it was outstanding. And then we all loved the boutique store, with olive oils and balsamic vinegars made on site. I bought a few things. Maybe a lot of things.

I also loved the Heard Museum in Phoenix, which is dedicated to the American Indian. We went there on my last full day, which was raining, and I fell in love with the Hopi Katsina dolls, of which they have hundreds. All very weird. When we got home, Sharon and I sat in the hot tub for half an hour in the rain. It was surprisingly pleasant.

Now that’s a dolly!

And of course, the Desert Botanical Garden – which we visited twice. On Sunday night, we all went to see their Electric Desert exhibit, which is exactly as it sounds. The whole place was lit up like a disco, only pricklier. It was beautiful, kind of like being underwater at a coral reef. Even the mountain had light images undulating across its surface. Whoever runs this place is endlessly creative with their annual feature exhibits. One note, I was absolutely frozen, which I know sounds weird considering it was about 11C, but I was not dressed for a desert night in February. Long pants would have helped, and the sandals were also a mistake. I wasn’t going to die from the cold, however, and that’s the difference.

Electric Desert

Electric Cathy and Larry

Electric Joanne

The next morning, Sharon, Larry and I were back at the garden with the birders. Saw some cool birds, some of which I was able to capture on my camera, others not so much.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum was also a treat. I thought I had been there with Dad and Shirley way back in the 90s, but it must have been some other arboretum (or Are-borea-torium, as my dad pronounced it) because it wasn’t familiar at all. Lots of little winding trails and far more lush than the botanical garden. It was hot outside too, which was awesome. Stella enjoyed it as well, although whoever was holding her leash had to make sure she didn’t walk into cacti. As Joanne pointed out, some of the locations looked like the battle scene between Kirk and the Gorn on Star Trek. No gorns, but we did see turtles laying on a rock in the sun. That’s a first. We had a picnic lunch in the tree grove. Can’t remember what they were, but they were huge. And apparently, full of cardinals.

Me at Boyce Arboretum

Happy Valentine’s to you too, succulent!

Sharon, Boyce Arboretum

My first turtle sighting!

Throughout the trip, I felt enormous gratitude toward for my sister and brother-in-law for kindly purchasing this condo in Scottsdale in 2016, and for opening its doors to family and friends. And especially, for the opportunity to spend some time with my sisters in total relaxation. Sharon had to do all the driving since their car is a standard, but I think…I hope…she was relaxed. Stella certainly was relaxed, when she wasn’t on high alert in the car, or hyper-focused on her favourite blue ball, which, by the way, I accidentally threw over a wall and lost. My sporting abilities continue to amaze.

I was sad to go, and if I had been a better planner, I would have stayed for another couple of days. Once the plane was in the air for about 20 minutes, the landscape became white, and we landed in Edmonton in a white-out snow storm.

Sigh.

As the Westjet spokesman said, “As you step out the door of this plane, please remember, you asked us to fly you here.”

Indeed.

Nevertheless, it was a great time. Thanks Sharon and Vic and Joanne and Steve and Cathy and Larry and Stella!!

Don’t make me get off!!