DOWNPOUR – Yeah, I’m Done Whining About How Dry It Is
I guess it’s about time I stop whining about how dry it is.
Barely three weeks ago I was lamenting that both last winter and this spring were unusually dy. Not much snow, very little rain. But then a week or so ago the rain came along and changed things for the better. It was a good rainfall, a real soaker.
Still, I found things to whine about. The foothills beaver ponds were low, the creeks were only just barely murky from runoff, my favourite little waterfall was almost completely dry.
Well, I ain’t whining now.
The clouds were still gathering strength as I headed out into the foothills just west of the city a little after dawn on Monday morning. There was rain in the forecast – a heavy rainfall warning, in fact – but there wasn’t much more than a drizzle coming down as I paused by the roadside beaver ponds on the Anne and Sandy Cross Conservancy.
Blackbirds were singing from the cattails, a muskrat swam through the caramel-coloured water with a mouthful of breakfast greens. Geese were paddling around because there are always geese. A blue-winged teal drake sat in the middle of the biggest pond with raindrops dimpling the water around him.
The first wave of real rain started to come down a few minutes later. The forest up the road buzzed with the sound of the drops hitting the leaves and water was running down the trunks. Near a nesting box a bit further on, a tree swallow sat on a fencepost as rain splashed off its feathers. It looked absolutely miserable.
The rain began to hammer down now and visibility dropped, pretty much eliminating any chance of more scenic pictures, so I decided to head over to the Bow River valley just a few kilometres away.
To be honest, I really hadn’t been paying attention to the water levels in the Bow. Sure, I’d noticed the the river was running pretty full but that’s nothing unusual for this time of year. What caught my attention more was the number of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies that were hatching on the surface. The Franklin’s gulls and swallows were having a feast. Fishing would be great with all that action.
But I could see from the boat launch at Policeman’s Flats that the river was now running way higher, right up to the tops of the banks and over them in a couple of places. I knew we’d had a pretty good rain over the previous week but I didn’t think it had been that much.
The first wave of rain had passed by now and there was even a hint of blue sky off to the northeast. Frogs were singing in a side channel whose calm waters reflected the morning sky while the robins and sparrows continued belting out their morning songs.
It was all quite pleasant, calm and cool, the luxuriant spring growth dripping and glowing so I decided to continue on down the river. Been a while since I’ve explored this lovely valley, might as well have a look.
At an overlook on the north side of the Bow I found a couple of mule deer does nibbling on grass, their coats shaggy and wet. Looking down on the river I could see pelicans and cormorants on a backwater. Upstream, the valley faded off into the light, misty rain that was softly falling.
And continued to fall as I went further east.
The Bow at Carseland was considerably higher and dirtier. In between here and Policeman’s Flats the Highwood River adds its waters to the flow and, for some reason, that water carries far more silt than the Bow’s main stem.
Yeah, there was a lot of water.
Islands were mostly submerged with only the tallest of the sandbar willows waving in the current. Waves were crashing against the steep banks while cottonwood trees were getting their trunks wet where the river spread out further downstream.
The roar of water coming over the weir sounded everywhere and the river upstream from it was even more lake-like than it usually is. There were dozens of pelicans there, a bunch of them with their big feet planted on a submerged island closer to the weir while several more groups of them hung out on gravel islands further upstream.
Cormorants perched on a log that had hung up in the current, some with their wings spread to dry out. Good luck with that, guys. Squadrons of Franklin’s gulls flew above the river and splashed down on the surface as they hunted for bugs while ring-billed and California gulls foraged closer to the banks.
The misty rain was now coalescing into a genuine downpour as I poked around. It soaked the riverside willows and bounced off the copious wild roses that had popped into bloom. They were everywhere I looked, some pale pink, others salmon-coloured. The buds just opening were arterial red.
And the wolf willows are in bloom.
The rain tried but it just couldn’t cleanse the air of that sweet wolf willow scent. You would never guess by looking at them but those tiny, pale yellow flowers really pound out the perfume. Nothing else smells quite like them and I love it.
I stayed for a while watching the water churn around the weir and photographing the pelicans and gulls that were flying around. A mourning dove flew right up to the truck with the intention to land but then saw me at the last second and nearly turned itself inside out as it changed course. It flew just a few metres away and landed on the ground looking very confused.
The rain had been getting more and more intense as I sat there and now it was really hammering. Heading out of the valley I stopped to look back and could barely make out the far bank of the river. The roads up on the flats were muddy and soft and water was running down the ditches.
But I just couldn’t roll past Legacy Island.
There are always a lot of birds down here where a little creek joins the river and there were plenty of them today. Sparrows of all sorts, blackbirds, grackles. And goldfinches.
For some reason, there are always a lot of goldfinches here. They weren’t quite as active as they usually are, what with the rain pelting down, but there were a couple of bright yellow males gathering up dandelion seeds.
Even though I’d barely stepped foot out of the truck, I was wet from driving with the windows down so I could take pictures – no use soaking the camera gear if I don’t have to – but there was one more place I wanted to look before heading back to town.
There isn’t much for river access at this spot but the county road runs right past a kinda unique area of the river valley. Here, the south-facing bank is quite steep and erosion has turned it into a mini badlands complete with sagebrush and cactus and other plants you might associate with country that was further east.
So I headed down there hoping that I might see that erosion in action.
And I did. The slope was streaming with heavy, mucky water that was cutting even more grooves in the exposed clay and soft sandstone. The cactus was dripping with raindrops and the bright flowers on the hedysarum – vetches – and globe mallow were glowing in the soft, wet light.
A milkshake-thick stream was running in the ditch beside the road, carrying even more silt down to the Bow River running through the valley below. A roar of thunder sounded as I sat there and with that, just like in a Hollywood movie, the rain doubled in intensity. Maybe might be time to go home.
So I did.
But with the annoying sound of overflowing gutters gnawing at my concentration as I sat in my comfy chair editing my pictures, I got to thinking about the previous rainstorm the week before and how, even with all that moisture, things still seemed too dry. The heaviest rain of this storm was supposed to fall overnight so I decided to go back to the Sibbald and Jumpingpound country to have a look the next morning and see if this latest downpour had changed anything.
You can already guess what I found.
The beaver ponds were full. But, strangely, still clear. Jumpingpound Creek was completely out of its banks, even flowing through the forest in some spots. White foam churned around the beaver dams on the willow flats and water was running off the hillsides.
Over at Sibbald Pond, the islands were underwater again. No one fishing today.
And my little waterfall was back.
The water was coffee-coloured and it still wasn’t running as full as it should be but it was flowing. The leaves that had been marooned since last fall in the nearly stagnant pools above the little falls were now all washed away and the dry moss on the rocks was soaked, at least what was left of it in the rushing current. The soil beside the plunge pool was sopping and slippery and I nearly fell trying to get close to the water.
But it was worth it just to hear the sound of the roar change as I moved around and to smell the earthiness of it all.
Everything was wet, everything was flowing. Everything was as it should be.
So I guess maybe it’s time to stop whining about how dry it is. Okay, sure, a week’s worth or rain won’t replenish everything. I mean, it really was pretty dry. But it’s a good start.
So for now, it’s time to let it all go, to let the dryness wash away.
But I gotta say, I think I might miss it.
Because as we all know, there is nothing quite as satisfying as a good whine.