The colours and trail conditions in mid-March on a sunny day in Alberta. Big risks and huge rewards for the willing…
I might be slightly exaggerating above, but we were picking a nervous path down some wooded slopes last weekend. The temperatures for the past few days had been perfect for being outdoors and active, rising from below freezing in the early morning, to a relatively balmy 5-8C in the late afternoon sun. Stay on the move, and the layers come off, down to shirtsleeves and a lightweight toque. Sunblock, sunglasses and YakTrax kept everything mostly comfortable – the frozen lumps and bumps of an icy trail underfoot keeping us on our toes and, hopefully, off our butts. It must have been very deep slush the day before.
The parking lot at Glenbow Ranch was less than half full, the chilly early morning deterring most folks, leaving the park to be enjoyed by the brave few willing to risk the slippery trails. The happy miserabilist in our little party chose the most icy trailhead, figuring it would be the quietest path. He enjoyed the subsequent series of smiles, nods, and short conversations with other hikers and dog walkers who had no doubt chosen the same path searching for solitude. There’s not much that’s quieter than a collection of outdoor introverts slightly disappointed to be meeting each other on the trail (I’m not actually a miserabilist, but if you ever run into me out there, I sure do look like one – don’t be too put off, I will stop and chat – if you really want to…)
On the flatter parts, and along the valley bottom, like an amiable PlaidCamper the trails were hardpacked and easy going. As is almost always the case, the further on we went, the fewer people we met, and aside from the scrape of YakTrax on ice, it was pretty quiet. And pretty! Alberta blue overhead, silver trees on each side, and golden grasses poking up through the snow. Barely a breeze to be felt or heard, and the occasional snatch of birdsong from the branches above.
We threaded our way through a pleasant valley, stopping to eat our lunch at the bottom of a wooded slope. The trees leaned in and over on either side of us, offering a sense of shelter and quiet companionship. Fanciful I know, but maybe they were expressing a hint of concern? Scout was doing quite a number on the exposed roots of a felled tree, thoroughly engaged in her dogged pursuit of “is this edible?” The answer, in her mind anyway, is always yes.
We climbed out of the little valley and stopped to enjoy the far-reaching views of the not so distant Rockies. They looked wonderful in the strong afternoon sun, sharp-edged, snow dusted and gleaming, stretching along the entire horizon. What a sight! Closer in, stands of trees made stark patches of black shadow against the brilliant white snow. An unseen train sounded a horn down below, and then appeared from between the hills, chugging slowly through the foothills, a child’s toy from way up top.
Sitting on a log in the snow, feeling the warmth of the sun under an ocean of blue sky on a bright March day, I can happily put spring on hold for a little while longer. Yes, the paths are treacherous, in and out of the city, and yes, there’s still more snow to fall (it’s falling heavily once again as I write this!) but days like last weekend are treasures, and enough to make an old misery smile at passers-by as they quietly acknowledge their shared delight.
A rare day? Maybe, maybe not, depends how you look at it. I like days and places for finding perspective. Glenbow Ranch seems to be our nearest natural recharge point at the moment. I hope you have an outdoor trove of special places you feel good about, where you can soak in and soak up natural wonder. Locations you don’t have to travel too far to experience, where everyday concerns can be shrugged off, at least for a while.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!
PS Just got back from a quick trundle around the neighbourhood (can’t resist being out in the snow) and it is slick on those sidewalks – so take care out there if you are still in the (weakening?) grip of a snowy winter.