Alberta Snapshot: Kananaskis River.

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A view of the wide Kananaskis River from the Flowing Water Interpretive Trail in Bow Valley.  This is a really pleasant, short, and easy walk with some fantastic scenery and lots of wildflowers.  There’s even a beaver dam (but apparently the beavers were bunking down in their little log cabins out of the gloom on the day my hubby and I were there.  I would have liked to see some babies, but alas). The trailhead begins in Willowrock Campground and is well-marked and worn.  This is another good hike for young families – there is one section of wooden stairs, but they are not too steep.  The stairs would make it tricky for anyone with mobility issues, but the rest of the trail is accessible.

I’m always fascinated by place names – and as I’ve lived here in southern Alberta for several years, I was familiar with the idea that the word “Kananaskis” meant “meeting of the waters.”  But it turns out that’s an erroneous marketing gimmick – the real truth behind the name is actually far more fascinating and…well…bloody.  Check out the historical account here.

Have you ever come across any “tourist” information that wasn’t really true?  Isn’t it interesting how stories are altered over time (or depending on agenda)?

Alberta snapshot: Bebo Grove.

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Just a quick pic today…the past few days have been a whirlwind – both literally and figuratively.  It’s been insanely windy outside and of course everyone has decided it’s time to power rake the lawns and sweep the gravel out of the parking lots – it’s really best not to step outdoors if you have allergies!  I walked to the store today and I came back with sandblasted eyeglasses and a completely new hairdo.  😉  I’m super-swamped with all the happenings in our community gardening group, getting ready for our Annual Growers’ Meeting tomorrow night and rounding up soil amendments for the raised beds so the members can get sowing!  (We do make our own compost at the garden, but it’s a small operation and we used up all the produce last autumn).  I want very much to get out into my flowerbeds and trim down the old stalks of the perennials and do some clean up, but I’m not quite ready yet…the cast was finally removed from my wrist late last week but I need a bit of therapy and time to get things working again.  Maybe once the wind dies down, I’ll be up to it.  🙂

My hubby and I managed to get out on the weekend for a very short walk in Bebo Grove in Fish Creek Provincial Park in the southwest part of the city.  It was less walking than sitting by the river, actually, but there’s something to be said for a few moments of quiet and nothing to do except to watch the ducks and enjoy the warm sun.

Deluge.

I’m not thinking about gardening right now.

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It’s the first day of summer and I should be happy.  (After all, winter was obscenely long, and spring was just plain weird…).

Unfortunately, the city of Calgary and about 20 outlying communities are under a state of emergency right now due to massive flooding – the kind of flooding that hasn’t happened in nearly a century, if ever.  Two rivers – the Bow and the Elbow – flow through Calgary and pretty much all of the downtown core and any neighbourhoods near the banks are completely underwater. Up to 100,000 people have been evacuated in Calgary alone.  Thankfully, the neighbourhood where my hubby and I live is on high ground, distant from the rivers.  But the destruction is difficult to fathom, and it’s even worse outside of the city.  I can’t believe the videos and photos I’ve seen on the ‘net from towns such as High River, Canmore, and Bragg Creek – they’re incredible and heartbreaking.   The stories of loss and all of the amazing acts of kindness and generosity are overwhelming.

And it’s still raining in some of the affected areas. 

I just hope everyone in the flood zones will be safe, and that we can all pitch in to lend a hand wherever needed!

I sure hope you’re having a better solstice than we are in southern Alberta!   What are your plans (gardening or otherwise) for the weekend? 

UPDATE (as of 23 June 2013) – More links:

As the sun starts to emerge on the city of Calgary (The Road Trip Hound)

Judgement (one + one stones)

Calgary’s state of emergency (Biggest Ball of String)

Witnessing a flood disaster (Time with Thea)

Blue sky over Calgary Alberta (jmeyersforeman photography)

Kinnikinnick and Elbow Falls.

My gardening projects these past few days have consisted solely of watering, watering, and watering some more.  It’s bone dry here, and in fact, the province of Alberta is currently under a fire ban, issued this past Saturday.  As I write this, the community of Nordegg, 335 kilometres (208 miles) northwest of Calgary, is threatened by a massive, uncontrolled forest fire.  Over 150 firefighters are battling that blaze and 50 more are fighting a fire outside of the nearby hamlet of Lodgepole.  Hopefully they will bring the fires under control within the next few hours.

The fire ban is in place just in time for the Victoria Day long weekend, considered “opening weekend” for the camping season.  My hubby and I have stopped camping on long weekends – we just cannot face the crowds of people that leave the cities to whoop it up in packed campgrounds.   We’ll head out camping during the shoulder seasons, or during the week, when sites are available and the level of zaniness drops slightly.   Instead, over the next few months, we’ll be focussing on taking day trips to hike or fish or just have a picnic.

Indeed, the prospect of eating portable food by a river in a forested, mountainous area is partly the reason we headed out to Elbow Falls, near the tiny hamlet of Bragg Creek, a couple of Fridays ago.  That, and we hadn’t been out to the Falls in over a decade and we live practically next door to them.

A bit of snow still lingered in the shadows, and the Elbow River was clear and cold.  We watched an American dipper cavort in the water – this was our first time seeing one of these dark brown birds, and it was really entertaining to watch the way they move and feed.  (While my blurry, blobby photos of the little gaffer were good enough to obtain a positive ID from the enthusiastic and extremely helpful birders on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, I’m afraid they’re not quite blog-worthy.  You can read about American dippers and see a decent photo here).

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Elbow Falls

Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursicommon bearberry) was growing like mad everywhere you looked, stuffed into every rock crevice and creeping along the pathways.  I’ve always been a  huge fan of this pretty groundcover, with its leathery green leaves that redden beautifully in the fall, and the pale pink flowers followed by bright orange-red berries.   Bearberry has an air of confidence (if plants can have such a thing):  it appears as if it will withstand anything nature can throw at it and look supremely fabulous doing it.   If I had a rock garden, this native would be one of the first plants I’d install.

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While I knew that kinnikinnick berries were edible, I didn’t realize that the plant is such a useful – and complete – food source for many different types of wildlife.  According to this article,  kinnikinnick serves as a  larval food for many species of insects, and butterflies and hummingbirds dine on the plant’s nectar.  The berries are nutrition for bears (of course), deer and coyotes, as well as birds such as evening grosbeaks, sparrows, and grouse.  Deer munch on the plant’s twigs in the dead of winter.  And humans (another type of wildlife, especially on the long weekends 😉 ) have been eating kinnikinnick for centuries – consuming the raw berries or adding them to dried meat and breads, or drinking tea made from the leaves and berries.  It is truly an amazing little shrub.

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(Here’s a view of kinnikinnick berries – I took this photo in the Heart Creek area, near Canmore, Alberta, in August 2010)

What are your favourite food/medicinal wild plants? 

Sunday spotlight: Saskatoon.

The Elbow River at Weaselhead Natural Area, Calgary

My hubby and I went for a really, really, REALLY long walk in the Weaselhead Natural Environment Area in southwest Calgary last Monday.  While I admit, I was the one who suggested that we take a right turn when we ought to have taken a left, it was such a splendidly warm day and the Weaselhead is so wonderful to explore, that our lengthy detour didn’t matter.  The Elbow River lazily runs through the park en route to the Glenmore Reservoir, and apparently forms large mud flats which canoeists ply in the heat of summer.  At this time of year, the river is comparatively high, pooling in the backwaters, unburdened with heavy silt.

Drifts of golden buffalo beans (Thermopsis rhombifolia) and wild violets (Viola adunca) marked our route, but I was most delighted to come across so many saskatoon shrubs (Amelanchier alnifolia) in bloom – it means there should be plenty of berries in a couple of months!  Saskatoon berries are such a huge treat – other than eating them by the handful straight off the bush, there is absolutely nothing, I repeat nothing, better than a gigantic slice of homemade saskatoon pie.   If you’ve never eaten saskatoons, they look and taste a little like blueberries, except they contain crunchy tiny seeds that give them a delicious wild texture and slightly nutty flavour.  They’re sweet and juicy and full of vitamins and antioxidants.

Saskatoon in flower

An extremely hardy North American native with over twenty species, this member of the rose family goes by a myriad of common and regional names:  Pacific serviceberry, western serviceberry, sarvisberry, alder-leaf shadbush, dwarf shadbush, shadblow, Indian pear, and sugar pear.   I’m not sure where the “pear” references come in, as the fruit doesn’t resemble pears even with a huge application of imagination, but the term “shadbush” apparently came about because the flowering time of the shrub coincides with the migration of shad fish in certain waters.¹  Here in Alberta, we use the English form of the original Cree name mis-sask-qua-too-mina, saskatoons.

Do you grow saskatoons in your garden?  What is your favourite way to eat saskatoon berries? 

¹https://academics.skidmore.edu/wikis/NorthWoods/index.php/Amelanchier_arborea_(Shadbush,_Shadberry)

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