I just knew it was going to be a good day.
Headed east into the sunrise, I could see patches of fog in the low spots along the ground and breaks in the clouds overhead. It was cold but not frosty and the sloughs that I passed were misty mirrors, undisturbed by even the tiniest breath of wind.
East of Strathmore I stopped to photograph the sun rise through a bank of fog and quickly swung my camera for a picture of a blue heron winging through blue mist across a pond. A school bus passed by and disappeared as it rolled through a miasma of suspended water vapour.
I launched my little copter and sent it slowly upwards until it cleared the mist and revealed the foggy landscape below. From the high vantage point, I could see fog spreading everywhere, farmyard trees and surrounding hilltops islands rising above the haze.
Onward and eastward, now, across the Crowfoot Creek valley and over toward Standard, the sun climbing in the sky and gaining strength. Fog still filled the valleys but above them, the radiant heat of the sun was starting to melt it away and replace it with golden sunlight.
Stopping again at a wetland along a small creek, I shot pictures of savannah sparrows feasting on hawkweed seeds and the still air carried sounds along the valley from every direction. There was the chirping of the sparrows, the yaks of magpies and crows, meadowlarks singing and motors running. Planes flying overhead.
But no combines, no swathers. Stopping by a wheat field just past Standard, I grabbed a ripe head and crushed it into my palm to look at the grain. It was soft enough to cleave with my thumbnail. Harvest would have to wait a few days for the fields to dry.
Most of the mist had dissipated by now and all that was left was a soft, blue haze. Up on the Chimney Hills I watched cattle grazing around patches of blazing red and orange saskatoons and chokecherries. A coyote sat nearby surveying the scene. A jackrabbit spooked up and bounded off into the brown grass.
I put the copter up again to shoot aerials of a set of ponds in the basin between the Chimney Hills and the Wintering Hills and from the air they looked like patches of sky against the surrounding amber fields. Shooting straight down and drifting the copter along I could see patches of colour emerge as the copter passed over copses of willow and still-green aspens.
A flock of geese was coming toward me as I landed the copter so I grabbed my long lens for a picture. Through the lens they looked like plain old Canada geese but they were making a peeping sound instead of the usual raucous honks.
Blowing up the picture on the back of the camera for a better look, I saw that they were white-fronted geese, early migrants from the north already on their way back to their winter homes. Cool to see them this early but I’m not so sure I’m happy about it.
Back on the south side of the Chimney Hills I put the copter up again to photograph the canola fields and the partially-cut barley on the Standard Hutterite Colony. My pal Stu and I had been out this way a couple of days before and photographed the guys at work. Such nice folks, they offered us rides in the combines and let us drive across the field for better pictures.
They weren’t out working this morning, though. Far too wet.
The morning was well underway now and the fog all gone. I could tons of young ducks and coots on every slough, some so young that they might have a hard time heading south. Over by Seiu Lake north of Hussar, I launched the copter again to get pictures of the puffy clouds reflected in the calm water.
I headed back through Standard and across the Chimney Hills. A light breeze had blown up and it shook the bright leaves on the saskatoons, chokecherries and hawthorns I found near an outcrop of badlands. Launching the copter one more time, I shot overhead views of all the colour. Confident — or at least hopeful — that I had a nice set of pictures, I headed on home.
And found that I’d somehow lost the card from the copter.
There were probably 10gb of photos and video on there, stuff I was really pleased with. Shooting from ground level is great but that extra added height — literally, a bird’s-eye view — adds another dimension, another level of interest, to pretty much anything. Sure, I had plenty of other stuff from my other two cameras but losing that card really bummed me out.
I churned through the other pictures and I had plenty of shots that I wasn’t entirely ashamed of but those aerials would have added so much more. I have no idea how I lost that card. I assume It had somehow popped out as I was carrying the copter but I looked everywhere in the truck and around the house. I just couldn’t find it.
I slept poorly and in the morning I searched again. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted those pictures. I knew there was gold on that fingernail-sized piece of plastic. But alas, it remained unfound.
So I put a new card in the copter — and slapped a piece of tape over it — and headed back out to retrace my steps.
Take Two was not the same as Take One.
There was no mist and the sky was leaded over. Cold wind was blowing from the north and rain was spitting down. The colours were still bright though — even more so in the soft light — and once I got the copter airborne, the landscape glowed below.
The wind tried its best to kick the copter around but there’s some amazing technology in these things and I could hover and fly, if not with ease, at least where I needed to go. But some of the pictures, I just couldn’t recreate.
The wind shredded any reflections on the water and bent the standing grain, making it look more like the top of somebody’s head than a field. The patterns made by the windrows of canola still looked good, though, and I flew over a pair of swathers back at Standard Colony that looked like they’d been purposely parked for me to photograph from above. Flying over an old farmstead, it stood in for my pond pictures from the day before, an island in a sea of grain.
Finally, though, it felt like I had enough. It didn’t make up for the card I’d lost but it would have to do. Shivering, I pulled the card from the copter, put it in my pocket and headed home.
And that’s how I’ll do it from now on. Fly, pull the card, put it somewhere safe. Lesson learned.
But editing the pictures from Take Two, another, happier, lesson was reinforced. And that lesson is, we live in such a beautiful place, a place where no two days are ever the same. A place where it’s well worthwhile to give it a Take Two.
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