Mike Drew: Just go with the flow

Okay, I guess I won’t be following that trail again for a while.

Two days before — last year, in fact — I’d popped over to the Legacy Island boat launch on the Bow River downstream from the city to have a look. I figured it would likely be frozen but I was a bit surprised to see that it was actually still flowing. True, it was pretty choked up with floating ice but there was a lot of open water upstream from the boat launch. If there was any way to get to it, it likely would have been fishable.

I launched my little copter for some aerial views of the ice — looked pretty cool from that perspective — and walked as close as I dared to the river’s edge. The day was cool and sunny and thin mist drifted up from the open water among the ice floes. The sound was amazing, a kind of whispering hiss as the floes scratched along the banks and tumbled into each other.

Ice floats along the Bow River downstream of Calgary on Thursday, September 14, 2017. Mike Drew/Postmedia

To get here, I’d followed a trail to the island that crosses a flood channel where a small creek trickles out of a coulee and runs along the channel bed down to the Bow. It’s pretty much always damp here but this summer a beaver had built a dam at the creek’s mouth upstream from the crossing and for most of the year there’s barely been a trickle. Coming over to the island this afternoon had been easy. Just a bit of snow in the channel.

I poked around there for a bit watching geese fly overhead and squadrons of goldeneye ducks flying toward the open water before I left. A young bald eagle flew by, dark against the blue sky. There were sparrows, chickadees and a bluejay feasting on birdseed scattered by the benevolent nearby residents and there was constant chirping coming from the trees and bushes.

A pair mallards fly along the Bow River on Monday, December 31, 2018. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Up on the coulee side a trio of mule deer wandered along and a pair of cock pheasants sprinted across the road. One of them paused in the brush on the other side for just a few seconds. I managed to get a picture of it looking back at me.

Back up on the flats I saw the geese again. They’d flown to a field to scrounge for leftover grain and more were coming to join them. They’d likely come from the open water downstream of the Carseland weir so I popped over there to have a look.

There was a bit of open water above the weir but the river was mostly just a flat expanse of snow-covered ice. More like a lake here, I kinda figured that’s how it would be. Below the weir, it was wide open.

Slushy ice floats down the Bow River on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Water poured over the weir’s concrete lip and dropped foaming onto the rocks below. Goldeneyes bounced in the rapids, just little dark dots against the water, and geese swam a bit further downstream. For some reason, there were a bunch of ravens there as well. I suspect that maybe a deer hadn’t made it to 2019.

Speaking of, the day was rapidly headed that direction. Driving back up the hill, I rolled on down toward the bridge to check out the open water there.

Trees reflected in the Bow River at Carseland on Monday, December 31, 2018. Mike Drew/Postmedia

From the top of the escarpment I could look down on the river flowing below. The sky overhead turned the river’s surface a soft blue and the reflections of the bankside trees were constantly sliced by globs of slushy ice. Down by the bridge where the river has to bend around a gravel island, that slush had built up and piled into a kind of natural weir that kicked the river around, making rapids where it narrowed the flow and slowing the water above it nearly to a standstill.

By now the sun was about to set and as it touched the southwest horizon it spilled warm light that turned the water surface bronze. Sitting there watching it as noisy geese flew back from the fields and the roar and hiss of the river washed over me, I figured, yeah, not a bad way to say goodbye to 2018.

But the next day — the next year — I hit the river again.

It was a much warmer day, a chinook rolling in as the calendar changed, and the birds and people were loving it. The ducks and geese that spend the year on the river downstream from the water treatment plants were on the move. Mallards and goldeneyes flew back and forth, floating downstream and feeding on midges and algae and then flying back upstream to do it again. Geese were flying noisily back and forth just because, I think, they felt like it.

There were fly fishers on every stretch of open water. I like a bit of winter fly fishing myself — I’d actually wet a line the week before — but even though the day was gorgeous, there was just too much floating ice for my liking. I’d actually been trying to photograph that ice using my GoPro on a stick, plunking the camera on a chunk of ice to float along or jamming it underwater to shoot up at the ice passing overhead.

It worked. Kinda.

But mostly, I was just enjoying the day. If this was any indication for how 2019 is going to go, I’m ready!

I woke the next morning to a glorious chinook arch. The wind was blowing and the temperature was rising, ascending to the double digits.

So I headed to the river again.

A whirlpool forms on the Bow River just upstream from the Carseland weir on Wednesday, January 2, 2019. Mike Drew/Postmedia

I wanted to get east of the city, go to a couple of spots I know to see if I could get a panorama of the arch crowning the river valley. And those spots are out by Carseland.

One of my faves is the overlook from the escarpment as you drop down into the valley at the weir. It’s a great view any time of year but in the winter the brightest part of the sky lines up just right with the angle of the valley, When there’s a chinook, that’s almost always where the arch centres.

Not today, though.

This time the arch was tilted more to the south and the northern edge was ragged. It still looked pretty good but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. Down in the valley the dark overhead clouds worked well with the cottonwoods but I couldn’t get a clean panorama.

Chinook cloud over the Bow River on Wednesday, January 2, 2019. Mike Drew/Postmedia

So I headed back to Legacy Island. There’s another great angle there though the river angles slightly differently. But it’s another of my favourite four-season views so I knew there would be something there.

And there was. Looking down I could see that there was still some open water upstream but the floating slush had really backed up behind the ninety-degree bend the river takes just downstream. All I could see of the river below were a couple of slashes where the current had pushed through. The rest was ice.

But it could look pretty cool from the boat launch. I headed there.

And found the flood channel, well, flooded.

A flood channel overflows after ice floes raised the river level along the Bow River on Monday, December 31, 2018. Mike Drew/Postmedia

All that built-up ice had backed up the river’s flow and pushed it into the channel. Where, a couple of days before, the trail had been just a few snow-covered bumps, it was now a creek bottom with about a metre of water flowing swiftly over it.

Okay, I guess I won’t be following that trail again for a while. It’s pretty unlikely that the ice will give way much before spring and even if it does, the trail will be a shambles of ice chunks and other detritus. Not worth the fight.

But that’s just fine. It’s 2019 now and just like the mighty Bow, the current continues to flow. Sure, it might happen to flood the trail we’re on but, ya know, there’s always another one. And it might even be better.

So happy New Year, friends.

May the flow take you safely wherever you want to go.

The last sunset of 2018 on the Bow River at Carseland on Monday, December 31, 2018. Mike Drew/Postmedia

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