Approach to the Canadian Rockies


"It is necessary to leave home from time to time in order to discover where I live." edb

Traveling across the plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta induces sleepiness. But fog and rain, and wind too, occasionally demands endurance and patience. Relatively small, isolated communities dispersed along the Yellowhead Highway offer some comfort and fuel. Steel pipe piled on small industrial oases, some scattered horsehead pumps (oil wells), and passing tanker trucks indicate oil and natural gas pools are underground.

French voyageurs, and stray persons, penetrated the western plains of Canada in the 18th Century but little of note seems to have been recorded here until a wave of Ukrainians arrived in the late 19th Century. "Voyageur" is a French word for "traveler." But then the word was a label given contracted employees who worked as canoe paddlers, bundle carriers, and laborers for fur-trading companies from the 1690s until the 1850s. Voyageurs were also known as "engagés" (simply, "employees"). The voyageurs were contracted under a clerk (commis), and so were distinguishable from "freemen" who trapped and traded on their own account without being bound by a contract. Not all voyageurs were French-Canadian; some were English, German, and Iroquois.

Elk Island National Park is situated in south central Alberta in the Beaverhills area, amongst aspen thickets and useful waterways that also provided shelter for wintering herds of elk, plains and wood bison, and moose. Apparently there was never a permanent First Nations' native settlement in the area, although evidence of temporary passing of the Blackfoot, Sarcee, Cree and other peoples is part of various archeological collections. Today, Elk Island is a fenced parkland, especially dedicated to preserving what is left of the very rare wood buffalo species of bison.

Anthony Henday, an explorer working for the Hudson's Bay Company is believed to have been the first European to enter the Edmonton area in 1754. Fort Edmonton, established in 1795 on the north bank of the Saskatchewan River, became a major trading post for the company and now Edmonton is the capital of Alberta province. The region can be a cold place. On January 19, 1886, Edmonton's coldest temperature is recorded as −49.4 °C (−56.9 °F). Commonly known as the "Gateway to the North," the city straddles productive farmlands of central Alberta and the vast, resource-rich northern hinterland and western mountains.

The aspen parkland biome runs in a thin band no wider than 500 kilometers through the Prairie Provinces, although it gets broader in Alberta. This is a hilly landscape with small lakes and ponds. The cities of Edmonton and Saskatoon are the largest cities completely within this biome that stretches to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Calgary is bordered by prairie to the east and the Foothills Parkland to the west (Wiki).

II skipped Edmonton city, preferring to drive past as the weather turned blue and autumn yellow. The sun gifted its heat without discrimination, boosting the natural brilliance of the aspens and poplars even more. By September 21 the soft gold and orange leaves merged into the white birch-like barks that adorn these trees. An occasional royal red stands out in lonely repose. Many deciduous aspen trees and the undecided larch conifers already had shed all or a majority of their leafy cover. Increasingly as I move west, the light bark of the aspen and fall colors contrast markedly with the green tinted conifers as the elevation gets ever higher.

Poplars and aspens are essentially the same kind of tree, commonly called quaking aspen, trembling aspen, American aspen, Quakies,mountain or golden aspen, trembling poplar, white poplar, and popple, among other names. Populus tremuloides is the most widely distributed tree in North America, being found from Canada to central Mexico. "It is the defining species of the aspen parkland biome in the Prairie Provinces of Canada and extreme northwest Minnesota," (Wiki). The trees have tall trunks, sometimes reaching 82 feet tall, with smooth pale bark, scarred with black. Their glossy green leaves, dull beneath, become golden to yellow, rarely red, in autumn. Any breeze or wind sends the aspens' leaves into ecstatic shivering and flickering like thousands of tiny light bulbs in a random dance of photons.

The larch is a conifer, and not deciduous at all. However, it too loses needlelike leaves every fall, temporarily giving up its evergreen for naked independence.

The elevation continues higher as I search the horizon anxiously for the first sight of the Rocky Mountains.

#Assiniboine #aspen #Edmonton #ElkIsland #bison #buffalo #woodbison #autumn

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© 2023 by Edgar David Boshart, edboshart@gmail.com

Arlington, Virginia, USA, 703-629-0160