Author: jd

Unearthing a deep past

Cross-Canada Chronicles VII (July 3, 2017) Back to the triassic   The prairies may be flat, but never monotonous. One minute, there are ripening canola fields under an endless sky. The next, we’ve plunged without warning deep into the Alberta badlands. And it’s here that things get interesting. It’s here in this stratified ancient rock along the Red River  that palaeontologists are unearthing, layer by painstaking layer, a rich story of Alberta’s past. It’s here where dinosaurs and other long-gone species roamed in semi-tropical forests and rivers. A walk through the Mezazoic If ever you happen to be in the...

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The Sanctuary

Cross Canada Chronicles – VI – June 28, 2017 Crane Fever We may as well deal with this upfront. I’m a sucker for cranes. Sandhill cranes. They occasionally make appearances in fields around Ottawa, but by the time I rush out to where they were last spotted, they’re inevitably long gone. Nice wheat fields, though.   Here at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary at Delta BC, which hugs the Salish Sea and the Fraser River Delta, four, year-round resident sandhill cranes dominate the avian population around the south pond. The birds are totally tame. I came within...

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The mystique of the isles

Cross Canada Chronicles – V. (June 23-28) LEAVING THE MAINLAND Driving from one place to another is one thing. Taking a ferry is something else altogether: there’s planning, the long wait to get on, and the voyage itself is a peculiar exercise in suspended time. You are no longer the driver; merely a passenger. The ferry glides (or wallows, depending on sea conditions) on its own, slow, sweet time. Vistas change moment by moment.  And then suddenly, with a thud as prow meets pier, it’s over. Island folk like the sense of separation from the mainland. It’s part of...

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Mountain meets plain

Cross Canada Chronicles – IV Few scenes are as dramatic—or as anticipated—as the first hint of mountains on the western horizon after days of plain and prairie. Prairie lands are endlessly fascinating, but the Rockies add a sudden punch, an exhilarating shift, like the opening bars of  the third movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. Waterton Lakes National Park This little gem, tucked away in the south-west corner of Alberta and grazing the US border, is as spectacular a meeting ground between mountain and plain as any pair of eyes is likely to take in. At the risk of sounding like...

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Where Half the World is Made of Sky

Cross Canada Chronicles – III An ancient land June 9: This isn’t the Saskatchewan you know. This isn’t the Saskatchewan of endless wheat fields and grain elevators and long freight trains. This is the original Saskatchewan. This is the ancient prairie before settlers and machines moved in and transformed the land. This is Grasslands National Park. Where bison roam. And prairie dogs play. The way they used to. It’s one of the few remaining places on the planet where the original prairie habitat still exists. The untrained eye misses, at first, the extraordinary diversity here. But walk this land for a bit. There are surprises and fascinations at every step. The colour and the cadence and the texture of the land shift minute by minute with the angle of the sun and the passing shadows of the clouds. Because you can see kilometres in every direction, everything is laid in front of you—birds and animals, plants and flowers, rivers, and plains—all at once, and all competing for your focus. Life in the burrows As the original prairie vanished, many of the animals and plants that called it home became endangered or at risk. The prairie dog is one of these. These rodents are highly social and live in ‘towns’—collections of burrows interconnected by extensive underground tunnels. There’s endless whimsy to these animals. At places in the park I could...

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