Alberta, Land of the Wild Horse
There is something about a wild horse that speaks to a hidden part of us. The suppressed part that responds to an unfettered life, dominated by none and without rules. The part that does not want to live by schedules and appointments and dislikes smog and pollution almost as much. After all, don’t we all want more free will from the shackles imposed by ourselves and others? Free in the open fields and aromatic woods of our dreams. Running with mane tangled from the elements after days spent in the mountain air of an untamed land. Just like in the movies, a life of the strong and free.
But strength and romanticism do not always keep company in the same body. The same can be said for nostalgia and freedom. The wild horses that roam the foothills of Alberta in the Canadian Rocky Mountains are not truly wild. Although they are descendants of domesticated Spanish horses released during colonization they have roamed free for many years. They have been here long enough to resist being rounded up back into captivity. As far as day to day living is concerned these horses lead a life of chaos. The wild horse has to survive a hostile environment without any hope of human help for basic needs provided to its domestic relatives. A constant search for the necessities of life, food and shelter, leaves little time or energy for loafing around enjoying the natural environs of the Alberta foothills. In the depths of winter after fresh snowfall there is no overwintered dry hay to be found.
People have been nurturing the horse human partnership since wolves started hanging around the campfire. We domesticated them and now we romanticize their wildness. Tamed their instincts and admire the release of them. The next time you see a wild horse or any wild creature, admire them for their struggle as much as for the freedom they instill. The wild deserve it.
For more on wild and free, see also:
Joshua Trees Weather California Desert Storms
If you like trees, you will like Joshua Tree National Park.
Trees are the main act at this place. And they put on a unique performance from a surreal stage.
Joshua Tree is the place to be for unique trees. They are stalwarts of stability in a world of change. These trees only grow in one part of the world, abundant as they are in the park and surrounds. Craggy and prickly to ward off the unsuspecting, but are they weak and spindly? Not at all. Standing, sitting, leaning, reaching, bending, living, dying, all are represented in a unique California desertscape. Biblical and solitary they exude an otherworldly aura.
They stand out on their own against the weather gods. Withstanding the elements, snuggled into destitute rock niches and narrow slats. Not only in appearance but also in their ability to thrive in this harsh and formidable physical landscape. Where few others can barely perform, these nature specimens dance. The American southwest can punch up formidable temperatures in the summer and the winters can edge into freezing. This intimate corner has trees adapted for the elements though. When a desert bluster moves in, the sands swirl, and the Joshua Tree digs in. After all, they have been here for thousands of years.
Freshly jumped out of a Dr Seuss text? Maybe. But these are no childhood fantasies. They are the real thing.
For more on Joshua Tree National Park and trees, see also:
All Creatures Great and Small
at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
We know who the great creatures are at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Bucks accompanied by does and even fawns, the occasional coyote. And, flying by, the big birds, hawks, owls and osprey. But what about the far more secretive yet abundant small ones? A diverse group of songbirds make their home at the park in the summer. They migrate up from southern climes to breed and feed off insects and other northern hemisphere delicacies.
In Alberta, Clay-coloured Sparrows’ most common occurrence is in the prairies and parklands, not treed areas. A walk along a park trail can have them flitting out of the grasses every hundred feet. Listen for the insect-like buzzy calls of the male Clay-colored Sparrows from May through July. They can be distinguished from some other sparrows commonly found at Glenbow, the Vesper and Savannah, by their relatively unstriped buff breast. They search out insects in the shrubbery and seeds in the grass. Nesting habitat is typically a shrubby area with wild grass, situating the nest on the ground or in a low shrub above ground. They build open cup nests out of grass, weeds and twigs, lining it with rootlets, fine grass, and hair. This is another reason to keep dogs on leash in the park to avoid disturbing these or any wildlife shelter.
Spring after spring, Mountain Bluebirds return to nest boxes placed at strategic locations in the park. They can arrive in Alberta as early as March while fall migration for many migratory birds is an extended affair from mid-August to late October. Bluebirds can’t resist the open country with occasional trees for shelter offered at the park.
As members of the Thrush Family (such as American Robins) they feed mainly on insects, spiders or other invertebrates, which they glean from short ground vegetation. Nest boxes are paired, with Tree Swallows often taking one box, and the bluebird occupying the other. The former seeks out insects flying high and the Bluebird will not compete with its ground watch. Unlike other Bluebirds, they often hunt by hovering, obviously inspecting the ground below for any potential food item. The striking turquoise blue is unmatched against the prairie setting.
The next time you see an insect at the park think of the food source and protection it is offering our beloved small avian creatures.
For these and other nature sightings at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, see also:
The Power of One
A tree hangs by threads. Your flaky fibres grip lifeless.
A celebration of life is pending. Ode to a tree in midlife crisis.
Moss wraps, sticking to dead cells. Lichens grapple with skin that has rejected their fungal crust. Where to obtain their water and nutrients from the atmosphere now? Weakened digits lose strength and fall in the slightest breeze. A premature death at forty is barely passing rebellious teens. Loss of potential, smitten before peaking. Your hopes and dreams dashed by human interference. And so goes the fragile ecosystem nurtured by your loving shadows and flickering light for decades. Lichens and moss. Seek out another home on limbs offering vitality!
A wise sage reflects on the cycle of life. It was once a lively hub of activity. A young couple nurtured you as a wedding gift. The main lateral made a perfect swing for a seven year old, the trunk hide and go seek for the neighbourhood kids. Squirrels and other four legged tree creatures chased their mates around your trunk. Flickers and nuthatches flitted to and from safety under your boughs.
You could have been a dignified elder like the others on the coast. On your way to standing out in the crowd. A prominent sentinel. When they all fell away to the developers cut. Standing alone now. Only the wasted limbs remain on the ground. And a stub. Maybe a buddha will perch there. Isn’t that what humans do when they want peace?
Arms and fingers and legs and toes. Nothing left but the moss covered remnants. Woodpeckers still poke around the crevices but now that the lifeline has been felled, they only visit intermittently. Moved on, just like the humans. The grubs will move their parasitism on to another host, one that is not in a coma.
For more specifically on Garry Oaks and, generally, on the subject of one, see also: