Trees & Leaves

That didn’t take long. Today’s post includes the last few photographs I have to share from my recent excursion through eastern Canada. This trip generated far fewer images than past adventures of similar distance or duration. There’s a reason for that…

On most road trips, I’m winding my way across the wide-open prairies, deserts, badlands and high country of the American West. Roaming under the Big Sky is, photographically, very stimulating; each turn of the road or the trail presents a new look at the marriage of land and sky. I return from every western journey with hundreds of photos.

Driving or hiking through heavily forested regions is different; though still quite satisfying, it’s more of a relaxing, contemplative experience rather than a photo opportunity. When I’m immersed in the forest, I don’t reach for the camera nearly as often.

Am I anti-tree? Certainly not. I greatly enjoy hiking in the woods during fall and winter, as well as taking long drives through Canada’s vast boreal forest. However, to me, nothing is more enjoyable than watching the sky. When I’m boxed in by a multitude of trees (or hills or mountains, for that matter), I’m missing out on sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, moonsets, interesting clouds, soaring birds, approaching storms, the beautiful colors of twilight. Having an unobstructed view of the horizon is something that I treasure. My preference is to appreciate trees in smaller doses—a stand of aspens marking the path of a stream that snakes across a broad Colorado valley, for example. A solitary tree standing guard on the prairie is one of my favorite sights; on many occasions, I have visited this lonely old cottonwood that lives on a South Dakota ranch…

I find that spending time with a single tree, or with a small grove, is more rewarding than a journey among countless thousands of trees. Even so, the larger forests do have their charms, and I’ll keep on driving through the wilds of Canada, hiking in silent woods carpeted with freshly fallen snow, and visiting all of my favorite trees. As for day-to-day living, I hope to be doing that on the Great Plains someday…preferably, on a piece of land that has one tree within hiking distance.

Nature, Preserving Itself

Well, five years have gone by and a few more inches of aluminum have been ingested by this old oak tree, living its life in super-slow motion (or, maybe we’re living too fast).

Being in a nature preserve, I imagine this tree will live and die right where it stands. But should this oak ever make its way to a lumber mill, the saw operator is in for a big surprise.

I’ll visit again in 2023. Stay tuned.

The Sleepy Owl

One sunny morning, many years ago, I was rolling westward along US 12 in Broadwater County, Montana on the section of the highway that passes through the Helena National Forest. Suddenly, in the opposite lane, I saw what appeared to be a large bird sitting in the road. As I slowed beside it, I realized that it was an owl…

I’m a big fan of leaving wild animals alone to do what they do, but when it comes to animals in the road, I can’t help but take action. I always stop (safely) when I see a turtle on the pavement; sometimes I’ll just sit in the car with my flashers on until it has completed its journey, other times I’ll carry the turtle to its destination on the far shoulder.

This owl was in the eastbound lane of the highway at the end of a fairly tight curve, and as the morning sun would have been in the eyes of those driving in that lane, chances were high that it would have been crushed by the next vehicle to come along. So, on went the flashers and I pulled halfway onto the eastbound shoulder to block the owl from approaching traffic, then I got out of the car for a closer look.

Naturally, I’m wondering, What is this owl doing in the middle of the road? It appeared to be sleeping. If so, it could have found a better location!

Perhaps it was sunbathing. Whenever I drive rural roads in the morning, I frequently see birds sitting on the pavement to get warm, since asphalt retains heat quite well. But they always fly away when a vehicle approaches.

Perhaps this owl was sick. If so, I wouldn’t know.

Perhaps it had been stunned in a collision. That was my best theory at the time, although I didn’t notice any blood, any missing feathers or any body parts out of place.

Really, it just appeared to be…sleeping. Content, relaxed and in charge. This is my road, I’m taking a nap, deal with it.

My attempts to rouse this beast by shouting and clapping failed miserably; the only response I got was one slight turn of the head. Though the eyes never opened, at least I knew someone was in there. I then grabbed a branch from a nearby shrub and gently tapped the bird on the back several times. Nothing.

No cooperation forthcoming, I went to the trunk and grabbed my leather work gloves and a towel. Approaching the bird from behind, I gently covered it with the towel, lifted it carefully and carried it through the tall bushes on the south side of the road. There, beside a small stream, I set it down in a patch of sunlit grass…

Fortunately, due either to the remote location, the time of day or the day of the week, no vehicle traffic appeared during this encounter (had there been any, I wouldn’t have held things up by taking pictures).

Using field guides, I was never able to positively ID this owl. Looking at the photos now, many of its feathers remind me of those on juvenile raptors. Working with that assumption, and considering the bird’s size (somewhat larger than an NFL football) and the curved black beak, and after scanning through internet images of juvenile owls, my best guess is that this was a young great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). (This ID was verified by the folks at Montana’s Owl Research Institute. Thank you!)

Had I access to a smartphone at the time, I would have tried to contact a local bird rescue operation. But this was years before I owned a cell phone, and I have to wonder if you could get a signal even now in that remote area.

I hope this owl lived to fly another day.

So Many Trees

During my final day in the Northwest Territories, I pulled over and parked on this piece of high ground to gawk at the sprawling and seemingly endless boreal forest. These shots were captured with my infrared DSLR.

My trip as a whole was virtually bug-free, with the exception of the area around Fort Providence. When I stopped to photograph the narrow forest road seen below, the sand flies came after me with great enthusiasm. Fortunately, I was prepared with gloves and a mosquito-netting hat. The dark blobs you see are just a few of the hundreds of sand flies swarming around my head. They didn’t get my blood, but they photobombed every shot taken in this area.

A Last Look at the Boreal Forest

Before we head back to lower latitudes and enjoy the scenery of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, here are some final images from the far north:

Old wood, being reclaimed by the forest…

north1

No shortage of abandoned mines in the north country…

north2

Some of the forest’s smaller residents…

north3

Something with wings…

north4

Speaking of wings, the ravens were everywhere, and always on the lookout for a free meal. Though I never fed them, they stalked me constantly, and I couldn’t wander far from the car if the top was down; I could tell that this one was just waiting for me to turn around so he could hop in and steal my crackers…

north5

north6

Another waterfall: Alexandra Falls, on the Hay River…

north7

The gorge below…

north8

Nature’s masonry skills on display…

north9

So many trees…

north10