May Plein Air

In May, spring finally started to reach up to higher elevations, bringing with it changeable weather and rumors of bears.  It’s an exciting time to be in the mountains—everywhere you look there are sharp contrasts and things you’ve never noticed before.

By the midpoint of the month, the grass in the Bow Valley was green, the willows were budding, and the canoes were out on the river in Banff.  Higher up, the snow melted more slowly.  The highest mountains remained white and remote—even from the townsite I could see that some of the trees were still well-frosted.  Closer to the highway, meltwater streamed down the cliff faces, painting them with dark streaks that emphasized their height and steepness.

Until this year, I haven’t really given this much thought before.  I’ve hiked up above the snowline in spring after the lower slopes were green, and watched from the hillsides of Calgary as the distant mountains turned from white to blue-grey with each passing day, but I’ve often thought of this as almost as much of a geographical shift as a chronological one.  “It’s still winter out in the mountains,” I sometimes hear people say, during the brown period of early spring.  I might have even said it myself on occasion, probably in connection with a remark about how strange it feels to be going skiing when there’s no snow in Calgary.

Well, from a distance the mountains still looked wintry, but on the banks of the Bow near Cave and Basin, it certainly wasn’t.

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That was as far as I got before meeting a friend for some climbing at Sunshine Rock.

About a week later, I drove down the Spray Lakes road to the Mount Shark Day Use Area, where there were far more than the usual number of signs warning of bears in the area, as well as dark clouds everywhere.  My plan had been to pick any trail and hike until I found a suitable subject, but between the clouds and the signs and the fact that I had already driven through a shower of rain on the way, I decided it would be more prudent to stay near my car.  Like, within ten feet.

This was actually okay.  The sun did break through between the clouds, especially to the north, where the staging area has a great view of the south face of Mount Nestor.

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At some point I turned around and saw this.  I got everything back into my car just as it started to pour.

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I added some trees to the foreground back in the studio, and both finished pieces are on the Plein Air page.

 

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