When I think of spring, I wonder why I left central Alberta. In my memories, every season arrived with a vengeance. Spring stands out as the most glorious. It had the most to offer. The new life of spring arrived as winter breathed its death rattle. Snow that had held us captive for months began to soften. Off came winter gloves so we could more easily form the retreating snow into snowballs. 

As snow melted, so did ice in the sloughs and coulee ponds. The gully that connected the slough in the south field to the coulee came alive with rushing water. For a few weeks of early spring we had our own private stream. It looked or sounded nothing like the lazy creeks that meander across southwestern Ontario. Ours  had a short life and made up for it by rushing, roaring and splashing to its destination. Its eddies and tumbling rapids soon swamped our tiny toy boats made of sardine cans and pieces of two-by-four. The freshet radiated excitement that pulled us forward and filled our rubber boots and soaked our pants and moved with enough force to upend and drench any 8-year-old boy who ventured too close. 

As snow and ice disappeared, so did the stream. We began looking elsewhere for entertainment. The spring sun penetrated the earth and millions of crocuses poked through the dried prairie grass. An explosion of violet covered the coulee bank in sight of the house. I’d lie on my back on a living, mauve slope beneath a sky decorated with white clouds drifting eastward. Thousands of migrating birds flying north completed the heavenly view. Voices from v-formations of Canada geese reached my ears. With the imagination of youth, I decoded the cries. A series of honks said, “Great Slave Lake, go, go, go,” while others encouraged the leader to, “Hang in there Captain; go for it.”

Another distinctive cry reached me. Whooping cranes? I wondered as I watched a small formation near the horizon. I moved my gaze from the sky and concentrated on three large ponds spread, wishing the exotic and threatened whooping cranes would land there. I knew the impossibility of that with so few remaining. In fact, hundreds of ducks and geese and a few long-legged water birds had stopped. My brother and I would prowl the water’s edge searching for birds’ nests, not just water birds, but redwing blackbirds in the bulrushes, and crows and magpies in the willows and poplars. As spring waned and summer drew near, we’d seek out dragonflies and muskrats and other denizens of our great playground.

Yes, I really wonder why I left, until I remember extremes of summer: dust storms that blackened the sky and moved buildings from foundations; sizzling heat and swarms of mosquitoes and flies; and the backbreaking work on the farm. Winters didn’t come any better when the mercury dipped to -20, -30 or -40 and snow clogged roads. It just wasn’t the place for a boy who’d rather play by a spring freshet, lie among beds of crocuses, or explore the coulee ponds. 


Ray Wiseman