Making Hay on a Slow Snow Day
Peter Duck stoops to pick out a handful of small red berries from the shrubs clinging resolutely to the slope falling toward still-frozen Johnson Lake. Bear berries. We pick off the skin and chew on it after clearing out the fuzzy, cotton-ball innards of the fruit.
"What's it taste like?" says Duck, a mustachioed fellow who looks like a door mouse as he munches.
Dusty cotton-ball crud. Nothing much. Finally, a taste plucks the buds. "Apple skin?" I venture.
"Exactly," Duck affirms. "Bears come down here and eat these for their vitamin content." Everything on this valley floor, even though much of it remains hidden or asleep, has its place. Including all those humans, whose centuries-old presence has shaped, and continues to shape, parts of this amazing environment.
We turn off the lakeside trail and cut into the cool of the shaded forest, stumbling across the crumbling log cabin once inhabited by the "Hermit of Inglismeade," Billy Carver, about 100 years ago. Eschewing the companionship of the growing Banff township, Billy melted quietly into the nearby forest, building a compact, two-room shelter and losing himself to the surrounding rhythm of nature. Peter Duck tells us that young boys, on learning about the crazy old man of the woods, would sometimes seek out the hermit's hovel and goad him into unwanted interaction with the world, knocking on his door before running away. One day Billy didn't answer. The pranksters, emboldened, ventured inside, only to discover a weakened and dying Billy Carver lying on the floor. He was rushed to hospital, nursed back to health, and later the subject of a RCMP investigation because of his unconventional take on life.
Our unexpected time off piste introduces me to an ecosystem that might otherwise have lain hidden beyond those black and blue runs and the high-speed quads. Instead, I learn to identify coyote scat by its lack of bone shards (a wolf has jaws powerful enough to chew and swallow bone, not a coyote); I walk out to an abandoned beaver dam and learn that grazing elk, whose population is virtually unchecked, will gnaw pussy willow shoots and deprive the beavers of building materials for the dams; I see a mound of shredded spruce cones, a midden, littering the base of a tree, left there by nibbling squirrels who dig into the cones for protein-rich seeds, which they then stash as winter provision in secret hiding places.
I should have spent the day yahooing on the powdery playfields of Sunshine Village. And if I had, I would have reported on the spectacular nature of Rocky Mountain snow, awesome views, and all the fresh-air fun to be had. But somehow I got lucky. I got put in my place. Maybe I should write the electricity company a thank-you note.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication