Caterpillars & Poplar Fluff

Little green caterpillars and gentle flurries of poplar seeds are one the annual signs that tell me that summer is so very close to officially arriving. These two make their appearance near the end of spring and signal the end of brisk morning rides and pleasantly warm evenings.

The caterpillars are Larger Boxelder Leafrollers and they mostly feed on the leaves of Manitoba Maples. As there are no shortage of these trees in the river valley, Edmonton cyclists using the trails are accustomed to suddenly riding into swarms of the caterpillars . You will be zipping along when the light filtering through the foliage will illuminate a host  of little jade Leafrollers rappelling down from canopy above on invisible lines. Attempts to dodge them are futile; you are bound to accumulate a number of tiny hitchhikers.

Larger Boxelder Leafroller

Larger Boxelder Leafroller.

These hungry little critters can defoliate an entire tree. Luckily the weedy Manitoba Maple is such a rugged character that within a few weeks it can grow complete new set of leaves.

In addition to Manitoba Maples the river valley is well provided with poplar trees. Throughout late spring these trees will form seed pods that release steady flurries of white fluff. It gathers in drifts throughout the woods, sometimes nearly carpeting the entire forest floor. This year we have had so much rain that, although there has been lots of poplar fluff falling, it has not been able accumulate in the cloud-like, landscape-transforming blankets that I love. I tried to take some photos of the fluff flurries today but my camera or myself (or both) were not equal to the task. I did take a video, but at the time of writing I don’t have the energy to coax my ancient, hand-cranked computer into editing the file. Please just imagine a juxtaposition of giant snowflakes and vibrant greenery; you will have a good approximation. One of my great spring pleasures is cycling through the falling poplar seeds. Contrary to many people’s belief, the poplar fluff does not cause allergic reactions: the poplar seed season coincides with the grass pollen season, the real culprit of springtime sniffles.

Poplar fluff

Poplar Fluff

Seed Pod

A fallen seed pod. One of many.

Moments after taking this photo, my bike fell on top of my crouching self, drawing blood. I hope you appreciate my dedication...and carelessness.

Moments after my taking this photo, my bike fell on top of my crouching self, drawing blood. I hope you appreciate my dedication…and stupidity.

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Bike Commuting At Its Best / Geese In the Mist

I started this morning’s commute in a grumpy mood.  The temperature had dropped overnight to-14C and that thrilled me about as much as bathing in a tub full of garden slugs would.  The snowfall late last week didn’t faze me. I expect a few spring snowfalls. However, I do resent dealing with temperatures that low in April. The average low temperature for this date is-2C.

On the other hand, the roads were free of snow and the rising sun was blazing brightly in the clear blue sky. Once I re-accustomed myself to the effort of moving my heavy, clown-sized cold-weather boots around in circles I started to enjoy the ride a little. The studded winter tires whizzed pleasantly over the asphalt.

When I reached the river valley the commute got very good, indeed.

Geese in the mist

Geese in the mist

Tendrils of fog and small pans of ice race past each other.

Animal tracks stitch the ice like the work of a drunken tailor.

Animal tracks stitch the snow covered ice like the work of a drunken tailor.

Over the warming river a heavy fog was rising in the icy air.  The vapour was moving against the swift river current making it seem to race upstream at improbable speed. Even though I was running late for work I stopped on the pedestrian bridge and peered down at the streaming, roiling vortices  of mist. I watched its mesmerizing progress for several minutes.Two geese were slowly making their way upstream. They didn’t seem perturbed by the unusually cold weather. Why should they be? They’re covered in goose down.

Geese In The Mist

Geese In The Mist

Geese in the mist

At this point I wasn’t much concerned about the temperature, either. It was small price to pay for the spectacle over the river. As I rolled up through Mill Creek ravine I reflected on the benefits of bike commuting. It is certain that without the motivation of getting to work I’d not have been out cycling that early on a frigid spring morning. If I was in a motor vehicle I’d not have been able to impulsively stop in the middle of a bridge and watch the mist. Just as I was about to leave the ravine trail and head back up to street level a woodpecker started tapping away off to one side of the trail. Then another started on the other side, treating me to a percussive duet in real life stereo.

At this point my forward momentum drained away and I stalled in the middle of the trail caught between two conflicting forces. The river valley was urging me skip work and just spend the morning watching the river and riding the trails. I was already late for work because of my stop at the river. On the other hand, my knowledge of the huge backlog of jobs to be done at work and my sense of responsibility were pushing me to continue. I can’t remember the last time I skipped work without a legitimate reason. Legitimate in the view of an employer, that is. I don’t think that being momentarily overwhelmed by the joy of life counts.

Unfortunately, adult responsibility won the day: I left the ravine behind and cruised off to work. Still, it was a danged good commute.

Geese in the mist

The Untracked Snow

An early Saturday morning commute, overtime bound. Fresh fallen and still falling powder blowing past and thrown up under Jake’s wheels to encrust my legs. Gloriously vacant streets. Few car tracks. No footprints. No bike tracks. Clear, unridden snow down the LRT trail. I’m the first out and pass no other  tracks until Mill Creek where I follow one single bike line up into the broad path through the trees.

Riding home at noon on the road the snow is half-packed by cars and I make constant corrections as the skinny, unstudded 35s skid and slip looking for purchase. I conciously loosen my tight  grip on the bars and relax. My course is like a drunkard’s walk.

After 20 snowy kilometers Jake wants more but duty calls. Momma’s sick and the children need minding.