Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dry country

Heading for the Chilcotin, my route sticks to freeways through the Fraser Valley, over the Coquihalla summit (4,081 ft), and down into Merritt, where I turn off onto a narrow, curvy road through the Nicola valley. It's the first chance I get to slow down and really see the land.

The Nicola River. Rattlesnake Bridge on the right.

This is dry country in the best of times. This year, the river is low and the small farms along the valley floor are suffering. Cattle graze in small green patches near the river's edge. Some farmers seem to have given up; their land lies brown and empty.

The native vegetation can handle dry weather. Pines dot the slopes; coarse, scratchy grasses hold down the soil. Willows, alders and birch line the river banks. And in between, there is always sagebrush.

Hardy pines

Sagebrush in flower

Away from the hum of traffic, the first impression is of silence, but then the voices of the land begin to catch my attention. The river mutters to itself, the wind whispers in the birches; stones rattle on the hillsides or in the river bed. Unseen among the willows, small birds chatter and peep.

A flock of magpies crosses the river. one or two at a time, perching briefly in the pines while the rest catch up, then going on to disappear behind the next hilltop.

Magpie on a dead branch.

Silhouette, showing the long, long tail.

And then, there are the hoodoos. But they'll have to wait until I get home.

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