Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Red Deer River - update 2013

Last weekend (while flying back from New Brunswick) I looked out the airplane window to see that we were following the South Saskatchewan River east of Diefenbaker Lake. I watched intently and sure enough just as dusk was beginning to settle in, I got a good look at the confluence where the river is joined by the Red Deer. I could see the islands where the two rivers join and the "Cottonwood Bends" where the last portion of the Red Deer winds back and forth many times. I could see the abandoned oxbows and hills of native grassland around the two rivers.  I felt privileged to be able to view this special place from such a lofty vantage point.
The fledgling Red Deer River flows from its source at Oyster Lake

So much has happened in the ten years since I made my journey along the length of the Red Deer River - both along the river and in my life as result of my experience. In 2005 the river flooded, effecting many residents in the "West Country" and around the Drumheller area. I used some of the video footage that I got of the flooding, along with some archival photos that I got from the Glenbow Museum to do a segment about John Ware's struggles with the river.

Bev French at Skoki Lodge
Skoki Lodge (part one) has enjoyed a royal visit. In 2011, the newly-married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed there for a few days. They had to fly in a special biffy for Kate. Mountain Aire Lodge (part three) was taken over by a drug and alcohol rehab organization and subsequently burned to the ground. The last time I was out that way, it was being rebuilt. In 2012 there was an oil spill in the river just downstream of Sundre (part five) which threatened the water supply and property of thousands of Central Albertans. The pristine habitat along the river was contaminated and it remains to be seen what effect this relatively small, but avoidable spill will have on the upper river.
Bev French and Larry Lait at Oyster Lake

RDRNers near the forks with guide Ted Douglas
As part of my research for my journey, I discovered an organization called the Red Deer River Naturalists. I became a member in 2002, became a board member and ultimately (in 2012) I became its president. In 2008, I headed up two field trips for the RDRN (which I called "The Beginning and the End"). The first trip was to the area around the forks near the Saskatchewan border. I have gotten to know this area (which includes the great Sand Hills) very well since I made my journey and it was a pleasure to unleash a group of the RDRN's knowledgeable bird watchers and botanists on one of my favorite natural areas. Then later in July my wife and I (along with RDRNer Larry Lait) returned to the headwaters and the one place that I hadn't visited along the entire river. Oyster Lake is the ultimate source of the Red Deer River and the three of us hiked from Skoki Lodge to this lake buried deep in a barren cirque at the northern end of Banff's Sawback Range.

RDRN President, Tony Blake introduces me at premiere
Courtesy Myrna Pearman
I wrapped up the shooting for my film in the summer of 2005. I added some set shots of Banff National Park and the river along with some aerial footage to the sixteen hours of shaky handheld footage that I had taken along the way.  I spent four years huddled in my computer room - writing, editing and narrating a film about my journeys. The whole experience was a lesson in how NOT to make a documentary, but I learned a great deal. In 2007, I premiered "Red Deer River Journey" for the fall banquet of the RDRN. It was well received and I have since had the pleasure of sharing it with various environmental, cultural, outdoor and educational organizations. My one regret is that it was shot in standard definition rendering it virtually obsolete in today's high definition world.
It hasn't always been an easy journey, but it is one that I have never regretted making. In many ways it has been a strange ride. Going from the solitary experience of traveling along a river and producing the film to presenting my experiences to the public has been challenging transition and I am just now becoming more comfortable speaking in public. It has all been good "character building" though.
So here I am. I have used my blog to draw a line ten years from the beginning of my "Red Deer River Journey".  In my mid-fifties I am poised at the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice wrap up for your project. I remember flying over that area. It was heavy cloud and the pilot said we are over Empress!