Monday, October 13, 2014

South Saskatchewan Bluffs (oil on canvas 7 x 9 in.)

8 October 2014 finds me gazing at the castellate bluffs of eroded loess along the South Saskatchewan River upstream of Alberta Hwy 41, west of Burstall Saskatchewan. We could see that there were interesting bluffs as we gradually descended along the highway toward the bridge, but here at river level, they are much more impressive - and the river itself is clear and green, ruffled by the wind into wavelets that weave green and blue into a new intensity of colour that even in a narrow strip, balances the strange bold shapes and stark contrasts of the wind-carved bluffs. We drove from the bridge to a kilometre-long area of campsites to a broad rutted area at the river that serves as a boat-launch.

The Transcanada Pipeline crosses the South Saskatchewan River 8.2 km upstream of here. I settle on a view of castle-like formations directly across the river and perch my folding chair on a low
grassy bank just back from the cobbly shore, near a seepage that leaves the pebbles crusty with alkali. Fred explores a bar of cobbles just to my right that is littered with heavy thick shells of Fat Mucket (Lampsilis radiata siliquoidea) astonishingly more abundant than we'd seen on the Red Deer River.

After I'd set up to paint he walks back to the campground, planning to explore the shore along the row of campsites, but finding the bank a little too steep and crowded with willows to see much. After a while the band of willows becomes narrower and he finds a path down to the shore. Even this narrow shore is dotted with big heavy pairs of Mucket shells. He picks up about 8 pairs in an area where fishermen had been scaling fish, and then climbs up the slope to the bridge, finding crayfish-filled Raccoon scats, a Rattlesnake skin, and Great Horned Owl, bones - then scuttles along a narrow provision for pedestrian passage across the bridge, to the other side. There he admires a Western Grebe swimming and diving in midstream and proceeds along a steep bank of Sandbar Willow, past a Beaver drag-track, to a gravel bar which is littered with big Lampsilis shells of all ages. These are piled the deepest right at the upstream end of the bar - white drifts of huge shells!

On his way back to me, Fred meets the lady who manages the campground, and is told that Sturgeons swallow the clams, digest their soft parts, and leave the shells unbroken. She says that a lot of the Sturgeon here are enormous. As it is all across Canada, the huge, cartilaginous, bony-plated, sucker-mouthed Lake Sturgeon is classified as a Species At Risk, and populations are much lower than they used to be. The take by angling in the South Saskatchewan River is restricted to one. However, if predation by Sturgeon really is the cause of the mortality of these big heavy-shelled Lampsilis, that may be why on the whole 3 hectare gravel bar, Fred found only one Lasmigona complanata (White Heel-splitter) and none of the thinner-shelled Pyganodon (Floaters). Either they don't occur here or the Sturgeon crunch them up completely.

Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

This 7 x 9 inch oil painting is available by e-mail auction to support our independent survey of the Energy East Pipeline. The starting price is $375 and bidding will close at midnight on 20 October. If you would like to purchase it, please contact Aleta   

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