A winter hike at Fairy Hill
I wouldn’t say I’m one of those Canadians who heartily embraces winter, but I do enjoy getting out of the city to do some winter photography; at least until my ears and fingers tell me it’s time to retreat into the warmth. Since Regina is home, during most winters the venturing-out days are limited. This winter has been the exception, with temperatures well above average and very little snowfall.
So it was that on a mild and windy day in late January I grabbed my camera gear and headed out to Fairy Hill, a Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) property on the edge of the Qu’Appelle Valley north of Regina. NCC actually has three properties there, but I’m most familiar with Fairy Hill 2, having participated in a Conservation Volunteers event there one very hot day last summer when a group of us toted (heavy!) wooden signposts along a barely discernible trail.
Our hike that day in July took us through grass and brush along the southern lip of the valley before descending into a heavily treed coulee and finally to marshy bottomland. It was like experiencing three mini ecosystems while hiking just a few kilometres. I was curious to cover the same terrain in winter.
While the hike was thoroughly enjoyable, and I saw plenty of animal tracks and signs in the snow, all of the animals seemed to be in hiding — no wildlife photography this day. There were other compensating experiences. I’ve always enjoyed the transition of being buffeted by the wind, then moving into absolute stillness simply by moving from flatland a few feet down into a coulee.
Suddenly the only sound I heard was sighing in the tree branches above. For a few magical moments, even the background sound of cars and 18-wheelers labouring up and down the valley on nearby Highway 6 were swallowed up in the wind overhead.
I saw lots of critter tracks along and veering off from the trail as I descended the coulee, along with signs that a couple of hikers had been this way a few days before. I emerged from the trees onto a small level area that then plunged down to the valley bottom.
Out of curiosity I took photos of some unusually large boulders beside what might be a seasonal watercourse; or was it a human-made drainage ditch, perhaps from when the old highway wound and curled its way up and down the valley walls? And, how did those boulders get there? Glaciers? Human power?
As usual, a hike brought more questions than answers. Memo to self: find someone who might know about the history of this land before it was bequeathed to NCC, and come back again to experience Fairy Hill in another season.