The smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) is a member of the composite flower family, and can be found across much of North America. The flower heads of composite flowers are actually made up of multiple flowers. Seen below, the “ray” flowers are those from which the bluish-purple “petals” extend. The “disc” flowers are those in the centre of the flower – in this case, yellow – are typically numerous individual flowers which will each give rise to separate seeds if pollenated.
This photo was taken along the banks of the Bow River in Alberta, where the smooth aster typically blooms throughout August and into early autumn.
Alberta is known as “Wild Rose Country” and for good reason – these hardy varietals of rose bushes can be found in abundance across the province. The scientific name is Rosa acicularis, also known as the “prickly” wild rose. The shrubs, which can grow as high as 1.5 metres tall, bloom from late May to until early August, and offer the vibrant blooms you see here.
The plant has a long history of medicinal use, and the fruit (rose hips) are high in vitamin C. They are used in the making of vitamin C. The plant, flowers and rose hips are also consumed by a wide range of animals in Alberta. A word of caution when admiring this plant – it really, really is prickly.
Paintbrush is a very common wildflower across much of Canada, and occurs naturally in many different shades, ranging from scarlet, to orange, to yellow and in between. It is most recognizable, in my view, in red because so few wildflowers in the Canadian prairies and alpine areas are actually red in colour. It is quite common in subalpine meadow areas, which is where this one was taken in Banff National Park.
One of the things I always find fascinating when looking at macro photos of flowers that I’ve taken is how they reveal little intricacies that are easily overlooked when observing them without magnification. They may range from tiny grains of pollen, trapped debris, pollenating insects, and intricate structures such as the tiny hairlike projections on the petals pictured here.
After a week of landscapes and wide angle shots, I thought I would dedicate the upcoming week to focusing – pun intended – on one of my favorite summer subjects: wildflowers. Wildflowers have distinct seasons and regions, and are a vital part of our natural environment as they support a wide variety of organisms whose growth and life cycles are deeply intertwined.
Due to a lack of a field guide on wildflowers of the Canadian Shield at the time this photo was taken, I can’t be 100% sure which species is pictured here. I will say I shot this photo on Fuji Velvia 50, a type of slide film that produces amazing colours – if exposed properly.
Regardless of the technical details, I love photographing wildflowers because they are such a happy burst of colour and activity, as if every year they rise up to welcome the spring, summer, or autumn in all their splendour. Sometimes they spring up right in our own backyards, as I observed fireweed growing in my back garden last summer.
The other reason I love photographing wildflowers is that it is a way to preserve that happy moment without picking them. Many wildflowers are now threatened due to over-picking. So next time if you get the urge to pick a Heliopsis helianthoides or a Symphyotrichum puniceum, why not take a photo instead? It will last longer and you’ll be more likely to encounter it there in subsequent years.
More to the point, if you’re keen on having some wildflowers near you, you can always plant a sustainable garden full of native perennials. Prairie Flora is a business in the Winnipeg area that produces bedding plants every season and will even come out to help you build a garden suitable to your yard. I’ve dealt with owner Aimee McDonald and they are fantastic!
This photo was taken the summer of 2011 at Grindstone Provincial Park. Grindstone is located 2 hours north of Winnipeg along Lake Winnipeg, and is directly across the water from Hecla Island. The area pictured in the photo served, at one time, as a quarry area for sand and small fill before it was eventually abandoned and began to naturalize once again. Grindstone is a peninsula that juts into Lake Winnipeg in the northern half of the south basin. Much of the land is covered in marshy and boggy wetlands combined with mixed deciduous and coniferous forest.
This spot is a favourite for white-tailed deer, waterfowl, warblers, and I have seen the occasional bird of prey circling the area later on in the day. Grindstone was the site of the family cabin for many years, and is a place I’ve been privileged to see grow and change as seasons came and went. I hope I’ll still be able to get out there on the occasion to do some birding, paddling, and berry picking when in season.
In the summer of 2007, I visited central Europe, touring through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic. By far one of my favourite stops was in Vienna, Austria. As a city, it had everything I would look for both as a tourist and as a resident: a vibrant arts scene, excellent public transportation, great food, amazing scenery, and of course, great people.
A very enjoyable part of my stay in Vienna included a trek out to the Grinzing district to take in some of the Heurige, i.e. the new season’s wine. It was quite the trek up this road past a seemingly interminable number of houses, then compounds, and suddenly we were in the middle of wine country. The views were breathtaking, but what impressed me the most is the spirit of hospitality that we encountered and that is central to the concept of a heuriger.
Vienna may be one of the only major metropolises in the world where wine is actively cultivated within its city limits. This is a landscape shaped by hundreds of years of use and active cultivation. It is the work of thousands of hands past and present, continuing to pass down the craft of winemaking and nurturing deep roots within a culture I only briefly encountered. I hope I’ll be able to visit again sometime soon!
Blue Lake Provincial Park is a popular vacation spot for families in NW Ontario and Manitoba, and offers fantastic “car camping” opportunities for people looking to experience the great outdoors without leaving all of the amenities behind. I feel like I have a special connection to this place, having spent many summers by the lakeside with my family, and with other fellow Blue Lakers who tended to take their vacation during the same weeks in July and August.
Taken last August, it was the first time I had the opportunity to reconnect with many of those people who I hadn’t seen in years. Blue Lake for me will always feel like a place where I get together with extended family, where I can both marvel at days gone by while making new memories, soaking up the rays, and chatting around the campfire.
The lagoon pictured here has always been an object of interest for me. It is always changing and growing, replete with vegetation and wildlife that were never all that common at our family cabin on Lake Winnipeg.
If you’re ever passing through Vermillion Bay along the Trans-Canada / Highway 17, make sure to stop in and see what all the fuss is about. You’ll be glad you did!
This photo was taken at the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede last July. To Calgarians, Stampede is not just an event, it’s an institution that takes over the city for 10 days, transforming boardrooms into pancake breakfast halls, and beverage establishments into western-themed saloons. The transformation of the city is quite impressive, with virtually every kind of business getting in on the action with Stampede specials, cowboy dress codes, and all manner of western-themed services.
Attendance at the 100th annual Calgary Stampede was record-breaking every day it was in operation – a feat that is pretty impressive given the Stampede’s typically large attendance numbers. Unlike the Red River Ex, which now takes place just outside the city, Stampede is located in the middle of Calgary and is positioned along the C-Train (LRT) line, which makes it accessible to people from all over the city. It was my first time there, and hopefully not the last!
This photo was taken back in 2007 in Winnipeg near the main rail yards for Canadian National Railway – the Symington Yards. It was a particularly brilliant sunrise with plenty of interesting cloud formations at higher altitudes. Growing up in Southdale, a 1970s-era development in Winnipeg, meant that I was always just minutes away from wide-open spaces.
I shot this photo the first time I was back in Winnipeg for the summer while studying at the University of Calgary. This image, and those taken throughout the summer of ’07 were part of my process of rediscovering Manitoba with a fresh perspective having lived away for the first time in 21 years.
This photo was taken in the summer of ’09 in Banff National Park on the Cascade River trail. The trailhead is at Upper Bankhead (a former coal mining town on the slopes of Cascade Mountain) along the Lake Minnewanka road. The trail itself is a former fire road that winds through pristine wilderness. This area is frequented by trail riders, and is a great location for fly fishing for cutthroat or brown trout when in season.
Access to back country areas in Banff National Park requires a back country access/camping pass. These can be obtained from the Info Centre in the Banff Townsite along Banff Avenue. I lived in Banff only for a few months, but the time I spent there made a lasting impression. If I have the chance to move back to the Rockies, it will be hard to pass up!