A Month of Amazing Mushrooms

As August comes to a close, and the rain comes down today, we have to be grateful for the extra precipitation this month, as it has led to one of the best mushroom displays we’ve had for years. The fungi love the moisture, and we’ve seen species that are totally new to us.

Sculpted Puffball, Calbovista subsculpta

It started just over a month ago at Lake O’Hara, with a spherical mushroom that looked like a geodesic dome, and was the size of a baseball! We checked in with the Alberta Mycology Society, and were told that it’s a Sculpted Puffball, Calbovista subsculpta.

That was the beginning of the floodgates opening – this month we’ve seen mushrooms that are purple, orange, green, red, and a hundred shades of brown. They’ve been as big as dinner plates, and as tiny as tapioca pearls.

What follows is a photo album of some of our favourites. If we know what they are, we’ve labelled them, but if we’re in the dark, which we are for most of them, do not let their anonymity distract you from their beauty.

Giant Shingle Tops, Sarcodon imbricatus

A species of slime mold, once considered a kind of fungus, but now classified independently.  They can out-weird even the weirdest mushrooms: slime molds can move!

Sun Dogs and Supermoons

The full moon is tomorrow, and it reminds me of the astronomical wonders I saw a month ago, on a backcountry ski trip.

First up was a “Supermoon.” This is a full moon that coincides with the moon’s closest pass of the year to Earth. Tomorrow’s full moon will be a supermoon as well (50,000 km closer to Earth than the full moon this coming September), and it should look amazing!  Supermoons are noticeably bigger and brighter than regular full moons. I snapped this shot a few days before the moon was full, as it cleared the peaks near Mistaya Lodge.  When my ski mates and I looked up and saw it, we all said, “wow,” as it looked so impressive.

Along with the moon, we were treated to a solar light show as well.  February was one of our coldest on record, and when it’s that cold, for weeks in a row, we often get lots of sparkly ice crystals in the atmosphere.  This is the result:

Holy diffractionation, Batman!

All those ice crystals are reflecting and refracting light from the sun. The big circle around the sun is called the 22 degree halo, and the bright spots on the right and left are nicknamed “sundogs.”

But there can be more than just that, and a month ago, we got the whole show.  There were things I’d never seen before: the Parry arc, the parhelic circle, and the coolest thing of all, an upside-down rainbow way up above the sun called the circumzenithal arc. It looked like a giant happy face:

I had to look all this stuff up to understand how it worked. If you want a rundown of all the pieces of the puzzle, this Smithsonian article is really good.

There’s also a lot of good diagrams online, and since I love history, I found a reproduction of the first diagram to illustrate the physics of all this bending and reflecting light. It was drawn by polar explorer William Parry in the 1820s:

Happy moon watching tomorrow!

My Favourite Panoramas from 2018

I love panoramas, as they are so good at capturing the scale of the Rockies.  Here, from February to November of 2018, are my top ten favourites.  It was really tough to pick just ten.  I hope this brings back memories of the Rockies for you, no matter what season you’ve been here.

February: Pipestone Canyon, which I can snowshoe to from our house!

March: Dolomite Peak, on a ski tour from the Icefields Parkway.

April: Glacial “erratics,” near Bow Lake. These things are as tall as two story buildings.

May: Balsamroot in bloom, in the Columbia Valley just west of the Rockies. When we want to get our first hit of spring, this is where we go.

June: Athabasca Glacier, in Jasper National Park. This is an outing with Athabasca Icewalks, and I highly recommend the experience:

July: Upper Paradise Valley, a splendid jewel between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.  That’s Mount Temple on the left.

The same July day: The Giant Steps, in Paradise Valley.

September: Incomparable Lake O’Hara.

September: Nadine and friend Adriana, above Spray Lake in Kananaskis Country, on our way to the Windtower.

November: Our friends Josee and John, skating on Two Jack Lake near Banff. 2018 was an exceptional skating season.

Autumn Art

Today marks the first official full day of autumn, but fall comes early to the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been experiencing it for weeks. If you need proof, we’ve had lots of snow so far this month, there are fall colours everywhere, and Jack Frost has left his mark.

But for me, the best piece of proof that fall has arrived comes from seeds. In September, our plants throw themselves into the task of making seeds: in a frantic effort to beat winter, they create miniature templates of themselves, and send them forth into the mountains. My favourites are the species that defy gravity, producing extremely light seeds wrapped in gossamer fluff. When these seeds are dry, and the wind gets to them, they head skyward, to journey for miles, or dozens of miles.

Yellow dryas


This fall, I made a concerted effort to photograph some of these seeds, as they are things of beauty. Enjoy the show.

Happy autumn, everyone!

Willow at Bow Lake


River Beauty


Cotton Grass

A year in Panoramas – 2017

Happy New Year everyone, and in what we hope will become an annual tradition, here’s a little look back at 2017, from the widest angle:

1. Lee on the way up the Cataract Valley in January


2. Near Bow Lake in March

3. April in the Pipestone Canyon

4. The Valley of the Ten Peaks in early June

5. Ptarmigan Lake from Packer’s Pass in July

6. Jasper’s Skyline trail in August

7. Mount Whitehorn in September

Then I lost my camera, and didn’t get a new one until the beginning of December…
8. Frozen Hector Lake in December

9. And an oldie, but goodie…