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Only a photographer would pull a scam like that. Journalists, myself included, aren’t capable of such trickery. We would never resort to the same underhanded tactics or fib with so much finesse and so little remorse.
My colleague Darcy Dietrich and I were canoeing towards an unusual island. Darcy, a photographer, was in the bow and I was in the stern. As we paddled further from the lakeshore, I suspected it was only a matter of time before he’d manipulate the situation in his favour. My suspicions were soon confirmed.
As is typical of the photographically inclined, Darcy laid his paddle in the bottom of the boat and said he needed to prepare his camera equipment. He muttered something about wanting to be ready to shoot before we arrived at the still-distant island. This thinly veiled lie was nothing more than an excuse to stop paddling.
Shouldering the entire burden on my own, I propelled the canoe in the direction of a unique place where aquatic birds nest on the prairie. The cacophony of its hundreds of inhabitants was only a slight murmur as Darcy fiddled with one lens, then another. He claimed not to be sure which to use, but his indecision only added to the distance I’d paddle alone. Suddenly, he cussed. The batteries for one of his two cameras were still in the charger in his studio. Darcy finally decided on two lenses and said he’d use them alternately on one camera.
The placid lake was smooth as polished slate as we approached the eastern tip of the island that is too new to have a name, a cartographer’s delight. Previously, the lake was much lower. Despite this summer’s drought, the level is still higher than in years past. This surplus is a testament to the one-in-100-year flood that inundated the region in 2010. During that spring, rain fell on average every three days, an exceptional occurrence in the semi-arid Cypress Hills of southwest Saskatchewan. By early June 2010, even the region’s more elderly residents couldn’t recall when the creeks, rivers, and springs flowed with such abundance. A weathered old cowboy I spoke with then said, “The '40s were wet, but this is wetter.”
By mid-June, the ground was saturated and the watercourses and lakes were full to capacity. A dire situation presented itself. A gathering storm threatened the region with a deluge. Weather warnings announced 12 to 18 centimetres (4.75 to 7 inches) of rain overnight, a disastrous situation, to say the least. While the toll to communities and infrastructure was considerable, the resulting flood benefited various avian species such as double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, and California gulls, because it transformed a patch of prairie into an island where they could raise their chicks free from any terrestrial predators.
Approximately 10 centimetres (4 inches) of rain fell on the night of June 17, 2010 with some areas receiving more. Dams broke, highways and railroads were washed out, bridges collapsed, and towns were flooded. At the lake in question, the water rose and stretched beyond the normal shoreline far into the surrounding prairie. One gently sloped hill in particular became isolated from the sea of grass. The plants that grew on this hill— fescue grass, sage and pincushion cactus—are all used to drought, but after the inundation they found themselves surrounded by water.
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