People looked at me oddly when I told them I planned on travelling from Kelowna to spend New Year’s in Calgary. At the time, Calgary was going through -22c temperatures and I must admit I had to check The Weather Network before leaving the balmy -2c of Kelowna. I was bolstered by the fact that a Chinook wind was blowing in and the weather forecast was for warmer days ahead. Undeterred, I climbed on the bus and slept the whole ten hour journey, to awake at dawn as we drove past Cochrane and saw the distant Calgary lights.
My friend, Kim, met me in her car which had welcome seat warmers and we excitedly talked about the coming days.
I met Kim on Facebook through a friend. Kim travels down to the centre of Calgary two days a week; she gathers food from friends and meets with the homeless to make sure they know someone cares. She is a truly remarkable woman who gives and gives. Her facebook page for the homeless is called “Walking With The Homeless”.
Besides her work with the people who have come across hard times she is the most amazing photographer. I asked her if I could “friend” her because I was curious to see more of her work and we finally talked on the phone - I laughed when I discovered she was a Limey too. When I finally perused her pictures, I was astonished. This girl had been a photographer for all of three years and I felt that I was looking at an issue of National Geographic. Eagles flying with fish in their claws, elk in the cold mountains surrounded by their misty breath, a macro image of a bee crawling inside a flower, pelicans landing in a lake and fields of wafting hay. Who needed Pinterest?!
And so it was that my New Year’s plans were not to party in the city but to drive out into the country, looking for old barns, fence posts, snow piled high, the distant Rocky Mountains and the elusive, soft, shy, snowy owl.
Kim had told me that the snowy owls had come south because their tundra to the north was frozen and, if we were lucky, we might see one sitting on a fence post where it would be getting ready to fly and grab an unsuspecting, delicious rodent.
As we drove along the freeway, in the distance I noticed something white sitting on a post. Was it a bag, something to shoo away animals? Then it took off! We could not turn off but it told us that we were in the right area and, as soon as we could, we would start scouting around.
We drove down many white-out roads and it felt rather like we were in Siberia. Every now and then we would stop and Kim would point out a building or a clump of trees that I would have driven right past but then I started to notice the whimsy of run down log homes or the sun shining through a gnarly old tree and I found myself transported to a whole new world that I had previously missed in my hurry to get from place to place.
We both snapped images - me with my phone on Instagram, posting to Twitter and Facebook as I went, and Kim with her Canon cameras. This was so much fun and Kim was a knowledgeable guide. I felt honoured that I had been allowed a glimpse into her passion.
We both spent the day getting in and out of the car and trudging knee-deep in snow to get a photograph of a silo, some cows or the shadow of a tree.
Then, we saw it... in the distance, sitting atop a telegraph pole - a white, plump silhouette. We stopped the car. Kim took out the correct lens from her camera bag and gave me clear instructions... no sound, we would drive slowly and quietly, the window would already be open and she would get a few quick captures, then she would carefully open the car door and get more images.
We approached stealthily, praying the beautiful bird would not take flight. It was looking away from us, across the field and finally we were directly under it. A breathtakingly handsome snowy owl. Kim started to click her camera and, slowly, it turned its head and stared right at us with huge golden eyes.
Then, it looked slightly away as though to say “yes, I am gorgeous, I’m a proud animal, take all the pictures you want but I find this a little tedious”. Finally, after more clicks our snowy owl stood and stretched, then it took off, soaring - wings spread forming beautiful waves, handily gliding its round body, heading for some distant location.
We were both in awe.
We laughed, talked rapidly and congratulated ourselves on our luck... it was a great New Year’s Day, celebrating the world we live in and the gift of life around us. What could be more perfect?
I am so grateful for Kim... for taking me to her white world of wonder and for helping me to realize once again that the best things in life are often overlooked and cost so very little.
Photographs by Denise Becker, except for Snow Owl by Kim Gagnon