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April 29, 2007
From journal A Week in Calgary
October 28, 2000
The next bird I met scolded and laughed at me from some invisible spot in a parking lot in town. He ran along the ground playing hide-and-seek, mocking me the whole time. Piebald black and white, with a scrawny neck, he wasn't much to look at until I caught sight of his tail. As long as he was, it was the same blue-green as the lakes here, and it caught the sunlight like a jewel. He was a magpie.
At lunch I ran into my third bird of the day, a soft plump, gray-brown fellow who begged cheekily for a bite of my meal. More of these gray-brown birds watched us as we boarded the Sulpher Mountain Gondola, just next door to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The Gondola runs to the top of Sulpher Mountain for a dazzling, dizzying look at the town and mountains. The cars are enclosed, but each has a window you can open for picture-taking, fresh air, or looking at the view.
The ascent took about ten minutes, and we didn't know where to look next. The Banff Springs Hotel flew by. Next we were drawn to the sunlight reflecting off the Bow River in the middle distance. Then we were distracted by the view directly below of the hiking trail leading up through the trees to the summit.
It was cold at the top, and the snack bar was closing. There was just time to get hot chocolate and head outside to admire the panorama of the mountains and the Bow Valley, impossibly far below. Another 20-minute walk up a boardwalk led to the summit. As I sipped on my chocolate and chatted with fellow-tourists, I was interrupted by one of the gray-brown birds.
'I wish I knew what kind of bird that was,' I remarked to a new acquaintance, a woman from northern Manitoba.
'I don't know what they call him here,' she replied. 'We call that bird the Whiskey-Jack. He’s a kind of jay.'
So I encountered three new birds in one day. The raven was mysterious, the magpie amusing. But only the little bird with the friendly name was brave enough to accompany us up the mountain.
PLANNING: Check schedules. Warm jackets!
From journal The Canadian Rockies by Car