Bob Cormack, the legendary University of Alberta wild flower guy, by his own admission confesses that his seminal book, Wild Flowers of Alberta, is not written for what he describes as “serious students of plant life.”

But rather “for those, young and old, who love our wild flowers and wish to know more about them.”

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Cormack’s book came out 42 years ago as part of a trio of naturalist texts covering flowers, fish and birds (trees and animals, sadly, never got written) and remain my go-to authorities on wild Alberta things.

“If it succeeds in helping to make a day’s outing or a summer holiday more enjoyable,” Cormack writes, “then the objective of the book has been achieved.”

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Which is more than you can ask for in any book.

Cormack pulls no weeds and picks no favourites in his assessment of what he calls our “wild flowers and wayside plants.”

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And has county weed inspectors chewing on their cowboy hats when he describes the dreaded ox-eye daisy as “much beloved,” praises the feared European buttercup for its “showy flowers” and how the common dandelion is “welcomed by all as the first flower of spring.”

Some may disagree.


The North Raven river is known for consistent flows, prolific insect hatches and wary brown trout. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun

Edmonton

Recently I chose to take a day’s fly-fishing outing to the North Raven River, Alberta’s famous spring creek that rises from two large aquifers northeast of Caroline, for no other reason than a quick check of Alberta Environment and Parks’ river report website revealed it was pretty much the only game in town for moving-water angling, what with the constant rains which show no sign of letting up.

The North Raven is one of those rivers (it’s actually just a creek) that you can love and hate all at the same time.

Blessed with consistent flows, prolific bug hatches and a substantial population of brown trout.

But cursed with a red-willow river-bottom jungle, clandestine beaver runs and mosquito-infested water meadows.

It was a cool, dreary afternoon with the threat of rain in the air. Or, in other words, just a typical early-summer Alberta day.

Which is not all bad. There are several species of mayflies that prefer conditions like this to hatch and overcast sometimes causes nocturnal, circumspect brown trout to throw caution to the wind and feed.

I did say sometimes.

The golden marsh marigolds were all bloomed out where I pulled on my waders and rigged my 5-weight rod by a bridge, but there were pink Alberta roses. Many Alberta roses.

My fox red Lab Penny and I hiked up the bank beyond the chaos of a busted beaver dam.

Then we got into the river and pretty well stayed there. Which is about the only way to fish the North Raven and maintain your sanity.

I had tied on a size-14 H and L Variant dry fly, anticipating there may be a few mayflies about.

Mine’s exactly like Basalt, Colorado fly-fisher R.C. Coffman’s original tie — with the exception of swapping out the white calf-hair tail and wing for moose hair, a wing-post of snowshoe rabbit-foot fur and a parachute hackle.

All trout flies are in some way or other evolutionary.

The creek was full but running crystal clear and mayflies danced on the surface. Lemony-yellow ones called sulphurs and smaller bugs with slate gray wings — either iron-blue duns or blue-winged olives.

In either case, the trout didn’t want anything to do with them.

Later giant spinners appeared, remnants of the North Raven’s renowned green drake hatch, and buzzed and bumbled down the riffles depositing eggs.

But even with all that ruckus the trout remained sullen.


Wildflowers in a North Raven River meadow. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun

Edmonton

A light drizzle began falling and we walked back to the Jeep through a meadow blazing with hyssop spikes, vetches, purple avens and white mats of anemones.

Tucked back in the willows were stands of what Cormack identifies as “lungwort” but I prefer calling bluebells.

A cosmic stroll through the “wayside” flowers.

But a dozen-or-so trout would have been nice, too.

NEIL WAUGH OUTDOORS: Wild flowers and wayside plants

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