Have you ever watched that British television show, Escape to the Country? I love it. I love watching couples try to make their dream of living in the beautiful English countryside come true. Nothing but hedgerows, peaceful villages, quaint cottages, pub lunches…. sigh. Every year Hubby and I make at least two attempts of our own to escape, not to the bucolic English countryside, but to the Canadian wilderness. Where we go is nothing like the rolling green hills of rural England. But the wilderness, or even the almost wilderness where we were last week, can be balm for the soul. It can, as Shakespeare says, knit up “the ravell’d sleave of care.” Well… most years.
When Hubby and I packed our truck last week our heads were filled with images of evenings round the campfire, peaceful days of fishing, and long bike rides followed by refreshing swims in the lake. But this trip the wilderness was not our friend. A rainy, cool spring meant that the black flies of early June had not yet dissipated, and the recent rains and warmer temperatures meant that standing water everywhere bred billions of mosquitoes. Double bug whammy, you might say. That’s not exactly what we did say about the bug situation throughout our five days away. Our language was much more colourful than that. Ha.
This particular trip is not like escaping to the true wilderness. We park our tent trailer at Bonnechere Provincial Park where we can access the electricity hook-ups, and showers. But we do venture into the wilderness for fishing, driving about thirty km on mostly gravel roads to do so. We sometimes wear our head-nets while we unpack the truck at the access point into Algonquin Park. It takes several trips to lug all of our supplies: the cooler with the lunch and drinks, fishing rods, life-jackets, paddles, rain gear, fishing gear, and canoe about a hundred yards down a hill from where we park the truck. And even on a good day the bugs can be thick until we get off shore and start paddling. But this year for the first time ever we did not take our head-nets off at all. All day.
This year the bugs were as bad as either of us has ever seen.
Wearing a head net isn’t my preferred way of spending a day in the canoe. I find them somewhat claustrophobic. They make staying hydrated tricky. Should we raise the netting and allow the biters to get us? Or try to drink through the fabric? Like I said, tricky. Thank goodness for the stiff, but short-lived, breeze which allowed us to pull them off for a few minutes. Enough time to eat our lunch, anyway. We didn’t dare put in at our usual picnic spot on shore, but instead ate in the canoe. In true wilderness canoeing style, Hubby stuffed his sandwich in his mouth, in between paddle strokes. I’m not that dexterous.
The hesitancy in my voice in the video, below, is because I’m trying to hang onto my phone, and still have my paddle or my fishing rod ready in case I am issued instructions. I am always second-in-command in the canoe. It’s just safer that way. Ha. The camera on my phone only picks up the buzzing deer flies, not the smaller blackflies and mosquitoes. But take my word for it… they were there.
When we had caught enough fish for “a snack”, as Hubby says, we made our escape back to the truck. Nothing in the world has ever felt as good as ramping up the air conditioner in the truck and pulling our head-nets off. But, poor Hubby. His head-net had not fitted properly around his hat, and the netting at times lay against his forehead and the tip of his nose, allowing the mosquitoes to get at him right through the fabric. I gasped when he pulled off his hat and the netting. His face was a mass of bloody bites. I would have been whining like there’s no tomorrow if it had been me, but Hubby just laughed. That man, I tell you, he’ll weather pretty much anything for fish.
We didn’t spend all our time in head-nets in the canoe. One day we drove into town for groceries. And doughnuts. Vibrant little Barry’s Bay is a true valley town, built at a time when the railroad and the lumber industry ruled supreme, and surrounded by lakes and rivers and trees. Lots of trees, naturally. We stocked up on groceries and then went for our treat, coffee and fresh doughnuts at the Baykery. Then we headed back down the road to tiny Wilno, Canada’s first Polish settlement. I love Wilno and always stop into the Wilno Craft Gallery when we’re up this way.
The Wilno Craft Gallery has wonderful crafts by local artisans: glass, metalwork, wood, pottery. And a section of the gallery is devoted to the paintings of the Wild Women Artists: Joyce Burkholder, Linda Sorensen, and Kathy Haycock. I wrote about Linda Sorensen in a post a few years ago when Hubby and I visited her studio. The fact that these three women all love the Canadian wilderness is evident in their vivid and iconic work. You can read about them here.
Of course, we did manage to squeeze in a few bike rides this week. At least on a bike we could outrun the bugs. The wildflowers along the roadsides were stunning. So beautiful and bountiful. My pictures, bleached by the sun, do not do them justice. I guess there is something to be said for a wet spring.
I had one glorious, solitary day when Hubby drove over to Killaloe to golf. The strong wind blew the bugs away, the sun shone, and I wandered the almost empty campground. I ambled down to the beach and back, made tea, drank it, read my book, and listened to a couple of lovely, quiet, erudite podcasts from Shedunnit, recommended to me by a reader a few posts ago. I love the stories written and narrated by Caroline Crampton, all about the golden age of mystery writing. You can find Shedunnit here.
Hubby was on a quest this trip to find out about a bird whose identity has eluded him for several seasons. We hear it all the time at dusk in Bonnechere, but have never seen it. Back home after our last trip, Hubby listened to bird calls on You Tube until it nearly drove him, and me, crazy. This week, I was able to record the bird’s call. And then we had three or four conversations with Kelly, the Assistant Park Superintendent, and other staffers, trying to identify that darned bird. Kelly finally tracked it down for us with the help of another staff member who is a dedicated birder and naturalist.
That’s Kelly below. She’s adorable isn’t she? I know I probably shouldn’t say that; it sounds condescending. So I will add that she’s also bright, helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable, with two university degrees, one in Biology, and years of experience working in the parks system. But I still think she’s adorable. I must say that all the kids (young adults, I mean) who work at this park seem friendly and extremely competent. Good for them, eh? They are demolishing the stereotype, doing a great job in an era when lots of people are rolling their eyes and sighing over the younger generation. And they don’t seem to mind the bugs at all. Which I find astounding.
So yeah. This past week we escaped to the wilderness, or the almost wilderness. We fished and swatted bugs. We biked and soothed our bug bites with cool showers. One of us golfed and the other did not. We escaped one day on a short visit to town. The rest of the time we swatted bugs, ate, listened to the evening chorus of tree frogs, drank wine, read our books, and swatted more bugs. Do you notice a recurring motif in this narrative?
Then we came home.
But not before we had to take down the tent trailer, and fold up the lovely netting that was at least partially protecting us from the bugs. Have you ever crouched under the back end of a tent trailer and tried to fold up those little pole thingies into the slots where they go? Crouched there, away from any possible whiff of a breeze, with about a million blood-thirsty mosquitoes alighting on your back and thighs, able to bite with impunity right through your tee shirt and leggings because your hands are busy, and you can’t let go of the stupid little pole thingie until it slides into its slot?
There were so, so many bugs. It’s almost impossible to believe there could be so many. Almost.
Now… imagine this. We finish taking down the tent trailer, we chuck the rest of our stuff into the back of the truck, and then showerless and still wearing our grubby clothes, we throw ourselves into the truck, crank up the air conditioner, and sigh with relief.
Then we escape from the wilderness. And head for home. Hubby does not squeal his tires as we speed away. Well, only metaphorically. Ha.
You know, camping, like life, can’t be rosy all the time. Sometimes when we escape to the wilderness it’s balm for the soul. And then there are the other times. When the only balm involved is the one we’re rubbing onto our bug bites. But we’re not ready yet to give up on our camping trips. There are still those days when the breeze blows all the bugs away, and at night the fire crackles throwing sparks into the dark sky, and we fall asleep listening the sound of the frogs. I do love those darned frogs.
So what have you been up to, my friends? Swatting mosquitoes? Fishing? No? Enjoying the beginning of summer? Sipping wine on a patio? Do tell. I won’t hold it against you.
Note: The bird we couldn’t identify was the Oven bird, apparently it’s quite common in Eastern Ontario. We all laughed when Kelly told us that their call is identified by the sound of “teacher, teacher, teacher.” Here’s a link for bird enthusiasts. Even I think they are cute. Also thanks to my i-phone we were able to identify the second bird that was stumping us. It’s a Veery. Not as cute but a much nicer call. Reminded us of the Magpie we heard in New Zealand and Australia. If you know the call of the magpie (at last the ones downunder) see what you think. You can hear it here.