Escape to the Wilderness

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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.

View of pine trees and Round Lake on a sunny breezy day in Bonnechere Provincial Park.
Beautiful Round Lake looks lovely in the morning sunshine. Was, in fact, lovely on this particular day.

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.

The Little Bonnechere River in Algonquin Park, Ontario.
The Little Bonnecehere River just inside the boundaries of Algonquin Wilderness Park.

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.

Canoeing and fishing in our head-nets on the Little Bonnechere River in Algonquin Park, Ontario.
Fashion statement of the trip.

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.

Fishing on the Bonnechere, just me and Hubby and a million bugs.

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.

Wilno Craft Gallery, Wilno Ontario
Wilno Craft Gallery is easy to find, right off Highway 60 that runs through Wilno.

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.

Wilno Craft Gallery, Wilno Ontario
The gallery carries lots of original art. The paintings of the “Wild Women” in particular.

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.

my shadow selfie while biking.
My shadow selfie. No regular selfies allowed on this trip, for reasons you will understand if you think about it. Ha.
View of the Bonnechere River from the bridge on Turner's Road. Bonnechere, Ontario.
View from the bridge on Turner’s Road.

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.

Empty bench overlooking Round Lake at Bonnechere Provincial Park.
This bench was meant for me.

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.

Assistant Park Superintendent at Bonnechere Provincial Park, Round Lake, Ontario.
Kelly is Assistant Park Superintendent at Bonnechere.

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.

View of the pine tress at night from our tent window in Bonnechere Provincial Park, Ontario.
Bunk with a view. Nightime in the campsite, looking out my window and up at the towering pines.

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 least the ones downunder) see what you think. You can hear it here.

Linking up with #ShareAllLinkUp at Not Dressed as Lamb, and Thursday Favourite Things at Marilyn’s Treats.

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28 thoughts on “Escape to the Wilderness”

  1. Yes, we continue to have a lot of rain and the bugs have been bad. The gnat infestation was killing chickens! What was the bird?

  2. Sorry about all the bugs. Would a straw – maybe a bendy one – work for drinking while wearing your net hats? And what was the bird that you had been hearing?

  3. Spent a lovely couple of days at the Glenn House Resort on the St. Lawrence with three girlfriends. The water levels were up over the docks for the Thousand Island Boat Tour boats, and all the lovely young people working there had to wear wellies with their crisp white polos and khaki shorts. Toured the inside of Bolt Castle, laughed, sipped wine, chatted and played cards. A great mid week getaway.

  4. Wendy in York

    It all looks very beautiful , tranquil & wild . So good to know there are these wilderness areas still left in the world . We are lucky in North Yorkshire to have lots of open countryside but for true wilderness we have to travel to Scotland & much of that is ‘ maintained ‘. We often considered moving there but the clouds of midges from May to September stopped us . Instead we stay in rented cottages for about ten weeks a year – out of midge season . Some people cope better with them but they drive me to distraction . A park guide in Kenya told me I had the soft skin insects loved . It was mosquitos there & black flies in Thailand . In the US national parks I was bitten though my clothes by something ? So I feel your pain .
    I want to know what that bird was too .

    1. You have a long bug bite history, it seems. I’ve fared better this trip than in the past. After two nights at home my bites have already stopped itching. Considering that in years gone by they’d bother me for weeks… I feel lucky! I revised my post to include bird info for those who are bird lovers.

  5. The trip I made to Boundary Waters in Minnesota with a boyfriend was possibly the worst of my life. No head nets. My hands, neck and face were full of bites. I had just come back from two years in the Peace Corps in Africa, where I had no electricity or running water….but I slept in a bed (with a mosquito net). Just to say I’m no princess but I have my limits. Portaging a canoe through the woods, or being told to watch out for boulders in the middle of a huge lake, and then seeing one, the water lapping against it–thank goodness we didn’t hit it because I can’t swim.
    On the other hand, it’s probably reassuring that there are bugs someplace. We’ve had a heat wave and I heard the cicadas just once and just a few of them. I had expected deafening thunder of cicadas when the temperatures climbed. Are they gone? Like the bees, which last year covered our lavender? This year there seem to be only two or three bees working, not dozens.

  6. Bugs love me, too. They bite me through my clothing and especially love my ankles. Mr Green look on in amazement, totally bite-free. I haven’t been camping for a while and it can be a mixed bag but overall, I like it. Especially if I take a duvet instead of a sleeping bag. We had a very hot weekend so I spent the whole of Saturday sitting in the sun and reading Nigel Slater books, drinking iced black coffee and staring about me. Bitten not at all, which was good. I went for a walk and watched a cricket match. But most of all, I sat at home and watched Glastonbury on catch-up. I’m sure the atmosphere is incredible but I have better toilets.

  7. I totally get the love for the wilderness and the need we have for these places, but I don’t like!!! It sounds so idyllic and looks so lovely but…. Also I would just get bitten so bad!

    I love reading about your trips but give me a city any day!

  8. I’m glad you’ve left the bugs behind and are back to the comforts of home. I’m not a camper. I tried a couple of times years ago but didn’t love it. I understand the appeal and respect those who enjoy it but it’s not for this unabashed city girl. I enjoyed a short trip to Melbourne the other week to see family and visit some excellent exhibitions. No bugs, just cold, drizzle, grey skies and sensational galleries and museums. Your voice surprised me – in my head you sound a little English and I was surprised (silly me) that you sound Canadian – fancy that!

  9. I’m so sorry about the bugs-I hate them too
    When I was a girl,I’ve spend about fifteen years camping-first with my parents and friends,later with friends. I’ve loved it,it was pretty basic,we even had to fetch water,no running one,only sea (or beautiful Ohrid lake in Macedonia),but it was magical to spend days under the pines and evenings on the beach,with a lot of young people,guitar…you’ve got the picture! And I know how was to handle the tent-I had my own for myself
    I’ve tried it twice later,under pressure of my ex,with more comfort-there were some beautiful things-but,no,it is not my choice anymore
    We have a heat wave too,and I am so busy,minding my own things and having so many other people mistakes to correct in all kind of temperatures,so,yes,I don’t make selfies as well 🙂
    I want to know about the bird,too
    Dottoressa

    1. I hear your heat wave is terrible. Hope you are able to stay at least a little cool. Hope your mum is weathering the heat okay.
      FYI… bird info is now included in a note at end of post.

  10. So sorry to hear that what should be a tranquil escape to the country was marred by the drone and bite of mosquitoes. Here in Winnipeg it has been dry so our usual pests have not YET materialized. I never camped as a youngster so when my husband and I married he promised me a camping trip and painted a very rosy picture of whispering pines and gorgeous sunsets…the reality was howling winds that knocked the walls of our tent together and a crashing thunderstorm. Best camping was done in our long ago sold Volkswagen camper with a pop up roof…but now give me a beautiful hotel room with a view, a comfortable bed and hot shower…we venture into the wilderness for day trips only. I spend my days now in my perennial garden where I can stop for a glass of wine just before supper…just lovely! Would love to hear the name of the mystery bird too. Cheers, Alayne

    1. We had a day and a half of tranquility. Better than nothing, I guess. Love that story of your camping adventure. Been there… in a tent in a thunder storm.

  11. Another Canadian girl (and retired teacher!) who loves the mountains and camping in the wilderness. Balm for the soul is right—but, oh, those pesky critters which regard you as a food source.

    Your Northern Ontario blackflies and mosquitoes are definitely fierce as were the enormous swarms of mosquitoes we encountered in the NWT, Yukon and Alaska. But the warmth of the sun and a steaming cup of coffee in the early morning and gazing up at the gazillion stars in the inky black skies at night always kept us coming back. It’s funny how the first night always made me fret for the comforts of civilization, but how, by the third night, how I would feel so happy to have rid myself of those same trappings.

  12. I feel guilty – while you were in the 9th rung of hell- I was with my family in the mountains of West Virginia – in a cabin that was air conditioned, with a full shower, full kitchen, and comfy beds! I admire your resolve!!! 🙂

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