On Friday, we headed next door to Thrifty Car Rental,where we obtained not only a PT Cruiser, but also a GPS tracker that elucidated and educated us as to our directional impetus throughout our trip.
We first headed north of Winnipeg about twenty minutes to the Oak Hammock Marsh park. This park features acres upon acres of marsh set amidst Canadian prairie. The marsh provides the best wildlife viewing exercise I have ever experienced. The weather was chilly on Friday morning, about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind swept with a vigor that would be in place in February in windy Collin County, Texas.
We saw field upon field of watery marsh, filled with aquatic birds, prairie birds and other wildlife. Distant snow geese provided a chorus, as we walked from spot to spot, watching muskrat, ground squirrel, Canadian geese and their goslings, teal and their mini-tea-leaves, redwing blackbird, yellow-headed blackbird, small yellow birds, large herons, and virtually every other avian visual treat one can imagine. We were swept away with joy at the sheer bird-wonder of it all. Although I had left behind my 20 x 70 binoculars, convinced that their bulk would not justify their passage, I purchased for 20 Canadian dollars some serviceble small binoculars which I used throughout our trip. A microscope set up with a large viewing screen showed that one small beaker of swamp water contained an aquatic feast, which helped us understand why this marsh was so popular with the birds.
We headed east, crossed the Red River, and stopped at a hotel on its banks for two scintillating bowls of Cape Breton chowder, a red chowder filled with fresh seafood. Then we stopped by an antique store which featured heavy and attractive antiques from the Ukraine, before circuitously
making our way to Birds Hill Provincial Park. Birds Hill Provincial Park features a prairie and woodland setting. We made our way past our first whitetail deer sighting to the park office. A
gregarious cat sought our attention while the park staff at length directed us to the cedar bog trail, where we took a five mile hike on a little-used trail. We did meet a nice woman who showed us her digital camera and explained how she takes nature photographs to illustrate her classes on the Bible. We saw endless arrays of butterflies, most of them familiar, like the tiger swallowtail, but some unknown to us. We saw wild roses and columbine, and walked a trail amid whispering aspens, jackpine and the promised bog of cedars.
We drove on to Whiteshell Provincial Park, about an hour and a half east of Winnipeg. We had rented a cabin at a place called Barrier Bay Resort, which provided us with a wonderful cabin facing Barrier Bay, a portion of Dorothy Lake.
From our cabin we could see ruby-throated hummingbirds, and hear geese and loons. We went to the Lake View Resort for a fine dinner, and struck up a conversation with a couple who were there to arrange a wedding on a pontoon barge in the middle of the lake. After dinner, we went back to our resort, where I failed to catch any fish while fishing from the dock. We spent a quiet evening amid the sounds of nature.
On Saturday morning we used the single-person kayaks provided by the resort (having elected not to do the two-person kayak when it turned out that it required synchronized rowing). Although this past weekend was "family fishing weekend", only a few boaters shared the lake with us, and we felt largely at peace. We had not kayaked in years, but we both thoroughly got into the spirit of it from the get-go, and paddled across the lake to the "wilder" parts on the other side. We heard birdsong everywhere, and enjoyed paddling at peace.
We then got into the car and drove the ten minutes to Pine Point trail. On our way, we stopped by the petroforms created by the first peoples who lived in the area--rocks stacked in turtle, snake and fish formations. People had left offerings of scarves on the nearby trees, and the site had that other-worldliness of history about it.
We soon thereafter arrived at the Pine Point Trail, an eight kilometer hike which provided us with views of small waterfalls, rushing rapids, treescape waterfronts, whitetail deer, wild iris, rose, and columbine, huge "pre-cambrian rocks" of granite, a colorful garter snake (which my wife failed/declined to see), and butterfly innumerable. Although this trail was popular, it was not at all difficult to enjoy. We had a wonderful lunch at the Otter Falls in--my wife dined on fried pickerel while I had a heavenly pork chop.
We then rented a motorboat and went fishing. I caught three yellow perch (two quite small), the quarry for which I was fishing, while my wife caught a very nice northern pike. We released our catch back into the wild.
The highlight of our fishing trip was the bald eagle. We saw two seagulls flying about an eagle, expressing to the eagle in no uncertain terms their no-doubt-justified dismay at its behavior in a matter of importance to the gulls. We saw the eagle land on its nest, and then fly about with the gulls harassing it, and then, with loping, gliding strokes, pick up momentum and fly off towards the gulls' island, perhaps to cause fresh grievances. I could see it quite well through my marsh-bought binoculars. We also saw deer on the mainland, and heard numerous birds.
Saturday night I had a chickenburger, while my wife had chili. We saw that the couple from the evening before were in the courtyard, celebrating the post-barge phase of their wedding. We rather liked the barge captain and his wife, baby boomer ex-hippies now running their own country inn. We borrowed the kayak gear again so that we could get an early start on Sunday. Sunday in the early morning, we kayaked up a stream which fed into the bay, where we saw fish jumping and heard more birdsong.
We cleaned and then checked out of our cabin, profusely thanking the owners for their incredible hospitality. Then we headed up the road towards Winnipeg. We stopped at Cooks Corner, where a Ukrainean Catholic Church and grotto stand, which were just lovely. We then drove back roads
into Winnipeg, past fields of yellow and green. When we arrived in Winnipeg, we hoped to attend the local market, but arrived off sync or otherwise too late. We then went to the Forks, a development of food, entertainment, shopping and history which, unlike many such urban renewal things, works wonderfully. We took a half an hour barge tour of the Red and Assiboine Rivers, which are Winnipeg's lifeblood. The presentation posed us issues we had never considered, such as bridge design for bridges destined to withstand massive sheets of ice, and effective park maintenance in a park which will regularly flood.
We had failed to change enough money, and Winnipeg, unlike the tourist areas, understandably required Canadian currency. We finally found an ATM that would do the job, and settled in for an enjoyable afternoon. Although a "kidfest" was in session, we eschewed the childish for an ample meal of sushi at a local sushi establishment, where the river eel in particular was grand.
We soon called it an evening, and got a good night's sleep before today's early plane home.
We had a lovely time. Everyone we met was unduly kind. Although the currency exchange rate was no longer as favorable as in past times, everything was reasonably priced and nothing seemed like a "tourist gouge". We found that we were among the few Americans about, as most people in Whiteshell seemed to be local Manitobans, over from Winnipeg. We found that although nothing was quite wilderness or desolate, everything was far less utilized than we had thought it might all be--we found everything more enchanting than we had dared to hope.
We developed our pictures this afternoon, and, as usual, my wife's artistic shots are amazing while my throwaway camera shots and simple video captures are ordinary. I will make a collage of my wife's shots, but in the meantime, I made a video collage of our trip, which I uploaded
here as "Manitoba Images". This video plays haltingly on my system, so I may have to revise it and re-upload.
I also made some wonderful field recordings of the nature sounds there, which I will post sometime and which I will use for ambient music.
We loved Manitoba. We will go back again someday, if the tiger swallowtails align.