Backcountry in my own backyard.

When you think about it, plane travel can be a jarring experience; rising early, entering the corrals of airports with a ticket in hand, and coming out the other side in vastly different culture and environment…the differences introduced within a single day can be extreme and quick.  Getting outside of your comfort zone can lead to a lot of growth on the road, but equally important is the potential for these contrasts to help you appreciate at home what you may have been unknowingly taking for granted.

Home now, I am so grateful for the clean air, water, and space we have here in Canada.  I’ve just emerged from the backcountry of Riding Mountain National Park in my Manitoba backyard.  In the backcountry here you can go days without seeing another human being, but you are hardly alone with all the incredibly plentiful and diverse wildlife that also calls this dense forest home.

After several days spent hiking these forests, my gratitude for protected wild spaces like these has never been greater.  Good friends, intimate wildlife encounters, and hilarity mixed with horror over the tick and mosquito challenges…it was memorable on several fronts.

It is good to be home.

Hand drawn map of the Riding Mountain Northern Escarpment

As part of preparing for the trip: a hand drawn map of the Riding Mountain’s Northern Escarpment where we would spend the next few days.

Riding Mountain view towards the eastern prairies

Looking back from the heart of the prairie mountains, flat farmland meets the distant horizon.

Hiking through the bush in Riding Mountain National Park

Turning away from the prairie, we point ourselves deep into the dense bush of the protected park.

East Deep Lake camp - picnic table amidst long grass

Arriving at our potential camp at East Deep Lake, the grass was long and untrodden.  By all visible marks, it was quite possible we were the first people to come here in 2017 (as of June 7th).  Picnic tables were sweet refuges from the abundant wood ticks in the otherwise overgrown brush.

East Deep Lake, Riding Mountain National Park

A loon casts ripples on the otherwise glassy East Deep Lake.  A perplexing question that came to mind after swimming here: how did the lake come upon this name when you can still touch the weedy bottom in the middle of it?

Loon on East Deep Lake in Riding Mountain National Park

A loon vocalizes its haunting call that silences the forest.

Hammock camping along East Deep Lake in Riding Mountain National Park

With our hammocks strung up, base camp for the next few days was struck.

Morning reflections at East Deep Lake in Riding Mountain National Park

Morning reflections at the source.

Evening reflections at East Deep Lake in Riding Mountain National Park

Evening reflections at the source.  A muskrat cuts the reflection of the rising full Oak Moon.

Minimalist duck on calm water

The sheer numbers and varieties of birds around our camp was amazing.  After returning from Guatemala, this similarity in avian diversity was fascinating.  Most of my hiking is done in the shoulder seasons when the migratory birds are already long gone, so this was a pleasant surprise for even myself whom I considered familiar with these woods.  The purpose of this trip was not photography, so aside from a few photos around camp, my camera stayed tucked away in lieu of being fully present in the experiences.  For most of our animal encounters (various owls, bears, pine martens, migratory birds, etc.) we simply quietly sat in observation – watching and learning.

Muskrat swimming in East Deep Lake, Riding Mountain National Park

This muskrat became a quick friend that was around whenever I went to fetch water from the lake edge.

A picnic table of plenty

A picnic table of plenty.

Hiking shoes - point of view

A portrait of hiking boots that served me well.  The sole of one boot separated from the rest of it and this was their last few miles of service.

Riding Mountain National Park - The mountains of the prairies

Behold: the mountains of the prairies.