Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back Home in Body but not Spirit - Awenda Day One

Not our plates...but they should be
Sarah and I got back home from Awenda yesterday evening, relaxed but utterly exhausted. We spent a good chunk of our time away playing with some pretty energetic young folk (our friends, the Ramendas, met us up there, replete with their brood consisting of one nearly-13- and one nearly-11-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy), which will go a long way toward explaining our exhaustion. Add to that the overwhelming heat (thankfully our campsite was in the shade about 90% of the time), the overnight rain on Sunday which caused some issues with our tear down, and the leaking mattress which, in all honesty, we likely would have been better off avoiding altogether and sleeping on the ground. It reached 36 degrees in Penetang yesterday afternoon, about the time we were sitting in the "World Famous Dock Lunch" beside Discovery Harbour, trying to find an appetite to fuel up before driving home. But I'm getting ahead of myself: I have enough material here for one blog post for each day we were away so you'll have to wait until week's end for the story of the drive home.

Tent up, chairs out, beer opened
We left a little later on Friday than we planned, mainly due to having a few things go awry on Thursday night which set our preparations back a bit. As a result, we were stuck in heavy cottage-bound traffic on Highway 400 for quite a while, but Sarah had packed a trivia CD that we played together and before we knew it we were on the back roads toward Georgian Bay. We got to our site around 3:30 (same site every year in the radio- and pet-free zone) and had ample time to set up before dinner, so we put our camp together at a leisurely pace. I had been concerned that it would be too hot in the park but it was a very refreshing temperature on Friday afternoon and evening (Sarah was actually cold overnight in the tent). We had no idea that it wouldn't last. We set up the two shelters, sleeping and dining, following the pattern of "complete a step, have a sip of beer". I don't think I'll ever set up camp differently again.

Sometimes heaven is a place on earth
I took every opportunity to "try out" my fantastic zero-gravity chair during the proceedings. It's been far too hot to sit out on the balcony this summer so I'd only been in this chair twice in 2012 before the camping trip. The site we reserve annually is wonderfully shady and secluded; if I angle the chair just right it's easy to imagine that Sarah and I have found a clearing in the middle of a vast forest and there is nobody else around for miles. We had our priorities straight on Friday: all three camping chairs were set up before anything else and Sarah's hammock (you can see it in this picture) went up immediately after the first tent. We had daylight to last us until well after 8PM, the Ramendas weren't going to arrive until 10...we were practically on a Caribbean pace.

There were some cool bird sightings mixed into the set-up proceedings, too. When we were in Awenda last July we heard a bird call that we had never heard before. We peered into and scanned the forest for the source of that call but never did find out who was making it. I had forgotten all about it until we had been back for about an hour this year and I suddenly heard it again. This time, however, we spotted the noisy guy almost immediately: a pileated woodpecker. I have no idea how he could possibly have been so difficult to see last summer because he was sitting out in the open about 30 metres behind our campsite and he was absolutely huge! I grabbed my pocket digital camera and filmed him as he dropped down out of the tree he was sitting in and started to hop along a fallen birch mere feet behind our clothesline. My hope was that I would capture his call on film but he never made another peep for the rest of the weekend, as luck would have it. All I can offer is this very short, grainy footage of the woodpecker bobbing along the log:

There's a hawk in all that foliage
Not too long after the woodpecker encounter I was standing in the middle of the campsite preparing to take a picture of the just-erected kitchen/dining tent when I noticed an odd shape in a small tree directly across the road from the foot of our driveway. For a moment I thought it was just a branch that had fallen from higher up the tree and gotten caught on the way down; however, I realized very quickly that I was looking at a red-tailed hawk just hanging out and preening himself. (Actually, I think it might have been a female, but I couldn't get quite close enough to see.) The driveway wasn't very long and the road was maybe half again as wide as a car, so I guess that when I first spotted the hawk I was maybe 50 feet away. I put the camera on full zoom (which meant I had to use the picture-stabilization mode and sacrifice some quality) and walked slowly toward the beautiful raptor, snapping pictures every 5-6 feet. I even took my sandals off so I could move as silently as possible. I had actually made it all the way up to the road when two people started to approach, one from each direction. I motioned for them to stop and be quiet and they did, but I think the presence of three humans was just too much for the hawk. He looked me straight in the eye (by this point I was easily within 20 feet), took a deep breath, gathered himself, opened his magnificent wings and whoosh let out his breath and glided off elsewhere in the forest to hunt. He was in heavy shade and I couldn't really get a very good picture of him; I would have had a fabulous shot as he lifted off but I was so mesmerized by the eye contact that I forgot I was holding a camera. This photo is probably the best of the six I took; there is another where you can see more of the hawk's body but it's too dark to be of much use.

Grumpy and Ms P relaxing by the tent
After the excitement of the hawk sighting died down a bit - for I truly was overwhelmed by how close I was able to approach before he took off - we cooked up a couple of steaks on our portable grill, boiled some corn, fixed some 'taters, opened some more beer and settled in for the evening in front of our campfire to wait for our friends to arrive. Once they showed up and had set up their trailer on the site across from us we all gathered around our fire and just chilled out. The time got away from us: we could not believe it was after 1AM when we finally went to bed. The rest of the weekend there was a fire restriction (7PM to 10PM only) so I'm extra glad we had one going that night when our friends arrived.

And that was Day One of the annual trek to Awenda. Still to come: hours at the beach, soapstone carvings, and an extraordinary "chipmunk buffet" that you won't want to miss. Day Two will be posted tomorrow.


  1. It wasn't too bad following the fire restrictions due to the drought conditions. And there was one happy side effect of the lack of water: fewer mosquitoes!

    1. I have found out that those giant flying leg factories that were all over the place this weekend were male mosquitoes. I had absolutely no idea. They don't sting but they're really just ugly and annoying.

  2. Love the pileated woodpecker footage.

    1. Thanks, Ronna. I stopped filming at that point to change back to a point-and-click mode so I could get one shot...but he flew away just as I pushed the shutter release. Maddening! And I don't know why he stopped emitting his cry the moment I started to film him and I never heard it again. He was around us all weekend: his tree-thumping was unmistakable.

  3. I have to say, having a nice campfire waiting for us after the battle with traffic on the 400 was the highlight, setting up is always the worst part but the fire and a cooler was worth waiting for!

    1. And thank goodness the restriction didn't start until the next night! That fire would have been out as you were just arriving. That would have been really sad.


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