Exploring Hecla Island

It’s been a quiet week here at Lake Wobegone Winnipeg. (I’ve always wanted to start a post like that.)

Seriously, this little island is rich in cultural history and has wolves on it, but we’re not finding much we can do because: we’re not golfing, the lake is flooded so no beach, and mosquitoes turn the woods into a scary place.

Tracy walks each morning to look for birds, but he’s thwarted by women pushing strollers and yacking. I don’t want to stay covered in bug spray, so I ride my bike sometimes, but there’s not much to see on the two flat roads that run up the island.

Plus, as of yesterday, thunderstorms have been rolling over, so we’ve stayed close to the campsite. You know when the storm is near because Banjo crouches in the narrow space by Tracy’s side of the bed.

We have worked at exploring, though.

Riding to Old Hecla

The historic town of Hecla is about a 20-minute bike ride down the island’s coast, and it consists of the usual interesting buildings with plaques: a rec hall that’s been turned into a heritage museum, the old school, and church, and general store.

The town survived and grew through fishing, fish exporting, and tourism, and one locally born fisherman (plus his wife who raised five kids) led the way in making the area into a thriving town and pulling in visitors.

We read the signs about how fishing boats were improved throughout the decades and which bands played at the community center where everyone danced. What pulled us in, though, was a sign for smoked fish at the general store (it’s been rebuilt beside the site of the historic one). Tracy walked out with a paper bag with two whole smoked fish in it, which he threw in his bike basket for happy hour eating that night in the tent.

They’re goldeye fish, and we ate one while playing Brewopoly (can’t believe I’ve won twice at this game). All the fake money now smells like fish. Totally worth it.

Guided Hike

My only other successful foray here was a guided hike that I’d seen listed on flyers around the campground. That evening, I sprayed myself with non-Deet bug spray and rode my bike about 20 minutes down a dirt road used as access for private lake cottages, until I arrived at the advertised trail head. It took me as long as stopping to rest my bike on the trail sign to realize I’d made a big mistake re: mosquitoes. I should have used Deet.

I was the only one there, walking around in circles fast enough to keep the mosquitos in a swarm behind me, except for one car. I waited for the folks in the car to get out and then asked if they were leading the hike. Yep! and Yep I was the only attendee. Yay for a private guided tour!

Except, as soon as the two young women stepped out, they sprayed each other generously with a huge cloud of Deet, then pulled their socks up over their pants and their shirts up over their ears and generally did everything to keep the bugs away, and they weren’t bashful about it one bit. So, I pulled out my head net and secured it under my underarms and across my chest and back, and we bravely went forth into the woods.

As I could gather during our close-to-a-jog hike to keep the mosquitos behind us, these young ladies are (l-r) a park interpreter with a masters in aquatic ecology (or something close) and her aide, an indigenous young woman who was happy to tell me about the ways her people continue to follow tradition in the area. I couldn’t have asked for two better guides. Fast walkers and fast talkers with lots to tell me and lots of questions about what I think of Canada.

The interpreter had a backpack full of preserved animal parts, and the one that I was drawn to was the moose leg and hoof.

  • Did you know that moose have two dew claws above each hoof, and that joint bends so they can walk both on their hooves and on the dew claws, which helps them through marshes and deeper water?
  • Did you know that the moose population has been declining quickly since the 1990s, mostly because more deer have moved into their habitat—bringing disease?
  • Did you know that black bears prey on moose newborns?
  • Did you know that bull moose’s large antlers help them hear better, and the ones with the largest hear cows calling when they’re in heat, so they end up mating first? Plus, cows are attracted to bulls with the largest antlers anyway (duh!).
  • Did you know I am now even more fascinated by moose?

I really want to get back in these woods so I can spy some of the many animals that live on this island.

But our Deet sprays in a direct wet jet instead of a misty cloud, and that wet jet I am especially fearful of. But: the mosquitoes. They’ve even begun to bother Banjo, who has dug a hole in the woods right at our campsite so she’s deep down with brush covering her up.

I took this a half hour ago while walking Banjo at sunrise. I dressed so only the tips of my fingers show plus the front of my face, and while in the woods I pull my hair over my face as much as I can. Still, the mosquitoes get up my sleeves and under my eyeglasses and into my ears and, most annoying to me, in my eyebrows. I’d just walked out of the woods to the lesser-infested road when I took this shot, so there’s no swarm over my head, just two showing in the picture.

Believe me, I am happy to stay in the trailer (or the tent when it’s not storming) and knit the rest of our time here, despite there being more to see.

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