Another season in the bush comes and goes. I think at some point this summer I spent my two thousandth night in a tent but I’ve never kept an exact count. Even up north before the big floods, we had some very impressive rain events.
Above: Big rain at our isolation heli-camp west of Fort MacMurry turns everything into a floating mess.
Of course all that extra water made for a bug season that could hardly be believed. In 40 years of being outside, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. Blackflies were the chief problem.
Above: Jon’s bicep gives a good indication of the hundreds of bites covering his whole body. They crawl under the clothes through even the tiniest opening and savage the blood. After the first big hatch, we lost half a dozen people to nausea from overdosing on blackfly “venom” In the middle picture, Lucas shows off his bites upon swollen bloody bites. In the bottom picture, the unstoppable and unflappable Leslie proudly shows her battle scars from the first day after the hatch.
Needless to say we had to change our tactics and we helicoptered in full-suit mesh bug suits to keep working. Even the bush dogs had to get flown out as they were all swelling to dangerous looking proportions.
Above: Modelling my bug jacket with my socks worn over the wrist to protect the gap between glove and shirt-cuff. The jackets were extremely hot to work in especially for the planters but it was a lesser of evils.
Above: Of course the weather did produce other things besides bugs. The best berry crop I’ve seen in years. For energy during the day I would take just a small lunch and eat fresh strawberries, saskatoons, raspberries, and blueberries by the quart. Here is a sample of a cutblock that was carpeted every square inch with strawberries. The bears were utterly indifferent to me as they feasted quite contentedly often right beside me.
Above: In a swamp I found two entangled sets of huge moose antlers. I don’t know if they got locked from fighting and then starved or perhaps they were trying to escape from the forest fire from the year before. A curious mystery in an otherwise burned out and unpleasant place.
Above: An artistic monument to the 2011 Red Earth Fire. We spent a month planting about 2 million trees in fire salvaged clearcuts. They are not the nicest places as the burnt horizons become depressing after a while but it is briefly interesting to watch the forest cycle begin fresh. I really noticed how biologically productive the burnt clearcuts are compared to the unburnt cuts.
Above: Some early colonisers. I often refer to northern Alberta as a “jungle” in the summer time. When you cut the forest down, the trees no longer monopolize the sun, moisture and nutrients. What replaces the trees after they are cut is a riot of lush plants that grows up to your neck in a single season. This picture looks like it could be Costa Rica but it’s really just what you get a few weeks after cutting down some forest.
Above: Not much left of this recent kill. Our first camp was the loudest place in the middle of nowhere. Firstly, the frogs were loud to the point of obnoxious, then the birds on top of that with the thrushes practising their symphonic runs in competition with the other myriad of birds. Not to be outdone were the trumpeter swans and loons whose all night howls seemed to set the wolves off into all night screaming matches. Half the camp put orders in for earplugs to sleep at night! The first few nights it was amazing to try and identify the dozens of sounds, but when you really need sleep after long days, it wears a little thin.
Above: Evening thunderstorm rolls past camp catching some evening light.