We finished off the summer with a few weeks canoeing in Wabakimi. It was a good trip, worthy of its own post eventually. But today it’s time to share one specific incident that occurred – my very first hornet sting. It’s kind of embarrassing but also, in hindsight, kind of hilarious. I try to teach my students that they should be able to chuckle at themselves, so why not share this story with the internet?
We have to back up a couple of days though because, frankly, I blame the hornet incident on the bears. You see, two days prior we had been stymied by a non-existent portage so had turned around and pitched camp early in the afternoon. Our afternoon reading session was interrupted by some crashing on the shore a few hundred metres away.
This was bear number 1. Jack deep-growled and woofed, we waved our arms and hollered, and the bear did as it should and bolted back into the woods. Given that it had acted appropriately, that it was nearing dinner time, and that we were all set up we decided there was no reason to move camp. All was fine until just shy of midnight when we woke to Jack on high alert in the tent, doing the same woofing and growling. Crap. Conor got out and blew a whistle… nothing. Jack continues in guard dog mode. Conor gets out again, this time to shoot off a bear banger. These are LOUD and BRIGHT. Still nothing. This is probably really good – most likely the bear wandered by but is long gone. However, there’s a tiny chance that it’s very, very bad if the banger didn’t scare the bear away. Jack is totally freaked at this point, and there’s no way we’re going to roll over and go back to sleep, so we decide to load ourselves and our food packs into the canoe, and spend an hour floating around in front of the campsite. It was actually quite neat – it was a beautiful, calm, clear night, with shooting stars and beavers swimming all around us. After an hour we hadn’t heard anything so came ashore again and went to sleep.
The next day we decided to camp on an island. Yes, I know, bears can swim, but if there are no bears when you land they’re less likely to come wandering through. We landed on the low end of the island, unloaded the canoe, wandered around, and then started heading uphill to the campsite. I was grabbing a pack so was a bit behind when all chaos breaks lose with Conor hollering and Jack barking and a bear clambering up a tree. Oooookay guess we’re not staying on this island after all! Quickly load up the canoe while making sure a very agitated Jack stays close and we’re back on the water. As we launch we hear our pal come down from the tree and figure he’s about to make a hasty retreat back to the mainland. We start to paddle around to get a look at him swimming, but then he turns around and comes back to where he was…and he is NOT interested in giving up this island. He’s a big boy, staring at us, huffing, stomping his feet… no worries bud, you can keep this island!
Off we go again. This time we’re looking for not only an island, but an island that’s small enough for us to paddle around and confirm it as ursine-free before we land. A few km later we find a small island that is mostly bedrock with a sparse covering of trees. It had been burned a few years ago, so the trees were young and there was quite a bit of dead wood. We circle-toured it in the canoe, hollering the whole time, and confirmed a lack of large mammals. Also not much shade, but beggars can’t be choosers. Landed, had an uneventful evening, and a solid night’s sleep.
The next morning I trotted off to take care of business…. managed to find a nice patch of soil with some luscious moss alongside. Got myself a sturdy stick and started digging a hole. As I dug I yelled out to Conor that the soil was very interesting because it was full of woody debris. We hypothesized that it was because of all the burned trees, and this was one of the first stages in soil development. Logical, right?
Dropped the drawers, popped a squat…and then SUDDEN UNFATHOMABLE PAIN IN THE WORST POSSIBLE PLACE.
It was not an interesting stage in soil development. It was a freakin’ ground hornet nest. My saving grace was that it was a cool morning so they were still dopey, which is why they didn’t come out immediately, and only one actually stung me. But trust me, that one knew where to hit for maximum effect.
Needless to say I shall never forget my first hornet sting. And you see, I blame the bears because without them we wouldn’t have been on that rock to begin with.
Two days later another one got me on the ankle on a portage. It was swollen for about 3 days.
A day or two after that it was Conor’s turn when he was rinsing dishes in the lake and a pike torpedoed out of the depths and chomped his finger. Not deep wounds but 3 slices and he was bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t make this stuff up.
Then the wildlife decided to back off and we felt much less targeted for the second half of the trip.