This morning the spirit of our Camino across France was still alive. We woke early in an effort to get some of our kilometers done before the worst of the heat hit. As we sat on a bench in the town square, enjoying a cup of strong coffee and a freshly baked muffin, we watched as a large storm cloud gathered on the horizon.
The well-marked trail out of town took us past a Boulangerie, which in true French fashion was baking a batch of baguettes, among other treats. The side of the bakery was an open screen wall, and the mouthwatering smell of freshly baking bread followed us down the street and into the municipal park.
We passed a row of RVs in the overnight camping area, a playground, and then we circled around a small pond, with the surrounding trees and homes reflected in its smooth waters. We were delighted to see another pair of Yellow-headed Blackbirds nesting in the cattails around the pond's edges. There were three Killdeer chasing each other across the lawn, their piercing complaints carrying through the quiet morning, along with the soothing sounds of Mourning Doves.
We followed the main road out of town, then turned down a grassy track and crossed a small stream on a brand new cedar footbridge with metal railings. From there it was back out into the wide open fields. We were very grateful to have cloud cover for the first hour, with gently spitting rain for refreshment.
As we made our way through early morning fields we could hear the mournful sound of cows mooing in the distance. The sweet smell of wildflowers mixed with the scent of the cows, reminding us very strongly of the smells and sounds along the Via Podiensis in France.
Although we spent quite a bit of time today walking among cow pastures, we also passed many dark green soy fields, their leaves waving gently in the slight breeze. After spending a few days walking through this agricultural mosaic, we've noticed that soy fields seem to harbour Western Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Killdeer, among other birds.
By around 10:30 our beautiful rain cloud, with its wonderfully refreshing breeze, had sadly moved on. As the sun came out and turned the world to a sauna we sought shelter in a hay shed at the side of the trail. As I sat on one of the bales of hay to cool off we noticed a lone raccoon sitting up on the rafters, looking down on us with an adorably worried expression. A little farther along the rafter was a large stick nest, which we speculated might have belonged to an owl.
We enjoyed a stretch of soft, dark earth trail, which we were grateful wasn't mud, and then turned onto a bright, white gravel road. We were passed repeatedly by a large truck that must have been hauling something up and down the road. Although the driver made an effort to slow down each time he passed us, we were pretty much enveloped by dust clouds nonetheless.
Around noon the heat had reached the mid 30's, and there was no breeze. We stopped under the shade of a small stand of trees to watch a herd of curious cows. We could hear them splashing and sloshing in a small pond nearby. As we watched 5 or 6 cows would wade knee deep into the pond and stand there, swishing their udders back and forth in the water. After a few minutes they would head slowly up into the shade of the trees to rejoin the herd, and the next 5 or 6 cows would take their turn in the water. I was having serious cow envy watching them cool off!
We followed a grassy track which had a bench (sadly situated in full sun) and several information plaques from the Trans Canada Trail. As we made our way along we were passed by two teenagers on ATVs who we later learned were helping their father mow a hay field.
As we've been walking through the intensively cultivated landscape we've been surprised at the abundance and variety of wildflowers along the edges of the fields and gravel roads. The light pinks, bright yellows, whites, and many shades of purple are subtle and very beautiful. For the first time today we spotted some intricate orange wood lily blooms to add to the mix.
After the flower lined track we had a hard five kilometers on shadeless gravel roads in the extreme heat. We were much relieved when we came to the turnoff for the St. Malo Provincial Park, where the trail became a grassy path under a corridor of oak and aspen trees. The temperature difference was incredible!
We wove our way through the forested trails of the park to the office and then back to our campsite, where we just sat in the shade for a bit trying to cool off. We did laundry and poured cold water from our bucket over ourselves, but even just sitting in the shade felt too hot.
St. Malo Provincial Park is a large greenspace located about an hour's drive south of Winnipeg in the small community of St. Malo. St. Malo was founded in an area that was once covered by aspen/oak forest and tallgrass prairie which supported abundant wildlife, and remnants of this landscape can still be seen along the Trans Canada Trail within the park.
The parish of St. Malo was founded in 1878 and became part of the Rat River Settlement. In 1958, due to growing concerns about water supply in the area, the Rat River dam was built by the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration to create the St. Malo reservoir. The provincial park was later established around this reservoir, and now features two large sandy beaches along its shores.
At the Main Beach a large treed park features dozens of picnic tables and shelters, three separate playgrounds, an ice cream shop that usually operates out of an old red trolley car (sadly it was closed during our visit), a mini-golf course, an amphitheater, and the Barefoot Cafe (also closed, sadly). This gorgeous park is a popular spot for families to spend the day at the beach or to go camping in one of its many treed campsites.
Once we cooled off a bit we explored the park, walking under the trees at the edge of the very busy beach. We followed the Trans Canada Trail out of the park and along a paved road to the outskirts of St. Malo. There we stopped at the Convenience Store for a large ice cream before wandering over to a large monument of two White-tailed Deer.
The plaque on this roadside attraction indicated that it commemorates the volunteer assistance provided by the residents of St. Malo in the 'first ever' large scale urban deer relocation between 1985 and 1988. During this period 283 White-tailed Deer were captured and moved from the city of Winnipeg to the St. Malo Wildlife Management Area. Also acknowledged are the contributions of the St. Malo District Wildlife Association and area residents who helped establish the Rat River and St. Malo wildlife reserves. It was heartening to read about the collaboration and conservation efforts of local residents and management agencies to help wildlife in the midst of this highly modified landscape.
We made our way back across the highway and passed under an impressive wooden entrance gate and then a second metal archway leading in to the St. Malo Grotto, which is also known as Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and Shrine. At the top of the riverbank stands a simple white and blue Roman Catholic chapel.
A forested stairway leads down the steep river embankment with the stations of the cross placed along it. At the bottom of the hill is a grove of trees with rows of wooden benches placed among them, facing the chapel above. Half way up the hill is a stone grotto with a statue of the Madonna standing below a crucifix. The site was constructed in 1896, and is modeled after the grotto in Lourdes, France, where the blessed Virgin Mary is said to have made an appearance in 1858.
It was an incredibly peaceful place, cool, shady, and calming. The site also includes taps of water that have been blessed. I would have like to hear the congregation singing in the open air, under the tree canopy.
As the sun began to sink towards the horizon we made our way back to the campground. An American Redstart was still singing loudly in the shrubs beside the tent. The evening air was very warm so we didn't put the fly on the tent, and we fell asleep watching the stars in the sky above.