The Living Forest
Discussing the author of The Living Forest recently, Charles G. D. Roberts remarked that Arthur Heming is making Canadian literary history. He heartily will be endorsed by those who have followed this tremendous story.
"LA FOULE! La Foule!" shouted the old hunter to awaken us. The sky was again ablaze with the northern lights. The surrounding country was as clearly visible as though a full moon were shining. Yet the moon was only in its first quarter and had long since gone to bed. As we stepped to the brow of the hill a wonderful scene lay before us. Down the treeless valley came marching the vast army of deer. So innumerable was the great herd that no sign of its farther end could be seen; yet already the advance guard was passing through the defile at the foot of our hill. Soon they would be passing in even greater multitude. They must have numbered thousands upon thousands.
While marching down the valley the deer were packed so closely together that they were constantly rubbing sides and striking horns, and the pressure of the multitude behind drove those in front in a steady, endless procession that pressed through the defile, andthat,too, at a jogtrot. Like a great stream they poured down to the river, entered the water and swam across without an instant’s pause. As the outer edges of the herd passed among the scattered trees bordering the valley, the horns struck upon the branches and made a noise not unlike that of cracked bells being struck with wooden sticks; and now from the river came endless grunting, as though the stream were filled with swine, and up from the rocky places along the shore rose continuously the sound of clattering hoofs. Another sound we heard when we drew nearer the deer was that strange clicking noise caused by the muscular action of the hoofs in walking, a sound peculiar to caribou.
"Wonderful! . . . just like a dream!” excitedly exclaimed Lincoln
"Yes . . a dream come true!” I thrilled.
"We’ll have lots o' skins now . . . for our Winter clothin'," smiled old Bill. ‘‘But before we get to work I must make a ten foot spear.”
Already daylight had arrived, so dowm the other side of the hill we went in search of a suitable dry spruce, and when found, the old hunter lost no time in removing its bark, whittling it into shape and cutting a groove in the butt, into which the knife handle was to be bound with a thong.
"Now. boys, for a little breakfast, then for the canóe, an’ then for the river,” Bill enthused, “because once we start to kill, there'll be a heap to do before we stop work again.”
"But won't our fire’s smoke frighten the deer?” I asked.
“Not now. old man; it’d take a heap more’n that to stampede such a herd. Why, I’ve wralked right slap through the centre of a band, an’ all they did was to part in front o’ me an’ close in again behind me. An’ all the time I was passin’ through the herd, the deer were within ten or twenty paces of me.”
"Is this the largest herd you’ve ever seen?" I asked.
“No, my son. Once when I was travelin' through the Barren Grounds, week after week, I was passin’ great herds, an’ for twenty-eight days o’ steady paddlin’ I was never out o’ sight o’ caribou. In those days there must’ve been millions of ’em.”
By the time breakfast w-as over, dawn had passed up the valley, and the sun had appeared in an enchanting cloud of mist that was rising off the river. As we descended the hill armed with our bows, arrows and spears, the -whole valley seemed alive with marching deer. Launching our canoe the old wroodsman knelt in the bow. Link in the middle and I in the stern. Paddling toward the mass of swimming deer, their ranks opened; then as we entered the gap they closed in behind us and thus we were completely surrounded. But the caribou paid no more attention to us than had they been domesticca'tîe. I could see that Link
was fairly trembling with excitement, and I knew I was too. Bill now laid his spear beside him in readiness for attack, and turning his head, said to us:
“All right now . . . straight ahead. An’ every time I point my paddle or spear at a certain deer, don’t wait for me to speak, but paddle hard for that particular deer. An’ when I stop paddlin’ to pick up my spear, you boys keep on drivin’ the canoe ahead so that I can do the spearin’.”
EXCITEDLY we boys braced ourselves, gripped our paddles anew and were ready for violent action. Then Bill pointed with his paddle and instantly we three plunged our paddles into the stream, and working with all our might, the canoe rushed right in among the swimming caribou. Seizing his spear, the old hunter began thrusting one-handed jabs in such a dexterous way that with every stroke he drove his keen-edged blade deep into the small of a deer’s back. As each animal was struck, it suddenly jumped forward, making a strange blowing sound, then without further struggle turned upon its side and floated down stream.
I had hoped to try my hand at spearing, but in a few minutes old Bill had secured more than enough for our needs. He had killed twenty-one. Turning about, we faced the swimming herd, which giving way for us, allowed us to pass through to the open river. Then paddling hither and thither, we made haste to gather together the floating carcasses and tow them ashore. “How buoyant they are,” I remarked.
“Yes, my boy, that’s because o’ th’ air in the hair that I told you about. Once when I was spearin’ deer with some o’ my Indian friends they tied together the carcasses, put some brush on top to keep their moccasins dry, an’ gettin’ aboard, they used the dead mass as a raft on which they poled themselves up stream to camp.”
On gaining the shore we three turned in with a will to skin and dress our harvest, Bill, of course, undertaking the hardest and most skilful part of the work with his steel knife, while Link and I pottered around with our bone blades, doing the best we could to help remove the skins. True it was a messy job, and many a time Link, straightening up, turned his head away, and with a frown
and uplifted nose would outstretch his greasy, bloody fingers, as though he did not want anyone to come in contact with them. It made Bill laugh.
And to own the truth, I was all bent on spearing deer until I saw the old hunter kill so many of those beautiful, gentle creatures. It was then my heart sank within me, especially when the deer would sigh in that heartrending way when the knife plunged into them. Bill said the Indians called that sigh: “The passing of the spirit.” It seemed like murder to me.
But the dressing of those deerwas not only a messy task, it was a big one,too; yet we madegood progress. Link and I would sometimes take hold of a skin and pull hard, while old Bill would slash away; and when night came we were so tired that the good old hunter treated us to a nice soft, new brush bed. And from our camp fire on the hill we watched the last of the great herd pass through the valley. I will remember it as long as I live. It was then, too, that we discovered a number of wolves following in the wake of the caribou, evidently for the purpose of pulling down stragglers.
THE next few days were spent in stretching some of the skins and scraping the mack and hair from them. When we were ready to travel again, we had such a load of skins that we had to make a little raft to carry them, and which we towed behind the canoe.
Soon after embarking that morning the old hunter noticed a burnt spot on the north shore, and headed the canoe toward it to investigate. When we landed we were astonished at what we saw. It proved to be a camping place, with several brush mattresses lying near ashes and charred wood, and the burnt ground suggested that while the campers were asleep, a north-west wind had blown sparks away from the beds, but toward the water, where they had set fire to dry moss and burnt to cinders a sixfathom birchbark canoe. When Bill searched the spot he not only showed us bits of charred gunwales and thwarts, but also a small part of the birchbark stern from below the waterline, where it had become water-logged, and thus survived the fire.
On further examination he also found that a number of large, dry trees had been felled, as though for the purpose of building a raft, and there were marks and chips and timber ends upon the river bank that told where the building of the raft had taken place. Besides, he found a few empty tins formerly containing food—luxuries from the city that no woodsman would portage for his own use.
“It’s evident, my boys, that whoever these white men were, they had a heavy load to transport; otherwise they wouldn’t have given themselves the trouble o’ trackin’ such a ponderous raft all the rest o’ the way up this river. The loss o’ their canoe means that instead o’ takin’ days, their trip’ll now take weeks, unless they cache their cargo in order to travel light. An’ now I won’t be a bit surprised if we overtake ’em before they strike the railroad—even though they have a few week’s start of us.”
Sometimes we made slow headway on account of towing our little raft against headwinds that occasionally drove us ashore, and altogether delayed us several days. One day, however, as good fortune would have it, a fair wind favored us, and during that afternoon we entered Wolverine Lake. Turning southward, we followed the eastern shore until it was time to camp. After that we spent tw-o days paddling along the eastern shore; then, as a large island stood in the direction our old voyageur wanted to go, he headed for it. On reaching it we landed and selected a camping place on the southern side. It was on top of a steep rise of ground frpm which a good view could be had of a number of other islands.
After supper the moon came up over the hills and mist rose over the lake; and it was with contentment we sat upon our bed beside our fire and chatted happily
of many things. We could hear the gentle lapping of the water along the sandy beach, and feel an occasional breath of wind from the southeast. Suddenly out of the stillness of the night we heard a strange, harsh sound, something between the bark of a large dog and the short, regular croaking of a giant bullfrog. It came from a point along the shore a little west of us, but on our side of the island. Again it sounded:
“Oo-ah, Oo-ah, Oo-ah."
“What’s that?” Link whispered.
“It’s a bull moose callin’ a cow,” the old hunter answered, “an’ maybe we can bring it this way.”
Hurriedly seizing a piece of birchbark, he twisted it into the form of a megaphone about eighteen inches long, and tied it with a thong. Standing in the shadow of the bushes on the brow of the little cliff, he drew a long breath, placed the birchbark horn to his lips and uttered a most unearthly noise that made gooseflesh run up and down my back.
The sound he made was in imitation of the rising and falling inflection of the long drawn bellow that a cow moose makes during the mating season. Then we listened for an answer, and soon we heard the short, guttural grunt of the bull’s reply:
Every little while we heard it again, and soon learned from the sound that the bull was steadily advancing toward us. I was thrilled, and could see Link was, too; both of us were all eagerness to catch sight of the big brute.
AFTER an interval of several minutes, old Bill again imitated the call of a cow, and before he had lowered his horn we heard a great splashing of water along the northern shore, but several hundred yards east of us. Immediately afterwards, from the same direction, we heard the loud grunting of another bull. Instantly the bull on our southern shore replied louder than before, and a few moments later, he could be heard trotting along the southern beach toward us. Presently we saw a startling, massive form in the shape of a gray silhouette that steadily grew larger and darker as it came through the mist. It grew into a dark, brownish gray, swept along the shore, and stopping suddenly in front of us, began slashing furiously a clump of bushes with its great horns. The hoarse challenge of the second bull—on the northern side of the point— rang out again, and was answered defiantly by the southern bull before us. Then we could hear the northern bull break into a trot as it followed the beach round the end of the point.
A few moments later we saw them lunge at each other, and heard the clashing of their immense, palmated horns, as the big brutes came together like enormous, battering rams. The fight had begun. Spellbound, we crouched staring at the battle. Separating, the bulls drew back, stood apart a moment, then suddenly plunged forward, smashing together in head-on collision that made the air ring with the clanging of their horns; upon their becoming locked, each bull strove with straining, swollen neck to force the other down upon his knees.
Soon realizing the uselessness of spending strength that way—for they seemed evenly matched—the northern bull suddenly freed his horns, drew back a little, and while watching his chance for a sudden lunge, stood— not pawing the ground as would a bull of domestic breed, but—with his hind feet firmly planted apart, then jumped the forepart of his body rapidly up and down, and with stiffened forelegs drove his hoofs hard upon the ground. That performance took place to the accompaniment of a series of snorts and guttural bellows. Suddenly it ceased. In a couple of leaps the great animal charged forward. With bristling neck and lowered head he hurled his full weight of over a thousand pounds against his antagonist, who received the impact as best he could with outspread legs and swollen, stiffened neck.
With all their might the two strove again to force each other down. Again they failed. Suddenly unlocking horns, each tried to lunge at the other’s unprotected side and deliver a fatal thrust. Both expressed their rage by loud and continuous snorting, grunting and bellowing.
Again and again they charged; but after battling for what seemed more than a quarter of an hour, neither had gained a decisive advantage. The southern bull, however, showed signs of weakening—he was the bull that bellowed loudest.
The northern bull, evidently the stronger, finding the other off guard for a moment, lurched forward and not only knocked the southern bull down, but leaped into the air to strike his enemy a smashing bow with his stiffened forelegs. The wounded moose, however, still rolling from the force of his fall, rolled completely over, and suddenly staggering to his feet, plunged into the lake and disappeared in the mist.
The victor, making no effort to follow, drew himself together, uttered a nasal, grunting sound that echoed
far over the water, strode with slow and stately movements down along the beach, and was soon lost in the vapory veil.
After discussing the battle the old hunter said:
“My boys, when travelin’ overland we’ll pass through good moose country, an’ it’s important you should know how to hunt ’em in case I’m not with you. For unless you know their habits, there’ll be mighty little chance of your killin’ moose. So put another stick on the fire an’ listen to me:
“The young are born in May, an’ the calves, generally two, follow their mother until they’re more than a year old. By that time the horns o’ the young bull have already appeared, but only as knobs. The bull doesn’t grow a full set of antlers until he’s three years old. They usually shed ’em in January or February. Sometimes a bull’s horns may measure seventy inches from tip to tip. You’ve seen what huge beasts they are—but sometimes they stand as high as seven feet at the withers, an’ weigh twelve hundred pounds. The range o’ the moose’s confined to a small area, five, ten or perhaps fifteen miles, an’ more often a great deal less, coverin’ only a river or lake valley an’ the surroundin’ hills. In summer moose spend most o’ their time in low country where they’re much given to wadin’ among lily pads» not only for the purpose o’ feedin’ upon the roots o’ those plants, but also to free themselves from flies. Moose spend their winters in the denser woods of the hillsides, an’ where, too, they’re often found in yards.”
“What’s a moose yard like?” asked Link.
“A moose yard’s usually composed of nothin’ more an’ a lot o’ criss-crossin’ tracks, like so many intersectin’ gutters, of a depth about equal to half the snow. But each gutter-like track’s marked with a series o’ footprints resemblin’ small post holes, about three feet apart, an’ three quarters the depth o’ the snow. For in milder regions than this the snow may fall to a depth o’ four or five feet. But in this part o’ the country eighteen inches is about the limit. When moose spend the winter in a certain grove o’ trees—though their tracks may only cover a few acres— the place is called a moose yard. The only reason moose spend the winter in such a spot is to avoid havin’ to travel through deep, untrodden snow. The surroundin’ trees an’ shrubbery afford ’em sufficient food in the way o’ browsin’ upon tender bark an’ twigs. The maple, birch, poplar an’ willow afford ’em their choicest winter food.”
“What’s the best way we boys could kill a moose?” I asked.
“V^OUR only way o’ securin’ 1 a moose, my boys, would be in case you get a chance to spear ’em as they swim, or shoot ’em with bow an’ arrow if they’re stalled in snow, or snare ’em with a powerful deerskin thong. I doubt, however, if you could paddle fast enough to overhaul ’em, unless the wind an’ current were in your favor. Your chance o’ shootin’ ’em with bow an’ arrows would be mighty slim. But there’d be a better chance o’ snarin’ ’em later in the season, when the snow would be deep beside their runway. An’ as you travelled farther south your chances would improve with th’ increasin’ depth of the snow.” “But if you were with us we might get some, wouldn’t we?” asked Link.
“Oh, yes, because when a hunter comes on moose tracks that are zig-zaggin’ about among the shrubbery an’ trees, where the branches show signs o’ havin’ been freshly cropped, he knows his chances o’ success are fairly good. But if he finds the foot prints wide apart an’ leadin’ in a fairly straight line, exceptin’ when curvin’ to right or left in order to travel in the direction o’ least resistance, the hunter realizes the moose isn’t bent on feedin’, but on travelin’, an’ in that case his chances o’ success are few. From the size, depth, an’ cleanness o’ their footprints, and other marks in the snow, from the height above an the distance beyond the trail that the twigs’ve been cropped, the hunter would not only learn how many deer there were, but he d also get a fair idea o’ their sex, ages, weights an’ sizes.
“Then again, if in followin’ a certain track the hunter finds a moose has been headin’ mostly up wind while it was feedin’, he’ll know that as soon as the deer has had enough to eat, it’ll turn in the direction o' the wind, then deliberately circle down wind, an’ finally come about close to its trail, where it’ll lie down to rest. So whether the animal’s feedin’ or restin’, the hunter’ll have to approach with great caution. For even though the moose is restin , it’ll have lain down in such a way that its senses o scent an’ hearin’ will warn it of an enemy approachin down wind: while its sense o’ sight will warn it of an enemy approachin’ up wind. So you see, my boys, unless the moose was actually asleep, the hunter d have to display great care an’ caution.
“For instance, if the wind was comin toward the hunter from the left, an’ if he believed from signs he d already seen that the moose was either lyin dow n or quietly feedin’, an’ also if he judged he w-as now within strikin’ distance, he'd circle to the right just as the moose did, but not down wind, as the moose did, but up wind, in order to approach nearer the deer. An he d continue to circle until he either cut a new part o' the moose s tra.l. or until he was in danger o' allowin’ the wind to carr\ his scent to the moose. On reachin' that point he d retrace his own track for a little way, an' then commence a new circle, but this time a smaller one.
“That’s th’ way he'd continue to work until he finally reached a point where he believed he’d find the deer. Then he'd approach up wind, with even greater caution, an’ in order not to cause the least noise, he d slip off his
snowshoes an’ stoopin’ low, advance silently until he’d spy the moose. Perhaps at first he’d only see as much as an ear or the tip of its noee. Then he’d watch it with silent patience to discover whether it was asleep or awake. Or whether it had heard him or not. If the moose has turned its ears in the hunter’s direction, the chances are it’s already alarmed, an' maybe makin’ ready for a sudden escape. But if its ears are movin' gently about in a careless way, it’s likely that though the moose’s awake, it hasn’t scented, seen or heard the hunter.
There, my boys, that’ll do for to-night, as it’s already gettin’ late, an' we ought to be turnin’ in."
NTEXT morning a strong south-easterly • wind was blowing, and there was such a sea running that it would have been dangerous to attempt traveling. So after breakfast we stretched some of the caribou skins and set to work dressing them in readiness for the making of our winter clothing and bedding. The wind storm lasting several days, gave us a chance to make good headway with our work. It was growing colder all the time, and as snow threatened we made a big wind break of brush to protect our camp, especially at night. The wind was still blowing strong on the morning of the third day since our landing on the island, and after collecting what wood we could about camp, Link and I portaged the canoe to the other side of the point, and then we paddled along the sheltered beach in search of more fuel.
When we had secured a good deal, we towed the wood back to a point opposite our camp, in order to carry it over to our fire. I was the last to leave the canoe, and rested the bow upon the beach so that it would remain secure while we carried the wood over to the fire. The warmth of the flames felt so good that Lincoln and I lingered quite a while watching the old hunter at work upon the skins before we thought of our own work, and then, when we did return in sight of the northern beach, my heart sank within me, and I breathlessly exclaimed: "Oh, Heavens! . . there goes our canoe!”
Then I shouted for Bill. I knew we were done for now, and when the old man saw what had happened, he just looked sad, shook his head and said:
"It's too late . . . there’s no chance in the world ... for even if we could swim that far, we couldn’t overhaul the canoe ... at the rate she’s driftin’.” Lincoln, too, was overwhelmed with despair. Occasionally I had imagined I was pretty much of a fool, but now I knew it was true. I was filled with shame and regret. Already the wind had driven our canoe many hundreds of yards from shore, and helplessly we stood there watching it growing smaller and smaller as it raced away to where dark leaden clouds met the dark leaden waters on the distant rim of the lake, and beyond which, perhaps twenty miles away, lay the far northwestern shore. Tired of standing, old Bill went back to his work upon the skins, but we boys sat upon the sand and silently and sadly watched our fast vanishing canoe drift entirely out of view with no possible hope of salvage.
. there’s no . it can’t be helped now . . . an’ anyway, we would’ve had to give her up pretty soon on account of the freeze-up,” the old hunter consoled.
I was so worried over the loss of our canoe that I had not noticed a snow flurry had already arrived; and when I joined Bill I meekly asked:
“How’ll we get off the island now?” “We’ll build a raft, my son, an’ when we find a good campin’ place on the mainland, we’ll stay there an’ continue our work while we’re waitin’ for the freeze-up. What with tannin’ skins, makin’ moccasins an’ winter clothin’, as well as snowshoes an’ sleds, we'll have plenty to keep us busy. An’ we had better start at once to build the raft, otherwise ice may overtake us any day an’ perhaps be too thick for us to navigate through it, an’ yet too thin for us to walk on it. In that case we might be held prisoners here for many a day.”
Banking our fire, we covered our packs with brush in case it snowed harder, and then we set off in search of logs. Armed with our bows and arrows, we followed the shore on the sheltered, or northern side, as that was the only side on which we could build our raft. Whenever we found any
suitable driftwood stranded on the bank, we rolled it into water and moored it with a thong. By noon we had found enough to answer our purpose. During the afternoon we towed all our logs to a little bay which was the nearest sheltered spot to our camp. By evening there were several inches of snow, and it was miserably cold work, especially on account of our clothing becoming wet. But the rough windbreak we made with green caribou skins kept us warm as we sat in the glow of the fire.
Next morning we made a fire on the northern beach so we could occasionally warm ourselves while at the wet work of building the raft. This time the old voyageur devised a better way of propelling the craft, as the lake was too deep for poling. The raft was made much in the same way as our first one, except that the centre log was a tree trunk with a long, upturned branch that Bill lashed to the traverse bars in such a way that the branch stood up about four feet above the raft, and thus afforded a convenient support against which to lash a mast. Roughly the raft measured about ten by twenty-five feet, and was therefore large enough and strong enough to carry sail. At the stern Bill lashed together some crossed poles to form a support for a steering sweep.
For a sweep the old hunter selected a straight, slender tree trunk about twenty feet long, with two thin forked roots, over which he stretched some deerskin to form a blade. Provided with a couple of long, slender poles with which to propel the craft in shallow water, we all got aboard and poled round the point to the beach in front of our camp. As the wind had now swung round in the direction of the nearest mainland, the old hunter thought we ought to start at once, in case the wind changed again or dropped.
“We’d better not even wait to eat,” he added.
So while he rigged a sail in readiness to hoist, we boys
loaded the raft. Upon green deerskins spread hair side up on the raft’s raised flooring of poles we piled our packs, and covering them with skins we lashed the pile securely. In a birchbark box filled with sand Bill buried live coals in order to keep a fire going in case the wind veered, or we were becalmed, and had to cook while on board. For the same purpose we had a supply of dry wood. When the mast was guyed with thongs and everything was in readiness, we poled out into the wind and Bill hauled aloft the horizontal boom to which was tied the two deerskins that formed our primitive sail, and away we drifted down the lake.
AT SUNSET the wind almost died, so we cooked and ate our supper as we slowly drifted along. Later we passed among some islands and finding one standing in our way we landed on it, but only to stretch our legs and gather a little more firewood. Poling around to the other side, we imagined we could see the mainland ahead of us, but the light was so dim Bill thought we had better not attempt to cross that night, as the wind might shift and carry us too far from shore. Mooring our raft to overhanging trees, we slept for several hours among our bundles and bales.
Some time before dawn I awoke. Lincoln was still asleep, but Bill was sitting up and we were sailing down the lake under a moonlit sky. I dozed again. Soon after dawn the old hunter called me to help pole the raft round a point of the mainland. The wind having once more shifted, now drove us farther along the eastern beach and headed us for the distant southern shore. Hoisting sail again, we drifted clear of little reedy bays and rocky ^ points. Headway was made until mid-afternoon, when we were becalmed for several hours. At twilight a friendly breeze gently drove us past a high rocky bluff and into a delightful little bay on the southern shore. The narrow rocky entrance and the inner tree-covered shore-line, so greatly pleased the old hunter that he poled for a little cove where a small creek ran into the beautiful little bay, and there we moored our raft for the night.
In the morning we not only found that the little bay afforded a secluded and charming camping place, but the surrounding country impressed the old woodsman as a good game region, and he decided to stay there and wait for the freeze-up. Ducks and geese and gulls and swans were swimming hither and thither, and sporting about the bay, or on the lake just beyond the narrows. Among the trees we erected a lean-to frame which we covered with deerskins, and in front of which we kindled a fire. An abundance of dry fallen trees lay among the rocks at the narrows, and were to be had as fuel by merely towing them across the bay. That night before we sat down to supper we had also stored our provisions and skins upon two stages, out of harm’s way.
“To-morrow, my boys, try for some ducks an’ geese with your bows an’ arrows. I’m going to tow over a pile o’ that dry wood because this bay’s so sheltered it may freeze over when hit by the first cold wave. Then we’d have to carry the wood all the way round the shore. Besides, there’s the skins to finish an’ the birch wood to get for the makin’ of our snowshoes an’ toboggans. After that I’ll lay out a fur path.”
“What’s a fur path?” asked Link.
“A fur path is what a trapper calls the trail along which he sets his line o’ traps an’ deadfalls for the catchin’ o’ fur bearin’ animals. It’ll take quite a bit o’ work, but you’ll like the job; an’ if you do your work well, you’ll have some fur to sell when you hit the tradin’ post. Perhaps enough to pay your way home.”
Link and I didn't have such luck shooting ducks and geese—we only bagged a drake, but we did have a lot of fun pegging away at them with our bows and arrows. It was certainly good practice. I was now getting to be a pretty good shot, but it was Link that hit the drake.
THAT night, while we were comfortably toasting ourselves before the fire, old Bill mused: “My boys, when in the livin’ forest always be careful o’ fire . . . or in a single day you may destroy a hundred years o’ the work of God.”
“Bill, this morning you were speaking about trapping. What kind of animals do you expect to catch around here?” Lincoln asked.
Continued on page 83
Dear Mr. McKenzie:
“l am moved to write to you now by my great admiration for Arthur Heming's 'The Living Forest.’ It seems to me unique—quite different from the work of the rest of us nature writers—and a permanent classic in our young Canadian literature. As for the illustrations, I think they are 'It’—both admirable art and sound natural history.
“I congratulate you on getting hold of such great stuff for your magazine—and I may say that I always read 'MacLean's' with keen interest and appreciation.’’
Continued from page 32
“Oh, we might count on some mink an’ marten, a fisher or two, a few foxes, a lot o’ muskrats, perhaps a wolf, a bear or two, an’ a number o’ beaver. There’s a beaver dam a little way up this creek. That means a beaver house somewhere near.”
MILDER weather greeted us next morning, and by noon we had a big heap of dry birch and spruce and pine, piled beside our camp. Most of the wood we gathered was fallen timber, but even the standing wood we took was easily uprooted from the little more than moss that covered the rocks upon which it stood. Then for several days we worked on our deerskins, and as soon as enough were in readiness, the cutting out and the sewing together of our hairy winter clothing began. Likewise we worked on smoketanned hairless skins for our moccasins and mittens. Deerskin caps were also made. True the cut and sewing of our hooded coats and hip-high leggings were rather crude, but when we tried on our new garments over our old clothes we felt we could stand any winter weather that might happen along. One morning at breakfast the old hunter complained: “I’m tired o’ scrapin’ an’ stretchin’ an’ tannin’ an’ sewin, an’ now that we’ve got our clothin’ in pretty good shape, I want a change o’ work. To-day let’s start layin’ out our trappin’ trail. To begin with, we must hunt for a place where rabbits are plentiful. For there we’re likely to find signs o’ foxes, lynx an’ wolves. The best region in which to set marten traps is a hilly district timbered with spruce an’ pine; but with little underbrush. In swampy places, or where there’re small creeks an’ little lakes: beaver, mink, muskrat, otter an’ fisher are usually found.”
On reaching the foot of the partially wooded hillside that stood to the south of our camp we came upon a perfect maze of rabbit runways, and there too we saw signs of foxes. A little later old Bill announced:
“There are lynx here, too, an’ I’m goin’ to set some snares for ’em.”
First he drove a stake into the ground, hung part of a duck upon it, and scattered a few feathers around. Then he cut a number of sticks about five feet long and an inch thick, driving them in the ground a couple of inches apart in the form of a circle about five feet across. Then he slanted them toward the centre, and thatched the little stockade with evergreen boughs. An opening of about ten inches was left on one side, and in this was set a deerskin snare attached to a strong tossing pole. The loop was placed just high enough for a lynx to conveniently push its head through. It was a fine looking trap, and when it was finished, we passed on to set other snares. At another likely place Bill asked us boys to set the next snare, as he said we ought to know how to set all kinds of snares and deadfalls, as well as be able to use a bow and arrow with skill if we intended to become hunters.
“Some Indians hunt lynx by callin’ ’em,” he further explained. “They imitate either its screechin’ or its whistlin’. For the lynx makes a queer kind o’ whistlin’ sound, but not many Indians can hunt ’em that way as it takes long practise to become a good caller.
“My sons,” he continued, “when travellin’ through a well timbered, swampy country o’ pine an’ spruce, you may chance to see either on the ground or in a tree, a larger animal than the mink or the marten. In fact, it’s even a little larger an’ heavier than the red fox, an’ if its coat’s a grizzly, dark brown, with a black tip to its fox-like tail, you may safely call it a fisher or a pékan. The fisher’s a very strong, active animal, the largest of the marten tribe, an’ he spends about half his time among the branches o’ the trees. He lives on flesh, fish or fowl, as well as on fruit, seeds an’ eggs.
“The young, usually two to four, are born in spring, often high up in a hollow tree. The fisher snarls, growls, whistles an’ sometimes makes a noise somewhat like a cryin’ child. His foot prints are a good deal like a mink’s, but of course very much larger, while th’ underside of
his foot is more hairy. He has an ungainly gait when walkin’, an’ every little while he’ll resort to a few long springs, then continue walkin’ again. He’s more active in a tree than even the red squirrel, so you can form some idea of his ability as a climber, an’ when he descends the trunk of a tree he comes down head first. He’s also a fair swimmer. The skin o’ the male’s larger than that o’ the female, though the latter’s fur is more often o’ greater value, as the hair’s much more silky. The fur o’ the female’s as fine a fur as you could wish to wear. But while the tail o’ the fisher’s very long, unusually long in comparison with its body, an’ though it’s quite bushy, it’s rather a scraggy tail an’ not o’ much beauty.”
CONTINUING our way through the forest we occasionally stopped to build a deadfall or set another snare. The old hunter fashioned the deadfalls like a three-sided stockade. A long, heavy timber whose butt was enclosed between the face of the opening and two posts, was kept in a raised position at one end by a combination of little sticks, on one of which was fastened the bait. The withdrawal of the bait would cause the timber or drop-log to fall upon the sill-log and crush the life out of the unfortunate animal caught therein. He built the deadfalls in various sizes to catch not only the fox, but the marten, the mink, the fisher, the otter, the hear, the wolf and the heaver. He used different kinds of bait such as fish and the flesh of ducks, geese and grouse. It took him four days to complete his fur path.
So while waiting for the freeze-up we had little time for anything but work, and every day we were busily engaged until bed-time. The season advanced so rapidly that we had to set about making our snow-shoes and toboggans without delay, in order that our outfit should be in readiness as soon as the swamps and rivers and lakes would be strongly frozen and the depth of the snow suitable for snowshoe travel.
Using a wooden club as a mallet with which to drive his knife through the wood, old Bill split several long birch sticks into slats about four inches wide and half an inch thick, of which he selected three for the building of a toboggan for himself. Before bending the slats into shape for the head of the sled, he shaved them thinner at that end, and tapered the outer edges of the two outside slats toward the tail end, so that while the sled measured about twelve inches across the widest part, the tail end measured eleven. Then again, from the widest part—where the second traverse bar was placed—he tapered the head so that at the curved tip it measured only eight inches. Then he marked where he would place the four traverse bars, one at each end, and two toward the centre, and accordingly he bored many holes—hut always in pairs— through the slats with a bone awl.
On the bottom sides of the slats he cut grooves across the wood connecting the pairs of holes, so that when the traverse bars were lashed on with deer sinew, the strain would come across the grain of the wood, and yet the sinews would lie beneath the surface of the wood, and thus be free from wear. After soaking the more tapered ends of the slats—the bow ends— he worked them over his knee until they were pliable enough to make the desired curve. Then he bound the four traverse bars into position, forced the prow into the proper curve and lashed it into place. The hauling loops—attached to thesecond traverse bar—and the lashing lines— attached to the three last bars, were next adjusted, and thus he built a strong, light, serviceable toboggan about seven feet in length. Later he made two more toboggans, each about six feet long, for Lincoln and me.
The old hunter also made our snowshoe frames of birch wood, and used thin caribou thongs for the mesh, which he soaked in water before lacing into place with the aid of a wooden needle having an eye in the middle, instead of at one end. Bill’s snowshoes were about five feet in length, while ours were about four.
To be Continued