The Living Forest
Old Bill, skilled tracker of the wilds, deduced unerringly from a crushed-down pile of brush and boughs, that there had recently passed two fugitive Indians who, although they had axe and knife, ate their food raw. The suspense increases in remarkable story.
BUSINESS & INVESTMENTS
ABOUT midnight we were awakened by a thunder storm that came racing across country and struck us with suuh foree that its wind rolled our canoe over and over. toward the very edge of the rock. had not he old hunter seized it in time and called us to help hold it. it would have gone over the cliff and been dashed to pieces. 1' hen c struggled back with it snil in the lretichttig rain we turned it hott.'nt up ant ttcd it to a t ret', as well as anchortng it w tb several Storuig `ur packs betteat h it .i~i: n. e crawled under and
I. r U[[~&~ &~U UUUtI UILU ried t~ t~p tn ur s~aking wet clothes. But when the md abated, the old woodsman built a fire and stripped. Next morning we discovered that the old man had s~~nt a wakeful hour or two in the drying f ur the~. When we thanked him, he said: \[[` boys. r:t~ iv 0' bein' happy is to help the
V~pent part of the morning in opening and airing and surtrung our ;~.tcks to dry them thoroughly before we .`ntured again on our way. While waiting for our things lrv we went Off in search of berries. Our canoe and i.:nc :~rott'cted by a screen of evergreen trees, no: be seen from the river. Though we failed to find any twrr~es, old Bill made a thrilling discovery, and he fully 1: au an hour silently examining the scene of it. \fea:~hile Lincoln and I did our best to read what had but all we saw was a mattress of brush that c ked as it some ar~e creature had lain upon it-maybe a cou::, of bears or a moose At last the old hunter - a: cr:' , " ` i up and asked: What do you make of it, my boys?" • Noti':ng." I replied, and Lincoln answered: "I'll give • What a pity `tie you can't see anythin'. My boys, this is the most interestin' story I've read for many a day." Really!" Lincoln exclaimed. • Tell us." I asked. 1)ay~ ago two men slept here," the old hunter ex c~a:mei. `but though they had an axe an' a knife, they are thei food raw, evidently because they dared not cook it lest the smoke of their fire be seen by enemies from wriorn they Were rrvin' to escape. But the two men who slept here were not white men. They were Indians But how can you tell all that?" I doubted. • Si: down, my sons. an' I'll tell you a little about a:~:n In :railin' the first thing to consider is what made the `rail, man or beast? If man. was he Indian, white man cr ha~t'hreed? If the tracks were made by a white man. •he :railin' is simple. The first thing the trailer is to iearn why me man is travellin'. Is he huntjn'? Is he proepecm;n'? Is he fishin'? Is he travellin'? Is he fleein'? I.; he lost Or is he makin' mischief? Those are the first :~ues:ions an Ir.dian trailer'll try to answer. If the white man WSs huntin'. th' Indian would see signs of it. The hi'-~ man would he followin' a game trail. Or he would head:n' for a game region. Or he would be settin' traps or snares, an' his o:er-night camps would tell much about
his plans My boys, these men were not here for the purpose o' huntin'. If the white man was prospectin', he would be headin' not for game, hut for utcroppings o' mineral coloration on Trky~ares of hills or mountains. zrav~11y river benches an' bars -car~ :end themselves to placer minin Or he would he wanderin' here an' there all over rocky country, rreakin' twigs as he went, in order not to lose his trail, an' he'd he pulin aside moss an' leaves an' ver''~rr~in' stones with his prospec tors pick. Boys, these men were not r~re for the purpose o' prospectin'. Neither were they lost, for they were exper~enced wr,orlsmen who ::`iid not he lost beside a gieat river, Neither were they fishin' because `he~r food was overed with feathers an leaves No:th~r were they makin' mischief: instead o' that, they were act~aIIy rlee:n' from it, and no doubt traveiir as fast as caution would let em
But, Bill, you said the men who slept here were In dians and yet you've been talking of white men," said Lincoln. True, my boy, but be patient an' listen to me an' I'll explain the difference between the way a white man travels an' the way an Indian travels. Then you'll see for yourselves that the men who slept here were Indians. "If the men who made the tracks were hunters, fisher men, prospectors, travellers or lost men, then the trailer would trail on sight an' without precaution. As he hurried along, he'd be readin' the signs an' listenin' for gun shots or choppin' or shoutin' or talkin'. But if the men were makin' mischief, or fleein' from justice, then the trailer would use his utmost caution an' advance as if danger were always just a few paces ahead, lest he be trapped by the men he was pursuin'. "The first thing the trailer would want to know would be how old was the trail. When that was settled, he'd know better what to expect, an' could be in readiness for it. The next thing the trailer would want to find out would be, for what point were th' outlaws headin'? That settled, he would have won half the battle. But if the trailer found th' outlaws had no definite point in view, he'd then be up against it, as he'd never know what to expect, or when trouble might be brewin'. Thus, everythin' he'd read would regulate the trailer's speed o' travel. For if the trail was fresh, the pursuer'd run the risk o' bein' trapped by th' outlaws circlin' to watch whether their trail was bein' followed. "If the trail was but a few hours old, the trailer would approach with great caution, an' greater caution still when nearin' th' outlaws. For then the trailer would trail the men just as he'd trail a moose. The trailer would then circle occasionally, especially if th' outlaws were about to camp. He'd do it, too, in the hope o' headin' them off an' takin' them by surprise from the farther side. The trailer would even advance on his hands an' knees to watch, an' retire without th' outlaws knowin' they'd been observed. But even before the trailer would come upon th' outlaws, he'd know how they were armed, whether with firearms or bows an' "But, Bill, how do you know that the men that camped here were not armed with guns?" I interrupted, as I waved a hand toward the brush mattress. "A little reasonin', my boy, would tell me that, with out even such a sign as this," the old hunter replied, as he held up a shaving. "This is willow bark, shaved from a
willow wand, the size used for arrows, an' shaved too with a sharp knife. Besides, reason tells me that the party from which these two men escaped would never let them get hold o' firearms. Over there is the very stick which they used to snare the very partridge that wore those feathers you see on the ground before you. "The reason I said they had an axe an' a knife is because the brush of this bed was cut with an axe, an' the willow shavin's were cut with a knife, as you can plainly see for yourselves. An' the reason I said they were
Indizns b because they were usin' bows an' arro;s as well as a partridge snare. Their bed, as you see, is shorter than white men generally use, because Indians more often curl up when sleepin' than white men do. Also the bed's laid on risin' ground, when most white men lay their beds in hollows. For they so often imagine a hollow is warmest; whereas an Indian when he makes his bed counts on rain fallin' or snow meltin' an' drainin' away from it. "That reminds me, my boys, that th' Indians o' the Plains often use grass or willows as a favorite mattress, while th' Indians who hunt in The Barren Grounds are such a shiftless crowd that they sleep much as animals do. For when moss is not at hand, they'll lie upon rocks or make use o' any old place for a bed. But the Strong Woods Indians are better woodsmen, an' generally use evergreen brush, an' often take care to make themselves comfortable beds. Moreover, they're wise enough not to camp beneath a big dead tree, or a large tree with dead branches lest they be crushed during a stormy night. However, my sons, I'm makin' a guess that the men who slept here were Indians. So now let's be movin' along, an' then we'll soon learn whether I'm right or wrong." T HE day had turned cold. The wind swinging to the north, made Bill Hill worry over our delay, and he remarked: "Winter comes so suddenly in this country that I'm afraid the first snow flurry-an' for that matter the first ice, too-isn't far away. It's most important that we should cover every mile we can by paddle before the comm o' the freeze-up. Because it's much easier to make a big day's travel by canoe than it is on snowshoes. If we only had deerskins we could make a sail. Then when a fair wind offered we could cover more miles in a single day under sail than we could in two days with our paddles. But there's one thing we ought to pray for, an' that is. when th' ice does overtake us that it'll find us in a good huntin' region, as we'll then have to camp for a long time before we can gather all that'll be needed to make our winter clothin' an' our sleds an' snowshoes for winter travel. I hope, too, that we'll fall in with another band o' deer before the snow comes. The great herds o' Barren Ground caribou travel south, seekin' shelter o' the woods at this time o' the year. If we could fall in with such a herd we would find it easy to secure all the skins we need. an' I won't be surprised if we do." "How large were the biggest herds you've ever seen?'
e the biggest herds you've ever seen?" I asked the old hunter, "Sometimes the herds are so large that the deer are countless, But perhaps you may get some idea of their numbers if I tell you that once I saw the steady passin' of a herd so vast that it took hours to pass us. They were goin' by in thousands. just like the great herds o' buffalo that used to roam the prairies years ago." About noon we got under way once more, and soon came to water that was so swift that though we paddled hard, we made little headway. So Bill decided we would go ashore and haul the canoe with our deerskin tracking line. Fastening the line first to the centre of a forward thwart. then passing it forward a couple of feet, the old voyageur looped it round the canoe, about. three feet from the bow. The li.ne was so ad justed that when it was drawn taut the strain came exactly amid the gun wales. The other end of the line was
formed into a loop, and back of it a short branch line was secured, which also ended in a loop.
When all was in readiness, Bill slipped his head and one shoulder through the end loop; likewise I took the second loop while Link in the canoe used his paddle to keep it off shore. Then we set off at a brisk walk along the river bank. In places the current was so strong that though Link was kneeling in the stern, it required all his strength and skill to keep the canoe from swerving round, while Bill and I, leaning far forward, tugged hard upon the line and made the best of our way along the rugged bank. Sometimes we would be wading waist-deep across an inlet; sometimes climbing high up the bank to clear our line of bushes that grew along the water’s edge; sometimes, too, making our way among the branches of a tree that leaned over the swift river.
It was exceedingly hard work, requiring much care, otherwise we might at any moment have lost our footing and tumbled into the swirling waters.
All went well for several hours, then just as we were rounding a point about which the water rushed with unusual" force, we felt an extra hard tug upon the line, and glancing round saw that Link had lost control of the canoe, as the powerful current had forced the bow out stream.
Every second the canoe was swerving farther round. There was nothing to do but release the craft or it would capsize. Instantly casting off our loops we let go the line.
“Let ’er swing round,” Bill shouted to Lincoln, as we rushed back along the bank in the hope of rendering aid. The canoe, swinging about, drifted broadside down stream, while Link was backing water to bring it ashore. All was now going well until the unexpected happened.
The sinking line allowed one of its loops to catch upon a submerged rock, and thus, when the line ran taut, the canoe was jerked abcut with such force that Lincoln lost his balance and fell overboard. Instantly the old man’s shirt was thrown upon the shore and there was a splash in the river, but the incident happened so near the bank that it wasn’t long before the old woodsman had landed both the canoeist and the canoe. It all ended in hearty laughter—especially when the old gentleman insisted on Lincoln wearing his shirt until his own was dry.
Luckily the canoe had not shipped any water, so everything was dry except Link and his rescuer.
A F'TER paddling for an hour or two, we were warned by floating foam that another cataract was not far away. Later, on landing at a suitable place on the north side of the river, where we could portage our canoe and outfit round the rapids, the old hunter cautioned us to wait while he first inspected the place. The surrounding trees were a perfect glory of autumnal coloring.
“Remember, my boys, we needn’t look for trouble behind us, for I’m sure it’s now travellin’ in front of us. So while paddlin’, I want you to keep a sharp lookout for signs of a canoe, or of a camp, or of men walkin’ along the bank. The first men we’re likely to encounter—if they’re still alive—are the two Indians whose camp we discovered this mornin’.” Then he changed his mind, saying; “Come, boys, help me examine this place for signs of man. But if you find any tracks, don’t step on ’em. It’s a likely place for a canoe to land to make the portage. The bank’s not so steep nor the trees so dense as on the southern shore. An’ the two Indians would, of course, pass here unless they had previously rafted themselves across the river.”
So we set to work at once and a few minutes later, the old woodsman made his first discovery.
“What do you make o’ that mark there?” he asked.
We studied it for a while and though rain had softened its edges, it looked to me as if it had been made by the turning over of a very big canoe. Apparently the end of the overturned gunwales, at the bow or stern, had dug deep in the soil. That is what I told him.
“Good. You’re right. They lifted the canoe out of the water bottom side down, then carried it here an’ turned it over, bottom side up. Then they lifted it high an’ rested its gunwales on the shoulders o’ four men, who then carried it over the portage. Now both of you try an’ find a mark made by th’ other end of the canoe. But first reason the thing out. Consider the way they landed. The way they carried up the canoe. The way they turned it over. An’ the way they’d carry it off. Also examine more carefully that mark in the earth. Then decide the direction in which you should search.”
We did so, and found in the grass farther up the bank that another square hole had been made in the ground.
“Now pace the distance between the two holes, an’ you’ll learn the size of the canoe. If it’s about thirty two feet, it’ll mean a thirty-six foot canoe.”
Old Bill was right.
“Now, my boys, we’ve settled that those marks were made by a six-fathom canoe, probably belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The next thing to learn is what kind o’ men composed the crew; and why they were travellin’ along this river. Let us now walk slowly over the portage in the hope o’ findin’ further signs of ’em. Separate a little, one on either side o’ me, so we ll cover more ground. You follow a little behind me, as I’ll understand better the way they would likely travel.” Though it was easy to follow the trail, for it appeared as if many trips had been made in portaging a heavy cargo around the rapids, the grass and bushes being much trodden down, we saw no definite signs until we neared the other end of the portage and began to descend the slope toward the upper river near the head of the rapids.
“A tree cut here!” exclaimed Lincoln.
“Yes, a dead one, cut for firewood,” the old man replied: “an’ judgin' from the marks, it was done with a three-an’-a-half pound ‘choppin' axe’—the kind a hunter wouldn’t carry.”
“There’s another stump,” I pointed.
“Yes, to supply brush for their beds,” Bill explained. Then we came upon the ashes and burnt logs of a former camp fire, and two mattresses of brush, around which remained a few sticks that had served as tent pegs. A little to one side we noticed another fire place but a much smaller one, as well as a third mattress of brush. After the old hunter made a careful inspection of the larger fire place, he remarked.
“Six white men camped here in rainy weather several weeks ago, but I can’t decide within a week or so of the date. At the smaller fire place two Indians spent a night some time after the white men had passed up the river.” “Bill, how on earth do you know all that?” I asked. “My boy, let’s start our fire, then we can discuss the subject while we’re cookin’ supper.”
And as the work progressed, the woodsman continued:
CONSIDER, for instance, the larger fire place. From the charred logs that remain you can see that the fire was built with the sticks lyin’ parallel. The forest Indian usually builds his fires tepee fashion. So the big fireplace bespeaks white men. The tent pegs, too, tell o’ white men. Th’ Indian wouldn’t be bothered with ’em. He’d merely cut a couple o’ poles an’ lay ’em inside the tent along the sodcloth. The use o’ tents suggests wet weather. The white men were probably usin’ fryin’ pans to do their cookin’, while th’ Indians were either cookin’ their food on the coals or on sticks, as you can plainly see by that burnt stick over there. An’ there, too is the very hole in the ground into which the thin end was thrust, to slant it over the fire.
“By the way, my sons, when an Indian’s trailin’ a man, he takes care to sleep in unlikely places, such as a depression in the middle of an open space, so as to run less risk o’ being seen, as his enemy’d naturally be suspicious of the more secluded an’ likely places. Then, too, the trailer’«! not make a fire even in winter time, as the choppin’ o’ wood, or the risin’ o’ smoke might attract attention. But if the trailer was trailin’ animals, he’d halt in a thicket to hide his camp. The fact that two Indians dared to light a fire here suggests that they knew their enemies had advanced far out o’ sight of ’em . . .”
‘ But, Bill, I don’t understand how the grass could be so trodden down if only the crew of one canoe had recently passed this way?” I enquired.
“My boy, you must remember that there must’ve been six men in that crew7, an’ they were portagin’ a very heavy cargo. An’ I won’t be surprised if we latter on learn that it was composed o’ sacks of gold. ’ “Then you think the miners have already passed this way?” Lincoln exclaimed w7ith sudden delight.
“No, my son. I believe that the white men who portaged over this trail were nothin’ but a gang o thieves. How many there were I don't yet know, but probably six. I do know7 that they're a slovenly crowd an mighty poor woodsmen, judgin' from their axe work, an what’s left of their camp.”
After supper, while I was grinding down my finger nails w7ith a bit of sandstone, Lincoln went to gather dry grass with which to stuff his shirt to help dry it. Then old Bill and I set out to collect fire wood, and on our return we found Link all excitement. He declared he had heard someone shouting to attract his attention. Greatly surprised, w7e listened for perhaps five minutes and hearing nothing unusual, we began to think Lincoln had been mistaken, when suddenly over the water came the distant cry of :
“Hoyie! . . . hoyie! . . hoyie!”
“My boy, that’s not a man,” smiled the old hunter, “it's a loon. An' if we went down to the bank I'm sure we'd see the loon that’s makin’ the noise. But Link, you’re actin’ as if you're afraid o’ somethin’. A great man never lacks grit. Besides, why fear anythin’? Even death can only overtake us once . . . an’ it’s going to overtake us anyway ... so even then there’s no usekickin’ up a fuss about it.”
The following morning, after giving our canoe its daily re-gumming, we resumed paddling and made good progress About noon Bill noticed something swimming ahead. At first he could not make it out, but on drawing nearer we saw that it was a Canada lynx swimming from an Island to the shore. As the hunter drew his bow, Link begged for a shot, so while we headed and steadied the canoe, he tried his skill. Twice he missed, the arrows skipping and skin nung far over the water. “Take a steadier aim, my boy,” Bill cautioned.
The next arrow struck the lynx in the neck. As we drew closer to the brute. Link sent another arrow into its body.
After a momentary struggle the beast turned over and floated motionlessly Driving the canoe alongside. Bill was cautiously examining it when suddenly it came to life, reached up, and catching its claws upon the gunwale, leaped aboard between the old woodsman and Lincoln.
Drawing his knife, Bill lunged at the snarling beast; but the animal was so full of fight that it dodged the knife and struck at the hunter. Again lunging at the brute. Bill not only knocked it down, but mortally wounded the beast and it soon expired.
While we boys were helping the old woodsman cook lunch,I commented on the lynx's ability as a swimmer, and Bill replied;
“Yes, my boy, the lynx is a fine swimmer, an’ notwithstandin’ that it's a land animal.
I'll back it against th’ otter or the beaver for speed in surface swimmin'. But. of course, it couldn't compete with them in underwater work. As you see. it has big feet an' when chased it seems to leap through the water at great speed. But I’ve never known it to take to divin’. It seems to hate to get its head wet.
Therefore, when it leaps into water it makes a great splash as it strikes on its belly, an' though it has but a stub of a tail, it can turn like a flash in water. Its
turn like a flash in water. Its little tail, as you may’ve noticed, is usually cocked. But if wounded, down it goes like the tail of a wounded deer. The lynx has an almost noiseless tread, bein’ as careful a walker as a cat, an' when branches brush against its fur, the hunter can detect no sound. When pursued on land it travels fairly fast, not by ordinary runnin’, but by leapin’. an' it finds no trouble in goin’ over fallen timber at a single bound. In the woods a wolf or a dog rarely ever catches a lynx because it’ll take to a tree. But in th’ open where a dog or a wolf has a chance to wind the lynx before it gains refuge, its chances of escape are greatly lessened.
“ When it tries for a tree, it’ll go up eight or ten feet in a single bound, then take to a branch where it’ll lie down an' try to frighten its enemy away by endless hissin’. The lynx has wonderful eyes that are very expressive o’ fear an’ anger, as you no doubt noticed a little while ago. When roused, its eyes contain an intensely vicious gleam, an' it seems to be tryin’ to hypnotize its enemy with its steady, blinkless stare. The lynx’ll spring quite a long distance from one tree to another, that is, from ’an upper branch to a lower one. Or it’ll leap down fifteen or twenty feet from a branch to the ground, an’ always land on its feet.
’ Its food is principally rabbits an’ birds an’ though it’ll never unprovoked attack man, it’ll sometimes attack deer or young caribou. It’s a great rover an’ will migrate in summer or winter if food runs short. One rarely ever sees a lynx drinkin’; in that way it’s different from the fox, but when a lynx does drink, it laps the water like a cat. ,
'Durin' the matin’ season, in March, the lynx’ll choose a spot where it’ll come, time an’ time again, to eatemaul by the hour, especially if the moon’s shinin’. The young, from one to five, are born in June, an’ if taken in hand when a few weeks old, make most interestin’ pets. The lynx isn’t as frightened o’ human bein’s as most other wild animals are. It never attacks man unless cornered or trapped; nevertheless it’s a good fighter. It attacks by strikin’ an’ scratchin', an’ when it seizes hold of its prey, it’ll bite viciously, suckin’ blood as it chews away. Though its sense o’ smell's not as keen as that of some other animals, it’s very fond o’ certain scents, such as bergamot, oil of aniseed, eau de Cologne, an’ castoreum; the latter is especially attractive to the lynx. Yet it hunts mostly by sight, an' does most of its huntin’ by night.
“The coat of the lynx forms a valuable fur, but in spring, when the snow is thawin’, its value is greatly
lessened. At that time, too, the lynx seems to make a great fuss over get tin’ its feet wet and is given to moanin’ an cryin' like a child. In soft snow the prints of its hind feet are long an' large, somewhat suggestin’ those of a bear, while the prints of its forefeet are quite round.”
" IMIAT afternoon we saw a number of caribou swimming A across the river, but they were too far off for us to overtake them, and upon reaching the shore they soon vanished among the trees. Toward evening we passed a
marshy inlet on the north shore, where in the distance we saw a number of beaver lodges; and later we entered an island-dotted lake and camped upon its southern shore.
The following day was uneventful, but the day after we were favored with a stern wind and the weather being mild and sunless, we all took off our shirt and rigging them between sticks, hoisted them to answer as sails. All day long we scurried away to the tune of gurgling waters and lapping waves. Even until midnight the wind drove us along, but at last we again came to white waters, and camped on the north shore.
In the morning, while I was gathering wood for our breakfast fire, I discovered an old camping site, and decided to do a little investigating before I called the others. The ashes and charred stick ends suggested that the fire had been laid like the one Bill claimed was made by Indians. The brush mattress was much like the one they had made, and two slender, firescorched sticks suggested they had been used for broiling meat, and made me believe the spot had been occupied by the same two men who the old hunter claimed were two Indians trying to avoid the other party of the big canoe. And when Bill examined the spot, he thought so, too, but found something I had overlooked, and that was a
had overlooked, and that was a little piece of leather. While eating our breakfast he remarked about the leather:
‘‘My boys, this bit o’ skin is from the raw-hide of a beaver, an’ from the way it has been cut, it seems to me someone’s been cuttin’ a string for a bow. Beaver skin makes a good bow string because moisture doesn’t affect it the same as it does the skin or sinew o’ most other animals. Th’ Eskimoes an’ th’ Indians of the Mackenzie River an’ Great Slave Lake prefer to use sinew for their bowstrings, though the Beaver Indians of the Liard River use beaver skin. But I don’t think th’ Indians that cut this skin were Beaver Indians. I believe they were Indians from the south o’ here who were merely makin’ use o’ the best material they could find for their bow strings. This bit of leather makes me all the more sure that the men were Indians.”
While portaging our stuff, Bill found several pieces of stone which proved to be hornblende, a mineral which is used by the Hudson’s Bay Company at many of their posts for the purpose of sharpening knives and other instruments requiring an extra keen edge; and the old hunter assured us it was about equal to the imported Turkey oil-stone. The discovery elated him, for he knew that by using fish-oil as a lubricant he could grind a very sharp edge on his knife, and it certainly needed it, as he had had nothing but sandstone for that purpose.
All day the east wind continued to blow, and we made such headway that we reached Caribou Lake that afternoon. Before it began to rain we were encamped upon the southern shore. During the night, however, the wind changed, and when sleep left me for a little while, I looked up to find the heavens were ablaze with a beautiful display of Northern lights. It must have lasted many hours, for off and on I fell asleep, then I would wake again and every time I looked up it was still aflare.
At dawn we found that a beautiful transformation had taken place. The whole landscape was bathed in a mysterious haze that softened every outline, and instead of the usual sombre masses of evergreens, the trees were enrobed in lustrous shades of pearly gray. When the sun appeared, its warm light sparkled upon the tips of the tallest trees, then rising higher, its long slanting rays touched the heavily coated hoarfrost upon drooping twigs and bending blades until the whole valley was a glistening mass of dazzling splendor. It was an enchanting scene, and we were loath to turn aside to resume our way. During the morning Bill pointed out one of Mr.
Perkins’ old camping grounds, but we did not halt there. That afternoon snow flurries came and went, some even clouding our view of the river; later a violent wind overtook us, and we went ashore to make our evening camp.
VX7HAT with days of heavy paddling, poling and * ’ tracking against head winds and swift currents, our progress was slow; yet other days of slack waters and favorable winds saw us making good speed. But we did not discover any more signs either of the two Indians or the white men of the big canoe. While some days were uneventful, others contained incidents of intense interest. Such was the evening of the day we camped high above the water in a sheltered spot where plenty of fuel was at hand, on the north side of the river. At sunset, while gathering wood, the old hunter climbed a little hill to get a better view of the surrounding country, and no sooner had he gained the top than he excitedly beckoned to us, as he shouted:
“La Foule! . . La Foule! . . Oh, boys! . . . here they come!”
Without waiting for an explanation we ran breathlessly up to the summit and there we beheld a sight I will never forget. Far away at the foot of distant rolling hills along the northern horizon there was a “barrens” fully two miles wide, and across that treeless tract a great living, moving mass was slowly making its way southward. Never had I dreamed of seeing such an endless mass of living creatures. I was too thrilled to speak, but Lincoln breathlessly exclaimed:
“What on earth are they?”
“They’re caribou . . . Barren Ground caribou,” smiled the old woodsman. “A sight worth seein’ . . . isn’t it? . . . an’ one that perhaps you’ll never see again!”
Truly it was an amazing sight. The valley through which the great herd was passing led straight toward us, and Bill assured us the deer would pass between our hill and the hill to the westward. He also explained that from the lay of the land, and the narrowness of the neighboring part of the river, it must be a regular crossing place for those particular deer on their spring and fall migrations from south to north, and north to south again. Though we stood watching them, the deer were still a long way off.
“We’d better move our camp up here, out of the way o’ the deer; but we’ll have to bank our fire an’ stow our canoe under that ledge o’ rock. Otherwise it might be smashed by th’ overrunnin’ mass o’ caribou.”
After supper we rigged up a strong high stage upon which to store our packs, and placed our canoe in safety beneath over-hanging rock. We remained awake several hours in expectation of the arrival of La Foule—The Throng—as the great bands of Barren Ground caribou are called in the Northland. Though we had covered our fire, the darkness of the night had long since blotted out all sight of the deer; yet we waited anxiously for their coming, and meanwhile persuaded the old hunter to tell us more about the ways of caribou.
“My boys, there’re three kinds o’ caribou in Canada. The largest are the mountain caribou livin’ in the Rockies west o’ the Mackenzie River. They’ve the finest horns an’ the darkest coats—in fact they’re often called black caribou. The woodland caribou, though they’re next in size, have the smallest horns, an’ they live in The Strong Woods Country. The smallest in size are the Barren Ground caribou, that inhabit the great prairie country between Hudson Bay an’ the Mackenzie River, from th’ Arctic Coast on the north, to th’ edge o’ the Great Northern Forest on the south.”
“Then has this herd nearly reached its southern limit?” I asked.
“Yes, an’ it’s a very unusual thing that they come so far south before turnin’ east or west to spend the winter. But as I was sayin’, though the Barren Ground Caribou are the smallest caribou, their horns though slender are very large. Every spring, that is, when the snow starts to thaw an’ th’ ice is still hard enough to bear them, the Barren Ground caribou leave the woods an’ head north for the Barren Grounds. The first part o’ their trip is through ‘The Border Lands’ where the big trees end, an' the next part is through ‘The Land o’ Little Sticks’ where the trees have dwindled in size to the height of a man. The herds, so far, are composed o’ both male an’ female deer; but when nearin’ th’ edge of the Barren Grounds, the next stage of their northern journey, the females separate from the males an’ continue across the Barren Grounds to spend the summer with their newly born calves, as far north as th’ Arctic coast. Meanwhile most o’ the males spend the summer in the Land o' Little Sticks.
“Think how remarkable it is the way nature provides for the protection of the young. About the time the males an’ females separate the cows lose their scent. That is, they leave no scent on their trail. Yet all the while the males continue to shed their scent from a gland between the toes of the hind feet. Thus nearly all the wolves and wolverines that’ve been followin’ the great trail are now diverted from the tracks of the females to
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The L i v i i g Forest
those of the males. So in that way every year thousands upon thousands ol calves are saved from slaughter. While the Barren Grounds may average about five hundred miles from south to north, ‘The Land 0’ Little Sticks’ averages about fifty miles from south to north, an’ say a thousand miles from east to west.
“It’s while enjoyin’ their spring feedin’ that their new horns appear, and their old coats are shed an’ their new horns an’ new coats begin to grow. The bulls remain in The Land o’ Little Sticks until nearly autumn, or when the berries ripen; then they travel a number 0’ miles into the Barren Grounds to meet the returnin’ cows, with their calves. Then the bulls, turnin’ about, accompany the cows across The Land 0’ Little Sticks, an’ across The Border Lands on into the edge of The Strong Woods Country, where they all once more spend the winter. Remember, boys, I’m only speakin’ in a general way of some of the great herds; as there are many bulls an’ cows scattered all over the Barren Grounds at all times o’ the year, even as far north as the Arctic coast.
“Not bein’ familiar with this section of The Strong Woods Country, I can’t say as to their habits here. But to the westward the caribou generally reach the Big Lakes Country—Great Bear Lake, Great Slave Lake, an’ Athabasca Lake—about the middle of October. That’s their matin’ season an’ it lasts about a month.
“About the first o’ November, almost as regular as though they carried a calendar, the herds are tryin’ to cross the smaller lakes, which, however, are not yet properly frozen. So for about ten days or ) two weeks they may be held up. 'After ¡ which, the Fort Rae deer—I’m still speakin’ of the western herds—the Fort Rae deer head for the Horn Mountains, which are really nothin’ but high tablelands. Meanwhile the Great Bear Lake deerhavebeen headin’for the highlands on the east side of the Mackenzie River. An’ th’ Athabasca, an’ Fond du Lac deer have been headin’ for the highlands on th’ east side of those lakes. In severe weather they may travel fifty to a hundred miles without stoppin’. In December an’ January th’ old bulls drop their horns. The young bulls drop theirs a little later. The females don’t drop their horns until spring or until they separate from the bulls. The horns of the bulls are usually dropped when the bulls are playin’ together, sparrin’ one another, or when they’re rubbin’ them against trees, bushes or rocks. The reason Horn mountains were given that name was that they used to be simply littered with caribou horns.
“The spread o’ the caribou’s feet is so large for the size of its body that it can cross ice that’s too thin to support the weight 0’ a man. An’ the same thing
applies to crusted snow an’ swampy ground. Naturally such a spread 0’ foot’s a great help in swimmin’, an’ in water the caribou’s a swift traveller. The male foot print’s more pointed than the female. They walk, trot an’ gallop, but only when frightened do they gallop. An’ then, more often, only for a short distance, before settlin’ down into a steady, straightaway trot an’ walk, trot an’ walk, that may cover fifty miles before they stop. In the matin’ season they’re constantly callin’; O oo, o-oo, o-oo, an’ then every now an’ again givin’ a long drawn out call like the noise caused by workin’ the handle of a wooden pump when it’s in need o’ primin’. Neither call is a bellow, for both sound more like noises made by pigs.
“The great migration of the Barren Ground caribou is divided into many big herds an’ a lot o’ smaller bands. Each band or herd has its favorite crossin’ place at the various lakes an’ rivers that cross its trail. Caribou have remarkably keen sense o’ scent; their sight L excellent, an’ their hearin’ good. Usually when they scent man they leap into the air, wheel round and are off at a gallop, which they maintain for a short distance, then ettlin’ down to a steady trot, they cover five or six miles before they halt. But the distance they cover is largely affected by the strength o’ the scent they’ve discovered. When migratin’ they eat, then travel, then eat an’ travel again, passin’ an’ repassin' one another the whole time. But when not migratin’ they usually feed at night, an’ for two or three hours; then they lie down; again they eat for two or three hours, an’ then lie down once more. In the day time they’ll find some open or sunny spot to air themselves an’ play an’ gambol about; an’ they take much delight, too, in playfully hornin’ one another.
“When a great herd’s travellin’, as you’ll soon learn, they can be heard a long distance. For what with their gruntin’ an’ strikin’ o’ horns against horns, as well as the clickin’ o’ their hoofs—which sounds much as if they were cornin’ loose—a great band o’ caribou makes a considerable racket. When big herds are travellin’ through the hills, as you'll soon see, the main band prefers to follow the lower valley, while the smaller bands’ll pass along the hills on either side, or even go up on top as if they wanted to get a better view. Now, my boys, I think I’ve told you a good deal more than you'll remember about caribou; but I hope you’ll try an’ observe somethin’ I’ve overlooked when you see the great herd in the mornin’.”
Although we listened for a while after Bill had stopped talking, wé discovered no sign of deer. Weary from a hard day’s work, we presently lay down and soon fell asleep.
To be Continúen