Northern Light

Chapter One

                        NORTHERN LIGHT

                              by

                    Doug & Birgit Martens

late one evening on the yukon river

HOW A SQUARE GETS AROUND

Of all the means of wilderness transportation possible the

canoe perhaps is still the simplest and best.

The backpacker swats bugs and scrapes through the brambles

bruising his shins, while the packer swats bugs and scrapes

through the brambles swearing at his horses.  ATVers and

snowmobilers snarl through the woodlands like a geneticist’s

bumblebee project gone terribly awry and wonder where the

animals are.  The jetboater worries about the depletion of

the world’s stock of buried vegetation while his wallet gets

sucked into the tank.  Then he wipes the spray of oil off his

face with his shirtsleeve and clanks his wrench aimlessly

against the engine block, muttering to himself about drifting

to shore and the long, hungry, unhappy walk back to what

passes these days for civilization.

The bush pilot floats over the scene with some of the

borrowed grace of the eagle, making fantastic time but

an awful racket and failing to fully appreciate the scents

and sounds and wonder of the three-dimensional carpet

sweeping by beneath him.

   The dog-musher offers some respite from the din of all

these in the winter.  But after the thaw, the canoe tops the

list for its ability to get in and out of remote country,

with a minimum of effort and a maximum of grace.

   This truth struck me after a thousand miles of hiking

through country much of which this pimpled youngster was

often warned against crossing alone.  Coming from

Saskatchewan, where I’d roamed the coulees and hills of the

South Saskatchewan River valley, the mountains impressed

me all the more!  With a headfull of overwritten

bear stories and a heart-full of anticipation for all

the wilderness held in store for me, I began backpacking

through the mountains of the southern Yukon, rifle always

ready for the drooling, “stop ’em or feed ’em” charge I was

sure to have to deal with.

   But that charge never came and I soon quit clinging so

tenaciously to my rifle, often preferring the heart-pounding

excitement of using my trigger-finger for releasing the

shutter of my nikon on a nearby sheep or moose or wolf or

bear.

   The most satisfying thing about backpacking the mountains

was the joy of realizing I had successfully forced my way

through some insuperable tangle of willow or alder and

managed to gain for myself a commanding view of the country

I’d battled and conquered.  But I still have trouble

forgetting a one-day hike made back a ways from a little

river I’d been traveling by more sensible means.  Taking a

short-cut home in the afternoon, I began negotiating with

several square miles of charred pick-up sticks, which someone

had dumped all over the mountainside for my personal

entertainment.  The charcoal on the toast was the lack of

animals seen that particular sunny day.  Presumably no living

things were dim-witted enough to make their home here or even

to pass through such a country on their way to someplace

else.  So much for hiking.

   Of course, this world is full of its admirers of

horseflesh.  And I cannot say my own soul is unmoved by the

creature who “with frenzied excitement … eats up the

ground.”  My experience with horseflesh goes back to the time

of my earliest temptations, when my mortal father, eager to

impart his considerable knowledge of the beast, taught me to

“let ’em know who’s boss!”  This presented no difficulty as I

soon realized they all knew good and well just exactly who

the boss was.

   The real trouble was, and still is to this day, I’ve

always had a problem staying atop the graceful things.  Of

all the ones who’ve tried to throw me, only one has been

consistently unsuccessful, and that one always succeeded too

by rearing over backwards in the hope of crushing my thorax

with his saddlehorn.  At least one other animal has reached

for this solution in dealing with me as her tormentor, re-

arranging my left knee and adversely affecting my hiking, but

thankfully leaving my paddling unscathed.

   Now please don’t get me wrong, the horse may well be one

of man’s greatest inventions and where, after all, is the

canoe who will float you safely and lovingly home through

darkness so dark that the treetops are discernable only from

the less-blackened sky itself?

   Even so, while working for a northern B.C. horseback

outfitter in 1982 and a Yukon one in “83 I worked my way

inevitably and fitfully to the firm resolve that horses are a

wonderful way of going places where there is no water.  Where

the sunlight bounces off the little waves of a reach of

backwater and the undercut pines sweep the swirls and eddies

of the river, “hond me me poddal, mon, and rrride proudlee

off on yorr wee ‘orse!”

   Nothing quite matches the feel of being swept along

effortlessly through great sweeps of aged spruce and pine,

dipping the paddle in a slow jay, perhaps, just to align the

craft for the next bend, drinking in the beauty and the peace

and always on the watch for a glimpse of moose, or wolf or

lynx or bear.

   And the camps I’ve enjoyed while canoeing wild rivers far

surpass the ones I’ve endured while back and horse-packing,

though, to be fair, it is possible to bring a great wash of

personal comforts to the camp with an obliging string of

animals.  Yet the time spent finding and saddling and packing

those same animals would often be better spent

roasting a salmon or a trout on the coals of an open fire in

front of a large canvas tent, your personal highway ever so

near and bubbling its music joyfully into the air, while the

wolf tells you of his lonesomeness and the tea water bubbles

over the dancing flames.

**********

SHEEP MOUNTAIN

     From my earliest days the sight of speeding antelope or

an eagle riding the thermal currents of an azure sky gave

this farmboy an inexplicable thrill.  Hikes in the riverhills

and around the farm never failed to produce enjoyment for me.

There was always something new to study out there, whether

furred or feathered or multi-legged or shelled.

     When not studying wildlife, and in my recesses at school

where that was impossible, I often entertained myself by re-

drawing the sketches of animal anatomy I found in the

encyclopedia.  A hawk with a broken wing once attracted my

deepest sympathy and I tried my best to help it recover.

Taming farm kittens was always fun, and Dad did his best to

turn his son into a cowboy, even going so far as to provide a

pony for his sixth? birthday.  This proved to be a bit of a

portent of things to come as I was thrown by it many times,

never fatally.

     Something changed forever though, when I was handed a

.177 caliber pellet gun for another birthday.  Wanting to see

an English sparrow up close I hunted many hours in the well-

treed garden behind the house.  In the dusk of the day I

found I was able to stalk very closely beneath the perched

birds, their form easily recognizable in the branches against

the darkening sky.  Close enough in fact, finally to hit one

and the bird tumbled lifelessly to the ground.  Dead bird,

excited kid!

     Proudly, I took the bird into the family room to show

off.  No one there was anywhere near as excited as I was.

     Later, a bounty per gopher tail sealed my fate as a

hunter, though the first gopher I killed with that pellet

rifle took way too long to die, distressing me greatly at the

time, but not so greatly as to halt me from my headlong

pursuit of wealth.

     And that is how I came to see wildlife as a source of

economic gain and then, when I learned from my hillbilly

hero, Terry Hiebert, that furs had great value, there was no

stopping me and the transition was complete.  Wildlife still

thrilled me and I was always glad to see animals in the wild,

but now I saw them more as an opportunity to improve my

riflery skills.  And then I fell in love with guns.

     Guns I gave me a feeling of power I had never before

experienced and there was a sort of romance in being able to

kill an animal on the run or make a very long shot.  And the

wood and steel felt so wonderful in the hand.

     Often my pursuits were frustrated and I searched for

more successful methods.  But many of the most successful

ones were illegal, and I grew to resent the game laws and

those who enforced them and justified my infractions with

“what gives them the right to interfere with my hunting?”

I saw myself as an integral part of nature, a kinsmen of

other predators like the coyote and the wolf, who knew

nothing of posted land or game laws and killed simply because

they were supposed to kill.

     My great love of nature, coupled with my enjoyment of

literature, inevitably brought me into contact with books by

Charles Sheldon and Andy Russell, who began to gently turn me

back to an interest in wildlife in its living form and

awakened me to the possibilities of earning my living through

the study and photography of wildlife and with that a new

awareness of the grand purpose behind game laws and closed

seasons.  Today conservation officers have my deep respect.

     And so, shortly after entering the Yukon in 1979 and

obtaining steady work, I found favour with the manager of

Hougen’s and walked out with a brand new, black-bodied Nikon

FM.  I was thrilled with my new acquisition and anxious to

try it out.

     At that time, Donny Jacobs mentioned a mountain in the

Kluane Park which supported a good population of Dall’s

sheep.  Needing no further coaxing, I arrived and began

glassing from the highway.  Immediately, I noticed white

spots up there against the rock, and excitedly commenced

climbing towards them, slowing my climbing as I neared the

area and finally crawling into view of…a white-painted

boulder!  Typical Yukon humour that, though today I was less

than amused by it!

     Hiking diagonally westward from there, I soon was

rewarded for my persistence with a view of the real thing.

A band of pure-white mountain ewes and lambs scampered for

higher ground and I followed, using my cowboy boots in ways

for which they were never designed.  The cliffs I clambered

around on that sunny day would have given my poor, distant,

worry-warted mother yet more warts, had she known of it.  But

in the end, I got what I was after, a portrait of a ewe and

lamb just beneath me and looking up as if in a contrived

pose, nearly filling the frame of my 50 mm lens!

     I was absolutely elated as I worked my way back down the

mountainside to the waiting truck!  This wildlife photography

was definitely for me. I felt no less excitement than I’d

gotten killing big game animals, perhaps much more!  The only

trade-offs were the lack of meat and the long wait to see the

“trophy”, now carefully housed within the body of my brand-

new Nikon.

     As soon as time and money permitted, I was back at the

base of Sheep Mountain for another go and a couple hours of

hard climbing brought me again into contact with the

beautiful white sheep of the northern mountains.

     This time it was a bachelor club of full curl rams that

I came upon.  The backdrop across and up the valley was

fantastic and I enjoyed some of the best sheep photography

I’ve ever come across.

     At one point a ram scratched himself on the cliff

beneath me and so close I could see broken white hairs flying

off his rump!  Another pair of rams presented a striking pose

as they looked back at me like a pair of surprised identical

twins.  One ram, apparently frightened, bolted across the

scree on a sheep trail above my position, but by and large,

these rams were amazingly tame.  Obviously I was not the

first visitor nor the first to burn film up here and it felt

a bit like cheating, this taking of “wildlife” pictures

within a national park like this, but the sheer enjoyment of

the occasion was a great salve for the false guilt of it all.

     Finally, as I started back down the mountain, my ears

picked up the unmistakable “crack” of two rams butting horn

and I groaned to think of the lost opportunity.  I was quite

aways down, now, and felt sure the clash was just a playful

one, and in fact, that one impact seems to have been the last

of it and I would have wasted my time hiking back.  Besides,

there was the problem with my left knee.

     The knee had been injured in the spring of that year

when the hackamore of the Morgan mare I was riding had

apparently bound up, causing the animal to think I was still

yanking back on the reins.  In desperation to escape the pain

she had reared over backwards, falling somewhat sideways and

pinning my left leg to the snow-covered ground with her

saddle.  I had immediately stood up at the time but there was

obviously some damage and now, as I worked my way down the

huge mountain, the chickens really came to roost inside that

left knee of mine.

     All my fellow weak-kneed souls understand that

descending a mountain or a flight of steps is the hard part.

The ascent for me had given no grief but now it was a

terrible exercise of the will to get back down.  Eventually

the knee became impossible to bend without great pain and I

actually had to back my way down the mountain, practically

crawling, just to keep that wretched leg straight.

     I began to wonder if I would make it on my own at all

but perserverance and anger did the trick and eventually I

swung open the left door of the four-wheel drive, and glad

this once at least for this benefit of man’s ingenuity, drove

off.

     The mountains of my life, whether physical or symbolic,

have always proved to be a test of my endurance and desire.

The physical ones of the Yukon usually present a vast tangle

of scrub birch and willow, or the like, at the base which

extends up the first thousand or two thousand feet with the

unspoken question forever there, “Just how badly do you want

what’s up there, sir?”.  The eventual reward only goes to the

most persistent who have earned the right to it.

     As to the symbolism of my still more difficult decent,

are we to understand that the fine things of life come at a

price, with severe payment sometimes demanded both before and

after enjoyment of the desired object?

*****************

HUNTING THE YUKON’S BIG SALMON RIVER

(1st trip)

Saturday Sept 20, 1980

  Paul Paquet, the late welder from Whitehorse, first told me

of the river in 1979.  He said it was a very mountainous,

very beautiful country with lots of animals.  “You’re sure to

get a moose there.”

   A year later, an old fifteen foot fiberglass canoe rode

atop the four wheel drive up the South Canol Road and arrived

at Quiet Lake, where it was loaded and boarded by a rather

inexperienced and under-confident young man.  Good-byes were

said to good friend Danny DeForrest and also a parting

thought, “I’ll survive if it kills me!”

   Today “Quiet Lake” appeared to be a misnomer, for the

strong headwind and driving rain resulted in covering only

three or four miles that evening.  The nylon tent was

established a ways back from the shore and the wind and, glad

for the shelter, he went to sleep, first wondering awhile if

he’d really be able to handle this trip, all alone, with no

real priors and the Yukon winter soon on its way.

     Some snow fell during the night, which did nothing for

my confidence in my timing for this trip.  The mountaintops

were covered in white but the lower altitudes soon melted

off.  The truck was gone and the only way back was on through

this lake and down the river.  The lake travel this morning

was much easier on the constitution as the wind was down.

Soon I reached the end of Quiet Lake and studied the sandy

shore and the few log cabins there.  Also had a look at the

beginnings of the river that was to be my highway for the

next two weeks.  It was flowing all right, if a bit shallow,

and with bated breath, I pointed the canoe into it and so

began my first real lesson in river-running, on a remote

river with no help available, no partner, and maybe no sense

in my head at all!  Nevertheless these potential problems

only added to the excitement as I tried to discover how best

to run a canoe down a river.  I soon learned that the canoe

has to travel at a different speed than the rivers current or

steering is out of the question and so I took to paddling

along a little faster than the river ran.  In Bill Mason’s

book, “Song of the Paddle”, he suggests a different

approach, but my little system seemed to work quite well at

the time and I survived the first little run into Sandy Lake

problem-free and full of the excitement of discovering a new

skill and means of bush transportation.  Sandy Lake was a

little jewel in the mountains though someone seemed to have

stolen the sand!  A short paddle across and I found myself

involved in my second river lesson as the current swept me on

through to Big Salmon Lake.  Disdaining following the

shoreline of this large body of water I made more or less of

a beeline down its length, completely unmindful of the quick-

cold-cruel death by exposure that even a life-jacketed

paddler would experience in these waters, should he dump.

     At the northwest end of this lake the river begins its

meandering course through the bush along the valley long ago

built for it.  To my great delight I suddenly noticed a

trappers cabin and stopped to check it out.  No one was there

but the door was open and a guestbook lay on the table.  At

this time, not many paddlers had been by or the guestbook was

a new one.  I read the entries with interest, hoping to find

more information on the river and its wildlife.  One entry in

particular jumped out at me and after I quit laughing I

jotted it down in my diary.  “The war canoes are pulling up

on the beach.  I guess this is it.  Before throwing our

bloated corpses into the river, please remove our left

testicles for RCMP indentification.”

   A really nice setup this was, everything neat and in its

place.  The cabin was very solid, woodfloored and a well

built cache stood guard over the place.  A nice place in

every respect and snug from the rain, with a large meal

behind my belt and the stove going all was well at the head

of the river.  I was truly thankful that night for the

unexpected comforts this cabin offered though I was

considerably less eloquent and courageous in my grateful

entry to the guestbook than the earlier passers-by had been!

     Day one of river travel went well but could have been

better.  At the start the river was the most vigorous I had

seen it so far and I gave it all the concentration I had,

learning as I went.  Rocks were few and far between but one

logjam was ticklish.  Thankfully there was a good landing

above it and I strongly considered a portage, but the bush

grew so close and thick around the edge of the river here

that the temptation was resisted.  An S-shaped channel had

been hacked through it and the current was quite swift.  Not

knowing what I was doing I let the canoe bounce its way

through the thing, adding to the color on a log someone else

had left behind.

   Mid afternoon I noticed two otters playing near the shore

at a beaver bank den.  This was a beautiful and rare treat

for me.  Then, as the light drizzle of rain that had begun

around noon pattered onto my slicker and the surface of the

winding river, an eery, nearby moan brought my thoughts up

short.  I leaned forward and closed my eyes and just let the

lonesome beauty of the wolf’s song sink deep into my

wilderness-thirsty soul and rejoiced in the knowledge that I

was finally “out there”.   Another mile or two and a light

coloured wolf trotted along the shore through the brush.  The

canoe closed the gap and I raised the rifle.  The constant

dripping had covered the eyepiece of the scope and I could

see nothing but a blurred-out blob.  Finally the blob

disappeared.  I stopped here and listened to a wolf pack

howl, then pitched camp.  And all evening and through the

night they carried on their conversation in the darkness,

as though just for me, their thoughts echoing back and forth

through the mist-veiled valley.  The thought impressed me

deeply that night that they were more at home here than I was

and that my temporary stay was a true invasion of this pack’s

highly valued privacy.

     During the night it snowed again in the mountains and

all over my camp.  After cooking a breakfast on the sizzling,

spitting firewood I had cut I pulled camp and as I paddled

the snow became rain and this carried on most of the day.  I

encountered some fast water but nothing my newly acquired,

limited skills couldn’t cope with.

   Around noon I rounded a bend and saw a cow moose standing

with her back towards me.  I photographed her as she watched

me go by and then downed her with my Remington.  After

dressing the moose in the shallow water I quartered it and

loaded it into the canoe.  It took some doing to get the

craft into the water with that load of meat and all my gear

but finally, there it was, looking very like some water-

soaked log about to go to its final resting place in the

bottom of the sea.  Three inches of freeboard was just not

enough and I was sure I’d run into big trouble somewhere in

the two hundred plus miles of unknown river yet to come.  I

should have foreseen this problem and let the poor thing live

but now I had done it, and so, feeling like an awful wicked

fool I unloaded a good portion of the precious meat for the

wolves and carried on, finally making camp in a nice spot

with river on three sides and surrounded by mountains and I

ate very well on the fresh moose meat.  Indeed, I ate all I

could for the thought of the waste really sickened me.

     Next morning I pulled camp and paddled downriver.

Before long I thought I saw another moose.  And that’s just

what it was!  A very large bull at that.  Then a cow

materialized in the bush nearby.  I photographed them as I

drifted by, the bull snorting and blowing before finally

crashing off into the bush, followed by the cow.  The antlers

had been huge, probably 60 inches or so but my tag was filled

and that was that!

   As the river turned south it passed through some very

mountainous beautiful country but it was too early to camp

and I paddled on.  Finally I pulled ashore at the mouth of

some nameless creek near a tree which was apparently the

recipient of a grizzly attack.  A big chunk of wood had been

ripped out about six feet up and bear tracks were abundant

on the beach below.  Of course, these evidences were only

noticed after the tent was up and the fire lit…

     Since this was the last possible mountainous country on

this river, at least if I was reading my topo right, I

decided to spend a couple days hunting here.  In the morning

the weather was so poor I spent it in camp.  After dinner the

sun poked through and I crossed the river and climbed a

mountain.  From this perch I had an excellent view of the

valley but as evening started to fall I began heading down.

Below me in the bush a huge set of antlers swayed slowly to

the strut of the old bull who wore them.  I thought I saw

another ahead of him as well.  Scrambling down the

mountainside and making for the marsh I at first saw only the

cow.  Another step and there was the bull.  But he noticed me

too and began grunting.  I waited awhile for him to settle

and stalked closer with my camera (and rifle) ready.  The rut

was in full swing and I knew the tendency of moose to go a

little crazy this time of year.  Finally at about 30 yards

the cow decided she’d seen enough and splashed off across the

tip of the marsh with the bull following.

   I splashed across too in hot pursuit but by the time I

reached the river they were across and all I saw was the

south end of the bull being gulped by the trees.

Disappointed about the lack of film exposed but happy for the

experience, I crawled back into the canoe and ferried home

for the night.

     These river camps really did become home for me.  All I

really needed to turn a cool dark, wet night in the

wilderness into a comfortable and enjoyable home was a match

and the time it took to light a fire.  Fire, kept of course

in manageable portions, is a wonderful thing, without which

life in the bush would be difficult, if not impossible.  I

soon became aware that fire was the most important element in

a comfortable camp, warming and lighting the immediate area

and warming the food and the tea pail as well.

     This appreciation of fire soon led to the understanding

of the importance of protecting my supply of matches.  I

always tried to carry twenty-five or so in a waterproof

container in my pocket.  Nothing could have been much more

uncomfortable than swamping the canoe and losing everything

in the icy water, only to swim to shore and be unable to

light a warming fire.

     Enjoying the crackling of the campfire later that night,

I happened to look to my left through the trees surrounding

camp.  What I saw really puzzled me.  A pale yellow glow

seemingly coming from a point 50 yards or so back in the

trees!  Other hunters?  Impossible. They’d have stopped to

talk or at least I’d have heard their voices from that short

range.  A fire? If it was it was small and there must be

someone tending it.  As I watched and shifted position I

noticed a bright yellow dome of light with mist drifting

around it!

   My youthful imagination kicked into road gear there in the

lonely darkness by the fire and I actually helped myself to

my rifle!  Had my campfire attracted some sample-hunters from

another galaxy?  I walked away from the fire onto the beach

and looked through the scope of the gun, not to shoot but to

get a better look.

     Craters?  ! Try to imagine my keen disappointment to

discover it was only the moon!  Still, what was it doing in

the bottom of My river valley beneath a huge mountain whose

outline I could still clearly see??

     The mountain was an unusual cloud with exactly the right

shape to be a mountain!  The moon rose exactly in the bottom

of the V of the river valley with this great mountain-shaped

cloud just above it giving it the appearance of being inside

the valley with me.  Of course I had no way of estimating the

range to this ball of light back there in the trees behind my

camp.

     So after a good laugh at myself I turned in for the

night, content that all was well, but rather amazed at how

easily I’d been spooked.  I’d been ready to drift away

campless!

    Next day broke with sunny skies and a smattering of

cloud.  Glad to be rid of the rain I strolled up the creek

which joins the river above camp, following it some distance,

then turned right and up a joining creek towards the huge

mountain backing the camp.  Finally the magnitude of the

problem of shoving through the tangle of all that sub-alpine

scrub crashed through the tangle of my thoughts and I chose

to let myself be defeated this time.  Going a little ways

farther up the valley, I found a lot of bear diggings and

kept my eyes well open for a glimpse of one of the shaggy

beasts, only to be disappointed.  Returned to camp tired but

sad.

     During this hunt it also struck me that the better way

would be to travel only during the late afternoon and early

evening, when animals are likely to be on the river.

     My diary for the next day records:  “Plan works!

Pulling camp at 2:30 PM I travelled downriver.  Some more

rapids and sweepers were met and dealt with.  The wind picked

up, then settled near dusk and I slid on downstream knowing

game would start to move.  Saw four beavers and a little

later, the object of my pursuit, a grizzly.  She was on the

near bank and I got the rifle up quickly.  But she didn’t

care for the sight of that strange red log so close to her

and so, grunting her disapproval, lit for the bush.  I was

about to shoot but then, noticed for the first time, a small

silvertip cub close at her heels.”  Bears with cubs are

wisely protected in the Yukon.

   Went on another half mile or so and pitched camp on the

sandy beach at the confluence of the South and main Big

Salmon Rivers.  Another nice spot!  A large sucking whirlpool

happens where the two rivers meet.  One would have to

remember that one on the next trip.

     Next day I took a walk up the South Big Salmon.  After

blowing a tune on my Faulk’s predator call I waited 45

minutes but all the animals ignored it or didn’t hear it due

to the wind.  Or maybe they had heard so many dying rabbits

they just aren’t interested in another one.  It was a boom

year for rabbits in the Yukon.  I have called in two wolves

with this call but that’s another story…

     Arrived back in camp just in time to see a canoe coming

downriver.  The lone occupant stopped to say hi.  He was the

first person I had seen in the last eight days.

     He mentioned that he and his partner in another canoe

had seen wolves and one lynx on the river.  He also mentioned

that there are some pretty bad rapids up ahead just past

where the North Big Salmon River joins the main one…

I, Doug Martens, do hereby bequeath and bequest…

     Another fifteen miles were covered this evening but saw

just one beaver and no game at all.  Camp was made on a mossy

bank overlooking the river.

     “The moon?? is just above the horizon as I write these

lines and it is starting to sprinkle on the tent…Yawn…

     Travelling down to the North Big Salmon junction I saw

no game at all, the country being flat and recently burned

over.  At camp that night, though, it was more hilly and the

North Big Salmon looks like a nice small river with a sandy

riverbottom.

     Next morning I got up early and crossed the North River

and climbed the hill to get a look at the country.  It was a

nice valley, I decided, but also rather boggy and it would be

tough to walk through.  In the distance I could see what must

be Caribou Mountain, according to the map.

     Deciding to try the fast water in the morning instead of

before nightfall I broke camp after breakfast and carried on.

     The waves were big and some water climbed in but other

than that there was no problem.  Carried on until 1:30 when I

stopped to make tea and eat dinner.  A little later I again

climbed a nearby hill to look over the country.  Caribou

Mountain could still be seen farther south now and dimly, I

could just make out Last Peak which is where the river leaves

the mountains and enters the Semenoff Hills through which I

had been travelling the last few days.

     Back at the tea fire I had an afternoon nap before

hitting the river.  I thought I could make the Yukon this

evening if I went late so I passed up one camping spot after

another.  Once I saw some seagulls and knew I must be close.

   I went entirely too late this evening and hit some good

rocks in the shallows once.  Finally I called a halt and

beached the canoe on what was apparently a gravelly shore.

To the left I could dimly see the outlines of a little grove

of spruce and headed for them.  Climbing a bank I found a

very nice little sheltered clearing.  An old spruce had

fallen there and it was loaded with tinder and firewood.

     Sometimes it almost felt like I was being looked after.

     The bright orange ball hanging from the cable over the

river, and my arrival in the abandoned town of Big Salmon

produced an unexpected wave of sadness for me.  This was a

goal I had worked hard to achieve and I had been successful

in my first solo run of a long wild river.  I had survived

the dangers and overcome the fears, but now I was about to

say good-bye to an old friend, a country which had been

unexpectedly good to me, and a way of life I had quickly

grown accustomed to.  I longed more for the wild country I

was leaving than for the human fellowship and heartache ahead

of me and I felt very much like turning around and going

back.  Maybe I should have…

   Promising myself I would return to this beautiful place I

climbed into the packed canoe and pushed off into the muddy

waters of the swollen Yukon River.

   With a strong wind at my back I made good time down the

big Yukon and camped just a bit past the abandoned settlement

of Little Salmon which is where the Little Salmon River joins

the Yukon.  During the day an enormous roar suddenly filled

the valley and a huge flash of fast-moving orange broke my

my bush serenity.  Shocked, I wondered what it could be and

soon discovered the highway on which the semi-driver had

applied his jake-brake.  Ever since this incident I have less

trouble understanding how people who are lost in the woods

can become, “bushed”, and start thinking more like an animal

than a man.  What crude interruptions we inflict on the lives

of the wild animals!

     Carried on down the river alll the next day without

seeing animals all day.  I did make a thoroughly fascinating

stalk on a cave, though, even to the point of imagining I

could see bear-hair through the five power scope…

     Sadly though, I’d not purchased this tag and so was

forced to pass up this shot.

     Went late again and made my camp just upriver from a

long cutbank.  There on a sort of terrace, I decided I didn’t

feel like pitching the tent again and so, simply strung out a

line between two trees and hung my five by seven tarp on that

in such a fashion that viewed from the end it looked like a

tent- a simple leanto.

     I rolled out my bed with tarp over and under me and a

good stock of wood near the fire.  It didn’t look like it

would rain and there was no wind to bring weather into the

valley.

     Well, it rained all through the night, soaking half my

bed, my rifle and even my camera which I had so carefully

placed into a “waterproof” bag.  It had just one hole in

it…and that was enough.  “I think the films okay.”

     After taking stock of it all in the morning I decided to

pull out and arrived at Carmacks shortly after noon.

I still was not eager for human fellowship and built a little

fire up the river from the town and cleaned up before

visiting the big city…

     There were lots of coyotes in the Yukon River valley.  I

heard them every morning and evening I was on it but I really

was hoping to see some game.  All the river bars and islands

seemed to have been sprinkled with bear tracks but even by

travelling late I didn’t see a one.  In fact, all the game I

saw was found in the mountainous section of the Big Salmon.

Should’ve spent more time there, I think, but I had heard and

read this was a ten day canoe trip so I believed I couldn’t

afford to take it too easy with winter closing in.  In my

estimation there are only 6 days actual travelling time

between Quiet Lake and here.

     Next time, the board of directors decided,  I’ll go in

August when the salmon are running and the bears are spending

looking mountains I’d like to check out…

Chapter 2:

HUNTING THE YUKON’S BIG SALMON RIVER – (2nd trip)

Paddling lazily in the slack current of the river, the

canoe swept around a sharp bend to the right.  Straight ahead

and a third of the way down the cutbank a commotion caught my

eye, and my heart skipped a beat at what I saw.  Just a

hundred yards ahead a lone wolf loped down the sand of the

cutbank headed for the shore.  The big .45-70 slid out of the

scabbard and leapt to my shoulder just as the wolf reached

the water.

   But, noticing me she turned and fled along the bank in a

long curve for the bush.  A cartridge slid into the chamber

and gunfire disrupted the silence of the scene…

   This moment was the result of a second trip down the Big

Salmon, a major tributary of the upper Yukon River in the

Yukon Territory.

   The river heads at Quiet Lake, Y.T. and flows through a

chain of two more lakes, Sandy and Big Salmon, before winding

its way through some of the most beautiful country the

central Yukon has to offer, finally losing its identity in

the murky swirl of the Yukon River 80 miles above the little

village of Carmacks.

   Because I had the first ten days of August available to me

for hunting before I would be guiding in northern B.C., I had

determined to make a second trip down this river.   I had

seen a lot of animals on it the year before.

   5 AM of August first saw me casting off into the perfect

quiet of Quiet Lake, for once indeed quiet, mist rising from

its surface in the pre-dawn stillness.

   Trout rose near the canoe as my paddle jayed it along, the

wake being the only other ripple marring the perfect surface.

   The miles went by and at last I felt the welcome tug of

water on the bottom of the canoe and a surge of electric

anticipation at the thought of the days of river travel to

come.  Then we, Canoe and I, slipped through the channel

connecting the Quiet and Sandy Lakes, and I occupied myself

with pondering what might lie around the next bend of the

wet-behind-the-ears river.

   Sandy Lake, also calm as a painting, had a blackness to

the water which spoke of great depth.  Though not a large

lake, the surrounding country made up for it, and I gazed

with delight at the mountains and especially at the point of

land jutting out from shore, where I knew the second

connecting link of river would inhale the craft once again

and give my arms a rest.

   Then, after a short meandering ride through the spruce and

marshy backwaters, Big Salmon Lake appeared.  The wind picked

up when I reached this large body of water but the sun was

shining and right around noon I entered the gate of the Big

Salmon River.

   Here, on the left bank, there is an old trapping cabin.

This was my goal for the first days effort and I pulled the

canoe in, had dinner and took it easy the rest of the day,

just enjoying the place and delighting in the solitude.

   Next morning I ate well and hit the river.  It rained off

and on as I drifted, now and then paddling hard to avoid a

big wave or to steer through a corner.  Saw two mink, one

with a small fish in his mouth!  Salmon were running heavily

and I counted a hundred of them before I lost track.  I was

glad to see the big kings as I was after grizzly and this

would surely attract a few to the river.  Also found a fifty

inch moose rack on the right bank.

   Around six or seven I was heading down a slow stretch of

river when I suddenly heard the heart-stopping commotion that

usually accompanies a terrified large animal in the bush.

Looking up, I saw a few glimpses of the large grizzly, almost

pure black but with a yellow shoulder hump which lifted when

he hurtled an old dead log.  He either scented or saw me

before I did him, which I thought was a terrible shame for

that had been an exceptional bear.  There had been no chance

for a shot with rifle or camera.

   My diary, written up that night, says, “camped around 9:30

or 10 on a nice spot on the river.  Beaver splashing and owls

hooting.  Called in a screech owl by imitating him.  He flew

right overhead and landed in a tree.  Too dark for a picture.

Good to be back in this country again.”

   Next day I was after sheep.  After an early breakfast I

ferried across the river from camp.  Maybe three or four

hours or hard climbing and brush busting got me to the high

country.  I began hunting westward along the top of the

mountain, hit a game trail and followed it over a pass, just

for a look.  A large basin opened in front of me and about

three hundred yards down a large, dark object caught my eye.

Even by looking through the 200mm lens of my camera I

couldn’t be sure, until it moved its head sleepily and

swayed the caribou antlers he owned.

   Watching him until he bedded down I tried to decide

whether to shoot this animal or not.  It would ruin the sheep

hunt for sure, not to mention the work of getting him down

the mountain, but then again, he was a very fine bull…

   I started the stalk down the boulder strewn mountainside

taking pictures as I went along, eventually getting right up

on him.  I was maybe 20 yards from the bull when he stood up

suddenly and the lever-action put him right back down, the

shots echoing through the river valley.  He rolled a long

ways down the slope, finally coming to rest on a bit of a

ledge.  He was even bigger than I had thought.  The antlers,

still in velvet, were massive and very long in the beam,

certainly a grand animal by anyone’s measure.

   After taking hero pictures I went to work butchering.

Cramming the trapper nelson full of meat I swayed to the

vertical and swung the antlers up top.  No doubt I’ll pay for

this trip some day in old age.  Part way down the mountain I

entered the heavy bush.  An so began an unbelievable

struggle, the likes of which I never hope to repeat.

Eventually the bush got so thick and choking and the going

down so steep that dozens of times it looked like another

Canadian Impossible Dream.  I kept at it too, though, in the

true spirit of the Yukon, even though at one point I

scrambled down a forty-five degree stream bed, strewn with

slippery boulders (from the rain) which had been waiting

thousands of years for just this moment, sometimes rolling

the horns ahead of me and locating them again by the crashing

of brush down below.  Perhaps six hours of this brought me

finally to the river.  The velvet had taken one awful

beating, and so had the now-not-so-mighty hunter.

   Along with the joy of reaching my goal came the

realization that I really couldn’t have packed that load of

meat and horn another step!  It was that bad. I came out a

couple of miles downriver from camp so I cached my load there

and made my way through the thick bush and upriver to camp.

Finally I realized I was looking at a wonderful sight, the

canoe and my camp.  Upriver something large and white was

moving across current.  A wolf, perhaps? I still don’t know

as it disappeared behind an island.  Weary but satisfied I

paddled across and tied up, walked into camp and passed out

on my sleeping bag for the night.

   Next morning I overslept, (I hope I can be forgiven)

packed up camp and left around nine.  Picking up the meat and

horns I stuffed them in the bow of the canoe.  The horns

looked good up there.  The salmon were running strong and I

saw fresh grizzly tracks on a few sandbeaches.  It was

raining off and on all through the day, just enough to keep

things nice and wet.  During one of these drizzles I heard a

low moan off in the distance.  Wolf! I wanted one pretty

badly so I beached the canoe around a bend and began howling

back.  He responded two or three times but I guess I must

have told him to clean up his room for he quit and that was

that.  Carrying on, I travelled right until dark, made camp

and cooked a meal of fresh caribou steak – which went down

very well!

   I quote my diary for August 5:  “On the river from 9-9.

time is pressing me on, but not so heavily as to prevent me

from loitering here and there.  One interlude in particular

deserves mention.  I looked downriver about three hundred

yards in time to see something move.  It proved to be a

yellow bear, but I didn’t get a good look at it.  Grizzly! I

beached the canoe behind a bend, picked up the rifle, and

worried about the slight breeze at my back, headed very

carefully down the riverbank through the thick willow growth

to where I had last seen him.

   My mouth was very dry and my heart was pounding like

crazy.  Mosquitoes and black flies were thick in that tangle

but I paid them no heed.  Eventually I reached the spot where

he should have been.  Nothing! I then headed up a nearby

hill for a better look.  Still nothing. About half an hour

of hard searching failed to turn him up so I got back in the

canoe and carried on.  I looked at some fresh black bear

tracks a little downriver, concluding it had probably been

just a blond black bear.  I still say it was fun sneaking up

on that “grizzly” in that thick tangle.

   Also I stopped a few times and panned for gold in the

creeks joining the river, finding no colors.

   Easing downriver, through that mountainous country, the

water clear and green in the shadows, watching the odd king

salmon go by on its date with death journey upriver, was my

idea of what good living is all about.

   Camped ten miles past the junction of the South Big Salmon

river.  For supper?  Caribou by candlelight.”

   August six was another full day.  Hitting the river at 6 I

fought a strong wind all day.  Nothing too special happened

until around one o’clock when a couple of well-spaced shots

rang out in the bush to my right.  I rounded the bend and was

signalled to the left bank by two men in a canoe.  They had a

moose down, a young bull.  He had kicked his way into the

river from off the bank.  I helped them get it back on shore.

They said they had seen one cow and another cow and calf

before this bull, which may have explained why I’d seen so

little game this day.  Eager to continue hunting I passed on

the request for help with the butcherin, though they probably

would have given up some fresh meat.  An hour later I met my

wolf.

   The first 500 grain cast bullet erupted a huge cloud of

sand just behind and at the heels of the loping wolf.

Chambering another round, I fired again.  The wolf missed a

stride but kept going!  At the third shot she began

spinning round and around, finally falling on her side at

the rivers edge.  My first wolf! I let the canoe drift

the hundred yards down, having trouble believing what had

just happened!  Then I photographed and skinned her, took the

skull and pushed off, travelling right until dark.

Reaching the confluence of the Little Salmon river that

night I camped and managed to make it all the way to

Carmacks, my destination, around three or four in the

afternoon of the next day.

The “River Rats”, as they call their group of jolly jet-

boaters, were enjoying the waters of the mighty Yukon.  The

five boat group from Grand Prairie, Alberta took a special

interest in my caribou horns and I and fed me a great

barbecue while they listened to my story.  Next day I enjoyed

a faster ride on the river with the jet spray rooster tail

streaming out for forty feet behind us.  What a contrast!!

   I have only positive memories of this trip.  I always

enjoy spending time in a wild sweep of country, but often the

full appreciation doesn’t hit until later.  It’s sometimes

possible to forget you’re having the time of your life when

you’re soaked from mop to toe with rainwater and you’d just

as soon die as pack that load of caribou another mile.  But

I’ll always enjoy the memory of leaving the sandy beach with

the huge antlers swaying in the bow and the freshly rolled

wolf hide under the seat of my canoe, and the peacefulness of

sitting near the evening fire, long after dark has closed in,

listening to a loon calling from some lonely lake deep in the

bush and planning the next days hunt.

**********

CAUGHT

  “Working as guide and horse wrangler in northern B.C. and

Yukon I’ve seen hunters board the out-plane with songs in

their hearts and gratitude in their eyes.  And I’ve seen them

leave with sinister expressions, plotting revenge on the

guide, the outfitter, and (for all I know) maybe even the

cook’s cream-centered hotcakes!

  What constitutes a good hunt?

  Would a good definition be one from which a hunter leaves

satisfied that his objectives were met?  If he lands in camp

and expects to shoot one each of a Boone and Crocket ram,

moose, caribou and grizzly before noon he is going to leave

with a broken heart.  Likewise if he expects to be waited on

hand and foot 24 hours a day like the ever-lovin’ Queen o’

the Nile, things are apt to go sour for him!

     Certainly the game taken or not taken is a big factor in

determining the quality of the hunt but contrary to what many

believe the hunter-guide relationship is a lot more

important.

     What changed my perspective was a hunt I was involved in

Canada’s  Yukon late one fall.  Let’s rename the characters

to protect the guilty for now.  If there are any.

     At this time I was serving as horse wrangler in a camp

from which two other guides operated.  The hunters flew in by

float-plane and we got acquainted over supper.  This was a

“Dad and Son” hunt with a twist.  The “Dad” was 78 years old!

A retired welder, he had prepared for this hunt by literally

running up and down the eight steps of his back porch at

least once for every year of his life, no breaks!

     The son was a “Doctor of Means” away from his family (he

almost never missed a chance to call them on the camp radio)

for this special hunt.  He wore a four-hundred dollar cowboy

hat with a real rattlesnake mounted in the “attack” position

on the front.  This made a real impression on us all as did

the mountain of luggage which accompanied him.

     I admit to becoming a leettle resentful when I was told

to leave my spare jeans behind so we could pack his gear over

to the other camp.  It was hard not to compare my want for

clothes in late fall with his need for a 110 volt electric

razor, all the more considering hydro lines had not been

thought of within a hundred miles of any of us!

     Both men were jovial and eager to begin the hunt of

their lives.  It always seems that when new hunters arrive

there is a bit of ice that needs breaking.  The more

experienced man began asking about the equipment we as guides

used.  The pair were from the deep south and when he drawled,

“What kinda sleepin’ bags do y’all sleep in?”,  one of us

came back fast:

     “Three sep’rate ones.”  So much for the ice.

     The camp boss, “Johnny”, and “Roy”, the other guide took

them out that first day and later that night Johnny pulled me

aside and told me to guide The Welder next morning.  He was

impressed with the man’s physical condition but really drove

it home that I was to take good care of him, hold his

horse at every mounting and dismounting, that kind of thing,

if only because of his age.  I was eager to oblige.

     Next day the four of us, Roy, the hunters, and myself

rode off in search of moose.  There was some very good moose

country an hour or two from camp so we aimed our mounts

there, got up on the shoulder of a mountain  and began

glassing.  Around one o’clock Roy noticed a couple of white

spots in a spruce grove across the valley.  These proved to

be the antlers of a fine Yukon bull.  “What’re we waitin’

for?” asked the feisty old man, “Let’s get ‘im!”

     So we crossed the valley on horseback and tied up at a

dry lake a half mile from the bull.  During the stalk it

impressed me that the “old man” wasn’t breathing as hard as

twenty-three-year-old I was!  We made it to the bull but it

was standing among four or five cows making a shot from our

position impossible.  The Welder and The Doctor “argued”

about who should shoot the moose.  Finally The Welder “won”

and son Doctor stalked closer and killed the bull with his

.270.  Roy and I butchered and caped it, (he wanted

everything, even the feet) and we rode back to camp in the

dark, glad the horses knew the way, we sure didn’t!  The

yellow glow of the gas lamp in the cook tent, visible from

miles away, surely was a welcome sight that night!  I knew

Roy had wanted the older man to shoot the moose and I think

this may have been the start of the rising tide of ill will

which later climbed the beach swamping everything in sight!

     Next day we moved base camp and hunted awhile from

there.  The Doctor got a ram in the next few days and Johnny

took The Welder out on a flycamping trip.

     The outfitter flew in with a letter pertaining to Roy’s

divorce and from subsequent events I gather it was not good

news.  From this point on things took a definite turn for the

worse.  As I attempted to bring the horses closer to camp one

rainy day, Roy met me and, yelling at the top of his lungs,

chased all the horses away, then screamed unprintables into

my face, his visage all red and inflamed and only inches from

my own.  This was a new experience for me, but only with Roy,

and I didn’t know quite how to take it.

     The snow and wet socked in tighter and hunter and guide

opted for the comforts of camp.  I mentioned seeing some bear

tracks on the trail a quarter mile from camp and The Doctor

was intrigued.

     Roy made some gravelly comments about having to saddle a

horse for the little stroll, so The Doctor said to forget the

horse, he’d walk.  With a curse, Roy tore the uncinched

saddle off the horse, and The Doctor decided to drop the

whole deal.  They each retired to their own quarters in a

pair of huffs.  Ohh boy, four days remained in the hunt, and

I had a hunch, a slight premonition, they would not be

blissful, idyllic ones!

     The Doctor wanted to hunt with his Dad who was

supposedly hunting out of a fly camp one days ride from our

base camp, so the next morning we packed horses and pulled

out of camp with eight head.  Snow lay a foot deep and the

mountains were breath-takingly beautiful.  I took pictures on

the way on the sly to avoid being called a tourist, the worst

insult in all the Yukon.

     Fresh wolf tracks crisscrossed the trail and once we saw

a cow moose and calf.  Up on a pass someone had sprinkled

fresh fox tracks on the snow.  Animals were on the move!

     Roy was riding a bit of a tingly horse by the name of

Kenny.  Suddenly there were hot moose tracks on the trail and

the little squirt just refused to step over them.  I rode on

ahead on Buster and led the string for a few miles.  We

dropped down into a neighbouring valley with no snow and up

along a creek to Johnnys fly camp, arriving just before dark.

A small bull moose standing in the lake curiously watched us

ride into camp and find no one.  By the signs Johnny and The

Welder had left that morning for yet another camp.  The

politics between Roy and The Doctor deteriorated further

still when it came to light that Roy hadn’t packed the

cooking pots.  We actually set up two tents that night!

     In the morning Roy decided to pull camp and take up

Johnnys trail.  Though he had never been to the other fly

camp he was sure we could track them down.  We got camp

packed up and headed out.  I was leading two pack horses

halter to tail and anticipating trouble, looped the front

horses halter-shank over my saddlehorn.  Sure enough, as soon

as he felt his halter pull, little Kenny, the squirrely one

began to arch his back and buck.  This set Ike off and

Buster, also skittish, went crazy too, flinging The Doctors

.458 from my rifle scabbard.  Finally we all settled down and

trotted off after the others.

     The trail was clear but the sky looked like snow.  The

trail crossed the creek above camp and switchbacked up a very

steep hill.  Hugo, a gelded appaloosa, was trailing free a

bit ahead of our little string.  On the steep hillside his

pack rolled on his wet back.  He started bucking and

staggering wildly around above me and Buster, thankfully

finally coming to rest against a poplar tree, the clutter of

his bulky pack strewn all over the hillside.

     After re-packing we carried on up the trail and onto a

pass.  Here there was snow again and the trail was clear but

it was also starting to snow.

     I was beginning to lose hope for this project as we had

no idea which direction to take should we lose Johnny’s trail

in the storm.  A glance to the right showed a herd of some

twenty caribou, with three very shootable bulls.  Roy talked

The Doctor out of the shot saying that we’d find his Dad and

come back so they could each get one.

     “Are you sure they’ll still be here?” asked The Doctor

     “Oh yeah, they’ll be here.” returned Roy

     “Against my better judgement, I’ll go along with it

then.”

     Working our way down off the pass into the bush the

trail became less and less distinct.  From here one had a

panoramic view of a vast valley filled with eight-foot tall

brush, with two swamps in the middle.  Not my favourite kind

of country.  But the heavier snowfall soon erased this view

allowing us to forget what we were riding into.

     Another hour or two and the fresh snow had completely

buried the tracks of Johnny and The Welder, cutting off our

last hope of a comfortable camp that night.  It was nearly

dark and there was no telling how far we were from the next

camp or even what direction it lay in.  Time to set up camp.

But where?  Hardly any burnable bush existed in the valley,

just miles and miles of wet alder.  But the Great Spirit

pitied us or maybe the horses or possibly the whole sopping

mess of us and gave us a small valley with some horsefeed in

the bottom and a little wood to burn.

     We set up our wet tent on a 20 degree hill in the wet

snow and took our wet gear inside, though I’m not sure why,

it couldn’t have gotten much wetter!  Somehow we got a fire

going and “cooked supper” with our can-openers.  Conversation

that night was limited mostly to pained silences and strained

tensions.

     Warm air moved in overnight, melting the snow and

sending a deluge of icy water into The Doctors sleeping bag.

The horses did, at least, hang around all night.  Where could

they go?  They didn’t know the country either.

     At “breakfast” next morning I began to feel truly sorry

for The Doctor, so far from his family and practise, his now

grizzled visage sagging from his facial structure, the

rattlesnake clinging feebly to his hat, no longer in the

“attack” position, having lost its teeth and succumbed to the

rigours of the hunt.

     The horses too, had my sympathies that morning as we

saddled up for the two day ride home.  They were already

somewhat run down after two months of hunting on low rations.

In addition, our gear was so water-logged it was hard to lift

it onto their backs.  I took the lead this time and found our

backtrail.  The sky was still overcast and visibility poor.

Kenny went into his traditional bucking fit and succeeded in

loosening his pack.  It was hard to avoid seeing the humour

in all this.  Precious little was going right on this hunt.

     But we made the pass.  The Doctors knee was acting up so

the heavy man led his horse but little.  The temperature

fell, it started to snow and the wind blew good and hard.  It

was a low point in the trip.  Roman-nosed old Hugo, the

clown of the string, stopped on the trail and

lowered his head to the ground,  allowing his wet pack to

slide forward over his wet withers.  He just stood there on

the trail, the pack completely covering his head, shutting

out his cruel surroundings.  I laughed and groaned at the

same time.  We re-packed him and slogged on, finding our

precious camp a few hours before dark.

    As we started setting up for the night, The Doctor spoke.

“Roy, let’s go on to base camp tonight.”  Roy gave as many

reasons as he could think of why it would be a bad idea but

The Doctor wasn’t satisfied.

    “Roy, if you won’t take me, why don’t you let Doug?”  He

turned to me, “I’ll pay you.”

     Here I had to agree with Roy, though.  It just didn’t

make sense to push the horses any farther, especially

considering the plane wouldn’t arrive until the following

day.  So we spent another quiet evening in camp.  I worked

very hard getting fresh wood bucked up with an old swede saw,

then splitting it and setting up an old stove in The Doctors

tent.  I know all this effort on my part irritated Roy.

Maybe that’s why I did it but I like to think I just wanted

to keep things on a somewhat even keel.  We were listing much

too far to port!

     At one point The Doctor cornered me and said, “You know,

Doug, I’m worth quite a bit of money and when I get out of

here I’m going to spend my last dime making Roy’s life

miserable.”  He winked, “I should, anyway.”  Then he gave me

a hundred or two and told me how much he appreciated my help

on this trip.

     I expressed my regret in the way things were going for

him, and meant it.

     As Johnny and The Welder had not arrived by morning Roy

put two and two together and decided they must have gotten

their calendar mixed up.  They had been out eight days and

should have been in this camp if they were to make it to base

camp in time to meet the plane.

     Roy left a note on the table in the tent frame for them

and we pulled out.  A couple of horses were following us in

the trail, unpacked, and they were enjoying their freedom.

Finally they showed up.  I decided to lead them but they

wouldn’t let me catch them so I rode off, knowing they’d

follow anyway.  We took a fork in the trail back up to the

first pass we’d crossed and waited for them awhile, our

mounts panting.  Then I tied my saddle horse and went back

down the hill for Ike and the fool-headed Kenny.  I groaned

when I reached the trail and saw the tracks carrying on past

the fork we’d taken.  Hollering back up the hill, I set off

on a dead run through the bush.  There was no snow and I had

no idea where this pair might be headed.  I just followed

their tracks as best I could for half a mile or more.  Just

as I considered getting my horse, I heard the familiar tinkle

of Kenny’s bell.  It had come untied!  Encouraged, I tried to

work my way around and ahead of them, talking to them in low

tones.  But paying my pleading no heed, they broke into a

gallop on down the little valley.  I just didn’t need this

today!  I failed despite my best efforts to cut them off on a

sidehill and they plunged across the creek below me.  I was

pretty played out now but waded in after them.  The water was

up to my waist and very cold.  Another mile and I finally got

ahead of these knotheads on a switchback on the trail, caught

them, head and tailed them, and led them back to my waiting

saddle horse.  He was the only one who had waited for me

though and I felt the temperature rise within me.

    I led these three horses up the hill and mounted up.  I

was totally soaked from head to foot and there were fifteen

miles of snow coated country ahead of me.  Buster was very

excited about catching up and I had to hold him back a bit so

he wouldn’t overdo it.  I started getting chilly on Airplane

pass.  Snowflakes drifted down on a northerly breeze.  The

sparse, gnarled balsam was all frozen wet and I was not the

least bit confident in my ability to get a fire going, should

I lose my horse.  I dismounted and hung onto my nervous pony

with one hand while I took off my gumboots and wrung out my

socks again.  Ice was forming in my boots.  (The life of a

guide is not always easy.)  We carried on at a good pace, Ike

and Kenny not feeling as frisky now.  Finally I caught up

with The Doctor and Roy and let my inner pig-dog out for a

bit, letting them know just what I thought of being left

behind, this before realizing they Had stopped to wait for

me!

     We made camp at dusk and clawed the freezing lash ropes

off the frozen packs with our numbed fingers, gave the ponies

some oats and cooked supper, happy, if only that the trip was

over.

     By 12:30 we were taking it easy in the cabin and

worrying about Johnny and The Welder, when suddenly their

jovial voices and the sound of shod hooves on the trail

drifted through the plywood wall of the cabin.  The Welder,

dismounting on his own, remarked with as big a grin as I’ve

ever seen, “Now I know why cowboys walk that way!”   I could

hardly believe this guy.  78 years old, having endured a

fourteen hour ride in frigid weather and coming out

“happier’n a gopher in soft dirt.”

     Puny caribou antlers now rode one of the packhorses, the

only animal taken on his hunt of a lifetime.  Later in the

cabin, he was full of youthful vigour as was his guide.  We

all had to laugh as they told of their experiences of the

last eight days.

     When they’d first left base camp they had ridden the

eight hours to the fly camp, and Johnny had been worried

about the gentleman all the way, constantly asking him if he

was all right.  All at once, The Welder had hollered ahead,

“Are you all right, Johnny?”

     Later, Johnny had been packing camp when The Welder

asked what he could do to help.  Johnny told him the most

helpful thing he could do would be to stand over there out of

the way.

     “Anything else?”

     “Yeah, shut up.”

     The end result of all this was that the old man went

away relaxed and happy with his piddly caribou while his son

left miserable despite having bagged a huge bull moose and a

good Dall Ram.  No doubt The Welder suffered as much or more

physical discomfort and insult, yet somehow got much more

enjoyment out of his hunt.  The difference lay not in what

they took home from the hunt but in what they brought to it.

***************

chapter 3: Bear!



BEAR!

The fall of 1982 stands out in my memory for its red-

blooded adventure, its excitement, its hardships and its

sorrow.  But most of all for its gift of the most

exciting night of my life!

   The day gave no warning of the heart-pounding adventure

the night held in store.  It was all peace and quiet from the

turmoil of the hunters and the guides.  A day of grinding

sheep meat for hamburgers, of baking pies of cherry filling

in the cook-tent woodstove oven and a day of cutting and

hauling firewood in on my back from some distance from camp.

   The two guides decided to leave the base camp for a fly-

camping hunting trip.  I was “in charge” of shepherding the

remaining horses and putting up wood and generally looking

after things while they were gone.  I was thrilled to have a

few days to work at my own pace without the friction and the

insults and I made the most of it, listening to the CBC on

the sideband radio while I worked and ate and generally

refueled my tanks.

   Late the second evening, if memory serves me right, I

fired the coleman lantern in the tent and lay down for my

evening read.  The wind was blowing hard from the south,

flapping the loose canvas of the tent, but creating no

particular discomfort, when suddenly there was a gruff

grunting sound from the front of the tent and the sound of a

terrified and heavy animal charging for the bush.

   Of course the thought that it might be a bear entered my

cone of consciousness and this wasn’t exactly great black

bear country…  I unsheathed my 45.70 and slipped the

finger-thick cartridges into the tubular magazine, laying it

on the bed beside me.  Rifles are a comfort on dark stormy

nights inside tents as a certain night camping with a friend

long ago had taught.  The .22 seemed to make the threat of

raiding skunks seem less ominous somehow and now the same

comforting feeling came over me about the bear, sort of.

   Just as I was beginning to believe that the body odour of

a Yukon horse wrangler had done the trick, the sound of my

new woodpile being torn asunder reached my waiting ears.  The

clatter was considerable and I knew I was definitely in for

some kind of an adventure…

   All bears in the woods command attention, be they black,

brown, white or blue.  And Yes, there really is a blue phase

of black bear on the B.C. coast!  Something about bears

demands notice be taken of them.  They shuffle along slowly,

head hung low and swinging from side to side and causing fear

and dread wherever they plant their turned-in forepaws.  Most

opt for the shoot first and ask questions later motto and

many harmless creatures die as a result.  It’s an unfortunate

state of affairs, exacerbated considerably by the multitude

of bear stories emanating from the deep, dark and to so many,

terrifying wilderness.  Of the seven wild grizzlies I met in

person in the Yukon all but the two mentioned at the

beginning of this chapter fled in a blind panic when they

realized there was a man nearby.

   Grizzlies, for all their horrible reputation are greatly

overated for the danger they present to people in the

wilderness.  The fear their presence causes results in vast

tracts of unsurpassed wild beauty going unexplored and

shunned by those who would benefit the most from greater

contact with the wild.

   As one writer wisely put it, “the grizzly objects to being

killed” and a great percentage of the horror stories one

hears do have to do with poorly shot bears.  The Yukon

Territorial Government tourist information pack advises

that if attacked, you should play dead and with luck the bear

will lose interest and leave.  A friend demonstrates the

common attitude among outdoorsmen with the following comment:

“Luck, hell, my .338 Winchester Magnum is Sure to make him

lose interest!”

   While fishing salmon on the Klukshu creek tributary of the

Yukon River I dozed in the hot afternoon in my camper with

the back door open.  A black shape entered the clearing and

ambled fairly near my truck while I sat taking pictures,

quite thrilled as always, to see a bear in the wild.  Others,

though, proved to be less happy about the visit.

   “There’s a bear!!!” rang out a woman’s shrill scream.  The

screamed warning had the effect of rapidly clearing the mouth

of the stream of human inhabitants.  The bear, however, was

even more startled and raced off along the bank of the river

and into the bush where a shot suddenly rang out and ended

his terror and that of the campers and fisherwomen there.

   During my northern sojourns I was privileged to hear manya

bear story, some of which were no doubt true.  All of them

were interesting.  In fact, I imagine that few human-bear

encounters are boring though many are more humorous than

frightening.  One such incident took place I believe in B.C

or northern Alberta.

   The crew dined in a common building, the cookshack, a

common enough practise where men gather make the changes

they’re paid to make.  While the cook prepared the meal a

black bear bumbled into the clearing and, attracted by the

aroma of good cooking, he raised himself on his hind legs to

place his nose in front of the kitchen exhaust fan to get

a better sniff of the kitchen contents.  The cook apparently

was gifted not only in the culinary arts but also in the

fields of humour and mischief and saw an opportunity for a

little fun.  Taking a handful of pepper he tossed it into the

whirring fan.  This of course, forced pepper up the bear’s

nose which set the terrified creature sneezing and coughing

as he raced for the sanctuary of the deep woods.

   Another story about a certain guide named Eddy illustrates

the fear a sudden big bear can cause.  Hunters and guides

sometimes get bored with hunting or fighting poor weather

and, like other creatures of the forest amuse themselves with

playing games in some shelter or other.  In this case, it was

a game of cards in a tent.

   After some hands had been played, Eddy felt the need to

pass some water and left the tent.  Not caring to travel

from the tent he began his business before noticing the

huge grizzly facing him right front and center!  Taking stock

of all possible priorities Eddy thought it best to back right

back into the tent.  It’s not always possible to stop a river

when the dam breaks…

   Less humorous for Eddy at least, was the time a bear

chased him around a log cabin three times before he managed

to enter the door and barricade himself therein.

   Bears do like breaking into cabins when they think their

appetites may be satisfied inside.  One such shack we came on

exhibited all the telltale signs, the claw marks, the teeth

marks and finally the caved in door.  A emptied can of yellow

paint caught my eye, emptied that is by Mr. Bear who’d opened

it with his teeth and apparently drunk the contents!  This

particular iron-gutted creature shouldn’t have been hard too

track in the days to come, had we cared to bother!

   Early on in my Yukon days I bought an old red fiberglass

canoe and come the weekend, took it to a small river near

Whitehorse.  Fighting my way upriver against the current I

rounded a bend and saw what I at first took to be an animal

the size of a large cow.  Another second and I realized to my

great excitement that it was in fact a large grizzly bear.  I

had this tag and the whole scene was almost more than I could

have hoped for.  I raised the rifle and peered through the

scope.

   The current here was swift and as I set the paddle down

across the thrwarts, it began drifting back downriver.  By

the time I had my bear scoped a bush had drifted in between

the two of us and I held my shot for fear of wounding a

grizzly.  The next instant the bear gave a whuff and pounded

off into the trees.  The thumping of the bear disappeared

long before the thumping of my heart!  Today I’m quite glad

to say I have never shot a grizzly and now I have no desire

to ever do so.  I’d rather see a grizzly tearing into an old

log in search of ants than to watch a dead one hanging over

my fireplace year after year, collecting dust.

   The range of the great grizzly has been reduced now to

only the most remote and inaccessible countries.  Even here,

men travel through in search of minerals or game and shoot

bears indiscriminately.  The parks and these difficult

regions are the last hope of this mighty animal, which fears

nothing in the wild.  Sometimes even his fear of man is

limited…

   … The woodpile continued falling apart in front of the

tent and noises wafted through the fabric from another

direction and I knew I was between two bears, a sow and a

cub as like as not!  This was rapidly becoming hard on my

nerves of steel and my mighty man facade was cracking.  It

occurred to me that should that sow attack, I would be unable

to shoot so well being somewhat in the position of a mouse in

a paper sack!  This was not a very comforting thought and I

began to weigh my options.  They didn’t weigh much.

   Furthermore, my coleman lamp lacked the fuel to run all

night and the spare fuel was out there by the woodpile!  I

turned the lamp way down so the fuel would last.  Daring to

peek outside I was chilled to find it much like the blackness

one would likely find inside a large mother grizzly bear.

   Finally I did the only thing any red-blooded chicken-

hearted fool would do and played a bluff.  I yelled at mama

grizzly just as loudly as I could to terrify her and send her

scampering from the camp for good.

   Very Unimpressed, she uttered three of the deepest,

lowest, meanest-sounding grunts I had ever heard in my short

life and I knew just exactly what this grizzly talk meant.

I pulled the sleeping bag under the wooden table and crawled

inside like a scared little farmboy in a thunderstorm and

waited, maybe even prayed, I don’t remember.  And somewhere

during the night I drifted off to sleep.  When they left I

do not know.

   Next morning there were my two bears, up there on the

mountainside, two of the finest looking grizzlies I’ve ever

seen, looking all the finer for their great distance from me.

***********

NISUTLIN

     North of a grocery store and gas station known as

Johnson’s Crossing winds a dirt road maintained in the

summer.  This road, built hastily in an attempt to pipe oil

south for the war effort, (check) in year, winds its way

through spruce and poplar and up a mountain, crossing over a

pass before dropping back into a heavily forested valley

floor.  As you wind in and out across this floor, reciting

the “winding in and winding out” poem in honour of the

original Alaska highway, wondering if you’ll today meet your

Maker on one of these bends, you’ll catch a glimpse of water

off to your right- if you’re not watching the road!

   If you leave your vehicle here and walk a few steps you’ll

find yourself looking down a steep dirtbank and into a swirl

of slightly muddied mountain water.  This water, quite fit to

drink, only a day or two previously left the mountains of the

_________ range on its meandering journey to Teslin Lake.

From there it will flow down the Teslin River,(check) joining

the Yukon River at _________ eventually trickling through the

Yukon Delta in Alaska where it will be blown through the

blowspout of a whale if it doesn’t fill some prospectors

boot in the meantime.

     A severely love-stricken Saskatchewan farm boy drove his

canoe-topped four by four up this road for about the seventh

time, steered off the road at the Yukon Territorial

Government campground and off-loaded the canoe.  A battered

three horsepower outboard “kicker” of unknown origin had been

bartered with fifty bucks and now was fastened to the

farthest back possible section of the V-stern, red fiberglass

canoe.

   As I would be gone up the river for the next two weeks and

not everyone has faith I buried the truck in the bush some

distance away, loaded up and churned off up the river, or at

least that was the original intention.  The roaring and

snorting and bellowing  went on for some time but my position

in relation to the shore didn’t seem to be changing as

quickly as the sun’s position in the sky!  But finally,

mercifully, the old kicker hit a rock and the sheer-pin did

what it was supposed to do and the whole propeller

disappeared.

   Caching the kicker off in the bush where I’d be able to

find it on the way down later, I proceeded with my river-

travel in a more dignified, time-honoured fashion.

   In R.M. Patterson’s “The Dangerous River” “lining” is

described as being a very satisfactory way of moving a canoe

full of possibles up a river.  Having already proven the

truth of this to my own satisfaction on this very river, I

put the system to work again, and a new educational field

opened for me on the Nisutlin.   Many more educations were to

shortly follow, some painful, some pleasant.

   In “lining”, a thirty or forty foot length of cord is

fastened to aft and fore of the canoe and this rope is

grasped somewhat forward of the centre of the thus formed

loop.  The fore of the canoe is then nudged out into the

current of the river and you walk off upriver, adjusting your

hold on the rope until the canoe pulls easily without

wallowing to port or starboard.  It is astonishingly easy to

pull a generous amount of luggage along with you this way, so

much so that Dutch Ovens, large canvas tents, arctic sleeping

bags, and enough food to feed the whiskey jacks all along the

way, all present no problem and the heart is free to ponder

what it most feels like pondering at the time.  In this boys

case a certain farm girl in Saskatchewan he was hoping to

impress, occupied all of his available pondering time.

   This trip was the result of a flash of “inspiration”

received earlier that spring.  Maybe a diary of a northern

river trip would be just the thing to get the message across!

This effort has surely been the second biggest mistake of my

life but at the time I was overjoyed by the prospect of

prospecting and enjoying two weeks on the isolated Nisutlin,

penning my love for my greatly desired future companion and

marriage partner into a two-bit scribbler I probably paid too

much for.

   Travel that first three days was very satisfying and I

drank in the sights and sounds and feelings of the wild

country I had all to myself and indeed, I saw no other people

in the next two weeks, and even less sign they had ever

invaded the planet.  I tried usually to keep it that way,

burning my litter and packing out my junk, except for certain

items such as sheerpins and props, incidentals along the way!

   That first night found me setting up camp a fair distance

above the entrance point of my trip.  Happy with my progress,

despite my failed whiteman-paddle, I left my canoe near the

waters edge, right-side up and began my epistle.  Epilogue?

   In the morning, when I loaded it again, something seemed

to be missing.  Anyone with experience and sufficient funds,

both of which were sadly lacking in my case, would have

carried a spare paddle with him on a two week wilderness solo

canoe trip.  Mine was still in the store.  The only

explanation I could come up with was that a beaver must have

taken off with the thing!  No motor, no paddle, no problem!

   A young spruce tree grew there on the sandy beach of my

bank of the river and a few hours work with my axe produced a

very rude facsimile of the very first paddle seen on earth,

the one Adam likely carved to propel his craft away from his

“helper” now and then, after the fall in the Garden.

   It weighed all of ten pounds, the wood being still fresh

and green like the young man who carved it but, by Crackey!

it did the trick and I knew I wasn’t doomed to return to town

humiliated and disgraced.  That would come later! After a

brief trial in the river I chipped more fat off the blade

until, finally, it was manageable in my hand and I paddled

some distance upriver, between the overgrown banks where

lining the canoe would have been a fool’s nightmare.  There

is another way of moving upriver which is referred to as

“poling” in which a long pole is pushed into the bottom of

the river and climbed hand over hand until the top of the

pole is reached and the process repeated.  I have never tried

it.

   I found it was almost always possible to cross and re-

cross the river, taking advantage of the sandy beaches on the

inside of the curves and rarely having to paddle against the

current at all, though from time to time life got

interesting as the rockpiles were crossed, the canoe bouncing

against them, being suddenly drawn from behind by an “eddy”

or reversing current of the river.  Sometimes the trees grew

near the edges or even hung down into the current, making

paddling or crossing the river necessary, but “always there

was a way” and three days later found me nearing the sought

after mountainous section I knew by my map was on the river.

   The continuous melt-water running through and over and

around my runners (I made no effort to keep them dry) had had

a crippling effect on my left ankle.  I could hear and feel

the tendon creak against the sheath within it and the pain of

going on began to overshadow the pleasure of it all and the

company of adventurers called a halt for a day lay-over on a

sandy little island.  (There must be more than one of me or I

couldn’t talk to myself like I so often do!)

   The camp was comfortable and it was very enjoyable to

spend a whole day there with clear mountain water passing by

on both sides, soaking in the heat and drinking in the

sunlight’s warmth and also that of, I’m now ashamed to say, a

bottle of Hudson’s Bay Dark Rum I’d foolishly brought along,

seemingly just for this occasion.  It’s astonishing how

eloquent one can become and more astonishing still to later

realize what drivvel one can come up with when taking

such medication.  What can you say when your minds a total

blank?  I don’t know if my ankle was helped but the day

passed pleasantly enough, though I’ve since regretted ever

being taken in by the trappings of this evil “medicine”.

There’s an easy way and a hard way of learning most things.

   A day or two here found me ready to recommence the

“expotition” up the Nisutlin and so with renewed vigour from

the rest, I travelled on towards the mountains, soaking it

all in.  Soon I came to a place where I was stumped.  The

vegetation overgrew the bank on my side and the water

deepened until it reached the pockets of my Levi shirt, the

current too swift to fight with just a paddle and the

opposite bank looking far less inviting, being also overgrown

and just above a quick bend in the river.

   There was one ray of hope, other than a portage through

all that brush and tangle, and that ray was very faint.

Directly across from my precarious position lay a sandbar,

prepared just for me.  If I could just climb aboard and ferry

across in the usual way with the bow nosing directly into the

current, paddling like Popeye, I just might make that bar.

There was good enough reason to paddle like Popeye!  If for

any reason I didn’t make it I’d be swept backwards into an

undercut bank of the river and quite possibly upset and

pinned below the surface of the river against a “sweeper”,

there to literally “breath the Nisutlin” until drifting off

into a hotter body of liquid to burn forever for my

unconfessed sins and rebellion!  A sweeper, by the way, is an

evergreen which has fallen into the river and now sweeps it

free of floating swimmers and what-have-you.

   With nothing to lose but my soul I jumped in along with a

few gallons of riverwater, picked up my sticky piece of

lumber and gave it all I had.  The canoe wanted to get caught

in the current and it took everything I had to straighten it.

Then I dug for the opposite shore, realizing to my sudden

horror that I wasn’t winning this battle with the river.  I

wasn’t going to make the sandbar!  The bow of the canoe was

five feet or so from the last tip of the sandbar I had to

reach and I felt I was really done this time.  Glancing down

into the water I’d soon meet much too personally, I realized

I could see bottom and it looked shallow!  Not one to

normally pass up any given advantage, in I plunged, but only

up to my knees this time!  Shoving the canoe onto the island

I sat down very rattled, and crossed myself!  I’m not even

Catholic, nor do I ever cross myself, and I still wonder to

this very day what made me do this.  I know I felt a great

sense of gratitude well up in my heart and I took a little

time to pause and reflect on what might have happened at this

spot, forty miles upriver, had the Great Spirit not been One

Who kindly helps fools, small children and drunks, myself

then qualifying on all three counts!  But let’s not dwell on

this too heavily!

Another piece of river and I came suddenly upon the wolves.

   Pulling the canoe upriver, handing the rope from one hand

to the other through the trees, I’d just started rounding a

bend to the left when through the remaining trees of the

point of land I noticed to my unbridled excitement a wolf,

then another, and then another!  The four or five pups

were trotting about and sniffing around there on the opposite

sandy beach and I struggled to believe that I had really

found a family of wolves!

   The canoe was quickly tied and my camera grabbed from its

bag and the film-burning began in earnest, as usually happens

when I see some sight in nature that I won’t likely see again

for awhile.  When they’d all disappeared back into the trees

I crossed the river and searched the beach.  Shortly I

discovered their den and, with the remembrance of Farley

Mowatt’s story resurfacing in my mind, thought what a great

opportunity this situation could present to get some fine

photography done on the shy creatures.

     So I began disrupting their lives for a time and set up

my tent some distance away there on the beach by the river,

making my cooking fire and writing the days events into my

diary, which I was gaining more false confidence in each day.

Each night I camped there I heard the mother wolf howl but

that was as close as I came to seeing any more of my wolf

pack, though if I’d had my eyes open one night I surely could

have got an eyeful and a half!

     The weather had been amazingly kind to me on this trip

all the way through, but one night, just to remind me such

things could happen, it sprinkled, washing all the tracks on

the beach down like a school marm brushing the blackboard and

next morning I awakened to find a sight which really

got me revved.  The mother wolf had left her fresh front paw

tracks two feet or so from the back of my smallish nylon

tent.  This would have placed her nose right up against it in

the region of the tenters feet!  This didn’t alarm me as I

knew how shy and intelligent wolves are, and I knew how well

my .45/70 could kill one in the sad event I would have to.

     After a couple of days of hanging around the camp and

hoping for the pups to put in an appearance I decided I’d

played Farley long enough and would go out and seek the

animals on my own two legs.  The first days effort yielded

only total exhaustion and an empty can of beans as I found

myself fighting a war of crawling under and over, and

balancing on the previously mentioned pile of burned pick-up

sticks most of an afternoon.

     Although afraid of meeting similar troubles on the other

side of the river, I dared to try it and taking my Trapper

Nelson backpack with tarp, camera, and a bit of food I

ferried the river and pulled up the canoe, setting off on

foot once again toward the base of the towering mountain

whose view I’d enjoyed half a week now.  As always in the

Yukon, the climb was a hard one, first pushing through

forests of spruce and brush and then working my way up the

side of the mountain, pausing often to breathe hard and check

my progress against the mountain across the valley, usually

satisfied to see some new gain had been made.

     The climb took all of that day and when finally I had

made the uplands I enjoyed the view a bit and then pondered

where I would hole up for the night, deciding finally on the

head of the little ravine I had just followed up the

mountain.

     There, I gathered what scrub wood I could find and

stowed it for the night and huddled as near the fire as

possible,

sleeping only off and on as the high altitude night settled

over the central Yukon and the stars showed themselves.  The

temperature dropped well below my happy level and I longed

for the comfort of my arctic bag back at camp, hoping all was

well there and the wolves were leaving things alone.

    Eventually a glow began forming in the east and lighting

up the ravine valley rock opposite my position with a rosy

glow, turning slowly to yellow and then bright daylight as

the sun kept the Creator’s promise of Yet another days light.

After putting out the fire, I packed up what little comforts

I had and hiked up toward the east, back up on top of the

mountain.  Suddenly I heard the thumping sound of a medium-

sized animal’s feet on the moss and looked up just in time to

see a real live lynx race across in front of me and hardly

twenty paces distant!  In another second the cat was gone but

I felt thrilled to have even seen one in the wild at all.

     Another short hike and I sat down on the edge of a rock

cliff.  The rain showers had swept the air clean and

visibility was good to any distance.  A long way off I could

see many mountains covered in snow and ice, even now in July.

The cliff below me swept down a thousand feet to a base of

scree and below the lush green of a manicured golfcourse no

one knew of, the forest sent its perfume heavenward.  Over

the Nisutlin a rainbow could be seen where a passing shower

was happening and way down there, I don’t know how many feet

down, the Nisutlin followed its serpentine course along the

valley floor.  I could see from here just where the whole

valley swung off to the right and knew, again from the topo

map there must be a good sized lake back in there.  Someday I

would have to see that lake but I was quickly running out of

time and would have to turn back if I was to take the job I’d

applied for as horse wrangler and guide for one of the

Yukon’s outfitters.  But what a country! What a view!  And

all of a sudden I felt a rush of emotion and wanted to cry.

There was no one to share the place with.  No one at my side

to admire it with me.  I felt I was in heaven but all alone,

and what fun would there be in that?

     It was here that I decided to leave my reclusive life

behind and become involved with people again.  I’d been

struggling for awhile already with the notion of leaving

everyone behind and holing up somewhere way in the

backcountry but today, although I knew people would give me

grief in their living and their dying I knew I wanted to pay

the price.  But someday, I would have to share this beauty

with someone of the cleverer gender, and I began mapping out

the jetboat trip up this river I would take her on sometime.

     Reaching camp early I made the decision to run the

river.  The wolves weren’t happening and the trip down would

take a full day and I was out of time.

     Excitement gripped my heart as I tore down the tent and

rolled my bedroll, packing it all neatly and tightly into the

canoe for the ride down to the road.  This should be fun!

Then I remembered some of the more challenging stretches and

began to have my doubts.  I had been able to pull the canoe

up and through all the difficulties, but could I run them?

     But soon the rougher stretches near camp had been dealt

with and the river swung gently to right and left.  The sun

bore down and the temperature must have neared ninety.

Stripping off my shirt, I lazed in the stern, finding a

comfortable position on my back and lazily watching the

scenery go by.

     Wasn’t I the master of this river?  Wasn’t I an absolute

“monarch of all I surveyed?”  “Hadn’t I paddled a thousand

miles of river and dealt with many difficulties

successfully?”  It was indeed strange that the mountains

themselves weren’t shouting praises down to me as I drifted

gently down the river, not worrying that my canoe was

reversing position in relation to the sluggish current of the

young river.  That was no problem, surely, for one so

experienced and skilled as I!  No, no. Indeed, it would

probably be fun to run this next riffle backwards, with yours

sincerely in the bow and no aft paddler at all, and try to

miss that one single boulder near the left side.  That should

present no problem whatsoever, although it did seem to be

heading generally my way.  Perhaps I’d better apply a little

more force in my sidestroke here.  Now, now, you must be

kidding!  Oh NO!

     The canoe bit into the rock and heaved up upon it

placing me in an extremely awkward position.  I couldn’t

believe this was really happening!  There had been a hundred

feet of open river all around this one boulder and I had to

hit it right in the middle!  As now forseen, my balancing act

there on the rock did not last very long and ever so slowly

the other end of the canoe began to pivot around until, when

broadside with the current, it flipped and I found myself

kicking in the river for the first time in my career of river

running.

     Soon the canoe full of water had righted itself and I

had reached the bottom with my feet.  Hauling back for all I

was worth I worked the amazing weight of the thing far over

to the right shore and aways down the river and commenced

bailing.

     The bailing and emptying of the canoe, and dealing with

my sodden sleeping bag and grub box gave me time to think and

that night I wrote in my diary that “a wiser fool got back in

the canoe and paddled off downriver.”

     The canoe weighed a lot more now and so did the long

lens of my camera, which did not survive the dunking too

well.  The slide film was also practically destroyed.  I laid

all of this out on top of the packs to dry in the hot sun and

I forged my way downriver with the behemoth paddle and

wondered how quickly things could go wrong for a fool in the

bush alone.

     As I passed by a bank of the river I looked up in time

to watch another lynx drift past, bemoaning the lost

opportunity for a picture he had presented.  More rapids were

conquered, though not so bravely and one time some more water

sloshed in over the side because of the lack of freeboard I

now had to spare.  By now the hand-hewn paddle felt like an

old friend and I wouldn’t have traded for my first one, had I

been asked.

     Near dark, I got the camera working on a new roll of

black and white and photographed a moose too many times, the

only one I saw on this particular trip, and nearly at dark I

arrived at the truck.  I sure was glad to be able to sleep in

it instead of in that soggy sleeping bag!

    The diary was not damaged and was sent with a bit of

gold purchased in the city of Whitehorse the next day.  This

was the only metallic gold I found on the trip.  It crossed

my mind to send the book and all to her older sister instead,

the one without the boyfriend,but that didn’t seem altogether

upright somehow.  It’s hard to say just where a feller goes

wrong sometimes…  But then “what doesn’t kill you makes you

stronger”, they say.

    “He climbed up big mountains and hunted great bears,

     All to impress her but was unawares,

     That while he was gone trying to be something big,

     Another was with her and up was the jig!”

chapter 4: watch and learn!

WATCH AND LEARN!  by Birgit Martens

     With the thermos full of coffee, we started up the

Alaska Highway and I said, “Let’s drive a little into the

night.”

     It was a strange night.  The sun was coming in from the

front for a long time and I asked for the time.  It was 10:30

PM and I could hardly believe it!  Around 1:30 AM we looked

for a good place by the road where we could set up our tent.

A moose crossed the road.  Now the sun was gone but it still

was quite bright.  The evening would not end.  We found a

place, built the tent and crawled in.  Doug told me that it

probably wasn’t getting any darker.  I asked if we were

already in bear country.  His answer: “Yes”. And that made

falling asleep somewhat difficult but once I slept, I slept

like a stone.

     At about eight we were wakened by a bunch of motorhomes

who probably had stopped for a breakfast break and to let the

dog out.  We packed up the tent and we could not count the

mosquitoes that were plaguing us.  Each of us had a big

swarm.  We didn’t think of breakfast.  We just wanted to

leave.  We drove and drove but the road stayed the same.  The

windshield was full of little wings on little bugs that made

little round circles in the dust.  Pine trees and narrow

ditches, a black bear.

     Doug took lots and lots of pictures but the bear was not

interested so he trotted back into the bush.  Finally we came

to a hillier country.  There was more to see but it was more

difficult to drive.  Difficult especially because of all the

motorhomes.

     But we made Trutch Mountain.  The service station was a

big log house with many moose horns on the outside and many

dead animals inside hanging on the walls.  We tanked up and

had breakfast and dinner there and drove off.

     The road became more narrow and had more holes.  We

started worrying about the canoe.  Shortly before we got to

Fort Nelson one of the cushions for the canoe broke on the

rack.  We stopped and taped all four with lots of tape.  It

was hot and the air was moist.  The horseflies were

everywhere.  Help! Two months in a tent and everywhere these

insects.

     Later we came to an area where Doug used to guide.  He

often talked about it and now he was trying to find the trail

that would lead into that place.  At first I didn’t really

want to.  I worried that there was a rowdy gang there or

something.

     But instead we found Dave, Elley, Andrew and Becky, a

very normal family with a ranch backed by a huge mountain.

They had 75 horses and during the hunting season usually

around ten hunters here who came for sheep, bear, moose or

caribou.  It is absolutely beautiful here!

     We drove on to the Liard hotsprings.  Here again the

mosquitoes were bad.  I found the hotsprings too hot.  Doug

really enjoyed them and tried to get me to join him but I got

involved talking to a couple who had just returned from

Whitehorse.

     After the swim, we took the road back aways to camp

under a bridge.  The mosquitoes were awful and now it was two

AM.

     Next morning steady mosquitoes on the tent door and

three really big ones inside.  These ones had had a feast

during the night.  I itched all over! We packed quickly and

drove on behind lots of snakes of motorhomes.  Sometimes the

highway was So dusty and there were some pretty dangerous

situations.  Lots of road workers and waiting time but

finally we came to the sign “Welcome to the Yukon”.  Doug was

very happy.  Finally home.

     At Watson we saw all those signs on the road from all

over the world.  There were a whole bunch of German ones.

There must have been a lot of Germans here!

     Beyond the little town of Teslin we drove along a lake,

farther and farther, farther along this beautiful lake until

we got to a place called Johnson’s Crossing.  Again we tanked

up, shopped groceries and called Mom.  We have quite a few

groceries but there’s always something missing and as I was

trying to figure out what we would need I fell apart.

     A whole week in the bush.  Don’t forget anything! How

is it going to be with bears?  Is the canoe going to hold?

Yep, I was quite scared and didn’t know what to do.  And Doug

was in his element.  I decided to let him shop and went back

and sat in the truck.  There, I asked myself why I was trying

to play the brave one.  If it would have been my decision we

would have just stayed home.  Doug noticed I was edgey and

And biting at him and helped me overcome my fear.

     So, we started driving along a little highway north to

a beautiful lake called Quiet Lake.

     Even though it was late we decided to unload, dust it

all off and sort what we would need for the week-long canoe

trip and put the rest back into the truck.  Then we ate rice,

set up the tent and again, slept like stones.

     We woke at 8:30, started to pack the canoe, fought the

mosquitoes again, like yesterday, made a fire, put more

mosquito repellant on, added many layers of clothes on top

of each other and at about 11:30 we were ready and pushed the

canoe into the water…  It really swam- Wow!

     We made our way through Quiet Lake into a very little

river.  The water was crystal clear and you could actually

see the fish swim by- incredible!  Then we paddled to a dark

little lake which was called Sandy Lake.  There was a tent

and two men were talking at the shore.  A big black dog was

sniffing around along the shore.  When he saw us he started

to bark.  His barking sounded kind of eery because it echoed

back from the mountains, back and back again.  We did find

black sand.  Doug took a little of it into his gold pan but

no gold.  We’re going to try it on the way back again.

     The next bend around the river and a little motorboat

came behind us.  The guy from that camp came to find out what

we were doing here.  He looked like a strange man.  He had a

hat with a wide rim and a raven feather on the side.  He

invited us for coffee but we said, “On the way back maybe.”

He told us that last year there was a canoe just like ours

with three men from Edmonton.  The canoe capsized and all

three men died of hypothermia, but their dog survived.  He

kept repeating that the canoe had been just like ours.  Then

he left.

     We used our motor and went through the Big Salmon Lake.

At the very end of this lake we found a little log house

which Doug knew about and had stayed in already two times.  I

was really moved.  It was a really special little place!

There was a new guestbook on the table.  Franz Sichs and

Gabriela Fuchs stayed here for a whole year and only left at

the fifteenth of June.  It just worked out great that the hut

was free.  Our house. They had changed the house quite a bit

since Doug was here last and the old diary I could see that

Doug had been here August 2 in 1981 and Sept 22 in 1980.  I

could see that a woman had put in her part.

     The owners seemed to be Louise and Lilly and in the

beginning maybe Willy and Sheila.  We’re thinking a lot about

the two that stayed a whole year here.  Somehow, it reminded

me very much of the book I’m just reading and I kept looking

for signs that these were Germans, their name sounded so

German!  Finally I found it.  There were two magazines, a

“Spiegel” and a “Stern”, very typical German magazines.

Are those two back in Germany, or did they already live in

Canada?  How was this winter?  I had a thousand questions.

Will I ever meet these people?  We unpacked our stuff. Doug

went fishing and caught a grayling so we had fish, potatoes

and corn.  It was a feast.  We went to bed early and we slept

very well.

     It was now July 1st and our holidays were starting.  A

whole day full of doing nothing.  It rained. I wrote diary

and tried some fishing without any success.  I decided to

stay inside.  This is probably the first mosquito-repellant-

free day.  It is really not easy to keep the days apart

because now it’s 8:00 and it’s bright as dinnertime!  It’s

crazy!

     At 10:30 pm we took the canoe to the lake to try some

fishing there.  This is where I caught my first grayling.

Didn’t know what to do when the fish bit the hook.  I started

running away from the creek.  When I turned around, there he

was, wiggling on the shore and got himself off the hook, but

he didn’t make it back into the water.  Too bad for him, but

I was pretty excited.  Doug caught another three fish.  We

went home and played cards til 2:30 in the morning.

     We got up at 9:30, ate fish and rationed bread for

breakfast.  We packed our bags for a hike and we went into

the canoe so we could find a nice spot so we could go up to

a mountain.  Six hours we stumbled through the underbrush,

always hotly pursued by clouds of blood-thirsty mosquitoes.

I’m not doing this ever again!  I am still totally finished.

I have to say it was an incredible feeling to find the canoe

again, be able to cook hot soup and coffee.  My lungs burned

until I finally fell asleep.

**************

This hike was a great tragedy also from my point of view.  I

wanted so badly for her first hike in the Yukon to be a

joyful one but I hadn’t realized we’d be going through a bog

full of knee-deep moss containing the most fantastic

collection of mosquitoes I had ever seen in all my Yukon

experience!  The picture of this hike that best capsilizes

the tale is the image I still carry in my memory of a poor,

drowned  mosquito, which died inside one of my wife’s many

tears which was caught on the inside of her glasses lens.  A

disaster?  Yes, and more than a disaster, as I fully realized

the importance of an enjoyable first experience in the bush

for anyone just starting out.

     As is true of so many things, it would have been funny

if it were not so sad.    Doug.

***************

Eleven o’clock, fish for breakfast.  Listened for voices and

noises, bears and murderers and things like that but until

now nothing has shown up.  We were just finished with eating

when we really heard something.  People talking? Doug looked

out the window and sure enough.  First we thought it might be

the owners of the cabin but instead they were an Austrian

couple, on a canoe trip.  Her name was Sonja, his name is

forgotten.  We invited them for coffee.  It was very

interesting.

     During the afternoon Doug started to stack wood.  I

helped a little, then I washed some clothes.  I swept the

cabin.  Then I made my own fire for the first time, put tin-

foil-wrapped potatoes into the oven and cooked some soup.  We

talked quite a bit.  It feels really good finally to have

time for ourselves, to empty out and just relax.  Now if I

could just get rid of the fear.

     Tonight we both didn’t sleep too well.  There were too

many mosquitoes in the cabin and from cooking an evening meal

it was very warm.  Finally we decided to burn one of those

mosquito coils and then it did get a lot better but I was so

itchy anyway from before that I turned around a lot in bed.

Then I heard a big, hard bang behind the cabin.  Some metal

bending or something like that.  I feared I was hallucinating

but in the morning it did turn out that we had company, a

bear with cubs.  Doug figured this because of the tooth marks

on his plastic gas can.  I mentioned the noise that I’d

thought I heard at night.  It turned out that it was behind

the outhouse where Doug found footprints from the little

bear.  He must have gotten too close to the metal.  Doug was

really excited but I felt a bit smaller.

     In the afternoon we took the canoe along Big Salmon Lake

to find the cabin of the Crow Feather but it got pretty

windy and we decided to go home.  We didn’t meet the man that

we had met between Sandy and Big Salmon Lakes.  We wanted

to hear more stories.  I did find a recipe of rubarb wine

here.  We had macaroni and cheese for our supper and I tried

some carrot bread which was good and then we started to play

cards.  Just when Doug decided to show the whole world that

he never wins he started winning.

     By next morning I was starting to feel more relaxed.

In the afternoon we started along a little trail that began

behind the cabin.  We found many bear droppings and a few

moose tracks and I kept waving my scarf around my face.  I

sometimes felt like a horse with his tail just to keep the

mosquitoes away.  It didn’t matter how it looked, it really

helped.  We got back to the cabin, we both were hungry, yet

our stomachs were full!  That had to do with those strange

pancakes we had in the morning that weren’t quite done, so

they kind of worked like a glue in your stomach.  I think we

eat lots of starchy foods.  Lots of oatmeal, flour, rice,

noodles, bread.

     So for supper we had pickles and boiled eggs and drank

our last beer.  I found wild rhubarb which we ate raw and we

did feel better after that.  Doug fished for half an hour for

our morning breakfast and brought three very nice graylings

home.  In the meantime I’d stuffed a few of those holes in

the cabin with moss to stop the mosquitoes from getting in.

Now it did get quite a bit brighter in the room.  We cuddled

in bed and we read a few pages.

     We got up late again, Doug made a fire and he finally

changed his watch to Yukon time, ten o’clock, only.  We felt

better, because now it wasn’t that late that we got up.  And

for breakfast, fish, onions and fried potatoes.  Also, I had

made jello in the creek which was quite exciting to have it

set in this cold water.  I wrote two letters while Doug was

moving lots of firewood.

     I hope he’ll get really tired so he doesn’t have ideas

of big hikes over big mountains.  In the cabin is a big tree

mushroom or some kind of a growth that has something

engraved.  It says “I am monarch of all I survey.  My right

there is none to dispute.”  A quote that Doug had often

mentioned before.

     On the door I see: “because I’d like some time it won’t

take long, wide open sky with lot’s of room, and in the …..

of the night stand alone.  I want to walk fiercely through

the trees and catch the edges of a dream, see the shadows

rising from stone, and then I want to be like the owl and

wrap my wings around the moon and I will know all her names

and I will chant the ones that bind me to you.

     I hear a song, the wind is full.  Her voice is strong

and rising still and lingers on in the winters sharp night.

I try to see things through your eyes but I just get lost in

the wisdom of a perfect dark sky and I will be like the owl

and wrap my wings around the moon and I will learn all her

names and I will chant, I will chant the ones that bind me to

you.

     I’m not wise, nor am I blind.  I stay because each time

I climb above the river and stand very still the owl sings to

leave me whole.”

     Doug was tired.  He’d also built a bridge.  We made

supper and went to bed early.  He told many stories of bush

fever, men and bears.

     So we tried the last possible trail which led us to a

hunting camp.  One with a cooktent, but it had burned down

and we looked around in the remaining stuff.  We found glass

beads, somebody must have had moccasins, many nails, glass

and plastic, We cleaned up a bit, followed an old riverbed

and then went back.  A bear had come across the bridge Doug

had just built- Wow!  Doug made himself a canoe seat and we

packed because tomorrow we will go back.  For me it is

getting time because I’m starting to hear the churchbells

from Staufen and the mosquitoes are starting to sound like

sirens.

     We played cards and Doug kept winning the whole time and

is just about catching up to me now, 590 to 600.

     Four ravens sat on the woodpile that Doug had put up and

made a big noise.  We got up early. The canoe was loaded, it

was raining and we left.  My fingers were cold but I was

pretty relaxed though the wind made the boat rock on the

water quite badly.  I do like to swim but if you’d hear that

the water can kill you within two minutes, hmm.  In an hour

and a half we made it to Big Salmon Lake and the little river

that connected it to Sandy Lake.  Doug looked at the motor,

it seemed fine.  We ate something and drove through Sandy

Lake with a really big question mark with us wondering how we

can get from this place to Quiet Lake.  ‘Cause already we

knew that the current was pretty strong and the water very

shallow.  In the beginning it worked out quite well but the

currents got worse.  I paddled as hard as I could.  Doug had

the little three horsepower motor open wide and tried to

paddle with the other hand.  We could just barely stand with

the current.  It didn’t seem to work that we could go ahead,

but all of a sudden, like a miracle we did get around the

next bend and it got better again.  Then it got really

shallow and we stopped at the shore to take a breath and look

things over.

     Doug took up the motor to save the propeller and to

check something and then we went on.  All of a sudden there

was a big branch along the shore.  “Doug, a tree!”, I called,

but it was too late.  Doug opened the motor and the little

pin was broken that is supposed to break in this case.  He

quickly replaced it with one of his twelve spares.

Then I was supposed to untie the boat and lead it into the

current and Doug tried to go to the other shore.  I tried but

the current was so strong that the canoe didn’t go to

the other shore but turned around completely and took us

back.  But all of a sudden we stopped!  Why? What happened?

The current is still just as bad.  I turned around and there

I saw what happened.  Doug had jumped out of the canoe and

stood on the creekbottom.  I sat in the canoe like a piece of

baggage.  But we made it.  Doug pulled us, the baggage, the

canoe and me ’til we got to the next curve.  Then we stopped,

looked the creek over some, to find out where it was deeper

and Doug was looking for a deeper part in the creek and we

tried the whole trick again.  I did push into the middle and

this time, it worked.  I was supposed to look for big stones

on the creek bottom and I didn’t see any.  Then Doug all of a

sudden called, “It’s okay now,”.   I looked up and there

was Quiet Lake right in front of us.  We’d made it!

*********

     July 13th was Sylvia’s birthday.  We got up early, had a

German breakfast.  We went to Whitehorse, after we had packed

everything in, we are really packed!  We needed a hose for

the cool water that had broken.  This is how the whole dilema

started.  We picked up a few more groceries, went to Andy’s

to add and unload some stuff.  He did want to give us better

directions for our fishing tour as well and at four o’clock,

we finally left.

     We were all pushed together like the sardines until we

got to the campground at Asiak Lake.  The road was quite nice

but then the nightmare started:  Four hours of very rough

dirt road with big rainholes, awful bridges ready to collapse

and many big puddles, and other places, very dusty stretches

and we never really knew where we were.  Once in awhile a

sign that we just about made it, but no it wasn’t quite yet.

**************

     Syl sat across from me in the other bucket seat of the

Landcruiser, her nose and mouth covered with a cloth of some

kind to keep the choking white dust out of her lungs.  She

had a bit of a dark expression about her even though her face

was covered.  I grinned across and wished her “Happy

Birthday!”.  Syl didn’t seem to see much humour in the remark

and returned what I almost took to be a glare.  Doug.

*********

     We found abandoned Asiak.  It was a terrible mess, and

we just went on.  Another really big hole and a strange

noise.  Doug stops.  The canoe rack has broken.  At the

bottom of this hill a new place, many abandoned cabins, an

eagle lifts up on the lake wind.  11:30: smoke rising from

one chimney.  Doug walks by says “hi”.  “Hi” comes back, but

no more.  Not very friendly, otherwise nobody was there.

We’re cold, tired and hungry, took off the canoe and look

for a camping spot.

     We drove the truck up the hill again and the rack with

the motor and the spare tire breaks off completely.  I’m at

my end.  Doug ties the rack up with some wire and all four of

us put up the tent together.  Looked for a snack, find

firewood, put the stove together, blow up the airmattresses

and find room for the sleeping bags.  That all worked out

quite well.  We eat some more and then fall down like four

bugs.

     Next day both men went fishing and Syl and I talked a

lot, ate chocolate, fed the gophers, and watched the eagle.

It was somewhat uncomfortable in this ghost-town.  The two

came back with a very nice laketrout.  After that we went for

a walk through the town.  It looked very, very sad how

everything had become such a trash-place.  Back in camp we

wrapped the fish in tin-foil and had a very nice evening meal

together.  In the evening the two went back for another

fishing excursion and that is when Herbie got his 6 pound

laketrout.  Just right for one meal.  Syl and I had made a

fire already and had crawled into our sleeping bags to keep

warm.

     We did have trout for breakfast.  I enjoyed our lazy

afternoon.  Doug slept. We tried to make chocolate pudding

and played some cards.  It rained. Both men repaired the

canoe-rack, it wasn’t as bad as I thought of course.

     It was very good and I really enjoy having those two

here.  Sometimes I just about feel that I’m the guest.

     In the evening we did go for a canoe-ride, the four of

us.  Doug caught an eleven pound pike on his fishing rod.  We

took a picture and let him go.  Then we explored the little

creek that led to the Sickelman? Lake.  We saw beaver and

muskrat, mirror-clear water and dead branches, but that was

natural decay.  Syl started getting cold and Doug was sorry

he hadn’t tried this little connecting river sooner in the

day.

     We had a German breakfast, packed up and at around 10:45

we went on this crazy road back but this time it wasn’t quite

as bad.  We did take a picture of the worst of the bridges.

There, the truck wouldn’t start.  With a wire brush Herbie

cleaned the battery connection and the motor started again

and the trip went on.  At Haines Junction, we gassed up, had

some apple pie and icecream, picked up a few groceries,

picked up the licenses to fish in the Park, and went on

through a beautiful landscape, snow-covered mountains and

green pine until we got to Dalton Post.  We watched the many,

many salmon that made their way up the fast current.

Incredible!

     We ate porridge and tried a little fishing, but nothing,

the heavy run of the night before was over.  So we took it

easy in our new camp.

     At six next morning, there were many, many fishermen all

over the shores trying to catch salmon.  We didn’t see many

salmon being pulled out and for us there was none all day.  I

made pancakes and coffee for the two cold men.  And at around

one o’clock we had mashed potatoes and onion sauce without

salmon.  So we went for a little drive to Blanchard Creek

because the salmon fishing was also open there that day.  The

current was very fast and we saw a few salmon at least and

Doug did touch a few salmon with his hook.  While Herby had

my fishing rod I found some garbage to pick up and I also

found about twenty meters of little orange dots along in the

grass.  I wondered if they were salmon eggs.  I took one in

my hand and I squished it.  It really did look like

flourescent-coloured plastic but it did smell like fish.  I

went to Doug to tell him about my discovery.  His eyes

widened and he interrupted his casting.  He said it did sound

very much like bear but when he saw it he was happy that

there were no bear tracks and no sign of fish remains, only

sign of people.  We did fish til about eleven at night.  Syl

and Herbie had already gone to bed.  Doug was very

disappointed that he wasn’t able to serve a salmon breakfast

for his German guests.

     We got up after Herbie and Doug made pancakes and again

we had to load up the truck and this time it just didn’t pack

down well.  I had hardly room enough to move back there!

When we got back to Andy’s we decided not to put up the tent

but to sleep under the moose head.  Then we drove to the

hotsprings close to Whitehorse for a shower and a bath.

Fresh clothes would have been great but that was not to be.

We have to do laundry tomorrow for sure.

     We went to Whitehorse to a Greek restaurant, where we

were able to sit on chairs and have a plate on the table,

instead of the knees.  Syl had salmon steak. I want to wait

to eat a very-own caught salmon.  We had a very nice last

evening together, walked through the city, looked at the SS

Klondike, which was a ferry that went from Whitehorse to

Dawson around 1900 for the goldrush people.  When we got back

we talked to Andy for awhile.  He is very happy now. Doug

told me later that he had found a girlfriend.

     I don’t know already if I wrote that he also is

divorced and now I also know why.  His wife had a lover and

Andy was not happy and in his anger killed him with a knife.

     We got up at seven next morning and had breakfast with

Andy and then left for the airport.  It was very hard to let

those two go.  For me there is just too much attached: German

language, home, friends who are with you and don’t just kind

of vegetate their lives away.  But Doug hugged me tight and I

knew where I belonged.

chapter 5: big salmon 2

EXPLORING THE BIG SALMON – TOGETHER THIS TIME!

Birgit Martens

     So This was Whitehorse!  Doug shook his head again.

Much new stuff was being built.  Everything was changing

within these last three years since Doug had been there.  We

went to eat at MacDonald’s.  I enjoyed being back in a city,

seeing people, very interesting people, some right out of the

bush with big beards and hats and leather jackets-hippies,

and also very normal city people.

     We went to visit Paul Rogan, really different people!

Very fast and talkative, politically interested and very

critical of the government and social issues, also very

funny.  He’s from France and lives with his girlfriend.  They

both have children out of first marriages.  They didn’t have

much time but the half-hour with peppermint tea was very

nice.  They invited us to come eat bear with them one other

night.

     At Fish Lake I got to know Ian and Sylvia.  They have a

horseranch there.  We drank tea in a Very small little place

full of little niknaks.  I did feel more comfortable here,

maybe because I’m getting used to living in small quarters.

We talked and talked and talked for a long time but finally

we left to put up our tent.  It was dark but on the horizon

the sun did want to come up again.  We put up the tent, kinda

Mickey Mouse, and slept well.

     Doug and I went for a picnic at the Yukon River, then we

     went to Andy’s.  Doug worked on the motor, Andy painted

some fish and I packed things back and forth again.

     Again we packed everything together for a canoe trip!

It was a very hot day.  We bought all the groceries for the

ten days.  Doug repaired his rifle at Paul’s place and

together they went to get an assistant fisherman’s license

which cost him a dollar!  Now we’re allowed to get salmon out

of the Yukon River with a net!  Wrote a few postcards and put

them in the mailbox and then let’s get out of the city.

Well, then in all this hectic heat we had to follow a very

slow bus.  Doug is usually a very defensive driver, but this

time it got him and he did pass the bus at a stop sign.

     We were already on the road about a kilometer when we

noticed the police car right beside us.  He must have

followed us the whole way.  Because our rearview mirror

wasn’t attached we didn’t see him!  Hm! Doug thought he was

stopping us because of our broken taillight that we lost at

Asiak Lake when the canoe rack broke but No!, it was because

of our incorrect passing.  But now he found out that we

didn’t have a rearview mirror.  He was pretty mad and said

he’d have to pull us off the road if we didn’t immediately do

something about our rearview mirror.  We did have the mirror

but the piece to connect it wasn’t there.  Doug had ordered

it but the wrong piece had come.  There was wire, he

attached the mirror at the next gas station and we tried to

clean the dirty plastic windows.  We were just very happy

that we didn’t get a ticket from this nice policeman.

     But we didn’t blame him, we also shook our heads.  We

Are crazy!  We did get to Johnson’s Crossing, bought a drink

and phoned Doug’s Mom and Dad and then we went again to Quiet

Lake.  But this time I wasn’t scared at all.  It looked very

familiar.  I was looking forward to this adventure.  At the

end of Quiet Lake we met a few Indians that were on their way

to their hunting camp.  They were there with lots of horse-

saddles and they were waiting for more luggage and more and

more people arrived.  We drank some coffee with them and we

sang.  It was very interesting.  We got to learn a few Indian

words as well.  I’m sorry I forgot them already but the tribe

they were from was called Tlingit.  At eleven o’clock at

night we did start our journey to the end of the lake where

we were happy to find an open cabin.  We ate a German meal

and enjoyed the first night alone in awhile.

     We wanted to get up very early but again, didn’t make

it.  Doug went out at nine to make a fire and came in

really quickly.  There’s a boat, let’s go!  In a real hectic

we packed all our stuff together, jam, moccasins, empty

yogurt containers, everything quickly into the canoe and by

the time the boat came we had everything in the canoe.  We

stood there groggy, hungry and unwashed and the guys who also

belonged to the hunting camp kind of talked funny like they

wanted something, I dunno..  But we canoed on. We looked for

a nice place along Sandy Lake.  The mosquitoes were not bad

there at all.  We washed our hair, packed everything together

right, made some eggs and bacon, toast and coffee and it all

felt a lot better already.  And again on the Big Salmon Lake

we again tried to find the man with the crow feather.  We did

find him on the island.  We had coffee and cookies with him

and learned a lot of new things about this place.  Robert

Dunlop was a retired director of a theatre group and he liked

to spend the summers on this isolated island.  He was very

funny, I hope we meet him again.  Then we went to the log

cabin we had stayed at for a week.  It just about felt like

coming home.  The man with the crow-feather came in for a few

minutes as well.  We made some corn chowder, it was a great

day.

     Next day after breakfast, we cleaned up the cabin and

paddled on down the river.  I was a little scared. The first

three or four loops were really quite neat, it reminded me of

a roller coaster, they were somewhat fast but very friendly.

Doug always told me: “Paddle on the right.  Paddle on the

left.”  But All of a sudden he yells: “Back-paddle!”  Then

he jumped into the water and pulled us to shore.  I was quite

shocked.  I thought it was more of a practise thing than a

real emergency but when we examined the whole thing there was

a big tree hanging across the whole river.  So Doug scratched

his head and tried to find away to get past it.  Then we just

pulled the canoe past the tree on the inside curve and we

made it.

     Then, just a little farther, the same thing happened.

We could always just go a few meters, go back to the shore,

look things over and think.  Five times, five big ones and

then we came to a spot where there was a total wrecked canoe.

We did make a fire there to dry off our pants.  We did think

about turning around.  Doug said he really couldn’t forgive

himself if anything would happen to me.  He did do this tour

two times before so why should it go wrong this time?  I

didn’t really want to turn around.  We went on. One time we

unpacked the whole canoe.  One time we guided it on the

painter.  Then one last, real scarey part went down like a

slide.  We had to pull our heads in because there were

branches over top, there was a few scratches on the canoe,

but then we got to a slower, wider river.

     Doug thought the worst must be over and I hoped he

didn’t forget anything and also nothing new would have gotten

placed there.  We did make a very nice little camp, with

mosquitoes, barbequed some weiners and enjoyed watching the

river.  We did see moose tracks and we also a mother moose

with calf.

Friday, July 24th:

     Happy Birthday, Doug.  I did get up before Doug which I

really don’t like to do and seldom do because I never know

what I will find in front of the tent.  I started the fire,

made two big pancakes, put jam in between them and decorated

them with little orange segments.  It just about looked like

a cake.  I put the whole thing on our cooler, decorated it

with flowers, leaves, candles, little presents and cake and

sang the birthday child out of bed.  It was a beautiful

morning.

     At around eleven o’clock we had everything packed up and

pushed off the shore, it rained.  My runners were still

soaked from yesterday and all around I was pretty cold.

After awhile we did stop and I looked for my jogging pants

and an extra sweater which both were somewhat damp.  The

mosquitoes weren’t worried about any of this at all.  All

they had in mind was their thirst for blood.  We wound along

the river like a big snake.  I would like to know how many

kilometers this all is if you would just fly over it.

     Ten miles what we had to do, not very much but it was

very nice.  Doug said the mountainous part was the nicest

one.  We did see three moose on this cool, wet day and we

were really in no rush.  At around four o’clock we stopped at

sheep creek, the sun came out a bit very surprisingly, we

built the tent, made some supper, build a fire and the whole

bit.  It all doesn’t take only five minutes.

     We like to take time and I have to say when it gets kind

of evening-looking I’d like to have our home set up already.

I did wash my hair even and I dried my clothes and when

everything was finished it did start to rain but this time

for real, so we went into the tent, drank half a bottle of

wine out of yogurt cups to celebrate the occasion.  I made

some popcorn.  In Canada you salt popcorn and that suits the

wine very well.  When the rain was not as bad, Doug put on

his rubber suit and rubber boots and took his goldpan and

tried a little.  I brushed my teeth and disappeared into our

sleeping bag.  I embroidered a little on a picture for Verna

and then went to sleep.  Everything seemed cold and wet and

somehow I could tell a cold coming on.  When Doug came back

without gold I got all kinds of …  So Doug looked after my

cold and thanked me for a nice birthday.

     Next day, Doug warmed some water and made breakfast and

thought maybe we should set out a day so I could look after

this cold and just not even let it get really bad.  This was

a really good idea.  That means that we don’t have to clean

everything up and look for a new camp.  The sun came up very

hot.  I did wash a few clothes, washed up the canoe and wrote

diary.  The mosquitoes are not bad in the heat but that also

when it hatches a lot of horseflies instead.  A land of

extremes.  About two in the afternoon Doug decided to go and

look for a lake he could see on the map.  He took the axe and

left me with the loaded gun.  Doug’s need for exploration

doesn’t have many borders.  Neither Doug nor I have seen a

bear so far.  Doug did find that lake and he even swam in it.

That is really incredible because these mountain lakes and

rivers are so very cold.  The Tuesday before we had left we

had heard of a guy who had been pinned under a log in a creek

when he took the Wheaton Creek.  They were able to rescue him

just in time before he died of hypothermia, and that in July!

     The lake without name, was warm.  Doug suspected

hotsprings or something like that.  I would like to see that

lake in winter.  We made supper and I was a little

disappointed that I didn’t go along in spite of my cold.  But

after my first adventure of hiking in the Yukon I was pretty

sceptical.  We did go hiking in the evening along the river

and looked at the cabin across the creek.  It didn’t have a

roof but Doug thought in about three days this log cabin

could be repaired so it would be useable.  That would be

something!  The log cabin belongs to a Mr. Fox who is an

Indian who are allowed to build a cabin anywhere.  Besides

his family they were trappers along this river.  The log

cabin at the end of Quiet Lake, and the one at Big Salmon

Lake and also this one here would all be his.  We had also

found out that Austrians not Germans, that lived in that

cabin for a year were allowed to stay there for a year for

free because they were fixing up that log cabin.  That might

be an idea for this one as well.  Then I heard a noise in the

bush.  What it a moose?  Or maybe a bear? Doug took his

camera right away, followed the noise and I stayed behind

him.  We found a very colourful chicken.  Doug followed it

and took a few pictures.  I’m very much looking forward to

them.  Back at the tent I made sandwiches for the next day

and packed everything that I could already pack, cause

tomorrow we do really want to start early!

     At nine o’clock we pushed off.  That is not bad for us

especially if you consider it takes an hour for us to fold

the tent, pack the bags and load it all into the canoe and

fasten everything.  But our late mornings are really not that

bad either because this morning the tent was still full of

dew and damp.

     Today the current was a little faster than Friday and I

think we have also figured out a little better how to handle

the canoe.  We always have to check for stones that are

sticking out or close to the surface, sweepers, hidden roots,

shallow water.  We had dinner at moose creek, boiled eggs,

salami and pepper.  We still have really great food all the

time but we’re not quite satisfied. EXPLORING THE BIG SALMON – TOGETHER THIS TIME!

Birgit Martens

     So This was Whitehorse!  Doug shook his head again.

Much new stuff was being built.  Everything was changing

within these last three years since Doug had been there.  We

went to eaEXPLORING THE BIG SALMON – TOGETHER THIS TIME!

Birgit Martens

     So This was Whitehorse!  Doug shook his head again.

Much new stuff was being built.  Everything was changing

within these last three years since Doug had been there.  We

went to eacould see

them getting ready to jump up.  Could see them look at the

funny hook, but they were just not ready for it or else they

knew what it was.  I think they’re smarter than we think.  So

on we went.  These were the hot days so for every bend we

went we looked and checked out first the river for anything

difficult, then the shore for anything.  Often we would see a

duck mother with little ones trying to go around the corner.

She usually saw us first and with lots of noise and flapping

of wings she tried to hide her young.  Around the next bend,

of course we followed her, the water takes us in the same

direction, and all of a sudden there is nothing to see and

nothing to hear and the ducks have disappeared.  But when you

look close you could see in the roots along the shore, how

the long row of little ducks, quietly paddle against the

current.  That is pretty smart.

     And now around the next bend in this very far away place

we see an orange tarp with two boats.  Four people are

building a little hut. The lady says hi but other than that

we are not being acknowledged.  They must have just arrived.

On the map we could see that there is a little lake close to

the river so we were suspecting that they might have been

flown into this place.  It was a strange meeting.  We pulled

up our shoulders and of course, just went on.  Around the

next bend all of a sudden we could see how the pine trees

were swaying really strongly just along the shore.  This was

accompanied by a loud noise.  The water splashed up (as the

whirlwind crossed the river) and we tried to get to shore as

quickly as possible.

     It turned out okay to explore this little place.  It

seemed to be another camp of this Mr. Fox.  But there was no

cabin.  There was a bench and a well-built fireplace.  There

was a skeleton of a canoe that looked very much like it was

built by Indians.  The skeleton was probably covered with

bark or leather.  We also found a strange-looking rectangle

out of branches in two trees.  It was nailed on. My first

thought: It sure looks like you could attach a poster,

“MacDonalds welcomes you to Big Salmon River.” My second

thought was maybe to dry a bear skin.

     We did find lots of strawberries, mosquitoes and ants.

The wind was gone.  We saw the trees on the other side of the

river move.  It must have been a mini tornado or something.

We went back into the water and paddled on to the next sandy

beach.  We didn’t put up our tent.  We did make a lean-to

against wind and rain.  We jumped into the ice cold water to

refresh ourselves.  We had rice and cheese and sand for

supper and slept deep and good.

     We woke up to very hot weather.  We did make a fire

anyway, to make coffee.  We poured the coffee into our

thermos and tried to escape the heat but even on the water it

wasn’t much better.  It just was a hot day and it was slow

water.  We both were a little irritated, yet the area we

travelled through was beautiful.  The landscape changed all

the time.  Doug did want to get to a certain spot where his

map showed that a glacier had ended there.  I already just

about had a heatstroke when we finally got there.  We saw one

of the lakes in which the ice must have flown and it was very

beautiful.  And we found three beds, the grass pushed

together.  Doug said that is an animal bed.  He also thought

from the size he could tell that it was too big for deer but

for moose it was too small.  It probably was caribou- very

interesting!  First we sat in the shade for awhile and then

we took a big moose highway along the mountain slope to one

of the lakes.  It was a beautiful view, there was hardly any

mosquitoes, nice walking, just beautiful.  This lake to the

right had a kind of a U-shaped appearance and at the end it

looked very swampy and we thought if we were here in the

evening it could well have lots of moose in there.  On the

way back I saw a chicken.  Doug thought, no, it’s probably a

squirrel, but since when do squirrels fly?  Doug thought of a

good idea.  It sounded like a good idea.  To distract the

chicken, I was supposed to follow the path.  When I was far

enough away I set down the goldpan very quickly so I could

hold shut my ears.  Cause when Doug’s big bear-killer booms,

it’s very loud and it must not have been easy to hit such a

small chicken with such a big bullet so there would still be

some meat left.  But it worked! And here we were sitting.

Doug took the eatable parts of the chicken out.  Doug looked

at me but I didn’t make a face.  He thought it was probably

time to get me back into civilization if this didn’t matter

to me anymore.  We did put the meat on a piece of bark and

into the goldpan and passed a beautiful place with lots of

strawberries.  It looked just about like a planted field.

They were big and full, well, relatively big for the wild

strawberries.  We filled the rest of the goldpan with the

strawberries and were looking forward to a very delicious

supper.

     We got back to the canoe.  I washed the meat and put it

in a bag and hid it in our cooler.  I guess it was against

the law to shoot a chicken because the season only starts on

the first of August and this was the 27th of July.  Doug had

already decided where we were going to camp.  It was a place

where he had camped eight years ago where a grizzly had

signed where his territory was.  He scratches a piece of bark

out of the tree at about two meters of height.  And that was

another hour away.  I was thankful that the water was

somewhat faster at this point.  And there again, the task of

putting up the tent, get out the bag with the clothes, the

cooler, the bag with all the tin cans, the box with the

dishes, the paddles, the camera bag, the sleeping bag.  We

did it all already like in a dream.  Doug got some wood, I

made a fire and soon the corn, some potatoes and the meat

were cooking.  I washed the strawberries and mixed up some

dried skim milk.  What a delicious meal.  By now it was

eleven at night and we had a real campfire.  Tonight it was

actually dark.  We had coffee and talked a lot.  Everything

was just fine.

     Slept long because today we have no other plans than

just to enjoy this area.  I’m writing the diary. Doug’s

looking for gold.  He’s also trying to get the salmon.  I can

hardly believe it that I the scared German, really like it

here.  Towards evening we had wanted to go for a little hike

but after three hot days there was a big thunderstorm which

we took as an excuse to go to bed early.  Yes, life is very,

very different here in the wilderness.  Money, time,

electricity are such strange words- unecessary.  Eating,

having a place to dry your hat, and being alert all the time

are important in the civilization as well, only now I can

tell how really important it is.  I can tell how much Doug

lives here, especially when I compare this with the way he

can be in town and how uptight he can be there.  I can see

how he just blossoms here with just the thought of a moose

around the next bend in the swamp that he has to wait for.

I’m really impressed with this love, this urge to be one with

nature and its inhabitants but it also scares me a little

because it isn’t quite the same as I can follow it.  I do

like it here, it’s very fascinating, how death and life are

so close together everywhere, all the time.  Dead trees,

broken and killed by water and right beside it a new little

pine tree.  Life is so easy here.  But actually it is easy.

It’s just people who make it complicated.  But I cannot put

civilization away.  I do like cities to a degree and I

especially like people.  We had a good talk about this, very

honest and important.  And we do want to let each other grow

in either way and get to know each other more all the time.

     I got up at five o’clock!  Who would have ever thought

that?  At first I looked around everywhere to see if there

was any sign of bear who was looking for food, but I quickly

tried not to think about it anymore.  Then I made a fire, it

wasn’t very easy because it had rained so much the night

before, got breakfast ready, woke Doug and together we packed

up the canoe.  We were ready at seven o’clock to take off and

it started to rain very hard.  We put on our rainsuits and

started out.  It was good that we got going then because we

were able to kind of paddle out of that weather and I think

if it would have gone on like this for long the canoe would

have become a bathtub.

     The water was pretty fast here as we were leaving the

mountains.  We were quiet so we could see some animals

because the weather seemed right for that.  We saw some duck

families and some squirrels and some whiskey jacks.  One time

we heard some noises in the bush and some stomping away.

The area became more hilly and the water slower.  The

cloudiness became worse and Doug couldn’t resist any longer

and started the motor.  Then around 11:30 we made it all the

way to South Big Salmon.  It was cold and very moist.  We

were very wet and very cold.  We tried to make a fire. The

six Swiss canoes that we had been following, they must have

been three days ahead of us.  That’s what we could tell from

the diary at the Big Salmon Lake.  They had left some wood

under a bush- how nice of them!  We made a vegetable soup out

of a tin.  I usually don’t like it but I had never liked it

as much as I did that day.

     It got a little lighter and we went on always looking

for stones.  Sometimes the river would split.  Do you take

the right or the left or the middle.  It was very tiring in

time, but everything went good so far and the water was quite

easy to travel on til now.  Around six o’clock we got to the

North Big Salmon.  We were already quite tired.  The water

that came here out of this creek was black and it was

mosquito city and a grizzly had made marks on the tree.

The Swiss people has also been here.  Now I guess we’ve done

as much as they’ve done in two days.  We were pretty tired

and tried to decide if we should go the last thirty miles to

the Yukon River or stay here.  We decided to open a can of

beans, eat it cold and ate a buttered bread and go on.

The first thing that we met were very fast rapids with lots

of stones sticking out.  One of them we actually drove right

on and we had a hard time to balance the canoe across it.

Afterwards, Doug remembered that spot but we’d hoped for

thirty miles of slow water as it had been before, not such

nervous dangerous, fast water, especially when you are half

asleep.  After four of those kind of spots we stopped.  Doug

was very frustrated, tired and finished.  “Why do I have such

a bad memory?  It would be better I had none.  Then I

wouldn’t always try to depend on it!”

     I gave him a grape sugar.  I tried to encourage him

because for some strange reason I kind of enjoyed this.  Doug

couldn’t believe my positive attitude.  We were thinking of

stopping but we thought we’ll just try around another bend

and then we’ll see and then it actually started getting a

little better.  Doug started the motor but the water here was

pretty because of the North Big Salmon and I always had to

check the depth of the water with the paddle.

     Around 9:30 our gas ration was out.  We started to

paddle.  The landscape was wide and open.  There was some

wind.  At one spot it was very interesting.  There were small

little hills right beside each other like little marshmallow

heads.  At the last one the river wound itself around like a

round swimming pool.  From here it’s half an hour to the Big

Salmon village in the Yukon Valley.

     And here we are in this little ghost-town.  It used to

be important.  People used to live here when the steamship

was going from Whitehorse to Dawson all the time.  Today,

there were two people there, who were Germans, who had been

on a tour from the Nisutlin River to the Teslin Lake to the

Teslin River and along the Yukon River now.  I didn’t tell

them that I was German and I don’t think I will.  I can

hardly believe how many Europeans are on the rivers of

Canada!  Here we were standing, dog-tired, should we put up

our tent.  We looked at some of the old log cabins.  Some of

them had fallen roofs and beams, one had sunk into the dirt

and sat there crooked.

     One must have been a store at one time and it had many

shelves.  One of the shelves was full of bottles, wine, beer,

whiskey and scotch.  I guess anyone that comes by adds

another bottle.  The roof, floors were quite okay.  There

even was a bed.  On the wall someone had signed, “Helmut

Kohln – Ich war auch da.”  Let’s sleep here said Doug.

     I couldn’t close my mouth until I could get used to this

thought.  Doug had already unloaded the canoe and made a

fire.  There we sat on the bed on our sleeping bag and drank

cold coffee out of the thermos.  There, something came

running into the door.  I couldn’t say we had company from a

mouse, no, we were the visitors.  Doug had no problem

accepting that and he behaved like a guest and the mouse

behaved like she owned this place.  The gun case, that was

leaning against the bed beside me the little mouse took a

leap and used it as stairs to get into our bed.  All I could

do was quickly take the case and shake her off.  While this

mouse ran into a corner another climbed onto the bottle-

shelf.  I am not going to take my clothes off here.  I

decided to crawl into the sleeping bag and just forget-

sleep.  I had just dozed off when Doug screamed and scared a

mouse off my pillow.  That was it for my sleep.  I kept

listening for them until five in the morning.  Mice moved

everywhere.  They were active all around the bottle-shelf, in

the kitchen cupboards, in our pots, scratching around.  I

noticed one mouse along the floor trying to get to the door.

It went back so I opened the door.  I thought maybe she wants

out.  I quickly got my feet back into the sleeping bag but

she didn’t go out.  Another one came in.  The sun came up and

so did I.  I made a fire outside, dried our clothes, wrote

diary and thought about our whole trip.  A hundred miles we

did yesterday.  That was absolutely crazy and today we want

to do another seventy to get from along the Yukon River all

the way to Carmacks.

     Next morning Doug got up at about 8:30.  It was a nice

sunny day.  We took it easy a little and made some pancakes

for breakfast, and started out at about eleven.  The Yukon

River is very wide and relatively fast.  The wind is very bad

though.  We were so tired and the sun burned on our brains.

We just stopped for a short tea break at the Little Salmon

and went on.  I’m sure I have a sunstroke or something cause

somewhere the gas had been out a long time and we were

already hoping after every bend to find Carmacks.  I just

finally lost it.  I started to get silly.  I could only laugh

and it was getting crazy.

     We asked someone on the shore how far it was to Carmacks

and in very broken English he said, “Eight to ten miles”.

No!  We had thought it would be very close.  I’m sure this

man was a German.

     About ten in the evening, with wind against us, we got

there.  The campground was full and the few little spaces in

the forest were full of glass splinters.  And now after all

this paddling and being over-tired, we have to clean up this

mess, set up our tent, make a fire, the whole thing.  Ah,

what would I do without Doug?  I slept like a stone.

     300 kilometers with the canoe, 55 hours on the water.

chapter 6: paul’s cabin

PAUL’S CABIN

by Birgit Martens

   The Bradley ranch was a real little paradise in the middle

of the bush.  They had cows and chickens there.  They had

fields of hay and wheat and oats and also sunflowers.  It’s

right by the Pelly River.  Vic and Huey Bradley, who are

brothers, had been farming this area for 33 years.  It is a

land of unlimited possibilities.

     While we were putting our canoe in the water Vic was

washing potatoes.  They looked very good.  A rainbow said

goodbye as we left this little paradise.  We are now thirty

miles west of the Pelly Crossing.  The sun went down. We had

to paddle two miles along the Pelly River to where it meets

the Yukon, then six miles down the Yukon to where we were

supposed to find the log cabin.

     On the left shore, we could see a fort, Fort Selkirk.

On the way back up we hoped to have time to explore this

place a bit.  It started to get dark and somehow in the bush

Doug did find Paul’s camp and it was a real miracle because

it was hidden well.  Our next problem was to find the key but

we couldn’t find the hiding place.  We looked everywhere with

candlelight for about an hour.  I heard a “cough” and Doug

was just ready to give up and find out where we could maybe

put up our tent or sleeping bag.  I decided to take the

candle one more time to that same woodpile even though we had

already searched it about ten times.  But this time I tried

to be very calm, no fingers in it or fast looking, just very

slowly and it did help, we did find it.  We opened the door

and I was so tired, I never even looked around the cabin but

just went to sleep.

     Next morning Doug came back from a little exploration

tour.  He had disturbed a mother bear with two young.  He had

heard them running through the bush.  They were very scared

of people.  Maybe this was the bear I heard cough last night.

I hadn’t known that bears cough and I’m glad that Doug only

told me later.

     Doug tried to catch a salmon with a hook and took

another little tour.  I was getting worried about him because

he had been gone quite awhile but then we also went on a

little exploration to the log cabin on top of the hill.  Paul

had told us about it.  We climbed up the cliff along the

shore of the Yukon River and found it.  The window had been

taken out just like Paul had said.  He had explained that if

he didn’t take the window out, the bears would break in at

least once in the fall, so he decided to leave the windows

open and let the bears come and go as they pleased.  Three

windows faced the river which was a long way straight down.

The cabin stood there just like a castle on the Rhein.  It

was a place to relax, to sort things out.  Here I’m king and

nobody can interfere.  We had mashed potatoes and chilly for

supper and of course, thought of salmon late that evening.

After a long discussion and thoughts of yes or no we decided

to let the net into the river.  Doug had a license, but what

if he caught twenty fish?  But maybe we won’t catch anything.

It took awhile before we were able to get the net apart, set

the anchors and all that, and we read in the evening by

candlelight about bears and slept pretty well.

     In the morning I woke up and thought of the net right

away.  Should we start at the back or in the front?  Hey, I

can see a tail!  It must be a salmon!  But when we got closer

it was a beavertail.  That was sad. We felt awful.  This

poor little guy must have had a terrible end.  What have we

done?  As we got the beaver fished out of the net we weren’t

even thinking of salmon anymore but Doug continued pulling

the net and there!  Four salmon. Two were dead and two were

still very alive.  Doug freed the smaller living fish.  They

would have been better eating fish but what will we do with

so much fish?   We have two big salmon in the canoe, a twenty

and a sixteen pounder.  One was a male and one was a female.

It was really interesting and it was hard to believe that you

could tell that so quickly from the shape of the heads.

     Most of the morning was spent taking the fish apart and

getting them ready so we were able to store them for awhile.

For dinner of course, we had a whole frying pan full.  We did

try the cavier but I really didn’t enjoy it too much even

though it is supposed to be a delicasy.  Washed the dishes,

had a little nap, then we went on another exploration hike.

On the way there we had seen an old trappers cabin and we did

want to try the different paths leading away from Paul’s

cabin.  The vegetation around here is somewhat different.  I

don’t know how to call it.  It was there instead of the wild

grass.  Lot’s of wild berries.  Found many berries like

currants and raspberries and strawberries.  I’ve also found

some new ones that I’ve never seen before.  One looked like a

small strawberry plant, but only had one bright red berry

that looked more like a blackberry.  Later in the book I

found that its name is “cloud” or “salmon-berry”.  And there

are many names for these plants.  One was called Kinnikinik

or bearberry.  Looks like a small blueberry.  While I was

sitting at the picnic table studying all these different

kinds of plants I heard some rustling in the bush behind me.

I was feeling fairly comfortable around this cabin now but I

still always turned with every sound I heard, usually it was

only a whisky jack or a squirrel but this time I did see a

big black spot moving around.  I’m not sure how come I was

able to stay calm but I got up very slowly, went over to

where Doug was sitting, reading, and whispered to him, “Doug,

bear!”  But instead of coming into the cabin with me he went

towards the bear and started taking pictures!  The bear was

just ten meters from him, sniffing the teeter-totter that

Paul had made for his kids the summer before.  He probably

wanted the rest of the salmon we had left for an attraction

for bears.  We followed and the bear really did go towards

the scrap-pile and then all of a sudden he turned around and

ran away.  It didn’t seem to be because of us but why?  He

took the same way back he had come from and ran into the

bush.  We thought he might have been one of the young ones, a

one and a half year old, and that the mother was calling him

back.  We were hoping that we would see the mother and those

young ones another time but waiting for them didn’t work out,

so we decided to have supper, salmon again!

     This time I enjoyed it even more than at dinner.  I

thought of all the people at home and would really have liked

to offer all of them some of this treat.  And then, I also

thought of the next winter when we would sit in the city

and remember it.  For now we’re here with too much of it and

we don’t want it to go bad.  Doug started to read in the

cabin, I washed the dishes, made some coffee and a desert

with berries that we had picked.  By then it was dark and the

candlelight and the reading-man with his pipe in the corner

looked very inviting.  I joined him and got out my embroidery

and Doug started to read out loud.  “Grizzly”. The author

tells of various situations where he follows grizzlies until

they feel uncomfortable and start following him, about Johnny

and Jenny the grizzly babies that he raised himself and lots

of other stories.  It was such a very nice evening that I

really didn’t want it to end.  We sat there until 1:30 in the

morning, my stitching was finished and Doug’s voice was

starting to sound sleepy.  Goodnight!

     Another sunny day.  Just right to try and dry that

second salmon.  Doug cut it into little strips.  Just the way

Paul told us.  We dipped it into a saltwater solution and

spread it on tinfoil.  Bacon and eggs for breakfast!

Doug read again and I started to fold two bags out of cloth

to store the dried fish in to transport it home.  Doug found

some tracks of the bear mom.  She is very careful. Through

the bush she must have come to take her part of the salmon

leftovers.  The ravens and the whiskey jacks are not that

careful.  Doug did want to try the trail that was Paul’s

trapline.  I stayed in the cabin to watch the salmon and turn

it over and over.  I read and I played cards.  When Doug came

back quite tired at eight o’clock, we started to make our

final, special, salmon supper.  We made a nice outside-fire.

We filled the last piece of salmon with onions and butter,

salt and pepper and rolled it into tinfoil.  We rolled the

potatoes into tinfoil too.  Everything went onto the coals.

We cooked some corn and coffee and at about ten at night we

finally sat down more tired than hungry but it was still a

very special supper.

     Next morning we got up late but it rained outside so who

cares?  We thought of walking along the trail that was

driveable to check it out but when the sun came out I thought

I should take the fish out and finish drying it.  Doug

enjoyed cards so we went at it again and it was really great

to have the time for it.

     Doug wanted to try to fish some more.  He did like the

dried fish so much that he is now sorry we did let the other

two fish go.  Well I sure hope he doesn’t get anymore because

I sure don’t want to spend another two days turning fish

pieces around in the sun.  He went down to the Yukon River

and I turned fish pieces behind the log cabin.  I walked

towards the picnic table and there’sa bear!  Thirty meters

right on the trail at the clearing in front of the cabin.

But he didn’t stay long.  He turned around very quickly and

ran off.  At first I stood there a little shocked.  Then I

decided to run and get Doug and we went and looked at the

tracks.  Well, Doug was not concerned about me, he just

thought it was too bad that the bear was gone.  Then he took

his fishing rod and went back to the river.

     Sometimes I tell you that I actually am more mad at

myself.  I’m just so scared!  I can hardly go ten steps away

from the cabin, even to get water.   At around seven o’clock

I did feel like walking so we decided to try that trail that

you can drive.  Before that Doug followed the bear tracks

again and noticed that it swam across the channel onto the

sandbank.  He came back smiling.  “Congratulations! You have

seen your first grizzly bear today!”

     Now of course, my heart went deeper into my pants, but

we sure went on our walk.  Just a small little round is what

I wanted to do.  But all of a sudden, we had the idea that we

could maybe walk the ten miles to the truck.  That way we

wouldn’t have to take the canoe up the river.  Because you

can walk the whole stretch, we could also see if there are

any parts that are hard to drive.  Three hours we walked and

walked until we got to a bridge which had been lifted off the

road by ice during the winter.  There we stood with all our

smartness.  It was getting dusk.  It was three hours to go

back and we couldn’t drive over this.  No gun. No matches.

No tent.  What idiots.

     After Doug finished shaking his head, he got past his

pride and we walked the last kilometer to the Bradley farm.

Hue and Vic were just sitting down for tea and invited us to

join them.  We had a nice little talk and we told them about

the bridge.  They smiled. And after awhile they said they

had a little secret.  There was a way around the bridge.

     That was great!  They talked about bears, about farming,

about mushrooms.  We found out that that beautiful log cabin

that we had met halfway along that trail that looked like out

of Hansel and Gretel was actually Paul’s ex-wife’s cabin.

But he had built it and all the bridges along the way we had

travelled.  Pretty impressive!

     Then we drove to the cabin.

     The long day of the Yukon summer has our clock pretty

turned around.  Of course we slept late.  Around ten-thirty I

had to leave the cabin.  I opened the big wooden door,

looked around carefully to the right, where the bear had

sniffed the teeter-totter- nothing there.  Straight ahead

where the bear had stood when I was drying fish, and then to

the left, then around the cabin across the field where sure

enough, a grizzly walked!  So back in the cabin, I told Doug

about it.  He grabbed the camera quickly but the lens was too

short.  He fiddled around, upset his camera wasn’t working,

and I watched the young bear walk across the clearing,

straight for the hole where the beaver lay.

     He picked up the animal like it was nothing and ran

straight for the bush.  According to the book Doug had read,

this was typical of grizzlies.  Very shy. Black bears play

more but you still have to watch them.  Doug’s photo did not

work out.  The sun was right, the distance, there was even a

scene.  But now its all gone forever.  Too bad!

     Doug stupidly tried to follow the bear.  I was really

quite scared but he said it was just very hard to follow the

tracks in that kind of bush and the bear was probably pretty

scared and well hidden.  Probably just as well. After that

we had something to eat.  We read and lazed around. Doug was

getting somewhat depressed.  Why go back to the city.

Especially why go back and try to persuade people to buy

insurance?  Why would anyone want to have to work for money

anyway?  We have to pay so many taxes and stuff and we only

need it in civilization.  And here you need so little.  Of

course, there were loans to repay so what choice was there?

People are against hunting but they buy meat on sterilized

styrofoam plates with lots of plastic around it, live in

apartments and have nothing to do with nature.  They might

buy a plastic plant that they don’t have to water.  The grass

in front of the houses is kept dandelion-free.  Maybe a

plastic deer lighted with green spotlights stands on the

lawn.  Here it all sounds absolutely ridiculous and very,

very sad.

     At about five we decided to take the canoe up the river

to Fort Selkirk.  Four miles in two hours to Fort Selkirk

against the current.  Here the motor is really quite special.

Fort Selkirk is a small little town which was built in 1846.

The fur trade with the Indians and later the goldrush gave

the little town at the Pelly River junction an important

role.

     The big steamboats needed this stopover as well.

Indians attacked the place in 18?? and many of the

inhabitants moved to Dawson.  Another boom time in 1950 gave

the Post Office and the police station and the two churches,

a school and a repair shop something to do.  But most of the

rest of the people moved on to Dawson City on the Klondike

Highway, the Yukon River.  Now this little place is getting

fixed up to be a tourist attraction for the canoe traffic but

our attention was mostly paid to the fruit found there, nice

raspberries and gooseberries, right behind the old repair

shop.  We ate and we picked and I gathered them all into my

jacket and I looked forward to a nice bannock and berry

supper.

     The way back went quickly.  Not far at all. We took the

berries to the picnic table.  I washed my hands. Where is

the towel?  I had hung it on the line to dry and now it lay

on the ground.  The towel was laying in one dirty clump.

Doug, before I touch this I want to know if by any chance it

had been a squirrel.  But I was right, it had been the bear.

We looked at the holes.  You could count the claws.  The

biggest piece that had smelled like fruit was lying a little

bit away.  I guess it wasn’t so good after all.

     We did find his tracks even right in front of the cabin

door.  He was getting pretty brave.  I made the bannock and

washed the fruit and added sugar and milk and we ate inside.

That with the towel was just a little bit too daring.

Besides it was pretty cool and dark outside.

     Sunday we packed, cleaned up, managed to get the canoe

back up on the rack and left.  We hoped to make Whitehorse.

     But that little trail, packed and loaded as we were, was

not as easy as before.  We had to drive slowly and Doug

thought he could use this opportunity to learn some tree

identification.  Which is the pine, which is the spruce?  I

do find this very interesting but I do think he should rather

watch the road.  This was driving me nuts and finally, half

way there we punctured a tirewall on a sharp broken tree.

     We only have a small spare tire and the lugs had been

tightened with an impact so they were very hard to remove.

With oil and banging and patience Doug was able to remove all

six, finally, and then we found the spare tire wouldn’t fit

the front wheel because the hub was too big!  I started to

cry.  So the whole thing had to be done on the back tire.  He

put the spare on the back and the back wheel on the front.

     After coffee at the Bradley ranch, we drove thirty miles

to the highway.  Now, the city kind of drives me crazy too.

**********

NT WATERFALLS

by Doug Martens

The end of our Yukon summer came all too soon and, maybe

listening more to my wallet than to my heart, we left

Whitehorse, grinding up the hill past Jacob’s Industries,

where I had begun my Yukon adventure ten years previously.

It felt sad to be leaving once again.  This sadness didn’t

last long as we soon began arguing about whether or not we

had Andy’s phone number and address or not.  The arguing

continued right up the hill and when at last, the stop sign

was noticed, and the double-pumping brakes applied, there was

no time for the second pump.

   A van had come to a stop without telling this driver and

the nose of our green canoe dug into its back on the left

side, pushing in the metal and attesting, once again, to the

structural qualities of our good old canoe, also to the

length it extended beyond the grill of the Landcruiser!

   The driver was not inflamed but rather incredulous.  “I

don’t believe it!”, he said over and over.  Then he went on

to inform me he had just had that very spot on the van

repaired.  It had cost him a hundred bucks and he would be

willing to settle on the spot for that.  Fine with me and off

we plodded, my wallet and heart a bit lighter, thanks to the

mercy of the man.

   On the highway, after some travel, I noticed the cruiser

when he blew his horn behind me and we pulled over.  The

officer was not impressed with our Landcruiser packed full of

supplies to the point where it was impossible to see anything

in my rearview mirror and he did an adequate job of letting

me know how he felt about it.  But Yukon officers are

merciful too and are used to seeing various misshapen piles

of half-rusted-out junk clanking down their roads and

highways, and he let us off with a strong warning.  God bless

him.

  After restructuring my mirror, we were off.  Fueling up at

the station, I recognized again, one of the bald triplets I

had seen photographs of in the shop window in Whitehorse.  In

the first scene the bearded triplets, tall and around forty

years of age are seen in a barber shop, one trimming the

others hair.  A bottle of something strong also appears in

the picture.  Next picture, some hair is coming off a little

close to the scalp.  Third scene, they are all bald and

strangely shaven and a little droopy around the eyelids!

   Just above Fort Nelson in northern B.C. there is a turnoff

to the north.  This highway, we knew would lead us near the

Nahanni River and over to Slave Lake, in the Northwest

Territories, and so, loathe to go back home just yet, we

made the corner, knowing we could travel from Slave Lake down

to Edmonton and thence home.

   This trip proved to be one of the most enjoyable of the

whole summer, though the road itself had its long and dusty

stretches, alright!  Indeed it is four hundred miles in

length, much of that over a sort of forested plain and when

the rains don’t come, the dust billows out from under your

grips and settles on your supplies, on your hair and in your

ears.

   With the gas-tank float clanking the bottom of the tank we

noticed the first gas station on the stretch, a hand-pump

model.  I’ve seen only one other gas station using one and

that too was in a remote region of Alaska.  A half-ton full

of friendly Indians pulled up at just the right time and

filled our tank.  The business day should have been over but

they were eager to help.

   We had to take a little stop-over here and spend a day or

two as this was very near the spot were the beautiful Nahanni

River enters the huge Liard River on its way to the MacKenzie

and the arctic circle.

   Wanting to phone our family to let them know the bears

hadn’t got us, we pulled into town.  Five or six Indian

children raced up to the Toyota, all dressed up in bright and

shiny clothes, and full of life.  “They’re from

Saskatchewan!”, we heard them say when they saw our license

plate, just as if no one from Saskatchewan had ever entered

their little rivertown.

   “Are you comin’ to the dance?” , they asked excitedly.

“There’s a dance in town tonight you know!”

   They told us a phone could be found at the store or at the

school where the dance was to be held.  I headed for the

store.

   My second clue that this wasn’t a typical reserve came

from the posters I saw pinned up all over the place at the

store, telling their viewers not to be “Mooseheads”, not to

drink alcohol.  The store was closed so the only alternative

was the phone at the school.

   As we pulled up the dance was beginning and a loud

scraping and clanging came from within as the band played a

contemporary song.  At first I didn’t even look inside,

picturing in my mind another smoke and booze filled, violent

degredation of humanity.  But, of course, I had to at least

have a look.  We had been invited, after all!  Rows of tables

were neatly positioned along the two walls, with chairs only

on the viewing sides of them.  In these chairs sat the

members of the little community, old and young all together,

drinking coffee and coke and clapping after each song was

completed, just as people show their appreciation for any

fine performance.  The room was indeed, set up much as a

church, but with one young couple dancing together at the

front.  It was altogether a beautiful sight!  If only this

community can hold to its stand in the years to come.

   That night we slept under a picnic table in a beautiful

birch-treed campground near a pond complete with large lilly-

pads and a floating walk-way and next morning we were

awakened by the laughter of young boys on that walkway.

They had a .22 rifle and were talking about shooting a moose,

the boy firing a round once at some inanimate target, then

seeing us under the table and hollering a cheery  “Good

morning!” our way.  I responded in kind but cringed when he,

pointing the rifle out of a hole in a campground shelter,

allowed another child to lean on the muzzle and talk to him.

Some safety lessons would be in order here, I decided, but

they soon walked away and we got up and got dressed.

   The driver of the motorhome which had pulled into the

campground the night before, drove away shortly thereafter.

I don’t think he even once left the false security of his

motorhome, even to walk around and explore this beautiful

place.  One could only wonder why and I found myself pitying

him and all the rest who see the north only from the sterile

confines of their motorhomes, missing out on the smell of the

bush, the crackle of the campfire and the songs of the loon

and the wolf.

   “The risk of pain is the price of life”, some wiseguy once

said.  Neither my wife nor I would have had any interest

whatsoever in trading our travel experiences for theirs.  But

then, I’m certain I’ve let my own fears rob me of plenty of

good things over the years, too.

   Next day we stopped at the government establishment in

honour of the Nahanni National Park and thoroughly enjoyed

the stop.  It is clear these people have a sensitivity for

the value of the land their mandate it is to protect and

care for.  There we watched a video of Albert Faille taking a

passenger up the Nahanni in his flatboat.  The movie camera

faced back.  It made my skin crawl to watch the “frail” old

man there in the stern, coaxing the big racing outboard

along, feeling the riverbottom with a stick for depth, bright

orange fuel barrels rocking back and forth crazily all around

him in the impossible standing waves, and all the while

grinning as if there were no greater thrill in life than

riding the wild, bucking, kicking Nahanni.

   Ever since reading and re-reading R.M.Patterson’s “The

Dangerous River” I have harboured an ambition to see this

river up close personally for myself and it was a little hard

to turn down the opportunity of seeing Virginia Falls from

the government helicopter.  To me this would have been like

opening a present before Christmas.  I want to see it, but I

want to see it the way R.M.Patterson and Albert Faille saw

it, from a canoe after a long trek up the river, or maybe

just floating down to it, finally rounding the last bend and

feeling the pounding thunder and watching the plumes of spray

challenge the heights.

   We spent the night in the campground here, one of the few

times we used a campground during the entire summer.  During

the night, some animal was heard routing around outside but

after having a peak out from beneath the tent and seeing

nothing, I went back to sleep.  My wife had a bit more

trouble I think and, in the morning, down on the riverbeach,

blackbear tracks were seen.  I was sorry to have missed

seeing him.

   After stuffing our tent and arctic bag into the brave

little Toyota, we lit out once more, myself feeling as if I

was being torn from a place I needed to spend a great deal

more time at.

   But the miles rolled by amid the choking clouds of dust

and we marvelled at the endless flatness of the plain we were

crossing.  Once we noticed a sign “emergency airstrip” and

got a bit of a chuckle, also the dust-covered signs

declaring this and that section to be dust-free seemed a bit

ridiculous.  Maybe that’s why they were there.

   After a long time, though, the topography began changing

into a more rolling type of country and then we began

noticing some waterfalls next to the road.  We must have

burned a whole roll of film on one, first seen from the

bridge above it.  We admired the way the good-sized river

rounded the bend, and dropping and narrowing, formed huge

standing waves before sluicing through a narrow chute in the

rock and plunging into a strange bowl-shaped hole, before

dropping another 30 feet and flowing on through the rocky

canyon below.

   Actually the only unimpressive thing in the scene was the

bridge on the highway which passed nearly above the falls

themselves, detracting from a view we never would have seen

had the bridge not been there…

   We had a ball watching the action of the water and

listening to the steady roar.  It was just amazing how such a

large river could pass through such a narrow spot so quickly!

   Then, it was off again until we made the Lady Evelyn falls

on the Hay River, a truly magnificent sight.  This large

brownish river travels through the bush sluggishly until

suddenly, without warning, the bedrock sheers off and drops

fifty feet or more.   The whole river plunges off this

precipice with frightening power.  I couldn’t help but wonder

how many river travellers had been swept over that edge,

never to paddle again.  To get an especially impressive

picture, I found a small jut of land just above the falls

where a tree had snagged and gingerly tiptoed out for a look.

I could just imagine how I’d feel in a canoe at this point.

Believe I’d back-paddle!

   Hay River was a real surprise after all that driving

through the forest.  Large ships dock in the mouth of the Hay

and Slave Lake itself reaches out toward an invisible shore.

Standing on that beach was just like standing on the shore of

a saltwater ocean.  Imagine such a huge body of water inland!

The summer’s trip could be said to have ended here, with the

pair of us gazing out over an open sea, wondering what new

delights the Lord had yet to bring us.

******

PEOPLE!

     The Yukon has its scenery and its wildlife but to really

know a place, you must know the people.  Live there.

     Ed Jacobs left the states many years back and founded a

machine shop/ oxy-acetelene plant which made him a very

wealthy man.  Yet no one seeing him drive that old yellow

wagon with the bald tires, himself dressed in green workshirt

and pants held up somehow by an ancient leather belt, and

living in a house trailer which should have long ago been

donated to the squirrels, could make an accurate guess of the

size of his wallet.

     His machine shop proved to be an invaluable source of

new friendships and income when I first entered Whitehorse in

1979.

   There I met Zdenek, a Czechoslovakian who, with his wife

Jana, fled his home country to escape the politics there.

There I met Paul Paquet, the quickest and best welder I’ve

ever known, who was first told me of the Big Salmon River,

and showed me kindness in inviting me to his home for a meal

of delicious fresh moose roast.  There I met John the Greek,

who usually, with one rather glaring exception, showed great

patience in instructing me on the use of the lathe I was

supposed to operate there.  There I met Danny DeForrest

whose whole family I grew to appreciate for their well-

disciplined and kindly natures.  And there I met Paul Rogan,

one of the greatest influences on my life.  And, of course

there was Andy.

   Andy Petersen, a gifted taxidermist who works so he can

fish, treated me well and taught me a lot in his own way.  He

had no particular aversion to showing me his choice fishing

holes, though he must have known I’d take full advantage of

them all.  A man of about fifty when I first met him, he

carried a certain sadness with him all the time, due to

certain events in his history, which sorrow he attempted to

relieve by meeting new people in cafe’s and whereever,

discussing the topics which most interested him, namely

hunting, fishing, and the mistakes and tragedies of those who

had died in the bush.  There were always plenty of these at

hand in the north and every year someone and sometimes more

than one added to the pile of discussion material by swamping

a boat, or returning to their moose without a rifle, or by

crashing their bush-plane.  And if there weren’t enough of

these, there were always the incredibly near misses the Great

Spirit uses at times to gain our attention!

     On a fishing trip with Andy, we listened while he

related his story of near disaster on Asiak, where the wind

had whipped the waters of the forty-mile body of water into a

hilly and watery graveyard for ill-prepared laketrout

fishermen.  I gathered he’d come pretty close, but with his

experience and the motor not conking he’d made it.  We sat

in a roadside cafe a hundred miles from Whitehorse waiting

for the fishing partner I had yet to meet for the first time

and the hours dragged and his wife became steadily more

worried hoping Larry hadn’t gotten into the sauce again as is

the custom of several individuals in the north.

   Finally his pal staggered in and related a story the

events of which still had him shaking and off-plum, even

after travelling from Whitehorse.  The details came out all

in a clump but after awhile, we strung them together in what

we believed might be their true succession.

   Apparently, after successfully purchasing the diesel fuel,

the two men had decided to stop for a quick one before going

home, the temptations of the big city being too great for

them to withstand after all the isolation of living at the

Andy’s one-armed friend soon found himself on the floor of

the bar about to have another opening made into his chest by

means of the knife his assailant held high in the air over

him.  To his eternal credit, his partner had booted the knife

from the man’s hand, whereupon they’d apparently been sent

outside where there had been some further problems involving

a hunting rifle.

   We had to return to Whitehorse to collect our fishing

partner at the jail-house.  The subsequent fishing trip

itself was uneventful.

   On another fishing trip that summer with Andy we noticed a

car burning in the ditch by the highway, apparently un-

occupied.  Upon inquiring casually at the restaurant at

Braeburn, as to the events of the burning car we were told

simply that one of the locals had become frustrated and had

decided to do battle with it.  Both the man and his car

apparently had lost this battle.  This reminded someone of a

story of a man in Whitehorse, who becoming frustrated with

his wife, had lit his house on fire.  Maybe we’ll have to

start registering matches.

   Then there was Sylvia.  More interested in the great

outdoors than in what rpm to run Ed Jacob’s lathe, the

weekends usually found me somewhere in the mountains.

   One such trip led me to meet a woman by the name of

Sylvia, originally from Saskatchewan, who had developed

quite a roughneck life in the hard, cold Yukon.  Her face and

hands had a brown leathery appearance which testified of

braving many a sub-arctic storm.  She trapped in the

winters and ran a small horseback outfitters camp in the

summer months.  The place had no electricity or phone,

so she lived in a little breezy run-down shed heated

with cordwood cut from the local bush.

   She obviously had an unusual philosophy of life because

comforts of city living were only twenty miles away.  I

sensed a kindred spirit and thought there was a chance I

could learn something from her.  The first time I spoke to

her, though, she stopped me dead in my boots.  Looking me

square in the eye she kindly asked, “What are you after?”

Surely a simple enough question and I knew I had a very

simple answer but it was one I was not prepared to give.

How could I tell such a lady about my selfish ambitions and

desires?  How could I begin to tell such a lady of my plans

to exalt myself?  She had wisdom, I sensed that even then,

and I had a pretty good idea what she would have to say about

my foolish ideas of self-exaltation,  so I just spluttered

and mumbled and said nothing much.  Later on, with more time

to think, her question burned in my brain and it was very

hard not to deal with the issue of where my life was taking

me, but in the end I found a way.  I ignored the subject!

   Her partner, a young man from Vancouver had found his way

to Fish Lake also.  Ian towered well over six feet tall and

his boot size matched his height perfectly.  He had no

difficulty covering twenty miles of bush in half a day’s

walk.  I was stricken with no particular desire to hike with

him.  Once he served me spaghetti and meat sauce for supper,

telling me later with a grin I’d just eaten my first grizzly.

I had thought it was beef and had enjoyed it thoroughly!

Maybe I was pleased when he’d hoped for a different response

for next time he served me fish-head soup.  A large pike-head

bobbed about in my bowl on the wooden table.  Meat’s meat, I

guess though the parasites bears carry in their flesh

discourage some.

     Then, there was Zdenek.  I remember with great fondness

an evening spent in the eight by sixteen foot square plywood

box in which his family of three, not including their Great

Dane, preferring the freedom of mortgage-freedom, had spent

several winters before building their permanent log home.  We

sipped cognac and smoked cigars while the couple related

their adventures in Czechoslovakia and later, those of their

Canadian experience.

      He had, when still a young lad, learned to make a rude

sort of explosive mixture, and, with grandparents gone had

set the mixture on a lid of cooking soup to dry.  Forgetting

the concoction, he’d left the house to play…  Of course

there was a deafening, for the dog inside, explosion, with

noodles being blown right into the walls of the kitchen, the

roof nearly parting company with the walls, there being later

found a crack in the plaster all around it just under the

roof, and flattening the cooking pot beyond all hope of

repair.

     More greatly desiring freedom than the comforts and

paternalistic “care” of his homeland, Jana and Zdenek fled

Czechoslovakia by hitch-hiking, losing all worldly

possessions on the highway when they’d thrown them joyfully

into the back of a stopping truck, only to have it roar off

without them.  After living for a few days on raw fish caught

in a small stream they’d been picked up in their bedraggled

condition by a woman from Paris, who’d taken them to her home

where her family had treated them to the very best enjoyments

Paris is capable of offering.  After a week of this

incredible hospitality the wealthy French family arranged for

their emigration to Canada as political immigrants.  This was

not, at the time, unreasonable, as life in Czechoslovakia was

severely restricted to the point where, every citizens every

movement between cities had to be posted with government

officials and your life-long occupation also chosen by the

all-wise bureacracy.

     Reaching Canada, they had apparently un-sprung just as a

tightly wrapped spring uncoils when freed from its

restrictions.  Getting a room and a job, the first thing

they’d done was to buy a five hundred dollar television on

credit.

     After spending some time around Edmonton they’d settled

in the Yukon, refusing to borrow now, even to finance a

house, so they’d be free to leave Whitehorse at a moment’s

notice.  We talked a long time that night, or rather they did

the talking and I did the listening, what they had to say

about their lives truly fascinating me, coming as I did from

a more localized, perhaps more sheltered life.  I could

identify with their love of freedom though, as I had just

recently come unsprung from an oppressive, totalitarian

public school regime which had forced me to spend fourteen

thousand hours sitting in a series of cruel wooden desks and

listening to a series of adults indoctrinating me largely

against my will.  At the least, I don’t remember ever being

asked.

   Truly, the treats of the Yukon for the senses seemed to me

to be inexhaustible.  Even the people were interesting and

deeply interested in life.  I found their zest for life and

freedom refreshing and was glad for them, that they’d found

the freedom they’d been so eager to obtain.

   This same attitude was seen in Paul Noirot of Whitehorse,

the french gunsmith who had his own tales to tell!  His

desire for freedom had been so great, and his resentment for

those who attempted to restrict it so great that a soul-mate

and himself, in France, working as “helpers” for the French

military, when bringing the large pail of coffee for the

officers mess had added somewhat to the volume of the pail,

around a corner and just out of sight.  Their crime went

undetected.

   Paul has a “gift of entertaining” which “must be seen to

be appreciated.”  Not tall, he makes up for it in sheer

visceral enthusiasm for his topic of the moment.  The red

beard and commanding voice hold attention as story and

philosophy and politics get braided altogether in his speech,

along with plenty of humour.

   Even though I rarely spoke while in his company, I didn’t

feel in the least put out.  His survey of Canadian politics

at the time and more so lately, has a rather raw and nasty

edge to it, though.  In his view, we are only ten or twenty

paces behind the regulation imposed on so many others of the

human race at other less desirable points on the globe.  The

threat of mass-registration of firearms terrified the man, if

such a man is terrified of anything, and he determined to

fight the process with all his will and ability as he saw it

as yet another step in the subjection of the lethargic

citizenry of Canada.  He spoke of the confiscation by the

Germans of his uncle’s large firearms collection when their

military entered France.  This had been an easy thing for

Hitler’s henchmen to locate as the firearms were all

neatly registered with the French authorities.

   In a recent letter he wrote, “I am at my wit’s end and do

not know what I can do anymore for my family, my country or

myself.  In my wildest dreams I never thought Canada could be

reduced to this squabbling mob of under-achievers and the NDP

Party is just the right one to bring it to it’s well-

deserved, miserable conclusion.”

   Before labelling Paul an extremist and an alarmist and

mailing him off we should at least briefly consider the

perspective from which he views Canada, so different as it is

from that of those of us so blessed as to have been born

here.

   These two men, Zdenek and Paul, though largely unknown to

one another, are both men who have experienced some or other

degree of political oppression and both express identical

sentiments.  We Canadians should give them an ear rather than

continuing our political snoring and failure to involve

ourselves in the struggles of those individuals among us who

already have been denied the most basic of human rights and

dignities.  It may be soon our turn to suffer alone while

our apathetic countrymen walk on by us forgetting that the

strength of any country lies in its ability to pull together

in the right direction.  A piece of high-grade steel and a

man both lose their strength when they lose their tempers.

   No tampering with the “economy” will do us much good.

Our nation will regain its strength when it’s citizens regain

their old determination to reverance their God and maintain

their love for and involvement in the difficulties of their

fellowmen.  Both of my good friends, I think, would disagree with one or more of

these last points, only adding thereby to the particular

savour of the north.