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   Chapter 3 CLIMBING THE RAPIDS

A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador By Mina Hubbard Characters: 9797

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The call "All aboard," came at about six o'clock on Thursday morning. We had breakfast, and started at 8 A.M. A cold northwest wind was blowing, and an occasional light shower fell. The sand- hills on either side of the river grew higher as we went up, with always the willows along the water edge. Miles ahead we could see Mounts Sawyer and Elizabeth rising blue and fine above the other hills, and thus standing up from the desolation of the burnt lands all about; they came as a foreword of what was awaiting us further on.

Not far from camp we took another porcupine. There were beaver signs too, willows cut off and floating downstream along the shore. Leaning over, Job picked one up and handed it back to me to show me how cleverly they do their work. A rabbit ran up from the water edge. Now it was a muskrat lying in among the willows. He was evidently trying to decide which way to go, and in a moment or two began swimming straight towards the pistols that were being loaded for him. I was a little startled and exclaimed "Why, what's the matter with him? Is he hurt?" Whereupon the men laughed so heartily that the rat almost escaped. I did not understand that it was the swift current which was carrying him against his will directly towards us, and could only think that he must have been sick, or hurt perhaps, to make him do so strange a thing. From that time forward, "What's the matter with him? Is he hurt?" became a byword in camp.

Thirteen miles above Grand Lake we reached the portage route by which the Indians avoid the roughest part of the river. It leads out on the north bank opposite the mouth of the Red Wine River, passing up to the higher country, through a chain of lakes, and entering the river again at Seal Lake. By this route the Indians reach Seal Lake from Northwest River in less than two weeks, taking just twenty-one days to make the journey through to Lake Michikamau.

The trappers told us that, going by the river, it would take a month to reach Seal Lake. I wished very much to keep to the river route, because Mr. Hubbard would have had to do so had he not missed the way, there being no Indians within reach, at the time he made his journey, from whom we could obtain information. Yet our time was short. From an Indian, whom we found at Northwest River, I had a map of the portage; but it was crude, and we should not be able to make the trip as quickly as the Indians even at best. It was quite possible that a good deal of time might have to be spent looking for the trail, for it was old and would not be easily found. It was hard to decide what was best to do.

Going ashore the men hastily examined the trail. The council which followed resulted in a decision to keep to the river. The work would be harder, but we should probably make as good progress and reach Seal Lake as soon as by going through the lakes.

Above this point the river swings more to the north, and the current grows swifter as you ascend. A little before noon we landed at Point Lucie, a high, sandy point, which stands out into the river at the foot of the first rapid. Here the trappers leave their boats and make no attempt to take canoes farther up, but portage their provisions and traps the remaining 40 miles to Seal Lake. It seemed quite thrilling to have arrived at the wonderful rapids I had heard so much about. It made me tremble a little to think of sometimes being on them in a canoe, for there was so much water, and the river looked so big.

Below Point Lucie a broad bed of loose rocks reached high up at its foot, and in the curve of the point were great sand and gravel- covered hummocks of ice. For some distance below us the farther and right bank of the river was lined with huge ice-banks, still 10 and 12 feet thick, which extended up almost to where the river came pouring out from the foot of Mount Sawyer, in a leaping, foaming torrent. At this point the river spread out over a bed of loose rocks about half a mile wide, which broke the water into channels, the widest, deepest, and swiftest of which flowed along the farther shore. The smaller and shallower ones curved into the bay above Point Lucie. A short distance above us several of these united, and from there the water was deep and swift and poured round Point Lucie with tremendous force. Around the curve of the bay and stranded in the river-bed were more ice-banks.

While George, Joe, and Gilbert were busy preparing lunch Job disappeared into the woods. Some time later he came back with four stout dry poles. They were about nine feet long and two and a half inches in diameter at the lower end. After lunch the work of shaving and shoeing them began, and the crooked knife came into use. It was fine to watch Job's quick, deft strokes as he made them ready. The "shods" George had brought from Missanabie. These were made at Moose Factory, and were the kind used

throughout the James Bay country. They were hollow cone-shaped pieces of iron a quarter of an inch thick and open down one side, so that they might not break with the strain. They were 4 inches long, rounded and solid at the small end, and on either side, about an inch from the top, was a hole to admit the nail which fastened the pole in place. When finished they looked as if meant for heavy work.

All being now ready to proceed George said: "We will get in around the point, Mrs. Hubbard."

I wondered why, and concluded it must be because the water was so swift at the point. I still wondered why George did not stay to help Job; for as all their conversations were carried on in Indian, I was in darkness as to what was to happen. In silence I waited for developments. A little distance above the point, near where the water was deeper and not so swift, I looked back, and to my astonishment I saw Job poling the canoe through the swift water alone. But this was mild surprise compared with what was awaiting me.

We were soon in the canoe, and for nearly half a mile they poled up the swift current. The water was deep, and sometimes they bent over the poles till their hands dipped into the water. It seemed as if they must certainly fall overboard. I expected every minute to find myself perforce taking a header into the deep water. Sometimes we brushed the edge of a big ice-bank. The moment the poles were lifted the canoe stopped its forward movement, and if they were not quickly set again it began to slip back with the current. At last the water became too shallow and rough and we went ashore. Here the portaging began, and I climbed up over the ice-banks and walked along the shore. Even while ice and snow lingered, the flowers were beginning to bloom, and I found two tiny blue violets. On reaching the deepest part of the bay I turned to look back. Job was bringing one of the canoes up the rapid with two full portage loads in it. I could scarcely believe what I saw, and ran eagerly down to secure a photograph of this wonderful feat. But my powers of astonishment reached their limit when later I saw him calmly bringing the canoe round the bend at the foot of Mount Sawyer and up into the narrower part of the river. Now I was not alone in my wonder. Both George and Joe watched with interest equal to mine, for even they had never seen a canoeman pole in water so rough.

Job looked as if in his element. The wilder the rapid the more he seemed to enjoy it. He would stand in the stern of the canoe, right foot back, left forward with leg against the thwart, with set pole holding it steady in the rushing, roaring water while he looked the way over, choosing out his course. Then he would move the canoe forward again, twisting its nose now this way, now that, in the most marvellous fashion, and when he drove it into the rush of water pouring round a big rock the pole would bend and tremble with the weight and strain he put upon it. Sometimes I could hardly breathe while watching him. After taking one canoe some distance above the bend he went back for the second, and all the remainder of the afternoon Job climbed hills of water in the canoes.

That evening our camp was again on top of a high bank thirty feet or more above the river. Joe and Gilbert put up the tents, while down at our camp fire at the shore George made the bannocks and Job skinned, dressed, and cooked the porcupine. When it grew so dark that I could not see to write I went to help cook bannocks. It seemed good to be near the fire too, for it was growing cold. George and Job chatted merrily in Indian, Job evidently, as fond of fun as George. The fun suddenly came to an end, however, when Gilbert came down to say that the tube of my bed-pump was missing. It was too true. The thing was not to be found anywhere. It had been dropped when the stuff was handed down the bank in the morning.

It seemed a quite serious matter to me, knowing as I did from past experience that I cannot sleep on the ground long without growing very tired, when I lose my nerve and am afraid to do anything. I did not like to think of the possibility of either growing desperate and wanting to turn back or breaking down under the strain of going on. Some one would have to go back for the tube, and time was precious now. It would be trying to lose a day. While I sat rather disconsolate considering the situation, George conceived the brilliant idea of having Gilbert turn himself into an air-pump, which he did quite cheerfully, and very soon my bed was as tight and firm as need be, and peace reigned again.

When at last we assembled for supper it was nearly 10 P.M., and the stars were coming out over Mount Sawyer. The meal was a quiet one, for all were tired, and well content to listen in silence to the music of the river, as softly the night-gloom gathered unto itself the wilderness.

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