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   Chapter 6 CROSS COUNTRY TO SEAL LAKE WATERS

A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador By Mina Hubbard Characters: 15792

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was still raining Tuesday morning, and camp was not moved till afternoon, when we crossed the river. Though smooth here, it flowed with fearful rapidity, and in midstream carried the canoe, as if it had been a feather, at locomotive speed. Three-quarters of a mile above where we crossed the course of the river bent away to the east, and we could see the water leaping and tossing in a wild rapid as it came round through the opening in the hills. I had a great wish to see the fifteen miles of it which flows between this point and Seal Lake. I would have given much not to have to leave the river at all, but above that point it could not be travelled in the canoes, and I dared not take the time to portage which indeed would also have been impossible.

The region we were now to traverse, I learned from Gilbert, was great marten country, and so I named the tributary stream we followed, Wapustan [Marten] River. Our way led along a continuation of the river terrace we had travelled since leaving the head of North Pole Rapid. During the earliest part of that day's march it was particularly hard work to get over the windfalls. At first it seemed as if I could not; but after a struggle they were passed, and we had again a bear trail to follow. On the way we passed great beds of blossoming cloudberries, which with blossoms of the bunchberry, the Labrador tea, and the pale laurel, made up the list of flowers found so far. Towards evening we stopped to make camp at the edge of rougher country, a mile and a quarter up the Wapustan. The map grew slowly during these days, and the desire to reach Seal Lake grew stronger and stronger.

Near the camp was a big boulder, and lying round and over it were numbers of wigwam poles. They were very old, and looked as if it might have been many years since they had been used. George said it was a winter camp. In the winter time the Indians, in making their camps, dig down into the snow to a rock to build their fire. At a number of places on our journey we found poles lying round a boulder in this way.

When camp was nearly made, Job came in triumphantly waving an axe over his head. He and Joe had taken some of the outfit forward as far as Duncan M'Lean's tilt, and there had found an axe. There was great rejoicing over it. Job said he should carry the axe with the sugar after this.

I had been shooting at an owl that afternoon-from a distance that made it quite safe for the owl; and while the men prepared supper I cleaned my revolver. I was greasing it and putting some of the grease into the barrel when George said: "Don't put too much grease in it. If you put too much in the bullet will just slip and-"

"Might kill something," I finished for him.

Then came George's rare laugh. It is like a baby's in that it expresses such complete abandon of amusement.

Presently he asked: "When you were shooting at that bear the other day, where did you aim?"

"Oh, any place," I replied; "just at the bear." Peals of uncontrolled laughter greeted this announcement and cooking operations were, for the time being, suspended. When they were able to go on with the preparations for supper I could now and then hear them laughing quietly to themselves.

Bed seemed specially good that night, for I was very tired. How long I had been asleep I could not tell; but some time in the night I was awakened by sounds outside my tent, as of someone or something walking about. At first I thought it was one of the men; but presently decided it was not, and became very wide awake. I thought about the bear trail, but did not quite believe it was the bear either. Presently something shook the branches of the tree my tent was tied to, and they rattled fearfully on the tent close to my head. I sprang up, and as I reached for my revolver remembered that there were only two cartridges in it. Quickly filling the empty chambers I waited, ready to give battle to whatever it might be; but the sounds in my tent evidently alarmed the intruder, for there was silence outside after that. I was a good deal disturbed for a while, but growing calm again I finally went to sleep. In the morning the men said it was probably a rabbit jumping through the low branches of the spruce tree.

We made a mile and a half that day, and towards evening halted at the edge of a pretty little expansion in the river; it was the most charming camp we had yet found. There were a number of tiny islands here, some with a few trees, and some just the bare rock with fringes of fresh green marking the fissures. The water slipped over ledges into pretty pools, and from our camp to the other side there was a distinct downward slope. My tent was pitched about four feet from the water's edge above a little fall, and directly over an otter landing.

George warned me, "You will have to keep your boots on to-night. That otter might come along and get hold of your toes, and drag you into the river."

"Would an otter really harm me?" I asked.

"Perhaps it might be a bear instead of an otter," he replied, evading my question. "They are all great fellows for any kind of metal. If it's a bear he'll just get hold of that screw on your bed and take it right off. You'd better put a bullet inside, and then when he takes off the screw it will blow into his mouth. He'll think a fly flew down his throat, and cough. Then you could run." George's eyes were dancing with amusement at his own pictures. Presently he went on: "I think-oh! you keep a rifle in there though, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Don't you think you could handle salt a little better than a rifle?"

This was insulting; but I was laughing too heartily to be properly indignant, and he continued: "You might put a little salt on his tail. Maybe you could put that otter out of business, too, if you had enough salt."

A duck flew past, dropping into the water a little way above our camp, and George sprang for a rifle. He shot, but missed, which I assured him was only proper punishment for the slighting insinuations he had made in regard to my shooting. Job, and Joe went fishing after supper but got nothing. It was a fine evening with a glorious sunset, beautiful evening sky, and a splendid moon. George said: "Fine day and fine breeze to-morrow."

My sleep was not disturbed that night by either bear or otter, and we were up and started on our way the next morning at 7.30. A rough portage of three-quarters of a mile was completed some time before noon, and beyond this the canoes were kept in the water most of the day. At lunch Gilbert brought me a dandelion. I was greatly pleased to get it, and later I saw several of them. I found also blue and white violets, one of the blue ones a variety I had never seen before.

Towards evening the hills had melted away. We had come up to the top of those which, twenty miles back, had looked high, and now we could look back and down to those which there had also seemed high. A new thrill came with this being up among the hilltops, and I began to feel like an explorer.

The tents were pitched near a pool of smooth water, deep and darkened by shadows of the evergreens on either shore. On the farther side of the river were low, wooded hills, and opposite our camp a brook came tumbling through the wall of evergreens into the river. Just above the brook a high, dead stub, with a big blaze on it, showed where we were to leave the Wapustan to cross to Seal Lake.

It was not until noon on Saturday, July 15th, that we left our pretty camp, for it rained steadily in the meantime. Then we started on our cross-country trip, working up to the north, from which direction the brook flows. A two-mile carry brought us out on Saturday evening to a lake at its head. After dinner on Sunday we again went forward with a whole mile of paddling to cheer us on our way. From the head of the lake another mile of good por

taging brought us at last to waters flowing to Seal Lake, and we were again in the canoes to taste for a little the pleasures of going with the tide. For long we had been going against it-and such a tide!

Our way now led through three exquisitely beautiful little lakes, to where their waters drop down over rocky ledges in a noisy stream, on their way to the lake we were trying to reach. Here on the left of the outlet we made our camp. On either side rose a high hill only recently burned over-last summer Gilbert said. George, Gilbert and I climbed the hill back of our camp in hopes of catching a first glimpse of Seal Lake, but we could not see it. What we did see was very fine, and I stood watching it for some time after the others had gone back to camp. Eastward the great hills rose rugged and irregular, and farther away in the blue distance the range lying beyond Seal Lake, all touched to beauty by the evening light.

Slipping down the hill again, I reached camp just as the supper was ready, and after our meal George, Job, Gilbert, and I crossed to climb the hill on the other side, which rose 540 feet above our camp. It was 7.45 A.M. when we started; but a brisk climb brought us to the top in time to see the sunset, and one of the most magnificent views I had ever beheld. Some miles to the east was the lake winding like a broad river between its hills. In every direction there were hills, and lying among them little lakes that were fairy-like in their beauty. George pointed out the ridge of mountains away to the southwest which he had crossed with Mr. Hubbard, and where he thought they had crossed it from the head of Beaver Brook, their "Big River," and I named them Lion Heart Mountains.

The wind below cold on the mountain, and a shower passed over from the northeast; but it was soon gone, and the sun set over the hills in a blaze of red and gold. The way down seemed long, but when we reached camp at 10.15 P.M. it was still quite light. Joe had been fishing, and had four brook trout for my breakfast. Job and Gilbert had gone down the valley prospecting, and soon came in with the information that a mile below camp we could put our canoes into the water. Beyond, there would be two short portages, and then we should not again have to take them out of the water before reaching Seal Lake.

After I went to my tent there floated out into the quiet night the sound of the men's favourite hymns, "Lead Kindly Light," "There is a Green Hill Far Away," "Abide With Me," and, as always, the singing ended with their Indian "Paddling Song." When I put out my light at 11 P.M., a full moon was throwing shadows of the spruce boughs on my tent.

The view from the mountain-top seemed an inspiration to the party, and on Monday morning, shortly after four, I heard Job's axe making ready for the early breakfast. By 5.30 A.M. they were off with their first packs. Then all was quiet again. The tiny mirror-like lake was yet in shadow though sunlight touched the tops of its encircling hills, and I wished that I might wait, till it was time for me to go, on the summit of the one we had climbed last night. When the last load was ready I, too, went forward.

It was a glorious morning, with just such sunshine one would wish for a day so eventful. The trail led down into a valley opening eastward to Seal Lake, and walled in on three sides by the hills. On either hand reaching up their steep slopes were the spruce woods with beautiful white birches relieving their sombreness, and above- -the sheer cliffs. A network of little waterways gave back images of delicate tamaracks [Larches] growing on long points between. Not a leaf stirred, and silence, which is music, reigned there. The valley was flooded with golden light, seeming to hold all in a mysterious stillness, the only motion the rapids; the only sound their singing, with now and again the clear call of a bird.

After reaching the point where the canoes could again be launched, it was but a few minutes till we were in the rapids. They seem very innocent to me now, but then running rapids was a new experience, and it was tremendously exciting as the canoes sped down the current, the men shouting to each other as we went.

Two more short portages, which led down over a fine bear trail cut deep into the white moss; two brisk little runs in the canoes, and we reached smooth water, where, rounding the last bend in the brook, we could look straight away eastward into Seal Lake. A little way below the bend our brook joined a river, coming down from the northwest, which the trappers call Thomas River.

The lake was little more than a mile wide where we entered it, and extended southward nearly two miles. Gilbert pointed out the opening in the hills to the southwest where the Nascaupee River leaves the lake, and I had George and Job paddle across that I might see it. A continuation of the hills, south of the valley we had passed in the morning, swung round the south shore of the lake and culminated in what I called Santa Claus Mountain; for the outline of its rugged top looked as if the tired old fellow had there lain down to rest, that he might be ready to start out again on his long winter journey. I knew then that the beautiful valley, through which we had just passed, must be that vale where his fairies dance when it is moonlight.

About the outlet the country was wild and rugged, and from the point where the river leaves the lake the water breaks into a tossing foaming rapid. According to the trappers, the river from this point to Bald Mountain rushes down a continuous rocky slope, the hills in many places rising perpendicular from its edge.

Turning again we passed northward up the lake. It proved to be a succession of lake expansions, narrowing in one part, where it is bordered by the cliffs, and the current is very rapid. The lake is surrounded by hills of solid rock, some of those on the west arising abrupt and separate, one, Mount Pisa, distinctly leaning towards the east. Much of the surrounding country has been burned over, being now grown up with white birch and poplar, and at the narrows the angles in the cliffs are marked by lines of slender birch reaching from the water's edge to the summit. A short distance above, two large brooks enter from the east. Many of the long, low points which reach out into the lake are spruce covered, but away on the hills could be seen only the more delicate green of the birch and poplar. There are a number of islands lying mainly near the shore; and from its northern extremity an arm, which according to the trappers is thirty miles long, stretches away to the west. The river enters the lake round a low, sandy point, and about the inlet the country is lower and less rugged. On the way up we saw several seals. Gulls, ducks, and geese were there in numbers, and muskrats were plentiful.

It was after 7 P.M. when we went into camp, having made nineteen miles since morning, and every foot of the way we had been surrounded by scenes of exquisite beauty; for Seal Lake in the calm of a summer day, with the summer sunshine upon it, and the beautiful Labrador sky above, is altogether lovely. When the day's journey ended I had seen so much that was beautiful, and so varied in its beauty, that I felt confused and bewildered. I had, too, not only seen Seal Lake, I had seen the Nascaupee River flowing out of it; our camp was on the sand-point where the river enters it; and, best of all, there came the full realisation that I was first in the field, and the honour of exploring the Nascaupee and the George Rivers was to fall to me.

It was Monday, July 17th, three weeks less a day since we had left Northwest River post. According to the daily estimates about one hundred and fifteen miles of our journey had been accomplished, and now our next objective point was Lake Michikamau.

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