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   Chapter 7 OFF FOR MICHIKAMAU

A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador By Mina Hubbard Characters: 14972

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was well for me that a mind at rest, on at least one very important point, was my portion that night, else the nightlong fight with the mosquitoes had been horrible indeed. They seemed to come out of the ground. When despair of getting any sleep had taken possession of me, I turned with such calmness as I could muster to the task of killing them off. By diligent application I hoped in the end to secure a little respite. To interest myself I began to count my kill; but when it had reached one hundred and fifty, and yet they came, I gave it up. I was still busy when the morning light came to reveal hundreds of the vicious little beasts clinging to the slope of my tent.

At breakfast I learned that the men had fared little better. Usually they had the advantage of me where mosquitoes were concerned, for with four pipes going in the tent the mosquitoes had little chance; but that night pipes were of no avail, and there, too, the mosquitoes were master of the situation.

On Tuesday it rained, and we did not break camp till the following morning, when at 9 A.M. we were off for Lake Michikamau. Travelling was now much less difficult than it had been, though the river continued rapid. Our course, a few miles above Seal Lake, turned directly west, and as we entered Lake Wachesknipi high hills appeared ahead, showing deepest blue and purple under the cloudy sky. Again we made nineteen miles, taking on the way one partridge, two geese, and a muskrat, and camping in the evening at the foot of Red Rock Hill. Here we were destined to remain for two days on account of storms of wind and rain.

How I disliked the rainy days, for I was not very patient of delay. There was little one could do in camp, and lounging in a tent when you are not tired has few redeeming features.

After noon on Thursday Job set off to climb the hill. In the evening when I went out to supper the ground under the tarpaulins, which were strung up for shelter on either side of the fire, was covered with fresh cut shavings. Job had returned, and was carefully putting the finishing touches to a new axe handle. He said he had been up among the clouds, and reported two heavy rapids and a little lake a few miles ahead.

The following afternoon, albeit it was still raining, the men prepared to climb the hill again, and I wanted to go too. Job, however, assured me that it would be impossible as the hill was altogether too steep and slippery. I was much disappointed. It seemed such an ignominious sort of thing too, to be an explorer, and have one of my party tell me I could not do something he had already done, and was about to do again, just for the mere pleasure of it.

That it might not be too trying I had George go with me in the canoe up to the rapids. The first one, Seal Rapid, was almost three miles above our camp, and it came down from the west swinging to the south round a high sand-point and entering a small lake expansion. We landed at the head of a little bay south of the point, and crossed to the rapids. They were very wild and fine, but fortunately they did not extend far, and about three-quarters of a mile of portaging would put us on smooth water again. Here for the first time we found the rocks along the shore and in the river-bed of varied and beautiful colours. There were among them red and green and blue of many and exquisite shades-the greens being particularly beautiful. From near the head of the bay several small lakes extended westward, and through these we thought the Indians probably made their portages. It was quite late when we returned to camp, the journey back being a rather hard paddle against a strong head wind. The men had already returned from the hill, bringing a few partridges with them.

It was nearly midday on Saturday when we left Red Rock Camp, and the rain was still falling a little; but the prospects were for a fine evening and a dry camp, so it was decided to push on as already we had been delayed more than half the week. Soon the rain ceased, and, passing the portages round Seal and Cascade Rapids, we found ourselves on smooth water again. The sky cleared as we proceeded, and an occasional gleam of sunshine lent its charm to the scenes of quiet beauty through which we were passing. The river was soft and smooth as satin, with a slightly raised cushion- like appearance, that I had never noticed on smooth water before.

About the middle of the afternoon, as we rounded a bend of the river, we saw far ahead on the low drift shore, five large black objects close to the water's edge. There could be but one animal of such size and colour in this region, and I became quite stirred up over the prospect of an encounter with what looked like a bear picnic. I watched eagerly as we approached, rather wondering how we were going to manage five of them, when in a most inexplicable manner they dwindled suddenly, and my five bears had become as many ducks. It was the first time I had ever seen so striking an example of mirage. We secured three of the transformed bears, and on Sunday morning had stewed duck and fresh bannocks for breakfast.

Owing to the enforced rest through the week we decided to go forward on Sunday. After a late breakfast the task of loading the outfit into the canoes was not yet complete when Gilbert was heard to exclaim: "What's that? A duck? No, it's a deer."

Immediately all was excitement. Up in the, little lake above our camp a caribou was swimming across to the north shore. The movement in camp suddenly became electrical. The last of the load was thrown into the canoe. I stepped in as George cut the rope, which tied it to the willows, and we were off.

I was much excited at first, especially as the caribou was a long distance away, and I was sure he would reach land before we could come near enough to shoot him. He was almost ashore, and in my thought I saw him bounding up over the hills away out of our reach, and was glad. When George took the rifle to shoot I was not in the least afraid for the caribou, because I knew he would not be hit and he was not. But, Alas! I soon learned that it was not meant he should be. The bullet dropped, as it was intended to, in front of him, frightened him, and turned him back into the lake. My heart sickened as I realised what it meant. He was so near to safety. If he had only gone on. If he had only known.

The men were now almost lifting the canoe with every stroke of the paddles, and she threw the water from her bows like a little steamer. We were soon up with the caribou, and I pulled my hat down over my eyes while the deed was done. We were so close that George thought he would try to kill him with his pistol. When I looked up, after the first shot, the caribou was ploughing through the water just as before. After the second I could see him trembling and blood on the water-but he was still going on. Then I asked George to take his rifle and settle the matter quickly. He did, and the sound of the water as the caribou made his way through it ceased. I did not need to look again to know what had happened. He was towed ashore, skinned and dressed, but how I wished I could think of him as speeding over his native hills, rather than as he was. Yet, too, I knew it was well for us that we had secured the supply, of fresh meat, for although we had considerably more than half the original supply of provisions, we were still far from the journey's end.

It was a three-year-old stag, Job

said, and when the operation of skinning and cutting up had been performed, we had about 250 lbs. of fresh meat added to our supply.

The day was now fine, though occasional light showers passed; but these rather added to the beauty all about us than otherwise. The river was proving a succession of lake expansions, for the most part not more than half a mile wide. Rugged, barren mountains rose in all directions, and I had the feeling of being up among the hill-tops, as if these were not whole hills, but only their tops. The trip was proving so beautiful and easy that my state of mind was one of continued surprise. I had none of the feeling of loneliness, which I knew every one would expect me to have. I did not feel far from home, but in reality less homeless than I had ever felt anywhere, since I knew my husband was never to come back to me. So far I had encountered none of the real stress of wilderness life, everything had gone well with us, everything was made easy for me; I had had no hardships to bear, and there was the relief of work to do, work which would for ever associate my husband's name with the country where he hoped to begin his explorations. For long months of darkness I had not dreamed that I could ever have the gladness and honour of doing this. Now it seemed that I might almost count on success.

As we continued our journey the river grew more and more mysterious, ending apparently in each little lake, and keeping us constantly guessing as to the direction in which our course would next lead us. The inlet in the numerous expansions was unfailingly concealed, so that not until we were almost upon it could it be made out. Most mysterious of all was the last lake of our day's journey, where the rush of the entering river could plainly be seen, but appeared to come pouring forth from a great hole in the side of a mountain. As the current swung round the upper end of the lake it made the last half hour's work decidedly exciting. We landed to camp for the night on the first portage since passing Cascade Rapid, nearly twenty miles back.

We had caribou roast for supper, and, to my surprise, I found it one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten, altogether different from any venison I had before tasted. An astonishing amount of that roast was stowed away before the camp was quiet for the night.

The northern lights were that evening very brilliant. When I put out my light at bed-time it was as if a bright moon was shining. I looked out, and above were three broad circles of light with long- pointed fingers raying up to the centre directly over my tent as I watched. It seemed like a benediction from the hand of God Himself. Gradually they drew off to the northwest in great, beautiful scrolls.

The day following, Monday, July 24th, the river continued most bewildering. Beside the portage at our camp, we had one, about half a mile long, farther up where the old trail was quite well marked, and carried us past a fall of about seven feet with a heavy rapid below. All day our way led among high hills till towards evening, when they spread out to the north and south, and we saw ahead a terraced sand plain, several miles wide, with the hills again beyond. Here, coming in from the northwest, was a brook, where, according to our map, the Indian route again leaves the river. This meant another long stretch of rough water, but our plan was still to keep to the river as far as it was possible, finding our own portage route where necessary.

The river's course was now cut deep into the plain, the banks being from thirty to forty feet in height, and the current very swift. The plain had once been sparsely, wooded but was burned over and very desolate looking now. Huckleberries, cranberries, and Labrador tea grew in profusion, and were in blossom, while patches of reindeer moss were seen struggling into life where we made our camp.

During the last part of the day's journey the current had been increasingly swift, and some distance ahead we could hear the sound of a heavy waterfall. We reached it the following morning about two miles or more above our camp. It was a beauty, about thirty feet in height. The canoes could be taken close to the foot of the fall, and after a short carry over the high, rocky point were put in the water again not twenty feet from the brink of the fall.

As the morning was fine, I had walked from camp to the fall while the men brought up the canoes. I was striding along the terrace, not thinking at all about my surroundings, when I suddenly became conscious of a most delightful fragrance, and looking down I found myself in the midst of a tangle of the long, trailing vines of the twin flower (Linnea borealis), sweetest of all Labrador flowers, with hundreds of the slender, hair-like stems bearing their delicate pink bells. How delighted I was to find it. Other Labrador flowers were beautiful, but none so lovely as this.

Above the falls the river was very rough, and in the next half or three-quarters of a mile we made three more portages, and landed a little before noon at a high, rocky point on the south shore, to find ourselves at the edge of the hill country again. Here the river was crowded between high, rocky hills where it flowed too swift and deep for either poles or paddles. We could keep to it no farther, and so made camp, for now some scouting for a portage route would be necessary.

While at dinner that day a thundershower passed. The thunderstorms of Labrador seem very mild and gentle as compared with those we are accustomed to. Later it settled to steady rain. Job went scouting, and the others lay in the tent most of the afternoon, Joe and Gilbert not feeling very well. Trouble-change of diet with a little too much of it. Job on his return in the evening reported the river bending away to the southwest a few miles farther on, and impassable as far as he could see. There would be a long portage west and south, but the country was not very rough, and a number of small lakes would give some paddling.

The following day all the men, except Job, were ill, and camp was not moved till Thursday morning. When evening came, the outfit had been taken forward three and a half miles. The three small lakes we had passed had given about one mile of paddling, and at night our camp was made at the edge of the fourth, a tiny still water pond.

The flies were that day worse than I had ever seen them. My veil proving an insufficient protection, I made myself a mask from one of the little waterproof bags, cutting a large hole in front through which I could see and breathe, and sewing over it several thicknesses of black veiling. There were as well two holes cut at the back of the ears for ventilation-these also being covered with the veiling. Pulling it over my head I tied it tight round my neck. It was most fearful and hideous to look upon, but it kept out the flies. The men insisted that I should have to take it off when we came to the Nascaupees else they would certainly shoot me. The flies were in clouds that day, and even their tapping on the outside of my mask made me shudder. I ached as I watched the men carrying their heavy loads, for it was very, very hot, and they wore no protection whatever. How they endured so uncomplainingly I could not understand, and they rarely wore their veils. It was an unspeakable relief when the clear, cool night closed in, and for a time put an end to the torture.

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