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A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador By Mina Hubbard Characters: 9369

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The day following no one was astir early. I think no one slept much. I could hear from the other tent the low hum of the men's voices far into the night. Mosquitoes kept me awake. About 2 A.M. I got up, lighted my candle, and killed all I could find, and after that I had a little peace, but did not sleep much. It was then growing light.

There was a general limpness to be observed in camp that morning, aggravated by a steady downpour of rain; but before noon it cleared, and the men took all but the camp stuff forward. We had supper late to avoid the flies, the still night gathering round us as we ate. Rising close above was the dark mass of Lookout Mountain, the lake at its foot stretching away into the gloom, reflecting dimly the tinge of sunset light in the sky above. By the camp fire, after our meal, the men sat telling each other stories till Job and Joe broke the little circle and went to their tent. Then floating out on the solemn, evening silence came the sound of hymns sung in Indian to old, familiar tunes, and last the "Paddling Song." With what an intense love the one who was "gone away" had loved it all. I could not help wondering if sometimes he wished to be with me. It seemed as if he must.

On Sunday morning it rained, but cleared before noon, and at 11.30 A.M. we were on the river. That afternoon and the day following we passed the most picturesque part of the river. There were Maid Marion Falls, where the river drops fifty feet into a narrow gorge cut out of the gneiss and schists of the Laurentian rock over which it flows; Gertrude Falls, a direct drop of sixty feet, which for dignity and beauty is unsurpassed by any feature of the Nascaupee; and Isabella Falls, a system of falls and rapids and chutes extending for more than a mile, where the water poured over ledges, flowed in a foaming, roaring torrent round little rocky islands, or rushed madly down a chute. About half-way up there was an abrupt, right angle bend in the river, and, standing at the bend looking northward, you could see through the screen of spruce on the islands, high above you and half a mile away, the beginning of the river's wild mile race, as it took the first flying leap out over a wall of rocks.

The rock colouring was a deep red brown, and in some places almost purple. The perpendicular surfaces were patched with close lying grey-green moss, and in places with a variety almost the colour of vermilion. The country was not burned over, and everywhere the beautiful reindeer moss grew luxuriantly, setting off in fine contrast the tall spruces, with occasional balsams growing among them.

A mile and a half of very rough portaging brought us at 3 P.M. to the head of the falls, and there we found ourselves on a lake at last. Perhaps few will understand how fine the long stretch of smooth water seemed to us. That day the portaging had been very rough, the way lying over a bed of great, moss-covered boulders that were terribly slippery. The perspiration dripped from the men's faces as they carried, for it was very hot. The big Labrador bulldogs (flies as large as wasps) were out in force that day, as well as the tiny sandflies. One thing we had to be thankful for, was that there were no mosquitoes. The men told me that there are never many where the bulldogs are plentiful, as these big fellows eat the mosquitoes. I did not see them doing it, but certain it is that when they were about in large numbers there were very few mosquitoes. They bit hard, and made the blood run. They were so big and such noisy creatures that their horrible buzzing sent the cold chills chasing over me whenever they made an attack. Still they were not so bad as mosquitoes.

And now we were afloat again on beautiful smooth water. The lake stretched away to the southwest six and a half miles. We camped that evening on a rocky ridge stretching out in serpent-like form from the west shore of the lake above. The ridge was not more than fifty feet wide, but it was one mile long. The rocks were grown over with moss, and the willows and a few evergreens added their touch of beauty. These long narrow points were a characteristic feature of the lakes of the upper plateau. In this and the lakes above, through which we passed the day following, there were many small, rocky islands, some of them willow covered, some wooded. The shores everywhere were wooded, but the difference in size in the trees was now quite marked. They were much smaller than on the river below. The water was clear, and we could see the lake beds strewn with huge boulders, some of them reaching to very near the surface. Here we began to see signs of the Indians again, occa

sional standing wigwam poles showing among the green woods.

Passing four of these lakes, we came to where the river flows in from the south down three heavy rapids. On the west side of its entrance to the lake we found the old trail. The blazing was weather worn and old, but the trail was a good one, and had been much used in the days long ago. The portage was little more than a quarter of a mile long, and we put our canoes into the water again in a tiny bay above the islands.

While the men took their loads forward I set up my fishing-rod for the first time. Every day I had felt ashamed that it had not been done before, but every day I put it off. I never cared greatly for fishing, much as I had loved to be with my husband on the lakes and streams. Mr. Hubbard could never understand it, for more than any other inanimate thing on earth he loved a fishing-rod, and to whip a trout stream was to him pure delight. As I made a few casts near the foot of the rapid, my heart grew heavier every minute. I almost hated the rod, and soon I took it down feeling that I could never touch it again.

In the bay above the falls we saw a mother duck and her flock of little ones, the first we had seen so far on our trip. In the afternoon we passed up the short reach of river into another lake, the largest we had yet seen, stretching miles away to east and west, we could not tell how far. We could see, the men thought, about ten miles to the east, and twelve to fifteen west. The lake seemed to average about four miles in width. The narrowest part was where we entered it, and on the opposite shore, three miles away, rose a high hill. It seemed as if we might even now be on Michikamau, perhaps shut from the main body of the lake only by the islands. From the hill we should be able to see we thought, and so paddled towards it.

The hill was wooded almost to the top, and above the woods was the barren moss-covered summit. The walking was very rough. It seemed to me as we climbed that I should be stifled with the heat, and the flies, and the effort, but most of all with the thoughts that were crowding my mind. Instead of being only glad that we were nearing Michikamau I had been growing more and more to dread the moment when I should first look out over its broad waters. Sometimes I felt that I could never go on to the top-but I did.

The panorama of mountain, and lake, and island was very impressive. For miles in every direction were the lakes. Countless wooded islands, large and small, dotted their surfaces, and westward, beyond the confusion of islands and water around us, lay the great shining Michikamau. Still we could see no open way to reach it. Lying along its eastern shore a low ridge stretched away northward, and east of this again the lakes. We thought this might perhaps be the Indian inland route to George River, which Mr. Low speaks of in his report on the survey of Michikamau. Far away in the north were the hills with their snow patches, which we had seen from Lookout Mountain. Turning to the east we could trace the course of the Nascaupee to where we had entered it on Sunday. We could see Lookout Mountain, and away beyond it the irregular tops of the hills we had come through from a little west of Seal Lake. In the south, great rugged hills stood out west towards Michikamau. North and south of the hill we were on were big waters. The one to the south we hoped would lead us out to Michikamau. It emptied into the lake we had just crossed in a broad shallow rapid at the foot of our hill, one and a half miles to the west.

George showed me, only a few miles from where we were standing, Mount Hubbard, from which Mr. Hubbard and he had seen Michikamau; Windbound Lake and the lakes through which they had hoped to find their way to the great lake; the dip in the hills to the east through which they had passed on their long portage. He pointed out to me a little dark line on the brow of the hill where the bushes were in which they had shot the rabbit, and on the eastern slope another dark shadow showing where they had shot the ptarmigan.

So much of life and its pain can crowd into a few minutes. The whole desperate picture stood out with dread vividness. Yet I had wished very much to see what he had shown me.

At the rapid we were but a few minutes poling up to the big water south. Then after two miles of paddling, still southward, we rounded a point and looked westward straight into Michikamau and the sun. It was 5.52 P.M.

When the exclamations of delight had subsided Gilbert asked: "Do we have rice pudding for supper to-night, Mrs. Hubbard?"

That evening we camped in an island flower-garden.

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