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   Chapter 10 MICHIKAMAU

A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador By Mina Hubbard Characters: 12162

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

It was the sun that did it, or else it was a scheme on the part of

George and Job to work in an extra pudding. However that may have

been, we found ourselves on Wednesday morning not yet on Lake

Michikamau, and we did not reach it until 5.15 P.M. that day.

We started, expecting to paddle straight away west into the great lake. As we glided out on what proved to be, after all, another lake instead of an arm of Michikamau, we saw that land, not water, stretched across the western horizon. South from our island camp the shore of the lake was a low ridge sloping to the water in three distinct terraces, moss-covered and smooth as a carefully kept lawn, with here and there a clump of stunted fir trees. Four miles to the west the ridge terminated in a low point.

As we crossed the lake Job remarked that there was some current here. On nearing the point we were startled by a sudden exclamation from him. He had caught sight of a freshly cut chip on the water. We stopped, and the chip was picked up. The two canoes drew together, when it was examined closely, and an animated discussion in Indian went on. It was all interesting to watch, and a revelation to me to see an ordinary little chip create so much excitement. How much a seeming trifle may mean to the "Children of the Bush," or for that matter to any other "children," who see the meaning of things. I could not tell of course what they were saying, but I knew that the question was: "Who, beside ourselves, is in this deep wilderness?" The conclusion reached was that the wind had brought it here in the night from our own camp.

Passing the point the canoe again stopped some distance beyond it, and another brisk conversation ensued. I learned they had discovered a current coming from the south, and we turned to meet it. Following it up, one mile south and one mile west, we came to where the river flows in from the south in a rapid. This was really funny. We had comfortably settled ourselves in the belief that the rapids had all been passed. Job and Gilbert had taken off their "shoe-packs" with the prospect of a good day's paddling, and here were the rapids again. Our course for four miles above this point was up a tortuous, rapid river. It seemed to flow from all points of the compass, and, in almost continuous rapids. They were not rough, but the currents were fearfully swift, and seemed to move in all directions. These are more difficult to understand, and hence more dangerous than many of the rougher rapids.

About 2 P.M. we came out upon a lake. It was not very large, and its upper end was crowded with islands. Four miles from the outlet the lake narrowed, and the water flowed down round the islands with tremendous swiftness. Again it widened, and a mile west from the rapids we landed to climb a hill. Everyone went, and by the time I was half-way up, the men were already at the top jumping round and waving their hats and yelling like demons, or men at a polo match. As I came towards them, Gilbert shouted: "Rice pudding for supper to-night, Mrs. Hubbard." It was not hard to guess what all the demonstration meant. We could not see all the channel from our hill-top, there were so many islands; but it could be seen part of the way and what was most important we could see where it led straight west to Michikamau.

Once more in the canoes our way still led among the islands up the swift flowing water. It was not till 5.15 P.M. that we at last reached the point where the Nascaupee River first receives the waters of the great lake. Paddling against a rather strong head wind we continued westward near a long island, landing shortly before 7 P.M. on its outer shore to make our first camp on Lake Michikamau.

It was a beautiful place, and had evidently been a favourite with the Indians. There were the remains of many old camps there. Here the flies and mosquitoes were awful. It made me shiver even to feel them creeping over my hands, not to speak of their bites. Nowhere on the whole journey had we found them so thick as they were that night. It was good to escape into the tent.

Next morning I rose early. It was cloudy but calm, and Michikamau was like a pond. How I wondered what fortune would be ours in the voyage on this big water. The canoes seemed so tiny here. I called the men at 6.30 A.M., and at nine we were ready to start. Before leaving, Job blazed two trees at the landing, and in one he placed a big flat stone on which I wrote with a piece of flint Joe brought me,


Underneath it I wrote the names of all the party. Then we embarked and it was "All aboard for George River!" our next objective point.

Our way led among the islands through water which seemed to promise good fishing. We put out the trolls, and waited hopefully to see what might be the prospect for testing the namaycush (great lake trout) of Michikamau for lunch. We had not long to wait. Soon I saw Joe in the other canoe hauling in his line, and a few minutes after there was a tug at mine. I got a nice little one. I had my line out a second time for just a short while when there was a harder tug on it, and I knew I had a big one. We had no gaff, and Job said we had better go ashore to land him. We did, and I was just pulling him up the beach when he gave one mighty leap and was gone. When my line came in I found the heavy wire which held the hooks had been straightened out, and he had gone off with them in his mouth. Joe's fish was a big one, about fifteen pounds, the men thought. Job said mine was bigger.

We had lunch on an island that day. The men boiled the whole of the big fish, except a little that they fried for me. George ate the head boiled, which be says is the best part. It was all delicious. I cleaned my little one carefully, and placing some willow boughs about it, laid it in the shade until we should be starting. Then after all my care we went away and forgot it. On the island we found the whitened antlers and skull of a young caribou stag. Joe cut off one of the po

ints, and I used it after that to wind my trolling line.

During the afternoon there was more wind, and the lake grew rougher. It was fine to see the way the men managed the canoes. Sometimes we seemed almost to lose ourselves in the trough of the big waves, but there was not a dipper of water taken in. There was a head wind and hard paddling for a time, but towards evening it grew calmer, and the lake became very beautiful. In the distance we saw several large masses of floating ice, and lying far away in the west were many islands. The sky above was almost covered with big, soft, silver clouds and as the sun sank gradually towards the horizon the lake was like a great field of light. Once we stopped to listen to the loons calling [Great Northern Divers]. They were somewhere out on the glittering water, and far apart. We could not see them, but there were four, and one wild call answering another rang out into the great silence. It was weird and beautiful beyond words; the big, shining lake with its distant blue islands; the sky with its wonderful clouds and colour; two little canoes so deep in the wilderness, and those wild, reverberant voices coming up from invisible beings away in the "long light" which lay across the water. We listened for a long time, then it ceased.

We camped early that night south of the bay on the farther side of which the hills reached out to the west, narrowing the lake to about seven miles. The bay was between four and five miles wide, and it was too late to risk crossing it that night. George said if it were still calm in the morning they would take just a bite and a cup of tea, and start. We could have breakfast on the other shore.

During the night a north wind sprang up, and though soon calm again the lake was stirred up, and all the rest of the night and the early morning we could hear the waves rolling in on the beach. From dawn the men were out, now and again, to see if it were fit to start, but it was 10 A.M. before we were on the water. On one of the islands where we landed during the morning we found the first "bake-apple" berries. They were as large as the top of my thumb, and reddened a little. Though still hard they already tasted like apples. We lunched on an island near the north shore of the bay. While at our meal the wind changed and was fair for us, so we started, hoping to make the most of it. Crossing through a shallow which separated what had looked like a long point from the hills, we came out to the narrower part of the lake. Here the hills on the east shore were seen to recede from the lake, stretching away a little east of north, while between, the country was flat and boggy. A short distance further on we landed to put up sails. A ptarmigan and her little family were running about among the bushes, and the men gave chase, coming back shortly afterwards with the mother bird and her little ones.

Towards evening we put out our trolls, and I caught one big brook trout, one little namaycush, and a big one a twenty-pounder. This time he did not get away, though I strongly suspect this may have been because Job landed him. We camped late in a swampy place, and while the men put up camp I cleaned my three fish. The big one was so big that I could hardly manage him. I had just opened him up and taken out the inside and was struggling to cut off his head when somehow my hunting-knife touched his spinal cord in a way that made his tail fly up almost into my face. I sprang up with a shriek but suddenly remembered he really must be dead after all, and returned to my task. Presently Job emerged from the bushes to see what was the trouble. He suggested that I had better let him clean the fish, but I declined. Finally I did get the head off, and soon carried my fish to the camp in triumph. The big one was boiled for supper, and, oh! how good it tasted, for all were desperately hungry. The night was clear and cold, and after supper I sat at the camp fire till quite late-reluctant to leave it. Finally it died down, and leaving the glowing embers to burn themselves out, I went to my tent.

We were off early next morning with a fine southwest wind, and were at the head of the lake sooner than we had expected. From here we had to cross almost to the west shore to reach the bay at the north end of the lake. It had grown rough since we left camp, and it did not seem to me that we could get to the point, for it meant running into the wind part of the way. It was an exciting hour's work, and the men were very quiet. There was none of the usual merry chat. Evidently a storm was coming, and unless we could pass that long, rocky point, and win the shelter of the bay beyond, we might be delayed for days. The big waves came rolling up the lake, and as each reached us the bottom of the canoe was tipped towards it a little to prevent its coming over, and George's head turned slightly to see how it was treating his charge. At the same time I could feel my fingers which were just over the edge on the other side run along the top of the water, and now and then it came over and slipped up my sleeve.

It was squally, and anxiously five pairs of eyes watched the sky and the point. It was a relief when the wind dropped a little, but then we could see it had risen again, roughening the water in the distance some minutes before it reached us. As I watched the other canoe slip down the long slope of a big wave I wondered, often, if it would come up again, for it looked as if bound straight for the bottom of the lake. Soon, however, it was on the crest of another wave and ready to dip again. The most exciting part of the experience was watching its motions. The perspective made them seem more remarkable than those of my own, which indeed were startling enough at times.

With glad hearts we felt the wind drop a little as we neared the point. Then, bending to their paddles with all the strength of their strong arms, the men carried the canoes beyond the breakers to where we could turn our backs to the wind, and we slipped into the quiet bay.

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