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   Chapter 11 STORM-BOUND ON MICHIKAMATS

A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador By Mina Hubbard Characters: 11690

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


We had not reached our haven too soon. Almost immediately the wind rose again, and by noon was blowing so strong that we could have done nothing in any part of Lake Michikamau, not to speak of crossing the upper end in a heavy south wind. Around the point I did not find things look as I expected. It was only a very shallow bay, and where we looked for the islands a long, narrow point of land stretched out from the west shore to the northeast. Flowing round the eastern end of this point was a rapid, some two hundred yards in length, and at the head of this we found a little lake, between two and three miles in length, lying northeast and southwest. All the eastern portion of it was shallow, and it was with considerable difficulty we succeeded in getting the canoes up to the low shore, where we had lunch. I wondered much if this could possibly be Michikamats, which is mapped in, in dotted lines, as a lake twenty-five miles long lying northwest.

In the afternoon my perplexities were cleared up. A small river, coming down from the northwest, flowed in at the east end of the lake. Three-quarters of a mile of poling, dragging, and lifting brought us up to another lake, and this proved to be Lake Michikamats. For half a mile or more at its lower end the lake is narrow and shoal. Its bed is a mass of jagged rocks, many of which rise so near to the surface that it was a work of art to find a way among them. A low point ran out north on our left, and from this point to the eastern shore stretched a long line of boulders rising at intervals from the water. This line marks the edge of the shallows, and beyond it the lake is deep and broad and stretches away northeast for more than eight miles of its length, when it bends to the northwest.

As we entered it we saw that the low range of wooded hills on our left formed the western boundary of the lake, and over the flat wooded shore on the right we could see the tops of big, barren hills of a range stretching northward. These are a continuation of the round-topped hills which border the east shore of Michikamau south of where the lake narrows. For some miles of our journey up northern Michikamau we could see these hills miles back from the low shoreline. Now we seemed to be turning towards them again. Beyond a point one mile and a quarter north from where we entered the lake a deep bay runs in to the east, and here the hills came into plain view though they were still far back from the shore. Their rounded tops were covered with moss, and low down on the sides dark patches showed where the green woods were.

It was a glorious afternoon, and the canoes scudded at racing pace before a heavy south wind. At a point on the east shore, six miles up the lake, I landed to take bearings. Here we found a peculiar mound of rocks along the edge of the water which proved to be characteristic of the whole shoreline of the lake. The rocks had been pushed out by the ice and formed a sort of wall, while over the wall moss and willows grew, with here and there a few stunted evergreens, the whole making an effective screen along the water's edge. Back of this were swamps and bogs with low moss-covered mounds running through them, and grown up with scattered tamarack and spruces. On the west shore the hills reached quite to the wall itself.

Behind this wall, at the point, we found a family of ptarmigan. When we appeared the mother bird tried vainly to hurry her flock away to a place of safety. Her mate flew across to an island a short distance north, leaving her alone to her task, but she and her little ones were all taken. Here the first wolf tracks we had seen on the trip were found.

After some time spent at the point it was time to camp. We crossed to the island, north, and as we landed a white-winged ptarmigan flew back to where had just been enacted one of the endless succession of wilderness tragedies. I wondered if he would not wish he had stayed to share the fate of his little family, and what he would do with himself now. It was a beautiful camping place we found. The Indians had found it too, and evidently had appreciated its beauty. There were the remains of many old camps there, well- worn paths leading from one to the other. It was the first place we had come upon which gave evidence of having been an abiding Place of some permanence. There must have been quite a little community there at one time. The prospect south, west, and north was very beautiful.

My tent was pitched in a charming nook among the spruce trees, and had a carpet of boughs all tipped with fresh green. The moss itself was almost too beautiful to cover; but nothing is quite so nice for carpet as the boughs. We were on a tiny ridge sloping to the south shore of the island, and over the screen of willows and evergreens at the water's edge, the wind came in strong enough to drive away the flies and mosquitoes, and leave one free to enjoy the beauty of the outlook. It was an ideal place to spend Sunday, and with a sigh of relief we settled into our island camp. The week had been a wonderfully interesting one; but it had also been an anxious and trying one in a few ways. I was glad to have passed Michikamau so quickly and easily. I wished it might be our good fortune to see some of the Indians.

Through the night the south wind rose to a gale, and showers of rain fell. On Sunday morning I was up at 7 A.M., and after a nice, lazy bath, luxuriously dressed myself in clean clothes. Then came a little reading from a tiny book that had been in Labrador before, and a good deal of thinking. Just after 9 A.M. I lay down to go to sleep again. I had not realised it before, but I was very tired. My eyes had closed but a moment when rat-a-tat-tat on the mixing pan announced breakfast. Joe had prepared it, and the others came straggling out

one by one looking sleepy and happy, enjoying the thought of the day's rest, the more that it was the kind of day to make it impossible to travel. Returning to my tent after the meal I lay down to sleep. My head had no sooner touched the pillow than I was asleep, and did not wake till 1.30 P.M.

I could hear Gil outside preparing lunch, and went out to see how he was getting on. It was the first time he had attempted anything in the cooking line, and he looked anxious. We were to have fried cakes and tea, and Gil was cooking the fried cakes. They were not much to look at, for the wind had coated them well with ashes; but they tasted good, and the youngster looked quite relieved at the way they disappeared when we began to eat.

Michikamats was certainly very picturesque in the gale. The wind had six miles of unbroken sweep, and stirred the lake to wild commotion. Out of shelter I could scarcely stand against it. For a long time I watched two gulls trying to fly into the wind. They were very persistent and made a determined fight, but were at last compelled to give up and drop back to land. I spent nearly the whole afternoon watching the storm, running to cover only while the showers passed.

When we gathered for supper in the evening Job was holding a pot over the fire, and did not move to get his plate and cup with the rest. George gave me my plate of soup, and when I had nearly finished it Job set the pot down beside me, saying gently: "I just set this right here." In the pot were three fried cakes, crisp and hot and brown, exactly as I liked them.

There was much speculation as to what we should find at the head of Lake Michikamats, and I wondered how much scouting there would be to do to find the George River waters. If only we could see the Indians. Time was slipping away all too fast; the last week in August was not far distant, and the George River waters might not be easy to find. The days were becoming increasingly anxious for me. Our caribou meat was nearly gone, and a fresh supply of game would have been very welcome. There would be a chance to put out the nets when we reached the head of the lake, and the scouting had to be done. The nets had not yet touched the water.

In the night the wind veered to the north and a steady rain set in, which was still falling when morning came. All were up late for it was too stormy to travel, and rest still seemed very good. While eating breakfast we heard geese calling not far away, and started on a goose hunt. It did not prove very exciting, nor very fruitful of geese. They were at the head of the bay which ran in east of our island. There were a number of small islands in the bay separated by rock-strewn shallows, and having landed Job and Joe on one of the largest of these, George, Gilbert and I paddled round to the south of the group, and came out in the upper part of the bay. There just over the marsh grass at its head we saw five geese, but they saw us too, and before we could get near them were up and away. On the way back four red-throated loons, two old and two young, and a spruce partridge were taken.

It was nearly noon when we reached camp again, and the men were in the midst of preparing dinner when they caught sight of a big caribou stag swimming across to the point south of us. In such circumstances Job was indescribable. He seemed as if suddenly inspired with the energy of a flying bullet, and moved almost as silently. There was a spring for the canoe, and in much less time than it takes to tell it, the canoe was in the water with Job, Gilbert, and George plying their paddles with all their strength. As had happened before, the splendid creature almost reached the shore when a bullet dropped in front of him, and he turned back. His efforts were now no match for the swift paddle strokes that sent the canoe lightly towards him, and soon a shot from George's rifle ended the struggle. He was towed ashore, bled and gralloched, and brought to camp in the canoe.

Most of the afternoon was spent in cutting up the caribou, and putting it on a stage to dry. While they were busy with their task there came again the sound of the wild goose call. Seizing the rifles, George and Gilbert made off across the island, and soon came back with two young geese, and word that there was another there but too far out in the water for them to get it. Whereupon Job and Joe went off in the canoe, and after a short time came back with a third. This made a pretty good day's hunt. George's record was, one spruce partridge, two young geese, and one caribou.

We had young wild goose for supper that night. I think I never have tasted anything more delicious, and with hot fried cakes it made a supper fit for a king. As we ate the men talked about the calls of the wild birds.

George said: "I do like to hear a wild goose call." Certainly no one who heard him say it would doubt his word. After a little he continued: "There is another bird, too, that the Indians call 'ah- ha-way,' that I used to like so much to listen to when I was a boy. How I used to listen to that bird call. I tell you if you heard that bird call you could just sit and listen and listen. I don't know the English name for it. It is a very small duck, just a very little bird."

Speaking of the loons we had heard calling on Lake Michikamau he said: "You should hear some of the little Indian boys calling the loons. Men's voices are too strong and rough, but some of those little boys, they can do it very well. You will just see the loons come and circle round and round over them when they call."

All day long the rain had fallen steadily. I spent most of it in my tent, but the men had been out the whole day and were soaked. Having done their washing on Sunday they had no dry clothes to put on, and so slept wet that night.

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