STEWART EDWARD WHITE
I. THE CALLING II. THE SCIENCE OF GOING LIGHT III. THE JUMPING-OFF PLACE IV. ON MAKING CAMP V. ON LYING AWAKE AT NIGHT VI. THE 'LUNGE VII. ON OPEN-WATER CANOE TRAVELLING VIII. THE STRANDED STRANGERS IX. ON FLIES X. CLOCHE XI. THE HABITANTS XII. THE RIVER XIII. THE HILLS XIV. ON WALKING THROUGH THE WOODS XV. ON WOODS INDIANS XVI. ON WOODS INDIANS (continued) XVII. THE CATCHING OF A CERTAIN FISH XVIII. MAN WHO WALKS BY MOONLIGHT XIX. APOLOGIA
SUGGESTIONS FOR OUTFIT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE INDIANS WOULD RISE TO THEIR FEET FOR A SINGLE MOMENT
THIS OLD SOLDIER HAD COME IN FROM THE LONG TRAIL TO BEAR AGAIN THE FLAG OF HIS COUNTRY
AT SUCH A TIME YOU WILL MEET WITH ADVENTURES
EACH WAVE WAS SINGLY A PROBLEM, TO FAIL IN WHOSE SOLUTION MEANT INSTANT SWAMPING
WATCHED THE LONG NORTH-COUNTRY TWILIGHT STEAL UP LIKE A GRAY CLOUD FROM THE EAST
IN THIS LOVABLE MYSTERY WE JOURNEYED ALL THE REST OF THAT MORNING
NOR NEED YOU HOPE TO POLE A CANOE UPSTREAM AS DO THESE PEOPLE
THEN IN THE TWILIGHT THE BATTLE
"The Red Gods make their medicine again."
Some time in February, when the snow and sleet have shut out from the wearied mind even the memory of spring, the man of the woods generally receives his first inspiration. He may catch it from some companion's chance remark, a glance at the map, a vague recollection of a dim past conversation, or it may flash on him from the mere pronouncement of a name. The first faint thrill of discovery leaves him cool, but gradually, with the increasing enthusiasm of cogitation, the idea gains body, until finally it has grown to plan fit for discussion.
Of these many quickening potencies of inspiration, the mere name of a place seems to strike deepest at the heart of romance. Colour, mystery, the vastnesses of unexplored space are there, symbolized compactly for the aliment of imagination. It lures the fancy as a fly lures the trout. Mattagami, Peace River, Kananaw, the House of the Touchwood Hills, Rupert's House, the Land of Little Sticks, Flying Post, Conjuror's House—how the syllables roll from the tongue, what pictures rise in instant response to their suggestion! The journey of a thousand miles seems not too great a price to pay for the sight of a place called the Hills of Silence, for acquaintance with the people who dwell there, perhaps for a glimpse of the saga-spirit that so named its environment. On the other hand, one would feel but little desire to visit Muggin's Corners, even though at their crossing one were assured of the deepest flavour of the Far North.
The first response to the red god's summons is almost invariably the production of a fly-book and the complete rearrangement of all its contents. The next is a resumption of practice with the little pistol. The third, and last, is pencil and paper, and lists of grub and duffel, and estimates of routes and expenses, and correspondence with men who spell queerly, bear down heavily with blunt pencils, and agree to be at Black Beaver Portage on a certain date. Now, though the February snow and sleet still shut him in, the spring has draw very near. He can feel the warmth of her breath rustling through his reviving memories.
There are said to be sixty-eight roads to heaven, of which but one is the true way, although here and there a by-path offers experimental variety to the restless and bold. The true way for the man in the woods to attain the elusive best of his wilderness experience is to go as light as possible, and the by-paths of departure from that principle lead only to the slightly increased carrying possibilities of open-water canoe trips, and permanent camps.
But these prove to be not very independent side paths, never diverging so far from the main road that one may dare hope to conceal from a vigilant eye that he is not going light.
To go light is to play the game fairly. The man in the woods matches himself against the forces of nature. In the towns he is warmed and fed and clothed so spontaneously and easily that after a time he perforce begins to doubt himself, to wonder whether his powers are not atrophied from disuse. And so, with his naked soul, he fronts the wilderness. It is a test, a measuring of strength, a proving of his essential pluck and resourcefulness and manhood, an assurance of man's highest potency, the ability to endure and to take care of himself. In just so far as he substitutes the ready-made of civilization for the wit-made of the forest, the pneumatic bed for the balsam boughs, in just so far is he relying on other men and other men's labour to take care of him. To exactly that extent is the test invalidated. He has not proved a courteous antagonist, for he has not stripped to the contest.
To go light is to play the game sensibly. For even when it is not so earnest, nor the stake so high, a certain common-sense should take the place on a lower plane of the fair-play sense on the higher. A great many people find enjoyment in merely playing with nature. Through vacation they relax their minds, exercise mildly their bodies, and freshen the colours of their outlook on life. Such people like to live comfortably, work little, and enjoy existence lazily. Instead of modifying themselves to fit the life of the wilderness, they modify their city methods to fit open-air conditions. They do not need to strip to the contest, for contest there is none, and Indian packers are cheap at a dollar a day. But even so the problem of the greatest comfort—defining comfort as an accurate balance of effort expended to results obtained—can be solved only by the one formula. And that formula is, again, go light, for a superabundance of paraphernalia proves always more of a care than a satisfaction. When the woods offer you a thing ready made, it is the merest foolishness to transport that same thing a hundred miles for the sake of the manufacturer's trademark.
I once met an outfit in the North Woods, plodding diligently across portage, laden like the camels of the desert. Three Indians swarmed back and forth a half-dozen trips apiece. An Indian can carry over two hundred pounds. That evening a half-breed and I visited their camp and examined their outfit, always with growing wonder. They had tent-poles and about fifty pounds of hardwood tent pegs—in a wooded country where such things can be had for a clip of the axe. They had a system of ringed iron bars which could be so fitted together as to form a low open grill on which trout could be broiled—weight twenty pounds, and split wood necessary for its efficiency. They had air mattresses and camp-chairs and oil lanterns. They had corpulent duffel bags apiece that would stand alone, and enough changes of clothes to last out dry-skinned a week's rain. And the leader of the party wore the wrinkled brow of tribulation. For he had to keep track of everything and see that package number twenty-eight was not left, and that package number sixteen did not get wet; that the pneumatic bed did not get punctured, and that the canned goods did. Beside which, the caravan was moving at the majestic rate of about five miles a day.
Now tent-pegs can always be cut, and trout broiled beautifully by a dozen other ways, and candle lanterns fold up, and balsam can be laid in such a manner as to be as springy as a pneumatic mattress, and camp-chairs, if desired, can be quickly constructed with an axe, and clothes can always be washed or dried as long as fire burns and water runs, and any one of fifty other items of laborious burden could have been ingeniously and quickly substituted by any one of the Indians. It was not that we concealed a bucolic scorn of effete but solid comfort; only it did seem ridiculous that a man should cumber himself with a fifth wheel on a smoothly macadamized road.
The next morning Billy and I went cheerfully on our way. We were carrying an axe, a gun, blankets, an extra pair of drawers and socks apiece, a little grub, and an eight-pound shelter tent. We had been out a week, and we were having a good time.
THE SCIENCE OF GOING LIGHT.
"Now the Four-Way lodge is opened—now the smokes of Council rise— Pleasant smokes ere yet 'twixt trail and trail they choose."
You can no more be told how to go light than you can be told how to hit a ball with a bat. It is something that must be lived through, and all advice on the subject has just about the value of an answer to a bashful young man who begged from one of our woman's periodicals help in overcoming the diffidence felt on entering a crowded room. The reply read: "Cultivate an easy, graceful manner." In like case I might hypothecate, "To go light, discard all but the really necessary articles."
The sticking-point, were you to press me close, would be the definition of the word "necessary," for the terms of such definition would have to be those solely and simply of a man's experience. Comforts, even most desirable comforts, are not necessities. A dozen times a day trifling emergencies will seem precisely to call for some little handy contrivance that would be just the thing, were it in the pack rather than at home. A disgorger does the business better than a pocket-knife; a pair of oilskin trousers turns the wet better than does kersey; a camp-stove will burn merrily in a rain lively enough to drown an open fire. Yet neither disgorger, nor oilskins, nor camp-stove can be considered in the light of necessities, for the simple reason that the conditions of their use occur too infrequently to compensate for the pains of their carriage. Or, to put it the other way, a few moments' work with a knife, wet knees occasionally, or an infrequent soggy meal are not too great a price to pay for unburdened shoulders.
Nor on the other hand must you conclude that because a thing is a mere luxury in town, it is nothing but that in the woods. Most woodsmen own some little ridiculous item of outfit without which they could not be happy. And when a man cannot be happy lacking a thing, that thing becomes a necessity. I knew one who never stirred without borated talcum powder; another who must have his mouth-organ; a third who was miserable without a small bottle of salad dressing; I confess to a pair of light buckskin gloves. Each man must decide for himself—remembering always the endurance limit of human shoulders.
A necessity is that which, by your own experience, you have found you cannot do without. As a bit of practical advice, however, the following system of elimination may be recommended. When you return from a trip, turn your duffel bag upside down on the floor. Of the contents make three piles—three piles conscientiously selected in the light of what has happened rather than what ought to have happened, or what might have happened. It is difficult to do this. Preconceived notions, habits of civilization, theory for future, imagination, all stand in the eye of your honesty. Pile number one should comprise those articles you have used every day; pile number two, those you have used occasionally; pile number three, those you have not used at all. If you are resolute and singleminded, you will at once discard the latter two.
Throughout the following winter you will be attacked by misgivings. To be sure, you wore the mosquito hat but once or twice, and the fourth pair of socks not at all; but then the mosquitoes might be thicker next time, and a series of rainy days and cold nights might make it desirable to have a dry pair of socks to put on at night. The past has been x, but the future might be y. One by one the discarded creep back into the list. And by the opening of next season you have made toward perfection by only the little space of a mackintosh coat and a ten-gauge gun.
But in the years to come you learn better and better the simple woods lesson of substitution or doing without. You find that discomfort is as soon forgotten as pain; that almost anything can be endured if it is but for the time being; that absolute physical comfort is worth but a very small price in avoirdupois. Your pack shrinks.
In fact, it really never ceases shrinking. Only last summer taught me the uselessness of an extra pair of trousers. It rains in the woods; streams are to be waded; the wetness of leaves is greater than the wetness of many rivers. Logically, naturally, inevitably, such conditions point to change of garments when camp is made. We always change our clothes when we get wet in the city. So for years I carried those extra nether garments—and continued in the natural exposure to sun and wind and camp-fire to dry off before change time, or to hang the damp clothes from the ridge-pole for resumption in the morning. And then one day the web of that particular convention broke. We change wet trousers in the town; we do not in the woods. The extras were relegated to pile number three, and my pack, already apparently down to a minimum, lost a few pounds more.
You will want a hat, a good hat to turn rain, with a medium brim. If you are wise, you will get it too small for your head, and rip out the lining. The felt will cling tenaciously to your hair, so that you will find the snatches of the brush and the wind generally unavailing.
By way of undergarments wear woollen. Buy winter weights even for midsummer. In travelling with a pack a man is going to sweat in streams, no matter what he puts on or takes off, and the thick garment will be found no more oppressive than the thin. And then in the cool of the woods or of the evening he avoids a chill. And he can plunge into the coldest water with impunity, sure that ten minutes of the air will dry him fairly well. Until you have shivered in clammy cotton, you cannot realize the importance of this point. Ten minutes of cotton underwear in cold water will chill. On the other hand, suitably clothed in wool, I have waded the ice water of north country streams when the thermometer was so low I could see my breath in the air, without other discomfort than a cold ring around my legs to mark the surface of the water, and a slight numbness in my feet when I emerged. Therefore, even in hot weather, wear heavy wool. It is the most comfortable. Undoubtedly you will come to believe this only by experience.
Do not carry a coat. This is another preconception of civilization, exceedingly difficult to get rid of. You will never wear it while packing. In a rain you will find that it wets through so promptly as to be of little use; or, if waterproof, the inside condensation will more than equal the rain-water. In camp you will discard it because it will impede the swing of your arms. The end of that coat will be a brief half-hour after supper, and a makeshift roll to serve as a pillow during the night. And for these a sweater is better in every way.
In fact, if you feel you must possess another outside garment, let it be an extra sweater. You can sleep in it, use it when your day garment is soaked, or even tie things in it as in a bag. It is not necessary, however.
One good shirt is enough. When you wash it, substitute the sweater until it dries. In fact, by keeping the sweater always in your waterproof bag, you possess a dry garment to change into. Two handkerchiefs are enough. One should be of silk, for neck, head, or—in case of cramps or intense cold—the stomach; the other of coloured cotton for the pocket. Both can be quickly washed, and dried en route. Three pairs of heavy wool socks will be enough—one for wear, one for night, and one for extra. A second pair of drawers supplements the sweater when a temporary day change is desirable. Heavy kersey "driver's" trousers are the best. They are cheap, dry very quickly, and are not easily "picked out" by the brush.
The best blanket is that made by the Hudson's Bay Company for its servants—a "three-point" for summer is heavy enough. The next best is our own gray army blanket. One of rubber should fold about it, and a pair of narrow buckle straps is handy to keep the bundle right and tight and waterproof. As for a tent, buy the smallest shelter you can get along with, have it made of balloon silk well waterproofed, and supplement it with a duplicate tent of light cheesecloth to suspend inside as a fly-proof defence. A seven-by-seven three-man A-tent, which would weigh between twenty and thirty pounds if made of duck, means only about eight pounds constructed of this material. And it is waterproof. I own one which I have used for three seasons. It has been employed as tarpaulin, fly, even blanket on a pinch; it has been packed through the roughest country; I have even pressed it into service as a sort of canoe lining; but it is still as good as ever. Such a tent sometimes condenses a little moisture in a cold rain, but it never "sprays" as does a duck shelter; it never leaks simply because you have accidentally touched its under-surface; and, best of all, it weighs no more after a rain than before it. This latter item is perhaps its best recommendation. The confronting with equanimity of a wet day's journey in the shower-bath brush of our northern forests requires a degree of philosophy which a gratuitous ten pounds of soaked-up water sometimes most effectually breaks down. I know of but one place where such a tent can be bought. The address will be gladly sent to any one practically interested.
As for the actual implements of the trade, they are not many, although of course the sporting goods stores are full of all sorts of "handy contrivances." A small axe—one of the pocket size will do, if you get the right shape and balance, although a light regulation axe is better; a thin-bladed sheath-knife of the best steel; a pocket-knife; a compass; a waterproof match-safe; fishing-tackle; firearms; and cooking utensils comprise the list. All others belong to permanent camps, or open-water cruises—not to "hikes" in the woods.
The items, with the exception of the last two, seem to explain themselves. During the summer months in the North Woods you will not need a rifle. Partridges, spruce hens, ptarmigan, rabbits, ducks, and geese are usually abundant enough to fill the provision list. For them, of course, a shotgun is the thing; but since such a weapon weighs many pounds, and its ammunition many more, I have come gradually to depend entirely on a pistol. The instrument is single shot, carries a six-inch barrel, is fitted with a special butt, and is built on the graceful lines of a 38-calibre Smith and Wesson revolver. Its cartridge is the 22 long-rifle, a target size, that carries as accurately as you can hold for upwards of a hundred yards. With it I have often killed a half-dozen of partridges from the same tree. The ammunition is light. Altogether it is a most satisfactory, convenient, and accurate weapon, and quite adequate to all small game. In fact, an Indian named Tawabinisay, after seeing it perform, once borrowed it to kill a moose.
"I shootum in eye," said he.
By way of cooking utensils, buy aluminium. It is expensive, but so light and so easily cleaned that it is well worth all you may have to pay. If you are alone you will not want to carry much hardware. I made a twenty-day trip once with nothing but a tin cup and a frying-pan. Dishes, pails, wash-basins, and other receptacles can always be made of birch bark and cedar withes—by one who knows how. The ideal outfit for two or three is a cup, fork, and spoon apiece, one tea-pail, two kettle-pails, and a frying-pan. The latter can be used as a bread-oven.
A few minor items, of practically no weight, suggest themselves—toilet requisites, fly-dope, needle and thread, a cathartic, pain-killer, a roll of surgeon's bandage, pipe and tobacco. But when the pack is made up, and the duffel bag tied, you find that, while fitted for every emergency but that of catastrophe, you are prepared to "go light."
THE JUMPING-OFF PLACE.
Sometime, no matter how long your journey, you will reach a spot whose psychological effect is so exactly like a dozen others that you will recognize at once its kinship with former experience. Mere physical likeness does not count at all. It may possess a water-front of laths and sawdust, or an outlook over broad, shimmering, heat-baked plains. It may front the impassive fringe of a forest, or it may skirt the calm stretch of a river. But whether of log or mud, stone or unpainted board, its identity becomes at first sight indubitably evident. Were you, by the wave of some beneficent wand, to be transported direct to it from the heart of the city, you could not fail to recognize it. "The jumping-off place!" you would cry ecstatically, and turn with unerring instinct to the Aromatic Shop.
For here is where begins the Long Trail. Whether it will lead you through the forests, or up the hills, or over the plains, or by invisible water paths; whether you will accomplish it on horseback, or in canoe, or by the transportation of your own two legs; whether your companions shall be white or red, or merely the voices of the wilds—these things matter not a particle. In the symbol of this little town you loose your hold on the world of made things, and shift for yourself among the unchanging conditions of nature.
Here the faint forest flavour, the subtle, invisible breath of freedom, stirs faintly across men's conventions. The ordinary affairs of life savour of this tang—a trace of wildness in the domesticated berry. In the dress of the inhabitants is a dash of colour, a carelessness of port; in the manner of their greeting is the clear, steady-eyed taciturnity of the silent places; through the web of their gray talk of ways and means and men's simpler beliefs runs a thread of colour. One hears strange, suggestive words and phrases—arapajo, capote, arroyo, the diamond hitch, cache, butte, coule, muskegs, portage, and a dozen others coined into the tender of daily use. And occasionally, when the expectation is least alert, one encounters suddenly the very symbol of the wilderness itself—a dust-whitened cowboy, an Indian packer with his straight, fillet-confined hair, a voyageur gay in red sash and ornamented moccasins, one of the Company's canoemen, hollow-cheeked from the river—no costumed show exhibit, but fitting naturally into the scene, bringing something of the open space with him—so that in your imagination the little town gradually takes on the colour of mystery which an older community utterly lacks.
But perhaps the strongest of the influences which unite to assure the psychological kinships of the jumping-off places is that of the Aromatic Shop. It is usually a board affair, with a broad high sidewalk shaded by a wooden awning. You enter through a narrow door, and find yourself facing two dusky aisles separated by a narrow division of goods, and flanked by wooden counters. So far it is exactly like the corner store of our rural districts. But in the dimness of these two aisles lurks the spirit of the wilds. There in a row hang fifty pair of smoke-tanned moccasins; in another an equal number of oil-tanned; across the background you can make out snowshoes. The shelves are high with blankets—three-point, four-point—thick and warm for the out-of-doors. Should you care to examine, the storekeeper will hook down from aloft capotes of different degrees of fineness. Fathoms of black tobacco-rope lie coiled in tubs. Tump-lines welter in a tangle of dimness. On a series of little shelves is the ammunition, fascinating in the attraction of mere numbers—44 Winchester, 45 Colt, 40-82, 30-40, 44 S. & W.—they all connote something to the accustomed mind, just as do the numbered street names of New York.
An exploration is always bringing something new to light among the commonplaces of ginghams and working shirts, and canned goods and stationery, and the other thousands of civilized drearinesses to found in every country store. From under the counter you drag out a mink skin or so; from the dark corner an assortment of steel traps. In a loft a birch-bark mokok, fifty pounds heavy with granulated maple sugar, dispenses a faint perfume.
For this is, above all, the Aromatic Shop. A hundred ghosts of odours mingle to produce the spirit of it. The reek of the camp-fires is in its buckskin, of the woods in its birch bark, of the muskegs in its sweet grass, of the open spaces in its peltries, of the evening meal in its coffees and bacons, of the portage trail in the leather of the tump-lines. I am speaking now of the country of which we are to write. The shops of the other jumping-off places are equally aromatic—whether with the leather of saddles, the freshness of ash paddles, or the pungency of marline; and once the smell of them is in your nostrils you cannot but away.
The Aromatic Shop is always kept by the wisest, the most accommodating, the most charming shopkeeper in the world. He has all leisure to give you, and enters into the innermost spirit of your buying. He is of supernal sagacity in regard to supplies and outfits, and if he does not know all about routes, at least he is acquainted with the very man who can tell you everything you want to know. He leans both elbows on the counter, you swing your feet, and together you go over the list, while the Indian stands smoky and silent in the background. "Now, if I was you," says he, "I'd take just a little more pork. You won't be eatin' so much yourself, but these Injuns ain't got no bottom when it comes to sow-belly. And I wouldn't buy all that coffee. You ain't goin' to want much after the first edge is worn off. Tea's the boy." The Indian shoots a few rapid words across the discussion. "He says you'll want some iron shoes to fit on canoe poles for when you come back up-stream," interprets your friend. "I guess that's right. I ain't got none, but th' blacksmith'll fit you out all right. You'll find him just below—never mind, don't you bother, I'll see to all that for you."
The next morning he saunters into view at the river-bank. "Thought I'd see you off," he replies to your expression of surprise at his early rising. "Take care of yourself." And so the last hand-clasp of civilization is extended to you from the little Aromatic Shop.
Occasionally, however, though very rarely, you step to the Long Trail from the streets of a raw modern town. The chance presence of some local industry demanding a large population of workmen, combined with first-class railroad transportation, may plant an electric-lighted, saloon-lined, brick-hoteled city in the middle of the wilderness. Lumber, mines—especially of the baser metals or commercial minerals—fisheries, a terminus of water freightage, may one or all call into existence a community a hundred years in advance of its environment. Then you lose the savour of the jump-off. Nothing can quite take the place of the instant plunge into the wilderness, for you must travel three or four days from such a place before you sense the forest in its vastness, even though deer may eat the cabbages at the edge of town. Occasionally, however, by force of crude contrast to the brick-heated atmosphere, the breath of the woods reaches your cheek, and always you own a very tender feeling for the cause of it.
Dick and myself were caught in such a place. It was an unfinished little town, with brick-fronted stores, arc-lights swaying over fathomless mud, big superintendent's and millowner's houses of bastard architecture in a blatant superiority of hill location, a hotel whose office chairs supported a variety of cheap drummers, and stores screeching in an attempt at metropolitan smartness. We inspected the standpipe and the docks, walked a careless mile of board walk, kicked a dozen pugnacious dogs from our setter, Deuce, and found ourselves at the end of our resources. As a crowd seemed to be gathering about the wooden railway station, we joined it in sheer idleness.
It seemed that an election had taken place the day before, that one Smith had been chosen to the Assembly, and that, though this district had gone anti-Smith, the candidate was expected to stop off an hour on his way to a more westerly point. Consequently the town was on hand to receive him.
The crowd, we soon discovered, was bourgeois in the extreme. Young men from the mill escorted young women from the shops. The young men wore flaring collars three sizes too large; the young women white cotton mitts three sizes too small. The older men spat, and talked through their noses; the women drawled out a monotonous flow of speech concerning the annoyances of domestic life. A gang of uncouth practical jokers, exploding in horse-laughter, skylarked about, jostling rudely. A village band, uniformed solely with cheap carriage-cloth caps, brayed excruciatingly. The reception committee had decorated, with red and white silesia streamers and rosettes, an ordinary side-bar buggy, to which a long rope had been attached, that the great man might be dragged by his fellow-citizens to the public square.
Nobody seemed to be taking the affair too seriously. It was evidently more than half a joke. Anti-Smith was more good-humouredly in evidence than the winning party. Just this touch of buffoonery completed our sense of the farce-comedy character of the situation. The town was tawdry in its preparations—and knew it; but half sincere in its enthusiasm—and knew it. If the crowd had been composed of Americans, we should have anticipated an unhappy time for Smith; but good, loyal Canadians, by the limitations of temperament, could get no further than a spirit of manifest irreverence.
In the shifting of the groups Dick and I became separated, but shortly I made him out worming his way excitedly toward me, his sketch-book open in his hand.
"Come here," he whispered. "There's going to be fun. They're going to open up on old Smith after all."
I followed. The decorated side-bar buggy might be well meant; the village band need not have been interpreted as an ironical compliment; the rest of the celebration might indicate paucity of resource rather than facetious intent; but surely the figure of fun before us could not be otherwise construed than as a deliberate advertising in the face of success of the town's real attitude toward the celebration.
The man was short. He wore a felt hat, so big that it rested on his ears. A gray wool shirt hung below his neck. A cutaway coat miles too large depended below his knees and to the first joints of his fingers. By way of official uniform his legs were incased in an ordinary rough pair of miller's white trousers, on which broad strips of red flannel had been roughly sewn. Everything was wrinkled in the folds of too-bigness. As though to accentuate the note, the man stood very erect, very military, and supported in one hand the staff of an English flag. This figure of fun, this man made from the slop-chest, this caricature of a scarecrow, had been put forth by heavy-handed facetiousness to the post of greatest honour. He was Standard-Bearer to the occasion! Surely subtle irony could go no further.
A sudden movement caused the man to turn. One sleeve of the faded, ridiculous old cutaway was empty. He turned again. From under the ear-flanging hat looked unflinchingly the clear, steady blue eye of the woodsman. And so we knew. This old soldier had come in from the Long Trail to bear again the flag of his country. If his clothes were old and ill-fitting, at least they were his best, and the largeness of the empty sleeve belittled the too-largeness of the other. In all this ribald, laughing, irreverent, commonplace, semi-vicious crowd he was the one note of sincerity. To him this was a real occasion, and the exalted reverence in his eye for the task he was so simply performing was Smith's real triumph—if he could have known it. We understood now, we felt the imminence of the Long Trail. For the first time the little brick, tawdry town gripped our hearts with the well-known thrill of the Jumping-Off Place. Suddenly the great, simple, unashamed wilderness drew near us as with the rush of wings.
ON MAKING CAMP.
"Who hath smelt wood-smoke at twilight? Who hath heard the birch log burning? Who is quick to read the noises of the night? Let him follow with the others, for the young men's feet are turning To the camps of proved desire and known delight."
In the Ojibway language wigwam means a good spot for camping, a place cleared for a camp, a camp as an abstract proposition, and a camp in the concrete as represented by a tent, a thatched shelter, or a conical tepee. In like manner, the English word camp lends itself to a variety of concepts. I once slept in a four-poster bed over a polished floor in an elaborate servant-haunted structure which, mainly because it was built of logs and overlooked a lake, the owner always spoke of as his camp. Again, I once slept on a bed of prairie grass, before a fire of dried buffalo chips and mesquite, wrapped in a single light blanket, while a good vigorous rain-storm made new cold places on me and under me all night. In the morning the cowboy with whom I was travelling remarked that this was "sure a lonesome proposition as a camp."
Between these two extremes is infinite variety, grading upwards through the divers bivouacs of snow, plains, pines, or hills to the bark shelter; past the dog-tent, the A-tent, the wall-tent, to the elaborate permanent canvas cottage of the luxurious camper, the dug-out winter retreat of the range cowboy, the trapper's cabin, the great log-built lumber-jack communities, and the last refinements of sybaritic summer homes in the Adirondacks. All these are camps. And when you talk of making camp you must know whether that process is to mean only a search for rattlesnakes and enough acrid-smoked fuel to boil tea, or a winter's consultation with an expert architect; whether your camp is to be made on the principle of Omar's one-night Sultan, or whether it is intended to accommodate the full days of an entire summer.
But to those who tread the Long Trail the making of camp resolves itself into an algebraical formula. After a man has travelled all day through the Northern wilderness he wants to rest, and anything that stands between himself and his repose he must get rid of in as few motions as is consistent with reasonable thoroughness. The end in view is a hot meal and a comfortable dry place to sleep. The straighter he can draw the line to those two points the happier he is.
Early in his woods experience, Dick became possessed with the desire to do everything for himself. As this was a laudable striving for self-sufficiency, I called a halt at about three o'clock one afternoon in order to give him plenty of time.
Now Dick is a good, active, able-bodied boy, possessed of average intelligence and rather more than average zeal. He even had theory of a sort, for he had read various "Boy Campers, or the Trapper's Guide," "How to Camp Out," "The Science of Woodcraft," and other able works. He certainly had ideas enough and confidence enough. I sat down on a log.
At the end of three hours' flusteration, heat, worry, and good hard work, he had accomplished the following results: A tent, very saggy, very askew, covered a four-sided area—it was not a rectangle—of very bumpy ground. A hodge-podge bonfire, in the centre of which an inaccessible coffee-pot toppled menacingly, alternately threatened to ignite the entire surrounding forest or to go out altogether through lack of fuel. Personal belongings strewed the ground near the fire, and provisions cumbered the entrance to the tent. Dick was anxiously mixing batter for the cakes, attempting to stir a pot of rice often enough to prevent it from burning, and trying to rustle sufficient dry wood to keep the fire going. This diversity of interests certainly made him sit up and pay attention. At each instant he had to desert his flour-sack to rescue the coffee-pot, or to shift the kettle, or to dab hastily at the rice, or to stamp out the small brush, or to pile on more dry twigs. His movements were not graceful. They raised a scurry of dry bark, ashes, wood dust, twigs, leaves, and pine needles, a certain proportion of which found their way into the coffee, the rice, and the sticky batter, while the smaller articles of personal belonging, hastily dumped from the duffel-bag, gradually disappeared from view in the manner of Pompeii and ancient Vesuvius. Dick burned his fingers and stumbled about and swore, and looked so comically-pathetically red-faced through the smoke that I, seated on the log, at the same time laughed and pitied. And in the end, when he needed a continuous steady fire to fry his cakes, he suddenly discovered that dry twigs do not make coals, and that his previous operations had used up all the fuel within easy circle of the camp.
So he had to drop everything for the purpose of rustling wood, while the coffee chilled, the rice cooled, the bacon congealed, and all the provisions, cooked and uncooked, gathered entomological specimens. At the last, the poor bedeviled theorist made a hasty meal of scorched food, brazenly postponed the washing of dishes until the morrow, and coiled about his hummocky couch to dream the nightmares of complete exhaustion.
Poor Dick! I knew exactly how he felt, how the low afternoon sun scorched, how the fire darted out at unexpected places, how the smoke followed him around, no matter on which side of the fire he placed himself, how the flies all took to biting when both hands were occupied, and how they all miraculously disappeared when he had set down the frying-pan and knife to fight them. I could sympathize, too, with the lonely, forlorn, lost-dog feeling that clutched him after it was all over. I could remember how big and forbidding and unfriendly the forest had once looked to me in like circumstances, so that I had felt suddenly thrust outside into empty spaces. Almost was I tempted to intervene; but I liked Dick, and I wanted to do him good. This experience was harrowing, but it prepared his mind for the seeds of wisdom. By the following morning he had chastened his spirit, forgotten the assurance breathed from the windy pages of the Boy Trapper Library, and was ready to learn.
Have you ever watched a competent portraitist at work? The infinite pains a skilled man spends on the preliminaries before he takes one step towards a likeness nearly always wears down the patience of the sitter. He measures with his eye, he plumbs, he sketches tentatively, he places in here a dab, there a blotch, he puts behind him apparently unproductive hours—and then all at once he is ready to begin something that will not have to be done over again. An amateur, however, is carried away by his desire for results. He dashes in a hit-or-miss early effect, which grows into an approximate likeness almost immediately, but which will require infinite labour, alteration, and anxiety to beat into finished shape.
The case of the artist in making camps is exactly similar, and the philosophical reasons for his failure are exactly the same. To the superficial mind a camp is a shelter, a bright fire, and a smell of cooking. So when a man is very tired he cuts across lots to those three results. He pitches his tent, lights his fire, puts over his food—and finds himself drowned in detail, like my friend Dick.
The following is, in brief, what during the next six weeks I told that youth, by precept, by homily, and by making the solution so obvious that he could work it out for himself.
When five or six o'clock draws near, begin to look about you for a good level dry place, elevated some few feet above the surroundings. Drop your pack or beach your canoe. Examine the location carefully. You will want two trees about ten feet apart, from which to suspend your tent, and a bit of flat ground underneath them. Of course the flat ground need not be particularly unencumbered by brush or saplings, so the combination ought not to be hard to discover. Now return to your canoe. Do not unpack the tent.
With the little axe clear the ground thoroughly. By bending a sapling over strongly with the left hand, clipping sharply at the strained fibres, and then bending it as strongly the other way to repeat the axe stroke on the other side, you will find that treelets of even two or three inches diameter can be felled by two blows. In a very few moments you will have accomplished a hole in the forest, and your two supporting trees will stand sentinel at either end of a most respectable-looking clearing. Do not unpack the tent.
Now, although the ground seems free of all but unimportant growths, go over it thoroughly for little shrubs and leaves. They look soft and yielding, but are often possessed of unexpectedly abrasive roots. Besides, they mask the face of the ground. When you have finished pulling them up by the roots, you will find that your supposedly level plot is knobby with hummocks. Stand directly over each little mound; swing the back of your axe vigorously against it, adze-wise, between your legs. Nine times out of ten it will crumble, and the tenth time means merely a root to cut or a stone to pry out. At length you are possessed of a plot of clean, fresh earth, level and soft, free from projections. But do not unpack your tent.
Lay a young birch or maple an inch or so in diameter across a log. Two clips will produce you a tent-peg. If you are inexperienced, and cherish memories of striped lawn marquees, you will cut them about six inches long. If you are wise and old and gray in woods experience, you will multiply that length by four. Then your loops will not slip off, and you will have a real grip on mother earth, than which nothing can be more desirable in the event of a heavy rain and wind squall about midnight. If your axe is as sharp as it ought to be, you can point them more neatly by holding them suspended in front of you while you snip at their ends with the axe, rather than by resting them against a solid base. Pile them together at the edge of the clearing. Cut a crotched sapling eight or ten feet long. Now unpack your tent.
In a wooded country you will not take the time to fool with tent-poles. A stout line run through the eyelets and along the apex will string it successfully between your two trees. Draw the line as tight as possible, but do not be too unhappy if, after your best efforts, it still sags a little. That is what your long crotched stick is for. Stake out your four corners. If you get them in a good rectangle, and in such relation to the apex as to form two isosceles triangles of the ends, your tent will stand smoothly. Therefore, be an artist and do it right. Once the four corners are well placed, the rest follows naturally. Occasionally in the North Country it will be found that the soil is too thin over the rocks to grip the tent-pegs. In that case drive them at a sharp angle as deep as they will go, and then lay a large flat stone across the slant of them. Thus anchored, you will ride out a gale. Finally, wedge your long sapling crotch under the line—outside the tent, of course—to tighten it. Your shelter is up. If you are a woodsman, ten or fifteen minutes has sufficed to accomplish all this.
There remains the question of a bed, and you'd better attend to it now, while your mind is still occupied with the shelter problem. Fell a good thrifty young balsam and set to work pulling off the fans. Those you cannot strip off easily with your hands are too tough for your purpose. Lay them carelessly crisscross against the blade of your axe and up the handle. They will not drop off, and when you shoulder that axe you will resemble a walking haystack, and will probably experience a genuine emotion of surprise at the amount of balsam that can be thus transported. In the tent lay smoothly one layer of fans, convex side up, butts toward the foot. Now thatch the rest on top of this, thrusting the butt ends underneath the layer already placed in such a manner as to leave the fan ends curving up and down towards the foot of your bed. Your second emotion of surprise will assail you as you realize how much spring inheres in but two or three layers thus arranged. When you have spread your rubber blanket, you will be possessed of a bed as soft and a great deal more aromatic and luxurious than any you would be able to buy in town.
Your next care is to clear a living space in front of the tent. This will take you about twenty seconds, for you need not be particular as to stumps, hummocks, or small brush. All you want is room for cooking, and suitable space for spreading out your provisions. But do not unpack anything yet.
Your fireplace you will build of two green logs laid side by side. The fire is to be made between them. They should converge slightly, in order that the utensils to be rested across them may be of various sizes. If your vicinity yields flat stones, they build up even better than the logs—unless they happen to be of granite. Granite explodes most disconcertingly. Poles sharpened, driven upright into the ground, and then pressed down to slant over the fireplace, will hold your kettles a suitable height above the blaze.
Fuel should be your next thought. A roll of birch bark first of all. Then some of the small, dry, resinous branches that stick out from the trunks of medium-sized pines, living or dead. Finally, the wood itself. If you are merely cooking supper, and have no thought for a warmth-fire or a friendship-fire, I should advise you to stick to the dry pine branches, helped out, in the interest of coals for frying, by a little dry maple or birch. If you need more of a blaze, you will have to search out, fell, and split a standing dead tree. This is not at all necessary. I have travelled many weeks in the woods without using a more formidable implement than a one-pound hatchet. Pile your fuel—a complete supply, all you are going to need—by the side of your already improvised fireplace. But, as you value your peace of mind, do not fool with matches.
It will be a little difficult to turn your mind from the concept of fire, to which all these preparations have compellingly led it—especially as a fire is the one cheerful thing your weariness needs the most at this time of day—but you must do so. Leave everything just as it is, and unpack your provisions.
First of all, rinse your utensils. Hang your tea-pail, with the proper quantity of water, from one slanting pole, and your kettle from the other. Salt the water in the latter receptacle. Peel your potatoes, if you have any; open your little provision sacks; puncture your tin cans, if you have any; slice your bacon; clean your fish; pluck your birds; mix your dough or batter; spread your table tinware on your tarpaulin or a sheet of birch bark; cut a kettle-lifter; see that everything you are going to need is within direct reach of your hand as you squat on your heels before the fireplace. Now light your fire.
The civilized method is to build a fire and then to touch a match to the completed structure. If well done and in a grate or steve, this works beautifully. Only in the woods you have no grate. The only sure way is as follows: Hold a piece of birch bark in your hand. Shelter your match all you know how. When the bark has caught, lay it in your fireplace, assist it with more bark, and gradually build up, twig by twig, stick by stick, from the first pin-point of flame, all the fire you are going to need. It will not be much. The little hot blaze rising between the parallel logs directly against the aluminium of your utensils will do the business in a very short order. In fifteen minutes at most your meal is ready. And you have been able to attain to hot food thus quickly because you were prepared.
In case of very wet weather the affair is altered somewhat. If the rain has just commenced, do not stop to clear out very thoroughly, but get your tent up as quickly as possible, in order to preserve an area of comparatively dry ground. But if the earth is already soaked, you had best build a bonfire to dry out by, while you cook over a smaller fire a little distance removed, leaving the tent until later. Or it may be well not to pitch the tent at all, but to lay it across slanting supports at an angle to reflect the heat against the ground.
It is no joke to light a fire in the rain. An Indian can do it more easily than a white man, but even an Indian has more trouble than the story-books acknowledge. You will need a greater quantity of birch bark, a bigger pile of resinous dead limbs from the pine trees, and perhaps the heart of a dead pine stub or stump. Then, with infinite patience, you may be able to tease the flame. Sometimes a small dead birch contains in the waterproof envelope of its bark a species of powdery, dry touchwood that takes the flame readily. Still, it is easy enough to start a blaze—a very fine-looking, cheerful, healthy blaze; the difficulty is to prevent its petering out the moment your back is turned.
But the depths of woe are sounded and the limit of patience reached when you are forced to get breakfast in the dripping forest. After the chill of early dawn you are always reluctant in the best of circumstances to leave your blankets, to fumble with numbed fingers for matches, to handle cold steel and slippery fish. But when every leaf, twig, sapling, and tree contains a douche of cold water; when the wetness oozes about your moccasins from the soggy earth with every step you take; when you look about you and realize that somehow, before you can get a mouthful to banish that before-breakfast ill-humour, you must brave cold water in an attempt to find enough fuel to cook with, then your philosophy and early religious training avail you little. The first ninety-nine times you are forced to do this you will probably squirm circumspectly through the bush in a vain attempt to avoid shaking water down on yourself; you will resent each failure to do so, and at the end your rage will personify the wilderness for the purpose of one sweeping anathema. The hundredth time will bring you wisdom. You will do the anathema—rueful rather than enraged—from the tent opening. Then you will plunge boldly in and get wet. It is not pleasant, but it has to be done, and you will save much temper, not to speak of time.
Dick and I earned our diplomas at this sort of work. It rained twelve of the first fourteen days we were out. Towards the end of that two weeks I doubt if even an Indian could have discovered a dry stick of wood in the entire country. The land was of Laurentian rock formation, running in parallel ridges of bare stone separated by hollows carpeted with a thin layer of earth. The ridges were naturally ill-adapted to camping, and the cup hollows speedily filled up with water until they became most creditable little marshes. Often we hunted for an hour or so before we could find any sort of a spot to pitch our tent. As for a fire, it was a matter of chopping down dead trees large enough to have remained dry inside, of armfuls of birch bark, and of the patient drying out, by repeated ignition, of enough fuel to cook very simple meals. Of course we could have kept a big fire going easily enough, but we were travelling steadily and had not the time for that. In these trying circumstances, Dick showed that, no matter how much of a tenderfoot he might be, he was game enough under stress.
But to return to our pleasant afternoon. While you are consuming the supper you will hang over some water to heat for the dish-washing, and the dish-washing you will attend to the moment you have finished eating. Do not commit the fallacy of sitting down for a little rest. Better finish the job completely while you are about it. You will appreciate leisure so much more later. In lack of a wash-rag you will find that a bunch of tall grass bent double makes an ideal swab.
Now brush the flies from your tent, drop the mosquito-proof lining, and enjoy yourself. The whole task, from first to last, has consumed but a little over an hour. And you are through for the day.
In the woods, as nowhere else, you will earn your leisure only by forethought. Make no move until you know it follows the line of greatest economy. To putter is to wallow in endless desolation. If you cannot move directly and swiftly and certainly along the line of least resistance in everything you do, take a guide with you; you are not of the woods people. You will never enjoy doing for yourself, for your days will be crammed with unending labour.
It is but a little after seven. The long crimson shadows of the North Country are lifting across the aisles of the forest. You sit on a log, or lie on your back, and blow contented clouds straight up into the air. Nothing can disturb you now. The wilderness is yours, for you have taken from it the essentials of primitive civilization—shelter, warmth, and food. An hour ago a rainstorm would have been a minor catastrophe. Now you do not care. Blow high, blow low, you have made for yourself an abiding-place, so that the signs of the sky are less important to you than to the city dweller who wonders if he should take an umbrella. From your doorstep you can look placidly out on the great unknown. The noises of the forest draw close about you their circle of mystery, but the circle cannot break upon you, for here you have conjured the homely sounds of kettle and crackling flame to keep ward. Thronging down through the twilight steal the jealous woodland shadows, awful in the sublimity of the Silent Places, but at the sentry outposts of your firelit trees they pause like wild animals, hesitating to advance. The wilderness, untamed, dreadful at night, is all about; but this one little spot you have reclaimed. Here is something before unknown to the eerie spirits of the woods. As you sleepily knock the ashes from the pipe, you look about on the familiar scene with accustomed satisfaction. You are at home.
ON LYING AWAKE AT NIGHT.
"Who hath lain alone to hear the wild goose cry?"
About once in so often you are due to lie awake at night. Why this is so I have never been able to discover. It apparently comes from no predisposing uneasiness of indigestion, no rashness in the matter of too much tea or tobacco, no excitation of unusual incident or stimulating conversation. In fact, you turn in with the expectation of rather a good night's rest. Almost at once the little noises of the forest grow larger, blend in the hollow bigness of the first drowse; your thoughts drift idly back and forth between reality and dream; when—snap!—you are broad awake!
Perhaps the reservoir of your vital forces is full to the overflow of a little waste; or perhaps, more subtly, the great Mother insists thus that you enter the temple of her larger mysteries.
For, unlike mere insomnia, lying awake at night in the woods is pleasant. The eager, nervous straining for sleep gives way to a delicious indifference. You do not care. Your mind is cradled in an exquisite poppy-suspension of judgment and of thought. Impressions slip vaguely into your consciousness and as vaguely out again. Sometimes they stand stark and naked for your inspection; sometimes they lose themselves in the midst of half-sleep. Always they lay soft velvet fingers on the drowsy imagination, so that in their caressing you feel the vaster spaces from which they have come. Peaceful-brooding your faculties receive. Hearing, sight, smell—all are preternaturally keen to whatever of sound and sight and woods perfume is abroad through the night; and yet at the same time active appreciation dozes, so these things lie on it sweet and cloying like fallen rose leaves.
In such circumstance you will hear what the voyageurs call the voices of the rapids. Many people never hear them at all. They speak very soft and low and distinct beneath the steady roar and dashing, beneath even the lesser tinklings and gurglings whose quality superimposes them over the louder sounds. They are like the tear-forms swimming across the field of vision, which disappear so quickly when you concentrate your sight to look at them, and which reappear so magically when again your gaze turns vacant. In the stillness of your hazy half-consciousness they speak; when you bend your attention to listen, they are gone, and only the tumults and the tinklings remain.
But in the moments of their audibility they are very distinct. Just as often an odour will wake all a vanished memory, so these voices, by the force of a large impressionism, suggest whole scenes. Far off are the cling-clang-cling of chimes and the swell-and-fall murmur of a multitude en fete, so that subtly you feel the gray old town, with its walls, the crowded marketplace, the decent peasant crowd, the booths, the mellow church building with its bells, the warm, dust-moted sun. Or, in the pauses between the swish-dash-dashings of the waters, sound faint and clear voices singing intermittently, calls, distant notes of laughter, as though many canoes were working against the current; only the flotilla never gets any nearer, nor the voices louder. The voyageurs call these mist people the Huntsmen, and look frightened. To each is his vision, according to his experience. The nations of the earth whisper to their exiled sons through the voices of the rapids. Curiously enough, by all reports, they suggest always peaceful scenes—a harvest field, a street fair, a Sunday morning in a cathedral town, careless travellers—never the turmoils and struggles. Perhaps this is the great Mother's compensation in a harsh mode of life.
Nothing is more fantastically unreal to tell about, nothing more concretely real to experience, than this undernote of the quick water. And when you do lie awake at night, it is always making its unobtrusive appeal. Gradually its hypnotic spell works. The distant chimes ring louder and nearer as you cross the borderland of sleep. And then outside the tent some little woods noise snaps the thread. An owl hoots, a whippoorwill cries, a twig cracks beneath the cautious prowl of some night creature—at once the yellow sunlit French meadows puff away—you are staring at the blurred image of the moon spraying through the texture of your tent.
The voices of the rapids have dropped into the background, as have the dashing noises of the stream. Through the forest is a great silence, but no stillness at all. The whippoorwill swings down and up the short curve of his regular song; over and over an owl says his rapid whoo, whoo, whoo. These, with the ceaseless dash of the rapids, are the web on which the night traces her more delicate embroideries of the unexpected. Distant crashes, single and impressive; stealthy footsteps near at hand; the subdued scratching of claws; a faint sniff! sniff! sniff! of inquiry; the sudden clear tin-horn ko-ko-ko-oh of the little owl; the mournful, long-drawn-out cry of the loon, instinct with the spirit of loneliness; the ethereal call-note of the birds of passage high in the air; a patter, patter, patter among the dead leaves, immediately stilled; and then at the last, from the thicket close at hand, the beautiful silver purity of the white-throated sparrow—the nightingale of the North—trembling with the ecstasy of beauty, as though a shimmering moonbeam had turned to sound; and all the while the blurred figure of the moon mounting to the ridge-line of your tent—these things combine subtly, until at last the great Silence of which they are a part overarches the night and draws you forth to contemplation.
No beverage is more grateful than the cup of spring water you drink at such a time; no moment more refreshing than that in which you look about you at the darkened forest. You have cast from you with the warm blanket the drowsiness of dreams. A coolness, physical and spiritual, bathes you from head to foot. All your senses are keyed to the last vibrations. You hear the littler night prowlers, you glimpse the greater. A faint, searching woods perfume of dampness greets your nostrils. And somehow, mysteriously, in a manner not to be understood, the forces of the world seem in suspense, as though a touch might crystallize infinite possibilities into infinite power and motion. But the touch lacks. The forces hover on the edge of action, unheeding the little noises. In all humbleness and awe, you are a dweller of the Silent Places.
At such a time you will meet with adventures. One night we put fourteen inquisitive porcupines out of camp. Near M'Gregor's Bay I discovered in the large grass park of my camp-site nine deer, cropping the herbage like so many beautiful ghosts. A friend tells me of a fawn that every night used to sleep outside his tent and within a foot of his head, probably by way of protection against wolves. Its mother had in all likelihood been killed. The instant my friend moved toward the tent opening the little creature would disappear, and it was always gone by earliest daylight. Nocturnal bears in search of pork are not uncommon. But even though your interest meets nothing but the bats and the woods shadows and the stars, that few moments of the sleeping world forces is a psychical experience to be gained in no other way. You cannot know the night by sitting up; she will sit up with you. Only by coming into her presence from the borders of sleep can you meet her face to face in her intimate mood.
The night wind from the river, or from the open spaces of the wilds, chills you after a time. You begin to think of your blankets. In a few moments you roll yourself in their soft wool. Instantly it is morning.
And, strange to say, you have not to pay by going through the day unrefreshed. You may feel like turning in at eight instead of nine, and you may fall asleep with unusual promptitude, but your journey will begin clear-headedly, proceed springily, and end with much in reserve. No languor, no dull headache, no exhaustion, follows your experience. For this once your two hours of sleep have been as effective as nine.
"Do you know the chosen water where the ouananiche is waiting?"
Dick and I travelled in a fifteen-foot wooden canoe, with grub, duffel, tent, and Deuce, the black-and-white setter dog. As a consequence we were pretty well down toward the water-line, for we had not realized that a wooden canoe would carry so little weight for its length in comparison with a birch-bark. A good heavy sea we could ride—with proper management and a little baling; but sloppy waves kept us busy.
Deuce did not like it at all. He was a dog old in the wisdom of experience. It had taken him just twenty minutes to learn all about canoes. After a single tentative trial he jumped lightly to the very centre of his place, with the lithe caution of a cat. Then if the water happened to be smooth, he would sit gravely on his haunches, or would rest his chin on the gunwale to contemplate the passing landscape. But in rough weather he crouched directly over the keel, his nose between his paws, and tried not to dodge when the cold water dashed in on him. Deuce was a true woodsman in that respect. Discomfort he always bore with equanimity, and he must often have been very cold and very cramped.
For just over a week we had been travelling in open water, and the elements had not been kind to us at all. We had crept up under rock-cliff points; had weathered the rips of white water to shelter on the other side; had struggled across open spaces where each wave was singly a problem to fail in whose solution meant instant swamping; had baled, and schemed, and figured, and carried, and sworn, and tried again, and succeeded with about two cupfuls to spare, until we as well as Deuce had grown a little tired of it. For the lust of travel was on us.
The lust of travel is a very real disease. It usually takes you when you have made up your mind that there is no hurry. Its predisposing cause is a chart or map, and its main symptom is the feverish delight with which you check off the landmarks of your journey. A fair wind of some force is absolutely fatal. With that at your back you cannot stop. Good fishing, fine scenery, interesting bays, reputed game, even camps where friends might be visited—all pass swiftly astern. Hardly do you pause for lunch at noon. The mad joy of putting country behind you eats all other interests. You recover only when you have come to your journey's end a week too early, and must then search out new voyages to fill in the time.
All this morning we had been bucking a strong north wind. Fortunately, the shelter of a string of islands had given us smooth water enough, but the heavy gusts sometimes stopped us as effectively as though we had butted solid land. Now about noon we came to the last island, and looked out on a five-mile stretch of tumbling seas. We landed the canoe and mounted a high rock.
"Can't make it like this," said I. "I'll take the outfit over and land it, and come back for you and the dog. Let's see that chart."
We hid behind the rock and spread out the map.
"Four miles," measured Dick. "It's going to be a terror."
We looked at each other vaguely, suddenly tired.
"We can't camp here—at this time of day," objected Dick, to our unspoken thoughts.
And then the map gave him an inspiration. "Here's a little river," ruminated Dick, "that goes to a little lake, and then there's another little river that flows from the lake and comes out about ten miles above here."
"It's a good thirty miles," I objected.
"What of it?" asked Dick calmly.
So the fever-lust of travel broke. We turned to the right behind the last island, searched out the reed-grown opening to the stream, and paddled serenely and philosophically against the current. Deuce sat up and yawned with a mighty satisfaction.
We had been bending our heads to the demon of wind; our ears had been filled with his shoutings, our eyes blinded with tears, our breath caught away from us, our muscles strung to the fiercest endeavour. Suddenly we found ourselves between the ranks of tall forest trees, bathed in a warm sunlight, gliding like a feather from one grassy bend to another of the laziest little stream that ever hesitated as to which way the grasses of its bed should float. As for the wind, it was lost somewhere away up high, where we could hear it muttering to itself about something.
The woods leaned over the fringe of bushes cool and green and silent. Occasionally through tiny openings we caught instant impressions of straight column trunks and transparent shadows. Miniature grass marshes jutted out from the bends of the little river. We idled along as with a homely rustic companion through the aloofness of patrician multitudes.
Every bend offered us charming surprises. Sometimes a muskrat swam hastily in a pointed furrow of ripple; vanishing wings, barely sensed in the flash, left us staring; stealthy withdrawals of creatures, whose presence we realized only in the fact of those withdrawals, snared our eager interest; porcupines rattled and rustled importantly and regally from the water's edge to the woods; herons, ravens, an occasional duck, croaked away at our approach; thrice we surprised eagles, once a tassel-eared Canada lynx. Or, if all else lacked, we still experienced the little thrill of pleased novelty over the disclosure of a group of silvery birches on a knoll; a magnificent white pine towering over the beech and maple forest; the unexpected aisle of a long, straight stretch of the little river.
Deuce approved thoroughly. He stretched himself and yawned and shook off the water, and glanced at me open-mouthed with doggy good-nature, and set himself to acquiring a conscientious olfactory knowledge of both banks of the river. I do not doubt he knew a great deal more about it than we did. Porcupines aroused his special enthusiasm. Incidentally, two days later he returned to camp after an expedition of his own, bristling as to the face with that animal's barbed weapons. Thenceforward his interest waned.
We ascended the charming little river two or three miles. At a sharp bend to the east a huge sheet of rock sloped from a round grass knoll sparsely planted with birches directly down into a pool. Two or three tree trunks jammed directly opposite had formed a sort of half dam under which the water lay dark. A tiny grass meadow forty feet in diameter narrowed the stream to half its width.
We landed. Dick seated himself on the shelving rock. I put my fish-rod together. Deuce disappeared.
Deuce always disappeared whenever we landed. With nose down, hind quarters well tucked under him, ears flying, he quartered the forest at high speed, investigating every nook and cranny of it for the radius of a quarter of a mile. When he has quite satisfied himself that we were safe for the moment, he would return to the fire, where he would lie, six inches of pink tongue vibrating with breathlessness, beautiful in the consciousness of virtue. Dick generally sat on a rock and thought. I generally fished.
After a time Deuce returned. I gave up flies, spoons, phantom minnows, artificial frogs, and crayfish. As Dick continued to sit on the rock and think, we both joined him. The sun was very warm and grateful, and I am sure we both acquired an added respect for Dick's judgment.
Just when it happened neither of us was afterwards able to decide. Perhaps Deuce knew. But suddenly, as often a figure appears in a cinematograph, the diminutive meadow thirty feet away contained two deer. They stood knee-deep in the grass, wagging their little tails in impatience of the flies.
"Look a' there!" stammered Dick aloud.
Deuce sat up on his haunches.
I started for my camera.
The deer did not seem to be in the slightest degree alarmed. They pointed four big ears in our direction, ate a few leisurely mouthfuls of grass, sauntered to the stream for a drink of water, wagged their little tails some more, and quietly faded into the cool shadows of the forest.
An hour later we ran out into reeds, and so to the lake. It was a pretty lake, forest-girt. Across the distance we made out a moving object which shortly resolved itself into a birch canoe. The canoe proved to contain an Indian, an Indian boy of about ten years, a black dog, and a bundle. When within a few rods of each other we ceased paddling, and drifted by with the momentum. The Indian was a fine-looking man of about forty, his hair bound with a red fillet, his feet incased in silk-worked moccasins, but otherwise dressed in white men's garments. He smoked a short pipe, and contemplated us gravely.
"Bo' jou', bo' jou'," we called in the usual double-barrelled North Country salutation.
"Bo' jou', bo' jou," he replied.
"Kee-gons?" we inquired as to the fishing in the lake.
"Ah-hah," he assented.
We drifted by each other without further speech. When the decent distance of etiquette separated us we resumed our paddles.
I produced a young cable terminated by a tremendous spoon and a solid brass snell as thick as a telegraph wire. We had laid in this formidable implement in hopes of a big muscallunge. It had been trailed for days at a time. We had become used to its vibration, which actually seemed to communicate itself to every fibre of the light canoe. Every once in a while we would stop with a jerk that would nearly snap our heads off. Then we would know we had hooked the American continent. We had become used to that also. It generally happened when we attempted a little burst of speed. So when the canoe brought up so violently that all our tinware rolled on Deuce, Dick was merely disgusted.
"There she goes again," he grumbled. "You've hooked Canada."
Canada held quiescent for about three seconds. Then it started due south.
"Suffering serpents!" shrieked Dick.
"Paddle, you sulphurated idiot!" yelled I.
It was most interesting. All I had to do was to hang on and try to stay in the boat. Dick paddled and fumed and splashed water and got more excited. Canada dragged us bodily backward.
Then Canada changed his mind and started in our direction. I was plenty busy taking in slack, so I did not notice Dick. Dick was absolutely demented. His mind automatically reacted in the direction of paddling. He paddled, blindly, frantically. Canada came surging in, his mouth open, his wicked eyes flaming, a tremendous indistinct body lashing foam. Dick glanced once over his shoulder, and let out a frantic howl.
"You've got the sea-serpent!" he shrieked.
I turned to fumble for the pistol. We were headed directly for a log stranded on shore, and about ten feet from it.
"Dick!" I yelled in warning.
He thrust his paddle out forward just in time. The stout maple bent and cracked. The canoe hit with a bump that threw us forward. I returned to the young cable. It came in limp and slack.
We looked at each other sadly.
"No use," sighed Dick at last. "They've never invented the words, and we'd upset if we kicked the dog."
I had the end of the line in my hands.
"Look here!" I cried. That thick brass wire had been as cleanly bitten through as though it had been cut with clippers. "He must have caught sight of you," said I.
Dick lifted up his voice in lamentation. "You had four feet of him out of water," he wailed, "and there was a lot more."
"If you had kept cool," said I severely, "we shouldn't have lost him. You don't want to get rattled in an emergency; there's no sense in it."
"What were you going to do with that?" asked Dick, pointing to where I had laid the pistol.
"I was going to shoot him in the head," I replied with dignity. "It's the best way to land them."
Dick laughed disagreeably. I looked down. At my side lay our largest iron spoon.
We skirted the left-hand side of the lake in silence. Far out from shore the water was ruffled where the wind swept down, but with us it was as still and calm as the forest trees that looked over into it. After a time we turned short to the left through a very narrow passage between two marshy shores, and so, after a sharp bend of but a few hundred feet, came into the other river.
This was a wide stream, smoothly hurrying, without rapids or tumult. The forest had drawn to either side to let us pass. Here were the wilder reaches after the intimacies of the little river. Across stretches of marsh we could see an occasional great blue heron standing mid-leg deep. Long strings of ducks struggled quacking from invisible pools. The faint marsh odour saluted our nostrils from the point where the lily-pads flashed broadly, ruffling in the wind. We dropped out the smaller spoon and masterfully landed a five-pound pickerel. Even Deuce brightened. He cared nothing for raw fish, but he knew their possibilities. Towards evening we entered the hilly country, and so at the last turned to the left into a sand cove where grew maples and birches in beautiful park order under a hill. There we pitched camp, and, as the flies lacked, built a friendship-fire about which to forgather when the day was done.
Dick still vocally regretted the muscallunge told him of my big bear.
One day, late in the summer, I was engaged in packing some supplies along an old fur trail north of Lake Superior. I had accomplished one back-load, and with empty straps was returning to the cache for another. The trail at one point emerged into and crossed an open park some hundreds of feet in diameter, in which the grass grew to the height of the knee. When I was about halfway across, a black bear arose to his hind legs not ten feet from me, and remarked Woof! in a loud tone of voice. Now, if a man were to say woof to you unexpectedly, even in the formality of an Italian garden or the accustomedness of a city street, you would be somewhat startled. So I went to camp. There I told them about the bear. I tried to be conservative in my description, because I did not wish to be accused of exaggeration. My impression of the animal was that he and a spruce tree that grew near enough for ready comparison were approximately of the same stature. We returned to the grass park. After some difficulty we found a clear footprint. It was a little larger than that made by a good-sized coon.
"So, you see," I admonished didactically, "that lunge probably was not quite so large as you thought."
"It may have been a Chinese bear," said Dick dreamily—"a Chinese lady bear of high degree."
I gave him up.
ON OPEN-WATER CANOE TRAVELLING.
"It is there that I am going, with an extra hand to bail her— Just one single long-shore loafer that I know. He can take his chance of drowning while I sail and sail and sail her, For the Red Gods call me out, and I must go."
The following morning the wind had died, but had been succeeded by a heavy pall of fog. After we had felt our way beyond the mouth of the river we were forced to paddle north-west by north, in blind reliance on our compass. Sounds there were none. Involuntarily we lowered our voices. The inadvertent click of the paddle against the gunwale seemed to desecrate a foreordained stillness.
Occasionally to the right hand or the left we made out faint shadow-pictures of wooded islands that endured but a moment and then deliberately faded into whiteness. They formed on the view exactly as an image develops on a photographic plate. Sometimes a faint lisp-lisp-lisp of tiny waves against a shore nearer than it seemed cautioned us anew not to break the silence. Otherwise we were alone, intruders, suffered in the presence of a brooding nature only as long as we refrained from disturbances.
Then at noon the vapours began to eddy, to open momentarily in revelation of vivid green glimpses, to stream down the rising wind. Pale sunlight dashed fitfully across us like a shower. Somewhere in the invisibility a duck quacked. Deuce awoke, looked about him, and yow-yow-yowed in doggish relief. Animals understand thoroughly these subtleties of nature.
In half an hour the sun was strong, the air clear and sparkling, and a freshening wind was certifying our prognostications of a lively afternoon.
A light canoe will stand almost anything in the way of a sea, although you may find it impossible sometimes to force it in the direction you wish to go. A loaded canoe will weather a great deal more than you might think. However, only experience in balance and in the nature of waves will bring you safely across a stretch of whitecaps.
With the sea dead ahead you must not go too fast; otherwise you will dip water over the bow. You must trim the craft absolutely on an even keel; otherwise the comb of the wave, too light to lift you, will slop in over one gunwale or the other. You must be perpetually watching your chance to gain a foot or so between the heavier seas.
With the sea over one bow you must paddle on the leeward side. When the canoe mounts a wave, you must allow the crest to throw the bow off a trifle, but the moment it starts down the other slope you must twist your paddle sharply to regain the direction of your course. The careening tendency of this twist you must counteract by a corresponding twist of your body in the other direction. Then the hollow will allow you two or three strokes wherewith to assure a little progress. The double twist at the very crest of the wave must be very delicately performed, or you will ship water the whole length of your craft.
With the sea abeam you must simply paddle straight ahead. The adjustment is to be accomplished entirely by the poise of the body. You must prevent the capsize of your canoe when clinging to the angle of a wave by leaning to one side. The crucial moment, of course, is that during which the peak of the wave slips under you. In case of a breaking comber, thrust the flat of your paddle deep in the water to prevent an upset, and lean well to leeward, thus presenting the side and half the bottom of the canoe to the shock of water. Your recovery must be instant, however. If you lean a second too long, over you go. This sounds more difficult than it is. After a time you do it instinctively, as a skater balances.
With the sea over the quarter you have merely to take care that the waves do not slue you around sidewise, and that the canoe does not dip water on one side or the other under the stress of your twists with the paddle. Dead astern is perhaps the most difficult of all, for the reason that you must watch both gunwales at once, and must preserve an absolutely even keel, in spite of the fact that it generally requires your utmost strength to steer. In really heavy weather one man only can do any work. The other must be content to remain passenger, and he must be trained to absolute immobility. No matter how dangerous a careen the canoe may take, no matter how much good cold water may pour in over his legs, he must resist his tendency to shift his weight. The entire issue depends on the delicacy of the steersman's adjustments, so he must be given every chance.
The main difficulty rests in the fact that such canoeing is a good deal like air-ship travel—there is not much opportunity to learn by experience. In a four-hour run across an open bay you will encounter somewhat over a thousand waves, no two of which are exactly alike, and any one of which can fill you up only too easily if it is not correctly met. Your experience is called on to solve instantly and practically a thousand problems. No breathing-space in which to recover is permitted you between them. At the end of the four hours you awaken to the fact that your eyes are strained from intense concentration, and that you taste copper.
Probably nothing, however, can more effectively wake you up to the last fibre of your physical, intellectual, and nervous being. You are filled with an exhilaration. Every muscle, strung tight, answers immediately and accurately to the slightest hint. You quiver all over with restrained energy. Your mind thrusts behind you the problem of the last wave as soon as solved, and leaps with insistent eagerness to the next. You attain that superordinary condition when your faculties react instinctively, like a machine. It is a species of intoxication. After a time you personify each wave; you grapple with it as with a personal adversary; you exult as, beaten and broken, it hisses away to leeward. "Go it, you son of a gun!" you shout. "Ah, you would, would you! think you can, do you?" and in the roar and rush of wind and water you crouch like a boxer on the defence, parrying the blows, but ready at the slightest opening to gain a stroke of the paddle.
In such circumstances you have not the leisure to consider distance. You are too busily engaged in slaughtering waves to consider your rate of progress. The fact that slowly you are pulling up on your objective point does not occur to you until you are within a few hundred yards of it. Then, unless you are careful, you are undone.
Probably the most difficult thing of all to learn is that the waves to be encountered in the last hundred yards of an open sweep are exactly as dangerous as those you dodged so fearfully four miles from shore. You are so nearly in that you unconsciously relax your efforts. Calmly, almost contemptuously, a big roller rips along your gunwale. You are wrecked—fortunately within easy swimming distance. But that doesn't save your duffel. Remember this: be just as careful with the very last wave as you were with the others. Get inside before you draw that deep breath of relief.
Strangely enough, in out-of-door sports, where it would seem that convention would rest practically at the zero point, the bugbear of good form, although mashed and disguised, rises up to confuse the directed practicality. The average man is wedded to his theory. He has seen a thing done in a certain way, and he not only always does it that way himself, but he is positively unhappy at seeing any one else employing a different method. From the swing at golf to the manner of lighting a match in the wind, this truism applies. I remember once hearing a long argument with an Eastern man on the question of the English riding-seat in the Western country.
"Your method is all very well," said the Westerner, "for where it came from. In England they ride to hunt, so they need a light saddle and very short stirrups set well forward. That helps them in jumping. But it is most awkward. Out here you want your stirrups very long and directly under you, so your legs hang loose, and you depend on your balance and the grip of your thighs—not your knees. It is less tiring, and better sense, and infinitely more graceful, for it more nearly approximates the bareback seat. Instead of depending on stirrups, you are part of the horse. You follow his every movement. And as for your rising trot, I'd like to see you accomplish it safely on our mountain trails, where the trot is the only gait practicable, unless you take for ever to get anywhere." To all of which the Easterner found no rebuttal except the, to him, entirely efficient plea that his own method was good form.
Now, of course, it is very pleasant to do things always accurately, according to the rules of the game, and if you are out merely for sport, perhaps it is as well to stick to them. But utility is another matter. Personally, I do not care at all to kill trout unless by the fly; but when we need meat and they do not need flies, I never hesitate to offer them any kind of doodle-bug they may fancy. I have even at a pinch clubbed them to death in a shallow, land-locked pool. Time will come in your open-water canoe experience when you will pull into shelter half full of water, when you will be glad of the fortuity of a chance cross-wave to help you out, when sheer blind luck, or main strength and awkwardness, will be the only reasons you can honestly give for an arrival, and a battered and dishevelled arrival at that. Do not, therefore, repine, or bewail your awkwardness, or indulge in undue self-accusations of "tenderfoot." Method is nothing; the arrival is the important thing. You are travelling, and if you can make time by nearly swamping yourself, or by dragging your craft across a point, or by taking any other base advantage of the game's formality, by all means do so. Deuce used to solve the problem of comfort by drinking the little pool of cold water in which he sometimes was forced to lie. In the woods, when a thing is to be done, do not consider how you have done it, or how you have seen it done, or how you think it ought to be done, but how it can be accomplished. Absolute fluidity of expedient, perfect adaptability, is worth a dozen volumes of theoretical knowledge. "If you can't talk," goes the Western expression, "raise a yell; if you can't yell, make signs; if you can't make signs, wave a bush."
And do not be too ready to take advice as to what you can or cannot accomplish, even from the woods people. Of course the woods Indians or the voyageurs know all about canoes, and you would do well to listen to them. But the mere fact that your interlocutor lives in the forest, while you normally inhabit the towns, does not necessarily give him authority. A community used to horses looks with horror on the instability of all water craft less solid than canal boats. Canoemen stand in awe of the bronco. The fishermen of the Georgian Bay, accustomed to venture out with their open sailboats in weather that forces the big lake schooners to shelter, know absolutely nothing about canoes. Dick and I made an eight-mile run from the Fox island to Killarney in a trifling sea, to be cheered during our stay at the latter place by doleful predictions of an early drowning. And this from a seafaring community. It knew all about boats; it knew nothing about canoes; and yet the unthinking might have been influenced by the advice of these men simply because they had been brought up on the water. The point is obvious. Do not attempt a thing unless you are sure of yourself; but do not relinquish it merely because some one else is not sure of you.