CHAPTER 10 - Loneliness
In March of 1943 Rod went spring trapping. To give him a bit of a boost, and to delay farewells, Toni and Ray accompanied Rod along the trail for the first five or six hours of his trek, then returned to Berens River and their own responsibilities. After finding the trapping area he had planned to work was already occupied, he returned home briefly before setting off to find another, more promising area. The trapping was not abundant, but the prices were reasonable, and the venture provided some needed funds for the family's coffers.
Eggs were a luxury in Berens River. Most of those who wished to have any number of eggs raided the nests of wild birds. Rod went out on such a trip, and collected one hundred and seventy eggs, mostly from the nests of gulls. En route home, Rod was caught in a cross wind, and the supply of eggs suffered - only about four dozen survived the trip.
This was a quiet summer for the family. Rod was home, caring for a variety of things around the cabin, and doing odd-jobs throughout the community. They gardened each year, with Toni and the children doing the bulk of the work, and Rod helping as time and his work permitted. This summer, they accomplished more, as Rod was there to do a portion.
In August, Rod left for the winter trapping season. He and Toni agreed each would keep a diary of their daily happenings to share with the other when they were re-united. Rod's diary is included in its entirety, and Toni's where the entries are so marked.
From Rod's diary: "Sunday, September 5th, 1943 -As this is my first Sunday evening in camp, and I feel a little bluer than usual, thought I'd start at the beginning and give you all the dope. The day I left, August 18th, we got to Merchant's Point. On the 19th we made Poplar River 10:15 AM, stopping at the Roman Catholic mission. Charlie would take no more than $5 from me for the trip up. I asked him to call in and let you know that we had a good trip and incidentally ask you for some beans (Picture 10 - 1).
Picture 10-1 Along the trail towards the trapping grounds
At Poplar River they told us that Tony, that is Withowich, I shall call him Anton, had left the day before and that I'll soon catch up to them. I left Poplar River 12:30, caught up with Anton and Dick on the Balsam portage and we camped on the Whitemud portage, I decided to travel with them. On the 20th we made the Rivermouth portage - 3 1/2 portages. On the 21st we were windbound about half way across Thunder Lake after making one portage - the rivermouth where we had camped the night before. On the 22nd we sneaked around the north bay and camped on the Island portage, making 4 portages that day. On the 23rd we had showers off and on all day, made the Oak portage, 5 portages. On the 24th we stayed at the Oak portage on account of rain. On the 25th we camped on the upper end of the 1/2 mile portage, making 3 portages. By this time I had a large open sore on my back from packing. Anton said it looked like the sore a horse gets on its shoulders. On the 26th we made it to the other side of Whiskey Jack Lake, to the Jumper portage where we used to leave the Pathfinder. 2 portages that day and saw plane passing over apparently to Elliott Lake. On the lower end of Whiskey Jack Lake Anton had cached an old tin camp cook stove, pipes and a practically new toboggan he said I could have the works but I told him I'd pay him for the toboggan. We took these things along and put them into Anton's, now my, line camp, just across on the north side of the high rock. On the 27th early in the morning a big splash woke me. I donned my pants, grabbed my rifle and ran down to the river - a moose cow and calf came swimming right up to me, then stood in the water, looked back and sort of moaned. I finally saw a timber wolf climbing out on the other side and upriver, shot at him twice but no go. My shooting woke up Anton, his wife and Dick - also frightened the cow and calf so they beat it across the river and into the bush right where I shot a bull moose that the wolves had chewed up so badly once when we were camped here. This day I camped on the little portage just above the ox portage, making six portages. Anton camped on the portage below the ox. Planes back and forth all day. Paddled across the little lake to see what would be left of my little camp I had built here when we built at Whiskey Jack Lake; the camp had collapsed and the new growth, jackpine, was so thick you had to be within 6 feet to see anything. On the 28th it rained and I stayed put all afternoon. Anton caught up rather dampish and after noon we made 2 1/2 portages, the second rapids above where Lone Cabin used to be. On the 29th we made Boulder Rapids, the second rapids below Camp Lake and 3 portages. At Reedy Lake left some traps, the folding stove and pipes as I intend to build another camp there. From Reedy Lake on we paddled practically all the way on account of weeds, rice, etc., saw a mink. Very few ducks, in fact hardly any, only got one in all this distance travelled. On the 30th made the last portage and got to the camp at noon. Total number of portages 34 1/2. When I got across the last portage into Camp Lake, the first thing I noticed were some white water lilies. The country up here is all covered with trees again, around Camp Lake about 15 to 20 feet high. Stopped in at the Feeble Home, its all tumbled down, picked up and will bring out the board with 'Home for the Feeble' carved on it, made me kind of sad thinking back over all the years and all that has happened to us since you were up here with me. I even found, on a log end, done in empty cartridges when I got back from Lake St. Martin, the initials "T. H." Anton's camp was a disappointment, doors and windows all tightly closed, spruce bark roof all shot and everything inside soaking wet and covered with mould, even the flour in the milk tins was mouldy on top. I threw away about half of it. The beans were all green with mould. Where the camp is built the sun shines only about 1/2 hour late in the afternoon, in the winter I think it can't shine into the camp at all. There is heavy timber pretty well all around the camp, and a high ridge on the south side, the camp being built on the north east end of what I used to call Spruce Island (Sketch 10 - 1).
Sketch 10-1 Map - Spruce Island Camp
The camp is about 15 feet by 16 feet with a lean-to about 10 by 10; the camp was partitioned into 3 rooms, tearing those partitions out was one of the first things I did. There are two windows, a pole floor, all in all, Anton had put a lot of work on the place. I found that there were no dishes, but , not mentioned by Anton on the list, I acquired the following: alarm clock, lamp, dipper, coffee percolator, egg beater, clothes pins, swede saw, 2 fry pans, water pail, slop pail, 10 gallon drum and some minor junk. There were about 18 shakers of different spices; vanilla, lemon and almond flavouring and about 3/4 pound of pipe tobacco. Anton and Dick unloaded at the portage, then came over and helped finish the roof on which I was working at the time, then they set one of the two nets that were here.
On the 31 of August it rained and I spent the day cleaning, you should have seen the mess. Anton and Dick came over for a while, he insisted I take the celluloid he had brought so I could have a window for the camp I want to build at Reedy Lake, and also gave me a tin of custard powder. When I first caught up to them on Poplar River he made me take another 1/2 sack of flour from him as I had given some to Charlie and Fred in case they got windbound.
September 1st - Helped Anton and Dick across the long portage, about 1 mile and got back to camp around 8 PM. Dick surprised me very much, he's a tough little beggar but this portage nearly finished him, yet he kept plugging without a murmur. Got about 25 fish mostly tulibees. On the 2nd I cleaned and moved in, although the camp was still very much a mess. Got one whitefish in about 25 fish.
On the 3rd I kept right on cleaning house, baked some bannock and paddled around throwing fish for the foxes. On the 4th I cleaned, fixed door and windows, had a bath, soaked my clothes and made sponge. Today, the 5th, I did the washing and baked 6 loaves of bread and some biscuits, all with 1/2 yeast cake, I did not measure my water and when I saw the amount of dough I had little hope of decent bread but it turned out real good. Forgot to mention that there were 4 individual bread pans and 2 muffin pans here, also found 2 saucers and 3 handle-less cups. Am using the lower part of the roaster as a dishpan. Raining again. Threw out some more fish, averaging about 25 a day, tulibees, pickerel, suckers." From Toni's diary: "I have had a busy day, canning 3 quarts of rhubarb in cold water and putting up some dill pickles. Both experiments that I sincerely hope will turn out alright." .."A little after one last night Micky cornered a skunk back of the shed. His bark was a little too close to be ignored so Ray and I went out to lend a hand. I held the light and Ray clubbed the smelly creature every time the dog jumped back, so between the two they made short shrift of it. It was a good size, too. I picked the most beautiful bouquet of asters to bring into the house - blue, pink, and white."
6th - Still cleaning up, made some firewood. Found me a pincherry root and made a pipe to smoke up the tobacco here. Raining again, wish I had brought another roll of tar paper as I used the roll on the main building and the lean-to leaks like a sieve, also will have to put some thing on the roofs of the line-camps, hay probably.
7th - Rained all last night and all day, expect your cellar will be full of water, was hoping that you won't have anything to go to the boat for. Spent the day sharpening axe and saw and made a few snares, washed the windows and just messed around. Forgot to mention that while tearing out the partitions one of the poles fell on the oven door and broke it, not hopelessly, but the door had to be handled very gingerly. Sometime after I noticed something that looked like an old nail in a crack between the poles on the floor. This proved to be a little drill, so today I put this drill into my hollow handle tool, bored a couple of holes through the oven door and riveted it together again. The stove is in good shape, is a Leroy, nickel trim, white enamel over door with thermometer, 14 X 18 1/2 X 10 inch high oven, top is 21 X 27, 4 - 8 1/4 and 1 - 5 inch cooking holes, no sectional cover, but don't need it as the top and oven both heat very good and also fast. There is a little tin daisy tea kettle here but the bottom is all gone, maybe some day I'll put in a new bottom so I can use it as I am very short of kettles. Another handy thing here, though slightly damaged by moisture, is a Royal Webster dictionary. I'm thinking more and more what a pity it is that there wasn't someone to leave the kids with, I really think you would have enjoyed it here and so would I, then, now it's rather miserable sitting here all by myself, not knowing how you are making out. Tried playing the gramophone today but no go, just made me more homesick and discontent than ever. Am here only a week and already counting the days to the 15th of December, 21 days since I left you and the kids and another 100 days until I can figure on leaving for home again. I hope I'll have enough fur to make it worthwhile, indications are not very good, very few signs of foxes, no rats (muskrats) and from what I've seen, very few rabbits.
Wednesday, 8th - Today I darned socks, made some snares, got some wood. Drizzled on and off all day. Didn't lift the net yesterday nor the day before so today I had a canoe load to throw ashore at different places. Fished up couple of white lily roots, am hoping that freezing won't hurt them as I'd like to take them home. This place is overrun with grey mice, caught 9 so far, there was a mousetrap here. Smoking my little pipe and wishing I were home or you here.
Thursday, 9th: Another rainy day, quite cool. Darned the rest of my socks, washed out the canoe, cut a little more wood and straightened things out in camp and gathered and packed some of the things I'll have to take when I head down to Whiskey Jack Lake, day after tomorrow, weather permitting. Made a key for the padlock on this camp and fixed another lock that I found here to put on the camp at Whiskey Jack Lake. Anton told me that the Poplar River natives got away with a lot of his stuff, they didn't steal it, just borrowed it. That is, they'd help themselves and leave a note stating what they had taken and that they would return it. So I'm going to try and not have them even get into my camps. Anton also told me that the natives had lived in Bunny Castle while he was trapping up here, I'm going there this trip to see if I can find any more nails, spikes, etc., that they overlooked. I forgot to mention that my stretchers from the Feeble Home are here in this camp, I recognized them right away, especially the fox stretcher on which I had written "Silver Foxes Only" that winter long ago when I stretched 4 silvers on it. Bill Hikeaway took them, then Anton. Didn't lift the net today, intend to pull it out tomorrow. Caught four mice last night.
Friday, 10th - Got out and sawed some more wood, packed and stored for my departure down river, and pulled out the net. Its been a beautiful fall day, froze very hard last night, I'm wondering how your garden made out. A week from tomorrow it will be a month since I left home. There's a weasel hopping around here just now, sniffing and looking me over, hope he gets himself a lot of mice."
From Toni's diary: "September 10, Friday: We had a pretty good frost last night. Everything was white this morning that had not as yet been touched by the sun. It did no damage in the garden aside from freezing the foliage on some of the plants. After supper Ray and I picked what big tomatoes we could find, cut and brought in all the citron, cucumber, cantaloupe and watermelon that were worthwhile. At least all we could find 'cause we did almost half of that work by flashlight. I don't think it will freeze tonight but I wasn't going to take a chance. Late this afternoon the kids and I paddled over to Adam's for some shopping."
Sketch 10-2 Map - Map - Reedy Lake Camp
"Reedy Lake, Saturday, 11th - Left camp 8 this morning, saw a fox just below Bull Lake, it wasn't at all shy. Between Bull and Rice Lakes I shot a moose calf, while I was butchering it the cow came along. Having the fresh meat I changed my plans, instead of going on to Whiskey Jack Lake as I had intended, I'll build my line camp at Reedy Lake first and at the same time smoke the meat. I paddled half way round the lake until I found a spot where there's enough timber to build a little camp, right in the southwest corner.
Sunday 12th - Had a rather busy day, put up the walls of my camp, which will be about 7 X 9 ft. inside, cut up, salted and smoked the meat partly, couldn't give it the time in salt as the flies were too bad. They, the flies, got into the hide so bad I could only de-hair and cut off about 1/3 which will be sufficient anyway to fill a pair of snowshoes. You have no idea how much I miss you, the kids too, but not so much, have been thinking all day how nice it would be if you were here. This is positively the last time I'm going out alone, I get too lonely and blue, and I can't help worrying whether you are all OK, now already I often think that if only you don't go out on the ice until it's strong enough on account of school, but then I tell myself that you will surely let the school wait until its quite safe to cross. The sky looked bad tonight, had been thinking of going on to Whiskey Jack Lake tomorrow if it were nice, I should have some of the spikes that I hope to get from Bunny Castle and also a couple panes of glass which Anton left on the Jumper portage for me. Then I could fix the camp down there and finish this one on my way back, also smoke the meat down there as I had a job finding enough wood to smoke it today.
Monday, 13th - Been blowing a gale all day, thunder storms and showers. Put in the gable ends, ridge pole and half of one side of roof poles, also cut window and part of door. Smoked meat a little more this afternoon and baked some bannock. The birch leaves are all quite yellow already, which is rather early in the season."
Back in Berens River, Toni records: "September 13. Monday - Bright and early this morning we began lessons. Getting organized and lack of books made them not as complete as I hope to have them later on. It has been cloudy and cool with a few light showers and now it's blowing pretty good."
"Tuesday, 14th - Another dismal day, cloudy, windy and drizzling. Finished putting on the roof poles, made the door and gathered some moss. Hope I can move on tomorrow this weather isn't good for my meat unless I can get somewhere where there is smoke wood and not so much drizzling, didn't smoke at all today. Quite cool tonight, if it should clear it will certainly freeze.
Sketch 10-3 Map - Whiskey Jack Lake Camp
Whiskey Jack Lake, Wednesday 15th - Do you know that I look forward to the evenings all day? It seems as though I were telling you these things and then I don't feel so alone. All day long I think I must mention this or that, Tony will be interested, but if I did that, this scribbler would be full in no time. Today has been another miserable fall day, cold, cloudy and rainy. Left Reedy Lake 8 AM and reached here 4:30 PM, boiled the kettle twice and made 9 portages, 4 trips over each. Do you remember where you used to dip water at the swift spot just down from Lone Cabin? That's where I boiled the kettle the first time, my thoughts were far back and everywhere along the river I'd remember things when you and I used to travel around here and it makes me very sad and lonely. Saw quite a lot of ducks but they are very shy and did not get any. Also saw 7 or 8 owls, rather a bad sign, no rabbits. When I came towards Jumper portage there was a red fox sitting on the rock gazing at me, as I landed he ran off. This camp is also in an awful mess due to the roof leaking, if only I had brought another roll of tarpaper, as is I can't do much to the roofs except pile a lot of moss on, there is no hay handy to either camp. I feel very, very tired tonight, paddled against a headwind all day and the river is full of rice nearly all along. The camp on Whiskey Jack Lake is located right across from the high rock as I mentioned, thus:
Thursday, 16th - This has been a rather pleasant day for a change. My meat got a good smoking, but the two sacks which I had hung to keep the breeze from blowing the smoke caught fire, I saved just half of one. This taking over someone elses' camp is the bunk, everything seems to need fixing. Fell off the roof with part of the roof poles, hurt my knee, then I noticed that the roof and gable ends were on the verge of collapsing, so had to put in a heavy brace after prying it over where it belonged and also had to put a prop under the ridge in the middle. Got two canoe loads of moss from the foot of the high rock, to put on the roof, need about two more loads to finish the roof, and have some for chinking. Am using fair-sized poplars, split thru the middle to cover the roof, like this:
Sketch 10-4 Roof of split poplars
I suppose the roof will leak some, or rather I'm sure it will, but it's the best I can do. Have about a third of the roof done, fixed the window and put in the 4 panes, only one whole pane, the others in 3 and 4 pieces. Set up the stove and kept a fire all afternoon, baked some bannock. The stove is one of those 4 hole tin ones with a large oven, like the one we had at Berens (River) while we were living in the tent, got it from old Douglas. Well, this has been used for heaven knows how long and you can see thru it any place. The oven damper is out of it but it still bakes. When on the way up I left about 30 pounds of flour here, put it into the oven and closed the door, but the mice had got in and I had to sew up about 5 holes they had in the flour sack, so you can imagine what shape the stove is in. Heard a fox bark this evening, probably the one I saw at the Jumper portage. Cooked the last few of my potatoes today.
Friday, 17th - Been blowing a terrific gale today, the lake here was just white, trees falling all around. All the leaves are coloured now, all shades yellow, red and brown. Practically finished the roof today, got what moss I needed a little here and there back of the camp as it blew too hard to go paddling, re-chinked the most important holes, cleaned out as good as I could, put feathers (spruce brush) in the bunk and moved in. The wind just ripped and tore at the tent so that some times I thought it was going to fly away. Finished my (apple and turnip) jam, and was it good, wish I had a case of it. There is a big pile of empty cans here, at the other camp and on nearly every portage, the labels read - peaches, apricots, pineapple, strawberry, sardines, kippers, salmon, Klik, etc., and even shells from real hen's eggs. Anton told me that he likes strawberries, he had 40 tins when he came here last spring. What I couldn't do to a tin or two of fruit right now, well when I get back to Spruce Island I'll have a tin of tomatoes and maybe even some prunes. Expecting to see some of the MacKay's any time now, they left a tent up on the middle island in Bull Lake all summer.
Saturday, 18th - Went down to Bunny Castle and got all the nails I could find, also the hinges off the door, these were the same hinges that used to be on Lone Cabin. Its been partly cloudy with a few showers. When I got to Bunny Castle I just gazed, talk about memories, and then it was just a case of me and my shadow all alone and feeling blue. Even the skidway from the Moth is still there, the roof had caved in and there are rose bushes etc., thick all around, and yet there were the remains of the bunk and shelves, etc., even a strip of your green woollen dress was still around the door, the nails where my guns etc., used to hang and so forth. I got quite a lot of nails, 86 - 4 1/2 inch and 89 - 2 1/2 inch. Do you remember one perfect day late in the fall we bundled Ray and our lunch into the canoe and paddled up past this high rock, different places it was cool, the leaves were all on the ground, we had our lunch just above the narrows that day, today when I passed through this spot there was a nice red fox standing looking at me, but when I laid down my paddle and grabbed the rifle, he ran. Smoked the meat a little more, scrubbed the table and a couple of old tins I found here, one will make a dishpan and the other something to mix dough in, and I finished one side of the roof. Last night the darn mice made so much noise I couldn't sleep, so sat up in bed with the flashlight and pistol, shot two, one when I shot, the empty shell flew right onto my bare leg, it was so hot that I involuntarily pulled the trigger again, the bullet happened to hit the grub box but no harm done, it went into the tray, hit the blade of the knife I made this fall and lay there. This afternoon it was a month since I left home, what a long time ago it seems, and I have three more months of it.
On the same date, Toni wrote: " The Keenora finally got in right after supper. Just about then it began to really blow from pretty well north. It's raining, too. I took it for granted that the boat wouldn't pull out tonight so I didn't go to Adam's due to the storm. He came to see if I wanted to come tonight, but I asked him if he minded if I stayed home until morning and he said that was perfectly alright. It's just exactly a month since Rody left. Boy! am I glad that one whole month is gone."
Sunday, 19th - Last night a timber wolf over by the Rock howled very dolefully letting me know that the weather was going to be dirty. It rained all night and forenoon and the wolf was still howling this morning, but what pleased me very much was that, excepting back of the stove pipe, the roof did not leak a drop. To day I took things a little easy, finished the roof and put a decent brace inside to keep the roof from coming down, got out a little wood and moss, baked bannock and did several other small jobs. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll be heading back up to Reedy Lake to finish that camp, and what I really would like is to head down river. I could paddle to Poplar River in 3 days, then 2 more and I'd be home, just think of that. Had intended to put Waldy Urban's camp at Fox Lake in shape yet, but I won't have time for that now, if necessary I can use the tent there.
Reedy Lake, Monday, 20th - It's been blowing, still is, like hell again, making it awfully hard paddling, and was I tired when I got here, what with bucking current and wind and wild rice, 10 portages. It always comes back to my chief lament (if only you were here), you would have helped me so much paddling and portaging, and when we landed here it would not have taken long to put up the tent and stove, we would have been so busy talking that we would not have known that we were tired. There are more ducks now, shot 2 mallards, if only I could wish them down to you. I do not like this lower stretch of river, too many memories, and being all alone they sort of get me down. The leaves are falling right along now, but in spite of the lateness of the season I had a feed (small) of, you'd never guess, red currants today. You remember just below the twin rapid that very narrow gap between the boulders and the rock, on the south side coming up, there used to be a swallows nest stuck to the rock, right there on a little ledge this straight rock only about 4 inches wide is the currant bush; the currants were very nice but seeds quite large. I'm sort of figuring on taking that bush home next spring. It took 8 1/2 hours coming up from Whiskey Jack camp today. As I'll be mentioning the different portages, etc., from time to time, I'll list them in the proper order - from Whiskey Jack Lake to Camp Lake (Sketch 10 - 5).
Sketch 10-5 Portages in order
It's drizzling again, it certainly is rotten weather lately. I hope the weather will let me finish the camp here as my grub box is getting pretty light, and I have a lot of work ahead of me when I get back to Spruce Island. I didn't tell you what a wonderful little motor you have, it worked like a charm and a trojan all the way up. This trip I used it to this end of Camp Lake and cached it on a little island there figuring that there is too much rice, etc., for a kicker. There is ever so much more marine vegetation in the river and lakes than there used to be. Changed to my medium weight undies this morning.
Tuesday, 21st - Rained all night and off and on all day today. Not feeling so good, strained my insides yesterday and then very foolishly I had some fried smoked meat for supper last night, result, not much sleep last night insides and back very sore, a little better this evening. Finished the door and window, set up the stove and had fire going all afternoon, and mossed one side of the roof, this is rather a tedious job as I first sort of chink between the individual roof poles and then put a layer of moss all over. To finish up the roof I intend to put a layer of spruce brush on to hold the moss in place. Boiled a duck this afternoon and had some for supper, first meal of duck soup this fall. When I make the bunk I think I'll make it wide enough as I think I'll be bringing Ray in for the spring. I don't know where I'll have to go for rats, there are no signs at all anywhere on the Whiskey Jack. Lots of blackflies today.
Sketch 10-6 Cabin at Reedy Lake
Wednesday, 22nd - Feel just about ok again. Rained all night, today it's been quite cold with strong NW wind and snow flurries. Finished the roof, have about 30 spruce trees on over the moss, also finished chinking, made bunk, table and bench, moved in before supper and am now sitting at the table scribbling this. After supper got the other duck ready and on the stove and made a little wood ahead. Tomorrow, again weather permitting, I go on to Spruce Island, weather not permitting, I'll get out a supply of wood. I'm afraid to look at my smoked meat, the weather has been so nasty and damp I couldn't air it out for days now and mauling it on the portages as well as lying in a sack doesn't do it any good. This camp is about 50 - 60 yards from the lake, fairly high up, rock ridges, a few large jackpines, the rest small spruce and birch. Through the window I can just see the water. Built it with a ridge roof and lots of pitch on account of no tarpaper, the ridge roof runs north and south, window and door on the south end, the lake is to the east, fairly good shelter. The layout is like this:
Spruce Island, Thursday 23 - Part cloudy and very cold this morning, ice on the canoe and paddle until 10 o'clock, at 3 PM there was still ice on a tin of water outside of the camp here. It wasn't blowing for a change and I made it from Reedy Lake camp to here in exactly 5 hours. Shot at quite a few ducks but got only one. Fresh beaver sign on Camp Creek. The camp here was ok, mouse dirt over everything but they had done no damage. Had duck soup for dinner when I got here, also coffee (had been out for several days) with Carnation, my last tin, and opened a tin of tomatoes. After unpacking etc., I just puttered this afternoon. Tomorrow I intend to bake bread and work around camp. Well I've made sponge and a couple bottles of maple syrup, and had my bath. Now I'm going to have a cup of coffee, a smoke and read a little before going to bed. By the way there are 6 or 7 books here and any number of magazines but they are all in bad shape, I'm drying them and maybe there'll be some that can be read. It's raining again for a change. Found the meat getting mouldy when I unpacked it, so hung it up inside.
Friday 24th - It's been a cool day with a few snow flurries. Did my baking, 4 loaves and biscuits again, put patches on my gabardine pants, have one knee right thru the breeches too, fixed up a place to set the water pail and have room to pile wood underneath, steamed and re-shaped the head of the toboggan which I brought up from Whiskey Jack Lake this trip, and made some wood. The fur will be getting prime very soon if this cool weather keeps up a few days longer. Will have to set the net again so I can give them a few fish. Also have to find some birch for snowshoes, which I'm thinking will be some job as I've been keeping my eyes peeled and just above Lone Cabin, where I used to get it, is the only place I've noticed good birch and I figure that's a little far to lug. I also will have to get a pile of moss as this camp needs a lot of re-chinking. Too bad I haven't got a little radio, there is an aerial up. Just to give you an idea of what this camp is like:
Sketch 10-7 Cabin at Spruce Island
Walls, roof poles and floor hewn inside, very poor light inside but will be a little better after there's snow, and the inner door is only 18 inches wide. The roof on the lean-to leaks like a sieve and without tarpaper there's nothing I can do about it.
Saturday, 25th - Strong wind, otherwise a nice warm day. Set the net, got a pile of spagnum moss, made about 50 chokers (snares), steamed and re-shaped the toboggan and cut a little more wood ahead. Oh, yes, I put up another couple of little shelves, one at the head of the bunk as the little lamp doesn't give enough light to read unless you have it right at your ear. My bread turned out pretty good again, and I forgot to mention that ever since I came and had bread I've made it a point to have toast for breakfast with my oats. Today a drummer (a partridge) came parading around, later a squirrel came in thru the door, looked me all over and ran out again, that would have tickled Eileen and Helen. Ray would like this place, there is so much dry wood, spruce, standing and lying around that one can hardly get around, and you would like it because I'm here and I'd let you toddle all over with me. I'm getting sort of sentimental again and I shouldn't as it is a long time until the middle of December. Its a good thing there is so much to do. I used to do a little talking, to myself or some animal or object, years ago when I'd be alone, now the sound of my own voice makes me feel all the more alone. So when I get home I'll probably be as dumb as a cigar store Indian for a while. The gramophone is an absolute fizzle, should have left it at home because that is what it reminds me of too much when I do put on a record. Oh, well, next week it'll be October and when that is gone time will go quite fast I think.
Sunday, 26th - Lay in bed until 9 o'clock this morning thinking that you would probably be at your regular Sunday chore of patching, etc. Got only 5 fish today. Greased your kicker, got my little duck ready and on the stove then I went snooping around. Paddled to Wolf Lake and around the upper part of this one planting my fish etc. The fish I had previously put out were all gone, so from now on I'll put rocks on any I lay out. Saw a very few rat signs on the creek to Wolf Lake and also any number of places with the initials ENB scratched on rocks, in one place with the addition (and family), talk about (narren hande). Fixed up a couple of places to hang snares and a few to put traps, but somehow I'm under the impression that there will be more foxes down river. The country east of here, including the east end of this lake burnt about 5 years ago and the creek to Wolf Lake had quite a few trees fallen across it. Hunted for snowshoe birch, no luck. Had duck and rice for supper, this evening made a few more 'neckties.'
Monday, 27th - Another fairly nice day, though cool, made some more chokers then boiled the whole works, made ups and the material for more in soap (Big Sister) suds, these I used after the boiling to scrub the floor, what a job. Made a little more wood and lifted the net, only 2 fish today, so I guess the net will have to be moved around until I find the fish again, most likely in shallow water. Where the net is right now, one end fastened to the shore, the water is over 30 feet deep. Thought I'd like a beet pickle with the last of my duck and rice today, the tops on both jars were bulged up and when I loosened all the liquid fizzed out, so I sorrowfully dumped them all into the slop pail. Mixing my butter with lard so it will last, about 1/3 butter and 2/3 lard, and its not at all bad. I still get one or two mice every night, mostly brown ones now. Played a couple of records today, that's about the limit, when the gramophone is going I can just visualize how I'd be sitting on the cot and going thru the whole works while you'd be patching or doing something else. Last night I got out the maps and measured and do you know its barely 75 miles (straight) from here home. According to Anton, Gus' camp is only about 8 hours walk from here in the winter, his is the closest of that bunch, Metzker's the farthest. Did another chore today which I had forgotten to mention, had picked up an old 4 gallon can at Whiskey Jack Lake, intending to make use of it as a mixing dish when baking bannock away from here. It was all full of little holes, so today I cut it down so it'll fit into the grub box, put a bead around the edge and soldered all the holes. Just now I'm smoking my pipe, found an old broken one in the camp here some time ago, had a good stem, so when I was at Whiskey Jack Lake I found me another cherry root and now I have a real pipe, but not too much tobacco anymore, I have a smoke after every meal here and another later in the evening, getting to be quite a smoker again even if the tobacco is only Picobac. Am getting very stylish, have even salt and pepper shakers here, also a pair of skates but no boots for them.
Tuesday, 28th - Very warm today, a few light showers. Had one fish this morning, so I moved the net but apparently it will have to be moved again, as this evening on my way past to go snooping, I lifted it and only got one sucker. Made more chokers, got out and sawed up some more wood. Have about a cord sawn into stove lengths, in my pile now. Have to bake tomorrow so I'm going to soak some clothes and do a washing as well. Its beginning to look as though I'll have to try and be at one of the other camps over freeze up as this part seems to be pretty dead as far as fur and game is concerned. I've often thought it a pity that Anton made his main camp on this end instead of at Reedy or Whiskey Jack Lakes and just have an outcamp here. Oh, well, we'll see, pretty soon I'll have to head down river again and get places made ready for my traps, etc. I detest the stretch of creek between this lake and Bull Lake, you probably remember some of it, it's shallow now, full of rocks and willows, takes about 2 1/2 hours to go through from lake to lake. I speculate and wonder how you are getting along daily, but it does no good anyway. Another 85 days or so and I'll be knocking at your door, loaded with fur (I hope). If only I don't get a bunch of trappers moving in on me, of which I'm very much afraid because then there won't be enough fur for all.
Wednesday, 29th - It's been very warm today, quite windy. Had 7 fish, 6 suckers, 1 tulibee, so I guess I'll leave the net where it is for the present. Did my baking and washing, repaired another broken padlock I found here and made a key for it, now I'm going to improvise a hasp and then I'll be putting it on my Reedy Lake camp. Did a little sewing on my tent, put another stove pipe hole in the opposite side and sewed on a flap so I can cover either hole as is required, by pulling a string. Also made some more chokers, haven't many more to make now. Have to do a lot of darning again when my socks dry, its beyond me how those socks can develop holes. Had a thunderstorm last night rained very heavy but not for long. Looked at the lily roots today, the old leaves and flowers have died and they are sprouting all over, I think what I'll do with them is, after freeze up, I'll take one out of the water and let it freeze, take it with me when I go home in December, the other I'll hang below the ice and bring out next spring if at all possible.
Meanwhile, back in Berens River, Toni and the children had been busy, too. The Adam's family who operated one of the trading posts had spent some time in Winnipeg, and during their absence, Toni had been operating the post and caring both for their home and the Schuetze cabin. Ray slept alone in the home cabin, Toni and the girls slept at the post. Toni wrote:
"September 29, Wednesday: The Keenora hooted us out of bed this morning. By the time I had the fire made and my face washed the Adam's were home, Mr Adam didn't stay right away, but Mrs. Adam had breakfast with us. Later on I had the chance to tell Adam what all I had done during his absence. He said everything was O.K. and when I told him I didn't want pay he said he would give me a percentage on what I sold. Mrs. Adam gave each of the kids a box of chocolates and to me she gave a package of candied peel, 1 of cherries and 1 of marshmallows. She told me there was a prospector on the boat that knew us so I figured it must be Herb Cowan. After dinner the kids and I went for the mail and then to the boat. It was at Patricia (Transportation) by then. I saw Cowan but the boat did not stay long so I didn't have much of a talk. But I did see him. Dr. Corrigan was on too. He told me that the Caldwell's are in Victoria at Jim's wedding. They sent us an invitation in today's mail. After the boat left the McEnery's asked us to stay for supper. Ray was helping with freight so we stayed and paddled home, for the lake was just like glass and the kids wanted to paddle. We used the kicker going. I was so happy not to have to worry about the store anymore that I felt like a kid at Xmas."
Thursday, 30th - Feel very disgruntled and somewhat lonely tonight, have been out all day and it doesn't look very bright, did not see a thing except 2 or 3 whiskey jacks and very few signs of foxes and not a rabbit sign. Have 25 places all ready now, the Elliot lakers, according to Fritz, start getting things ready on the first of October so I thought I'd need at least a day's start because they have their traplines while I have to start from scratch. Had 4 fish today, one a whale of a pickerel, had part of him for supper. It's been warm today, but blowing a gale again, now it looks very much like rain. I still have not found a good birch for snowshoe frames. Another three weeks and I'll have served half my sentence.
Friday, October 1st - Today has been another fair day though windy. Spent the day on the lower part of this lake and on Camp Creek, fixed up 18 places. Last night some misbegotten lousy critter, presumably a skunk, swiped all the fish I had ahead and what made it worse is that most of them were quite ancient already and prime bait, even the remains of the pickerel was taken. I did not take the time this morning to try and find the cache. Got only 4 suckers today and these are already planted out. When crawling through an alder swamp on Camp Creek I met a porcupine face to face, figured it should make good bait so shot it and brought it to camp. Its the first porcy I've seen in the wild and a real big one, as big as a large beaver and you know how big they are, coal black with white quills and so fat its just like a ball. Saw 2 ducks on this lake this morning, first since I came. Brought a couple of bundles of hay from the creek to put in the bunk. I wonder if you have as many house flies as I have here, about a million it seems, and they are so full of pep they won't even settle down after the light is out, go whizzing around in the dark for about an hour before they finally decide they have done a days work and go to sleep.
Saturday, 2nd - Another warm day. Been to the east end and south part of the lake, have 50 places fixed now. 6 suckers this morning, made a little wood and did some chinking. Found where the skunk cached the fish he stole, but can't get them back as they are way in a crack in the rock, I think the skunk lives in there and I shall have to get him, can use his perfume and his pelt should be pretty fair by now; anyway if I leave him too long I may find him in the camp sometime after being away for a while because his hangout is only about 25 yards from my door. Had to throw away my smoked meat, mould and maggots. Tomorrow I'm going to darn socks, bake bread, make some more wood and sort of gather an outfit together to go down to Whiskey Jack Lake again, also pull out the net and make the last chokers.
Sunday, 3rd - Did everything I intended and sharpened my axes, also changed a gasket on your kicker. Its been very warm today, the darned houseflies were terrible. Made some corn starch pudding but had to throw it out, Anton had put all that junk into one box and the corn starch is all polluted with Life buoy odour and taste. Had 4 suckers today, hung them the way whitefish are hung, so maybe they'll still be here when I get back. Will be heading down river tomorrow, weather permitting. Have everything except bedding etc., packed and its surprising how the stuff piles up in spite of one's thinking that one is taking only the necessities. Have one box with nothing but bread, grub box, prune box with small junk, packsack, stove, two gunny sacks, kettles etc., axes and rifles and my robe.
Reedy Lake, Monday 4th - It's been terribly hot today and the blackflies were worse than I've seen them for years. Fixed 20 places on the way down here, this country, and I expect its the same pretty well all over, looks very peaceful and dead. Saw about 15 or so ducks, shot one, there are 2 or 3 beavers just above this lake, not quite as far up as they used to live if you remember, they have their winter's grub already stored, according to that freeze up is not very far away. Today is one of my off days again, I feel so discouraged I could bawl, prospects look so bad. There is just one thing I want to do and that is pack up and head downstream back home, if there only were a job waiting I would not hesitate. Should have taken up Col. Stevenson's proposition instead of this because I should have known just what my luck is. Do you know that since I left home till now I haven't seen a single rabbit or rat, I have seen the odd rat sign but not rabbit, and the way it looks to me there will be very few foxes trapped this winter. I found everything at this camp ok, even the bones, part of the hide and head of the moose I shot and which I had put out on the point for the foxes hasn't been touched.
Tuesday, 5th - Very hot today, also smoky. Worked around Reedy Lake and across to the lake west, 17 fixed (means 17 traps/snares set) but don't ask me why, saw one old fox track on the beach today, also saw one rabbit. Last night I sat on a rock overlooking the lake until the moon set about 9:30 and just listened, all I heard were fish splashing once in a while. All around the lake and partly around the other one, not a moose track. Carried out a little dry wood, nailed strips over the cracks in the door and put on the hasp and staple. The blackflies were very bad today, also the houseflies. Tomorrow I want to move further downriver. I miss my pipe, left it at Spruce Island as there is only a little tobacco left.
Loon Lake, winter portage, Wednesday, 6th - Its been a nice day, a little on the warm side, and its been a busy day for me. Came quite a distance, made 7 portages, fixed 20 places, and did some butchering. Saw 2 bulls, 1 cow and 1 calf, butchered the last, don't know about the cow, find out in the morning, I do need tallow. The leaves are all down now and one of these days its going to turn cold, I think. I should have put the shoeing on the canoe before I left Spruce Island, because one really cold, calm night would freeze over those upper lakes, anyway, I won't dawdle around down here this trip and when I get back to Spruce Island putting that shoeing on will be one of the first jobs I'll do.
Whiskey Jack Lake camp, Thursday, 7th - Got up bright and early after spending a hectic night on account of moose coming rip-snorting around every little while. I tracked my tallow and if you could have seen me I would have reminded you of a gull trying to gobble a floating fish, right in the river, so I got very little tallow and I managed to whittle off the two legs on one side. Saw another cow moose this morning. Its very warm again and blowing hard, head wind for me coming here, of course. Fixed only 4 places today, total now 112, so I am making headway. I got just a little more than a jam can full of rendered tallow. Not a sign yet of other trappers, I hope they forget to come.
Friday, 8th - Worked around the upper lake today, 24 places. Its been blowing a gale and sure had me pulling on the paddle. Finding fox snares every little while, two today. Foxes sure must have been plentiful, there is old fox hair, (faded) caught in the brush along anything that looks like a trail. The wind is still strong, north, its all cloudy now and turning cold and a large flock of geese just passed over heading south, so I guess we'll get dirty weather and a taste of winter, I only hope that I'll be able to travel as I want to head back upriver tomorrow, doing some work on the way (if possible) and taking about 3 days to get back to Spruce Island, that would make this an 8 day jaunt, which is quite long enough this time of the year.
Reedy Lake Camp, Saturday, 9th - The sky looked so threatening this morning that I didn't stop to do any more work, it did clear up towards noon but by then it was too late as I had passed the stretch on which I intended to work.
This country looks deader from day to day, there is absolutely nothing. Woke up a couple of times last night when more flocks of geese were heading south. Tonight I'm thinking exactly as Fred did, " A man ought to be shot coming to a damn place like this!" Only difference then and now, is there was fur then, now there is nothing at all.
Spruce Island, Sunday 10th - Its been blowing hard again, and as usual I had to buck it, was glad when I got to Camp portage where your little kicker was waiting for me. Brought two legs of veal and brisket up from Loon Lake winter portage, shot one fall duck, picked up an accident (mink) between Rice and Bull lakes, and when coming along Camp Lake with the kicker I saw something in the water that turned out to be a red, so I thought I'd better help myself, seeing it was so handy. It was crossing the lake, the poor thing was so skinny I'm sure a cat could have dragged it off, just skin and bone and with the fur wet it looked for all the world like a ragged piece of rope. The skunk that was around here must have gone places, some of my suckers - and are they ripe - dropped on the ground and were still all there. Had to hunt up the lily roots, the waves had washed them out of the sand and they floated off, got them both and this time I tied them so they can't wander off again. After I made it here it got very cloudy and sprinkled a little. Saw a fresh moose track on camp creek. If the weather is suitable tomorrow I'll take a run around and see if maybe there hasn't something happened along here, or if its just as bad as what I looked over yesterday and today. Will also have to cork and lead another net and set it one of these days. Tomorrow night I'm going to have my bath and that means washing and baking the next day. And then of course I'll have to do some more work towards some of these other lakes. I always promise myself I'll cook me some fancy grub, so far I haven't but tonight I looked (with a speculative eye) at the brisket and my nice aluminium roaster and then again at a hind leg and the chopper, cooked some soup at Whiskey Jack Lake, carried it across all the portages and had some at Reedy Lake last night and some here tonight (special tonight) opened a can of tomatoes and dumped some into the soup. Finished the Rogers (syrup) so now I have the tin of strawberry and most of the honey left, also all the prunes and raisins. My sugar has been going down very fast, half gone now, so I'll have to go easy on the maple syrup. I also must try and get some more tallow, to save lard, if I do get some I'm going to throwaway or try and tempt the foxes with the shortening that was here, it is terribly rank. I may also have to throw out the rest of the flour that was here as there are bugs in it, and try as I will I can't get rid of them. I have, at different times, scooped out and thrown away the top part of the flour, but the next time I look there are more bugs, the flour must be full of eggs and they keep hatching. I only hope they don't invade my good flour or I sure will have vitamins, meat and other stuff in my bread.
Monday, 11th - Didn't accomplish very much today. Its been cloudy, cool showers and very windy so instead of going out, after skinning and stretching, I made a wigesy to bolt onto the paddle for pushing on ice and drew out and re-tempered the ice chisel, then put on the two outside strips of shoeing on the canoe, the two pieces that go on the keel I'll carry along if it is still open when I head back down river as the canoe gets so very heavy once all the shoeing is on. My bath water is heating and I have the yeast set out on the table as I will be making sponge. I also took the clock that was here, which by the way keeps good time, and put luminous paint on the hands and a spot at each number, then cleaned all my firearms. In between times, read a couple of stories and cooked some prunes.
Tuesday, 12th - It's been a sort of miserably dark and dreary day with lots of wind. My washing, had quite a bit this time, didn't dry at all so now I have it hanging in here. Baked six loaves of bread and while the dough was still rising I tried out the chopper and made a meat loaf. Did some more work on the toboggan, put on a hitch and bolted on another three cross bars. I want it to slide as easily as possible as I expect to be hauling it a good deal. I've been sort of hoping to bring out a nice hunk of meat when I come home, I said I was hoping, because if the weather doesn't turn cold soon the meat I have won't be so hot. Every time I think of meat I wish that you could have some of it, because I'm afraid you will be living on potatoes and gravy. Do you know what I'd like to have now? A flit gun and some spray, so I could murder these darn houseflies. One of these days I'm going out to find as good a birch as I can around here for snowshoes, as its time I got busy on frames so they'll have a chance to shape and dry. When downriver last week I looked over everything that seemed as though they'd be ok, at Lone Cabin included, but all the birches are either too crooked and knotty or else they are part dead.
Wednesday, 13th - Having a taste of winter today, its been a dark cold and windy day, rain very early this morning turned to snow and it snowed intermittently all day, the ground is white tonight. I went over the east end, fixed another six places, saw signs of a fox in one place and at one snare a fox had been in but didn't stay long, that cable sure is no good and what gets me is that there was only one in 22 over a period of 12 days. Brought back a couple of chunks of birch, awful poor stuff, have split one into quarters and will do the same with the other, then pick the better of the two and see if I can make frames out of them. I sure got cold out on the lake what with the wind and spray and not much clothing. I still didn't get a chance to set a net as its been blowing too hard and always from the wrong direction. Took out a couple of the suckers which I had hung today, they were just skins, full of maggots. Tomorrow if possible, I shall have to go over the west end.
Thursday, 14th - This happens to be one of my off days, when I feel like going out on a rock, turn my nose to the sky and howl. Blowing and snowing all day, and I've been making a regular mountain of chips and shavings, the resulting four sticks are really only fit to chop up and stick into the stove, but I shall try and make a pair of snowshoe frames out of them, altho they are so poor that it would not surprise me if they broke in the bending. Also did some sewing on a toboggan harness I'm making out of canoe canvas scraps, and made a little wood. Will have to re-chink this place pretty soon as the wind reaches here enough so it means continually shoving wood into the stove to keep my feet warm. Broke one of my saucers this morning as I was bringing my toast to the table. I have only one plate and will miss that saucer. Am hoping that I'll be able to get out and do something tomorrow as its clearing and the wind has gone down some. I've been wondering how you have made out with the heater, storm windows, etc., somehow I can't get it into my head that you are after all not a baby and can do things. When I do my writing in this scribbler I often want to ask you this, that or the other thing, as though I were writing a letter which you would be able to answer in just a little while.
Back in Berens River, Toni records: "October 15, Friday: The wind finally went down. When daylight came this morning the Keenora was gone (had sailed). We had a bit of sleet but otherwise it wasn't so bad. Ray and I paddled over to Adam's for some shopping late this afternoon. We visited for a little while, too, and I found out that it was $5.00 that Mr. Adam gave me for my percentage of what I sold in the store during his absence. And was I ever glad to have that as our money is running pretty low. I may yet have to ask for credit before Rody comes home, but I am going to try very hard not to. I'd hate like everything to have to do that."
Friday, 15th - This was another cold day, but the sun did shine at times. This forenoon I re-chinked part of the camp, made some wood. After dinner I went out, west end, set 10 more, came across a couple of fall ducks and got them both. When I had only 3 or four more places to visit I saw a fox either a silver or very dark cross, streaking away from one of my sets, I should mention that up to that time there wasn't a sign around any of the other sets, anyway when I saw this one I figured he broke loose just then but when I came up I saw he had only been feasting on a nice cross, just the insides and a few pieces of hide left. The last place had a red eaten out and I got nothing. I just can't get over it, here I make only 2 strikes and have to lose them. It always is bad for cannibalism when there are no rabbits but they might at least go 50 -50 or else let me skin them first. Tomorrow I'll have to bake again, so I'll also either shape a pair of snowshoes or frames or break them, and very soon I'll head down to Whiskey Jack Lake, make some more sets and see what luck (if any) I'll have down there.
Saturday, 16th - Spent nearly the whole day on the frames, got them bent, but they're no beauties, and not much rise in the toes, whether they are strong enough remains to be seen. Baked my bread and have a big meat loaf in the oven now, something for on the trip. I thought that maybe I could get all set today and start downriver tomorrow but didn't make it. Heard a plane go by, came from the east heading towards Berens, I figured. Had my last smoke today, stretched that 3/4 lb. of tobacco pretty far, didn't I?
Sunday, 17th - Did my packing, etc., brought out and cut up a pile of wood, split out some birch for snowshoe cross pieces, cleaned the points on the kicker. Had a look where those foxes had been eaten out, I had rigged a few surprises, but everything was still serene, so apparently the cannibal hadn't been back. I should have had the net in and caught a few fish, but will try and tend to that when I get back this trip. Have been wondering if I'll see sign of other trappers on this trip, can't understand why there hadn't been any yet because this part of the country has been well populated the winters since we quit coming. Its been fairly pleasant today, very little wind and thawing out in the open, in the bush there is still snow on the ground. Have just used up the 1/2 gallon of coal oil I brought along, I use the big lamp when I really need light as for sewing and reading, that reminds me, I put a couple patches on my pants today again. Well, I'm getting to the halfway mark, tomorrow it'll be two months since I left home and two months from now I expect to be on the way back home.
Monday, 18th - Reedy Lake - Left Spruce Island while the moon was shining brightly this morning and was it cold. Lots of ice on the lakes, Bull Lake was practically all frozen, even Camp Creek had ice clean across it in places. Fixed 5 more places. Had another mink accident, it wanted to be a fisher. Got one cross, Rice Lake; one red between Rice and Reedy Lakes; one red on Reedy Lake and lost one trap, clog and all, disappeared, jumped in the lake I think. The animals aren't so skinny down this way, in fact one old boy from this lake (Reedy) was rolling fat. Punched a big hole in the canoe, right through the planking as well as canvas, on one of the Camp Creek portages, slipped on icy rock and it meant patching the planking. Then with plowing through ice, and lost one hour looking for the missing trap, it was pretty late when I got thru tonight, after skinning the four. I had to fix another leak on the canoe, ran on a sharp rock by flashlight. There are still ducks some in spots, got one today. There was very little ice on Reedy Lake. Weather permitting will make it to somewhere around Loon Lake tomorrow, have been sort of figuring on going up Fox River as far as the first rapid.
Whiskey Jack Lake, Tuesday 19th - It's been quite mild today, now looks like rain. Had to change my mind about going up Fox River as there are a couple of fox stretchers at this camp and I had too much to stretch. Got 1 cross and 5 red today, one of the reds is no good, another two got away and I lost another trap. Grey Owl and the other native's little brother got in. I guess it was one of them that got away with the one I lost yesterday. Fixed 10 more places. Am awfully tired tonight, should be skinning today's six, but I did put two of yesterdays and the mink on stretchers. The darn whiskey jacks ate all the meat I had at this camp.
Wednesday, 20th - Bad business day this, got three reds, three got away and two were eaten, it blew like hell and it rained this afternoon. Fixed 6 more places, made another fox stretcher and skinned. Threw away the poor red as it wasn't worth skinning. Just now I have (here) 2 off the stretchers, 3 on and six in a sack waiting, I guess I'll just have to take off three and put 3 others on the stretchers tonight yet because tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll have to start up river again and I can't carry green skins for long or they'll spoil, as long as the weather is so mild. No sign of any other trappers yet, I'm wondering how come?
Sketch 10-8 A map, hand-drwawn by Rod, of the trapping area he worked; unfortunately, he did not identify the lakes and rivers he drew here
Thursday, 21st - Still at Whiskey Jack Lake, it blew so hard that I didn't have the heart to pull out. Brought out a bunch of wood, have the last three on the stretchers, turned all the others right side out, put the shoeing on the keel of the canoe and fixed another 12 places this afternoon. Before I go to bed I'm going to take off and turn the last, and bundle them all up in case I go in the morning. I almost forgot, I also made a mousetrap today.
Reedy Lake, Friday 22nd - Left Whiskey Jack Lake camp by moonlight this morning, it was quite cold but warmed up during the day, and there was no wind, only break I had as I didn't get a thing- one got away and 4 were eaten out. Fixed up 21 more today, bringing the total past the 200, to be exact 207. Shot a couple fall ducks. I was so tired and all in tonight, I'm just one big ache, wouldn't give a darn if I'd only got a skin or two, those four that were eaten got caught within the last 3 days, in fact 2 of them were caught in sets I put out Tuesday afternoon, which makes it about 2 1/2 days. I think every fox around here has another snooping after him waiting for something to happen to him. Saw a magpie and a rat today. All the little nooks and bays had ice on them today, the water is very low now, making it hard paddling and the river is full of rocks.
Spruce Island, Saturday 23rd - Wonder if our big daughter would give me a piece of her cake if I were home. Thought that maybe I would get a special treat today, have been thinking lynx for some time, but nix unless having only one fox eaten out today is the treat. I got one rather woolly cross and two reds, none got away. Shot another fall duck, have 7 of them hanging here now, hoping they won't spoil and that travelling will be not too hard so I can take them out. Scared up a moose on Camp Creek but couldn't see it due to the rank vegetation. Do you know there don't seem to be any fisher around here now, and there are no otter; as for lynx, Anton told me that he saw quite a few tracks last spring, but so far I have seen no sign. Oh, well, if it would only keep up the way they were coming this week I won't kick very much, 14 skins a week is nothing to sneer at unless maybe by Mr. Wallin. Am having my bath and soaking my washing yet tonight, have made my sponge, so tomorrow I wash, bake, skin and stretch todays 3 and maybe do a little on my snowshoe frames.
Sunday, 24th - Got all my chores done, fastened the tips and front cross bars into the snowshoe frames, also cooked me a pot full of slumgullion and a bit of syrup. Been a rather nasty day, cool and damp with a little drizzle every little while.
Monday, 25th - Another cloudy, damp and cold day. Went around the east end, didn't get anything but one got away. Had to paddle your kicker back from my first stop, about one mile, points gummed up with oil and I had no tools along. Tomorrow I darn, patch, bake another batch of bread and get ready so I can start down to Whiskey Jack Lake again the day after, expect this will be my last trip using the canoe, I'll be taking a little more of an outfit as this trip may take longer. I just realize that I've been rather thoughtless this fall. I didn't check my supplies and figure my allowances, for one thing, I have only 3 pounds of lard and about 1 1/2 pounds of butter left. The other stuff isn't too bad, have 3 1/2 lb. coffee, all the raisins, nearly all the prunes, 1 lb honey, 1 lb. cocoa, about 8 lbs. milk, about 9 lbs. rolled oats, about 9 lbs sugar, 4 lbs. cheese, 4 lbs. strawberry jam, about 80 lbs. flour and about 3 lbs. rice, about 10 lb. beans. Not too bad excepting fats, anyway I'm still hoping to get a supply of tallow, will need more meat anyhow.
Meanwhile, Toni's dwindling cash reserves got a boost: "Right after noon Mr. McEnery came and took Ray back with him to cut some wood. When he came back Ray was so very much delighted with the money he had earned. He would look at it again and again. What pleased me was him handing the money to me and saying, " Here, momma, this will help to buy us groceries."
Tuesday, 26th - It's been quite mild today with some sunshine. Did my darning, baking and packing, also got out a bunch of wood and sawed and split some of it. Have a big meat loaf in the oven, to take along. Hunted houseflies, killed lots of them but the place is still full. Shot a couple of whiskey jacks, noticed that the front sight on the 22 was a little bent, the bead broke off but one can still aim it. Wish I had a nice big bale of fur and it was the 14th of December, then I'd think, well, tomorrow I start for home, but time is moving along, if slow, just 50 more days.
Reedy Lake, Wednesday, 27th - Its been quite summery today. Fixed another 10 places, got one red out of about 55 sets, the second from the last before I got to this camp is where it was, there can't be much above here anymore as none got away. Saw 2 moose on Bull Lake, and that's what they were, between there and Rice Lake I saw 2 more and got my fresh meat and tallow, altho the tallow is rather scimpy. What with the regular work coming down here and butchering and building a stage it was rather late when I got here, and tired, oh boy! I hadn't boiled the kettle on the way but I had a real nice supper. Will be here all day tomorrow, look over the rest of the lake, render the tallow, skin, etc.
Thursday, 28th - Very foggy this forenoon, chilly all day. Didn't get anything, lost another trap, beaver, and made 8 more sets. Shot a tiny duck, saw some moose and fox tracks on the beaches. This evening a fox pup did a lot of barking in the muskeg back of this point.
Whiskey Jack Lake, Friday, 29th - Solid overcast, windy, cold and snowing a little, the weather for today. Left Reedy Lake camp 6:30 AM, dark as dark had to use the flashlight to portage the first, just dawning on the second portage below Reedy Lake. Boiled the kettle lower end of Ox portage and got to this camp 5:45, all tuckered out. Got 1 raven, 1 squirrel, 1 magpie, 1 silver, 2 reds. 2 red were eaten out. Cut a wing and the tail off the magpie for the girls. Shot a duck today that would have made Buffalo Bill green with envy, it came flying along and I thought I'd take a chance so grabbed the 22 and shot as she passed, it dropped like a stone, but the best part was I shot 5 or 6 inches too far ahead, shooting for the body of course, and hit it square in the middle of the head. Made 6 more sets today. Still no sign of other trappers.
Saturday, 30th - Skinned yesterday's bag, put 3 on stretchers, fixed the door on this camp and made the round of the upper lake, 41 sets, 9 days and not a hair even did I get. There had been nothing near any of the sets. It was very cold last night and this morning, the bays on this lake are frozen over almost completely. Caught 2 mice (grey) last night, this morning I spent a good long while fishing for the figure 4 with a piece of wire to get it from under this nice pole floor. Tomorrow, if the spirit moves me, I'll go into Rat and Rush Lakes.
Sunday, 31st - Visited Rat and Rush Lakes, they are frozen over and everything as dead as a doornail, no rat house or even feedbed. Made 13 sets in there. It's been quite wintry today. I think what foxes are left are out in the muskegs living on berries just now. Got my feet wet today, in the rubber boots, floating bog. Had intended to start back upriver tomorrow morning but I'm not so sure now, the sky looks very bad and if the weather should be dirty in the morning, I'll just laze around here.
November, Monday 1st - Got up at 5 o'clock, took one look outside and crawled back into the feathers, it was snowing and everything was well covered already. It's been snowing a little all day and still is, have a good 4 inches now. I've just been real lazy, read a little (magazine digests) did a little fixing up in the camp, and a little bit of figuring towards a telescopic stove pipe and a lighter stove to pack around. I stayed in bed until the cows almost came home, 8:15. Hope the weather lets up enough so I can move on in the morning as this has been about the most miserably long day of them all, at this camp there is nothing but the bare essentials, the same as at Reedy, so there is nothing I can do to pass the time away when the weather is too nasty to be out. I now have about 188 snares and 60 traps, total 248. But in spite of the fact that snares out number traps 3 to 1, the traps have been bringing the most bacon due mostly to the ones in snares are usually the ones that are eaten. I lost (eaten out): snares 10, traps 1; the skins I have came: snares 10, traps 8, shot 1. Its too bad I haven't some larger traps. Changed into my heavy undies.
Tuesday, 2nd - Got up at 5, had breakfast and by then it was snowing again, waited for daylight and started out but had to turn back from the end of the lake as it was frozen over and with the snow on the thin ice I couldn't make any headway at all. Paddled down to Rat Creek to get an old tin stove that was lying there, patched my stove in camp with it, set a mink trap while I was down there. Made a supply of wood, and, not having any meat here, I put the duck I had, and which I so much wanted to save to take home, on to cook.
3rd Rapids, Wednesday, 3rd - It's been a real rotten day, snowed this morning changing to a drizzle. I left Whiskey Jack Lake camp very early and made good time even tho I had to plow thru a lot of ice. Got here at 3 PM and had to camp as I and all the baggage was getting soaked and it seems to be all frozen over from here on, but very weak and slushy, terribly hard and slow to go thru. I'm only about 2 1/2 miles from Reedy Lake camp but the way it looks I doubt whether I'll be able to make it there tomorrow. If I had another scribbler I'd write pages and pages telling you how much I miss you and what a miserable life this is when everything seems so dismal, dead and lonely. I didn't get a thing today, saw about 4 fox tracks between Whiskey Jack Lake and here, also about the same number of rabbit tracks, 1 moose track.
Thursday, 4th - This has been another miserable day, it froze a little last night, but thawed again enough so the ice is no good anyway. I tried it with the empty canoe but it just is so that I can't push thru nor over it, which means I'll be marooned here until the weather changes. Do you remember me telling you how, the year Fred came with me, I lay under the canoe for 2 days while it snowed, rained and froze? Well, that spot isn't 100 feet from where I have the tent now. The worst of it is that I can't do anything here except sit and wait, I haven't even a thing to read. Been poking around in the bush a little, found a spot where there must be a 1/2 dozen or so rabbits, chopped down a bunch of jackpines for them. This evening a flock of geese went over going south, I wished that I could tag along behind.
Friday, 5th - Another beastly day. Crawled thru the muskeg about halfway to Reedy Lake and back its terribly tough going but I'm figuring that tomorrow if I can't travel on the ice with the canoe I'll pack what I must and go on foot to Reedy Lake camp. Had 8 loaves of bread when I left Spruce Island on the 27th October, started the last one today so figured I'd better bake a few bannocks, found I hadn't brought the flour. I put some beans on right away, no pork or meat so put in a little tallow, anyway I don't think I can live on that sort of grub very long anymore. Heard a coyote howl this morning and some ducks flew by. Shot an owl and 2 squirrels.
Reedy Lake camp, Sunday 7th - Yesterday I started out, with the canoe, from the 3rd Rapids, got to the mouth of the river at Reedy Lake, left the canoe and most of my stuff there and took to the bush with packsack, axe, rifle, kettles, grub, etc., got to the camp here at noon. Incidentally, I picked up one red fox at the rivermouth, same place where that one was sleeping in the trap when you and I came along, long ago. After I got here I made some bannock and cooked some goulash. There's a lot more snow here than at Whiskey Jack Lake, also in spots there are quite a few rabbits. This morning I went and got the canoe and the rest of the stuff, the ice on the lake is very weak yet, it just carries me, the canoe and a little stuff if its kept moving, stop and it drops thru. This afternoon I looked at a few more sets, nothing, went to the mouth of the river (upriver) to see if I could go and visit the little brothers, not yet. Skinned the red and a couple of squirrels. I think its 8 days now that I haven't seen the sun, if it would only clear up, and then it would turn cold, today again its just barely freezing, and I'll just have to stay here (patiently) waiting for the ice to get strong enough to go to Spruce Island. Had the last of my loaf of bread for breakfast, 2 slices of toast, and one more baking of bannock and my flour will be all gone, but I sort of expect that it will turn cold in a day or two.
Monday, 8th - The sun shone for a while this afternoon, now there are little patches of blue sky and the wind has shifted to the north so maybe it will turn cold. Cut a trail right from the camp thru to Portage Lake today, when the ice on that lake is strong enough to walk on I want to put this trail right thru to hit the river again below the Ox Portage so I won't always have to travel all the way around the big bend. Put another couple of squirrels on stretchers, got out some wood and had my last cup of coffee until I get back to Spruce Island, also took a little stroll on the ice on Reedy Lake today, not so very strong yet.
Tuesday, 9th - It froze pretty good last night, I walked all around and across the lake today looking at my sets, nothing. There are a few foxes but I noticed where one had walked up to a snare then turned and went around. The weather looks so bad tonight and my insides are in such a mess that if it freezes at all tonight and does not snow I think I'll try to go thru tomorrow so I can get away from bannock, and there may be a skin for me to pick up on the way, I hope 2 or 3 if not already eaten out. I looked at the ice on the river up above today, it is very thin yet and if it doesn't freeze much tonight may not carry canoe, etc. I'd like to take the canoe and everything the other side of Bull Lake if possible, and I'm so very much afraid that it may snow and that would make it a terrible mess.
In Berens River, Toni wrote: "Nov. 9, Tuesday: We've had some snow this afternoon. Our poor doggie was hurt pretty badly. Before breakfast he wasn't around and shortly after, Helen found him lying close to the house, one eye badly swollen, the nose, too, there was blood on his chest, apparently from his nose, and he seems to have a sore foot, too. He couldn't stand on his feet at all. Ray carried him into his house and he's been in there all day. The kids kept an eye on him continually, taking him water and feeding him tidbits, and were overjoyed when he would eat or drink. They also covered him up to keep him warm. I cooked him a special supper and when the kids went to feed him, here he was outside of his house. With a joyous whoop, Ray came tearing in to tell me. After he had eaten he went back into his house, but he was so wobbly he barely made it. I am rather puzzled as to how he got hurt. It looks for all the world as though he has been in someone's trap and was clubbed when that someone turned him loose. Of course, that's only conjecture on my part. The poor poochie, I just wonder how he managed to get home. I felt so sorry for him, I could have cried. He is always such a happy doggie." (Note: Toni's conjecture turned out to be correct.)
Wednesday, 10th - Started out bright and early, got about a mile up the river and had to give up the idea, had just one hell of a time, the ice about 1 1/2 inches thick and it would break as if it were only 1/2 inch, canoe got all frozen up with slush so I had a real job to get it ashore, left it there of course. Made two trips to pack the other junk back to camp, leaving the grub box and the little stove with the canoe. This afternoon I went across to the Ox portage, its still awful tough walking in the muskegs, it took about 1 1/2 hours across, came across several places where there are quite a few rabbits and foxes hunting them, also saw one lynx track. Weather permitting will start for Spruce Island with packsack in the morning.
Thursday, 11th - It's been another very miserable day, blew like blazes all night and today, from the south, this morning it was snowing, this later changed to drizzle, then back to snow. Went almost to Rice Lake, to sort of break a trail thru the muskeg, got soaking wet and coming back, a matter of about 3 hours, it had snowed so much I couldn't see my tracks anymore. The river is starting to open up again, Rice Lake will be part open and the worst of it is that there is so much snow on the ice now one can't tell a thing about it. It's still snowing but the wind has gone to the north-west.
Friday, 12th - This morning it was still snowing and blowing and there was water on the ice so I figured one day more or less won't make much difference after I've lost so much time already. Didn't do much of anything today, just poking around, couldn't find any more squirrels, set a couple of snares. It is still blowing from the north-west and should freeze some tonight, one more day and I'll be out of bannock, milk and lard, so it's about time something was done.
Spruce Island, Saturday, 13th - Well, I finally got here, had a heck of a time getting onto this island, I believe that had I come yesterday I would not have been able to cross to Spruce Island. It was real wintry last night and today, that helped a lot all the way up here. Didn't see all my sets but picked up and hung up 3 reds and in a trap right out from Feeble homesite there is a skunk, I left him so he can die in peace (I hope) and have lots of perfume. Very few fox tracks up this way and no sign of any other fur. Before I left here to go down to Whiskey Jack Lake I hung all my skins from the roof, put nails into the roof poles, but the damned mice got into them, how I can't figure, and ruined my best cross, there were wads of fox hair all over the floor. My bathing water is heating and I'm warming some flour for sponge, so I'll be washing and baking tomorrow
Sunday, 14th - It snowed a little more last night, today has been an ideal day cold and clear. Had a rather lazy day, aside from baking and washing I just puttered, oiled the toboggan and spliced ropes on it, made a different grip on the 44 - 40, (left the 6.5 at Reedy Lake). Hope its nice tomorrow if the going is not too tough I want to go to my meat cache and bring some, all I have here is liver, had some for supper last night, some more at midnight, and again tonight for supper. I will get my foxes when I go out, 2 are hanging at Bear Point on Bull Lake, and one I hung at the end of this lake, keeping your kicker company, which will also have to be brought here, so if I can get around I'll have quite a jag on the toboggan. I'm just lamenting that I haven't more traps, there are so many places I could go to set them and probably get a few more skins.
Monday, 15th - It has been another really nice day, clear and cold. I went downriver taking the toboggan, and what a time I had crawling thru the bush with it. I brought back my 3 reds, your kicker and the brisket and a lot of slush frozen to the bottom of the toboggan, overflow. The skunk was still alive, apparently quite contentedly hibernating in the snowdrift. Saw the tracks of 2 bands of caribou, one bunch came onto the lake about 1/2 mile from here, 16 of them, and followed the lake to the west end, then struck north. The other band, about the same number, crossed Camp Creek also heading north. Also saw a very few fox and weasel tracks, had a rabbit in one of my fox snares, haven't seen or heard any squirrels lately, I guess its been a little too cold. Last night it made 4 inches of ice on my waterhole.
Tuesday, 16th - Today has been mild all cloudy and snowing a little. I made the round of the east end, nothing at all. Also darned some of my holey socks and made some wood. Shot one squirrel. Intend to start for Berens River one month from tomorrow and don't feel any too happy as I only have 23 foxes and nothing to go with them and prospects of getting anything worthwhile from now on don't look very good.
Wednesday, 17th - It's been very mild today, foggy until the middle of the afternoon. Went down to Rice Lake for meat, brought back 2 hind legs also 1 red. There was a lot of overflow and the ice is starting to go out again, on the lakes as well as the creek, coming back I had to go around several open places, right on my trail where I had walked this morning. No sign of other trappers yet, and the skunk is still very much alive.
Thursday, 18th - Today was one of those very dark, overcast and warm as well as windy days. It thawed a lot and the water was dripping inside the camp as well as out, there is very little pitch in the roof and to make the roll of tarpaper reach I couldn't lap it very much and now as the snow melts the water backs up under the laps. I skinned the 4 foxes today and it was just awful, one had a broken snare on his neck, 4 ply rabbit wire, and his neck was almost rotten, another one got his hind foot into the trap, had the leg broken, bone sticking out about 6 inches, and it was sticky with the juice from it's leg from it's nose to the tip of it's tail. I couldn't eat any dinner it was so bad. I also finished darning socks, started to make a sort of fur press so I can make a very small bundle to fit my toboggan. Made sponge this evening and then I started figuring on my 22 pistol, I often thought that those things (automatics) would be a lot handier if one could use shorts as well as long rifle cartridges, so this evening I got busy and have it all figured and partly made, it means a different magazine for each size of cartridge. Got a piece of tin, a piece of snare wire and although it isn't by any means made, I plugged it into the pistol, put in 4 shorts and it worked like a charm. I haven't the material here to make a good one, but think I'll go with my tin and snare wire and see what I can make. I hope it turns cold again pretty soon, had figured on starting for Whiskey Jack Lake on Saturday but now I'll have to wait until the ice strengthens again as I'm not very fond of this bush crawling with a load.
From Toni's diary: "November 18, Thursday: Just three months since Rody went inland. 3 months can be mighty long. ...."
Friday, 19th - Cleared up around noon and is turning colder. I baked bread today, my usual 6 loaves, intend to do another baking tomorrow and head down river on Sunday. Also baled 15 fox skins, turned the other 4 on the stretchers, etc., after drying for a while I packed one hunk of lily root in moss to take out with me when I head for Berens. Shot a couple of squirrels, got 10 now, one shot each and most of them through the head, that's what breaking the bead off the front sight on the 22 is responsible for.
Saturday, 20th - It's been cloudy, windy, not cold and it snowed just a bit today. I baked another batch of bread, split a pile of wood, have a bunch of meat in the oven and did most of my packing, grub, etc., which doesn't take long, so I'm all ready to leave in the morning. Went out between dough punchings and fixed up a few of the nearer traps and brought back the skunk.
Reedy Lake, Sunday, 21st - Mostly blue sky today, quite chilly this morning. Had to do a lot of bush crawling coming down and when I got onto this lake I noticed that I'd lost a little sack with 4 traps off the toboggan, so tomorrow I'm going to load my packsack with a bunch of stuff that I had to leave here last trip, particularly the 5 foxskins, and go right up to Spruce Island, I can make the round trip in a day. I only got one weasel today, looked at and fixed all my sets, too. Saw quite a few fox tracks, but they, the foxes, seem to be quite snooty and full of rabbits, between Rice Lake and here especially, it's just lousy with rabbits now. Right here around the camp there must be hundreds, in places they've worn out the snow, galloping back and fore. Also saw the tracks of one caribou, Camp Lake, and 4 moose tracks between Rice Lake and here, one mink track Camp Creek.
Monday, 22nd - It's been very mild today, just like a day in spring. The river is wide open again below Rice Lake. I found my traps about halfway between Reedy and Rice Lakes, in the bush. I went right thru to Spruce Island, put one green fox skin and the weasel on stretchers hung up the others, boiled the kettle while there. On the way back I set 3 traps, moved one of the others, saw a fresh porky track crossing the river above here, got back here just at dusk, moccasins and socks soaking wet. Today I saw my first fool hens of the season, 2, on the little point in front of the Feeble home, used them for bait, they may bring in a mink or weasel, so I hope anyway.
Tuesday, 23rd - Very warm and somewhat foggy today. This morning I started out intending to go around the big bend (by the river), fix my sets, setting a few more, and coming back by the Moose Lake winter portage, breaking the trail, but I turned back from the lower end of Reedy Lake when I saw that the river was wide open. It was all frozen over 3 weeks ago when I froze in at the 3rd Rapids. So after lunch I headed thru my winter portage, thru Portage Lake to Moose Lake. Had to do quite a bit of trail cutting at the Moose Lake end and the muskeg is terrible, all softening up again. Saw several fox tracks, 1 lynx track, 1 fisher track, 1 bush wolf track and 1 moose track. Had 4 snares with me which I set, tomorrow I'm going across again (on snowshoes) and setting some more snares and a few traps. Then the day after I hope it'll be colder again and I'll head thru to Whiskey Jack Lake, leaving the big bend until the river is frozen. Shot 1 squirrel.
Wednesday, 24th - The weather has been like yesterday, tonight it looks very much like rain or snow. Went across, up to Ox Portage, made 20 sets and cut the trail out little better. Lynx track all around Moose Lake and then again on Ox Portage. Found a cache of about 25 stretchers at Moose Lake. I've had just two thoughts running thru my head all day, how this weather is affecting the ice at Berens, if you have the kids going to school, and then I'd keep thinking, one month from today I surely should be home.
Whiskey Jack Lake, Thursday, 25th - Another one of those miserably mild days, foggy in the forenoon. It snowed about 2 inches last night, which didn't help any. Some of the river where I walked on the ice yesterday is open water today. I was just soaking wet again when I got here. Got 1 red and another tiny silver, one fox was eaten out, some of my traps were sprung, too much freezing and thawing of the covering made them so sluggish they wouldn't catch. Shortly after I got here a couple of Berens River fellows walked in on me, they are trapping around here with their main camp at Drunken Lake. One of them is going down to Berens next week, he offered to take down a letter but not having envelopes, etc., here I asked him to just get word to you that he saw me here, etc. They are going down for Christmas leaving here about the 13th so I'm going to arrange to be here and follow them in. They told me that they were willing to take some of my stuff down but I think they'll have enough of their own. There are 3 of them and they have 4 dogs. It'll keep me hustling to make the rounds once more and get ready; my, my how the time rushes lately when I'd like to pile up some fur to take in. These chaps tell me that there are two trappers from around Selkirk established in, of all places, Bunny Castle.
Friday, 26th - It's been a little cooler today. This country is getting populous (?), traps and snares all over the place. I got one bastard cross and 1 red, some of my traps were sprung, 1 fox got out of a snare, also had that brush wolf in a snare but of course he wouldn't stay long. When I got back to camp, I saw that someone had been here and scribbled a note on the door. Steve Ropansky wants a Poplar River map from Tony, I to bring it to this camp, no please or anything, and I expect that what he really wants is a Berens River and a Deer Lake sheet. Expect to head back upriver in the morning, am busy thawing out todays catch so I can skin them.
Reedy Lake, Saturday, 27th - Today has been quite mild again, cloudy, a few snowflakes. There are a few more signs of foxes now, but all in the bush and muskegs. That bush wolf doesn't like me any more, he started upriver from Whiskey Jack Lake last night, came onto my trail and turned back. Got 1 red today out of a snare that I hadn't looked at going down. The foxes are terrible now, stroll along until they hit my tracks, then they wet their pants, at least they would if they were wearing pants, and leave for some foreign country in an awful hurry, more refugees. Made another 7 sets today. Tomorrow I intend to go around the big bend, and if it's frozen, Fox River.
Sunday, 28th - This has been a heck of a Sunday, cloudy and dark, snowing and very mild. I went around the big bend took me 7 hours when 3 or at most 3 1/2 would have been plenty, had to do a lot of bush crawling on account of open water and weak ice. Didn't get a thing, but lost one trap clog and fox, traced him onto the river but not another sign after that, too much snow. Saw quite a variety of tracks today, 1 lynx, 1 mink, 1 otter, 1 coyote, at least 6 or 8 fox, 1 moose and 4 caribou, and I also noticed where a lone beaver is living in the bank of the river below Reedy Lake. Made another 18 sets, total now is 311 traps and snares, and all the furs so far 29 foxes and 1 weasel and 1 skunk, the latter still to be skinned. Phooeeeeeeee. Tomorrow I head for Spruce Island, in honour of the day I really should catch something real nice and whatever it is should be kept separate for you, well, we'll see.
Spruce Island, 29th - The weather was absolutely filthy today, warm, windy and snowing like a so and so. I was wet as if I'd been out in a rain, some of it of course was sweat as it was terribly tough going, snow sticking to the bottom of the toboggan and snowshoes and the ice getting worse and worse. It took me 1 1/2 hour to make the last 3 miles on Camp Lake. There certainly isn't much doing at this end after what I mentioned yesterday. I felt rather down in the mouth when there wasn't a thing by the time I hit this end of Rice Lake, but fortune smiled in the end, I got only one fox (where I got my tallow), but it is a very nice silver, this makes your birthday present, my 30th fox and my 3rd, and best, silver. The other two silvers I got in the same place, just above Canoe Portage. When I got to camp I celebrated by eating a whole can of tomatoes, my last, drinking a whole percolator of coffee, finishing up with about 1/2 lb of strawberry jam. Tomorrow I'm going to skin, stretch and putter.
Toni recorded the following: "November 29, Monday: My birthday today. Helen insisted on opening her box of chocolates and that was all the celebrating we did. I wonder if Rody remembered my birthday. I wonder about him so continually that I should think telepathy might lend a hand and tell him hello! for me. Also that we are all fine and how is he. Too bad it can't be so. It's been thawing today but now we have a gale from the NW so I presume it will get cold. Our thermometer has gone haywire so I have no way of knowing the temperature. For practically a week now I have made no entries, but there just was nothing worthwhile to put down. Just the usual routine."
Picture 10-2 Rod on the trapping trail, with a fine red
Tuesday, 30th - A little cooler today, not much sunshine. Have 6 foxes and 3 squirrels on stretchers, the skunk turned out to be such a poor specimen I figured it wasn't worth skinning, I just took his perfume. I cut down a grub box to fit my little toboggan, did a little bit of cleaning, now have my bathing water on the stove and have to make sponge yet (Picture 10 - 2).
Wednesday, December 1st - Snowed some more last night, today has been fair and coolish. Re snow: I've been wearing snowshoes when out since the 25th of last month, I think that's the earliest ever. Well, I washed and baked, took the foxes off the stretchers and turned them, did some reading, a little sewing and a lot of eating, boy did I stow away a pile of grub today. I mixed my last butter and lard, then put it aside for the trip out and have started using the old shortening on bread, have been fighting shy of the peanut butter, till today I dug it out and now I feel like a canary, full of sand.
Thursday, 2nd - Cloudy and mild again today. I split a supply of wood, went around my sets south and west and fixed them up, not a thing, had one fox but he broke the snare and beat it. Traced out and blazed the old winter portage Camp Lake to Bull Lake, there's an awful lot of windfall. Saw very few fox and rabbit tracks, this end of my domain sure isn't much good. All I got around Camp Lake so far are 4 foxes (Picture 10 - 3).
Picture 10-3 A fine winter's catch
Friday, 3rd - Dark and very warm, and more snow today. Had intended to look for lynx sign northeast of here and maybe set a bunch of snares, but with 3 1/2 to 4 inches of fresh snow and still snowing when I got up this morning I quickly changed my mind and stayed in camp. Darned socks, chopped or ground a pile of meat and roasted it did some sewing on my moccasins, etc. The darned roof is leaking again, my other two camps, split poplar roof and spruce thatch don't leak a drop, but this tarpaper roof sure makes up. Too bad you're not here today, we could have had a snowball fight or made a snowman, one of these days the islands around this country are going to sprout palms and hula girls, and then wouldn't we trap a lot - of those hulas. Have another leg of meat down at Rice Lake, I may go down for that tomorrow or the ravens will have it. It's getting so I don't know what to do next as I want to leave here about next Wednesday on the first lap of my trip home and that means more bread etc., to cook, packing and storing and so forth.
Saturday, 4th - The weather today was cloudy and fairly cold. I broke trail thru the winter portage to Bull Lake, went on to Rice Lake and got that leg of meat, the ravens had almost half of it already. Got a weasel here at camp, nothing down to Rice Lake, saw one fox track. Made me a custard "puddin'" this evening, gutted 4 ducks that I want to take home, bandaged a couple of skinned toes, too, the first of the season.
Sunday, 5th - Cloudy, quite mild again, snowed another 1 1/2 inches or so, too. Aside from baking bread I did very little today, collected a few things for the trip, steamed and re-shaped the head of the toboggan again and oiled the bottom. Baked 4 loaves as I have only the 4 pans and round loaves are no good to load, so I'll have to bake another batch and maybe some bannock or biscuits as I'll probably be about 2 weeks from here to Berens.
Monday, 6th - Cloudy and mild, a little more snow. Baked two batches of bannock, cooked some meat, patched my underwear, baled the fur, split some more wood, etc. My load is going to be so bulky that I decided to take more bannock and not bake any more bread. Hope it doesn't snow anymore, sure have a wad of it here for this time of the year. Tomorrow I intend doing the final packing, storing, etc., have another bath and maybe take a run out to the east to see what I can see and then day after tomorrow go down to Reedy Lake where I'll be spending two or three days on the lines before moving on the Whiskey Jack Lake and there also, I'll be busy for about 2 days before starting on again for Berens. Have been doing a lot of experimenting with one of the water lily roots trying to find out how best to get it down to Berens, doesn't look very promising but I'll try my darnedest.
Tuesday, 7th - Another mild, cloudy day, and just now there are a few snowflakes floating past the window. Have packed everything excepting the things I need before leaving, and am I going to have a jag, even if I am going to travel light. Went out this afternoon, north of Wolf Lake, and as far as I went, and could see, is still burn, absolutely dead and not a sign of anything. I did see one fox track but that was right on this lake. It's still dripping (from the roof) all over the place, but the worst spot is over the bunk, have several cardboard gutters, 3 cans nailed to the roof over the bunk and several cans sitting on the bunk to catch the drip, oh, I'll be out of here in the morning for a little while anyway.
Back in Berens River, Toni received Rod's message: "December 7th, Tuesday: "I finally got down to going over to the Newton's. On my way home I stopped in at the store for a bit of shopping, and Mr. McEwan told me that some Indian had come down and he said that he had seen Rody. It made me feel so good. Indirect tho it was, it still was the first definite word I've had about him in almost 4 months. Such horribly long months."
Reedy Lake, Wednesday, 8th - The sky looked so bad this morning that I was tempted not to start out, I sure wished that I hadn't started before I got here, had one of those young blizzards and when I got here I was soaking wet and absolutely all in. My load is way too heavy, in fact it would be a load for 3 or 4 dogs, and with all this fresh snow it's terribly tough. Didn't get a thing today, saw several fox tracks, where they came up to my trail, which, by the way, is so well covered with fresh snow that I can't even feel it, but the foxes as I said, come up to it then turn and run like hell.
Thursday, 9th - I believe this morning was the coldest we've had yet, but it soon clouded up and turned mild again, this afternoon it snowed again. All I got today was one squirrel, thought it was a fisher. Made another 7 sets but don't know why, today I saw several places where a fox had come up to the snare then backed up 3 or 4 feet, turned around and made a great big circle around the snare. Snares too thick, too easily seen and no doubt some of these foxes are wearing snares for neckties and don't want any more.
Friday, 10th - Had a real nice winter day, clear and cold; froze my nose and an ear. Broke trail across to Ox Portage, fortune smiled a wee bit again today, got a red and a cross. I had sort of hoped for a lynx as well but apparently that type of animal doesn't exist here anymore. When I started out this morning I intended to go around the big bend, but now getting those two foxes, which I didn't want to pack all the way around, I changed things and will be going big bend tomorrow. Wore my mackinaw for the first time, before this it was always just the coveralls over my shirtsleeves.
Saturday, 11th - Damn this lousy weather, I get so mad I could swear. Last night it snowed about 1 inch again and today had one of those young blizzards again, my trail in the muskeg is all drifted full and the river is an awful mess. Went around the big bend and also thru the ice, got a real soaking and froze up so I could hardly navigate, nipped a few of my toes. Now I don't know if I'll be able to get my clothes and moccasins dry for tomorrow morning. Got one cross today, saw a lynx track crossing the river, and 2 moose tracks.
Whiskey Jack Lake, Sunday, 12th - Clear and cold today, with a rather stiff breeze. Had to throw the lily roots away, they froze on me. Played myself filthy trick today, by mistake I lugged an extra tin of salt down here and left all the butter-lard I possess at Reedy Lake. My load is way too heavy and high, always upsets, and I have to just lug every inch of the way. If I had a trail to follow it wouldn't be quite so bad, anyway I hate like heck leaving the tent and stove and camping out, that's about all I could leave to lighten my load. Didn't get a thing today, one had shoved his head thru the snare and backed out, left a few hairs. Saw 3 moose tracks, and on this lake some wolf tracks, pretty well snowed under.
Monday, 13th - This has been another nice day, clear and cold. The camp was so cold last night that I didn't get much sleep, its pretty well thawed out now though. I baked some bannock, got out and chopped some wood and made a tray (light weight) to take the place of the grub box, also babied my tootsies a little. No Berens River fellows here yet, they were going to be here on the 12th. Tomorrow I go around my sets and the day after, weather permitting, I start for Berens. I do hope those fellows come before, so I'll have a trail to follow, I just dread the thought that I may have to break trail all the way to Berens. I don't think I could do it with the load I have.
Tuesday, 14th - Another nice day, and I didn't get a thing. The Berens River guys came last night, are going back to Drunken Lake tomorrow, and are taking my fur that far for me, they didn't get a thing around here either.
Patrick's Camp, Drunken Lake, Wednesday, 15th - Had a nice day, started off at 6:30 from my camp at Whiskey Jack Lake, the Patrick's passed me shortly after noon, on the Sebastie, and insisted on putting my robe on their load yet. I passed them again on Drunken Lake while they were fixing traps; got to their camp 4:30. Spending the night here.
Meanwhile, Toni was making some plans for Rod's return: "December 15th, Wednesday: Ray went visiting at the Mission this afternoon. He took up the sweater I had knit for the Red Cross and Dr. Stevens gave him a dressed chicken to bring back for our Xmas dinner. It's a lovely, big fat one. I am so glad to think I have accumulated a few things to make some worth while meals when Rody comes home. I have saved 2 whitefish from those the Whiteway's brought us, then I have all the beef the Newton's gave us, and now the chicken for our Xmas dinner. I think we are rather fortunate. Our neighbours are certainly good to us. Ray did a little shopping at Adam's on his way home. Helen still did not feel like going to school. I sure hope she will go tomorrow as they haven't much time to practice for their concert."
Elbow Lake Portage, Thursday, 16th - Left Patrick's 7:30, they treated me royally. Stopped in at Murray Hansen's for a while, got him out of bed. The Patrick's are bringing my bale of fur down to Berens, they and Hansen intend to start tomorrow morning. My load is still plenty heavy, came about 18 miles today and am still about 30 miles from Berens, sitting in my little tent in a muskeg portage just south of Leaf River."
At this point, Rod's diary ends, and Toni's takes up the balance of their winter's story:
"December 18, Saturday: Just 4 months since Rody went inland but he came home last night a little before 9. I heard him just before he stepped on the porch and intuitively knew that it was he. Strange but it never occurred to me that it might be someone else. We did not go to bed at all but talked right through the night. Consequently we are retiring on the early side. The girls went to the McEnery's this afternoon.
December 20th, Monday: The Indian who was bringing down Rody's fur brought it over this morning. It gave me a thrill to see the skins, some of them especially, are very pretty. Rody gave me a skin that he got on my birthday, and no woman ever got a lovelier birthday gift. It's a beautiful silver fox, the prettiest of his silvers. It seems so odd that the only skin he got on my birthday is the loveliest of all his fur. I am so proud of Rody's gift and so very happy that he thought of my birthday, and then to give me such a gorgeous present."
Rod and Toni celebrated the festive season with their family, at the school concert where all the local people were in attendance, and, of course, the jolly old elf in red put in an appearance. Christmas Day and the period between then and the New Year was a time of visiting with friends and neighbours and just enjoying being together again.
The winter was quiet - Rod and Ray went out trapping a couple of times, but the results were lack-lustre. Rod went spring trapping alone, and while on the circuit, encountered Baldur Bjornson, son of Jake, who was trapping, also. They spent their time together, and the days and evenings were much more pleasant and less lonely for Rod. They happened across a set of antlers shed by a jumping deer and Rod's creative bent took over. Selecting a likely looking chunk of the horn, Rod set to work with his jack knife.
Baldur was good company, and when Rod returned home, he invited Baldur to come with him; the young man could not rejoin his parents until the ice left the lake, and the Keenora and her sister ships once again began plying the lake. Toni and the children welcomed him also, and from this chance meeting a life-long friendship developed.
Rod worked with the Forestry Branch in the summer of 1944, spending a lot of time at Lac du Bonnet, repairing outboard motors and pumps which had been flown in from all over Manitoba. Lac du Bonnet served as the centre for the repairs to this equipment for the Forestry Branch, a fact Rod bemoaned in a letter to Toni. He wished the province were not so large, then perhaps he would have a few days to get home and see her and the children. His interest in birds and trees kept his flagging spirits up during his stay in Lac du Bonnet. The Forestry Branch grounds were a horticulturalist's dream - Rod's letters mentioned seeing "elm trees, willows and Chinese willow hedges, blue spruce, red pine, lilac ... Virginia creeper and scarlet runners .... delphiniums and other flowers." The numbers of birds he also found fascinating, seeing "robins, grackles, kingbirds, goldfinches, martins, English sparrows."
This job gave him an occasional opportunity to fly, and he loved piloting a plane, so although he missed Toni and the children, he enjoyed his surroundings, and the times when he could fly helped compensate for the lonely evenings and nights (Picture 10 - 4).
Picture 10-4 Helen in bow and Eileen, Toni's canoe
Toni and Rod enjoyed a brief working holiday in September when the Forestry Branch sent Rod, accompanied by Toni, to Dauphin River to fulfil some work obligations at the fish hatchery there. Toni's duties were light - some cooking and cleaning, but each hour they could spend together, they did so. There were some lighter moments - such as the time Rod and three other men went to turn over some boats that were used for fishing, but had been on the beach for some time. A skunk had built his winter home under one of these boats, and objected, in his own inimitable way, at being disturbed. Two of the men were sprayed and decided their next act would be a bath and full change of clothing. Rod was one of the lucky two who were missed.
In her diary, Toni recorded this:
"November 29th - Wednesday: My 40th birthday. First thing this morning, Rody gave me a beautiful gift. A lapel pin he carved out of deer horn. A rose and four leaves carved in relief. So exquisitely done, and he had nothing but his jack knife to do it with. It was a lovely surprise as I certainly didn't expect him to be able to give me a present. As a special treat, I made a cake and some ice cream."
Rod spent the winter and spring trapping. Toni had the responsibility of teaching the girls, and their time flew by, as the hours and days were filled with many things to do.
Again, Toni writes:
"May 7, Monday: First thing this morning when I turned on the radio I heard that all the people were celebrating victory in Europe. Later on we were told that the official V-E Day isn't to be until tomorrow, which is a Dominion holiday. The Germans signed a peace treaty in Reims last night. There is still some fighting for some fanatics refused to surrender. When the girls heard that all schools were closed they did so want a holiday, so I let them have the afternoon, but they had to promise to work on Saturday for we simply can't afford any holidays with the close of school so near at hand. Today we had one of our real honest-to-goodness snowstorms."
By now Ray was seventeen, Eileen twelve and a half, and Helen eleven. Rod and Toni realized they could not live in the bush much longer and properly prepare their children for the world they would face when they went on their own. Ray could likely find his life's work in northern Manitoba or other remote areas, for he was already employed a good deal of the time. School did not interest him greatly - he liked to be outdoors, doing things. Eileen was a different matter - she possessed a quick mind and an aptitude for learning- life would probably lead her into a city setting, for which she would need higher education than Toni could help her with. Helen was a good student also, and they all needed to spend time with more people of their own age group, to help develop social skills and to mature. Berens River was not the right setting anymore. Both Rod and Toni knew they were facing a change in their lifestyle, but where would it take them? and what kind of job could Rod secure to provide for them all?
Sketch 10-9 Rod's pattern for making snowshoes