This book has two parts. The first part of this book will relate some of the many exciting and sometimes dangerous experiences that I encountered while living in the isolated and primitive bush country of North Western Ontario.
The extreme cultural shock of moving from a home with hot and cold running water and central heating to a cabin with a coal oil stove for heat, a hand pump for cold water only located at the kitchen sink. The second part of the book relates to my life some 20 years later as I was employed as a sales manager for Philippine Airlines and later as a tour director and guide for tourists throughout the orient China and Southeast Asia
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Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Man
By J. Merrill Rosenberger
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 J. Merrill Rosenberger
All rights reserved.
The "Hike"—the early days in Red Lake
The fall of the year 1956 found us in Red Lake, Ontario, Canada for our first winter in the bush. I was 16 years old at the time and my father was an airplane owner and pilot. He always wished to be a commercial airline pilot and although he was a talented and very experienced pilot he lacked the education that commercial airlines required of their pilots. As a result, when an opportunity presented itself, for him to become a bush pilot he could not refuse the chance to pursue his dream. Although I never wanted to leave Pennsylvania there was a degree of adventure that drew me towards the idea of living in the northland. I had no idea of what I was going to experience but was looking forward to the adventure anyway.
We had arrived in Red Lake several weeks earlier and moved into our new cabin. This was going to be a completely different experience for me as there were no toilet facilities in the cabin! No running hot water and the only water available to us was pumped by hand in the kitchen sink from a well that had been dug by hand near the kitchen. The cabin was designed for the climate we were going to experience as the center of the house was the living room. In that room was a coal oil stove that was intended to heat the entire house but rarely did when the temperatures dropped below minus 30 degrees. There were three bedrooms, one on the southwest corner of the cabin one on the northwest corner of the cabin and one on the northeast corner. The kitchen was on the south east corner and our kitchen door opened into the unheated garage where my father's 1954 Chevrolet sedan was kept when not being used. It was always plugged into electric outlets to heat the rod that was drilled and mounted into the oil pan to keep the oil from forming a solid thick mass of very viscous material which would make impossible the ability to turn the engine over for starting on the very cold days.
I shared the bedroom on the northwest corner of the cabin with my younger brother Harold who was 12 years old at the time. The corner of the bedroom had a window on both sides of the corner and there was a desk built in that corner for me to do my homework. I was soon to learn the cold winter weather would build an ice barrier on the inside of the window pane about an inch thick. It would remain that way until spring, still allowing light to enter the room but no ability to see through it. It was not unusual to wake in the morning with a pile of frost on our pillows from the steam of our breath as we slept. Our beds were made of freshly cut lumber with no springs and a full size mattress was placed on the wooden lower bunk as well as the upper bunk. Harold and I both slept in the lower bunk to share our body heat.
Bob and Phil slept in their bunk in the third bedroom. Mother and dad slept in the southwest corner bedroom.
During the day all the bedroom doors would be closed so that the oil stove in the living room could heat the living area and kitchen as mother and Phil (who was not yet in school at 5 years of age) were the only ones left at home. At night our bedroom doors were allowed to be open a few inches to allow a minimum amount of heat in and still maintain a reasonably warm living room and kitchen for the following morning.
I walked three miles each way to high school each day which kept my young body in great physical condition. The winter temperatures varied from 20 below zero to 52 below zero and that walk was sometimes a very uncomfortable one. My younger brother Harold had a shorter walk to middle school which was in town. My brother Bob also had a shorter walk to elementary school which was also in town. Our cabin was located on the north side of Red Lake at the top of a rather high hill for that part of the north. My school was about 2 miles south of Red Lake in a rather desolate area in the bush although it was a new building and even had a rugby field complete with goal posts. Saturday nights were bath nights and mother would fill a huge bucket with ice cold water pumped from the well in the kitchen and she would heat the water on the stove. The family would gather in the kitchen as one by one each of us would bathe sitting on a wooden stool in front of the oil stove in the living room. Several weeks of bathing in this manner made us appreciate the beautiful white porcelain bath tub we had enjoyed in Pennsylvania, with both hot and cold running water to fill to any desired depth. It wasn't very long when the excitement of taking a bucket bath wore off.
One Saturday afternoon I asked mother if I could go for a hike. She said it was OK so of course Harold wanted to go too and when I agreed Bob wanted to go so then Phil said he wanted to go as well. So off the four of us went, on an adventure. I had a compass which was on a wrist strap that fit over your winter coat and although compass readings are not very accurate that far north it did give you a general idea where north was. We headed over the big rock behind our house and were on a NNW heading. It was a cold overcast fall day of late August or very early September. There was no snow on the ground and the leaves had already fallen off the Poplar, Aspens and Birch trees. We walked for close to an hour when I came across an old abandoned gold mine. It was a hole in the ground with a shaft that went straight down. There was a wood ladder that went down about 10 feet to a platform where another ladder went down from there to yet another platform. I had not brought any rope with me so I wasn't sure I wanted to venture down that hole with no rope for a safety device. In any case I decided to try putting some weight on the first wrung of the ladder. I hadn't even put half my weight on it when it gave way and fell hitting the first platform then falling to the second platform and we could hear the wrung bouncing off the walls of the shaft and platforms as it continued to fall. I realized how fortunate I was that I had not put my entire weight on that platform and fallen to my death because I know that Harold and my younger brothers could never have found their way back to Red Lake.
We were all so focused on the mine shaft that none of us noticed it had started to snow. We had been busy dropping big rocks down the mine shaft to see how deep the hole was. Time had gone by quickly and I would guess we had spent about two hours around that mine shaft. We were all laying on our belly's looking down this black hole. The passing of time finally dawned on me and I decided we should start back towards home. Was I ever surprised to see the ground was now white with snow and the dried leaves that we overturned which was my trail I was going to follow home was completely covered in snow. Here I was with my 3 younger brothers in tow and nothing looked the same after it all turned white with snow. I took a compass reading and did a reverse azimuth calculation and headed off in that basic direction. I wasn't wearing a watch but I was pretty sure we walked about an hour before we found the mine shaft so I figured we had about an hour walk to get home. My heart was pounding as I thought about the consequences of being off course just one or two degrees either direction and we would miss Red Lake entirely!!!! The snow was coming down fast and furious and there was now about 4 inches on the ground. Nothing at all looked familiar and I kept turning backwards to look at my trail to make sure we were going in a straight line. Thank God for He was obviously watching over us as we stumbled through the wilderness and we arrived at a huge rock. We continued to climb and when we came to the edge, I was looking down on the roof of our house. Do you realize how unlikely that scenario was? The chances of that happening are nearly impossible. Yet it is true and the four of us are witness to the fact that God was looking after us. I have never forgotten that experience and never will.CHAPTER 2
One of the more fun things I enjoyed doing living in Red Lake was calling wolves at night. Even on a night when it was totally quiet and still, if you were to howl like a wolf you were almost always answered with the cries of multiple wolves. Sometimes they were fairly close to our cabin and sometimes they were quite a distance away. The one thing about wolves however is they could be 20 feet away from you but you would more than likely never see them. They are so skilled at not being seen. I am convinced that on more than one occasion I have called a wolf or wolves to within bow range but never caught sight of them although they were certainly observing me. Timber wolves are huge animals! Some big males shot by bush pilots weighed well over 200 pounds and I have seen wolf prints in the snow or mud that would fill most of a saucer under a coffee cup.
It was a clear cold winter day and I was walking home from down town Red Lake.
For what reason I was in town I do not recall but I was taking the "long way" home to go past a certain girl's house that I knew. Our cabin was up on a hill out of and past the Village of Red Lake. Having walked about three miles to school every day for the entire school year had me in excellent physical condition. Every road in Red Lake in those days was a dirt road. The down town area had wooden sidewalks to walk on in the spring because the road would turn very muddy when the ground began to thaw. In 1956/57 the downtown area was about 400 yards long. There was board walk on both sides of the road and there were boot cleaners to clean your boots before entering the stores. There were not that many stores in those days either. There was a hotel, two bars, a restaurant, grocery store, a Hudson Bay store, a barber shop, a jewelry store, a hardware store and a Post office. That was about all there were in the early days. When walking west, past the last store in town the boardwalk stopped and from then on you walked on the snow or the dirt and mud. I was walking west out of town so I was walking on the frozen ice/snow covered road. To be able to pass this certain girls house I had to walk about a quarter mile past down town and then make a right turn and head on up the hill another 1/3 mile to our cabin. Since there was no road in that area I had to go through some deep snow if it had not crusted enough for me to walk on top of it. When young and with the age of puberty coursing through your veins deep snow was a minor issue. I had nearly came to my friend's house when I looked up to see a wolf bearing down on me at a full run. He was about 50 yards away but he was really covering the ground. I could clearly see his tongue and his fangs as he sped towards me. My heart skipped a beat and started thumping and I knew it was my end! I stopped walking and froze in position waiting for the impact of the attack. You will never know the chill that goes through you like a stream of ice when faced with inevitable death! I threw my parka over my head and took both hands and put them close to my neck where I felt he would sink his fangs. I would not die easily of that I was sure. At the moment of impact I braced myself and held my breath! Nothing happened!!! He was no longer in front of me so I spun around to see him chasing the panel truck of the service station owner. Little did I know then, but that owner (several years prior) had taken their huge Malamute female dog which was coming into heat, out into the bush along with 25 pounds of frozen fish and caribou meat and tied her to a tree. One of two things will happen in a situation like that. A wolf will smell the female in heat and come and breed her or he will smell the female in heat and come and kill her. In this case the wolf bred the female and she gave birth to this huge wolf dog puppy which the owner raised. These animals are not rare as it turns out, but fairly common in the northland. They are extremely loyal to their master but have been known to be vicious towards strangers. In my case the loyalty of this wolf dog to his master was greater than his viciousness towards me and I was very lucky. I had seen before and saw afterwards many wolves and he looked a whole lot more like a wolf than a dog I assure you. I saw that wolf dog several times after that but he never paid any attention to me and I did not complain about that. How I wished I had a wolf dog at that stage of my life. It was not to be.CHAPTER 3
Moose Hunting with Cowboy Pete
One of the first friends I made after arriving in Red Lake was an Indian named "Cowboy Pete". He was an unusual person to say the least. He spoke fairly good English as well as fluent Ojibwa and unlike the average full blooded Ojibwa Indian, Cowboy Pete was a strikingly good looking man. He had steel grey eyes that looked as though they could burn a hole through you when he looked at you and he never wasted words on small talk. When he spoke I listened.
Cowboy Pete and I were on a moose hunt. I had purchased a half dozen broad head arrow tips through a mail order, for my wood arrows and was going to attempt to shoot a moose with my long bow. I was excited because I was with Cowboy Pete and he thought it was neat that I was going to use a bow to shoot a moose and he was going to back me up with a rifle.
We moved silently through the bush and being spring time most of the snow had disappeared. There still were patches of snow here and there but generally speaking the spring time was in full swing. We saw the occasional ptarmigan. They were changing into their summer plumage but were still half white and half brown in color with their tufted ankles of all white. I would have loved to shoot one with the bow but didn't want to waste a broad head with the chance I might lose it or damage it. I may need all of the arrows I had with me for the moose. Neither did Pete want to shoot a bird with his 308 caliber rifle as it would have obliterated the tiny bird. So all we could do was to watch them and wish as we walked on. Along with the 308 caliber rifle that Pete was carrying he also had strapped to his hip a 22 caliber revolver with 22 longs as his ammunition. We had seen some bear tracks and once we thought we smelled the bear but never did see him.
We were skirting a small lake when we suddenly came across what appeared to be a very angry beaver. He was sitting straight up and grinding his huge long teeth at us. We could see his island fortress some distance from shore and we were not blocking his escape to it. Never the less it appeared he had other plans and they did not include escaping from Pete and me. Instead he had decided to challenge us to a fight as he began coming towards us walking on his hind legs and still gnawing his teeth. I had never seen such a brazen beaver in my life. Usually they make a break for the water and with a quick slap of their tail they are gone. Not this big guy! He was mad and he was intent on showing us who was boss! He kept hobbling towards us on his hind feet and when he was about ten feet away Cowboy Pete reached for his revolver and took careful aim right at the beaver's nose. The pistol cracked and the beaver shook his head and kept coming. Blood was now running from his nose and yet he was still moving forward! I had side stepped and was now out of the beaver's way but the beaver was heading right for Pete. Pete aimed again and squeezed off another shot. This time the beaver dropped and it was not long when he expired and was not going to challenge anyone again. The second bullet had hit him in the eye and entered his brain. Cowboy Pete himself was surprised at the tenacity of that beaver and told me he never had a beaver come after him like that one did. Both Pete and I carried hatchets and knives on our belt and Pete began chopping a dead fall tree and soon had lots of firewood. He gathered kindling and soon had a roaring fire going. After skinning the beaver he cut a hind quarter off and part of the fatty tail, impaling it with a green willow branch. He had sharpened both ends of the inch thick willow branch and after spearing the beaver hind Quarter and piece of beaver tail on one end, he stuck the other end into the ground with the meat close to the fire. About an hour later we were eating some of the sweetest, best tasting meat I have ever enjoyed. That was my first meal of fresh beaver and I am sorry to say it has been my last, even to this day.
We hunted all day and just before dusk at about 10:30 PM we headed back towards Red Lake and home. We never did see a moose that day.
That night I lay outside on my back on the cool ground watching the light spectacle as the "northern lights" displayed across the arctic sky. It kept me entertained for hours! You really have not lived if you have never had the opportunity to see that beautiful display of Gods Handiwork and to hear the distant cry of the wolf. What a wonderful, experience and I thank the Lord in heaven for allowing me to witness unbelievable spectacular displays of Gods wonders.
Excerpted from Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Man by J. Merrill Rosenberger. Copyright © 2013 J. Merrill Rosenberger. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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