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THE CALL OF THE WILDERNESS
A TRAPPER'S TALE
By Dave Vander Meer
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Dave Vander Meer
All rights reserved.
GOOD-BYE TO CIVILIZATION
(November 1, 1978)
I turned from the mountain of supplies as the engine of the Beaver float plane roared over the sound of the wind and the waves. I watched as the plane picked up speed, the prop turning spray into mist as it bounced across the top of the waves on Hiawatha Lake, my new home, on its way back to Hearst in northern Ontario.
The pilot cleared water and slowly lifted the aircraft over the trees. Banking gently above my new cabin site, he dipped his wings to me, and I waved a good-bye and thanks to my last connection to civilization. Watching as the plane slowly disappeared into the north eastern horizon, the sound of his engine having long ago been carried away by the wind, I turned back to the huge task at hand; the job of moving a mountain of supplies from their present position on the lake shore to the top of the hill where I planned on building my cabin. Supplies that were to last the almost two months I would be here before the planes return on December 23 rd.
Glancing down at Lobo, my Husky/Samoyed cross companion, I realized that he was not going to be much help. "Better get it in gear then Dave," I told myself, and with that I grabbed a load from the pile that contained everything I owned and headed up the hill. Trip after trip, up the hill down the hill and back again. About the third trip or so, a shadow moved across the ground. A couple of Canada jays or Whiskey jacks had come for a visit. "Well that didn't take you long did it," I mumbled to them. "Already looking for a hand out are you?"
But the birds were nice to have around, and as I travelled up and down they kept pace until they finally figured that the chance of getting free food from me right now was nil. Off they went to parts unknown, and I kept up the hurried pace until all my gear was moved. Traps, food, equipment, axes, sleeping bag, snowshoes, tent, woodstove, lantern and the myriad of other items needed to stay in the bush and harvest the furbearers that I was sure were just out of my eyesight, watching and trying to figure out what I was doing there.
Step one was to set up the tent, my temporary home until I had a cabin built. Being just a six by ten nylon tent with a fly it was only about fifteen minutes before the tent was able to start protecting my food from the weather and the critters. With my traps piled in one area, my building material and tools stacked where I was thinking of building the cabin and with my spare clothes and sleeping bag inside with the food, my stomach finally told me it was time for lunch.
Down at the lake shore there were some nice rocks to build a fire pit. Sure a few more trips up and down that hill wouldn't bother me. But then I got smart! Taking my big woods # 1 canvas packsack I loaded it with good sized rocks and only needed two trips to get all I needed. Grabbing a few dead branches from the bottom of a nearby jack pine I broke them up and peeling a little birch bark off a tree there was a nice fire going in no time.
Cracking a can of beef stew I set it beside the flames and went to get a five gallon pail of water from the lake. Soon with my stew all heated up, the water at a rolling boil and a plan of action in my head, I filled my belly, enjoyed my very first wilderness coffee and got right to work.
All I really wanted to do though was go out and set some traps. The trapping season for water animals (beaver, muskrat, otter and mink) had actually opened up two weeks ago and the dry fur (marten, fox, wolves, fisher and lynx) had opened one week previous. Since my scheduled arrival had been delayed by two weeks I really should have had a cabin built by now and most of my traps out. With today being November the 1st, I was under the gun to get things moving quickly.
As important as the cabin was a good wood supply, and thankfully that was not going to be an issue because the lake was lined with dead trees just a short carry from where I was standing. Coming from southern Ontario I had no idea when and how hard winter would hit but I needed to be ready for it, and I was sure it was not that far off. I remembered hearing from someone that anytime after the 7th of November you could expect the lakes to freeze, and that did not give me much time. No use worrying about it though, because it was what it was!
Picking out a nice cabin site, I next went to locate some good straight trees to cut down for the cabin walls. With no actual lumber of any sort other than my beaver stretchers (and they were needed elsewhere) I was planning on a dirt floor and maybe seven foot walls. I figured a 16 X 12 foot floor space would be plenty big enough, so I cut a couple of trees and measured off an 18 and a 14 foot piece from each tree. The tops I limbed and set aside for roof poles. For the walls I used nothing smaller than 6 inches at the narrow end.
Four wall poles were now cut so I decided to move them to the building site. Standing the first one on its end I slid my shoulder to the middle and let the log slowly tip till it is rested on my shoulder. Holy crap that thing was heavy! I stiff legged it to the cabin site and dropped it on the ground thinking that the log probably weighed twice as much as I did. No, I thought to myself that was not going to work. With an average thickness of maybe 8 inches and 7 foot walls I was going to need 40 to 50 logs.
Taking a quick walk around the site, I realized that there were not near that many good straight trees within a close enough distance to make this possible. And to carry them all would probably break my shoulder. Time to rethink this deal! Maybe going and setting a few traps before dark would help me think it through. Funny how you can rationalize anything when you want it bad enough hey! And right now, what I wanted was to set some traps. Throwing a couple #330 conibears, the big square beaver traps, a few smaller #120 conibears and some foothold traps into my pack along with wire, pliers, an axe and grabbing my model 9422 Winchester lever action 22, I was ready.
While in the plane, with the pilot circling the water, I had noticed a beaver lodge on the south end of the lake, just inside the river where it exited toward Nagagami Lake. That was where I would head first, I decided, as I walked down the hill toward my canoe.
Tossing everything inside the watercraft, I remembered my fishing gear and headed back up the hill to retrieve it. I called the dog and in he got, curled up on the floor and I stepped in. Sitting down on the front seat, but facing the back of the canoe, I pushed off. There was still a medium strength wind blowing from the north, so I headed straight across the lake to the point a half mile away. The waves lapped at the side of the canoe and I got some splash on me but nothing serious. At the point I noted to myself that this would be a perfect mink set location but first I needed some bait.
With that revelation echoing in my head I set my fishing rod up and within minutes I was on the move. A three and a half inch red devil trailing behind attached to my 15 lb test line. Now, being behind the point, the wind had no real affect on me. Moving at a good trolling speed, a strong j-stroke pushing us through the blue waters with an ease that comes from much practice, I couldn't believe that I was actually there. The feeling of paddling across a wilderness lake, for the first time, knowing that for the next two months you will have no contact with the rest of the world, well ... It is an amazing feeling, like you are the only person on earth. Yes, I was finally home!
By the time I arrived at the beaver house I had a nice three pound northern pike in the boat. Supper was looking real good now! There was a perfect entrance at the house in about two feet of water and it took me only a few minutes to make the set. Throwing in a slide set, where the beavers had been pushing mud up onto the house for the winter's insulation, I also added a rock cubby mink set behind the lodge. Using a #1 foot trap with a drown wire, I chopped the head off the fish and placed it in the back of the cubby. With the trap in an inch of water, I placed dry grass all around the set and it was open for business. I had figured out already that if you are going to stop to set a beaver trap, you may as well have a mink, muskrat and or a marten set there as well. So much time is spent travelling and stopping that you need to make productive use of the time you spend not moving.
Back in the canoe, I pointed the bow west and with the wind having died a little, I took the west shore back to camp. A half an hour and two Northerns later I beached the canoe at my docking site as Lobo bailed out. I followed closely, dragging my gear along with the fish as I headed up the hill. With the coffee pot still hot over the coals I mixed up a cup and sat down to build a marten box. These boxes which I had not pre-constructed, to save on space in the plane, were made of four pieces of 1 x 8 x ¾ inch lumber cut into 16 inch lengths. Nailing them into a square they formed a sort of hollow log that had a 6 and3/4 inch hole, which was the perfect size for a # 120 conibear trap. With 2 notches cut in opposite sides of the top for the trap springs to fit in, a ½ inch hole drilled into one of the opposite boards and the bottom covered with 3 to the inch hardware cloth (which is a heavy wire screen) the box was ready for use.
It could be used hanging in a tree for marten, on a dead log or on the lake shore for mink. This particular box was going into a tree behind the campsite right now. Grabbing my axe, a trap, some wire, and the box with a fish head in it I moved about 100 yards back from the camp site, and in a nice big white spruce tree I hammered a 5 inch nail into the tree about 6 feet from the ground. Leaving the nail sticking out about 1 and ½ inches I slid the box onto it, set the trap in the entrance and wired the trap chain to a sturdy branch, so that when caught the animal would hang 4 to 5 feet of the ground.
This entire set took maybe 10 minutes to put in and on the way back I chopped down a nice dry jack pine tree for the woodpile. Pulling it back with me, I bucked it up with my saw and after splitting the biggest pieces, piled it beside my fire pit. With the sun setting behind me as I cooked supper, I couldn't believe that I had landed here a scant 10 hours earlier. A delicious meal of fish and fried potatoes over an open fire is like nothing you can get in any restaurant in the world. With the rest of my fish stored away in a pot I fed Lobo some dry dog food and set to building the rest of my marten boxes.
Working by firelight, I had after a few hours, the rest of them put together and stacked between two trees. Finally with my bedroll laid out and Lobo sleeping outside the door, I crawled into bed and relaxed. I just laid there listening to the quiet ... and some splashing in the lake. Who knows, a late flight of ducks on their way south, or maybe a moose walking along the shore. Whatever it was, Lobo growled a light warning as I drifted off to sleep contemplating what had brought me to this place in time.CHAPTER 2
At 10 years of age I was an avid reader and often found in the school library. A book beckoned me! Traplines North. I picked it up, opened the front cover and for the next four years the book was never out of my mind or far from my hands. The story of a young man, 18 year old Jim Vander beck, who due to his father's illness was left along with his brother Lindsay Jr. to tend the families traplines. This book along with others like Mink, Mary and Me by Chick Ferguson, North to Cree Lake by Alex Karrass and many others stirred in me a need to see these wild places. The thought of standing somewhere that had never seen a human foot print was an amazing feeling.
When and why this love of the bush developed in me is still a mystery. My dad would take us fishing and camping several times a year, but never did anyone in my family go hunting or trapping. One spring day, at the age of 13, I was fishing the North River, just a few miles from my home town of Orillia, Ontario. I had biked there from school and while walking along the shore, I noticed a trap set under an upturned root on the river bank. Regretting it to this day I took the trap and reset it downstream a ways. (I only mention it now because the statute of limitations has run out). The next day I could not wait for school to end. The bell rang and I flew out the doors. At the river I hurried downstream to the trap and low and behold there was my first muskrat.
Trapping has been a huge part and a driving force in my life since that day, from that moment forward every penny I could scrape together was saved to buy traps. To me it was like a high interest savings plan. Save 5 dollars, invest it in a trap and over the year get a return of several hundred percent. Worked for me! I ran paper routes, collected pop and beer bottles, cut lawns, shoveled driveways and generally did anything that would make me a buck.
At 14 my dad figured he should get a trapping license so I could actually start selling furs. Being a very small kid, I would have to get my dad to set the # 330 conibears for me at home. With a safety on them I would ride my bike to my trapping spot and make the set. If I caught something, I would load it in my pack and bring it home for him to remove. Then start all over again.
There was an age limit of 16 to get a license so for two years the furs were sold under his name. At 16 I got my hunting and trapping license and at dinner with my family (three brothers and two sisters) one night my dad asked if I would be interested in taking a trapping course. I leaped at the opportunity! The course was being held at Georgian College in Barrie and was being put on by Lloyd Cook. I did not know it at the time but Lloyd would turn out to be, over the next two years, one of the most influential people in my life. The long time president of the Ontario Trappers Association, Lloyd was a staunch promoter of humane trapping and wildlife conservation.
With his pet beaver "Thumper" Lloyd would put on clinics and courses, teaching new trappers and old alike. Watching this thin, small (in stature only) man stick his hand in a # 4 double long spring to dispel the myth of the trap crushing bones on impact was impressive to say the least. Maybe at the time I thought a little crazy also. But he was truly an inspiration to me and I enjoyed every minute I was able to spend with him.
At the course Lloyd had mentioned that there was a convention in North Bay, Ontario near the end of February. Now North Bay was 130 miles from my home and when I asked my parents if I could go they were not very cooperative and said there was no way I was missing two days of school. So Thursday morning when my dad dropped my brother and myself off at the school I walked in one door and out the back, climbed the fence, slid down the hill and was on the shoulder of HWY # 11. A straight shot from there to North Bay!
Sticking my thumb out it took no time to get a ride. Being a small guy of about 120 pounds at that age, I think a lot of people felt sorry for me because I have never had trouble hitching rides. My first ride took me to Bracebridge and from there one more ride and I was on the streets of North Bay. Now what to do? I had no idea where this convention was taking place, or even how much a hotel room cost but I knew I was finding the cheapest room in North Bay to stay in. That was so like me, don't think about it ... just go do it!
Finding a room, I inquired at the front desk as to where the OTA convention was being held. The other end of town of course so calling a cab I headed that way. Walking through the front doors I was awe struck! Here was an entire huge building, full of anything that I might want to know about the only thing I wanted to do with my life. I was truly in heaven! The next three days were a blur as I mingled around, listening to the grizzled old trappers telling each other tales of trapping ,hunting and general bush talk. I tried to blend in and just watch, absorbing all the info I could.
Excerpted from THE CALL OF THE WILDERNESS by Dave Vander Meer. Copyright © 2014 Dave Vander Meer. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Good-bye to Civilization, 1,
2. The Beginning, 7,
3. Cabin Building, 16,
4. A Day of Exploration, 28,
5. Cabins Finished, 32,
6. Northward Bound, 40,
7. It's Snow Time, 45,
8. A Day of Firsts, 51,
9. The Dangers of Impatience, 62,
10. Packsack Rescue, 72,
11. Are you Kidding Me!, 74,
12. A Battle with the Wolves, 82,
13. To the Northern Boundary, 92,
14. Get Lost Much?, 96,
15. Christmas is a Month Away, 104,
16. A Moose in a Stew, 110,
17. Cannibals, 118,
18. Blizzard, 124,
19. Those Wolves Need to Read the Rule Book, 127,
20. Back to Ahmabel and an Amazing Sight, 140,
21. Food is in Short Supply, 148,
22. Two Weeks until Pickup, 151,
23. Sometime During the Night, 157,
24. A New Plan, 168,
25. Back to Civilization and Real Food, 174,
About the Author, 185,
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