VI. SEARCHING FOR A TRAIL
"Now the Four-way Lodge is opened, now the Hunting Winds
are loose -
Now the Smokes of Spring go up to clear the brain;
Now the Young Men's hearts are troubled for the whisper of the
Now the Red Gods make their medicine again!
Who hath seen the beaver busied?
Who hath watched the black-tail mating?
Who hath lain alone to hear the wild-goose cry?
Who hath worked the chosen water where the ouananiche is waiting,
Or the sea-trout's jumping - crazy for the fly?
He must go - go - go away from here!
On the other side the world he's overdue.
'Send your road is clear before you when the old
Spring-fret comes o'er you
And the Red Gods call for you!"
Again the silence. The northern lights flashed and swept in fantastic shapes across the sky, illuminating the fir tops in the valley and making the white lichens gleam on the barren hill above us. We thought of the lake ahead with its old wigwams, and the promise it held out of an easy trail to Michikamau made us feel sure that the worst part of our journey was ended. Thus we sat supremely happy and content until long past midnight, when we went to our tent and our bed of fragrant spruce boughs, to be lulled asleep by the murmuring waters of the creek below.
The brooks into which Goose Creek divided near our camp of course would not permit of canoeing, and the morning after our feast (August 4) we portaged through a swamp into the lake that fed the southerly one. We called this small body of water Mountaineer Lake, because the Mountaineer Indians had been there. Besides numerous cuttings and the remains of wigwams, we found the ruins of a drying stage where they had cured meat or fish. From Goose Camp to the lake shore George carried the canoe, and Hubbard and I each a pack. Then while George and I returned for the remaining packs, Hubbard waited by the lake. As be sat there alone, a caribou waded into the water less than a hundred feet away, stopped and looked fearlessly at him for a few moments, and then walked leisurely off into the woods.
"It seemed as if he wanted to shake hands with me," Hubbard said when he told us of the incident. He had to let the deer depart in peace, because both rifles were back with the last loads at Goose Camp, and his pistol was in his bag. Needless to say, we were bitterly disappointed at losing the first deer we had seen, and it taught us the lesson always to take one rifle forward with the first load on a portage.
We spent the afternoon scouting in different directions, and discovered that the only inlet to Mountaineer Lake ended in a bog a mile or so up. A mile or more to the westward, however, George discovered another and much larger lake, which in honour of him we shall call Lake Elson. An old trail led from Mountaineer Lake to Lake Elson, which George pronounced to be a caribou trail, but which Hubbard believed to be an old portage, because it led from lake to lake by the most direct course. There were no axe cuttings, however, to indicate that the Indians had followed it.
We tried the troll in Mountaineer Lake, but caught nothing. Apparently there was nothing there but trout, of which fish I caught eight at the inlet. I shot with my pistol a muskrat that was swimming in the lake, but George did not cook it, as he said the flesh would be too strong at that season. It was raining again and the mosquitoes were out in millions, but with three geese still on hand and a good lake ahead we were indifferent to such troubles as that, although our clothing was not now in a condition successfully to withstand much bad weather.
Rags, in fact, were beginning to appear upon us all. One of Hubbard's trousers legs was ripped clear down the front, and it was continually streaming behind in the wind and getting caught in the bushes, despite his efforts to keep it in place with pieces of twine. At length he patched it with a piece of white duffel, and exhibited his tailoring feat to us with much pride.
About noon on August 5, after a two-mile portage, we reached Lake Elson. On the way Hubbard sighted two caribou. He dropped his pack and grabbed his rifle. They were 250 yards away and partially hidden by the timber, and as they were approaching him, he waited, believing he would get a better shot. But, while he was waiting, what he called a "cussed little long-legged bird" scared them off, by giving a sharp, shrill cry of alarm, which the deer evidently were clever enough to construe as meaning that something out of the ordinary was happening.
Lake Elson proved to be about three and a half miles long and a half mile wide. It lay in a basin surrounded by wooded hills. The northerly portion was dotted with low, mound-like islands of drift, with two or three irregular, rocky islands, all completely wooded. It was a beautiful sheet of water, and, like all the lakes in Labrador, as clear as crystal and very cold. On the northerly side there were narrow straits and inlets, doubtless connecting the lake with others to the northwest that were hidden by the growth.
The outlet was at the southern end. It flowed through a pass in a low ridge of hills that extended for a great distance east and west, and emptied into a small lake, the waters of which were discharged through a creek that flowed through a pass in another low ridge that ran parallel with the first as far as we could see. Between the two ridges was a marsh that extended westward for many miles. The ridges and the hills surrounding the lakes were covered with spruce and balsam. Nowhere along our route since we left Northwest River Post, however, had we seen any timber of commercial value; the largest trees did not exceed eight inches in diameter, the generality being much smaller.