Chapter IX. A Canoe Voyage to Northward
I found most of the trees here fairly loaded with mosses. Some broadly palmated branches had beds of yellow moss so wide and deep that when wet they must weigh a hundred pounds or even more. Upon these moss-beds ferns and grasses and even good-sized seedling trees grow, making beautiful hanging gardens in which the curious spectacle is presented of old trees holding hundreds of their own children in their arms, nourished by rain and dew and the decaying leaves showered down to them by their parents. The branches upon which these beds of mossy soil rest become flat and irregular like weathered roots or the antlers of deer, and at length die; and when the whole tree has thus been killed it seems to be standing on its head with roots in the air. A striking example of this sort stood near the camp and I called the missionary's attention to it.
"Come, Mr. Young," I shouted. "Here's something wonderful, the most wonderful tree you ever saw; it is standing on its head."
"How in the world," said he in astonishment, "could that tree have been plucked up by the roots, carried high in the air, and dropped down head foremost into the ground. It must have been the work of a tornado."
Toward evening the hunters brought in a deer. They had seen four others, and at the camp-fire talk said that deer abounded on all the islands of considerable size and along the shores of the mainland. But few were to be found in the interior on account of wolves that ran them down where they could not readily take refuge in the water. The Indians, they said, hunted them on the islands with trained dogs which went into the woods and drove them out, while the hunters lay in wait in canoes at the points where they were likely to take to the water. Beaver and black bear also abounded on this large island. I saw but few birds there, only ravens, jays, and wrens. Ducks, gulls, bald eagles, and jays are the commonest birds hereabouts. A flock of swans flew past, sounding their startling human-like cry which seemed yet more striking in this lonely wilderness. The Indians said that geese, swans, cranes, etc., making their long journeys in regular order thus called aloud to encourage each other and enable them to keep stroke and time like men in rowing or marching (a sort of "Row, brothers, row," or "Hip, hip" of marching soldiers).
October 18 was about half sunshine, half rain and wet snow, but we paddled on through the midst of the innumerable islands in more than half comfort, enjoying the changing effects of the weather on the dripping wilderness. Strolling a little way back into the woods when we went ashore for luncheon, I found fine specimens of cedar, and here and there a birch, and small thickets of wild apple. A hemlock, felled by Indians for bread-bark, was only twenty inches thick at the butt, a hundred and twenty feet long, and about five hundred and forty years old at the time it was felled. The first hundred of its rings measured only four inches, showing that for a century it had grown in the shade of taller trees and at the age of one hundred years was yet only a sapling in size. On the mossy trunk of an old prostrate spruce about a hundred feet in length thousands of seedlings were growing. I counted seven hundred on a length of eight feet, so favorable is this climate for the development of tree seeds and so fully do these trees obey the command to multiply and replenish the earth. No wonder these islands are densely clothed with trees. They grow on solid rocks and logs as well as on fertile soil. The surface is first covered with a plush of mosses in which the seeds germinate; then the interlacing roots form a sod, fallen leaves soon cover their feet, and the young trees, closely crowded together, support each other, and the soil becomes deeper and richer from year to year.
I greatly enjoyed the Indian's camp-fire talk this evening on their ancient customs, how they were taught by their parents ere the whites came among them, their religion, ideas connected with the next world, the stars, plants, the behavior and language of animals under different circumstances, manner of getting a living, etc. When our talk was interrupted by the howling of a wolf on the opposite side of the strait, Kadachan puzzled the minister with the question, "Have wolves souls?" The Indians believe that they have, giving as foundation for their belief that they are wise creatures who know how to catch seals and salmon by swimming slyly upon them with their heads hidden in a mouthful of grass, hunt deer in company, and always bring forth their young at the same and most favorable time of the year. I inquired how it was that with enemies so wise and powerful the deer were not all killed. Kadachan replied that wolves knew better than to kill them all and thus cut off their most important food-supply. He said they were numerous on all the large islands, more so than on the mainland, that Indian hunters were afraid of them and never ventured far into the woods alone, for these large gray and black wolves attacked man whether they were hungry or not. When attacked, the Indian hunter, he said, climbed a tree or stood with his back against a tree or rock as a wolf never attacks face to face. Wolves, and not bears, Indians regard as masters of the woods, for they sometimes attack and kill bears, but the wolverine they never attack, "for," said John, "wolves and wolverines are companions in sin and equally wicked and cunning."
On one of the small islands we found a stockade, sixty by thirty-five feet, built, our Indians said, by the Kake tribe during one of their many warlike quarrels. Toyatte and Kadachan said these forts were common throughout the canoe waters, showing that in this foodful, kindly wilderness, as in all the world beside, man may be man's worst enemy.