A Stormy Day with the Mad Trapper

The storm the radio had been threatening me with came last night. It began yesterday afternoon, but when I woke this morning there was at least seven inches of snow on the ground, which means travel is slightly more difficult. Just tonight I was thinking of how to cross the stream and keep dry when it occurred to me that I could build stilt shoes, like disco rockers used to wear in the eighties.

I plan to be at the road by Sunday at three to meet Dennis and family, but in case they are late, I’d like to arrive on the other side with dry feet. As I was designing the shoes mentally, however, I had a sudden vision of tipping sideways and spilling into the stream with giant clogs on my feet. The idea might work, but I’d need canes to make sure I didn’t fall or trip on the rocks on the bottom. If the water continues to drop, I can also wade. I think it might be low enough now just above where my bridge would be, but I’d hate to be wrong about that.

With the fresh snow, which still fell throughout the day, there were a few tracks around, such as the squirrels outside my cabin and beside the tin shed and woodpile, and mice near the tin shed. As well, and this is more confusing, there were tracks of a coyote or fox, circling around the tin shed, coming coyote_tracksvaguely in the direction of the big pine, and then going to the workshop, where the tracks go in front of the building and then circle to the back. A rabbit’s tracks leave from underneath the workshop, so possibly the two are related. I’m not sure what animal it was though, and the tracks were old enough that I couldn’t see a paw print. All I have are the stride length, general paw size, and the sweep of snow that shows the paws scraped the snow as the animal strode forward. Interesting nonetheless.

I walked to the creek again today, but there were no more tracks except presumably the same animal, same signs anyway, going towards the west and crossing my trail about sixty metres from the cabin. The creek has snow buildup in the water along its edges, which I presume would turn to ice if the weather was a bit colder. Biss will be annoyed if he has to get wet to cross the stream so hopefully things freeze before he comes.

Since I was up so early, having slept before midnight, I was napping by noon. I’ve stopped feeding the fire at night, since the cabin actually is more pleasant when the fire dies and at twelve to fifteen degrees I am still in bed. Also, I sleep better.

Today I took some more footage, although I don’t know what I am going to do with it all. Maybe I will make a cabin-in-the-winter movie, with stills. I’m not sure, and I haven’t been very inventive with what I have. Too bad I didn’t film crossing the creek the first time on the fragile cracking ice and supported by an old door, but I had other concerns at the time. I also worked more on Glooscap’s Plan, which is a long book, nearly longer than Flat Earth and almost as much as Naked in the Road. I should have it done soon though, although it has been slow going with many awkward turns of phrase and repetition.

Today has been a lazier day than usual. I wonder if this is how Bashful is in the winter, and he only becomes active once it warms in the spring. In my case, unfortunately, I have a short spring, since Winnipeg is barely warming when I leave in late April. Here in April spring is in full force, and the bugs are starting to contemplate whether they want to play the same game one more season.

I was thinking today about the so-called Mad Trapper, who evaded the RCMP for thirty days before they brought in a plane and he crossed the Richardson mountains. The crossing itself is worthy of note, since the two passes were guarded and he went a different route. The local people of the north said that no one could cross the Richardson Mountains in the winter alone, and that even in a party it was a dubious crossing at the passes in the winter. The Mad Trapper crossed during a blizzard so his tracks were hidden and he did it where there was no pass.

They later suspected that he climbed thousands of metres in a blizzard with visibility only a few metres and -70 or more with the wind chill, while resting in dry creek beds under the ice. They also think that he never slept for the two to three days it took to cross.

I was thinking of him because I was ploughing through wet deep snow, which is what greeted the Mad Trapper when he arrived on the western side of the mountains. With more precipitation and a slightly warmer climate on the western side of the mountains, he was labouring through deep snow pack with his ten pound homemade snowshoes. The plane spotted him easily, once they realized he had outsmarted them once again, and then they trapped him on the surface of the Porcupine River.

There they called to him to surrender, he waved, and then they continued shooting until he was dead. It was finally a shot from the plane which killed him, severing his spine and adding to the trauma of forty-five days on the run in -60 temperatures, not being able to shoot an animal because they would hear his gun so subsisting on snaring hares and squirrels and killing gray jays. He was some thirty pounds lighter but still defiant when they killed him, and it was only later, standing over his body and realizing they knew nothing about him, did they begin to understand he had committed no crime until a RCMP officer decided him not opening his door to them was suspicious and tried to smash it in. The general feeling in the north is that they should have left him alone.

I thought about him today as I laboured through the new snow, breaking trail with my boots filling with snow, knowing I have a warm cabin to return to, feeling my chest tighten with exertion. I thought about how tough and downright stubborn he must have been that he cared so little about such privation.

If the cops were to come here, deciding that I should not be alone all this week, or that my behaviour needed explanation, I don’t think I would shoot them through the door but I would sorely resent the intrusion. I understand what he felt. We don’t come to the bush for its social aspects. At least partly, we come here to escape them.

About Barry Pomeroy

I had an English teacher in high school many years ago who talked about writing as something that people do, rather than something that died with Shakespeare. I began writing soon after, maudlin poetry followed by short prose pieces, but finally, after years of academic training, I learned something about the magic of the manipulated word.
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