Posts Tagged ‘fur trapper’
A poem by Robert Service
And when I come to the dim trail-end,
I who have been Life’s rover,
This is all I would ask, my friend,
Over and over and over:
A little space on a stony hill
With never another near me,
Sky o’ the North that’s vast and still,
With a single star to cheer me;
Star that gleams on a moss-gray stone
Graven by those who love me –
There would I lie alone, alone,
With a single pine above me;
Pine that the north wind whinnies through –
Oh, I have been Life’s rover!
But there I’d lie and listen to
Eternity passing over.
A poem written by Robert Service.
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.
Robert Service – 1874 – 1958
I get a lot of enjoyment out of putting out my game cam and seeing what I can catch on film. I’ll save left over food from home to put out to see what predators come in, and recently, my friend Peter had a great idea for a do it yourself long term game feeder. Like all good ideas it’s simple and easy to do. Just take a PVC pipe and cut it to a desired length – the one Peter made that I tried was about 5 feet in length and will hold a 50 pound bag of grain or more. You could increase the length to be able to add more grain and save yourself trips out to the feeder. The key is to place the bottom of the tube at ground level or just a millimeter or two above – that way the grain isn’t all over the ground in the elements, and critters can paw at the bottom to get more food taking advantage of gravity flow. It works a lot better, in my opinion, than the timed broadcast feeder I bought a number of years ago from Cabelas – with the broadcast feeder it’s spewing out food that is not being eaten and I would often arrive to fill the feeder to find the entire contents had been emptied onto the ground without being eaten. With this much simpler and cheaper method, the food stays put – dry and protected until something actually comes by to eat it. You can see in the pictures below that I attached the pipe to the tree with just a ratchet strap, you could also use duct tape or a number of other methods. You can also paint the PVC pipe if you feel so inclined. For the top you can use any number of items that can cover the hole to keep the elements out – I cut the top off a plastic whiskey bottle and put it over the top and it worked great. Peter made a few of these, and I put one out for a week – I set it up quickly with just the ratchet strap and there wasn’t a feed store open on the Sunday that I put it out, so I simply put in 10 pounds of guinea pig feed I grabbed at Wal Mart. Corn or sweet feed for horses or any type of grain will work. In a weeks time I had 69 pictures, the guinea pig feed was completely gone and the ground at the bottom of the feeder was pawed and dug up. Here are some of the best pics that I got, taken on a wildgame camera – reasonably priced as far as game cameras go, and takes good pictures -
I also wanted to add a disclaimer that feeding wildlife, especially deer over the long term is not a good idea. I have witness several deer over the years that have died from malnutrition in the winter because of “good samaritans” that thought they were helping by putting out food. There are some very good reasons listed here. It should only be done on a limited short term basis.
Another one of my favorite Robert Service poems;
There was Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike living the life of shame,
When unto them in the Long, Long Night came the man-who-had-no-name;
Bearing his prize of a black fox pelt, out of the Wild he came.
His cheeks were blanched as the flume-head foam when the brown spring freshets flow;
Deep in their dark, sin-calcined pits were his sombre eyes aglow;
They knew him far for the fitful man who spat forth blood on the snow.
“Did ever you see such a skin?” quoth he; “there’s nought in the world so fine–
Such fullness of fur as black as the night, such lustre, such size, such shine;
It’s life to a one-lunged man like me; it’s London, it’s women, it’s wine.
“The Moose-hides called it the devil-fox, and swore that no man could kill;
That he who hunted it, soon or late, must surely suffer some ill;
But I laughed at them and their old squaw-tales.
Ha! Ha! I’m laughing still.
“For look ye, the skin–it’s as smooth as sin, and black as the core of the Pit.
By gun or by trap, whatever the hap, I swore I would capture it;
By star and by star afield and afar, I hunted and would not quit.
“For the devil-fox, it was swift and sly, and it seemed to fleer at me;
I would wake in fright by the camp-fire light, hearing its evil glee;
Into my dream its eyes would gleam, and its shadow would I see.
“It sniffed and ran from the ptarmigan I had poisoned to excess;
Unharmed it sped from my wrathful lead (’twas as if I shot by guess);
Yet it came by night in the stark moonlight to mock at my weariness.
“I tracked it up where the mountains hunch like the vertebrae of the world;
I tracked it down to the death-still pits where the avalanche is hurled;
From the glooms to the sacerdotal snows, where the carded clouds are curled.
“From the vastitudes where the world protrudes through clouds like seas up-shoaled,
I held its track till it led me back to the land I had left of old–
The land I had looted many moons. I was weary and sick and cold.
“I was sick, soul-sick, of the futile chase, and there and then I swore
The foul fiend fox might scathless go, for I would hunt no more;
Then I rubbed mine eyes in a vast surprise–it stood by my cabin door.
“A rifle raised in the wraith-like gloom, and a vengeful shot that sped;
A howl that would thrill a cream-faced corpse–and the demon fox lay dead. . . .
Yet there was never a sign of wound, and never a drop he bled.
“So that was the end of the great black fox, and here is the prize I’ve won;
And now for a drink to cheer me up–I’ve mushed since the early sun;
We’ll drink a toast to the sorry ghost of the fox whose race is run.”
Now Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike, bad as the worst were they;
In their road-house down by the river-trail they waited and watched for prey;
With wine and song they joyed night long, and they slept like swine by day.
For things were done in the Midnight Sun that no tongue will ever tell;
And men there be who walk earth-free, but whose names are writ in hell–
Are writ in flames with the guilty names of Fournier and Labelle.
Put not your trust in a poke of dust would ye sleep the sleep of sin;
For there be those who would rob your clothes ere yet the dawn comes in;
And a prize likewise in a woman’s eyes is a peerless black fox skin.
Put your faith in the mountain cat if you lie within his lair;
Trust the fangs of the mother-wolf, and the claws of the lead-ripped bear;
But oh, of the wiles and the gold-tooth smiles of a dance-hall wench beware!
Wherefore it was beyond all laws that lusts of man restrain,
A man drank deep and sank to sleep never to wake again;
And the Yukon swallowed through a hole the cold corpse of the slain.
The black fox skin a shadow cast from the roof nigh to the floor;
And sleek it seemed and soft it gleamed, and the woman stroked it o’er;
And the man stood by with a brooding eye, and gnashed his teeth and swore.
When thieves and thugs fall out and fight there’s fell arrears to pay;
And soon or late sin meets its fate, and so it fell one day
That Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike fanged up like dogs at bay.
“The skin is mine, all mine,” she cried; “I did the deed alone.”
“It’s share and share with a guilt-yoked pair”, he hissed in a pregnant tone;
And so they snarled like malamutes over a mildewed bone.
And so they fought, by fear untaught, till haply it befell
One dawn of day she slipped away to Dawson town to sell
The fruit of sin, this black fox skin that had made their lives a hell.
She slipped away as still he lay, she clutched the wondrous fur;
Her pulses beat, her foot was fleet, her fear was as a spur;
She laughed with glee, she did not see him rise and follow her.
The bluffs uprear and grimly peer far over Dawson town;
They see its lights a blaze o’ nights and harshly they look down;
They mock the plan and plot of man with grim, ironic frown.
The trail was steep; ’twas at the time when swiftly sinks the snow;
All honey-combed, the river ice was rotting down below;
The river chafed beneath its rind with many a mighty throe.
And up the swift and oozy drift a woman climbed in fear,
Clutching to her a black fox fur as if she held it dear;
And hard she pressed it to her breast–then Windy Ike drew near.
She made no moan–her heart was stone–she read his smiling face,
And like a dream flashed all her life’s dark horror and disgrace;
A moment only–with a snarl he hurled her into space.
She rolled for nigh an hundred feet; she bounded like a ball;
From crag to crag she carromed down through snow and timber fall; . . .
A hole gaped in the river ice; the spray flashed–that was all.
A bird sang for the joy of spring, so piercing sweet and frail;
And blinding bright the land was dight in gay and glittering mail;
And with a wondrous black fox skin a man slid down the trail.
A wedge-faced man there was who ran along the river bank,
Who stumbled through each drift and slough, and ever slipped and sank,
And ever cursed his Maker’s name, and ever “hooch” he drank.
He travelled like a hunted thing, hard harried, sore distrest;
The old grandmother moon crept out from her cloud-quilted nest;
The aged mountains mocked at him in their primeval rest.
Grim shadows diapered the snow; the air was strangely mild;
The valley’s girth was dumb with mirth, the laughter of the wild;
The still, sardonic laughter of an ogre o’er a child.
The river writhed beneath the ice; it groaned like one in pain,
And yawning chasms opened wide, and closed and yawned again;
And sheets of silver heaved on high until they split in twain.
From out the road-house by the trail they saw a man afar
Make for the narrow river-reach where the swift cross-currents are;
Where, frail and worn, the ice is torn and the angry waters jar.
But they did not see him crash and sink into the icy flow;
They did not see him clinging there, gripped by the undertow,
Clawing with bleeding finger-nails at the jagged ice and snow.
They found a note beside the hole where he had stumbled in:
“Here met his fate by evil luck a man who lived in sin,
And to the one who loves me least I leave this black fox skin.”
And strange it is; for, though they searched the river all around,
No trace or sign of black fox skin was ever after found;
Though one man said he saw the tread of HOOFS deep in the ground.
All my life people have been telling me you shouldn’t travel alone. But it’s interesting; I’ve never been told that by anybody who’s ever done it. - Bill Mason
Years ago there was a large tract of land that I liked to hunt – I liked it in part because it was bordered on all sides by woods roads, so one could effectively never take a wrong turn, as long as you could walk in a straight line, you would eventually find your way out. It allowed me to wander rather aimlessly without having to worry about sense of direction. However, I began to notice that invariably I would walk past the same places each time I was there. Deliberately I would enter through a different location each time, and yet once my mind wandered a bit I would begin noticing the same areas once again, which taught me about funneling. There are lots of studies and evidence that says in the absence of sun, landmarks, blindfolded, or in darkness people have a tendency to walk in circles, and while that may be true (I have certainly experienced that on a boat in the fog) I believe that if you turn someone loose in a vast tract of wilderness, they tend to walk along “funnels”. And wildlife do the same thing – which is why there are typically particular “crossings” where you tend to see the most wildlife.
When I asked a friend of mine who has professionally trapped marten for much of his life how I could spot a crossing or funnel his answer was that he couldn’t describe it to me, but he could show it to me. His journals show that the landscape naturally lends itself to certain routes of travel, and that these routes have held true over many years, even if areas were logged. There is a good story that he tells; he will sometimes take out of state people out on the trapline so they can experience what it is like, and one time he had a fellow from New Jersey riding with him, who said that he wanted to chose the spot where they next put in a set. Jerry said no problem, and in short order the guest said that he wanted to stop and make a set. He asked Jerry if he thought it was a good spot, and Jerry said that it wasn’t, but the guest said he wanted to set it anyway, and they did. Jerry, with a caveat to the listener that he was just having fun with the guy at this point, drove 200 yards down the road and said “this is the spot”, and set the location. And sure enough, when checking the sets the next day, Jerry’s spot produced a double of marten, a mere 200 yards from where the guest placed his sets, and upon this discovery the guest said that never again would he ever doubt Jerry’s word. And that’s how legends are formed. It’s interesting that if you walk a certain stretch of woods each day, you begin to notice the subtle changes that happen – bent grass or perhaps a bit of fur on a branch that wasn’t there the day before. I think our ancestors were much more in tune with the world, and used the natural lay of the land for ease of travel before the days of epirbs, cell phones, gps, or even compasses. That’s why the Native American names for places were much more meaningful than those of today – such as Passadumkeag, which means above the gravel bar, and describes the section of the Penobscot River where it meets the Passadumkeag river. And wildlife know them too – I came across an otter track once in the middle of nowhere, far from any source of water. I took a couple of days and followed it in both directions, finding the water where it came from, and where it was heading too, a distance of some 10 miles apart. I think the old ways of the woodsmen are somewhat lost today – being able to extricate yourself from any sort of situation, knowing where you are, and relating that to the surrounding country around you. I enjoyed seeing the old barely discernable marks on the trees whenThe Old Man from the sand pit took me along the old hunting path – a path my Grandfather used, and his grandfather before him. In those days people knew where they were in the woods, much as people today know where they are by what road they are on. It’s just a matter of learning the subtle clues and signs of the path you are traveling.
Despite wanting to keep him indoors, Blackjack the cat attacked and jumped at the doorknob every morning with such fervor, and while some controversy surrounds letting a cat outside ( a friend of mine thinks that you should be required to purchase a hunting license if you let a cat outside) , he seemed to love being outside so much that I acquiesced to his demands and let him outside every day. He was an adopted from the shelter cat, and he had come a long way behavior-wise since coming into my home. Although I had never been particularly fond of cats, he was pretty special, and I had grown accustomed to him sitting on my lap at night kneading with his paws. He was usually there waiting for me each day when I got home, except this particular afternoon, he was not waiting for me. I wasn’t too worried when he didn’t come running after I called, but by dusk I was getting very concerned about his whereabouts. I strapped on the headlamp and followed his usual morning path into the woods. After a short walk of scanning the woods floor, in a little clearing I came across the tale. There were scuff marks in ground, and evidence of a short fight with some tufts of black hair that convinced me of my cat’s fate. Following the bent grass I came across fresh coyote tracks and that further cemented my theory that coyotes had got my cat. Although I know that the coyote was only following his instincts revenge immediately came to mind – an eye for an eye as it were…you took from me, now I will take from you. I thought about it, and decided to set a trap in the woods behind the house beyond where my cat was killed, which is legal here in Maine, and see what happened. Several days of checking went by with nothing happening, until early one morning I awoke to noises out back. I immediately went outside and heard the ticking of the trap pan and knew I had something. The headlamp revealed a huge coyote, which I quickly dispatched. End of story? This is when the story really began to get interesting. Four other coyotes were still in the woods, and were not leaving. About 50 yards out in a semicircle they howled and barked for almost a half hour before finally reluctantly turning back into the woods. I figured by the rukus the others were making I had caught the pack leader as well. Curious, and now intrigued, I threw some large bait out back after it snowed a couple of days later to see if and when they would return. It took two weeks before I saw tracks in the snow and the bait had been dug up and dragged back into the woods. I kept putting bait behind the house and began following the pack – I learned a lot about where they slept and the trails they used around the area, and saw some places that I didn’t know existed out there in the woods. Once January and coyote breeding season arrived I noticed something funny – there were coyote tracks that would come in from a side trail and mingle with the pack for a while before leaving on another side trail. They were big and heavy prints, and looked like a big coyote. One morning a couple of days later, shortly after leaving for work a big blonde coyote ran out in front of me. I decided to be late for work and followed him into the woods for a bit, and the tracks matched the ones I was seeing that were mingling in with the pack. A couple of weeks went by and the pack seemed to have accepted him, his tracks stayed with theirs and stopped leaving and returning, and their catnap beds in the snow returned to five from the four I had being seeing before. It seemed he was now one of there own. Then, one cold night in February I was sitting in my chair having a drink in the evening, when suddenly a coyote howl split the night like an emergency siren. It sounded like it was inside the house it was so loud. I quickly ran to the back door, grabbing my coyote howler on the way and flicked on the back light to reveal that blonde coyote just on the edge of the woods in the backyard looking and howling at the house. Chills ran up my spine as I watched him. I put the call to my lips and howled back. He sat still for a few minutes and with one more mournful howl turned back in to the woods and I never saw him again near the house. In my mind I believe he became the new pack leader that breeding season, and he was telling me the pack and I were even.
Tu es mon compagnon de voyage!
Je veux mourir dans mon canot
Sur le tombeau, près du rivage,
Vous renverserez mon canot!
When I must leave the great river
O bury me close to its wave
And let my canoe and my paddle
Be the only mark over my grave.
Translated by Oliver Call.
I can’t recall for sure where I first came across the book Tales of an Empty Cabin, written by Grey Owl. It was possibly just a random book search. I’m glad I did though, because it is a remarkable book, and extremely well written. Grey Owl’s entire life was a bit of an enigma. The world first heard of him through his writing, and then eventually speeches that he was asked to give. To the world he presented himself as a Native American who had an Apache mother and moved to Canada to join the Ojibwa and first was a wilderness fur trapper, who then turned conservationist. His writing is very pervasive, romantic, and tugs at the heartstrings. For me the pendulum swung the other way – I started out as a conservationist, swung to a trapper, and now things are evening out between the two. Time will tell where that ends up for me. If you choose to read the book, keep in mind the time frame that it was written. In the early 1900’s beaver populations were drastically reduced due to exploitation. With the benefit of conservation laws, seasons, and limits, the beaver population is back with a vengeance. Here in Maine current laws are very liberal for the taking of beaver as the state has a large population. I believe that the ambivalence lies within all who take to the woods to some degree, and the pendulum can swing fast or slow in the process. Certainly reading Grey Owls account of listening to the mate of the beaver they had shot calling out through the night for its mate is very emotional. In the story one of the people in the traveling party kills a beaver, and during the night they hear it’s mate calling out for it. The member of the party sleeping next to Grey Owl asks what that noise is, and Grey Owl dismisses it to him as nothing. But he knows what it is.
Trappers understand animals and their habits more than anybody, and it’s often hard to explain the conundrum of being able to empathize and befriend a creature of the wild whilst running a trapline for another. I guess I can empathize somewhat more with the coyote with mange, or the beaver with mallocclusion. Beaver, like other rodents have teeth that continuously grow, and they need to gnaw to keep them sharp, and the correct length. Mallocclusion is when one becomes out of alignment, or grows past the point where the beaver can gnaw it back, and the creature is left unable to eat, and sometimes the teeth grow long enough to puncture the skull. I’ve seen it.
My favorite story in the book is The Tree. The author describes in great detail the very long life of a tree, from when a squirrel accidentally dropped a nut on the ground, to the deer browsing it’s neighbors, the rabbit eating its bark, and the moose using it for sparring practice. It goes on to describe the native American that visited it, the white man that explored it, and the road coming through that killed it. It is a fantastic story that puts a lot of life and time into perspective for me.
Grey Owl is most famous for his cabin at Ajaawan Lake, where a beaver house was incorporated into the cabin, and he was made Honorary Warden for the protection of the beaver colony. The story is in the book, and is a well regaled account of the daily activities of the beaver, who were allowed to roam the cabin. It is also probably the first case study of its kind on beaver behavior. I love the stories of the beaver tetter-tottering around the cabin on their rear legs carrying mud for the lodge, of how the male would become aggressive and jealous of the author when the female would come into heat, and the stories of chairs and other woodwork being eaten and chewed in the authors absence. It must have been some interesting times, and it is great to be able to share them in the book.
Grey Owl never made it to his 50th birthday. For someone that passed so young, he had an incredible life. After his death, the enigma of his life was discovered. He was born in England in 1888, and had no Native American ties at all, a fraud that dented the conservation movement he had created, but certainly did not change what he did, or his experiences. It’s just who he wanted to be, and what he became.
Here is a video of Grey Owl, his cabin, and the beavers – I wish I could hear the real sounds in the video, the narration is a little cheesy, but the video makes up for it -
And a short video of his cabin and the lake;
And apparently I missed the memo when the movie came out – but one did – I’ll be watching it soon – here is the trailer: