Winter Living With The Cree pt. 3

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So, I woke up the day after running trap lines and setting nets feeling a bit off. I attributed it to all the rich food we’d been eating. Moose meat is wicked heavy, and I ate enough of it to sate a bear for hibernation. As the morning progressed it became clear I’d picked up a stomach bug that was going around Ouje. Not a great experience on a trip like this, but after a day of rest and lots of water was feeling leaps and bounds better. The bug caught a few of the other guys as well and forced a sort of “sick v. well” rota for all the tasks around camp. I missed out on a day of setting marten traps and getting started on making Cree snow shovels.

 

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Catfish Ben with our first hare

 

The next day, however, was a full one. We started the day walking our trap line with Laurence and checking the snares we’d set. We caught one snowshoe hare and carried it back to camp after resetting the snare. Walking a trap line first thing in the morning has an almost meditative feeling to it. You don’t speak because you don’t want the animals to associate the place with loud noises and human interaction. The trudging of each step creates a rhythm as we fall into line behind one another, matching the stride of the trail breaker and packing down the snow with each step.

 

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Doug watching intently as Anna works the otter’s pelt.  

 

When we got back, Anna led us over to one of the other shelters in camp and explained that she’d be skinning out an Otter and we’d be helping Laurence skin out a Fisher Cat he’d trapped a few days prior. I’m not particularly versed in hunting and my only experience gutting out an animal is with fish (The scales are the best part if you fry them right! Why would you take ’em off?) So I wasn’t sure what to expect. I really shouldn’t have worried. Anna and Laurence made the process look like art. They chattered back and forth with us the whole time, explaining each step as they went. Anna working with the otter was something akin to seeing a master carpenter shape out the pieces he needed for a cabinet. It was slow, and the attention to detail was absolutely impressive. Doug, a member of our group, had been trapping otters on his property in Maryland (Oh, did I mention three of our group of five hailed from the land of pleasant living?) and had found preparing the pelts difficult. Otters, like any other mammal that lives in the water, have a thick layer of fat to insulate them against the cold water. Doug had found removing this layer frustrating and time-consuming. As we watched Anna work, it became apparent that the layer of fat wasn’t even something she worried about. There are tools marketed to trappers that are “specialized” for use on Beaver, Otter and other animals with fatty hides. Anna used a simple, cheap and small knife set for her work. I watched realization spread across Doug’s face as the mental arithmetic added up. Talking with him later he explained that the knives he’d been using were too big, and didn’t allow for the slow methodical method that Anna used.

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While Anna was working with the Otter, I helped Laurence with the fisher. Fisher Cats, for those who don’t know, are a large member of the weasel family. They’re sleek and move through snow and water like a bit of black grease slides through moisture. They’re also known up here in the north for their scream. If you’ve never heard it before I highly recommend taking a minute to go listen here.

Done? Like a banshee right? Imagine hearing that at night time while you’re camped out far away from any infastructure.

Aaaaaaany way, sorry for the little side trip down “What the hell was that?” lane.

As I worked the hide away from the fishers body I was struck by how lithe the musculature of these animals is, and how narrow certain parts of their bodies are, before exploding into a wide ribcage. While we worked away at it, David told us about using dried fisher testicles as slingshot ammo for hunting small game. It’s hard to tell when David’s joking. A lot of the older Cree we met have a very specific laugh that they use almost as punctuation, a short sharp chuckle that ends a sentence. David used it almost constantly, and it was very telling of how happy they are living this lifestyle. Always laughing or smiling, even while doing hard physical work, or talking about hard times in the Cree’s history.

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While we skinned out the fresh hides, David went and got a lynx pelt that he needed to stretch. Seeing a lynx hide up close is something else. It’s large and the paws are like dinner plates, almost shaped like the smaller variety of snowshoes that allow for quick turns between trees in the woods. Watching David stretch the hide out was an education in simplicity (Seems like a trend is forming here), he simply pulled it over two planks that formed a pincer shape. Then using a third wedge-shaped plank forced the pincer apart, pulling the lynx taught. After the otter and fisher had been skinned out, he did the same with them. Once they’d been stretched long enough anna would pull them across a frame to finish treating them.

 

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Otter hide being stretched

 

Once the hides had been processed, we spent a bit of time working on making snow shovels, but I’ll save the details of that for the next piece. Laurence had roasted two geese all day by hanging them next to the stove in his tent, and after a long day of work, we couldn’t ask for a better meal to end the day.

 

I really hope you guys have been enjoying these articles as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them up. It’s hard to encompass all the subtlety of the world we only got a glimpse of, but I’m having a blast trying.

 

Stay tuned,

Slainte Maithe everyone.

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It’s a rough life, but it’s ours. 

I never had passion. Passion was something viewed from behind a desk that other people experienced. 

We hear alot from philosophers and family members about doing what we love. It’s this ideal they want us to strive for, but only if we’re doing it safely. “Make sure you have something to fall back on”, “get a business degree, just in case that whole”art”thing doesn’t work out”, etc. It’s a well meaning, but confusing approach to advice. 

A perfect pairing of the practical and the artistic. My grandfather, doing what he loves.

It doesn’t stop at family and friends either. Recently Wells Fargo released a series of ads that portrayed young people doing lab work, or some other”high minded” work. I’ve obviously got nothing against any of the science or business professions, but the quotes paired with them got my Irish up. One in particular showed a young man putting fluid into a beaker and had the quote”an actor yesterday, a botanist today”

Besides, without artists, who would help me find such great hats?

Sure, maybe this particular kid had a passion for the stage AND the classification of rare and exotic flora. That’s not how this was presented though. It was laid out like they’d fixed some inherent problem with this Kiddo’s life goals. They’d made him into something valuable out of something superfluous. 

Now I’m not an artist but a lot of my best friends are, and they put more of themselves into pursuing that path in one day than some people put into a year of work. Isn’t that following the advice we hear from almost every source? Find your passion and chase it like a rabid dog, only letting up when you’ve caught the thing. They work extra jobs so they can afford to exist, and still manage to make time for the things that really get them excited. 

As I said, I’m not an artist. However my experience transitioning into the outdoor industry has been pretty much the same. Lots of well meaning folks telling me that it was great I found something I love, but was it really a good idea to pursue it when I already had a well paying job with benefits? 

See? Perfectly normal human beings.

Yeah, you’d better believe it was. That passion I used to stare at like some unattainable, but beautiful goal? I have it now, and I’m not trading it for anyth ing. I’ve been on the other side of the spectrum. Working a job that payed the bills, and sideways glancing at people with a passion the way people in three thousand dollar suits tend to look at homeless people when they pass them on the street. I admired the work they did, but didn’t understand how much time was devoted to producing that work. It’s a job, a job that takes a lot out of you. Not only physically, but emotionally too. How could it not? You’re invested entirely in it, body and soul. Nothing impressive comes out of a person without taking parts of them with it on the way out. 

So, to those of you who work in the arts? Keep doing it. The rest of us who look on from afar at the beauty you create and appreciate it will do our best to help you bring the beauty in your minds out into the light. 

To those with a passion for the sciences and engineering fields? The same applies. You help us to understand the world we inhabit more and more. 

To those who think those previously mentioned things cannot both exist, or that one is more valuable than the other? Reevaluate your priorities. Almost everything you enjoy in life was made by a person with different life callings than you, so learn to appreciate were those things come from. 
Slainte Maithe everyone. Go watch a movie, and think about how that particular passtime and so many others couldn’t exist without a marriage of the practical and the artistic aspects of our beautiful, irritating species.