Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
McKenzie River Diary 1946, part 3 - nhpeacenik
McKenzie River Diary 1946, part 3
June 16, 1946 Slept late because there was a strong headwind early. Louie bored trees [ for tree-ring samples - ed ] and reported that the woods were beautiful with cranberries and lupine and yellow flowers blooming. Brought me a bouquet. I did a washing till the wind died. By 4:30, we were floating on a mirror-like river ass-end forward of course. Our mosquito friends are still with us, bothering Louie as he tries to look at tree-ring specimens through his glass. He says they're like B29s without bombs, but cripes what a tail-assembly! Lou is particularly bitter at them because he dashed out this AM and took a bath at the water's edge. What a sound-picture it was too! Stark nekkid, hunting madly in the boat for a towel and screaming at every mosquito that was feasting on what he termed his most vulnerable backside.

Life in the north as experienced by us Giddingses is dramatic, we say. It's a crisis when I walk forward on the gunwale past the sail: Louie holds his breath every time. These moments when we're paddling against a wind and looking for bars to dodge in ruffled water are nothing compared to the drama involved in unloading the boat for camp, if measured by the volume, resonance and pith of Louie's comments. "Every fort along the river, we pick up another box of gear, bleeding crap! Where in hell is it all stowed, I'll never know. Look at the boat: shes about to sink with it! We should eat canned goods; all we need is salt sugar and beans!" [ Louie had been famous in younger years for setting out across the trackless tundra on skis  or on foot with just rice, salt, waterproof matches and raisins, counting on game and fish to make up the rest of the diet. He must have found Bets' tastes elaborate to say the least - ed ] 

But after he's eaten a good meal (out of cans), the boat appears "quite snakey", and life is mellow once more.

No one along the river could understand us really. To the elite Hudson's Bay Company (HB) and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) crowd, we were eccentric Americans, making our incredibly grimy way down the river the hard way. They are surprised we don't have a pilot, a little sorry for us, since we don't have power, a bit bored by Louie's work, and completely ignorant of the kind of difficulties we encounter. To the trader and half-breed and river man type, our work is also a mystery. They realize the difficulties of our way of travel better, but being lousy rich, they simply can't understand why we don't buy a motor-boat, or how we can carry a bottle with us that is hardly touched. But to the Indians I guess, we're the payoff: very poor - no kicker - why they wouldn't float anywhere. Rather zoom upstream.

All along from the interior to the coast, one sees the same social differences. There are "The 500" who disapprove of the independent traders, breeds, Catholics and Indians; their approved opinions are that the breeds are worthless, the Catholics are vicious exploiters and the Indians dying from TB and drink. Their knowledge of the country is limited to what they hear about their area. They constantly talk of their "vacations and flying out and the difficulty of getting breeds to chop wood (no one would lower himself to collect driftwood, an obvious solution to the problem). The HB people are here to get the Indians' fur. Selling us grub is of no interest. The Catholics are her to get converts and outwit the Anglican missionaries. To the few independent traders, some white many breeds, all evil is caused by the Hudson's Bay Company and the political big-wigs running an aristocratic regime back east. The policy is to keep the country for the Indians and the HB, they say. Strangely enough, these people are mor intolerant of the Indians than the more far-removed HBers and police (the Turners are an exception). They don't even care about hospitalizing or educating the Indians in some cases. The old Irishman at Norman, married to an Indian, compared teh natives' mentality to dogs... sid they could never learn, were going to die off anyway, weren't to be trusted, were lazy. Another such fellow at Norman Wells (who had trapped on Great Bear Lake), had lived with Indians a lot, said they couldn't stand up to a long hard trip like a white man - were apt to lose their heads. But like many people up here, he believed they had a sixth sense and know-all about weather, and direction and nature.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Current Location: Greenville NH
Current Music: "Oh I Wish" by Naomi Bradford

Leave a comment