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McKenzie River Diary, Summer 1946, part 4 - nhpeacenik
nhpeacenik
nhpeacenik
McKenzie River Diary, Summer 1946, part 4
June 16, 1946 (cont) Today, perfectly calm, we float in the fastest current, turning as we go. Pass bars and islands it would be fun to explore. Louie calls a goose and gets only an answer. It takes us till 9:30 (by my time)  to make a big S-curve on the map. As we approached Thunder River, Louie made out radio poles and a tent. Fore the sake of dignity, we turned the Goose around. To keep moving and foil mosquitoes, we paddled. Two cabins, on either side of the river, came into view. We thought to stop and see if they could tell us what ails our little kicker. Dogs started to howl and a man and boy walked down the steep path off the 100-foot bank to the shore, as I tied the boat.

Mr. McNeely is white; his oldest son, John, looked very Indian. Another little boy, Wilfrid, a duplicate of his older brother, came down and stood silently with John while their father talked to us and listened to the rattle in the kicker.  He didn't know the trouble without looking inside. The man across the crick might  be able to say.  Mr. Hearst came across in his canoe, a  tall blond man with a nervous, fast way of talking, jovial one minute, intense the next.  He looked like Sinclair Lewis. Both their wives and three girls had gone to Aklavik. No kicker men till Aklavik. So they suggested we stay over and they'd take it apart.

They were expecting a man from up near the Indian cabin above to come down... were worried when we said we'd seen no sign of him. One man had been found dead up there in the Spring.

We went up for tea. McNeely's oldest girl, 12, Luella, gave us fresh bread she'd baked, beef and tea. She was lighter than her brothers, pretty, had the same quiet reserve you see in all half-breed kids. Also, they all spoke with an accent. The littlest boy in this family of five kids was four, looked like a fat little Indian, big black dancing eyes, round face and thickish lips, but his black hair was a little curly. He was shy only a short time. He talked to his brothers and himself, and laughed a lot like a pixie, holding his sides. These people, like most up here, were well-read and awfully interested in the affairs of the outside. He takes a scientific-like report called the Canadian Geographical Review, also McLeans and a Prairie paper.

He's been in the country about 20 years. He has a small store, and trades besides trapping with his oldest son. Game has been very poor in this region for three years. Rabies, moving west, hit here last year and took all the foxes and many dogs. He got returns on some fur: mink, lynx, weasel, rat [ muskrat -ed ] ; it came to $1800. The kids had shot lots of them, he told us proudly. He still had some rats and beavers to send in. He can't afford to buy canned foods to feed his big family. They had splurged buying beef from the refrigerator boat that passed. We were there  a day and a half and we had beef, pancakes, oatmeal, coffee, dried fish, rhubarb pie, bread&butter and tea. The meals left us a little hungry, though we contributed two cans of food and a pound of coffee. Mr. McNeely seemed rather young, perhaps because he was soft-spoken and shy. Breeds are afraid of a rebuff, so we were flattered that he invited us into their home.

They insisted we sleep in the kitchen. We talked till 2:00 am, all the kids up past midnight. Then Louie and I slept on the floor, john near us on a hard bench. Mosquitoes got us all up at six-thirty or so. The two men asked us to wait until night, and they'd push us to Arctic Red River, where they had to go. The two families each had a big garden. They had just come in from the last day of rat season. Wouldn't eat muskrats though.. too many sores, etc. They shoot ducks and geese and swan and bear for food. Have an ice-house and two cellars to keep garden produce in. Blackboardss around show the kids to be learning math. The day was hot, and the mosquitoes almost unbearable, both indoors and out.  We kept bug-juice on and brushed constantly. The husky dogs flicked and shook. I don't see how anyone could keep horses in this country. Someone upriver said that if horses aren't quite well anyway, the mosquitoes will finish them off. In two places we've seen smudges that are kept going during calms. Horses go and stand in the smoke until a breeze comes up and the mosquitoes aren't so bad. Smoke is so acrid that it kills one's throat and eyes. I don't see how Indian women can stand sitting by a smudge all the time as they do, but I can see that it's better than having literally clouds of them diving on you and biting faster than you can brush. By the end of this day, I was nervous and aching and burning. We should have head-nets, but have found none in the stores so far. People own them and hoard them ,,, perhaps war shortage..

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