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McKenzie River Diary, Summer 1946, part 7 - nhpeacenik
McKenzie River Diary, Summer 1946, part 7
[ Reminder: this is a slow-motion transcription of my mother Bets' 1946 journal of her honeymoon journey down the wild McKenzie River in Canada's Northwest Territories with Louie, her somewhat eccentric dendrochronologist-archaeoloigist husband Louie, travelling on a shoestring with an unreliable outboard, which they called a "kicker". In the course of this journey, I was to get my start in life as a different kind of "kicker" within the journal's author. ]

June 21, 1946
It began to calm a little at 8:00 am and we took off at 10:30, our kicker set lower so it worked fairly well. We were heading for the bad stretch for winds in the river, Point Separation. One could see about twenty miles of flat shrugging river, ruffled up by a slight north wind. Our kicker pushed us slowly about 100 feet offshore. The horizon was one of mirage. The banks sat ten feet up in the air. Distant islands were seen only as tops of  floating spruce sitting in a white mist. Some topless and rootless mountains slowly loomed up to the left ahead. The river at horizon seemed to be tossing up sharp pointed waves all across. We were a little nervous for fear a bad wind might hit us any minute. We stuck close to the shore, chins down in our collars, Louie chewing on his mended pipe. Lots fewer spruce to willows along this stretch.We followed as close to the shore as we could, but bad bars were on our side, and I sounded a lot.

One place where wind was blowing us sideways into a bar and the shore, the paddle showed only about three and a half feet of water. There the motor took it upon itself to heat up and stop. For all my paddling, the wind still turned us sideways, blew us upstream and in toward shore. I worked at holding us in one place until I was too  tired to breathe, while Louie cursed, fixed a loose spark while standing almost on his head over the water - finally got her going! The cooling system needs a tube put on it  -  the present one isn't built for muddy rivers. The bar offshore and cut bank fifty feet high and sluffing [ sloughing - ed. ] ahead meant we had to keep going. Louie nursed her along and  I paddled when the motor quit. This is a time we'd never have been on the river if we didn't think we'd  have  power: we'd have just waited for a calm. Slowly we passed the cut bank - saw two boats ahead with big kickers - police from Aklavik on the way to Red River. One came and said "Hello!" And just as we were trying hardest to keep going. I saw ice about six feet down the bank, a rest. lens [? -ed].  We chatted gaily, the motor dead, while we backed toward the bank. Finally Louie mentioned his trouble and we went on checkilly [? -ed]

Stopped on the first landing beach. Louie greased the motor. We want to get out of this broad dangerous 20-mile stretch of water and into a smaller slough. The wind  got too strong, so we took off again.  It was faster to use the kicker than to rely on the slow current, even though the  little thing choked and spluttered and required Louis' constant attention to keep it going.

At last, about 6:00 pm we turned off the broad ocean-like choppy river into a slough. The main channel let to Tuk Tuk. By some tricky map-following Louie found this slough, which leads us over to the Peel River, a little slough slower and smaller than the Nelson River. The country took on a different aspect entirely from this little sheltered channel, about three quarters of a mile across and smooth as glass. Banks were no longer wooded ridges leading down to a gravel drift-strewn beach. We were in the Delta! Currents average one and a half to two mph. Willow-topped banks are all black mud, laid down in flat, even layers. On the opposite side of a mud cut bank with sweepers is a mud bar, sloping far out into the river. Spruce all look like timberline wood, thin and scraggy. They grow in clusters, interspersed with willow and tag alder. We should find some accessible old trees here, where there's no big river to have washed them all away.

Our worry was whether a half-horse kicker could push a 27-foot skiff and half a ton of gear and us upstream a mile and a half into the Peel Channel. We had to round some shoals at the foot of an island and then turn sharp left upstream. The sun was in our eyes. The low willow banks blended into slough entrances, so we could barely see them to know where we were. Louie saw where we were to turn, when I never would have, jumped back and turned on the little eggbeater. We held our breaths as the boat turned and headed up the side-slough. By keeping close to a cut bank (like a canoe), we were making slow headway. The motor complained mightily, but Louie put the screws on him.Up we putted a mile, dodging sweepers and mud bars.

Some Indian cabins lay in a cove up on a high bank. It was cleared about them. Dogs howled at the sound of our motor. We stopped. I stepped out into mud above-ankle deep to tie the boat to a willow clump. Some Indian women peered over the bank at us smiling. They said "hello" in English as we topped the bank. Three gangly big three-month puppies jumped and fell over each other and our feet. One woman carried a two-month-old baby in a shawl on her back. All spoke English and were very friendly - and acculturated. They served us eggs and canned sausage and tea. We paid them and gave aspirin to one, who had a toothache. We went on about 9:00 pm Elto [? -ed ] pushed us into the Peel Channel, and we started our gooseneck grind, 78 miles toward Aklavik. Every 5 or 10 miles we passed a cabin  high on a mud bank. Louie shot a little duck with his .22; got him on the first shot. As I fleeced it, I noticed the water wasn't very cold.

It never gets dark nowadays. At midnight, I took a color picture of Louie in the kicker seat, looking businesslike - a real kicker-man, my husband! We tried two time s to make camp, but couldn't unload the boat for mud, so went till 2:30 [am - ed ] and finally buildt an approach of logs to the boat, and bedded down on a grass-covered mud terrace. Slept till 11:30 am.

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