I am not quite finished this work, and, I invite all critiques and/or suggestions about the direction this book is taking. It is dedicated to my friend, Donny Robertson, ..RIP..who actually operated a trap line on the Blackwater, just outside of Quensel, BC..
In Need Of A Fire.
My snowshoes were the only the thing making a sound on that day. I was heading back to camp, where an elk was gutted and hanging on a tree. I had been up to the creek, getting water, which I sorely needed for the time I had left in the forest.
Suddenly, the whole southern slope started cascading down the side of the mountain!
I watched, in awe, as Mother Nature displayed her wrath. Hundred foot trees were uprooted, and snapped, like so many toothpicks, and the sound was louder than that of thunder. It was almost deafening, after the silence of the last day, or so, when the loudest sound was the report of my Winchester, as I brought down the fat elk.
This was going to be a problem, as I was unsure of any other route out of the valley, and the path I had taken was completely obliterated. I figured that I might be spending a little more time here than I had planned on. Maureen and the kids would be all right. Even though our meat had been running a tad low, Travis had been setting snares as I left for the hunt. He had his 22, and could fetch some grouse for the larder, and there was still a small amount of moose meat left. There was lots of wood for the stove. Travis had helped me fill the woodshed, and young Tyler had neatly stacked it. The cabin, while not large, was snug and weatherproof.
I was not worried for the family; they were adept at our lifestyle, and knew how to forage. What worried me now was the predicament that I was in. I already had a travois fashioned to haul out the elk, when it was dressed, but I needed to find the easiest route home. I washed up at the stream, and wiped the blood off of my backpack. I returned to the camp, and proceeded to finish dressing the carcass.
The reverberation of the avalanche had caused the snow to fall from the trees in camp, and, had extinguished my fire. It was mild enough to work without it for a while, and so, I quartered the elk, and wrapped the meat in burlap. I left the unusable portions for the scavengers, placing them on a nearby game trail.
I loaded the meat on the travois, and relaxed with my pipe, sending aromatic smoke curling around me, in the still air. The sun was sinking, and it was getting chillier, now that I was not exerting myself, so I went about making a fire. I found some lichen, and some bark for kindling, and chopped up a few deadfalls for fuel. The wind was picking up, and I cursed the avalanche! I could have been home in time to tuck the boys in, if not for nature’s work.
Now, I would have to camp here again, and scout for a way out of the valley. It was getting very cold, so I reached for my matches, to start the fire.
I couldn’t find them! I nearly panicked, but, regained control and searched my backpack.
No; no matches. I had a magnifying glass, but it would not be useful until the sun came up tomorrow, which was highly unlikely, what with the growing storm “ Matt”, I told myself, “You are in trouble!.” I had heard tell of a man who had crawled inside a fresh buffalo carcass, and survived a storm, but my elk was already quartered, so that was out. Besides, I had let the elk hang and bleed that morning, so, there would be no warmth there. The snow was not the kind that I could make an igloo out of. It was powdery, and would not hold shape. I could dig a hole in the snow, but the wind would soon fill it up.
I was in need of a fire.
Back at the cabin, Travis had caught four rabbits, and shot three grouse. The rabbits would taste very gamy, so Maureen would have to slow cook them to make them palatable. Maureen was not worried about Matt; she knew that he at home in the forest as she had been in the city. She did not regret the decision to marry him, and abandon her ‘citified’ ways. That he was a bit older than her did not bother her either. She was incapable of having children, so, Tyler and Travis were God sends.
The were such capable, no nonsense boys, that she had a lot of free time on her hands, The boys saw to her creature comforts when Matt tended his trap line, and helped her with the garden. Even at age eleven, Tyler, was a very strong and hard working boy. Travis was at, fourteen years old, as powerful as many grown men she had known in the city. Maureen got the cast iron stew pot and smeared some fat around the inside. The boys had skinned and butchered the rabbits for her, and Tyler was showing his brother how to dress a grouse, so that none of the flesh would be lost. Maureen went out to the root cellar that Matt and the boys had built for her garden grown vegetables, and fetched in some wild onions, some carrots, and some potatoes.
She had many dried spices like, thyme, mint, and sage up in the attic, where the cabin was the warmest, and she had dried some onions and garlic. Salt and pepper, sugar, rice and flour were purchased in town, when Matt brought in his furs.
She turned on the radio, which was run by the most modern equipment on the property, a wind turbine. The forecast was ominous, cold temperatures, high winds, and snow. She was thankful for her snug home, and pictured Matt, a hard man, out in the forest. She smiled at the thought, because Matt was anything but hard on anyone; other than himself. She combined the meat and vegetables, added water, and a little dry red wine, then, hung the pot slightly away from the flames in the fireplace. The wine would help get rid of the gamy taste, and enhance the flavour.
Her thoughts returned to Matt. She pictured him, striding through the forest, a tall; lean, well muscled man; keenly observant of all around him. Matt was a gentle, soft-spoken man, whose few words were always kind ones. Maureen, however, had seen the steel in him on a few occasions.
Like the time the cobbler was beating his dog, for having pilfered a side of bacon from the smoke house. Matt had asked Logan to stop hitting the dog, and the cobbler had invited him to mind his own business. Matt had simply grasped the cobbler’s arm in a vice like grip, and squeezed until Logan’s face turned red with fury; but he was forced to drop the stick in his hand.
The other time she had seen the fighting side of Matt was at the ‘gala’ in the town hall. A lot of the local men had imbibed in some corn liquor, and their manners had decreased with the amount of ‘shine’ consumed. Bill Garret had insisted that Maureen dance with him, even she had declined his invitation several times. Matt cut in, and informed Bill that his advances were untoward.
Bill replied by taking a swing at Matt. Mat blocked the punch and hit Bill flush on the chin, with a straight right cross that stopped Garrett in his tracks, and sent him to the floor like a collapsing sack of grain. Some men carried Bill out side, for some fresh air, and some advice.
These memories passed through Maureen’s mind, as she stirred the thickening rabbit stew. She was not overly concerned about Matt. She had great faith in his resourcefulness. Nonetheless, as she heard the howling wind whistling around the cabin, and watched the snow drifting and piling up, a chill went up and down her spine. She wished him safe, at home.
I knew that I had to do something, and real soon, the wind was blowing snow so hard that it was hard to see more than ten feet in any direction. I started by cutting long branches form the fir trees within my sight, and dragged them to where my original fire had been. These boughs were about ten feet long, and I began strapping the tips to the bole of the fir above my camp. When I had collected, and fastened about thirty branches, I had a crude, but, fairly effective windbreak, and could get out of the fierce blasts.
Inside the shelter, I took stock of my situation. I had a good supply of dried moose, some flour, some coffee and some salt. I also had a few tins of vegetables that Maureen had put up with her new canning apparatus. I was well dressed for a short foray, as this hunt was supposed to be, but, without a fire, I was a mess of trouble. My canteens had frozen, but I could eat snow for water. The problem with snow is that it cooled me down faster than water, as it stayed in the mouth while melting.
I would not run out of food, but I would surely freeze, if I did not get a fire going. That is when I heard the wolves for the first time.
I usually pay them no mind, as they are not dangerous animals in most circumstances. This was not most circumstances!
I had a fresh carcass on the travois, just feet from me, and I had left some of the elk parts on the trail, about fifty yards from my camp. That is where the wolves were now. I could the snarling and snapping, as they argued over the spoils, even over the sound of the wind. It was not a good feeling, as I could not defend myself while inside my shelter. I would have to step outside in order to see them.
Hungry enough, they would crash through the shelter, and I would stand no chance of surviving a pack of wolves in here. I figured, by the sounds I heard, that there were about a dozen of them; so, I checked my ammunition. My Winchester was a 44 Magnum, as was my Colt revolver. I had one hundred and twenty rounds on my belt, in the rifle, and in my six-gun, so I was all right in that department. I had left the innards of the elk on the side trail, as we didn’t use them much in wintertime.
Spring and summer would be the time for liver and kidney; winter made it too difficult to prepare these organs for proper eating. There was not much meat in the leavings, and it was just a matter of time until the wolves followed the scent of the blood, where I had dragged the leavings, back to me. I was not prepared to let them have my elk, and if they wanted it, they had a fight on their hands.
I started moving the boughs around, so that they protected three sides of the camp, and gave the wolves one way to get in - straight at me! Now, I had to take my mittens off so I could, quick load my guns. The night was bitterly cold, and I knew that I would lose feeling in my hands quickly. Visibility was not that great, either, although the moon was out. I knew that I had to hit the pack hard at their first appearance, in order to make them retreat as a direct onslaught by the entire pack spelled death for me.
The sounds of the wolves had fallen off, and I figured that they were backtracking the blood trail, which ended right here. The first wolf to come into view was a huge one. He must have weighed in at over a hundred and twenty pounds, even in his winter condition, where food was scarce, and they shed pounds, due to an irregular food supply.
He could see me, too. He stopped and sat down in the clearing, and cocked his head to one side, and then, the rest of the pack filtered into the area behind him. He was the head honcho, no doubt of it. Not a single wolf was within five feet of him, and they were motionless, awaiting his moves.
I could have shot him right then, but something made me hesitate. There were ten wolves in all, all pretty big animals, and their breaths made a cloud of steam that drifted over the pack. The wind had died down slightly, so aiming wouldn’t be a problem, if I got the chance to aim. The leader continued to stare at me, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, like a big old housedog. His tail began to twitch, and slap on the snow. I pulled up my rifle, and shot two wolves, directly behind him, and the pack scattered, in all directions.
I knew that the pack would take time to regroup, so I pulled my mittens back on. My hands were getting numb, and I could hardly feel my fingers. I got some cartridges from my backpack, and carefully the fed the two rounds I had fired back into the Winchester. In a bid for more time, I sent a dozen shots in the direction that most of the pack had fled, and heard a yip, which meant that at least one round had found its mark. The wolves would be back, I was sure of that.
I have seen a pack drive a grizzly off his kill by sheer tenacity, badgering him and nipping him, until he finally gave up, and left them to the spoils. Yes! They’d be back, and I had to prepare for the worst. In the distance I heard them howling, and then, I heard the sounds of fighting and growling, followed by a series of yelps. I knew what had happened. The pack had turned on the wolf I had hit with my flurry of shots. It had been dispatched and was being eaten by the pack.
Nature means for the strongest to survive, and; survive, they will, at any cost. Wolves are not cannibalistic by nature, but winter is a hard mistress, and they do what has to be done.
I heard more howling, from a greater distance, and I feared the worst. Although most packs are fiercely territorial, they have been known to form brief alliances in bringing down large game. I have seen two packs merge in the chase and killing of a large bull moose.
Seven members of one pack, and five from another, combined forces for this hunt, and I had a good view of this action from the mountainside, where I was checking out my trap line. The moose was in the valley below when the wolves appeared. He bolted, and the pack gave chase. The pack worked to head off the moose, and keep him away from the forest, where they would have had a more difficult time bringing him down. The other pack was drawn by the sound of the hunt, and was accepted by the hunters.
I was amazed at the tactics of the wolves. They ran the moose in a large circle, each wolf doing so much, and then being replaced by a fresh one, while the tired wolf rested. The chase lasted about fifteen or twenty minutes, until the moose started to lag. Eventually, the bull stopped and faced the pack. The wolves approached cautiously, as this was not a sick or injured animal; it was a healthy bull moose, in its full prime!
Two wolves sprang at the moose’s head, and he caught one on his antlers. He lowered his head and impaled the wolf, killing it, instantly. While he was distracted by the frontal attack, three wolves launched an attack from the rear. One of the wolves succeeded in hamstringing the moose’s left leg, and the giant then faced them, on three legs. The battle did not last much longer. With his agility hampered, the moose could not defend himself effectively, and the wolves tore at him repeatedly until, through sheer exhaustion, and loss of blood, he collapsed, and surrendered himself to the pack.
After that, it was a free for all. The new wolves, which had been accepted to participate, were now not wanted, and fights broke out as each wolf struggled for his share of the kill.
At the cabin, the stew had started to smell less ‘piny’ and more like a delicious meal. Maureen checked on the bread, in the oven, and called the boys to help set the table. Tyler and Travis came in, each carrying a bucket of water from the spring, and quickly, and neatly, set the table. Next summer, Mat and the boys would be finished digging the well, and she would have running water in the house.
She looked out at the sky, and saw the storm clouds beginning to dissipate, with some relief. The homestead had managed to avoid the brunt of the storm, and now, her thoughts returned to Matt. Out there, and alone. He should have been back by now if his hunt was successful. Maureen had never seen Matt fail to take down game within a day of hunting, and had never known him to be two days away home.
Even his trap line was tended to in a day and a half, at most. Still, she was not overly worried. She had confidence of Matt’s skills in the forest. The bread was ready, and while it was cooling, she stirred the stew, and helped Tyler with his studies. Travis was working on the assignment Maureen had given him, the day before.
Travis said, “Ma’am, dad should be home soon, but tomorrow, I will take Tyler and we will scout the lower valley. I may be able to get a deer.” Tyler informed his brother that ‘Ma’ had already asked him to help her in the root cellar, so he could not go. Travis could not bring himself to call Maureen ‘Ma’, and it hurt a little. Maureen knew that he loved her, but he was not as demonstrative as the younger boy .The books were put down, and supper was put on the table. Travis was asked to say grace. He said; “God, we are thankful for the food on our table, and the warm house, Please, bless this meal, and send my dad home.” For some reason, this prayer disturbed Maureen.
I could hear and sense the wolves, which had retreated from my volley of shots, and I could hear the other pack getting nearer. I didn’t have much time to prepare for the next move the pack would make, so I moved quickly. With my hatchet, I chopped large pieces of meat from the elk carcass, and took them back to where I had left the entrails. I dropped some chunks here and there. hoping that it would distract the wolves, and give me a little more time.
I put down some meat in the clearing beside the trail, also, and did the same in five or six locations on the way back to my camp. At the camp, I tore some of the rawhide fringes from my buckskin jacket, and made a rope. I tied some meat to branches, on the trees that surrounded my camp. I fastened these chunks about six feet from the ground. The rest of the meat, on the travois, I hoisted to a sturdy branch of a tree, about fifty feet from my camp.
The night had become bitterly cold, and I had to stop and pound my hands against my body, to get the circulation going. My fingers got numb after minutes. I desperately needed a fire, if I was to survive. In the meantime, I had to stay alive, if I was to have time to build a fire.
The wolves appeared in sight, minutes after I got back to my camp. It was what I had feared! There were now thirteen wolves! I had killed one, and the pack had finished off the one I had wounded, so, I now had more wolves to contend with, three more than the original ten. The leader was not in sight, now, and the pack was sniffing around the first chunk of meat I had placed as bait.
Even hungry as they were, the wolves were cautious. A braver one bit at the meat, and then started devouring it. That brought the rest of the wolves closer. I took off my gloves and aimed the Winchester at the wolf in the rear of this group. If I could drop him right there, I might have a chance to kill one or two more, before they scattered. I shot the wolf in the head, and quickly adjusted my aim. Two more fell, as I fired, and I shot a third one, as he was running away.
He fell, but he was not dead. The pack was gone, for the moment, and the cries, and whimpers, of the wounded wolf were pitiful. I knew that I would have some minutes before the pack regrouped, so I walked over, and put the animal out of its misery. That this wolf was trying to kill, and eat me, if it could, did not matter. This was the nature of the beast, and nature directed his actions, not conscience. I had flesh, and I had blood, therefore, I was legitimate prey, and I did not hold it against the wolves.
I was a hunter. I understood what that implied. I have had a bear or two, which thought I might be fine eating, and I had to kill them, too. That did not make me hate bears. It made me realize that, here, in this wilderness, I was the intruder, and was considered to be on the food chain for any predator, large and strong enough to bring me down.
I dragged the wolf carcass back to my camp because I had the beginnings of an idea. I skinned the wolf, and cut off some fur from the pelt. I put some of the fur inside my gloves to provide a little more insulation and warmth. It worked. I dressed out the wolf, and dragged the parts I would not need back to where I had shot him. I had bled him on a piece of burlap, which had, instantly frozen. His pelt and body, minus the two back legs, I left in plain sight on the trail.
Another delaying tactic; I hoped!
I stripped the meat from the legs, and saved the long sinews from the haunches. I scattered what wais left of the wolf’s flesh in a straight line, perpendicular to my camp, about twenty feet from my shelter. The wolves were regrouping, no doubt about that. I could hear them chatting to each other. I believe that the wolves communicate among themselves. A lot of this consists of body language, posture, and facial expressions, but I had seen enough of these social animals to figure that the different sounds the made were a form of speech that conveyed their feelings to each other.
For instance, the sound of the hunting howl was much different than that of the wolves serenading the moon. The intensity in the sounds of the hunt was clearly audible, if you were to listen closely. These howls expressed the joy of living, the thrill of the chase, and pleasure; in the feast of fresh, red meat.
The pack was circling in the distance. I might have been able to kill one or two, but I did not want to risk a shot through the trees. Even a small branch was enough to deflect a 44 slug, and I needed to be sure of each kill. Too many hunters, including myself, had discovered that a slug could change course very easily when it hits something as small as a twig, and with ammunition being so expensive, the shot must be sure, each time.
The hunger of the pack would determine how much loss it would take before moving on to easier prey, and my wolves looked, and sounded very hungry. In normal times, a single rifle shot would have dispersed them, and, they would have stayed gone. That they had come back, twice, was not a good omen.
I dug under the snow, and found some small pieces of wood, and many fallen branches. Under this debris was drier stuff, which I would need to make my plan work. I took my knife and stripped a straight branch of its needles and bark. Keeping a close eye on the clearing, I whittled this branch until I had a stick, about two feet in length, and an inch in diameter. I found a piece of dry wood about an inch thick and eighteen inches long.
The boys went to bed after bringing in wood and water, and Maureen brought out the shirt that she was making for Matt. She was always surprised, with each garment she made, at the size of her husband. He did not look big enough to fill out the large amount of material that was required, but; fill it out, he did.
Matt seemed almost thin, until you saw him working, shirtless, in the fields, or oiling his traps. Then, the incredible amount of muscle on his frame was evident. Maureen smiled, as she thought about her husband’s firm, masculine body. She recalled the first day Matt had come courting; a tall, and someone awkward looking man. He was handsome, in a very rugged and manly way, and his grace and speed belied any perception of clumsiness.
She recalled when the wheel on the wagon had broken, and the wagon was turning upside down. She thought that they would be injured, or killed.
Matt had grabbed her, actually hurting her arm and shoulder. He had jumped from the wagon, with Maureen in his arms. He hit the ground upright, and despite staggering, under the shock of the impact, managed stay on his feet. He had deposited her gently on the ground, and had run off to try to catch the horse, which had bolted, and was dragging the bar, axle, and remaining wheel, as it ran off.
The speed with which Matt had reacted was uncanny!
She could scarcely believe that any human being could move that fast! Maureen had sat down, amazed that she was still alive, and remembering the incredible strength in Matt’s arms. She had seen Matt lift enormous weight, such as the grinding wheel components in the lean-to; a feat that would have required two of three of the ‘dandies’ in town; just to move! She felt safe with Matt, and proud when she walked on his arm, when they had to go get supplies.
She could see he ladies steal envious glances at Matt. She knew that there would never be another man for her, and that she loved his boys,as if she had laboured in childbirth bearing them. She was content. But, with the darkness setting in, her worries started to grow! Where was Matt? Was he all right? Was he alive? She had the utmost confidence in Matt’s skills, but, she was aware that nature cared not for skills.
All that this 'cruel mistress' cared for, or about, was survival!..
I figured that it was about ten, or ten thirty, in the evening. It was hard to tell, as the stars were not visible, and the moonlight was reduced to a pale glow by the clouds. I knew that I must have a fire going before sun up, or I would never need a fire again; I’d be dead!
I took the wolf’s sinews that I had gotten from the carcass and hunted for a tree that would suit my purpose. It had to be; large, close to the ground, and needed to have long branches. I saw a likely tree, a Spruce; that was at least sixty feet tall. After looking it over, I decided that I would use it for my purpose. I stripped most of the branches from the bottom limb. I left only branches two inches in diameter. These, I cut down, and sharpened into spears, about a foot long, and facing the obvious path of the wolves, intent on their assault.
I pulled, and then pushed this limb as far as I could, and secured it with the sinew that I had gotten from the wolf I had killed. Once, secured, I looked for a good-sized branch, to use as a lever. I found one that suited my purpose, and moved the limb back another ten feet.
I now had a crude weapon, capable of killing or maiming anything, or anyone within its lethal path. I secured this limb to a tree with the sinew, and retreated to my shelter. When, and if, I severed the sinew, the limb would become an impaling tool. It probably would not be too effective in reducing the odds, but wolves, and, indeed, most forest dwellers are a timid lot. Timidity and caution are what make the grazers able to multiply. I was hoping that their natural caution would work to my advantage.
Aggression is left to the carnivores, except for mating season, when sanity leaves even the most placid of woodland creatures!
I have seen a Whitetail buck charge a grizzly in rutting time. Indeed, I am at my most cautious when Mother Nature brings out the ‘beast in the beast’. Sex, in nature, places a close third behind oxygen, water, and food. And, in times of famine, the sex drive is accelerated by the basic need for survival of the species. The same holds true, with humans.
I was now as prepared, as I could be to face the wolves. I took the slab of wood I had dug up, and dug a small hole in the center with the tip of my knife, I placed the wood in a depression, and put one end of the stick I had whittled into this small hole. I stripped off my gloves, and put the stick between my palms, much as if I was rubbing my hands, which in fact, is what I was doing. By rotating the stick in two directions, I hoped to create enough friction to heat up the contact between the stick and the piece of wood to start my lichen and shavings burning.
I had seen this done before. The Utes, who had a village about twenty miles from our place, had shown me how to do. Normally, I would have had a ‘steel’, and, of course, my matches to start my fire, but I had left it for Travis, in case the fire in the cabin went out, so this was all I could do, for now.
Smoke started to form at the base of my stick, and I spun the tool a little faster. A spark ignited the lichen, and a small flame appeared. I was on my way, now!
I blew on the ember, and carefully added shavings, and more lichen. A small fire was going, and my hands were a little warmer, from having rubbed them together.
My rifle was to hand, and that saved my life, right there!
A wolf leaped straight at me from the front of my shelter. I had been so engrossed in starting my fire, that I had momentarily been distracted. Most times, distraction was all it took to spell death. I sensed the attack, rather than heard it, and reacted instinctively. I grabbed my rifle by the barrel and clubbed the wolf right between the eyes with the stock, while it was in mid air.
It’s grace and fluidity departed, and it fell in a twisted heap at my feet. I swung the Winchester around, and levered out six quick shots. I did not care if I hit anything; I was vying for a few seconds to regain whatever advantage I could
As luck would have it, I did score a hit, for I heard a sharp yelp, followed by the sound of a body crashing into the underbrush. The rest of the pack had dissolved into the shadows. I turned to see that the wolf I clubbed was not dead, and I shot it. I was a bit puzzled by the attack, because I had not seen the lead wolf in some time.
He, the Alpha male, is usually right in the forefront of any skirmish, as he needed to be more courageous and daring that the rest of the pack, in order to maintain his dominance. The other wolves had found the body of the one I had shot and skinned, and a small war was going on around it, as they fought for the life giving flesh. I could have shot one, or maybe two, then and there, but it was not in my plan. I turned my attention to the small fire that had been burning.
It was out!
I put my gloves back on, as my fingers were, again, going numb. I could fire the rifle with them on, and could not afford to lose feeling in my hands. Finished with the carcass, the wolves were sniffing around in the snow, and found the bits of elk meat that I had strewn along the line in front of my camp. I watched them gobble up the scraps, all the while, getting closer to the tree I had rigged with sharp spikes.
Then, I saw the leader! He was not with the pack, he was sitting ten yards behind the others, and we locked stares. This wolf wanted me dead. I had no doubt of that. He was a killing machine with patience, and he was intelligent enough to understand that I was not like his usual prey. His golden eyes bored into mine, and I saw the savage yearning in them.
He hungered for my flesh, and was determined to get it. The pack was now tearing at a hunk of elk meat, about five feet from the spiked tree. I took careful aim, and shot the sinew holding the lower branch back. It parted, and, before the wolves could react, the branch smashed into the pack. I saw two wolves impaled and driven back by the branch, and others bowled over in the snow by the momentum of the limb.
The odds were getting better! But, they still were stacked in favour of the pack.
The pack retreated, once more, as I hoped they would, and I turned my attention back to my fire. I spun the stick again, until I saw tendrils of smoke. I put some more lichen in the depression and twirled the stick furiously. A flame!
I heaped shavings and lichen on the small flame, and it grew. I was paying close attention to the sounds of the pack. I did not wasn’t to be caught unawares again. I had been very lucky to have survived the lone wolf’s attack.
Had I gone down, the rest of the pack would have swarmed over me, and I would have been a goner. My fire was now burning well, and I rooted under the snow for more fuel. As the fire grew, the wolves began to howl, as if they knew that I had another weapon, and that their savage work was to be more difficult. They did not leave, however, they simply milled around in the distant clearing. I was not ‘out of the woods’, yet.
Maureen was worried, now.
Matt had been gone too long, and she sensed that there was something desperately wrong. She could not sleep, and put he house gown on.
She went to the cabin’s window, and stare out into the night. The skies had cleared up, and the stars were twinkling merrily in the sky. The moon illuminated the meadow, and she could see a solitary deer making its way towards the creek.
Matt was somewhere out there, under these same stars; in the cold; it was bitterly cold. Mary had stepped outside the cabin, just after she had finished her work on Matt’s shirt, and the cold had driven her back to the home’s warmth, in just a few moments. While she knew that Matt was at home in the woods, Maureen also was aware that nature made no alliances.
Only the best survived, and they were always at risk! She hung the kettle over the fire to boil water for tea, and stared into the flames. She wondered how she, and the boys would manage, should something happen to Matt. They owned the land, and had a small amount of money put aside. Not a fortune, but enough to keep the place running, until the boys were old enough to go out on their own.
Angrily, Maureen tried to push these thoughts aside. She found that she was on the verge of tears. A noise from behind her made her start. Travis had come down from the loft, and was sitting at the table. What he said next filled her with two strong emotions; joy and fear!
“Ma”, he said, “Come sunup, I’m going to go to find dad.” His tone did not leave much room for argument, for she could see Matt in him, as he must have been when he was Travis’ age. “I will pack some provisions for you, Tyler.” Maureen said.
Secretly, Maureen was thrilled that Travis had called her 'Ma', but at the same time, she was concerned that Travis was worried about Matt, also.
They sat in silence for a while, then, Tyler said. “Ma, I love you, and I know how much dad does, too. I will find him, and fetch him home”.
Well, if it isn’t one thing, it’s another. I had my fire going, but now, I was in need of more fuel. I had pretty well scraped all the dry wood I could find under the snow, and I needed more; lots more.
I was getting tired, and I knew that if I fell asleep, I would never wake up, on this earth, again. The wolves were restlessly pacing in the clearing, and I dare not waste another shot. The light was dim, and I did not want the wolves to disappear from sight. I wanted to see them.
The leader concerned me. I have never seen an Alpha male let his subordinates go first; he was always in front, as he was supposed to be. This wolf was not like any other I had seen, in all my years in the woods. He seemed to have a greater intelligence than any wolf I had had contact with before.
Somewhere, along the evolution chain, a certain animal had to break the mold, and innovate. Otherwise, nature would have stalled, and stagnated. I believe that this Alpha male might be such an animal! That any wolf, but he, had frontally attacked me, defied all I knew about them, and I knew quite a bit. Wolves are efficient predators, capable of astonishing feats of endurance, in running down their natural prey. They are also opportunists, much as bear, marmot, and the king of kill robbers, the wolverines are.
I have had skirmishes, off and on, for years with the wolves of this valley, as I defended my trap line. They were of a mind to pilfer my goods, and I spent months trying to dissuade them of this habit.
I was also getting concerned about Maureen and the boys. I knew Travis could keep them in grub, but what effect was my absence having on my family. Maureen was a fine, strong woman, but Travis was still a youngster, though a hard working and earnest one. These were the first children Maureen had had experience in coping with in times of adversity.
Maureen: I remembered the first time I saw her in front of the General Store, four years ago. Linda had been dead for six years, never having recovered from Tyler’s’ difficult birth. Linda’s only thoughts were for the baby, and we nearly lost him. Linda grew weaker, day-by-day, and I thought she would not last, either. Travis recovered, and bounced back with an abundance of energy, that he has maintained, to this day.
Linda slowly withered away, until she left us. She never uttered a word of complaint, and left the world with a serene and peaceful smile on her lips. I buried her in the clearing, just north of the cabin, beside a young oak tree. The tree has grown considerably since then. At night, it was sometimes the last thing I looked at, until darkness fell. Linda and I had grown up together at the fort, and we, sort of, drifted into love and marriage. It was not the most exciting romance, but it was comfortable, and we went well together.
I never looked at another woman in a romantic sense, after that, until the day I saw Maureen. I was carrying a big sack of flour to my wagon, and I was so caught up by this beautiful woman, that I missed the step off the sidewalk, and sprawled out into the street, splitting the flour sack wide open. I could feel my ears turning red, and see the smiles of some of the men at the Feed Store. They knew what had happened, and I heard about in, in good-humoured jest, for months to come.
Maureen was beautiful, in a different way from Linda. She was tall and slender, with the most amazing red hair I had ever seen. It was like fire; and reflected the light, as a rippling brook might have, creating dazzling glints, that danced around her supple shoulders. Creamy skin, and big, beautiful blue eyes. The way she carried herself reminded me of a cougar, lithe and graceful, with an almost sinuous energy.
She was a looker, all right!
I occasionally gave some flour, sugar, salt, and a bit of meat to the Utes, who passed by the cabin, from time to time, and had developed a kind of friendship with a powerfully built young warrior. His name, liberally translated, was Eagle Claw, and he taught me some sign language, so we could converse.
My revolver was always to hand when we talked, for I knew that the Utes were fierce fighters, and that I was an intruder in their domain. They had watched me build the cabin, and clear the land. Always from a distance, they had been there for nearly a year , scouting me, before they approached my cabin..
One of them spoke a little Cree, and we could make ourselves understood, in a limited fashion.I admired the Utes. Their men were hard workers, and their women were treated well. I was eventually invited to their village, and they proved to be good hosts. After a while, I came to understand that no harm would befall me, as long as I was an invited guest. That politeness and hospitality, however, did not extend anywhere else, and any warrior who wanted my scalp, was free to try to collect it.
Eagle Claw and I sometimes rode together, and he was the one who pointed out the best places to lay my traps. On one such foray, his horse caught scent of something, which disturbed it, and became very skittish. We were on a narrow trail, and I sensed nothing wrong, nor did my horse. As we rounded a bend, however, it became apparent why his horse was nervous. A mother grizzly, and her cub, was stripping berries from a bush, close to the trail. She spotted us, and charged! I aimed my rifle, but did not shoot. Grizzlies seldom attack humans, and I wanted to give her a chance to change her mind; and live. A cub, that young, would not survive long without her protection, and, I had no wish to make it an orphan.
Two things happened at the same time.
I fired my Winchester into the air, and Eagle Claw’s horse reared up, and fell, atop the warrior. The report made the cub start running away, and the sow, with a baleful look at me, chased her cub into the forest. I turned my attention to Eagle Claw. His pony had fallen directly on him, and he was motionless. The pony had scrambled up, and was standing on three legs, the fourth, apparently broken. The warrior had struck his head on a rock, and I did not know how badly he was hurt. I turned him slightly on his side, being careful to support his head, and put a blanket under his neck. I could do little else, at the moment.
I looked at the pony’s shattered limb, and made a decision to shoot it. It was not going to recover, and it served no purpose in letting it suffer.
I hitched my rope around its back legs, tossed one end over a sturdy branch, and tied the other end around my saddle’s pommel. My horse pulled the smaller animal clear of the ground, and I cut its throat, to bleed it. Then. I turned my attention to Eagle Claw.
I couldn’t see anything immediately wrong with him, aside from the large bump on the side of his head. I carefully manipulated his limbs; nothing seemed broken. He had a lot of scratches from the small rocks and debris he had fallen on, but I couldn’t see any serious damage. I might be wrong. Head injuries are not always evident; or easy to check on. I brought my canteen over, and poured some water on my bandana. I applied it to his forehead, and Eagle Claw stirred, slightly. I applied more water, and, suddenly his eyes opened.
He made a quick grab for his knife, and I caught his wrist, and held it tightly. His eyes focused; he recognized me, and relaxed his arm. He was soon sitting up, and appraising his surroundings. He signed me, asking about the bear, and I told him what had happened. He glanced at his pony, hanging from the tree, and slowly nodded his head. I asked him, by sign, if he was all right, and he assured me that he was.
I extended my hand to help him up, but he collapsed before he was fully erect. I signed him to lie still, and got my bedroll. I covered him with the blanket, and used my pack sheet to make him a pillow. He smiled at me, and I got busy with the pony. I dressed and quartered it, and started a fire. I made some racks from the surrounding branches, and set some horsemeat out to smoke.
I was very appreciative of the things that Eagle Claw had taught me, such as how to track game, (or men), and how to find the best locations to set my snares and traps. He also taught me about the habits of the different denizens of the forest, the plains, and the mountains. It was due to his teachings, and our strong friendship that I was as successful as I have been for the last ten years.
I was in a bad situation right now, but, some of what Eagle Claw had shown me had already paid big dividends.
I was still alive!, And, I had reduced the odds against me as far as the number of wolves who still desired my flesh, blood, and bones