Marie Lake: The Trapline – Chapter 5 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on August 25th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Marie Lake Harold and Louise with Wolf 1

Louise (4) and Harold (7) hold a large Silver Wolf that Mr. Goodrich (photo below) had shot earlier that fall. Wolf packs were very common in the area, but they seldom bothered any of the area residents as wild game was plentiful (Photo by Mom).

May 8, 2014.  This story is brought forward as it is the 7th birthday of our Grandson, Grayson Edward Walker.
Grayson, check out one of the things Grandpa was doing during his 7th year.

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Winter of 1948 – 1949

Suddenly Shep stopped dead in his tracks and stood perfectly still. The hair on his neck and back bristled as a soft, low growl emanated from deep within his throat. I scanned the bush – nothing. He continued to growl and slowly sniffed the air off to my right.

Suddenly I caught a wisp of two large silver-grey animals moving furtively through the trees about 100 feet off the trail. Wolves! No doubt the rest of the pack would be nearby.

Marie Lake Goodrich with Geese  by our Home2Everything Mr. Goodrich had told me about encountering a wolf or other predator flooded into my mind.

“Just keep walking and go about your business! Don’t run. Stand tall. Keep chatting – make some noise – fire a shot at a tree if you wish. The wolves have been well feed this winter so they are more afraid of you than you of them. Remember, a healthy, well fed wolf or bear will seldom attack a human.

‘Seldom attack?’ ‘Well fed?’ I certainly hoped so. At under four feet, even ‘standing tall’; I was not going to make much of an impression. As for the part ‘they are more afraid of you than you of them!’ there is no way on God’s green earth, one of those big, silver-grey wolves could possibly be more afraid of me. It probably didn’t help that mom had been reading all those ‘big bad wolf stories’ when I was a little boy.

Photo: (by mom):  I do not have any photos of Mr. Goodrich hunting big animals, but in this photo he stands holding his shotgun in front of our house. Beside him is several geese he had shot early one fall morning in 1948.

As for wolves, just the previous week Mr. Goodrich had killed a large male not many miles from my present location. He  also told us he had observed a kill site further north where the wolves had taken down a deer. Louise and I had held the skin of that large male and had to pull hard just to keep it to off the ground. It must have stretched six or seven feet from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail.

With trembling hands, I took off my woollen mittens and fumbled putting a tiny .22 ‘short’ in my gun. Not really much of gun for wolf hunting! I took aim at a nearby tree, fired, then reloaded. I felt a little better, but was not sure the wolves would be much impressed by the “ping” of puny  my .22 rifle.  It was nothing like the resounding ‘crack’ of Mr. Goodrich’s 30-30 Winchester.

“Just keep walking and go about your business.”

Until Shep stopped, having sensed something in the bush, we had been walking for about two hours on my small trapline and still had a good distance to go before we reached home. A little earlier I had talked to Shep about moving faster; well, it was more of a one-sided conversation, but we understood each other well enough:

“Come on Shep, let’s get going.” He was off chasing another rabbit. “Mom will be worried to death if we’re not back before dark.”  

Shep gave me an insolent look that told me: “Don’t rush buddy! Maybe we can scare up a few more rabbits! You know I love to chase rabbits.”

Although he never actually caught one, he loved the chase. He did about as well at catching rabbits as I did shooting them. With every missed shot, Shep would look up, cock his head and smile as if to say: “Better luck next time Harold, keep it up, one day you might be able to hit something.”Marie Lake Louise and Sheppy on Wagon 1

“Well Shep, one day you might be able to chase down a rabbit! Ha!” His head dropped and a hurt look appeared in his eyes.

Photo (by mom):  Shep and Louise atop a bale of hay that was loaded on my little red, dual wheeled wagon.  During the years we lived in the bush north of Cold Lake, Louise and Shep were my best friends.  The nearest neighbours were about five miles across the lake so we seldom had a chance to play with other children. 

It was starting to snow and a north wind was picking up, but the temperature remained fairly warm at about -5F. Here in the forest, even with a light wind blowing, it was quiet, very quiet, much more so than in the summer when the forest was filled with the singing and chattering of song birds, frogs croaking by the creek and waves lapping along the shore of the lake.

Today, only an occasional magpie raised a ruckus from a nearby tree. Magpies, excellent scavengers they were, usually hung around the mink ranch looking for scraps of fish and garbage from the house. Sometimes they would follow predators such as wolves, looking to salvage scraps from a kill site.  “Kill site? Ah, I must stop having those negative thoughts.”

Earlier we’d had a scare as a pure white Ptarmigan thundered from the snow beside the trail. Because Ptarmigans were so well camouflaged, they seldom moved until you were right on them. This one had exploded from the snow when we were no more than five or six feet away. It scared the living hell out of Shep and me as it rocketed through the nearby willow branches. It always amazed me how those rather rather fast birds could travel at lightening speed through the low lying willows without crashing headland into a branch or tree trunk.

With hearts still in our throats, we continued through the light willows and shrubs while checking the rabbit snares along MarieSquirrel Snare Creek. Then, a bit further on we turned west toward a grove of Jack Pine where we had set a few dozen squirrel snares three days earlier. At this turn toward home we usually had two or three rabbits, but today, none. I figured something in the area that scared them off and with that my mind returned to the wolves and again wished we were closer to home.

I don’t know why we even set rabbit snares. No one in our family liked eating rabbit and it was more work than it was worth to skin and feed them to the mink. We had no longer had any fox that might enjoy an occasional rabbit. Shep was the only one in the family who would eat the dammed things, but that meant skinning it as mom had to cook it first. I’ll bet Shep never got cooked rabbit when he lived on the Indian Reserve!

Yes, whatever Shep wanted Shep got. Mom sure loved that dog. What, with all the comfort he had provided to her as her burns were healing after being badly burned the previous summer. Also, the fact that he always stayed close to Louise and me as we wandered around, gave Mom some comfort. He was an indispensable guardian. Yep, as far as mom was concerned, whatever Shep wanted, Shep got. We continued walking.

During the loop, Shep and I kept a close watch for other birds that were easier to kill than a Ptarmigans, birds such as Spruce Hens, Grouse and Prairie Chicken. They were all in plentiful supply throughout this area. The first thing on very cold mornings (-30F or so) either Dad or Mr. Goodrich would scan the fir trees along the lake looking for Spruce Hens. These had to be dumbest birds known to mankind!  On cold mornings a dozen or more might be perched in one of the trees. They would ruffle their feathers and sleep till noon if no one disturbed them.

One of the men would take the .22 and shoot three or four before the others barely seemed notice that members of their flock were falling like leaves in the fall. Three or four would be killed before the others finally decided to move to another perch.

With no sign of any Spruce Hens, I went about checking our snares. Today we found five little bodies that were frozen solid. Even through I had been raised into a life that involved hunting, trapping and the care of fox and mink, I never became used to seeing animals killed. As I slipped the wire noose off their necks and dropped their five frozen bodies into my pack, I felt pangs of guilt: “What have these little guys ever done to me?”

It was at that moment Shep stopped dead in his tracks. Perhaps we were now the hunted. I wondered if it might be ‘get-even’ time. After firing a couple of shots, I kept the gun loaded and cocked something both dad and Mr. Goodrich had told me never to do. At this moment I think they might understand.

After a couple of minutes, Shep stopped growling and the hair on his back settled down. I suppose the wolves had decided to move on perhaps remembering their last encounter with that old trapper.

We picked up speed and nearing home, we circled around by the saw mill to tell dad about the wolf pack.  He didn’t seem that concerned and briefly repeated what Mr. Goodrich had said about being careful. He told me to make sure Shep was with me when we went to check the snares. That was one direction he didn’t have to worry about.

That night after I had crawled in bed and Shep had jumped up by my side1, I closed my eyes and in the distance could hear the sounds of the wolves howling at the moon. It was such a lonesome sound, as if the wolves were mourning their dead brother. I wondered what it would be like to be an animal living in the wilderness knowing that the next person, even a little kid with a .22, they met, might try to kill them.2

Harold McNeill

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Link to Family Stories Index

1 Mom often repeated the following anecdote:  “Every night when you went to bed Shep would jump up and curl down beside you. He would wait until you were fast asleep, jump down and spend the rest of the night on the floor where it was cooler.  As soon as you stirred in the morning he would jump back up and lick you face.”  It was great to have such a dedicated friend.

2 Although I had this little “trap line” for the two winters we lived at Marie Lake and had, on a couple of other occasions, spent time with friends on their trap lines, I never came to terms with killing animals. I occasionally went bird hunting with friends when I was older but even that was not something I enjoyed.

One day when I was about twelve and living in Cold Lake, I had been out with my .22 when a little Chickadee landed in a nearby tree. That cute little bird was minding his own business picking away for seeds and jumping from limb to limb. I popped a shell into my gun, took quick aim and fired.

Never, in my wildest imagination, did I think I would hit that poor little bird. After the shot, the puff of feathers told me different as he dropped like a stone.  I ran over to look at his little body twitching and bleeding in the snow. That little bird had done nothing to deserve that fate and I had no reason to shoot. Even today the thought of having killed that innocent little bird who was only trying to get something to eat, rests hard on my conscience.  Is it not amazing how even very small events help to shape our lives.

(2874)

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  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.