November 13, 2019
The best of men
That e'er wore earth about him, was a sufferer,
A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit,
The first true gentleman that ever breathed.
Growing up in a hunting household gave me a scale to judge how I was doing on my chronological path to adulthood. The scale was composed of regional animals, and the older I got, the bigger the animals I could hunt.
I started with magpies when they were pests, then the next year I could hunt gophers on my own, and so on until I got to bull elk, which was the ultimate.
The progression of killing included trapping – something I regret, now. I trapped muskrat and mink, but beaver were the big time animals. Finally, my two cousins, brothers who lived right on the Blackfoot River and trapped everything, asked me if I wanted to join them when they checked their trap line. Of course.
The brothers were rustic and did things their own way. I got to the place about 9 a.m., expecting to head straight to the Blackfoot. That wasn't to be.
We had to feed the bulls, then load a sleigh for the next day, and then dig an old, heavy tin boat out of the snowdrifts and wrestle it onto another sleigh.
Their traps and other gear were scattered from hell to breakfast, and took us forever to find.
The pull to the river lasted about an hour. This was in the first part of December, and the days were short. The temperature was about 25 degrees, and it was 3 p.m. on one of the shorter days of the year. We had a long way to float and I got a sense of foreboding.
So, we tied the team in the brush and headed down the river, stopping at the beaver runs we spotted in order to set or check traps. It took forever. And the boat leaked.
It wasn't long before I was soaked and beginning to freeze. For the first couple hours I pitched in and helped, but the cold got to me when the sun started setting, and I just sat on a half-barrel with my arms locked around my legs – not moving. And we still had hours to go.
Until the moon came up it was syrupy black. The brothers knew the river so well they saw no need for a light. They had been making the same sets for years, and from what I saw, probably had never seen all of the river due to darkness.
And so it went. I curled up tighter and became almost catatonic – not even shivering. The brothers had considered asking me to join them in their trapping efforts, probably hoping for free labor. Luckily, they saw my frailty and knew I'd never make it as a beaver trapper. I think I was lucky, in that if they had asked me, I'd have felt obligated to accept the offer and subsequently frozen to death.
So after a lifetime of floating we arrived at the place where we were going to take the boat out. We dragged the heavy old tub up onto to the bank, and the brothers told me they were going to walk back to get the team and sleigh. It was miles back, and the snow was mid-shin deep.
Three hours it took them, while I shivered under the old boat which by then stunk of beaver. We got the boat loaded and headed home, a trip of an hour.
The brothers talked quietly about what they planned for the next day, and one of them, to be polite, asked me if I wanted to join in. I know my response was in the negative, being only a tearful sniffle.
After we got to the ranch there were the chores left behind while we were on the river. They took an hour or so, and finally I was free – getting home about 4 am.
Even with all the suffering, I learned what a dead beaver smells like. I've never had to use this knowledge, but maybe someday it will come in handy.
I apologize for missing the last two weeks. My computer died and Amazon was slow.
Also, I made a mistake in that piece I wrote about cattle and ecological damage. I wrote that the soybean crops weren't part of the beef industry, but I was wrong. They're and integral part of cattle feeding, and thus it's the cattle that provide the demand and the damage.