Some winters are like a winter cold that catches you on the blind side, knocks you down for a few days then seems to go, leaving a slight malaise to remember it by. Then, just when you’re sure your done with it, the damn thing claws its way back into your throat and makes you feel bad all over again. This winter is one of those.
One day I’m out with Steve on the Kitsumkalum. Everything seems poised to thaw. We’re covered in sweat by the time we reach the river, so we shed our packs and jackets and fish under a welcome sun that won’t stop shining all afternoon. A day later a penetrating wind is whipping down from the Nass, the white sky has settled down into the top branches of the trees, and frazzle ice is clotting the river under the Railway Bridge spanning the same river that held so much promise a day earlier.
On winters like these you try to keep your lip from dragging on the ground by rationalizing. We’ve had these kinds of winters before, you tell yourself, a meaningless statement, this, that does absolutely nothing to alleviate the harsh, unpredictable conditions or effectively stave off the encroaching despair.
On winters like these a man needs to get out and face down the elements: an act of defiance that tells the gods of winter he’s had enough – a declaration that he’s not taking this kind abuse anymore. I’m convinced that this shaking of one’s fist at the elements hastens spring. Of course there’s not a shred of evidence that this works at all, but, like millions of others who subscribe to much more elaborate belief systems constructed from figments of their imaginations or someone else’s, I have faith that it works.
My belief that winter can be subdued is atavistic. Hunting is at its core, but where my progenitors hunted with sharpened sticks and sizeable stones then memorialized their kills on the walls of caves, I hunt large beasts with a Canon hoping to post their images in bits and bytes on the pixilized electronic walls of the internet.
Moose, I tell the dog, believing that emphatic one word utterances are more effective for canine communications than are sentences.
She appears to understand and heads for the truck.
It’s been two years since we hunted moose together. Back then her back end was in decent shape. Now her springs are shot, so I have to grab her by the collar with one hand and around her mid section with the other before I can hoist her into truck. Thirteen is old for a dog.
Don’t die before winter’s over, I tell her, not relishing the idea of having to dig a hole when the ground is as hard as cement.
We drive the West Kalum Road past the red lettered sign forbidding moose poaching until we find a promising road leading toward the river. I back in so the dog can walk out onto a snow bank and I can put on my skis without bending down too much. I slip the Canon, binoculars, a thermos, hand warmers, and lunch into my backpack,
lock the car with frigid fingers, then we’re off.
The snow is excellent: a skiff of powder atop ice. It’s all the dog can do to keep ahead of me. At first I run into the wind. My face stings. If I hadn’t remembered to wear the fur flapped cap I’d bought at Canadian Tire for a pittance, my ears would have been in jeopardy and I’d have been forced to turn back. The track takes us into the bush, out of the icy blast. The comfort level soars.
I scan the ground for some sign of our quarry but see only rabbit tracks and those of fox. The trail forks. We take the spur that leads out onto a frozen slough. Pawsome, only a few feet ahead of me, sticks her nose into the snow. Sure enough, she’s found fresh moose tracks.
Good girl, I say.
We follow them across the channel through munched down patches of red osier. The creature’s comings and goings begin to define its winter refuge. Pawsome raises her head, her nose twitching. I stop to pull the Canon from the bag then scan the alder. I recall Steve’s advice, the council of a skilled hunter and former hunting guide – don’t look whole animal; look for parts of an animal, a leg or an ear.
From the configuration of its tracks and the fresh scat we’ve just passed, I know the moose is close – stalk still, watching its stalkers from the alder thicket, no doubt. I scan the brush with binoculars. No moose bits are apparent. After repeating this procedure for the entire length of the slough, we give up and make our way back to the truck. When we get there, there is a glow in the sky. The weather is changing.
See, I say to the dog, it works. Spring is coming.