Friday, December 01, 2006

Canadian Story

Canadian Story: Copyright By Peter Chorlton

Well, we used to have bears walking through our yard all the time, eh. Especially in the spring when they emerged from hibernation and were hungry. And our house was on the edge of town, cross the "back road" and you were in the woods. Keep walking North and you would eventually cross only 2 roads before you reached the North pole. A big night for us was to sit out on the back porch with a can of OFF and watch the Northern Lights. Or sometimes on a Saturday night we'd go to the town dump and watch the bears argue over garbage. You could always count on there being 3-10 bears there, and usually a half dozen cars watching them like a drive-in movie.

Well this one time my brother was riding his bike down the back road and this bear ran out right in front of him. My brother almost ran into him, and the bear stopped and looked. He had a big slab of meat in his mouth (the bear did, not my brother), so he wasn't much interested in my brother, so he just looked then sauntered off. The neighbors would feed their dogs whole slabs of meat, so that's where he got it from. Those were some mean dogs, we never went near them.

We didn't get meat very often ourselves. We were too poor to buy it most of the time. We would catch fish in the summer. And my Dad would usually get a moose every year and that would be our meat for the year. But this one year the moose was a little old and tough. The only way we could eat him was to grind it up into hamburger. That year we had a litter of kittens, and they were raised on that moose meat. The one we kept out of that litter grew up to be quite a stout cat, 20 pounds of solid muscle. People in town would let their dogs run loose, and a lot of the dogs in town were practically wild. They would run in packs. And when a pack came around the corner it was scary, you got the heck out of there quick. Well that cat used to guard our yard. I watched him when my little sister was playing in the yard and a big, vicious looking dog came running toward her. The cat ran out between them and squared up to the dog. The dog stopped in his tracks about 30 feet away and sat down, not sure what to do. Every time he looked away the cat would take steps toward him, and then stop when the dog looked, all the time staring down the dog. After the couple minutes you could tell the dog was getting real nervous, all twitchy. Next thing I knew he turned tail and ran.

Later, my Mom and I went to the grocery store. When we came out of the store we turned just in time to see the bear walk in through the open door of the bakery down the block. So we stood and watched. 30 seconds later that bear came running out of the bakery, pots and pans flying after him, and the old French baker cussing up a storm, in French, I think, I'm not sure as that is not my native tongue, eh.

I was pretty young then and didn’t get to really go hunting much, but when my Dad would go bear hunting, which wasn’t often, usually just when some family or friend wanted a new rug, he would bring me just in case he needed me to sit on his shoulders and hold his rifle high and dry while he waded chest-deep through an icy cold river. Then he’d usually leave me there on the bank of the river with instructions not to go anywhere until he got back while he went off tracking down whatever it was he had seen through the spotting scope. Those were some pretty boring hours spent until I’d hear the crack of the rifle and know he’d be back soon, but I’d find ways to entertain myself. Trying to catch salmon with my bare hands was one of my favorite games, until my hands and legs got numb from the glacial melt.

Speaking of cold, in the fall, before the snows got too deep, we would flood our yard and make a hockey rink and all the neighborhood kids would play on it. By then the days were getting real short so we would often play in the dark. But that fun only lasted a couple months before the big snows came and we’d be able to walk directly into our front door, which was on the second floor of our house. We usually had snow on the ground October through May, so most of my childhood playtime was in the snow, and often in the dark. We would build roads with our Tonka toys in the snow, or spectacular snow forts complete with tunnel systems throughout the yard, until our clothes were too wet and cold and we had to come in. Christmas was great. On Christmas Eve we would all pile into my Dad’s old truck and drive out into the woods, then go tromping around in the woods until we found our Christmas tree. One time my Dad filled a dump truck with hay and gathered up a bunch of neighbors, then drove us all around town while we all rode in the back caroling.

He had access to the truck because he worked for the highway department. His job was to keep the road to the copper mine open. So he drove a snow plow and shot down avalanches with a Howitzer. It wasn’t uncommon that he got caught in avalanches while in his rig. Fortunately the worst was when the snow piled into his cab up to his neck, but he could still get his hand free to call out on the radio.

Speaking of mines, one of the things we would do for fun, my Dad, my brother and me, was go tromping around in the woods finding old mines. Gold mines and silver mines. Sometimes we would find treasures; bunkhouses that nobody had been in for 50 years, but looked like the guys had just left, still old oil lamps, magazines lying around, cans of food. Sometimes we would even find crates of TNT, all old and dripping nitro, very unstable. Sometimes we even found vials of pure nitro. One time at this old silver mine my Dad was checking out the shaft while my brother and I threw rocks off the cliff to the tailings pile below. I was only 2 at the time. I fell off the cliff and landed on the tailings pile, 60 feet below. My Dad thought I was dead when he got to me. I was black head to toe. Silver is found in graphite, so the tailings pile was predominantly graphite. I had it all in my eyes, nose and mouth, everywhere. He washed me off in the creek best he could, then took me to town to the hospital. I still have a little mark under one of my eyes where a piece of graphite lodged and they didn’t want to remove it. There probably wasn’t a doctor at the hospital qualified to do it, we often didn’t have any doctor there at all. I was born at that hospital and it cost my parent $8 bucks. $4 for the doctor and birth, and $2 for each night my Mom spent in the hospital. Canadian health care. The graphite eventually dissolved, all that’s left is a little, bluish green tattoo.

Cove, how's that, eh?


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