Country Roads – preserving tradition and geography

This post was written more than a week before it appears on the site.  It is posting on a Friday and by the time it is read our hunting fortunes will largely be written for the year 2009.  If we are hunting today, it’s getting desperate and the mood is diminishing.

Some of the men will have had to return to their families and our numbers are dwindling.  We’re, in part, missing home (but won’t admit it to each other) and wondering if we are coming home on Saturday or Sunday.  If no animals are down, we will hunt to the bitter end this year.

There’s also a small glimmer of doubt in your mind as to what you hope for.  Coming home empty handed is disappointing – harvesting an animal at the last minute of the last day is a whole lot of work with less people than is actually ideal.  It’s a tough day and one that can end with an empty feeling – months of work with little to show for it.

I recently mentioned that a successful run was seeing animals – and this stays true.  It will be every bit a great week regardless of what fills our freezers.  There is however something bigger that tugs at my ears – eating naturally harvested meat over potentially genetically modified and industrialized food is something that feels more and more necessary to me.  I eat far less meat than I used to but am very hopeful to provide and have an alternative for the coming months.

Hunting hard on a Friday is not a tradition that excites most of our members!

Having said that, I thought today’s post could reflect on an element related to hunting (and thus the food of my family) that fascinates many who come to visit our land during non-hunting months – the roads of our forefathers.

Our cabin sits on 200 acres and is nestled on the border of two townships (Bethune and Lake of Bays).  We are 15 kilometres from pavement and access the cabin by pickup truck or ATV.  Most of the roads have been selectively logged (i.e. not clear cut) over the last several years and the managed forest has helped much of the local wildlife.  Imagine the buffet of leaves, shoots and nuts that are left behind for bears, moose and deer when a tree is selectively harvested!  Fallen trees also provide obstacles that the long legs of moose and deer can avoid while slowing down their predators (including us humans).

Logging is not new to our area – signs exist of more than 100 years of historical logging in our forests.  Just last year we found an old piece of a harness that would be used by horses to haul logs through the woods.  I have met and still know men who harvested the forest using horses before the automation of mechanical monsters.

If you walk our forest with an open eye and a calm focus, you will find logging roads in a variety of ages and stages.  Some of these roads date back to the history of logging in the area and you can imagine the horses pulling stubborn timbers through the cold of winter with loggers working in conditions we can’t possibly imagine.

This is “Wolf Road”:

Country Roads   preserving tradition and geography October

Country Roads   preserving tradition and geography October

Wolf Road was an abandoned logging trail when the founders of our camp began hunting it in the 1960s.  It has not been logged since the 1940s or 50s (at the latest) and is a trail that I have known my entire life – I have early memories from the late 1970s of this road.

We named it Wolf Road as it was the location of the first animal killed at our camp (wolf hunting was legal back then).  It is a winding path that crosses our land before turning through a set of hardwoods on Crown (Government) Land.

The road is more than a kilometre from end-to-end.  There are parts that you could cross without knowing that you are on a road at all.  You can see a hundred yards in some places while being able to see 15-20 feet in others.

My father and many of the “elders” of our camp know 10s (if not, hundreds) of roads like this.  Most don’t have names and most are walked by 0-3 people per year.  It amazes me to hear my Dad and other woodsmen discuss a long solo journey through t he depths of the woods.  It goes something like this:

See anything?

Everything I looked at.  You?

Some fresh sign – looked like a young bull.  I followed her west along the upper timber trail before he lost me in the dirty swamp down there.

The big one or the small one?

Right between the two.

You mean near the big oak standing by itself?

No, closer to the little set of birch trees.

Oh.

There are a tonne of these landmarks that are passed from story-to-story, man to man.  Barry’s Bay.  Shaffer’s Pond.  Water by the Old Mans Home.  Jacklin’s Field.  The Murray Bush.  All of these are made up names that are shared by our small community.  The Raft Creek Camp (which is not actually on Raft Creek).  The Princess Bridge (which is not actually a bridge).  The Frenchmens (which never had a French person in it).  Ponderosa.  The Flat Rock.  The other flat rock.  They all form part of our heritage and come directly from the tales of our forefathers and mothers.  Some of these places have been seen by less than 100 people in 100 years.

I remember walking through the woods about 5 years ago.  I was 2 or 3 kilometres away from the nearest human and at least that far from the nearest road.  I was stunned when I happened on an ancient foundation of a long ago house.  It looked like a square wall made of stones – about 8 feet by 10 feet, complete with door way.  It had been reduced to rubble and was far removed from any noticeable trail or road.  It was however, clear, that this was a forgotten home to someone.

I scampered to my Father and our friend Darryl (also a veteran woodsman).  I mentioned what I had found.  They both smiled wryly – both knew that it was there and instantly knew where I had been.

I remember feeling like I had joined some kind of club – only I hadn’t.  After all, Darryl and Paul could bring you back to that spot, I can only try to remember.

Well Preserved is about food – it is also about preserving the things that form our connections with it.  I often wonder what would happen if we stopped hunting.  Would these places be remembered?  Would the names we attach disappear into the ethos?  Would this part of history be simply forgotten?  Would they be replaced by names that other camps associated with them?

For today, I hope you enjoy some of the pictures of Wolf Road – it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

Comments

  1. I know I’m more than a little biased….but I LOVE this post ;-)

  2. I agree. This is a very poignant post! Well done!!

  3. Very descriptive post Joel, I know you care deeply about this place, and your narrative exemplifies that. Places like this are disappearing from our consciousness, giving way to the artificialness of modern society. There is such peace in nature if people would only listen.

Leave a Reply