Curse words and clearing trails

Confession: I swear like a sailor.

In polite company, I try to keep it under wraps but sometimes I just can’t help but let it fly. Not one of my finest qualities, perhaps, but an honest one, at least.

On October 10 – the day we arrived on the trapline – Ingi and I unpacked and organized our grub, then sat at the table by the window over a traditional first-day meal of wieners and beans.

“Dang,” said Ingi appreciatively.

I laughed at his G-rated swear word. He told me swearing was never a part of his family’s vernacular. I said it was never part of mine, either – I was punished for saying “damn” when I was 12, imitating my father, and I was careful not to use “that kind” of language around my parents again, until I found some sovereignty from them.

Ingi told me I was free to use my ‘sailor language’, and I did, freely, when we began clearing trails the following day.

We’d seen it from the sky when we flew in. Ingi estimated one of every five trees was broken or bent from heavy, wet snow. I estimated one of every three.

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The forest was, in some ways, broken. But it also, in some ways, was healing itself.

The first tree to tackle lay at the head of B-Trail (named not as a sequential trail, but rather for the old boat that sits along the last stretch of it) just east of camp – a mighty spruce, snow covered, lying directly across the trail. Ingi used the chainsaw to cut it into pieces, then moved on to the next, some seven yards down the trail. I grabbed a piece of the tree and lifted, coming away with a small branch. Tossing it aside, I grabbed it again, one hand around a branch, one more firmly around the trunk, and pulled harder. I fell backward in the snow, the branch in one hand, the tree not having budged. I carried on in this manner, kicking snow away from the branches, failing miserably at my task, and, as promised, calling that tree every four letter word I could think of.

Ingi returned and de-limbed it, much to my gratitude, making the task achievable, and from there we had an effective routine.

We spent more than two weeks clearing trails – both of us in the mornings and often Ingi by himself in the afternoons. I found muscles I didn’t know I had, and felt them developing over time – by the fifth day, it wasn’t a struggle to tug, lift or throw chunks of tree, and I wasn’t nearly as sore as the first few days, when I could be found groaning slowly and gingerly into a yoga pose at lunch and after supper.

Of the 65 miles of trapline trail across the 120 square mile piece of land, we were able to open less than five, a testament to just how many trees were down. Eventually we’d cleared all the trails stemming from the cabin as far as they ran before reaching soft muskeg. We used the Super Dam Hopper to clear trails from the lake and down the river, but eventually the lake froze and we were stuck until the creeks were hard. Still, it was enough to walk, set traps, and harvest some fur, and for me to learn the very basics of working a trapline.

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Chainsaw maintenance on the fly.

One day, we reached the Y – where B-Trail branches out in two directions. We turned right, and walked out to a muskeg. Looking out over the beaver houses, Ingi said, “No one will ever see all 65 miles of the trails I cut, again.”

His words sparked something in my stomach – anger, maybe – but in retrospect, I understand what he was saying. The amount of work to clear those trails will be astronomical, and time consuming. Still, I took it as a challenge, and Ingi humoured me. On a large, faded, wrinkled old map he drew out every trail he had cut, rolled it up, and handed it to me.

It’s just waiting for its time.

I know – I just know – that my time on the trapline is not over. That part of this Earth isn’t done with me yet, and I’ll be back – map and an orange Stihl chainsaw in hand.

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One of the most valuable skills I learned at camp!

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