TALES OF A HERMIT
by
Alan A Sandercott

Novelette

115 pages. 5" X 8".
Perfect bound.
First printing 2010

ISBN 978-0-9866037-0-9

[Out of Print]

NOTE: This previously published work is covered by copyright.
No printing, copying or use by any means without written permission from the author.

       This is a collection of fictional short stories about the day to day existance of a man living in the backwoods along British Columbia's rugged coastline. Born on Vancouver Island, Charlie volunteers for active service with the Royal Navy during the First World War. On his return to British Columbia, he spends several years working for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway as a telegraph operator in small Northern BC railway towns, later for the Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines at Bella Bella. Following an adventurous call from the unknown he shocks his friends by leaving civilization behind and commences a reclusive lifestyle as a hermit.

Chapter 1 [Earler Daze]

       The date was November 21, 1917. First World War was raging and on the North Atlantic Ocean, ships of the Royal Navy were battling terrible weather conditions. They were tasked with escorting merchant ships with their precious cargos so desperately needed by England.

       A Signalman onboard HMS Lostwhithiel by the name of Charles Gregory Lennox was standing duty on the bridge keeping a watchful eye for any signs of the feared German submarines that were sinking millions of tons of shipping. The oilskin Charlie was wearing did little to keep out the freezing saltwater that crashed over the ship's bow and showered the bridge. The only good thing about such inclement weather was that it was too rough for a submarine to make an attack.

       Charlie was living on Vancouver Island when the war broke out on the other side of the world. He believed the only way he would ever see action was with the Royal Navy as Canada had little in the way of a navy at that time. He had no desire to become a soldier so he and a group of other young men from around the area joined the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR). After a ton of red tape, thousands of miles by rail and steamship, Charlie and his mates found themselves landing in Liverpool, England. From there they were dispersed into the mighty British Navy.

       Charlie's first service was in the Mediterranean guarding the odd small convoy and spending most of their time anchored in Malta or Gibraltar. Then in the summer of 1917, after the British Admiralty decided to establish a system of convoys to protect the vital shipping lanes from Canada, Charlie was transferred to convoy duty on the North Atlantic. There he got his first real taste of war and its terrible consequences. He would never get used seeing a ship being blown apart by a German submarine torpedo, seeing the flames and smoke billow up into the air, nor would he ever forget the sounds men in the water screaming for help. It was at those times that he wished he were back home, back in the relative safety of British Columbia's West Coast.

       Then, finally, the war to end all wars was over. And, as luck would have it, his ship was tied up in Halifax. Charlie immediately requested his discharge from the Royal Navy while still in Canada. In the spring of 1918 he boarded a train destined for Prince Rupert, B.C. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in Northern British Columbia was advertising for telegraph operators and it proved to be Charlie's ticket home.

       His first job was at a remote railway station along the Skeena River. It proved to be a rather mundane job of relaying messages and handling communications for the locals who were made up mostly of railway workers. Even the portion of his job that required he maintain the wire in both directions proved easy. He regularly rode the hand cars with the track service crews. The horse the company had provided him with proved an 'emergency only' mode of transportation. After applying and receiving his licence as a Ham Radio Operator he enjoyed weekly CW Ham Radio contacts with friends in the outer world who kept him up to date on current world affairs.

       The river was full of fish and, as Charlie soon discovered, rich pockets of gold dust. He spent hour after hour on the gravel bars hunched over his gold pan carefully swirling the water around until only black sand remained and hopefully an odd gold nugget to show for all his work.

       Occasionally he was called upon to relieve at other stations along the rail line for short periods of time. Some of the locations appealed to Charlie - some didn't. Prince George at the eastern end of his section topped his list of dislikes; it was too much like a city; too big; too much hustle and bustle. He even turned down a raise in salary to remain in Prince George in charge of all communications between there and Prince Rupert.

       One spring day in 1930, while he was re-stringing a mile of telegraph wire after a washout, he almost drowned. He lost his footing while wading across a flood swollen creek with a roll of wire draped over his shoulder. The swift moving water dragged him under and for several seconds Charlie figured he was a dead man. He barely managed to drag himself from the water and crawl up onto the rail bed before he collapsed. He was still lying beside the track when a work train from Smithers found him. After some emergency first aid to splint a broken leg he was loaded onto the train and taken to hospital in Smithers.

       His two-week stay in Smithers hospital proved enjoyable, especially while in the care of a pretty young nurse from Vancouver. Unfortunately his stay was interupted by a telegram requiring his presence in Prince Rupert.

       Two days later a reluctant Charlie hobbled into GTP's station in Prince Rupert on crutches. The company decided to put him to work at a desk until his leg cast was removed. Suddenly Charlie found himself shuffling messages under the scornful eye of management. He quickly realized why he didn't like Prince Rupert; it reminded him too much of Halifax which he had hated with a passion. His regular requests to be sent back to the Skeena River area fell on deaf ears.

       Before the end of summer Charlie had accepted a position as Telegraph Operator & Ticket Agent with the CPR Steamship Lines. The job was in Bella Bella, and while Charlie had never been there he knew where it was and it sounded a lot better than Prince Rupert.

       The following week after having his cast removed, an excited Charlie dragged his kitbag onto the regularly scheduled CPR ship heading south.

Chapter 2 [Return to Coast Life]

       Bella Bella was just what Charlie needed. He had grown up along the coast of Vancouver Island and its similar surroundings. It was almost like being at home. It didn't take him long getting settled in. He had an office right on the dock with living quarters one flight up. He was responsible for all telegraph message traffic and the issuing of tickets to passengers. His hours were fairly regular and best of all his off hours were his - no traveling pole lines looking for downed wires to repair. He now had a lineman at his disposal who maintained the wire east into the Anahim Lake region and on towards Williams Lake.

       One of Charlie's first tasks was to install his long wire radio antenna so he could re-establish morse code contact with his Ham Radio friends, some of whom were still in the armed forces.

       As it turned out Charlie was a person of some importance in Bella Bella, and the surrounding area for that matter. People needed his services. He made instant friends with the community and in particular two BC Police Constables stationed there, the local doctor, the manager of the fish cannery, two hotel owners, and logging contractors.

       He spent hours sitting on the veranda of the hospital overlooking the harbour with the doctor. The old man had a favourite rocking chair he had dragged all the way from Scotland. No one was allowed to sit in that chair but him. It was normal to see them sitting on the deck until dark, smoking on their pipes. It was the doctor that started Charlie smoking a pipe.

       Once again Charlie was close to rivers and the chance to try his hand at gold-panning. He often went out on the fishing boats, toured small fishing villages with Mr. Fontaine, the head man at a local fish cannery. He wandered the logging roads on hunting trips, and became more and more involved in civic events. The boring days of the cities were a fading memory.

       At least a couple times a year the Government Fisheries boat would pull into Bella Bella. The skipper, another Scot by the name of James (Jimmy) MacLelland, and Charlie became instant friends. It Turned out the skipper was ex Royal Navy. They had even been on sister ships during the war. They both enjoyed panning for gold and dreamed of striking it rich on some river bank.

       The Fisheries boat was fourty-two feet and fully equipped with first-class living quarters, a crew of three including one very skilled cook who made good use of the complete galley. Many a night was spent at anchor at the mouth of some interesting looking creek. Charlie went out with them several times over the years to visit Bella Coola and some of the local Indian villages and check on their fishing habits. The area was renowned for the huge catches of Eulachon, the small fish local Indians caught and processed for their oil, a practice that had been going on for centuries. They would trade the oil with Interior Indians for furs.

       Winter evenings would often find Charlie at the hotel bellied up to the table in friendly poker games. During his time aboard ship he regularly lost what little money he had playing cards but there was not much else to do. Now he was able to apply some of what he learned. It was at one of those friendly games that set all Bella Bella to talking.

       Seated around the poker table one night were five local businessmen, two others had folded and left earlier in the evening. Charlie's hand wasn't all that great but he displayed his best poker face. Larry the policeman's face never changed no matter what cards he held. Tony Wong from Canton, as they referred to him, owned the hotel and the room they were playing in. He was a good poker player that no one took for granted. Wally, a local logger company contractor, pursed his lips while staring at his cards, deep in thought. Doc was a bit of a wild card, one never knew what he was going to do, other than blow pipe smoke across the table and hum that same old Scottish tune.

       Tony quietly studied the cards in his hand, a cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth, his head cocked to one side to keep the smoke from his eyes. "Two dollar," he said, sliding two chips towards the growing pot in the middle of the table.
      Wally grinned and said, "That and five more." He laid his cards down and his seven chips increased the pot.
      "I don't know," Doc said. He studied his cards for a moment.
      "Come on Doc," Charlie urged, "You can't hoard all your money forever."
      Still showing reluctance Doc pushed his chips forward. "I'm in," he advised.
      "I think you're all a bunch of crooks," Larry told them, "I should know." Then he threw in seven dollars worth of chips, followed by ten more, and a big gold tooth grin.
      "I knew I should have folded," Doc added.
      Charlie wasn't that impressed with his hand but he stayed in.

       On the next round, after Wally bumped the pot another ten dollars. Tight fisted old Doc complained, but then met the bet and bumped another ten.
      "Whoa," Charlie said, "Doc must be loaded."

       The wily Chinaman studied his cards, stared at Doc for a moment, then folded. The cop didn't hesitate, "I'm out," he said and slid back from the table to refill his glass. "Be careful Charlie," Larry warned.
      "I think he's bluffing," Charley offered. He figured he had about eighteen dollars already in the pot. It was going to cost another twenty just to call. 'What would Wally do?' he wondered. "Lord hates a coward," he said, pulling some bills from his pocket and placing them on the pile. "I'm in," Charlie advised.

       The logger pursed his lips once more, reached for his chips, and then folded his hand. "It's up to you two."

       It was the last draw and when Doc only took one card Charlie felt he was kissing his money goodbye. "I'll take two," he said. He tried to show no emotion as he added the two new cards to his hand; one of which was a king to add to the pair of kings he already had. Right then he felt his chances improve. "Your bet," he said to Doc.

       Doc took a moment and refilled his pipe, all the time fearing Charlie had a good hand and that simply throwing in more money wouldn't scare Charlie off. Then he surprised everyone, "Let's make it interesting," he said to Charlie, "you're always trying to get my rocking chair. How about if I bet the chair?"
      "Against what?" Charlie asked. He knew Doc must have a good hand or he wouldn't risk his coveted chair.
      "Fifty dollars," Doc said with a sly smile.
      "That's a lot of money," Charlie admitted, shaking his head, "but I'd sure like to have that rocking chair."
      "Well?" Doc enquired, waiting, confident Charlie would fold for sure.

       After a short moment of soul-searching, Charlie uttered, "Call." He counted up the chips in front of him and topped the total from his pocket. He knew if he lost it was going to be dry spell until payday, but felt the risk was worth the prize.

       The next night when the two men sat smoking on the veranda of the hospital it was Charlie who sat smiling in the old rocking chair. People talked about that game for months.

       On September 10, 1939 the topic of conversation in Belle Bella, and elsewhere across Canada, changed to a more serious note; "Canada Declared War on Nazi Germany". The Second World War began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Britian and France declared war on September 3rd followed a week later by Canada.

       Twenty years earlier Charlie had enlisted and served during the First World War, the "War to End all Wars". That was certainly short-lived. Charlie quickly made up his mind not to get involved in another war. He had no desire to go through that hell again.

Chapter 3 [The Missing Trapper]

       Later that fall a local businessman who bought furs from interior Indians bands mentioned to the BC Police that an old trapper from the upper reaches of the Mathieson Channel appeared to be missing. He reported the old trapper always made the trip in a small row boat loaded with furs and on his return trip home he would be loaded to the gunnels with supplies. But this particular year there was no sign of him. Something had to be wrong.

       At the local police station Larry Dunnagun typed the report and entered it into the record as a 'Missing Person'. Now he had to decide how to investigate the matter. A whole range of possibilities as to what may have happened to the trapper crossed his mind. Larry's first task was to confirm the old man was really missing. That meant travelling into the area and seeing for himself.

       Over the next two weeks Larry made plans with Captain Jimmy MacLelland of the Government Fisheries to catch a ride on their boat to visit the location of the old trapper. MacLelland was one of the few people in the area who knew where the old trapper lived.

       When the boat left Bella Bella early one morning a few days later Charlie was with them. Charlie availed himself of every opportunity he could to travel along with his gold panning buddy and when ever possible to stop and test out any potential gold bearing streams.

       Their destination was the upper reaches of Mathieson Channel, north of Roderick Islands, a half days run to the north. Jimmy MacLelland had seen the old man's cabin a couple times but had never stopped. There were several arms to the channel and the one they were looking for was very narrow and heavily treed on both sides. But once inside the inlet widened out into a picturesqe fiord sandwiched between two snow-capped mountains.

       By early afternoon the skipper ordered the anchor dropped a few hundred feet offshore of a gentle slopping hillside. There was a small clearing in the trees and Charlie could see an old log cabin. The building looked run down and there was no sign of life. Even a few blasts from the boat's horn drew no response other than a dozen or so seagulls that circled the vessel.
       "I don't see the old man's boat," Larry noted, "good chance he struck out for Bella Bella and never made it."

       While Larry, sporting his official uniform, made preparation to go ashore, Charlie continued to scan the area. The inlet didn't appear to be more than ten miles in length and perhaps two to three miles wide at any point. They were about fifty miles inland from the open waters of Hecate Straight so the inlet was tucked deep into the Coast Range Mountains. Thick dark green forest ran from the water's edge up steep slopes of the mountains totally surrounding the inlet. It was a small world removed from everything, untouched by the ravages of man's civilization.

       The shore line showed no evidence of human presence. A small trail through the grass led up the slope towards the cabin. Several trees had obviously been removed from in front of the cabin allowing an unrestricted view of the inlet in both directions. The cabin looked as if it had been there a long time. Even the piles of firewood stacked along one side showed signs of age. He noted the picturesque stream that ran nearby with a trail leading further up the hill. A badly rusted metal pipe protruded from the moss covered plank roof. There were no windows and the only door was slightly ajar.

       Larry went first, using his shoulder to force the door further open, allowing rays of sunlight to penetrate the cabin's dark interior. He stood for a moment, his bulky frame filling the opening, and then backed out. "It stinks in there," he reported sharply.
      "Packrats probably," the skipper suggested. And he was right.
      "You sure it's not the old man?" Charlie asked.
      That thought prompted Larry to once again enter the doorway. "Only one way to find out," he said, holding his sleeve over his nose. A couple minutes later he withdrew. "Nope," he said, "ain't nothing in there but the packrat. Everything looks the way the old man left it. He obviously intended to come back."

       After another hour of scouring the area they determined the old trapper hadn't been there since the winter some time. The remains of the missing boat were found near the trees where, it appeared, the snow had crushed it.
      "He's probably out there along one of his trap lines somewhere," Larry suggested. "He may have had an accident of some sort. Maybe a bear got him?"
      "Nah, bears hibernate," Larry reminded them, "more likely he died out there somewhere, and I'm not about to go traipsing all over the country looking for his bones."
      "So, what are you going to do then?" Charlie asked out of curiosity.
      "Send in a report and close the file. Nothing else I can do. Anyone know what his name was?"
      Everyone sort of looked at each other and shrugged. Strange, but no one knew his name. He was simply that old trapper from the interior. That meant Larry had to go back into the cabin. After several minutes he reteurned with a handfull of envelopes.
      "I'm going to have to burn my uniform," Larry said, sacastically. "His name was Beaumont. Appears to be from Montreal."

       After spending the night at anchor at the head of the inlet and enjoying a fine meal prepared onboard by the cook, they departed the inlet on the morning tide and made their way back down Mathieson Channel and home to Bella Bella. But not before Jimmy and Charlie dipped their gold pans into the gravels of the river feeding the inlet. The results proved interesting and they decided the area required further prospecting. All in all it was one experience Charlie would not soon forget.

       Winter in a place like Bella Bella in the late 1930's gives a guy a lot of time to think. Ever since Charlie's visit earlier that year to the old trapper's cabin, he couldn't get his mind off the place. It reminded him of the time he worked for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway along the Skeena River and how much he liked the remoteness of the area. The inlet offered that and more. He was seriously considering moving there. At the inlet there wouldn't be another person around for miles and miles, something that appealed to Charlie. True, he would miss his friends at Bella Bella but he would still be in Ham Radio contact with the outside world each week.

Chapter 4 [Call of the Unknown]

       By Christmas of 1940 Charlie had convinced himself that he should relocate to the small inlet that was so fixed in his mind and start his new bachelor lifestyle in the wilderness. He figured he could easily fix up the old trapper's cabin and live off the land. The inlet teemed with seafood and the surrounding area would have an abundance of wildlife. What basic supplies he needed he could get from Bella Bella. Yes, the more he dwelled on the idea the more convinced he became it was the right choice. His friends, on the other hand, thought he was crazy and didn't hesitate telling him so. But by spring Charlie's mind was made up. His letter of resignation to the CPR sealed his commitment.

       Through the spring months Charlie made plans, prepared countless lists of what he would need. For Charlie, his weekly morse code contacts with other ham radio operators around the world were an all important necessity of life. On top of his list was a hand-crank electric generator to keep his caterpillar battery charged for his ham radio equipment. He ordered the generator from Crown Assets Disposal in Victoria, along with an old brass navy telescope he found in their catalog. There were other important items heading his list such as a rifle and plenty of ammunition, fishing gear, tools and . . . The list grew daily.

       He contracted transportation arrangements with Arnold Hooper, one of the local fisherman whose boat would be large enough to move Charlie in one trip.

       "Don't forget," Doc constantly reminded him, "once winter sets in you'll be on your own until spring."
      "Yeah," Larry the cop added, "I don't want to have to go in there looking for you too," referring to the old missing trapper.

       Time flies by and early one morning a crowd gathered on the floats by the fishing pier. It was shaping up to be a bright sunny day, and hopefully so as most of Charlie's belongings were stored on deck for the five hour run to the upper reaches of Mathieson Channel.
      "It's not too late to change your mind," Doc reminded his friend, but he knew Charlie wasn't about to change his mind.
      The trawler's stack puffed black smoke as it made its way out into the channel. Back on the dock his group of friends and well-wishers waved their goodbyes. Charlie returned their waves while his mind concentrated on the trip ahead.

       Shortly after lunch the fishing vessel chugged its way through the narrows into the small inlet where the cabin was located. Charlie stood out on the bow staring straight ahead into his new world, afraid to let himself wonder if he was being a dammed fool. Pretty soon the inlet widened and once again he saw the timbered hillsides reach up from the water to the surrounding mountains, just the way he remembered it. At that point he was only a few miles from his new home.

Chapter 5 [The Trapper's Cabin]

       The two men worked feverishly for several hours lowering Charlie's belongings and supplies into the small boat Charlie had bought from a fisherman for use at his new home. It took several hours of rowing back and forth to the shore, and hauling everything to a location above high water mark. There wasn't the luxury of a dock or float of any kind, just the slippery rock covered shoreline. They didn't breath easy until they finally covered the piles of supplies with heavy canvas tarps and tied it all down. It was only after they finished that Charlie ventured up to the cabin further up the rise.

       Charlie soon realized the cabin wasn't exactly as he remembered. His memory from the previous fall was rustic - now in reality it was simply a disaster. A new growth of willow and berry bushes was flourishing to the point of almost obscuring the cabin. The door hung from a bottom hinge only, and the logs looked old and twisted with most of the moss chinking missing. The stove pipe on the roof was completely broken off and laying on the ground.
      "You're not really planning on fixing that up are you?" Arnold asked, shaking his head realizing what a formidable task it would be.
      "I was," Charlie replied, now having second thoughts.
      "You'd be better of putting up a new one."

       When the door broke free and landed on the ground as Charlie tried to open it, he began considering Arnold's suggestion. Inside the sudden pungent aroma of the resident packrat burned Charlie's nostrils. He cursed under his breath before reporting, "That dammed packrat is still here."
      "There's only one way to deal with a packrat," Arnold said. "You're going to have to kill it. And chances are you'll never get the stink out of there."
      "Good thing I brought that tent," Charlie said. "I think I'll be sleeping under the stars for awhile." As he turned to get back out into the fresh air Charlie spotted something he had overlooked before; the cabin had a dirt floor. "Shit!" he exclaimed, "there's no floor in here."

       Thanks to the approaching darkness Arnold had no choice but to stay until morning so the two men spent the next several hours discussing Charlie's options. Whether he built a new cabin or not Charlie would need some lumber hauled in, he definitely wanted to build a front porch to sit out front on in the evenings and a proper floor would be a must have. A new roof would be required either way. They made a list that included a new barrel stove as the existing one was badly rusted; a new chimney was needed, as was some new furniture. There was no way Charlie was about to use the existing bunk, so he added a new mattress to the list.

       That night as the two men sat around the outdoor campfire next to the newly erected tent, Charlie puffed on his pipe and expounded on how much he was going to enjoy his new home.
      "To each their own," Arnold said, shaking his head a little. "What we really need right now is a hot rum. With that Arnold returned to his vessel to get the bottle of overproof rum he kept for emergencies.

       Arnold was up early the next morning to catch the tide. Charlie stood by the water's edge until the boat rounded the corner where the inlet joined the main channel. That's when Charlie got his first taste what it was going to be like with no one else around, leaving him with mixed feelings. "Might as well get started," he said aloud. First thing he had to do was create a safe storage for his food supplies. The old trapper had built a cache platform between a couple trees that was still serviceable so Charlie hauled his supplies up there.

       Then he turned his attention to the cabin. He had laid awake most of the night thinking about where and how to start. If he was going to use the cabin he would first have to get rid of the unwanted tenant. Heeding Arnold's advice, he chambered a shell into his war surplus .303 Enfield rifle. It would be a messy ending but a final one.

       When the sun rose high enough to shine through the doorway Charlie covered his nose and entered. Inside he began systematically moving what little furniture there was, kicking at the old wooden bunk, and probing all the nooks and crannies. It was when his foot sent the wood box crashing over that the elusive rodent made its desperate run for the door; in vain. The muzzle blast from the rifle was something Charlie hadn't planned on. He was inside the cabin's confined space and as the sound of the rifle reverberated off the walls it hammered at Charlie's eardrums. For the rest of the day Charlie's ears rang incessantly, but he countered by reminding himself that the packrat was no more.

       By late that afternoon Charlie had removed all the old rotten boards from the roof. When he finished all that remained above was a few pole stringers and blue sky. Now, with the aid of the permanently open door, air circulated freely through his new home. He even had enough time to do a little fishing before supper and spent another night starring up at the stars, only through the flaps of his tent. He was looking forward to moving into the cabin, especially during the early mornings when he was sure something was moving around outside the tent.

       Next day Charlie went to work scrubbing the cabin's interior. Along with store-bought soap he brewed up a mixture of boiling water and juniper branches. He was able to use the old barrel stove with its shorten chimney because he had no roof. As the potion brewed on the fire the not unpleasant smell permeated the air. Soon all the log walls inside smelled of juniper, masking the previous stench of packrat. "Much better," Charlie said, smiling to himself.

       The next morning he pieced together a couple lengths of canvas and stretched them over the roof just in case the weather turned, and it did. He also dismantled his tent and reconstructed it inside the walls of the cabin. The sounds of something moving around and sniffing outside the tent during the early mornings proved too nerve-racking for Charlie's liking.

       The man woke the next morning to red skies in the east and dark clouds rolling in from the ocean to the west. Within hours the skies broke loose with a downpour. Luckily Charlie had read the weather and was prepared. With the tent now pitched inside the cabin he was perfectly cozy. For the first time since arriving he thought of his radio equipment and wished it up and running.

       It rained heavily for two days but on the third the skies cleared and the first task Charlie performed was putting up his long wire antenna. It entailed climbing two tall trees, one on each side of the clearing with the center of the wire and its downlink perched directly above the cabin. That night Charlie made his first contact with the outside world. The new telegraph operator in Bella Bella was brought up to date on Charlie's progress thanks to a telegram sent by a ham radio friend at the navy's dockyard in Esquimalt. It didn't take long for the news about Charlie to spread through the small community.

       Then it was back to work the next morning. With the salvageable boards from the roof Charlie fashioned a sloping roofed lean-to over his woodpile. He wanted his precious wood to be dry and free from snow come winter. He also put together a temporary door to keep out any other unwelcome critters that may be lurking about.

       Charlie's days sped by quickly. One day he ventured up the hill behind the cabin to discover the head waters of his little creek. He found a large swamp area situated on a plateau surrounded by spruce and poplar trees. "Good moose hunting spot," he said to himself, nodding his head. On the way back down the hill he set a couple rabbit snares to see if he could add something new to the stew pot.

       Another day he rowed his boat all the way to the end of the inlet noting a couple small creeks that made him think of his gold pan buried somewhere in his supplies. Right at the end he came across a river that ran in from back in the mountains. That too needed to be checked for gold. He also noted the river should make for some fine trout fishing.

       Always on his mind was the return of Arnold's boat in roughly a month. By the end of the first couple weeks Charlie had the cabin stripped of everything right down to the dirt floor. He did have a sizable amount of dry wood on hand but his sense of staying busy prompted him to spend some time each day cutting firewood. There were plenty of dead trees already down which made his task easier. He also took the time to wander up the hill a ways to check the rabbit snares, but nothing. He even had a little time for exploring.

       Day by day Charlie became more accustomed to the sight and sounds of his surroundings. Most he was already familiar with but the scratching at the door in the morning left him a little baffled at times, especially when nothing could be seen when he got out of his bunk to investigate.

       Charlie cleared a fire break area all around the cabin and a considerably large area in front of the cabin. Gone were all the willow and other bushes that had grown up following the trapper's departure, giving him a decent view up and down the inlet.

       The third day after setting the snares he was delighted to find a rabbit in one of his snares which made a fine meal that lasted two days. He hoped it would become a regular occurance.

       His small row boat allowed him to venture out on the water for fishing and setting the two crab pots that Arnold had left for him. Standing in front of the cabin looking around, Charlie was really pleased with his progress. So was Arnold when he showed up one afternoon a couple weeks later.

       Even before unloading his cargo, Arnold wanted to inspect Charlie's accomplishments. When he looked inside the cabin and saw the tent he almost killed himself laughing.
      "You don't have to tell everyone back in town about this," Charlie suggested, hoping he wouldn't.
      "Don't worry," Arnold reassured him, "I will." He couldn't help but start laughing again.
      Charlie could just visualize everyone back in Bella Bella joking about Charlie living in an indoor tent.

       Charlie brewed up a good cup of coffee over the campfire and the two men sat around slipping their coffee and chatting like long lost buddies. Then came the rigorous task of unloading all the building materials that were strapped down to the boat's superstructure. Charlie had already formulated his plan of attack to finish the cabin. First the new roof, the door and then a real wooden floor. The last major addition would be Charlie's front porch, something he had dreamed about since he arrived. And now it would be even better as tied to the bow of the boat was the infamous rocking chair that Charlie had left behind.
      "Doc tied it up there himself," Arnold told him. "He didn't want you accusing him of welching on a bet and calling him an old Scottish cheapskate."
      "Well he is," Charlie remarked with a grin.
      "You won't get any argument from me," Arnold agreed and they both had a good laugh.

       The next morning Arnold left. The busy fishing season lay ahead for Arnold, a period of time that could make or break a fisherman, and break him it almost did as six weeks later Arnold ran his boat aground while trying to free a snagged net. In the process of trying to work himself off the rocks he broke a crankshaft and badly tore up his engine. His boat was in for a long overhaul and would not be available to make the supply run into Charlie's inlet before winter.

       It would be the better part of two months before Charlie was able to wander out into the yard and look back over his newly completed home. Inside, along with the new wooden floor, were a new table and two chairs, a shiny new barrel stove and chimney direct from the Hudson's Bay, a new feather filled mattress for the bed Charlie fashioned from a few thin jack pine poles, and two glass windows bordering the new solid wood door. Best of all, there were no lingering traces of the previous four-legged tenant.

       Things were shaping up pretty much the way Charlie had envisioned. The only thing he had underestimated was the loneliness, something he would have to overcome before the long winter set in. He knew he could count on Arnold returning in the fall, plus his nightly ham radio contacts kept him in touch. But winter was a long way off and he now had the time to start enjoying his new surroundings. Most evenings would find Charlie sitting out in front of the cabin, rocking that old chair back and forth, puffing on his pipe and listening to the distant sounds of nature.

Chapter 6 [He Wasn't Alone]

       Charlie's choice to live remote from the rest of the world meant he would have to get used to always being alone. There were times during his rebuilding of the old log cabin that Charlie would hear strange noises in the night. Some sounds were familiar to him such as the incessant squawking of seagulls and the wind through the trees, but the sounds of an owl or the lonesome call of a loon were new. The sounds that troubled him most came in the early mornings when he distinctly heard something moving around outside the cabin and the occasional scratch at the door. With a new door now firmly in place he no longer slept with one eye open.

       Finally, after being awakened several mornings in a row, he decided to get out of his bunk and see what was out there. He crept bare footed across the new wooden floor to steal a peak out the window. At first he could see nothing in the moonlit yard, but a movement caught his eye. A shadow appeared from around the corner of the cabin and then he could make out the image of what looked like a wolf. He had heard them howling off in the distance many times but never expected them to come in this close. The animal moved along the wall getting closer and closer. Charlie determined he would have to try and scare it away; they were just too dangerous for his liking.

       Feeling a renewed confidence from the .303 Enfield rifle now in his hand he re-checked the window but saw nothing. So he ever so slowly twisted the knob of the door and eased it open a crack. Still nothing came into view. He eased to door further open until he could lean out a bit to have a good look. It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, but when they did they locked on the animal's form. It was actually sitting down about fifty feet out in from of the cabin, right beside his campfire pit. A strange feeling came over Charlie as he found himself staring eye to eye with what he perceived to be a dangerous animal, and yet he didn't feel threatened.

       The better part of a moment passed before the man made the first move. "Okay big fella," Charlie spoke out loud. "What's on your mind?" By then he had slowly raised the rifle up and in the direction of the wolf, just in case. The human's words resulted in the animal suddenly standing, starring for a few more seconds, and then trotting off in the direction of the trees. It was at that instance that Charlie realized it wasn't a wolf, it was built stalkier and not as tall as a wolf, the colour too was not right. It didn't seem possible to Charlie but to him it looked like a large dog.

       There were no visits for the next couple nights and just when Charlie had pushed the incident from his mind, the animal returned. Just before daybreak the man awoke to the sounds of scratching at the door. He sat upright and listened. The scratching sounded like it could be a dog, it was too much for a smaller animal like a martin or, God forbid, another packrat. It certainly wasn't a bear which had the power to simply knock the door down. Again he got out of his bunk and quietly approached the window. There it was, actually laying on the ground outside the door. However, when he turned the door knob he heard the animal bolt away. It was sitting on the ground by the campfire again when Charlie pulled the door open. The moon was a little brighter that morning, enough to confirm it was indeed a dog. He shook his head in disbelief. 'Where would a dog come from way out here?' he wondered. "Come on," Charlie called, beckoning the dog to come with a hand gesture, but it didn't move. He called again but the dog still wouldn't come. Leaving the door open he retreated back into the cabin to get some clothes on. When he returned the dog was gone.

       All that day Charlie's was filled with questions, trying to piece together what had happened and what he should do. The idea of having a dog as company suddenly appealed to Charlie. He really hadn't anticipated just how lonely he would be living out in the bush by himself. Then he suddenly remembered the old tin dish partly buried in the dirt outside the door. He hadn't given it much thought at the time and it ended up on the trash heap back in the bush. He also remembered the ragged old beaver pelt he found when cleaning the cabin. The packrat had chewed it up pretty good but it didn't explain it being covered with what he now believed to be dog hair. It may well have been piles of dog hair that the packrat had used for its nest. Charlie smiled, he was sure; the dog must have belonged to the old trapper. That would explain a lot of things. It probably went wild after the old man died.

       The next time the dog showed up at the cabin its food dish that Charlie retrieved from the trash was sitting beside the door with a portion of canned beef. On the other side of the door where it had laid down he put what was left of the old beaver pelt. Charlie awoke that morning to the sound of the dog licking every last scrap of food from the dish. When Charlie later got out of bed and looked out the window the dog was lying down again, on what was obviously its old bed. The man felt pretty good, it appeared he wouldn't be alone after all.

       Charlie's good feelings were short-lived however, the dog seemed to have other ideas. It kept its distance from the man who was a stranger. It did continue to show up every morning for food but then would disappear back into the trees. That went on for over a week until the afternoon Charlie returned from a gold panning trip to one of the many creeks feeding the inlet. There was the dog, sleeping on its mat by the door. It raised its head in Charlie's direction and stared intently at the man. Charlie walked slowly but the closer he got to the cabin the more defensive the dog became, standing, its tail raised high and all four legs planted firmly. Its posture worried Charlie and he stopped in his tracks. "Easy boy," he said, trying to calm the dog, but it remained defiant.

       The tables had turned. Suddenly the man was the intruder and the dog was obviously reclaiming the cabin. "Come on, you hungry?" Charlie asked, taking a step forward. His action was met with growls and the baring of fangs. At that point Charlie slid the rifle from his shoulder and held it front of him, just in case. The last thing he wanted to do was kill the dog but he had his own safety to consider. The dog standing between him and the cabin was no longer domesticated. It had obviously learned to survive in the wild and having a master was old history. Once more Charlie attempted to dislodge the dog from its defensive position but he was forced back by the dog's aggressive action. The standoff continued through the afternoon.

       When the sun dropped below the horizon that night one determined dog sat guard over the cabin and the human moved closer to the campfire for warmth. It would be first light next morning before the dog once again moved off into the trees and Charlie was allowed to return to the cabin and the warmth of his own bed. He had a lot of thinking to do about whether that dog would ever be man's best friend again.

       It took another week of lessening tension before the two were able to adjust into their new roles. The dog began spending more time around the cabin, sleeping on its mat and accepting the man's food. Charlie, on the other hand, spent more time talking to the animal and trying to gain its trust and confidence. It was during that time that Charlie realized the dog was a she. By appearance he guessed it was part husky and something else, perhaps wolf. He had no idea where an old trapper in the wild would have come by a dog, but he now understood how the attachment was made.

       Charlie knew for sure the bond between him and the dog was forming when it began accompanying him on his gold panning excursions or trout fishing trips to the rivers at the head of the inlet. It did, however, choose to remain onshore any time Charlie paddled out in his boat to gig for rock cod or to check the crab pots. She was happy to share the catch but more comfortable watching from a distance. He also noticed a lot more incidences of tail-wagging; he preferred that to the barring of fangs during their earlier encounters.

       Things did get a little interesting when Charlie started building the new porch on the front of the cabin. It meant the dog was going to have to give up its favourite sleeping spot. It was a point of contention for a couple days until the old beaver pelt reappeared, only now on the deck, but still just outside the door. It even got to the point that the dog was able to sleep peacefully while Charlie came and went through the door, sometimes having to step over the dog. But there was one more compromise that would be harder to achieve.

       The first time the dog actually entered the cabin and jumped up onto the bed, turned aound several times and then plopped down at the foot of the bed took Charlie totally by surprise. He figured the dog probably slept on the old man's bed so he didn't react, it just meant he would have to move his feet over a bit. Actually, the man found it sort of comforting, more of that bonding stuff.

       Charlie still woke each morning to the sound of the dog's scratching at the door. In the beginning the man simply tried to ignore the sounds and go back to sleep but that soon became impossible with the dog's persistence. Charlie realized he was losing the battle when he actually got up one morning and opened the door. The dog walked in, wandered around the cabin, and then left again to sleep on its mat outside. It always left Charlie with the decision as to whether he should get up and close the door again or simply forget about it and go back to sleep. The later worked fine until Charlie woke one morning to find the dog gone and two squirrels chasing each other around the cabin.

       A strange thing happened one morning when Charlie ventured outside for an early morning pee. On the ground at the base of the steps leading away from the deck he found a dead grouse. At the time he figured it probably hit the cabin or perhaps his antenna wire. He picked it up and set it on the edge of the deck. He would deal with it later, perhaps adding it to the menu for the day.

       Later, after breakfast and his morning coffee, the grouse was nowhere to be seen when Charlie went outside to collect it. Later in the day he found what was left of the bird; feathers and bits of wing and a leg. He looked over to the deck where the dog was sleeping contentedly and put two and two together.

       The sleepless nights continued and after one long night of lying awake searching of a solution it dawned on Charlie to make a door for the dog. It took a couple days of staring at the front of the cabin before an idea gelled in Charlie's mind. He took a saw and cut a hole in the bottom of the door big enough for the dog to get through. Then he fashioned a flap from several pieces of canvas with rocks sewn in the bottom for weight. He then attached the flap to the door above the hole.

       Completed, the man sat back and praised himself for such a brilliant solution. Now he could sleep, the dog could come and go any time it wanted and everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, he hadn't planned on the porcupine.

Chapter 7 [Unexpected Visitors]

       On into the fall of 1940 Charlie started keeping an eye on the western end of his small inlet. He was expecting to see Arnold's fishing trawler come chugging along any day. This would be Arnold's third trip including the two made during Charlie's move from Bella Bella earlier that year. He had a standing arrangement with Arnold to haul in the supplies Charlie would need to sustain him through the coming winter. Without the supplies the man would be faced with the scary prospect of having to strike out for Bella Coola to the south, a trip he hoped he would never need to make. The trip in from Bella Bella in Arnold's boat took a full half day, by foot it would take a week or more through some pretty rugged country.

       When the long awaited day finally arrived it wasn't Arnold's boat making its way up the inlet; it was the Government Fisheries vessel. Charlie had become very good friends with the captain when he was living in Bella Bella. The vessel made regular trips up and down the coast, but Charlie's inlet was not on its regular route. Charlie had no idea if the boat had his supplies or was making a special visit, but he really didn't care. He really wanted some human company for a change.

       He quickly sank his axe into the block of firewood he was splitting and headed down towards the shoreline. He wished he had a dock of some sort for boats to tie up to but it seemed such a formidable task he continued to procrastinate. Besides, both Arnold's trawler and the Fisheries vessel had a smaller boat onboard for such occasions.

       From where Charlie stood near the water's edge there seemed to be more than just the Captain and crew on board. He counted five men on the bow and another near the stern. He waited in anxious anticipation as the boat neared to identify the passengers.

       "So what's the occasion?" Charlie asked as the boat started drifting towards shore after the anchor had splashed into the water and hooked into the rock below.
      "Arnold figured you'd be starving by now so we figured we'd come up here and save your sorry ass," Wally explained jokingly. It surprised Charlie that Walley actually took time off from logging to make the trip. He usually spent most of his time, day or night, on the logging show making sure things ran smoothly.

       Charlie was as excited as a kid at Christmas. There was no way he had expected his friends to pay him a visit. Then he noticed one special old friends was missing. He could see the skipper at the helm but the old doctor was no where to be seen.
      "Where's Doc?" Charlie asked with some concern, "is he okay?"
      "He's in here," the Captain replied, stepping from the wheelhouse, "he's been taking his turn at the helm."
      "What's wrong?" Doc asked, following on the heels of the skipper, "did you miss me lad?" There was that Scottish accent Charlie had missed since relocating to the inlet, but he would never let on to Doc. He would never hear the end of it.
      "What're you running now, a cruise line?" Charlie called out to the Captain.
      "If I was, I'd be going broke. These guys don't pay too well," the Captain replied with a laugh.
      "We could never afford his rates," Larry said, "he's a crook."
      That comment made Charlie smile. He was a friendly policeman who humourously referred to most people he knew as crooks.

       First things first, like when Arnold had returned with his second trip they all wanted to have a look around to see what Charlie had been doing all summer.
      "I thought you were going to burn that bloody cabin down and build a new one," Larry noted. He still remembered going into the cabin the previous fall when he led the search for the old trapper. At the time the cabin wreaked with the aroma of packrats.
      "Still got your tent pitched inside?" Walley asked with a big grin. Obviously Arnold had told everyone about Charlie living in a tent inside the cabin.
      "Sure," Charlie replied, "keeps out all the unwanted critters."
      More jokes and comments ensued and Charlie took them all in good humour; he was so pleased to have the whole gang there.

       "I got me a dog," Charlie told everyone, looking around for the dog but she was nowhere to be seen.
      "Where the hell did you get a dog from?" Larry asked.
      "She just wandered in one day. She must have belonged that old man. She certainly made it clear that it was her cabin and that I was the visitor around here. But we're slowly coming to terms."
      "Where is it?" the Captain asked, everyone looking around, but there was still no sign of the dog.
      "Oh she comes and goes," Charlie replied. "So, it's sure good to see you guys." They had no idea just how happy he was.

       An hours or so later, with everyone but Doc pitching in, all Charlie's supplies were unloaded and safely inside the cabin. Old Doc supervised the operation from his old rocking chair on Charlie's new front porch. While the boat's two crewmen busied themselves with ongoing boat maintenance, the cook took the small boat and raided Charlie's crab pots. According to the skipper they were going to treat Charlie to a good meal for a change. "How does steak and crab sound to you Charlie?" the skipper asked.
      "You don't have to twist my arm," Charlie replied, looking around for the dog, but it was nowhere in sight. He figured it took off for the hills when everyone showed up. That was okay, she would be feasting on bones for quite awhile after everyone left.

       Once again the cook had outdone himself. Everybody was stuffed and now gathered around the campfire using a bunch of blocks from the woodpile as chairs. Walley had cracked open the bottle of scotch whiskey he's brought along for the occasion. The cabin wasn't big enough for everyone so when the call came for the poker game to begin a table was quickly fashioned near the fire using planks and more blocks from the woodpile. It was turning out to be just like Friday nights back in Bella Bella. The game got under way with all participating and ran on until they couldn't see anymore; even the kerosene lantern from the cabin wouldn't suffice. The conditions led to a little good hearted cheating, not that anyone would own up to cheating at cards, and Larry finally suggested they fold the game as they were all a bunch of crooks.

       Charlie's woodpile took a further hit when the fire was kept blazing throughout the night. Some of the men melted away into the darkness to find somewhere to sleep but the diehards were still sitting around the fire spinning tall tales when the sun broke in the east. One final treat for Charlie was the mess of bacon and eggs the cook prepared for breakfast. Then it was time for those final 'Best of Luck' handshakes before they piled back onto the Fisheries vessel for the return trip to Bella Bella. It really saddened Charlie when the anchor was raised and he heard the diesel roar to life.
      "See you in the spring," Arnold called over.
      "I'll still be here," Charlie replied, waving a goodbye with his arm and watching as the vessel made its way back down the inlet.

Chapter 8 [Dog's Best Friend]

       A weary Charlie sat rocking his chair on the front porch, sipping on a hot rum in the cool evening air. From where he sat he could see high up the slopes of the soon to be snow-covered Coast Range Mountains that surrounded his part of the world. The dog lay sleeping on its mat above the stairs. Charlie had given up trying to convince the dog to sleep somewhere else, he figured it was easier to simply step over her. The dog had made it very clear in the beginning of their relationship that she had been living there longer than he had and she was laying claim to the cabin so the man choose not to enter into another custody battle. It was obvious to Charlie that the dog had the run of the place when the now missing old trapper had lived there.

       What to call the dog? Charlie had struggled with that question since the dog first showed up at the door during Charlie's first week of residency. Several names had crossed his mind but none of the traditional names seem fit the dog's demeanor. So, almost six months into their partnership Charlie still referred to the animal as 'Dog' or 'Her'. The dog didn't seem to care one way or the other, just as long as the man put food in her dish.

       Charlie couldn't explain how she did it, but one morning, again when Charlie stepped out in the early morning light for a pee, there was a rabbit laying on the ground by the steps. It looked like a fresh kill. He wondered if perhaps the dog was trying to contribute to its keep, but then shook his head at the rediculous thought. Later that morning he saw the dog take the rabbit and disappear into the trees near the cabin.
      "What wrong? Aren't you going to share?" Charlie called out after the dog, chuckling to himself.

       The winter of 1941/42 was fast approaching and it would be Charlie's first winter at the inlet and if the summer was any indication he expected it to be lonely, people wise. Fortunately, the dog was good company for him, like a best friend. But, as Charlie would soon find out, the dog had friends too.

       That same evening, they listened to the cackle of geese settling down for the night, taking a well earned rest before resuming their migratory flight south, and from farther down the inlet came the haunting call of a loon. High above in the tree tops a chattering squirrel busily harvested pinecones, sending them crashing to the ground. But it was the distant howl of wolves that caught the dog's attention. Faint at first, their mournful calls increased until a chorus of howls echoed off the hills. She raised her head, an instinctual recognition stirring within her.

       Charlie knew there were wolves in the area; it was their natural territory. He actually came face to face with one shortly after arriving at the inlet. He was out exploring the area for what he hoped was a good gold bearing creek when he rounded a corner and suddenly found himself face to face with a scruffy coated wolf. It was just as surprised as he was. Seconds past like years as the two stared at one another. Charlie's rifle was slung over his shoulder and all he had in his hand as a weapon was his gold pan.
      "Okay, now what?" the man asked, in a soft voice.

       The human voice was all it took to send the wolf charging off the trail and into the trees. Charlie slid the rifle from his shoulder and held it firmly in his hand as he continued along the trail, his eyes instinctively darting side to side into the darkness of the brush. At the time he thought of it as a close call but he had no idea he would later experience them much closer to home.

       Early one morning Charlie awoke to strange sounds out front. He sat up, ears trained intently as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Sleepily he stole from the bunk and walked towards the door. He assumed the dog wanted in. She could use the special door Charlie had created for her but choose rather to scratch to get in. What Charlie witnessed when he stuck his head out the door sort of shocked him; there was a large wolf standing in the yard. The dog was prancing around it, licking at its muzzle, her tail wagging furiously. They obviously knew each other. The man had never seen the dog so excited as it crouched down submissively in front of the wolf, then rolled over on her back exposing her underside, and remained perfectly still as the larger animal sniffed at her.

       Then, unintentionally, Charlie leaned too hard against the door and it creaked as it nudged open from the man's weight. The wolf instinctively bolted upright, its head whipping around in Charlie's direction. For a long second Charlie stared into those yellow eyes, and then like a bolt of lightening the wolf raced across the open space and into the darkness of the trees. It wasn't until then that Charlie realized large white snow flakes were floating from the sky. The dog, now back on its feet, stared after her friend for a long time before laying down on that spot, her saddened face cradled on her paws. She remained there most of the morning.

       It all suddenly became clear to Charlie; the dog had obviously joined the wolf pack after the old trapper had disappeared. That's how she managed to survive in the wild. He suddenly had a new apreciation for the wolves and especially the big male checking on the dog. The chill in the air forced Charlie back into the warmth of the cabin but he now wondered what other friends the dog had back in the bush?

       That wouldn't be the last time the wolf came calling on the dog. Charlie began seeing it regularly at the perimeter of the clearing around the cabin. Each time the dog would rush over to meet the wolf, and each time she would shower the larger animal with signs of affection. On occasion the dog would leave with the wolf and be gone all day only to return early the next morning to scratch at the door, wanting inside. After the start of the winter snows, the dog was taking liberties, spending more time curled up on the foot of Charlie's bunk. At sometimes considered making the animal sleep on the floor but he worried any attempts to push her away may prompt her to leave and join the wolf back in the wild. Charlie decided to show a little more compassion. He even decided he would tolerate the wolf during its increasing visits.

Chapter 9 [The Lure of Gold]

       One of the first things Charlie did after completing the new door for the cabin was to hang his gold pan on the back of it. The pan hadn't been wet since back in Bella Bella the previous fall. One thing he had learned over the years was that creeks and rivers tended to be at their lowest during the fall just before winter set in. He had been so busy since arriving at his new home, prospecting had been low on the to-do list, even if the gold pan caught his eye every time he opened the door.

       On that particular morning Charlie paused at the door before going out for his early morning pee, his hand on the latch, when the sight of the gold pan started him thinking. 'Why not', he said to himself, 'I feel the lure of gold.' He pursed his lips, nodded his head in the affirmative, and removed the pan from the nail from which it hung.

       After cleaning up three large sour-dough pancakes that he loved so much he set about preparing for his first prospecting trip. On an earlier excursion to the head of the inlet he had crossed a couple creeks. The water had been high at the time, thanks to heavy rains a few days earlier, but he did make note of their potential. Then, to his surprise, he had discovered not one but two rivers flowing into the inlet right at the end. He recalled having seen brook trout in the first river and had cursed himself for not having brought any fishing gear. He wouldn't make that mistake again.

       The sun was breaking over the mountains to the east when Charlie entered the forest on a well used game trail. His loaded packsack hung from his back, his rifle slung from his shoulder, and his bamboo fishing rod in two sections pointed the way. Following up the rear was the dog. This event surprised the man as the dog had never followed him into the bush before. Besides being company on the trip Charlie knew the dog was far more alert to wildlife than he was and she would sound a warning should any danger arise.

       Traveling along well used game trails was much preferred to the otherwise rough going through thick brush with devil's club to dodge and dead-fall trees to climb over. Animals choose the safest and easiest routes. Charlie always packed an axe for the odd newly fallen tree that crossed the trail and did his part by cutting a chunk out of them and keeping the trail clear. He also used his axe to blaze marks on the odd tree high above what would be snow level. During winter the trails weren't always that easy to follow and the tree blazes were sometimes the only guide.

       The first creek Charlie reached was barley more than a trickle but he still wanted to sample some of the gravel. While the dog watched with a degree of curiosity from a nearby grassy knoll Charlie plunged his gold pan into a sandy spot beneath some large rocks. Then he carried the half-full pan back to the water's edge crouched down so he could dip the pan into the flowing water. Slowly, he moved the partially submerged pan back and forth, stopping regularly to remove larger rocks. It was a slow process but eventually he worked the contents of the pan down to where only finer sand remained.

       He continued to dip the edge of the pan into the water and swirling the pan around, the lighter sand spilling over the rim until only the heavier blacker coloured sand remained. Any small nodules of gravel remaining were carefully scrutinized before discarding in case they were actual gold nuggets. More careful swirling removed the heavier sand until only a thin strip of fine black sand remained. This he studied carefully looking for any sign of the gold colour he hoped to find. There was some colour, but not in the quantity he wanted. Muttering, he flushed out the pan and returned to the creek bank for another sample. Many more samples were tested before the man, his knees killing him from squatting down, decided to move on the next creek.

       Back at the cabin an investigation was underway by a porcupine. It accidentally discovered that it could gain access to the cabin through the hole Charlie had made for the dog. The canvas flap did little to stop the curious animal from entering. Once inside it was free to explore undeterred. Charlie had given thought to wildlife intrusions and all food stuffs were stored on shelves high above the floor. The dog couldn't reach the shelves, but a porcupine capable of climbing almost anything certainly could.

       The next creek was wider and deeper but the routine was the same. The results proved somewhat promising. There was a better concentration of gold dust beneath the thin layer of black sand. He retrieved an empty glass jar from his pack and carefully poured the contents of the gold pan into the jar. Results from a couple more pans of gravel proved just as promising. He didn't notice the pain in his legs as much and he never even heard the rustling of a black bear as it stripped berries from a bush across the creek. The dog, on the other hand, did hear the bear and immediately went splashing across the creek, barking as she went. The startled bear did a hasty retreat back into the trees. The whole incident took Charlie by surprise as he walked over to his pack and picked up his rifle.

       It was a good five minutes before the dog appeared back at the creek. She was panting and her tail was wagging. "Good girl," Charlie called across to her. He sat down by the packsack and removed the two sandwiches he had brought along.
      "Here", he said, holding a sandwich up for the dog to see, "you earned your lunch today."

       By the time Charlie was ready to hit the trail it was mid afternoon. The glass jar in his pack was a quarter full of black sand and when he swirled it around the fine golden layer that settled to the bottom was very evident. He grinned from ear to ear. "Let's check out the river," he said to the dog. She seemed indifferent, prepared to follow the man what ever way he went.

       It was less than a mile to reach the first river. The sun was high in the sky and a warm breeze drifted through the trees. Charlie's rifle was no longer slung over his shoulder; he preferred holding it in the ready, just in case. The dog led the way, sniffing each blade of grass and branch along the trail, stopping regularly to water the odd bush. From the dog's interest in the smells it was obvious the wolves used the trail as well.

       The water in the river was lower than Charlie's first visit. He stood for a minute surveying the sand bars that were now above water. They reminded him of the Skeena River and some of the rich deposits he had found there. Still cautious after the earlier encounter with the black bear, he kept the packsack close by on the water's edge and the rifle leaning against it.

       The first few pans of gravel weren't too promising so he kept choosing different locations for his samples. From gravel dug out from under a large rock the pan soon revealed the rich black sands he was looking for. As a bonus he found several small nuggets in the pan. He knew he would be making a lot more prospecting trips to that spot. It dawned on him to bring his friend, the Fisheries boat captain with him the following year.

       But the river had more than gold dust to offer. Charlie couldn't help but notice the spawning salmon in the river. That meant cutthroat trout, his favourite. The gold pan went back into the packsack and out came the fishing gear. When they finally packed up and retraced their tracks back to the cabin they had a half dozen fresh trout for the evening meal.

Chapter 10 [Preparing for Winter]

       It was early evening when Charlie and the dog emerged from the forest canopy into the opening around the cabin. For the last mile all Charlie had thought about was pan-fried trout and sourdough buns. As he slipped the packsack from his back and opened the cabin door he was greeted with the most unwelcome sight; the aftermath of the porcupine's visit.

       All he could do was stand in the doorway in disbelief. "Son of a bitch!" the man roared. The cabin appeared as though a storm had passed through it. Boxes, bags and tin cans from the shelves now lay scattered on the floor. In the midst of everything sat a fat sassy looking porcupine covered from head to toe with white flour, a sticky red substance covered its nose and the sides of its mouth.

       There was flour spread all over the place, little white foot prints led everywhere including up on the chairs and over the table. A jar of strawberry jam from Arnold's wife had fallen from the shelf and broken, the jam had splashed across the floor and mixed with the flour. A small bag of salt sat on the shelf leaking salt onto the floor from a hole ripped in the bag. Porcupines love salt and had probably eaten enough to last a lifetime.

       Charlie's first instinct was to put a bullet between the animal's eyes, but then remembered the last time he'd fired his rifle inside the cabin. So he put down the rifle and reached for a broom. Once inside, Charlie tried to chase the animal out but it defiantly held its ground. Unsure how true rumours were that porcupines could somehow shoot their quills at an enemy, Charlie choose to be cautious.

       The dog, having decided to see what was going on in the cabin, now entered the scene. Seeing the porcupine she began growling and baring her fangs. Feeling overwhelmed, the usually slow porcupine made a bee-line for the door. Fortunately the dog was smart enough to get out of the way. The last Charlie saw was a dusty white looking thing waddling off into the trees behind the outdoor biffy, the dog riding herd on it.

       Instead of preparing a nice meal of fresh trout Charlie spent the rest of the evening cleaning up the mess. He salvaged what he could and the rest ended on the trash pile for the crows. By the time he finished he was so beat he simply collapsed on his bunk.

       First order of business the next morning was to nail a board over the dog's hole in the bottom of the door. The next was to fry up the cutthroat trout for breakfast. The dog was already gone, 'probably off running with that damned wolf', Charlie figured. For a moment he considered going looking for the porcupine but then decided against the idea. There had been no real damage, just a bit of flour and a jar of jam.

       Charlie now realized it was time to get things ready for winter. He had no idea what he was facing in his new location. The cabin had to be winterized and he had to get as much wood cut and split as possible. The meat cache in the tree had to be secured and ready to store the moose that he planned to get soon as the weather turned colder.

       For the next week Charlie made the daily trek into the bush with his swede-saw and axe to cut firewood. Searching for dead and dry trees took him farther and farther from the cabin. It was gut-busting work falling trees, cutting them into pieces so he could drag them back to the cabin, cutting them into blocks, then splitting and stacking them next to the cabin.

       Days were becoming noticeably shorter. Large flocks of geese and ducks flew by daily on the migration south. One thing Charlie really noticed was the lack of loon calls in the evening when he sat out on his deck, they too had left for the winter. Soon there would only be a man, a dog and her friend the wolf left to share the oncoming winter. Add to that several Canada Jays that added to the wilderness sounds.

       Finally the time was right for Charlie to conduct his first moose hunt. It would provide meat to carry them through to spring. The air was crisp and the ground crunchy with frost as he left the cabin at first light and began the climb up the steep hill to the meadow above. Dog led the way as they followed the creek to its headwaters. The man had to pick his footing carefully or find himself sliding down the hill on his butt.

       Charlie had never seen a moose since moving to the inlet but he knew they were around. He had seen lots of sign around the big swamp in the meadows. It would be his first kill of a large animal and he felt the excitement of the hunt.

       There was an eeriness surrounding the swamp when they finally reached the top. A steamy fog lifted from the reeds and grass, all was quiet and still. Charlie stood for a few moments to catch his breath and survey the area. What he hoped was to find a moose feeding along the edges of the swamp and not standing out in the water where it would be next to impossible to drag it out.

       Back on the trail again, Charlie quietly worked his way around the outer perimeter, moving from brush clump to brush clump being careful to keep out of sight. This went on for a good hour before Charlie saw what he was hoping for. A young bull moose sporting a new set of antlers was feeding at the water's edge. It would dip its head down and grab a mouthful of grasses and then contentedly munch on the grass while keeping a sharp eye on its surroundings. Charlie couldn't believe his good luck; his first trip out and still early in the day. Everything was perfect. Charlie was standing in a grove of poplar trees slightly elevated above the swamp. There was no wind to give away his position. He slowly raised his rifle, leaned it across a branch for support and released the safety. Then the unexpected happened.

       With a loud yelp, the dog burst from behind Charlie and bounded towards the moose. The moose immediately swung its head towards the intruding dog, and then bolted as if struck by lightening. The last thing Charlie saw was the blur of a moose heading into the trees and the dog hot on moose's trail.
      "God damit dog, no!" Charlie bellowed after the dog but his call fell on deaf ears as the dog charged forward, barking wildly as it went.

       Charlie was sitting on a deadfall when the dog returned five minutes later, her tongue hanging from her mouth, breathing deeply, her tail wagging and feeling quite proud of herself. That was the second time since their first meeting that Charlie contemplated ending their arrangement. However, after a sort of counting to ten, the man had to ask himself why he'd allowed the dog to come along in the first place. He swore on his next hunting trip he would be alone.

       The weather over the next week ruled out a hunting trip and Charlie resumed work readying the cabin for winter. Some of the chinking between the logs needed replacing and several knot holes in the floor boards needed plugging to stem the flow of mice attempting to move indoors for the winter. That meant the family of chipmunks living under the floor would no longer be able to forage for food inside the cabin any time it was vacant, at least until the mice chewed new holes. Charlie figured that process took about two nights because he woke up in the early hours of the morning to find a chipmunk running across his bed. Fortunately for the chipmunk the dog was off galivanting with the wolves.

       That wasn't the only thing waking him up during the night. Since boarding up the dog's hole in the door, Charlie was awakened every morning to the dog's whining when she wanted out. After the third morning of having to get up to let the dog out he removed the board. He also noticed each morning that the wolf was sitting in its usual spot waiting patiently for the dog to come out. They would then run off into the forest and he wouldn't see the dog for several hours.

       When the day came and the weather was just right for another trip up to the meadow and another try at moose hunting the dog was no where to be seen. That suited Charlie just fine as he had been thinking he would have to lock the dog in the cabin to keep it home while he hunted. The moose had lucked out the first time, thanks to the dog, but if it was back in the swamp charlie intended to add it to his winter larder. If not there were always deer on the slopes farther up the valley.

Chapter 11 [Cold and Grey]

       Charlie thought he was ready for winter but he had no idea what winter could dish up deep in the Coast Range Mountains. So far all he had experienced was snow for days on end and temperatures dipping down to ten below zero. What the first real storm of the winter brought was beyond anything he expected or was prepared for.

       The storm started during the wee hours of the morning. The winds began to howl and the temperature dropped rapidly. Even before daybreak he had to crawl out of his bunk and light a fire in the 'ol barrel stove. The dog was still curled up on the bottom of the bunk. Even she had sence not to venture outside. With a good fire burning, Charlie returned to the warmth of his bed.
      "Wake me when it warms up in here," he said to the dog and pulled the blanket up to his ears.

       The fire was dying down but the cabin was reasonably warm when Charlie finally got up and got dressed. The dog stayed where she was and closed her eyes again as the man added a couple sticks of wood to the fire. After yawning and scratching Charlie pulled on his boots, slid into his heavy winter coat and opened the door to go out for his morning pee. He was met by over two feet of snow drifted against the door. The wind still howled and blowing snow made it next to impossible to see more than a few feet.

       Back inside Charlie slid the coffee pot onto the cooking part of the stove. He didn't mind day-old coffee as long as it was hot. It was still dark enough in the cabin to require a lamp to read by. He sat down at the table with a book he had read cover to cover at least several times and settled in to wait out the storm.

       Later in the morninh he managed to dig his way outside so he and the doh could at least get to pee. By that evening it was evident to Charlie that the storm wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. That meant he would have to brave the weather and haul in some firewood, plus make a trip to the outdoor biffy that he had put off as long as he could. The dog had been out a couple times but always returned right away.

       Getting to the woodpile was no problem; it was the outdoor biffy that posed the problem. The snow drift on that side and behind the cabin was already too deep for man and beast. He started digging a path but didn't get far before deciding, 'this is far enough'. Getting to the creek was just about as bad but he managed to wade through drifts up to his waist. He was disappointed to discover he had to break through a layer of ice to fill the water bucket. Several armloads of firewood later he decided they were ready for another stormy night.

       The storm lasted throughout the night and most of the next day. Charlie lay awake most of the night listening to the wind. In the distance he could hear the odd tree snap and then crash to the ground. On a positive note he hoped the fallen trees would be close enough to the cabin as to cut down on distance he had to go to cut firewood.

       When they awoke in the morning the cabin was cold, the water bucket was frozen, and the indoor firewood supply was virtually exhausted. Outside the temperature was down to -25 below zero. Charlie had to fight to get past the snow drifted half way up against the outside of the door. There was little snow on the deck but he was shocked to find snow had drifted right up level with the roof around back. The biffy was no where to be seen. He even had to tunnel to reach the woodpile. The dog followed the man through the door, did her thing on the deck, and retreated back inside. Charlie hauled in a whole row of firewood and stacked it inside along one wall. He wasn't going to run out of wood again. He didn't even try to get water from the creek, he just reverted to hauling in buckets of snow and melting it on the stove, a practice that would remain in place until spring.

       That evening was Charlie's scheduled time for morse code contacts with his regular group. After spending several minutes cranking the hand generator to bring his battery up to strength, he flipped the switch on his CW Receiver and smiled as it crackled to life. Unfortunately there were no signals forthcoming, only static.

       Deeming his regular contact with the outside world to be sufficiently important he dawned his winter gear and headed outside. What he discovered was that one of the tree to which his antenna wire was attached was on one the trees that had come down in the storm. That meant no contact with the outside world until he fixed the antenna, and that wouldn't be until after the storm subsided. It was at that point he understood just how isolated he really was.

       Out of sheer boredom he decided to remove everything from the shelves and do some cleaning. He hadn't properly cleaned up after the porcupine's last visit. What he found proved real interesting.

       Tucked in a back corner of a self were two dusty and faded envelopes. He sat back down at the table in the lamp light to examine the envelopes. Both were letters addressed to Clarence Beaumont at General Delivery, Williams Lake B.C. Both letters were from Montreal.

       Charlie was reluctant to read an other man's mail, but believing the old trapper was dead, and driven by curiosity he extracted one of the letters. It was written in French but Charlie was able to ascertain that it was from Clarence's mother. From what little French Charlie could remember from his school days he could tell the letter was one of many she had written her son over the years. Like any mother she was worried about his health and disposition. She mentioned other names that Charlie assumed were other family members.

       For the next while Charlie sat at the table puffing on his pipe and staring at the letters trying to envision why the old trapper had left Montreal and ended up in the remoteness of British Columbia.

       The next day began pretty much like the previous. 'The End' appeared on the last page of the book he had read, again. He sat at his table staring at the frost covered window. He had heard the term, 'Cabin Fever', now he was living it.

       By late afternoon when the wind finally subsided the man who had felt destined to live in the wilderness was beginning to question his sanity. He longed to be back in Bella Bella, sitting in that smoky hotel room surrounded by friends, and staring at a mediocre poker hand. But he wasn't in Bella Bella, and he work to do, starting with repairing his radio antenna.

       It was through Charlie's regular ham radio contacts that he was able to keep track of how the war in Europe was going. He was particularily interested in any news eminating from the North Atlantic where Canadian Navy ships were providing the escourt duty for ship convoys back and forth between Canada and Britian. Charlie often awoke during the night in a cold sweat dreaming of his time aboard ship on the North Atlantic twenty years earlier. He kept reasurring himself that the war was a long way off on the other side of the world. But that too was to change.

       On the evening of Thursday, December 11, 1941, his regularily scheduled ham radio night, Charlie received news that the Japanese Navy had attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii the previous Sunday morning. Now there was a war on the Pacific Ocean, right on Charlie's doorstep.

       Before he knew it, it was Christmas day. It was Charlie's first Christmas on his own. He was determined to celebrate the holiday in any event. He had often noticed a small spruce tree along the upper trail that he figured would make a great Christmas tree, and it did. The dog probably figured Charlie was going a little strange by dragging the tree into the cabin and standing it up in the middle of the room. Watching the man affix homemade decorations to the tree probably confirmed the feeling. Charlie, on the other hand, was pleased with the result and often found himself humming old Christmas songs.

       The New Year starting 1942 was celebrated by an over indulging of hot rum and the firing of his rifle at a time Charlie figured was close enough to midnight. A new year was under way along the eastern reaches of Mathieson Channel.

Chapter 12 [Finally, Running Water]

       Charlie's first winter in his remote cabin was the longest winter he had ever spent in his lifetime. He had a new appreciation for the term, 'Cabin Fever'. To combat the ever increasing depression he attempted to go outside every day, even if for only short periods of time. Many a day he and the dog jumped in the boat and rowed up and down the shoreline taking advantage of the winter sun that rose above the mountains for only a few hours during some of winters shortest days. Fishing was still good and they had several good feeds of seafood.

       Every few days he would strap on his snowshoes and go out to check his rabbit snares. He quickly learned the tricks of setting the wire snare in just the right spot and camouflaging the shiny brass wire. Each trip out usually netted at least one rabbit that augmented the food supply. He soon discovered he wasn't the only one checking the trap line. On more than one occasion he found what appeared to be wolverine tracks, signs of a struggle and an empty snare. He even found wolf tracks! He immediately thought of the big male wolf that often appeared at the cabin. Proving the big wolf was guilty of poaching on the trapline was easy; one morning Charlie found a rabbit left by the deck still had the wire snare attached. The dog certainly wasn't going hungry.

       The snow was relentless, day after day. That meant constantly having to shovel a trail to the outhouse and the woodpile. Even the dog had problems getting through the snow some days. He constantly worried about the snow load on the roof. He envisioned laying on his bunk and having the roof cave in, especially when the weather changed to rain.

       Before long Charlie lost count of the number of buckets of snow he hauled to melt on the stove. All their water requirements came from melted snow. It seemed to Charlie that the dog drank far more than he did. Trips to the woodpile was the next boring task he performed day after day, day after day. He had to keep reminding himself that spring would return, someday!

       March 1942 went out like a lion but April was worth waiting for. The days warmed and snow-water dripped from the cabin's roof. Each day Charlie could see the snow depth in the yard deminish. Before long all the snow was melted from the tree branches and bare ground started to show along the trails.

       Charlie knew spring was there to stay when one evening while sitting quietly on the front deck he heard what he thought was running water. Sure enough, when he checked the creek there was a trickle of water beginning to flow. For the man that meant no more daily ritual of hauling in buckets of snow to melt on the stove for water. It always intrigued him that it took several buckets of snow just to get a half pail of water. And with both the dog and a wolf in the yard he had to be careful not to collect the yellow snow.

       Before long the Canada Geese were returning along with Trumpeter Swans and a whole variety of ducks. Huge formations of migrators flew up the channel on a daily basis, landing to rest and feed onlong the shoreline near the cabin. Then each morning starting around 4:30am the large flocks would rise up into the skies to resume their flight up over the mountain and into the interior of the province. The noise they made was unbearable and Charlie, unable to sleep, had no choice but to get out of bed get an early start to his day. Ironically, the dog seemed oblivious to the racket and remain curled up on the foot of the bed.

Chapter 14 [Beaver Fever]

       "Life is good!" That's how Charlie would describe his reclusive life-style in the remote Coast Range Mountains of British Columbia. Living in his rebuilt log cabin along the shores of the inlet at the eastern most end of Mathieson Channel, he and the dog were etching a living from the wilderness and were content to let the world roll by.

       The cabin, originally built by some old trapper, was crude at best but provided shelter from the elements. They continued to share it with a family of chipmunks and countless swallows that nested every year under the roof eaves. Plumbing was rustic, consisting of the outdoor biffy tucked back into the trees along side the cabin. Their fresh water came from the small stream that flowed down the mountain side right past the cabin.

       One of Charlie's daily chores involved hauling two buckets of water from the creek except during the winter when the creek froze solid. He had just gone through a winter of hauling buckets of snow to melt on the stove. Earlier in the spring the snow melting back in the hills had caused the creek to overflow its banks. During the summer, though, the water level seldom changed. The creek water was something Charlie began taking for granted, until one particular morning. Much to Charlie's surprise there was only a trickle flowing. This was not how Charlie wanted to start his day. He had been hoping to spend most of the day drifting off shore jigging for rock cod for supper.

       Water was important to his very existence and the sudden lack of it spurred him to investigate the mystery. So, instead of fishing he found himself climbing the steep trail that followed the creek up the hill to the meadowlands above. With the dog leading the way, Charlie carefully chose his footing between slippery moss covered rocks, tree roots hidden in the grass and Devil's Club that leaned across the trail like a tropical rain forest.

       It took the better part of an hour to finally reach the crest of the hill above the cabin. Then the terrain leveled off into a vast meadow that was a favourite feeding place for moose. However, the only one that Charlie had actually seen was probably still running after the dog chased it during a hunting trip the previous fall. The meadow was difficult to traverse with deep narrow water channels meandering through the rushes and swamp grass. Charlie seldom ventured out into the meadow, rather sticking to the trees that formed the swamp's border.

       After a short but welcome breather, Charlie worked his way through the trees to where his creek flowed from the meadow. There, instead of the usually wide expanse of fresh water, there was only a narrow stream with exposed muddy banks, much like a low tidal flat. The root of the problem was clearly evident; a beaver had built a dam right across the mouth of the creek. Straining to see over the dam Charlie could see the water already beginning to back up into the meadow. He knew that as the beaver continued to increase the height of the dam the water behind it would create a large pond in the meadow as the beaver's exclusive domain. Charlie was not about to let that happen.

       He carefully leaned his trusty .303 Enfield rifle against a tree and began the difficult task of dismantling the dam. It wasn't as easy as he thought. Several nearby poplar trees had been gnawed through and, with the skill of a professional logger, skillfully fallen across the creek right at the edge of the meadow where the creek turned and headed down towards Charlie's cabin. The branches from those trees and several others were intricately woven together to form a strong barrier. The ingenious little critter had then used mud and grasses from the meadow bottom to seal any openings until only a trickle of water escaped.

       It took the better part of the day but when Charlie was finished, so was the dam. All the branches had been pulled free and water once more flowed into the small creek. Unfortunately, the sudden surge of water stirred up sediment leaving the water muddy and tasting awful. But he was confident it would be okay by morning. Feeling a sense of accomplishment Charlie and the dog made their way back down to hill to the cabin and a hot meal.

       Next morning when Charlie went to draw water for the cabin the water was clear once more but still not yet up to its normal level. He felt proud of himself for protecting his only source of fresh water. Now he could get back to more important things; like a day of fishing with his dog. He always tried to get the dog to go out with him so it could bark and keep the seals away from his favourite fishing spots, but she would have no part of the man's plan. She was content to remain behind and watch from shore. That night they dined on freshly caught cod and homegrown fried potatoes. When the sun sank below the horizon Charlie and the dog were quietly relaxing on the front porch.

       The following morning there was little more than a trickle coming down the creek from above. Charlie let out a tirade of curses that echoed out over the water. It was obvious his beaver problem wasn't over. He stormed back to the cabin with a partial bucket of water and a determination that no bloody beaver was going to steal his drinking water and get away with it.

       Just like before, Charlie spent the better part of the day tearing the dam apart. He even went to the extra effort chopping the long branches into short pieces that he threw back into the bush. It was difficult trying to maintain his balance, the branches were slippery with mud the beaver has dredged up, and several times Charlie slipped and landed feet first, knee-deep in sticky mud. Each time he would bellow profanities at the builder while he attempted to climb back onto the structure. The dog took Charlie's cursing & swearing as a good sign to stay out of the way so she spent the whole time watching and sleeping under a tree a safe distance away.

       Before heading back down the hill they walked around the small pond that was forming but there was no sign of the beaver. From experience the man knew it would take weeks before the beaver would begin building its partially submerged home. In the meanwhile the beaver would remain scarce while the intruders were around, and a good thing too, as after breaking his back all day Charlie fully intended to do harm to his adversary.

       That night Charlie couldn't help but lay awake listening to sounds of the running water that usually lulled him to sleep. All seemed okay but when he awoke and wandered out onto the deck for his early morning pee, the usual sounds of fast running water weren't coming from the direction of the creek. He immediately stormed over to see, only to subject his bare feet to thousands of sharp pine needles on the ground, and they hurt! He cursed and tenderly picked his footing back to the deck where his dog had taken refuge underneath having detected the tone of the human's voice.

       After breakfast Charlie picked up his rifle and a re-sharpened axe in preparation for the trek up the hill. He looked around for the dog but she was deliberately no where to be seen. The man shrugged his shoulders and started up the narrow trail to the upper meadow. A light rain was falling making the steep trail even more treacherous. He was so intent on his footing her failed to notice the wolf waiting above along the trail. when he did it it, he lost his balance and fell face first to the ground, sliding back several yards and tearing one knee out of his trousers. When he looked back up the trail the wolf was no where to be seen. Picking himself back up he knew it was going to take a lot longer making his way to the top, but time was one thing Charlie had lots of.

       When Charlie topped the ridge and cleared the trees that surrounded the meadow, he couldn't believe his luck. The beaver was busily working on its masterpiece. It was the first time Charlie had laid eyes on the little beast that was causing so much trouble. His first impulse was to take a bead on the beaver with his rifle and put an end to the ongoing saga once and for all. But he didn't, he stood quietly and watched with interest as the beaver worked feverishly. He was amazed at the animal's patience and determination to bend, wiggle and twist each small branch into just the right location.

       Then suddenly the beaver was gone. It sank beneath the surface of the water leaving no evidence of having been there except for the dam. The man swore aloud at having missed his chance to rid himself of the dam's creator. He looked around but there was no sign of the animal, nor was there any of the dam's materials that Charlie had spent so much time ripping apart and scattering around the area just the day before. Each piece had been gathered up and re-used to build an even bigger dam than before.

       Just when Charlie was about to prepare for another day of dam demolition he heard a rustling of leaves. He remained still and within seconds he saw the beaver dragging a large poplar branch into the water a couple hundred yards away. It was actually a bit comical to watch as the beaver struggled to pull and tug to drag the branch into the water. Once in the water things became much easier for the swimmer as it swam and towed the floating branch towards the dam. This time, Charlie promised himself, he wouldn't miss his opportunity. Ten minutes later the sharp crack of a rifle echoed through the valley below.

       The next morning when Charlie wandered out onto his deck, the first thing he noticed was the familiar sound of fast moving water in the creek. He smiled. Even the dog sensed things were back to normal and peacefully snoozed in her usual spot by the steps.

       As for the late pesky beaver, Charlie wasn't one to waste anything. He had often been told by Indians around Bella Bella that the interior Indians would eat beavers after they were skinned out for their pelts which they eventually traded down in Bella Bella. They even told him how to stretch and cure animal pelts. He hadn't planned on adding beaver to his 'ol larder but it was next to empty and he was getting tired of a pure seafood diet.

       That night Charlie and his companion dog dined on freshly roasted beaver. He was a touch hesitant at first but after watching the dog gulp down a chunk he overcame his reluctance. He soon found it to be a rich dark meat with a tasty flavour. Along with a few new carrots that the rabbits had overlooked in the garden and a glass of over-proof rum he had a fine meal.

       Later, sitting out on his deck in the old rocking chair, he contemplated the successful conclusion to their water problem. Even better, after stretching and drying the beaver's pelt it would make a nice new sleeping mat for the dog.

Chapter 15 [The Submarine]

       The odds of spotting the periscope were a million to one and yet there it was, breaking the surface of the water creating small splashes and leaving distinct ripples behind. Perhaps it was a glint of morning sun reflecting off the glass lens? For whatever reason the sudden flash of light caught the eye, there was little doubt in Charlie's mind that it could actually be a submarine periscope. If it hadn't been for his early morning urge to pee, Charlie would not have been standing along the edge of his porch staring off into the dawning of a new day.

       Charlie brushed back his greying hair and rubbed at his disbelieving eyes. He moved over and peered through his old brass telescope, scanning the rough surface of the water. That old telescope had proved more usefull than most other things he had brought in with him from Bella Bella. He had mounted it on his porch where he had a commanding view of the inlet where killer whales that often frequented and sea otters provided hours of entertainment.

       Never did Charlie expect to see a submarine periscope thrugh the telescope's lens. He knew what a periscope looked like after the two years he served on board a British Navy ship during the later part of the First World War as a Radio Operator. He suddenly remembered the many long hours standing submarine watch during convoy excourt crossings of the North Atlantic.

       Suddenly, there it was again, slicing through the black water causing an iridescent glow in the early dawn light. His eye carefully followed the object, his mind questioning its presence. Then it was gone, slipping below the water.

       The upper reaches of Mathieson Channel where Charlie was located was just over fifty miles from the open waters of Hecate Strait so he was quite a way inland. The sharp bend where his inlet joined the main channel and turned south towards the strait was narrow and shallow. Manoeuvring a submarine that far up the channel would be foolish at best and take a great deal of skill. 'The sub's captain must have a good reason for taking such a risk,' Charlie thought.

       There were only two countries with active submarines in the Pacific at that time; United States and Japan. Charlie doubted the Americans would risk running a submerged sub into the inlet. That meant it had to be Japanese. An adrenaline rush, such that Charlie had not experienced since his earlier war years, suddenly coursed through his veins.

       Charlie's one reliable contact with the outside world was his Ham Radio transmitter and receiver. For years he had spent time most evenings sending and receiving Morse Code messages with other operators world wide. Many of his contacts were long standing friends from the war, plus a few new ones. A few were on active duty with the Royal Canadian Navy and based out of Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. He seriously considered contacting them now and reporting the sub, but convincing them he had actually seen a periscope under adverse conditions would be almost impossible. So he chose to wait. It was then that Charlie realized he was standing outside in the cool morning air shivering in his longjohns. His priority shifted to getting on some clothes.

       For the next few hours Charlie stood in front of his telescope scanning up and down the inlet. He could see all the way east to the rivers and a good five miles to the west. If the sub surfaced he would certainly see it, and it did. Just before noon the sub's conning tower broke the surface amongst a mountain of air bubbles no more than a mile east and on his side of the inlet. Within seconds crew scrambled from the hatches and took up watch positions in the conning tower, all the while Charlie watched from his porch. 'Oh shit!' Charlie muttered to himself. 'If I can see them, then they can see me.' But he wasn't detered, it dawned on Charlie that this was the first time he had actually seen an enemy sub on the surface and he wanted to get closer.

       Leaving the dog locked in the cabin, Charlie grabbed his rifle and headed into the trees. It took almost an hour to slowly make his way through the trees to a vantage point where he had a good view of the sub. The Japanese writing on the side of the conning tower confirmed its nationality. Men were scrambling along the decks. A few sailors and two officers were on the conning tower equipped with binoculars keeping a sharp eye open. As Charlie watched it became obvious the crew were making some sort of repairs at the rear of the sub, possibly to the propellers or rudder. Chances were it was damaged at sea and had to find a hidden location to make needed repairs.

       Another hour passed as Charlie watched from his hiding spot. Suddenly he noticed a small rubber boat pulled up on shore and then he heard the foreign chatter of men working their way up the slope in his direction. He soon saw four uniformed bodies climbing up through the rocks. He lay very still, following their movement through the sights of his rifle, his finger on the trigger set to squeeze. The rifle in his hands was a .303 Enfield with enough shells in the clip to take all four adversaries - what worried him was whether he could reload and shoot fast enough to get them all before they managed to kill him. He quickly decided he'd wait for better odds and silently backed away into deeper timber and the direction of home. He was concerned they may have seen his cabin and were planning to investigate. From the location of the sub, Charlie's cabin would look like an old derelict log building of little significance, at least that's what he hoped.

       The game trail Charlie followed dropped down and crossed a small stream and then worked its way back up the other side. He was careful not to leave any sign of his presence. He fought off the urge to hurry and waited above the stream to see if the men would follow the trail. They stopped at the stream for a drink and two of them sat down to rest. They were talking and laughing as Charlie quietly slipped away, leaving the game trail and headed off into the deep timber.

       Upon reaching his cabin, Charlie grabbed the backpack hanging by the door and more ammunition. If the Japanese caught up to him he was determined to make a fight of it. Within minutes he and the dog were high on a ridge overlooking the valley. All was quiet below as he watched expectantly, his rifle loaded and ready.

       It was near dark when Charlie cautiously made his way back down to the cabin. Everything was as he had left it. A quick check through the telescope revealed the sub was no longer there. He scanned the inlet for any sign. Then he spotted it, barley visible on the surface in a sheltered bay on the far side of the inlet. The water was much deeper over there and would make an emergency dive much easier. Charlie felt easier too; it meant the shore party had returned to the submarine. He breathed a sigh of relief. Later that evening Charlie reported the submarine sighting to his contact at the Navy Base in Esquimalt via Morse Code. The reaction was swift and he had to resend his sighting several times for confirmation, all the while praying the Japanese wouldn't intercept his un-coded message. After completing his message he and his dog retraced their tracks to the higher ridge to wait out the night, just in case.

       Mid morning of the next day a two-engine Wellington Bomber dipped low out of the clouds and flew low above the waters of the inlet. Several passes were made up and down the inlet as the plane searched for any sign of the sub. It was possible that the sub had slipped out to open water during the night. When the plane closely circled the small bay where Charlie had seen the sub the night before, he felt the adrenaline building again and quickly returned towards his cabin.

       On the plane's next pass it released two depth chargers that slammed into the water. Seconds later underwater explosions erupted and geysers of white water spewed high into the air. Another pass of the plane sent two more charges into the depths with corresponding explosions. The next thing Charlie saw though his telescope was the conning tower of the sub breaking the surface surrounded by escaping air and the darkening of the water with diesel fuel.

       Taking Charlie by surprise a Canadian Navy corvette, which had been guarding the entrance during the night, now steamed into view at full speed, its large white battle ensign flag flapping in the wind. The single four inch gun on its fore deck opened up belching cordite smoke as a shell whined towards the helpless sub, now fully surfaced. Men scrambled out of hatches and plunged into the water in a panicked attempt to abandon the sub. Another round blasted from the corvette's main gun accompanied by rounds from the ship's smaller two pound pom-pom gun. Round after round slammed into the sub's superstructure as the plane continued to circle overhead.

       Charlie could only watch as the sub started sinking by the aft, air and debris gushing from its innards. Guns silenced, the corvette turned and slowly approached the dying submarine, now with only its conning tower protruding from the murky waters. As water began flowing around and into the conning tower hatch the last man to escape jumped and swam feverishly to avoid being sucked under. Long seconds later the Japanese submarine disappeared from the surface and settled to the bottom of the inlet.

       As a final act the corvette slowed to a stop and dropped scrambling nets over the side to retrieve the survivors. All was eerily quiet. Charlie could even hear the telegraph signals to the engine room as the ship began moving once more. She steamed in a wide arc across the inlet emitting several loud horn blasts for Charlie's benefit before moving off down the inlet towards Mathieson Channel and the the Pacific. When the Wellington made its last run down the inlet and dipped its wings over the cabin Charlie felt pretty proud having made his small contribution to the war effort.

       The next morning as Charlie stepped through the cabin door for his early morning pee he first went straight to that brass telescope, just to be sure.

Chapter 16 [One Too Many Fishers]

       From the vantage point of Charlie's front porch, where he sat in his old rocking chair, coffee in hand, feet propped up on the railing, the view across the inlet was spectacular. It was fall and with the season came the blaze of coloured leaves and the sounds of migrating birds gathering for their long trip south to warmer climates. Large numbers of Canada Geese rose from across the inlet, their honking reverberating across the water, instinctively assuming 'V' formations as they gained alititude, ready to resume their southern flight. It was the third year the two had witnessed autumn's magic.

       Charlie turned to the dog, curled up and sleeping a few feet away, and asked, "How would you like some nice trout for supper?" The dog's ears perked up and it turned to look at Charlie.
      "We could head over to the river and do a little fishing." With that the dog rose, stretched and signaled its approval of the idea with a wagging tail.

       Food was plentiful where they lived. Wildlife abounded and the waters in front of the cabin provided as much seafood as they wanted. They could spend a few hours gigging for rock cod or perhaps check the crab pots, but Charlie had a sudden craving for fresh cutthroat trout. The larger of the two rivers at the end of the inlet teemed with fish during the fall

       Within the hour Charlie and the dog were on the trail to the river. A small packsack on his back contained their lunch. In his left hand he carefully maneuvered his fishing rod through the brush and branches so it wouldn't get broken. In his right hand was the old Lee Enfield .303 rifle that he packed everywhere for its protection.

       Upon reaching the river, Charlie was pleased to see the water crystal clear. During the spring runoffs the river would be high and muddy, but now it was low and full of spawning salmon from the inlet. Best of all were the cut throat trout that worked the rapids and feasted on loose salmon eggs. All he had to do was fix a few eggs on his hook and let it drift. The outcome was guaranteed; a trout with every cast.

       It wasn't long before Charlie had two nice fat trout lying on the shore. The disinterested dog found a good spot to sleep in the warm sand up along high water mark. Life was great. During summer trips to the river they would often be joined by playful otters that splashed through the rapids after their dinner. Even the odd black bear wandered out onto the river bank but one warning shout from Charlie and the dog's barking would send them scrambling back into the bush.

       This particular day was different; they weren't alone on the river. Somehow a large grizzly bear had appeared upstream on the river. It took the sounds of splashing nearby to alert Charlie to the presence of the bear that had just caught a large salmon in its mouth and was carrying it back to shore. There was little more than a hundred feet separating the two. Unfortunately for Charlie, he had moved downstream a ways from where his packsack and especially his rifle that leaned against a stump. A deeply concerned man stood frozen in his tracks. Any hope Charlie had of the grizzly taking its catch and retreating back into the bush faded when it sat and began stripping the still wiggling fish of its protein-rich skin.

       Right about then the worst possible thing happened; the dog suddenly awoke and ran towards the bear, barking wildly. The bear dropped the fish, annoyed at the intrusion. The dog darted in and out while yapping and gnashing its teeth. Finally the bear stood and growled loudly. The dog immediately heeded the warning ran in Charlie's direction for protection, just what the man didn't need. Charlie yelled at the bear and waved his arms trying to chase it away. At first the bear turned as if it wa going to leave. The dog took advantage of the distraction and lunged at the bear once more. This time the dog got too close and the bear swatted it with sufficient force to send it flying through the air where it landed hard on the rocks.

       Fearing for the dog, Charlie sprang into action. He grabbed some rocks and started throwing them. One hit the bear on the forehead as it turned towards the man. It suddenly stopped and seemed confused. In that moment Charlie looked around for some sort of safety, but there was none. The few spruce trees nearby were too difficult to climb in a hurry, and the limbs of the poplars were too brittle. Besides, Charlie had seen grizzly bears run and he knew he could never outrun one in a foot race. In his mind he remembered tales he'd heard that playing dead was one possible way of surviving a grizzly bear attack. It was one theory Charlie hoped he would never have to put to the test.

       When the large bear dropped down on all fours and deliberately moved in Charlie's direction he found himself trapped with the river to his back. He cursed himself for allowing a bear to come between him and his rifle. Out of desperation, the man waved his arms wildly and yelled loudly. The bear's only response was to rear up on its hind legs. At that moment Charlie realized just how big the bear really was. He could see the long claws protruding from its huge front paws. The curled back lips exposed its terrifyingly long sharp teeth. The last thing Charlie noticed before the bear dropped to all fours was the large white diamond patch on its chest.

       Charlie's closest brush with death during his service in the Great War now paled in comparison. He found himself staring into the cold eyes of a killer with nothing in his hands for weapons but a bamboo fishing rod and a rock.

       Then, with a loud woof, the bear charged. The coarse hair along its back bristled as the surge of powerful muscles propelled the bear straight at Charlie. He knew this was no bluff charge as he had experienced in more than one close encounter with black bears - this was the real thing. He was absolutely amazed at the speed at which the bear crossed the short distance between them. At the last possible moment Charlie attempted to side-step the impact but he was still struck a glancing blow that spun him around and sent him crashing to the ground.

       Charlie had no idea how much time had passed when he opened his eyes. It took a few seconds to gather his thoughts, and when he did he immediately looked around for the bear. It was nowhere to be seen. He lay quiet for a while, still stunned from what had just happened. He wiped at his eyes only to discover blood running down his face from where his head had slammed into a large rock. He didn't think of it at the time but losing consciousness had probably saved his life. The old adage of playing dead had some truth to it; only in Charlie's case it hadn't been intentional.

       It wasn't until he heard the moans of the dog that the man attempted to sit up. When he did he felt sharp pangs of pain in his side, and rightfully so; his jacket and shirt were ripped wide open and long claw marks oozed with blood. One leg was also bleeding from where the bear had bitten him just above the knee. First things first, Charlie dragged himself upstream to retrieve his rifle. Then, using what was left of his shirt, Charlie managed to get the bleeding stopped and bandage his wounds as best he could. Fortunately, the dog had faired better with only bruises and a good scare to show for her act of courage. She was soon up and smelling the rocks for any scent of the biggest animal she had ever seen.

       Within the hour Charlie and the dog were up and ready to head back to the safety of their cabin. Luckily no one was around to witness their sad sight; the tail-dragging dog leading the way along the winding trail and Charlie limping along behind using his rifle as a crutch. It would be near dark before they arrived home that evening. To add insult to injury, the bear had also taken the two prime cutthroat trout Charlie had been planning on for their evening meal.

       From the vantage point of Charlie's front porch, where he sat in his old rocking chair, coffee in hand, feet propped up on the railing, the view across the inlet was spectacular. It was fall and with the season came the blaze of coloured leaves and the sounds of migrating birds gathering for their long trip south to warmer climates. Large numbers of Canada Geese rose from across the inlet, their honking reverberating across the water, instinctively assuming 'V' formations as they gained alititude, ready to resume their southern flight. It was the third year the two had witnessed autumn's magic.

       Charlie turned to the dog, curled up and sleeping a few feet away, and asked, "How would you like some nice trout for supper?" The dog's ears perked up and it turned to look at Charlie.
      "We could head over to the river and do a little fishing." With that the dog rose, stretched and signaled its approval of the idea with a wagging tail.

       Food was plentiful where they lived. Wildlife abounded and the waters in front of the cabin provided as much seafood as they wanted. They could spend a few hours gigging for rock cod or perhaps check the crab pots, but Charlie had a sudden craving for fresh cutthroat trout. The larger of the two rivers at the end of the inlet teemed with fish during the fall

       Within the hour Charlie and the dog were on the trail to the river. A small packsack on his back contained their lunch. In his left hand he carefully maneuvered his fishing rod through the brush and branches so it wouldn't get broken. In his right hand was the old Lee Enfield .303 rifle that he packed everywhere for its protection.

       Upon reaching the river, Charlie was pleased to see the water crystal clear. During the spring runoffs the river would be high and muddy, but now it was low and full of spawning salmon from the inlet. Best of all were the cut throat trout that worked the rapids and feasted on loose salmon eggs. All he had to do was fix a few eggs on his hook and let it drift. The outcome was guaranteed; a trout with every cast.

       It wasn't long before Charlie had two nice fat trout lying on the shore. The disinterested dog found a good spot to sleep in the warm sand up along high water mark. Life was great. During summer trips to the river they would often be joined by playful otters that splashed through the rapids after their dinner. Even the odd black bear wandered out onto the river bank but one warning shout from Charlie and the dog's barking would send them scrambling back into the bush.

       This particular day was different; they weren't alone on the river. Somehow a large grizzly bear had appeared upstream on the river. It took the sounds of splashing nearby to alert Charlie to the presence of the bear that had just caught a large salmon in its mouth and was carrying it back to shore. There was little more than a hundred feet separating the two. Unfortunately for Charlie, he had moved downstream a ways from where his packsack and especially his rifle that leaned against a stump. A deeply concerned man stood frozen in his tracks. Any hope Charlie had of the grizzly taking its catch and retreating back into the bush faded when it sat and began stripping the still wiggling fish of its protein-rich skin.

       Right about then the worst possible thing happened; the dog suddenly awoke and ran towards the bear, barking wildly. The bear dropped the fish, annoyed at the intrusion. The dog darted in and out while yapping and gnashing its teeth. Finally the bear stood and growled loudly. The dog immediately heeded the warning ran in Charlie's direction for protection, just what the man didn't need. Charlie yelled at the bear and waved his arms trying to chase it away. At first the bear turned as if it wa going to leave. The dog took advantage of the distraction and lunged at the bear once more. This time the dog got too close and the bear swatted it with sufficient force to send it flying through the air where it landed hard on the rocks.

       Fearing for the dog, Charlie sprang into action. He grabbed some rocks and started throwing them. One hit the bear on the forehead as it turned towards the man. It suddenly stopped and seemed confused. In that moment Charlie looked around for some sort of safety, but there was none. The few spruce trees nearby were too difficult to climb in a hurry, and the limbs of the poplars were too brittle. Besides, Charlie had seen grizzly bears run and he knew he could never outrun one in a foot race. In his mind he remembered tales he'd heard that playing dead was one possible way of surviving a grizzly bear attack. It was one theory Charlie hoped he would never have to put to the test.

       When the large bear dropped down on all fours and deliberately moved in Charlie's direction he found himself trapped with the river to his back. He cursed himself for allowing a bear to come between him and his rifle. Out of desperation, the man waved his arms wildly and yelled loudly. The bear's only response was to rear up on its hind legs. At that moment Charlie realized just how big the bear really was. He could see the long claws protruding from its huge front paws. The curled back lips exposed its terrifyingly long sharp teeth. The last thing Charlie noticed before the bear dropped to all fours was the large white diamond patch on its chest.

       Charlie's closest brush with death during his service in the Great War now paled in comparison. He found himself staring into the cold eyes of a killer with nothing in his hands for weapons but a bamboo fishing rod and a rock.

       Then, with a loud woof, the bear charged. The coarse hair along its back bristled as the surge of powerful muscles propelled the bear straight at Charlie. He knew this was no bluff charge as he had experienced in more than one close encounter with black bears - this was the real thing. He was absolutely amazed at the speed at which the bear crossed the short distance between them. At the last possible moment Charlie attempted to side-step the impact but he was still struck a glancing blow that spun him around and sent him crashing to the ground.

       Charlie had no idea how much time had passed when he opened his eyes. It took a few seconds to gather his thoughts, and when he did he immediately looked around for the bear. It was nowhere to be seen. He lay quiet for a while, still stunned from what had just happened. He wiped at his eyes only to discover blood running down his face from where his head had slammed into a large rock. He didn't think of it at the time but losing consciousness had probably saved his life. The old adage of playing dead had some truth to it; only in Charlie's case it hadn't been intentional.

       It wasn't until he heard the moans of the dog that the man attempted to sit up. When he did he felt sharp pangs of pain in his side, and rightfully so; his jacket and shirt were ripped wide open and long claw marks oozed with blood. One leg was also bleeding from where the bear had bitten him just above the knee. First things first, Charlie dragged himself upstream to retrieve his rifle. Then, using what was left of his shirt, Charlie managed to get the bleeding stopped and bandage his wounds as best he could. Fortunately, the dog had faired better with only bruises and a good scare to show for her act of courage. She was soon up and smelling the rocks for any scent of the biggest animal she had ever seen.

       Within the hour Charlie and the dog were up and ready to head back to the safety of their cabin. Luckily no one was around to witness their sad sight; the tail-dragging dog leading the way along the winding trail and Charlie limping along behind using his rifle as a crutch. It would be near dark before they arrived home that evening. To add insult to injury, the bear had also taken the two prime cutthroat trout Charlie had been planning on for their evening meal.

Chapter 17 [Time To Go Hunting]

       Around mid January Charlie realized he was running short of meat in the cache. The young buck deer he had got after the previous fall's first snow was almost gone. He had hoped to add a moose to the cache but "That damned dog took care of that", Charlie muttered. There was still a couple of salmon in there plus a couple rabbits for stewing, but the way the supplies were disappearing he knew he would have to do some hunting before long. About all Charlie was doing during the winter was eat and sleep. The dog was eating just as much as the man, if not more. Charlie was sure the dog was sharing with her friend the wolf. That wolf always looked fitter and just a bit fatter than others Charlie saw on his excursions into the bush.

       For the past few weeks the weather had been less than favourable for hunting trips; constant cloud and frequent unexpected snow falls. He had work around the cabin that needed attending to. The woodpile next to the cabin was down to only one row and it would be a lot less after he replenished the easy access pile in the cabin. The fresh water barrel in the cabin was getting low. The creek was still frozen solid so all water had to be obtained by melting snow on the stove. The trail to the outdoor biffy should be shoveled so he wouldn't have to use snowshoes for his twice daily ritual. A hunting trip, while enjoyed because it got him away from the cabin, would have to wait for better weather.

       A week later the day dawned clear and cold. It was the kind of day Charlie had been waiting for. He quickly ate a big breakfast, fed the dog, and readied himself for a hunting trip. Along with the usual stuff he crammed into his pack board; extra clothes and especially dry socks, he made sure he had extra rifle ammunition and dry matches. He took his snowshoes down from the wall and then thought better of it and hung them back up. They would only mean extra weight to carry and the snow on the trails wasn't that bad. Two pairs of pants with the bottoms tucked into long socks would protect his legs. He had learned a lot about survival since moving to the inlet.

       The dog was still eating from its dish outside the door when Charlie stepped outside. He shook his head when he noticed the dog's best friend, the wolf sitting under a tree by the creek. The man took one last look at the weather up and down the inlet, then turned and started the long climb up the hill behind the cabin. When the dog started to follow along Charlie yelled back at her to stay. She seemed a little disappointed but returned to her dish where, unseen by the man, she was soon joined by the wolf.

       The trail up to the swamp was partially open, used regularly by both the dog and the wolf. Charlie's own tracks were still noticeable from two days previous when he had returned from checking his rabbit snares. He made the whole trip to the top without having to stop for a rest. He did stop to rest when he reached the mouth of the creek where it flowed from the swamp. Normally a deep channel full of water it was now frozen and drifted level with snow.

       He made the trip around the edge of the swamp to the far side in little more than an hour. Again there was plenty of moose sign, just no moose. That left the deer that were higher up in the back country. A couple miles behind the big swamp the country begins to rise up towards the mountain peaks above. It was a favourite feeding area for deer and Charlie had been successful in the area before. It was tough going in winter and there was no simple way up there. The incline was enough for Charlie to lose his footing several times, sliding back until he could recover his footing. It was a good five hundred yards before the ground once more leveled off and he could stop and rest.

       Ahead of him lay a long drawn valley constantly sloping upwards. Steeper slopes lined both sides of the draw. Winter forage grasses, low shrubs and berry bushes intermingled with new growth timber made an excellent location for deer. Charlie had even seen mountain goat on the rock slides at the upper end on the valley.

       Quietly making his way up into the valley, Charlie took his time, resting often and keeping a sharp eye out for anything that moved. With the leaves off, thanks to winter, he could see through the trees. The deer were not that easy to see as their colour blended into the background, at least until they moved. The deer was in full retreat when Charlie first saw it. The buck bounded through the trees with ease covering large distances with each leap, straight for the heavier brush on the side hill. Given the distance to the deer and the speed it was moving Charlie didn't even attempt a shot.

       The bush along the hillside where the deer had entered was dense. There was a mixture of smaller new growth pine trees interspersed with half grown poplar and lots of scrub willow. To make matters even worse the ground was a tangle of deadfall trees from an old forest fire. Charlie knew that if he went in there and managed to knock the deer down he would have one hell of a lot of hard work to get it out. So he worked his way up the draw along the edge of the timber, hoping the deer might double back, but it didn't.

       A couple hours passed with lots of deer sign everywhere, enough to keep the man on the hunt. He figured it to be early afternoon and he knew it started to get dark by four. There was still time left before he would have to turn back. From his position part way up the hillside he had a good view in front and behind as well as out over a narrow poplar filled draw before the terrain slopped back up on the other side. The sun kept disappearing behind clouds until it disappeared completely; no more shadow to confirm his position. 'No problem', he said to himself, 'Just head downhill.'

       It was on his return leg out of the draw when he first caught a glimpse of the big buck deer along the edge of the timber below him. It appeared to be the same one he had seen earlier, and that it had doubled back, only not in the way Charlie had originally hoped. This time the deer didn't see the man and remained where it was, pawing at the ground for the dried grasses. Again the distance was too great for Charlie to risk a shot. He would have to stalk his prey.

       Time was the last thing on Charlie's mind as he stealthily edged his way down the hill, taking full advantage of what ever cover he could hide behind. He picked his footing carefully as even with snow on the ground the sound of a breaking stick would send the deer bounding back into the dense brush. At one point he raised the rifle to his shoulder and took careful aim, but another willow bush below threatened to deflect his shot. A breeze was building but fortunately for Charlie it was a cross wind that probably helped. Each time the deer raised its head to survey its surroundings and sniff the air the man froze in his tracks. It was then that Charlie took special notice of the buck's horn size. They were probably the largest he had ever seen, giving him even more reason to succesfully bag that animal, plus he couldn't afford to miss the opportunity to replenish his meat supply. By the time Charlie reached a point with a clear view he was only two hundred yards away; perfect for a shot.

       The loud crack of the rifle reverberated through the trees and Charlie heard a faint echoing off the mountains across the inlet. The hunting part of his trip was finished; now all that remained was getting his prize back to the cabin.

Chapter 18 [Return To The Wild]

       The toughest part of any hunting trip is getting the game out of the bush. Winter snow greatly improves the task providing the hide is left on the animal. Dragging a deer through the snow is a lot easier than carrying it. Charlie had a length of rope tied to the deer's large rack of antlers that ran up around his own shoulders and back to the antlers and tied to form a large loop. With his rifle slung over his shoulder and everything else in his packboard, his hands were free to grasp the rope in front of his chest, lean forward and pull. The deer carcass followed along behind with little resistance, providing, of course, the snow didn't get too deep.

       He lucked out in the fact that the trail home was mostly downhill. He was making good time until he rounded a steep corner and suddenly found himself waist deep in a snow drift. He immediately experienced several pangs of pain in his back as the deer carcass slammed into him from behind. The pack on his back took most of the impact and spared him being stabbed by the sharply pointed antler tangs. It took several minutes of bending and twisting to free himself from the drift, but the pain in his back continued as a reminder not to make quick stops on a steep slope.

       Ever since Charlie started the return trip to the cabin a winter storm was growing in intensity. The skies began to darken to the east and he could feel the temperatures dropping rapidly. Wind blown snow began covering any sign of the trail. Fortunately, Charlie had the smarts to blaze some of the trees along his trails. Now those axe marks were his only guide. Before leaving on his hunting trip he had considered bring snow shoes but decided against them because they would only be something else to pack on his back. Now he was wishing he had them. In places he found himself wading through drifts up to his waist. Time was of the essence, he had to get off the mountain, and soon.

       When Charlie reached the big familiar swamp he had a decision to make. Given the conditions he knew it would take a couple hours to walk all the way around the outside. On the other hand he could cut straight across the swamp coming out by the entrance to his creek. He had never ventured out into the swamp before but it would obviously be faster, but it would mean leaving the deer behind, the ice would never hold the extra weight. He could return for it after the storm passed. There was still enough light and enough visibility for him to make the hazardous crossing.

       Charlie estimated the swamp to be approximately one mile wide. At first the walking was easy. The wind was keeping the ice free of snow and other than being slippery he made good time. The visibility, however, was diminishing rapidly. He continued to focus on outcroppings on the ice to maintain his straight line. His hands and feet were warm but the wind was taking a toll on his face and he feared it was being frost bitten. By his calculations he was a bit better than half way across.

       Then the unimaginable happened; the ice gave way beneath Charlie and he plunged into the freezing water. He fought to hold onto the edge of the ice, but each time his weight settled on the ice a piece would break free, sliding Charlie back into depths. Frantically he tried to wiggle free of the heavy pack board but the straps tangled with the rifle slung over his shoulder. He tried to work the rifle free of the straps so he might get it up on the ice. If he could, he would use it to help pull himself from the water, but by then his hands were so cold he couldn't retain his grasp and the rifle sank beneath him. The only good thing was that he was also free of the pack board. Once more he stretched his arms out over the sheet of ice raising his body partially from the water. Again the ice sheet tipped and he slid back. Desperately he spun around in the water. There were clumps of swamp grass nearby and he strained to reach them. He felt a ray of hope as the fingers of one hand closed on a clump of dried grass. With his other arm stretched out on the ice he bore down and pulled at the same time. With an inner strength he never knew he had he managed to drags himself out onto the safety of thicker ice.

       The man knew he couldn't stand around in wet clothes. He was in serious trouble and he knew reaching the warmth of his cabin is his only chance of survival. Oblivious to the increasing wind he struck out for what he believed was a familiar stand of trees at the edge of the swamp. Concentrating solely on the group of trees that faded in and out of sight through the blowing snow, the man instinctively plodded ahead. With each labouring step he felt the heat draining from his body, all the while realizing any step could once again plunge him through the ice.

       When Charlie finally reached the group of spruce trees, they were not the ones he thought they were. By then the blowing snow was curbing visibility to only a few yards. The wind bit into his water soaked clothing, forming ice and making it next to impossible to bend his arms. He no longer had feelings in his feet or legs, only sheer instinct allowed him to force one leg in front of the other. He needed to rest and only the low hanging branches of the spruce trees provided protection he needed from the wind.

       Under the large tree the ground was dry. It would have been easy to light a fire, but the small waterproof glass bottle containing his matches now lay at the bottom of the swamp. A shivering Charlie sat on the ground with his knees drawn up under his chin. He rubbed furiously at his legs and arms trying to re-establish blood circulation. The sound of his erratic breathing and the chatter of his teeth rivaled the increasing winds. His mind shut out the cold and he concentrated on one thing, getting back to his cabin. He was sure he knew where he was, a mere few hundred yards from the creek and then it was all down hill to a roaring fire and hot rum. Those thoughts comforted him as he fought to keep from falling asleep. Just a few minutes more and he'd be on his way.

       As darkness settled over the cabin the dog lay curled up on the bottom of Charlie's bed. It had been gone all day and only returned as the storm worked its way down off the mountains to the east. Now the winds whipped snow into a fury outside, frost formed on the windows, and darkened embers in the barrel stove grew colder.

       The next morning everything is still and silent. The storm's fury has blown itself out and little remained but drifted snow and blown down tree branches. All throughout the night the dog remained vigilante to the sounds and waited expectantly for the door to open, but it never did. The stove was cold and frosted windows obscured the early morning rays of the sun as the dog attempted to exit via the flapped opening in the door. The opening was blocked. Snow had drifted against the door. The dog returned to its spot at the bottom of the bed.

       A couple hours later the dog tried the opening once again, pushing on the canvas flap with its nose, but it wouldn't budge. She sat back on her haunches and stared at the opening for several minutes. Then she clawed at the canvas with her paw and pulled the flap inside, exposing a wall of snow. She started digging at the snow tunneling a hole farther and farther into the drift until finally she saw signs of light. After clawing as far as she could reach she stuck her head and shoulders through the hole and pushed with all her might. The drifted snow gave way and the dog emerged on the outside, shaking herself and looking around. Snow drifts were everywhere. One drift reached up and over one end of the cabin's roof. There was no sign of the man, only the solitary figure of the wolf waiting for his friend the dog.

       It was mid afternoon before the dog sensed the need to start looking for Charlie. She knew he had gone up the hill and that's where she started her search. The going was very difficult for her. Some snow drifts were packed hard enough to carry the dog's weight, others were not and she had to twist, turn a claw her way along. Occasionally in areas where the snow wasn't too deep she would paw through the snow and plunge her head down, searching for the familiar scent of the man. Curious, the wolf followed along behind.

       When the dog reached the swamp she veered to the left, skirting the swamp the way Charlie usually did. Her ability to detect the odd trace of Charlie's scent confirmed she was heading the right way. A little over three hundred yards from the creek she reached a small patch of spruce trees. She stopped; raising her head into the air, the familiar scent of the man filled her nostrils. With a renewed instinct the dog fought her way through the drifts to the base of a large spruce tree. Underneath the shelter of the lower branches she found Charlie, still sitting on the ground with his knees scrunched up under his chin. His eyes were closed.

       When darkness closed in the dog was laying down by the man's frozen body, her head stretched out between her paws. A short distance away the large grey wolf raised its head in a long mournful howl that echoed through the hills, and then all was silent in the valley.

NOTE: This previously published work is covered by copyright.
No printing, copying or use by any means without written permission from the author.

Please report display problems to:  

Return to Homepage