The following morning we resumed our journey and were soon to learn that we had rapids and typical hard river voyaging to contend with. During the morning we encountered three rapids. The first we ran, and shortly after leaving it behind we passed, on the north shore, the sandbars which lie at the mouth of the Mudjatick River. The Mudjatick, or Bad Caribou River, noteworthy because it affords a possible passage, though a hard one, to Lake Athabasca, rises in the height of land north of latitude 57° and flows south about eighty miles in a shallow winding channel before it joins into the Churchill River. Thereafter followed other two rapids both too dangerous to run, so at each we let the canoe down the less turbulent water close in to the south shore : a process we accomplished by wading hip-deep, at bow and stern of the canoe, over the uneven, bouldered, hole-dented bed of the stream ; leading the canoe slowly and laboriously downstream, holding against the rude strength of the downpouring passing current.
About midday, after a strenuous morning, Joe and I landed. I had secured three museum specimens and nine mallards' eggs en route. We lunched on the eggs-finishing the lot at a sitting. I assure you that if one works hard one eats heartily in the North. It was June 2- where we lunched on shore Pin Cherry Trees were in blossom and Wild Strawberries, and tiny purple Violets were in flower; charming colours before the great background of evergreen forest.
In late afternoon, when nearing the head of Pelican Rapids, we came quietly downstream on two moose standing in the cool water, browsing contentedly on a bed of Water-lilies in the solitude of a sheltered bay. Had it been open season, or had meat been necessary to our existence at the time, they would have fallen easy prey. When our scent was borne to them they left the water, and vanished in the forest.
Before sundown we portaged Pelican Rapids- a roaring, tumbling force of water that one heard rumbling in the distance long before one came upon it. It was a wild, angry rapid, typical of many on this mighty river-agitated waves when eager escaping waters rushed together through the narrow, bouldered gateway; long, swinging swells curling at the crests and breaking in silver foam; great waves rising over boulders and rocks, and plunging into the depth beyond. Below the entrance, ere the force died out in the great deep pool at the bottom, were boiling whirlpools; and backwater eddies-swinging round to the sides of the main stream and back into the head-waters of the angry turmoil. On the shores were dark rocks tilted at all angles and broken limbs of trees stuck in crevices where high water had lodged them. Everywhere the waters were blue in the sunlight except where they broke in silvery foam-an inspiring scene of sound and motion and colour. . . . And there was an old friend : the Tennessee Warbler, whose kind particularly haunt the shores of rapids, singing joyfully of summer and boundless activity, seemingly in competition with the prolonged purring sound of the rapid, which clearly pleases him.
A Bapid. Scene of, sound, commotion, and colour.
Next morning we passed the great marshes at the entrance to Pelican Lake-marsh that teemed with duck in the full pride of brilliant summer plumage. Mallard, Pintail, and Shovellers were the most abundant, and Green-winged Teal and Golden-eye in lesser numbers. In addition to those birds there were great colonies of Common and Black Terns nesting among the marsh-reeds, and many Yellow-headed Blackbirds-hoarse, shrill-voiced reed-birds, piebald in aspect, with their black and yellow markings of sharp contrast.
The air was dotted with swinging groups of birds we had disturbed, winging their way forward, then backward ; while the water and marsh held many more. It transpired, as the months passed and we travelled on through lake and river, that this lake (Pelican Lake) was recalled as the one containing the greatest abundance of waterfowl. It held, however, one disappointment-there were no pelicans-at least none were seen. Possibly they once inhabited the locality, as the name of the lake implies, but now have departed.
Pelican Lake was very irregular on all sides, with long bays biting deep into the mainland; also there were many wooded islands, mostly of fair elevation, standing well out of the water.
Small poplars grew chiefly on those islands and a few white birch, while here and there a group of spruce and pine showed darkly, and above the tops of the other trees. Willows bordered the narrow beach of light granite stones, which marked the line between water and soil.
On Pelican Lake we encountered difficulties. Crossing it in the canoe we faced a heavy head wind and struggled against large waves which the heavily laden canoe rode badly, for she rose stiffly to the crests of the waves and pitched heavily into the hollows between. We shipped more water than was comfortable and, once or twice, shipped it in ugly fashion until we feared damage to our canvas-protected stores, which lay packed in the centre of the canoe, if not a trifle anxious for our own safety. Finally, about 3 p.m., we were able to reach an island, and put ashore to wait until the wind should drop.
At 6 p.m. the wind had moderated and we were able to go on, and reached the east shore of the lake. But then again we were in difficulties, for along those shores we searched until dark without finding the "blind" (hidden) outlet from the lake.
It had, altogether, been a disappointing day of hard work and little progress. . Next morning early we found the channel through to Primeau Lake, but again, during the day, we were in trouble, for in the afternoon we toiled up a deep bay which in the end blankly terminated, and it took us until evening to return to the position of our mistake. On a great many waterways of the north, if without an Indian guide who knows the territory, it is a grave problem to determine what to do when confronted with two, or even three, long channels of water, to the terminus of which the eye cannot see, and decide which is the one which holds somewhere in its shores (secreted, perhaps, in yet another bay off the main bay) the river outlet. Sometimes, on the dead water of the lake at a shore point, or at a stone, or at weeds, it is possible, on close examination, to find the slightest of down-flowing current passing the stationary object; and then one may be positive that one is following the right course. At other times it is one's good luck to hear the faint rumble, like a rising puff of wind in the trees (which one must be careful not co confuse it with), of a distant rapid or waterfall, and know that where it arises is the river. There is yet another sign which sometimes gives one comfort when current and sound fail, and that is some mark of Indian travel on shore : a willow or tree from which an axe has robbed some branches and left the wounded ends, the black ash, or a burnt stump, of an old camp-fire, or, best sign of all, a discarded teepee- for those elementary, pole-framed, cone-shaped habitations of the native nomads are seldom, if ever, erected except somewhere on an Indian main "roadway." But there are times when all those signs are wanting and one must simply trust to Providence when confronted with the puzzling irregularity of the shore.