We saw then how foolhardy we had been to attempt the journey; how complete might have been the disaster at the very outset of our undertaking.
We had learned a lesson on overhaste, but, strange as it may seem, it is such uncommon experiences that are a part of the charm of the North - unexpected happenings, unforeseen dangers, forces that may lurk in flood waters, rapids, storms, night winds, ice floes, low-dropping thermometer and steel-blue cold, or in blinding blizzard. The ways of the North are manifold, and men cannot know her long before she bids them see her grim, unshakable strength, and experience a corresponding demand for daring and endurance.
The wind held in the direction it had sprung from and, working down the channel on the east shore, we had no further difficulty in navigating Crooked Lake. It was a long, narrow lake, trending northwards through forested hill-country. The trees on the shore were mostly delicate, thickly branched poplars, not yet in leaf, and here and there a few green spruce trees, sometimes grouped together in clumps, sometimes solitary, while in places the forest had been thinned by fire and many skeleton trunks stood like grave marks or sentinels in their appointed places.
During our progress through the lake plentiful bird-life had been observed, and the woods were filled with little songs and call-notes of the feathered tribes that were daily coming in from the distant south to mate in their northern home. All of the common species I left unmolested, but secured four of the rar typeres for which I had come : an Osprey, Wilson's Phala-rope, and two Dowitchers.
Demonstrating the wonderful instinct that leads to the reappearance of bird-life in the North almost at the exact hour of vital change of season, a pair of Eared Grebes and a Loon (Great Northern Diver) were seen on Crooked Lake on May 12, when the lake had only yet a very small area of open water. They were kindred spirits in eagerness to be up and away with the first breath of spring.
On the evening of the second day out we had reached and entered the head of Crooked River. Here we camped for the night, emptying the canoe of her cargo and lifting her out of the water in case flood might rise overnight and damage her. Then we ate our evening meal, and rested, for the two long days of paddling, and kneeling in the canoe bottom, had found out unused muscles, and made us aware that we were not yet hardened to it.
And it was good to lie there idly and rest. The day had been glorious-spring almost breaking to summer; and we were satisfied now that the weather would cause us no further delay.
As evening drew on we could hear, back in the woods from different points, the dump-dump- dump-dum! of a drumming Ruffled Grouse, quickly uttered, and closely resembling the sound of a motor-engine starting. A little later, carried to our ears across the darkening mask of forest, drifted the soft, musical hoo-hoo-hoo! of a solitary owl. We heard too, then, a few slow, rasping frog-croaks-a creature or two venturing to life, though the nights were yet too cold for them. Just as I was dropping off to sleep I heard a heavy moose splash ashore, having crossed from the opposite river-bank, and pass through the willows quite close to our camp.
The following eight days we continued onward, favoured, when we were on the move and not collecting, by fast-flowing flood water that hurried between wooded river-banks on their long, long journey to the sea, some 800 to 900 miles away, where the Churchill River-of which this was a tributary, via Lake Ile a la Crosse- found outlet in Hudson Bay. We were two days on Crooked River, a stream about 130 feet wide, or less, that turned and twisted, as its name implies, but mainly flowed in a northwesterly direction. On the morning of May 16 we arrived at the point where Crooked River, twisting at this point in an abrupt astonishing south-westerly direction, empties into the north-flowing Beaver River, and for the remainder of the journey to lie a la Crosse Lake we continued on our way on the latter stream.
Beaver River was very beautiful. The banks in many places gradually sloped back from the stream to a fair height and were wooded chiefly with spruce and poplar. The poplars, with fresh-bursting tiny leaf, were now delicately green, against ground strewn with long-lain brown autumn leaves, and amidst symmetrical, formally erect, darker coloured spruce trees.
Crooked River and Beaver River have the reputation of being difficult to navigate in summer, as there are then many shallow stone-foul rapids; but in the big flood waters of spring-feet above the common mark, and covering most of the danger spots-we overcame all without serious trouble, finally running Grand Rapid, the last and heaviest rapid on this stretch of water, with a fall of about 25 feet.
Thereafter we found ourselves in easy slackening current flowing between banks which were low, and led on through a widening valley. Opposite Lac la Plonge, and towards its mouth, the river widens out and passes through a series of marshes and lakes before emptying into lie a la Crosse Lake. Through those marshes and lakes the river turns and twists on its course between low, narrow banks which in many places scantily divide it from the flooded mainland on either side.
I have come rapidly down those waters in describing them, but in reality halt was made in many places to investigate the shores, or an inland lake, in carrying out research. During the ten days taken to cover the total distance- which was some 140 miles-thirty-two specimens were collected between Big River and lie a la Crosse Lake, and were skinned and carefully packed away. At the same time many hundreds of our more common birds had been under observation.
Having come rapidly forward, as I have said, I will return now and note a few of the incidents of the riverside.