Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 23 - Chillaxes with Wolves

So, another timeskip.  Yellow Hair and Father Marc left York Factory when the rivers were starting to ice over, next chapter they'll arrive at Fort William right after the ice has broken up, a journey of about 608 miles that will be covered in five pages.  Fortunately, the author at least spends the whole chapter discussing this trip and what it was like, rather than glossing it over to get to the next action scene.

The downside of this is that we get to hear Hubbard talk at length about how incredible this journey would be even in the best of conditions, much less in the depths of winter and while hunted by the English.  And the point of this is of course for us to feel the appropriate awe that our hero was able to survive it, especially since he spent the previous six months all malnourished in a prison cell, and he got shot on the night he escaped.

It was long and tedious and grueling.  The English were bad enough but added to that was howling winter in the north, impenetrable forests, the glazed ice of paralyzed rivers, the scream of blasting storms, chill camps with scarce protection---and the wolves.

Yes, the British's casual ecological destruction hasn't put a dent in the wolf population yet, and so every night our heroes made camp, they were surrounded by a "starved ring of green eyes against the outer darkness, jaws slavering, insane at the prospect of easy meat."  Can't say I've ever seen a green-eyed canine before, but the internet tells me it's possible, so whatever.  But don't worry that these starving wolves ever caused trouble for our heroes or anything - the paragraph after mentioning these potential threats, the author immediately describes all the different campsites Yellow Hair and Father Marc experienced.

The camps were too various for mention.

But Hubbard does so anyway, good for him.

Men traveling on foot across a thousand miles of wilderness make many camps of many kinds.

Um... well, I guess Google could be wrong, and the line it drew between York Factory and the northwest shore of Lake Superior is a little more direct than the route drawn out in this book's map, but while it bows in the opposite direction as Yellow Hair's route, it doesn't bow out that much less.  My guess is that either Hubbard is exaggerating things a bit or else got kilometers and miles confused, because Google's route comes out to 980 km.

Though I suppose it's kind of impressive for someone to make these sort of errors in a time before the internet made them easy.

In abaondoned hunters' cabins, in windfalls, under rocks, against frozen banks, beside towering trees, deep in brittle thickets of brush, they made their small fires and hoped the smoke would not call down the wrath and fire of the still-searching H.B.C.s.

Given the dangers of winter, you gotta wonder why the Brits are willing to lose so many men chasing someone who hopefully will die of exposure.  But again, I'm not a colonial governor who's had to deal with an alleged scalpaholic

Like how Hubbard went from the circle of wolves around the fire to the variety of camps our heroes rested at, we get a few lines about the variety of meats and game they survived on, then a rather more interesting paragraph about all their close calls with their English pursuers.  One night they got to lie awake listening to a team of British searching for them, on another they got to spend hours backtracking to foil a party of hunters, then on one occasion they bumped into a fort factor and had to haul him back home all tied up, because Yellow Hair is a softy at heart and Father Marc is a nonviolent priest.

And you might think this would make the journey a very tense and exciting time, except Hubbard then spends a page explaining how one-sided the hunt was.  After all, Yellow Hair is a Pikuni scout and therefore totally at home in frozen woods very different from his homeland, as mentioned in Chapter 20.  And the British, even though they're in their "own" territory, have nothing but a proper education on how to eat tea and biscuits. 

Week in and week out (or rather storm in and storm out), Yellow Hair persisted in making the worthy English appear in a very foolish light and did it with so much savage glee that a more sober man that Father Marc would have grown hysterical.

So again, nothing to be worried about, no real danger for our heroes, at most an inconvenience.

For instance, one night Yellow Hair crept up to the very edge of an enemy campfire, listening to the Orkneymen talk about how they'd spend their reward money for catching him, and then he howled along with the nearby wolves so that the British didn't sleep a wink that night, even while Yellow Hair stole their dogs for his sled.  And that's the story of how Yellow Hair got some other animal to pull his toboggan.

There was some consequence from this, however - Father Marc started to think about tales of werewolves until Yellow Hair explained that the Pikuni word for "scout" is sometimes the same for "wolf," and learn to signal with a howl so authentic that even wolves are fooled by it.  Which seems like it could go both ways to me, and run the risk of a natural wolf howl being mistaken for a scout report, but I'm sure these people know what they're doing.  But yeah, Yellow Hair the Indian scout has a near-mystical affinity for the starving wild animals that surrounded him and Father Marc each night, which explains why they were never eaten, I guess.

And so, while Father Marc grinned away his uneasiness at these carnivora, Yellow Hair grinned at them with friendliness, appreciating their intelligence, their swiftness, and if not their courage, at least their cunning.  Several times Yellow Hair scared Father Marc half out of his cassock by suddenly emitting a yipping bark in the direction of a new set of eyes which had joined the waiting ring around the fire, throwing the wolf song in that direction as though telling the animal to keep its distance, that here was a kindred spirit.

At least he's not taming the wolves to pull their sled, or listening to their howls and understanding that there are five British men ten miles away heading northeast.

And that's about it for the chapter.  After outwitting their pursuers at every turn over a hundreds-mile journey that took them through the depths of winter, spring arrives and Father Marc and Yellow Hair exchange their toboggan for a travois and follow a stream to Fort William, where they will "face adventures much more intricate and dangerous than those of their journey."  Which, as this chapter makes clear, isn't saying much.

But again, at least Hubbard actually went into some detail about the trip, even found a chance to show us a bit about Yellow Hair's character when he playfully terrified his traveling companion.  So I'll call this a good chapter, more or less.  Not a tense or exciting chapter, though.

Back to Chapter 22

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