Life in the far North is a continual rotation of the seasons, they dictate your life and your efforts, to resist is hopeless; a rancher learns to adjust to the dramatic climate changes and his life has fewer surprises and disasters. Spring is the season that causes the most problems, there is the thaw and the runoff, the incessant winds that make horses nervous and bring down trees while you walk in the bush, the creeks and rivers are in flood and will take your life without remorse if you are foolish enough to think you are invincible. Everyone waits for the mud to dry, so they can get to the fields and work the ground as the frost keeps rising up out of the ground and the rains keep coming down in three and four day monsoons. People are often grouchy while they wait to begin farming and the normal activities of the outdoors man.
Once the ground begins to dry and the rivers tire of raging in their banks, summer comes and the rebirth of life begins. The grasses turn green, the trees put out their buds, the song birds fuss over their little families, the cows call out to their calves as they buck and gambol in the green grass during the only period of life they seem to enjoy, all around the wild animals have their young insuring that the cycle of life will continue for at least another year.
As the temperatures rise, late spring yields to summer and work on the ranch can begin in earnest. The tractors can work the fields without danger of sinking to the hubs in mud, fences can be repaired, cattle can be turned out on summer pasture and the ravages that winter frost and spring winds have inflicted on the ranch can be repaired. Summer is a a period of work and the 20 hour days are often used without wasting daylight.
The first frost often comes on August 15, the opening day of moose season, haying should be complete and the turning over of fallow fields often is finished. For guys like me, the excitement of hunting and filling up the freezer with moose and elk is now the driving factor. The securing of meat for the year became my first and foremost responsibility; after that chore was completed, I could concentrate on my first love, Grizzly hunting. It is hard to explain or justify, but there is something that reaches down to our most basic nature when you hunt and track an animal who just might be hunting and tracking you at the same time. Our weapon is our main advantage, that and our eyesight is more acute at a distance, the mature Grizzly can’t climb trees because his claws are too thick, but why climb a tree to scape when he will just shake you out of the tree or pull the tree out by the roots; after our advantages are discounted, we can’t outrun them, we can’t out swim them, our comparative strength is laughable, our sense of smell is almost non-existent, our hearing is pathetic, our tracking skills can’t compare, so hunting them on an equal footing isn’t necessarily a guaranteed outcome. Several hunters pay for the thrill of hunting them with their lives each year. I harbor no ill will toward the mighty Grizzly; even though, one of them killed one of my pack horses, a large animal that was a quarter draft, and was tossing him in the air while still alive like a dog with a squirrel; I can’t blame the Grizzly, he has a voracious appetite. Still I will hunt the Grizzly until I can no longer navigate in the bush: if one of them kills me before that time it will be a suitable death for an old Grizzly hunter.
The storms and snows of fall are wild in their fury and I love to be out in the open when nature cuts loose with her fury. To feel the forces of nature, is to appreciate the full depth and essence of being alive. It is best to be away from the trees since the fierce Northern winds blow them down or snap them like tooth picks. I have seen the aftermath of a 100 mile an hour rogue wind when it blows down a section, (640 acres) of pine and spruce with 36 inch diameter butts and 65 foot heights and there on the ground is a fortune in lumber lying there like chop sticks waiting to rot into the ground or burn like an inferno.
Once the snow is a foot deep or so and the temperatures start dropping into the 40 below range, the only cold temperature that we take deadly serious, winter has arrived. For me and a few thousand intrepid souls, that meant the trapping season. Yes, we committed brutal murder on the furry creatures who make a life’s work of killing and eating each other, so that rich women and a few men can adorn themselves with the furred treasures of the North. Oh, I would tan the odd coyote hide or beaver pelt to make mittens for extreme cold, but those were inferior furs that showed the scars of life’s most elemental struggle, fighting for their very life, the rest were sold to the fur buyers and of course the Queen of England got a cut of the deal for some reason that eludes me to this day. I often thought of writing her a letter and introducing myself since we were almost partners on the trap line, at least she had a share of a the furs I took in a winter’s work. I thought it would be nice to invite her out for a few days on the trap line so that she could see what was involved and let me know if she thought she deserved a bigger cut of the profits. I bet she could afford a decent snowmobile. There’s not really much room in the trap cabins, she would need to leave her staff back at the home ranch and trust me to do the cooking, I’d let her have the bunk and I’d roll out my blanket roll on the floor. I bet she’d really have a memorable time and have a lot to talk about back at Buckingham Palace, when she got home.
Once trapping season ended, I’d go home to help with calving. I’m a much better horseman than cowman, but I know the basics and can work with cattle. We always had five or six hundred head of cattle and among those would be 50 or 60 first calf heifers. These were the ones that usually had the problems calving; especially if they didn’t like the Angus bull that was in with them: an Angus bull tends to produce smaller calves making the process of birthing or calving go easier for the heifers. Life and the fickleness females being the way it is, there were always a few heifers who would jump fences when they took a shine to one of the big Charlois bulls who tended to produce a calf that was half grown when it hit the ground. This always caused problems, because the calf was too large for the heifer and it was up to a human to dilate the vulva with your hands for at least five minutes and determine the position of the calf. If it had it’s head turned or if it was in a bad position and was still alive, you needed to turn the calf and get it in the correct position to be born, a process that is easier written about than done. For some reason I never questioned, you wanted the cow on her right side, to perform these bovine obstetrics and that wasn’t always easy. Needless to say, it was a messy job, often made more complicated by extreme temperatures. There were also the cows that were shy and didn’t want everyone watching them have their calves. They would walk off to be alone, often down in a gully and try to have their calves, sometimes the coyotes would be eating the calf as it was being born and if we found her in trouble the snow was often so deep our obstetrics work was even more complicated and while we spent time with the wayward cow another one would develop problems up above. There was never a boring evening when we were calving. My best friend Knarley Manners was helping me and my dad keep a round the clock vigil on the cows and the lurking coyotes were always looking for a quick meal of veal.
Knarley was usually my helper because of my counting problem, I always had problems counting the herd and making sure none of our girls wandered off to lose their calf and maybe their own life. Knarley could do technical things much better than me, but I was better at reading and writing: his handwriting looked like a child’s script his whole life and he only read the bible and the hunting and trapping regulations, other than that, he had no use for reading. We might be checking out 5 to 6 hundred cows, but he knew each one and their approximate position. If one was missing, he could find it in a manner of minutes, he was one of the best trackers I ever knew.
On one of these nights John Belcourt rode into the yard on a horse that had given everything to get John to our ranch in a hurry. He was excited and I had never seen John excited. Knarley led the horse away and put it down as John tried to explain to me why he killed his horse to get here in the middle of the night in such a hurry.
Apparently, a daughter or niece had been in labor for 48 hours out on John’s trap line and the baby wasn’t being born. I didn’t have a clue as to what to tell him, so we walked over to the cabin and woke my dad up to see what should be done. I thought my dad might be really pissed that the woman was out in the bush instead of in town, where help was available; my dad was a hard man, but he understood the native thinking on these matters and he started formulating a plan.
Many native births happen as they have for millions of years and everything usually goes well, but when they go bad, they can go horribly wrong. My dad told me to get his team and that John and Knarley should go with me to pick up the young girl and drive her back to the ranch with the Democrat bob sleigh. A Democrat has two bench seats and sits on the bob sleigh.
Once we got the girl close to the ranch we would fire a rifle and my dad would start a truck and by the time we got home the truck would be warmed up and ready to go to town.
There were a few potential problems with this plan, my dad was a good teamster, his team was a lot younger than mine and they had a bit of fire. My team was an old team, Tom and Jeraldine, they were the ones I almost always drove to feed in the winter and to skid and haul logs with when we were logging. We had to cross the river, that could be tricky because river ice is never predictable. We were also using my dad’s Democrat that had been his dad’s pride and joy to drive to church in the winter. I didn’t want to wreck it, that’s for sure. Knarley and I looked at each other in disbelief at what we were expected to accomplish as young teenagers. My dad yelled at us to get blankets, matches, an ax, a rifle, a lantern, and a chain saw. He hitched up the team and twenty minutes later we were following John’s tracks to the river in the dark. the Democrat with the three of us didn’t register as a load for my dad’s Clydesdale Percheron cross team, they were used to hauling a ton of hay in three foot of snow without a care in the world. The cold air and the lack of weight made them want to go fast and I was using every bit of driving skill I possessed to keep from having a wreck in the dark as they kept increasing their speed. I asked John if the bank was steep where he crossed the river. He assured me it was easy or at least I think he did, while talking to us in three different languages, that in his excitement came out as a hodge podge of gibberish with a thick Indian accent.
In a few minutes the horses dove over the river bank and the three of us were thrown over the tops of the seats as the Democrat followed the horses. I manged to hold on as I was thrown out toward the horses, since I was expecting a steep bank despite John’s incoherent reassurances that it would be easy and then John slammed into me and we barely kept from going under the sleigh as the horses raced toward the river. John got his bulk back in the sleigh and pulled me back in as easily as though I were a child. My hand was sore and I couldn’t get my air, but John thought the whole incident was funny and was laughing as Knarley and I seriously studied the ice in front of us that was coming toward us at an unbelievably fast pace.
The horses hit the ice at a fast trot and thankfully they had sharp shoes with borium welded on, I knew the shoes were good, because I had nailed on the shoes a week earlier. About half way cross the river, the ice began to make loud cracking noises and we felt the Democrat drop with the ice as the horses kept racing for the other bank. We could hear the water rushing beneath us as the horses kept racing to new ice and as the Democrat kept passing over the ice, the ice would give way. The horses lunged over the far bank and we held on this time because we saw the bank in front of us. I patiently explained to John that we would need to cross at a ford on the way back, so that the water would not be so deep. I told him about the danger of deeper water and he shook his head to assure me he knew of the right place to cross on the way back. I honestly had no idea, whether he understood me or not.
It was only a short way to John’s tent, the young girl looked to be in the same condition as John’s horse. The fire had gone out of the wood stove but the girl was in a sweat and she looked more dead than alive. John and Knarley stood there doing nothing, so I carried the girl out to the Democrat, she felt as if she weighed almost nothing. I told Knarley to brace her so she didn’t get thrown from the seat, while John helped me find a different place to cross the river. He picked a wide spot and the banks weren’t nearly as steep, the chances were that this was a real ford since a ford is always a wider place in the river, but sometimes there were deep channels in a ford, that was a chance we were going to be forced to take.
Every once in a while the girl in the back would moan or let out a scream, but other than that she was holding on and maintaining her vitality. We started across the river and the sleigh broke through the ice almost immediately, the water was on ly a foot deep and the ice was only three or four inches thick, soon the horses were breaking through and we hit a rock or something that stopped the sleigh dead in one spot. The ice was breaking all around us and the rushing water was pushing the ice up on the Democrat and trying to push the Democrat over; suddenly the girl started screaming, she wasn’t scared of the sleigh that was wanting to tip, she was in pain. Knarley started the chain saw and was cutting at the chunks of ice spraying ice chips and water over everything to make the gathering ice into smaller pieces that he could kick away. John Jumped into the river to find out what was preventing us from going forward. I jumped into the back seat to see why the girl was screaming.
With my left hands on the reins, I patted her round belly with my right hand. She had her knees up and was trying to birth the baby. Knowing only what to do with cows, I dilated her with my right hand to try and enlarge her, I then reached in to try and feel the baby to see if it was in the right position, I felt the head in the birth canal, I reached further back to make sure the cord wasn’t wrapped around the neck. Thankfully, it didn’t appear to be, I held the tiny head in my hand and pulled when she pushed and after two big pushes combined with my tugs, the baby was born and crying over the cold air and the water now running across the floor of the Democrat while I was kneeling on my knees on the floor. I wiped the baby with a towel and wrapped it in another towel and handed the little girl to her mother. I told her she still needed to push the placenta and that was free in another couple of minutes.
The Democrat was tilting and slipping down stream, John couldn’t move the rock that had us stopped, so he reached down and with superhuman strength picked up the front bob sleigh as I asked the horses to move forward and suddenly, we were free and moving. The water pushed the hind end downstream enough that the back sled missed the rock. The horses had been in the cold water long enough and headed for the opposite bank with renewed speed; we were breaking ice as we went ahead, but we weren’t going to stop this time. We fired the rifle a mile from the house and again at a half mile, just to make sure my dad could hear the rifle. John stayed and helped Knarley and my dad with calving while I drove the mother and baby to the hospital. Those two didn’t want anything to do with delivering human babies, but they would pull calves around the clock.
I filled in when it was necessary and maybe that baby would have been fine without me, it is hard to say; although, the girl felt better having someone there to help her through her crisis. Thankfully, there are professionals who do this type of business on a regular basis. I can appreciate their professionalism, especially after delivering a baby myself. The public places a lot of faith in these people who are trained to perform these procedures and who know what to do when there is a real emergency.
We call those people professionals. When those professionals compromise their professionalism with their political beliefs, they have crossed a line of trust. Not that professionals can’t have political opinions, almost all of them have their political opinions, but when they betray that position of trust to promote a political cause or commit fraud in that position of trust, they are no longer worthy of the professionalism and responsibility society has given them. The MDs who passed out fraudulent medical exams on the street corner in Madison, WI, to excuse teachers who called in sick under false circumstances have committed fraud as have the teachers, who also hold a position of trust and professionalism. It may be argued that there is no harm and no foul; however there is a foul, for we now know these people no longer have integrity and they are more than willing to commit fraud and to lie to promote a political cause. We the public are now left asking, are these people worthy of their professionalism and responsibility or have they lowered themselves to the level of a corrupt lying politician who only has his own welfare at heart.