Trapper, early twentieth century. Library of Congress
The thermometer here has been hovering in single digits and New York City recorded wind-chill temps below zero. In Saranac Lake, where I spend time during the summer, wind chills yesterday dropped to around -40. Times like these, I think of a delightful little volume written by a nineteenth-century fur trapper from northern Canada. Martin Hunter's Canadian Wilds is available to read on Google Books, if you want to get a fire going in the living room and do a little browsing on your tablet. His book is full of old-fashioned lore about staying alive in difficult conditions. Here is some advice from Chapter 16, "Things to Avoid:"
Jack London's tyro in "To Build a Fire" would not have come to grief if he had followed Hunter's advice that "a proper partner is necessary" while traveling in the wilds, "for safety, successful hunting, and division of the many necessary labors, when the hunting or trapping day is over." Hunter reels off a list of possible disasters with fatal consequence, not least the risk of getting caught in your own animal traps. "I have known two men to lose their lives in a most horrible way of torture and agony, and these men were not novices at the business," he notes. One was middle-aged and "born and brought up to trapping, and the other was an old Nova Scotian who had trapped and hunted for forty years and yet he died in a bear trap." Hunter recounted one of his own near-misses when traveling alone in winter:
Despite such sage wisdom, Hunter was not without his crotchets:
So go ahead: throw another log on the fire and cozy up with this book until the cold wave snaps. You will feel even better if you line your head up with True North!
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors