The Arctic Prairies By Ernest Thompson Seton


When we had embarked on the leaping, boiling, muddy Athabaska, in
this frail canoe, it had seemed a foolhardy enterprise - Page 120
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When We Had Embarked On The Leaping, Boiling, Muddy Athabaska, In This Frail Canoe, It Had Seemed A Foolhardy Enterprise.

How could such a craft ride such a stream for 2,000 miles?

It was like a mouse mounting a monstrous, untamed, plunging and rearing horse. Now we set out each morning, familiar with stream and our boat, having no thought of danger, and viewing the water, the same turbid flood, as, our servant. Even as a skilful tamer will turn the wildest horse into his willing slave, so have we conquered this river and made it the bearer of our burdens. So I thought and wrote at the time; but the wise tamer is ever alert, never lulled into false security. He knows that a heedless move may turn his steed into a deadly, dangerous monster. We had our lesson to learn.

That night (October 15) there was a dull yellow sunset. The morning came with a strong north wind and rain that turned to snow, and with it great flocks of birds migrating from the Athabaska Lake. Many rough-legged Hawks, hundreds of small land birds, thousands of Snow-birds in flocks of 20 to 200, myriads of Ducks and Geese, passed over our heads going southward before the frost. About 8.30 the Geese began to pass in ever-increasing flocks; between 9.45 and 10 I counted 114 flocks averaging about 30 each (5 to 300) and they kept on at this rate till 2 P. M. This would give a total of nearly 100,000 Geese. It was a joyful thing to see and hear them; their legions in flight array went stringing high aloft, so high they looked not like Geese, but threads across the sky, the cobwebs, indeed, that Mother Carey was sweeping away with her north-wind broom. I sketched and counted flock after flock with a sense of thankfulness that so many, were left alive. Most were White Geese, but a twentieth, perhaps, were Honkers.

The Ducks began to pass over about noon, and became more numerous than the Geese as they went on.

In the midst of this myriad procession, as though they were the centre and cause of all, were two splendid White Cranes, bugling as they flew. Later that day we saw another band, of three, but these were all; their race is nearly run.

The full moon was on and all night the wild-fowl flew. The frost was close behind them, sharp and sudden. Next morning the ponds about us had ice an inch thick and we heard of it three inches at other places.

But the sun came out gloriously and when at ten we landed at Fort McMurray the day was warm and perfect in its autumnal peace.

Miss Gordon, the postmaster, did not recognise us at first. She said we all looked "so much older, it is always so with folks who go north."

Next morning we somehow left our tent behind. It was old and of little value, so we did not go back, and the fact that we never really needed it speaks much for the sort of weather we had to the end of the trip.

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