As the snowmobile I rode muttered down the trail, the tiny crimson berry seemed to zip past at eye level. Smaller than a drop of blood, suspended on an otherwise barren branch, the nearly transparent orb presented the only bright colour I’d seen in nature’s palette all day.
When the invitation had come to visit the trapline, I didn’t hesitate. I’m a couch potato in winter, but yes. Of course, yes.
A friend loaned me her warmest snow gear. Good thing, because the thermometer read 23 degrees below (Celsius) when we started out. I looked like the Michelin Tire man and moved like him too. No matter. The grace of this chance to view a seldom-seen arena of God’s creation and observe for the first time a traditional Canadian activity, enlivened me.
On the trail, the trappers pointed out lessons traced in snow: the dainty tracks of a weasel, an empty snare concealed in the brush, the deeply imprinted resting spot of a moose and its widely spaced footsteps leading there – at least six feet apart. I saw the place where lay the trap that snagged a wolf last week, and a coyote at a different spot. I’d seen their carcasses hanging in the skin shed.
But no canines would die that day. I wasn’t sorry.
For seven hours, we traversed beauty. Snow-blanketed beaver lodges dotted frozen lakes, their surface snowblown in swirls like sandy deserts. Each active lodge had its own chimney – a small snow peak. Trappers know these things.
We wound through swamps thickly grown with rushes. Fluffy seeds floated like winter insects in the breeze. Though abandoned by summer’s ubiquitous red-winged blackbirds, silent of their raucous warning calls, evidence remained that a swamp does not slumber over winter. Exquisitely outlined paw prints wound frenetic patterns between the reeds – otter, raccoon, raven…
No, a swamp never sleeps. God designed it that way.
In winter, in deeply forested areas, the sun, piercing barren stands of poplar and aspen, transforms the forest floor into a glittering carpet, brilliantly compensating for the absence of leaves. Humble Labrador tea, frozen at the base of trees, looks just like fairy skirts on seamstress’s mannequins. Snow rests on logs and shelves of deadfall in layers, like folded hospital linens. And the roots of a quarter-mile swath of wind-toppled spruce rise high above ground; a collection of massive earthen plates on edge. Decorated with snow-tufts, they resemble a gallery of modern sculpture.
We returned from the trapline bearing three beaver and a single muskrat – not a profitable catch. But like fishing or hunting, trapping is a package, I learned. Many days, the pleasure of one’s surroundings becomes the best profit. It doesn’t stuff the wallet, but it refreshes the spirit – a more lasting sustenance. And that’s no small thing.
There is no God, say some. Spend a day on a trapline, I say, or anywhere in unspoiled nature. Breathe in what no human or accidental cellular process could replicate. You will have no more excuses.