Tonight I heard the wild goose cry
Hangin’ north in the lonely sky
Tried to sleep, it warn’t no use
‘cause I am a brother to the old wild goose
(Cry Of the Wild Goose by Frankie Laine. Song was #1 for two weeks in 1950.)
Yep, that’s me the first night I’m back in Mistissini. Getting out the hunting clothes, oiling up the gun, checking the shells and setting the alarm clock for 3:30 in the morning.
Trouble is I’m lying there awake with every bone in my body vibrating with excitement thinking back to trips of yesteryear.
The spring goose hunt is a religious experience for me. It is the awakening of mother earth heralded by the return of the geese to the Cree territory. A time of gathering together and experiencing the renewal of life on the land.
It was great to see family and friends back home. Now as I sit and write this another spring goose hunt has finished. People are heading back into the community. I can imagine the post-hunt action. The black ducks are on the way, the ice is opening up and walleye are about to start spawning.
Spring for the Crees is truly a time of plenty.
Mistissini, when I first arrived back home, is like every other Cree community… a ghost town. Businesses shut down to minimal activities for the most part, no kids, and the school is closed and silent. The gym opens each evening but most nights see only one or two people showing up. Most people have headed out into the bush.
Myself, I joined a few others and decide to hunt on my Uncle Don’s goose territory. At a mere 70-80 yards from his house, Don along with others has set up two blinds. As I am one of the last hunters to arrive and haven’t killed my first goose yet the other hunters allow me to shoot first. It’s an old tradition and one I’ve been the beneficiary to more than once since I’ve been in Montreal. A thanks to all the hunters of their consideration.
A typical day was getting up at 3:30 in the morning and arriving at the blind by 4:00.
The light would just be starting and the ducks would be just black silhouettes. As long as I could see the end of my gun I would shoot. Then the waiting would start.
A time of looking for the slightest change in the sky followed by short periods of excitement, as ducks would drop in, sometimes without advance notice. But always our eyes and ears would be searching for the geese.
In the blind we would talk about what we were up to, update each other on friends and share stories and jokes. The camaraderie and bonding goes beyond the occasional day when someone ate boiled eggs for breakfast.
I’m sure everyone knows what I mean by that last comment! I’ve always been tempted to have a section of who in which camp won the farting contests I hear so much about.
Not that I’ve ever been a part of this game. Yeah, sure, and my farts smell like roses too. But it’s all part of passing the time in the blind, so to speak.
This year it was so hot the first couple of days I stripped down to my combat pants hoping for the traditional hunter’s tan. You know the one where only one side gets the sun. With my superior wisdom I refused the sunblock 45 and ended up using Noxzema. A small price to pay for a quicker tan accompanied by a minor sunburn. Vanity rears its ugly head at times even in the worst of us.
I think my favourite part of the hunt was when the snow geese came in. There were about 30 of them and that is a rare sight when you’re hunting inland. We emptied our guns.
I have a lot of respect for the boys on the coast after seeing only two go down. But the four of us were laughing our heads off later on; those geese were harder to pluck than the Canada’s, I was told.
We shared them with the hunters from across the water in a little mukshan one Saturday so everyone got a little taste. The mukshan was great. A gathering of two groups of families and friends to celebrate the hunt.
I was lucky enough to get asked by my Uncle Luke to travel up the road from Mistissini towards Lake Albanel. On the way back we stopped at one camp. It was then that the hunt came together for me. At least three generations were in the teepee plucking geese. Women, men and children all together, smiling and talking in small groups. The discussions would go around as people dropped out to start another and others dropped in to continue the conversation in progress. Truly a time for family closeness and they made us feel a part of it and very welcome. Cree hospitality is always something that has to be experienced to be believed.
With the ice opening up and more water available, the hunt was drawing to a close. We rolled the blinds to
the shore, pulled up the canoes and hung them on the rack. A few last stops here and there with everyone reporting a good hunt. In fact, all around, everyone said it was the best they had in a long time.
With that it’s time for this “brother to the old wild goose” to let the pictures do the talking. Each one is worth a thousand words and a few memories. And lastly thanks to the Creator, the geese and the land for all they have given the Crees this year.