The trail was covered in light, dry snow, a dusting less than a centimetre, (that’s a half inch for you Elders). Uncle Loobit was ahead of us, quickly ducking into a thick bush on the side. A half-minute goes by and soon he emerges with his rabbit and stuffs it into his packsack. Cuzzin and I take a quick peek and see that Loobit had already reset his snare. Loobit wondered why we took so long to set our snares as he had already caught three rabbits and set another four snares or so.
We continued on down the trail, quickly setting our own snares where Loobit directed us. Loobit left us behind and then we heard the quick crack of a .22 going off a few times. We catch up and Loobit has already plucked three spruce grouse. He grins and mentions dumplings. We take off again and check the few marten traps further down the skidoo trail. Cuzzin and I set more snares, then we head back, and barely two hours had passed since we left the camp.
We chopped wood in the late afternoon for the camp, and then we headed back to Fort George Island by skidoo. It was early January in 1973 and pretty cold but the cold couldn’t pierce the thick wool socks my Googum made. My green hydro parka, standard issue for just about everyone, was outfitted with a nice fox-furred hood by my Mom and the lambskin mittens and rabbit-furred, toe-insulated moccasins made the chance of feeling the cold slim, but we still felt it.
Back at Googum and Goomshum’s place the wood stove blazed and crackled, heating the hand-hewn wood home to past melting and toward sweating temperatures. Warmed enough for us to venture out from the goose and eiderdown-filled blankets that Googum threw over us when we came back, we gulped down a cup of warm tea. The phone rang. It was Mom, checking up on the rabbits and me. Googum took some of our catch and sent us home. We walked back in the clear night, stars glimmering down and lighting up the snow. Familiar lights and house outlines aid us on our quick walk back home.
Dumplings it was. I bring up how Wemindji people add raisins to their dumplings and Mom wrinkled her nose, disagreeing. Raisins belong in sweet cooking things. I agree and minutes later my empty plate is begging for another light fluffy dumpling cooked in rabbit broth. The grouse we’ll eat tomorrow with bacon slab sliced thin.
I agreed again and headed to bed. It was only 8:30 but I was sleepier than Rip Van Winkle. Soon I was dreaming of rabbit snaring. The next morning, we do it all over again, head south to Loobit’s traps and snares and this time come home with the sled full of rabbits. Everyone was pleased and the smell of dumplings hung around for a few weeks, as this food staple gets a little boring after a while. Checking nets under the ice in the various rivers and lakes add a little variety to our diet.
I’m happy when Mom pulls out the Kraft Dinner and adds the Klik and tomatoes. Little brother wrinkles his nose and refuses to eat such a concoction, but his empty plate begs to differ. The hard candy comes out and quickly quiets down the smaller kids, for a while anyways. I dry out my hunting gear and clothes. The Remington gets a cleaning too, with no oil added as it quickly freezes as the barrel cools down in the minus-40 weather.
The next morning, the weather was too bad to go anywhere. GPS would have been handy in that weather just to get around town, but it wouldn’t be invented yet for a number of decades. School was important too and so it was. I went back to hitting the books until May when the call of the spring goose brought us back from the cold winter.
Today, the first real winter storm struck home half way to Halloween. As the saying goes, the first snow melts away before settling in for good, but it looks like the snow is here for good, calling for a rabbit snaring and dumplings forecast.