The Memory of the Trapper’s Dog

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Flying over northern Manitoba, dropping into a remote lake, and to think how insignificant you are on this landscape, it can feel intimidating. I was lucky enough to visit this lodge more than once, catching trophy walleye and northern, seeing my first woodland caribou, and witnessing a bear fight between a black and cinnamon phase. This trip played out a bit different. I was a kid, scared by the wilderness, almost angered at how it is unforgiving.

We started to salivate as the boat approached the group of islands, in anticipation of the traditional shore lunch. There was something wrong. There was something wolf-like against the rock outcrops, so removed from civilization. I second-guessed myself but then witnessed its’ persistence bounding along the shoreline to meet our boat. The trapper’s dog seemed starved for, at the very least, attention.

His act seemed unreal, cautious and curious, knowing enough to give chase from island to island and to be here, of all places, at mealtime. There had been a cold drizzle all morning, and by the lunch fire we scared off that chill. You’d think a pet left alone out here would grow a filthy coat, but not so. The trapper’s dog shape-shifted between feral and tame.

Our guide seemed put-off. The only person to blame was the trapper. There was no point in asking. The lodge owner could not allow a dog around camp. They were at capacity, for mouths to feed, for bodies in need of care, for issues with bears, wolves, and staff. A pet would change the dynamic and force decisions that could otherwise be avoided. Yet here, for all to see, was man’s best friend free in the out of doors. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

My father cautioned me about wild animals, out of duty but without conviction. So pleased with the company, the dog’s killer instincts soon fell into the bliss of domestic life. Small, skinny and skittish, my new buddy performed a four-legged version of a jig. Maybe the trapper missed his backwoods companion – the dog that danced to his fiddle. I struggled to think the best of him. This was a good dog.

We shared a meal. The trapper’s dog ran the shoreline as the boat motored away. I somehow returned my attention to the fish, and later, the guide let it slip. That dog was spoiled. That dog only eats cooked fish. Maybe the guides watched over him. Maybe they shared their favourite lunch spots. I like to imagine that a guide took the dog home at season’s end. I also imagine that dog would not have lasted much longer out there
all alone.

Fishing is not all about the trophies. When fishing you face the unexpected head on, stare them down, to overcome what you might find out there and what it might reveal about yourself. Fishing builds grit, but not so much that you can’t reflect on the bad and the ugly, and find a way to be at peace with the unforgivable. Here’s to a memorable open water season; welcome the challenge and I suggest always keeping watch on the shoreline for something out of place.

John is currently at work on a short documentary film called Puttin’ Down Roots, about what grows wild in Manitoba and the rites of spring on the prairies.

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About Author

John Toone is a writer and businessman from Winnipeg, Canada. His creative work includes books like Fishin' For Dumbasses (Great Plains) and From Out of Nowhere (Turnstone Press). He is a partner in Electric Monk Media, creators of virtual reality and motion picture experiences like the documentary film The Private Lives of Wild Creatures and the video game Phantom of the Forest. John Toone is a hunter, fisherman, gatherer, home-schooler, woodlot manager, green thumb and jack-of-all-trades. Please visit www.johntoone.ca.

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