My best friend, Knarley Manners and I were fishermen. We didn’t fish for men’s souls, we fished for dinner. Once the creeks and rivers settled down from spring run off, about the first of June, fishing was serious business.
Most of our fishing was done with the fly rod, the fish up North have small mouths compared to Bass of the U.S. I had fished for Bass in Florida and Virginia, Knarley didn’t really act like he believed my stories about those fighters of the warm waters down South, but there was no need to exaggerate, those were awesome fish. I was always showing him articles in Field and Stream to back up the fish stories that seemed so bizarre to our way of life, but Knarley just couldn’t believe the stories about freshwater fish that could swallow a duck chick or a newly hatched alligator. Besides, he maintained that fish from warm water were half way spoiled when you caught them and therefore, could not be good to eat. Some things are just a little bit too much for a man who has never been over two hundred miles from the house he was born in to believe; especially, if he spent more time on a horse than in a truck.
I was determined to prove that I could catch a Dolly Varden on a spinning rod with an artificial lure, Knarley considered such claims as pure lunacy and a waste of time; besides, why use a spinning rod when you can catch every fish in the streams and rivers with a fly rod. None the less, I ordered a special spinning lure with a swivel body and two small treble hooks.
Once it arrived, I marveled at its beauty; it was painted yellow with a red head and green scales. Since no fish in the north had ever seen such a lure it was bound to be an awesome fish killer. I showed it to Knarley with pride, he studied it carefully for nearly three seconds before shaking his head and walking away in disgust. That single action strengthened my resolve to prove the lure would be lethal on the mighty Dolly.
Knarley was the official wolf hunter for several community pastures. These pastures were huge blocks of government land that were set aside to allow ranchers to turn their cattle out for four months during the summer. It allowed the rancher to devote more deeded and leased land to growing crops and hay; however, wolves are fairly common in the Peace River country and occasionally they will pull down a cow or calf. It was Knarey’s job to investigate each kill site and determine whether it was a natural death or a predator. No one could read sign better than Knarley, so his judgements always carried a certain official ruling. Eventually, the RCMP would call on Knarley to investigate the odd crime scene and the surrounding area for clues, he often brought me along to help cover the area, bur I mainly saw the odd sign and had Knarley analyze it to see if it was significant. He could look at leaves, dirt, grass, or twigs and read them like a book. I admired my friend for this ability and tried to learn how to read sign like him, but I was almost illiterate when it came to sign. To him, a dent in the snow that had three inches of new snow on top required close scrutiny for a minute, he would stand up and say one word, elk, moose, bear, or whatever; he knew what animal it was and what direction it was traveling. The military could have used a man like him; although, he was a Jehova’s Witness and would never consider going to war or even traveling over a hundred miles from home, unless he was on a horse. He killed animals by the thousands on the trap line, working as a hunting guide, and wolf hunter. He was a strange one that is for sure, but we were the best of friends for over twenty years.
He had a fantastic knowledge of the community pastures because of his job as a wolf hunter and since he had a great deal of lattitude while hunting the wolf, I often tagged along during the summer, I fished and cooked as we cruised the foothills and used the time to break new mountain pack horses. On this particuar trip we planned to do a little fishing in the Sukunka as a break from tracking and killing wolves. It was mainly an academic exercise, Knarley could kill all the wolves in a pack within a month, but he would work himself out of a job and Knarley was very particular about maintaining his various sources of income. He explained his business plan to me on several occasions or at least once a month. He swore me to secrecy and I love keeping secrets: many will go to the grave with me, but Knarley is no longer hunting wolves for profit, so I am pretty sure it is alright to let the cougar out of the sack on this one.
If the pack had twelve wolves, he could kill three or four and by the next year, the pack would be up to full strength. During the summer, if he shot the wolves, they brought $200 from the ranchers, but the hide was useless. If he trapped them in the winter the hide would bring $100 to $250 and the hide didn’t have the entrance and exit hole. It was a matter of simple economics.
The pack had a litter of pups every year, but the size of the pack remained the same. Knarley had no idea what happened to the extra pups; they might have been killed and eaten or they may have been driven away from the pack, there is no way to know for sure. Most of those documentaries you have watched about wolves were filmed within enclosures with semi-domesticated wolves and are nothing but pure BS. The wild pack will trot 60 miles a day and not cover the same ground for at least a week, do you think those pansy film crews can travel like that and still get camera hides set up and get good footage, it is nearly an impossibility.
Some wolves are driven out of the pack, perhaps for unacceptable behavior or maybe the herd needed to cull members to keep the size down, it is hard to say. These lone wolves were smarter or maybe their behavior wasn’t predictable, but they were loners and had to survive or perish according to their own skills and abilities.
We humans often mimic the wolf pack, some function as a group and can be very effective in maintaining themselves as a collective, but would soon die without the strength of the group.
Knarley and I raveled together, yet at any time we could split up and carry on alone for months or years. We humans are often under equipped for survival, we need matches, clothes, a knife, an ax, a blanket, other things make life easier like a rifle, a tarp, cooking utensils, a saddle horse and pack horse. A wolf carries nothing and survives quite well if he finds game.
We often discussed these lobos or lone wolves and why they had been turned out of the pack. Was it anti-social or unwolf-like behavior or did the wolf challenge the leader and fail. These are questions that are supposedly answered by wildlife cinematographers with an agenda: the same material for humans is ridiculed as propaganda or the Michael Moore version of nature.
On his particular trip, we were a day’s ride from the truck, but fairly close to Chetwynd and the Hart Highway. A little time out from tracking wolves and reading sign at various kill sites would be a nice break for two country boys living life as free as possible, while others worked in saw mills, logging, and the oil patch.
There must have been a storm in the mountains because the Sukunka was having a riot and boiling water between its banks. The banks were lined with trees and brush, that made the fly rod hard to use, but we found some big rocks out in the water and we could jump out on them and fish. If you fell in, it would be hard to survive in the fast water, but some people are survivors and some just seem to be too weak to try and live, Knarley and I were surviviors, we had provn that several times already in our young lives.
I decided to try my new spinning lure on a spinning rod, I’d be casting down stream: Knarley would be working his flies up stream, that way we would not be in each other’s way. We didn’t say a word, there was no need, the water was roaring and you couldn’t hear the guy next to you if he was yelling. On one of my back casts, it felt like I hooked a tree branch. I pulled hard on the rod to jerk it free and I heard Knarley yelling something, but it came through as little more than a whisper with all the noise.
I turned around and was unprepared for what I saw. My new lure had hung up in Knarley’s nose and lower lip and he was quite excited with his eyes rolling around. I made him stand still, while I looked at the position of the lure: yep, I had him hooked good, if he had been a fish, there was no way he could get away.
I tried to carefully pull the hooks out, but he had two hooks past the barbs in his nose and one buried way past the barb i his lower lip. His mouth was effectively sealed in the closed position and when he tried to talk, he had a new speech impediment. I am one of those guys who can’t keep from laughing when something is humorous; between the lure being hung up and Knarley trying to yell at me to be careful, but sounding like a comedian, it was hard to concentrate on the job at hand while standing on a rock in a dangerous river. When I’d pull on one of the hooks, the hooks on the opposite end went deeper, causing Knarley to get more excited. Finally in desperation, I pulled out my Buck knife and Knarley’s eyes were getting bigger and bigger, he was yelling “No! No!” but it sounded like “nah nah!” and pushing my knife hand away. He knew the story about my knife fight up North with the Indian; he also knew I kept a razor’s edge on all my knives and he didn’t wan’t me anywhere near his face with that coyote skinner. I fought through his hands and grabbed his shirt and the fishing line at the same time while we were pushing each other around on the rock; Knarley was really strong, so it was harder than you might think. With a controlled and powerful movement I reached up and cut the line and the struggling stopped. I took his fly rod and motioned for him to jump to shore. He jumped and I followed with the fishing rods. We walked back towards camp and when were far enough away from the river, I told him we should leave the camp and head for the Chetwynd hospital. He shook his head yes and we walked out to the highway and thumbed a ride East toward Chetwynd with a pick up truck.
The driver looked at Knarley with a look of mild astonishment. He asked if we had been fishing. I told him we had been fishing the Suknunka, but the water was almost too fast to catch anything, but they seemed like they were just starting to bite.
He said, “Well, it looks like you caught one anyway.”
Knarley was not amused, but not to miss out on a laugh, I replied, “Yea, I was going to throw him back and then I decided to take him into town and check with Fish and Game to see if he is legal.”
The driver and I cracked up at our wit, but Knarley, who doesn’t have much of a sense of humor at the best of times, gave us a dirty look.
The driver asked if we were going to the Chetwynd Clinic and I told him that was the plan. He then told us that his wife was a nurse there, so he knew the German doctor was on duty today. Knarley started yelling “No” again, or at least the best way he could pronounce no under the circumstances. The driver and I looked at each other and saw the chance for more humor.
The German doctor was supposed to have performed a vasectomy a few months ago and went ahead and cut off the man’s cobby gocks. He obviously wasn’t taking any chances on the guy producing anymore kids.
I asked the driver if he thought the German Doctor might cut Knarley’s nose off trying to get the fishing lure free.
He said, “You never know, those German doctors can be pretty thorough”. We both cracked up again and when we were done Knarley was telling us in his garbled mumbo jumbo that he wanted to go to the Dawson Creek Hospital.
I looked at the driver and told him, “I think he wants to go to Dawson.”
The driver said, “All things considered, I think I’d go there too. A guy can’t be too careful when it come to his nose and the family jewels.” Poor Knarley wasn’t enjoying the humor: I feel sorry for people without a sense of humor.
The driver said he would take us on to Dawson since he was headed to Fort St John. He explained he would normally take the Stewart Lake/Willow Valley shortcut, but under the circumstances and since we were having such a good time, he’d drive us to the hospital. He told us he wanted to stop at a diner to say hi to his sister and get a beer. I told him I had been under a lot of stress with all the trauma and I could also use a beer.
We pulled into the diner and the guy’s sister was a carbon copy image of her brother with about forty extra pounds. She looked at Knarley and then turned to me and asked, “Can you teach a girl how to fish, I need a husband.” We all burst out laughing, well, everyone but Knarley; he just drank ice water with a straw and ignored the comedy. All the patrons had a god laugh and Knarley was anxious to leave; although, one older guy came and sat at out table and looked at Knaerley and me; he then confided this bit of advice, “if you like fishing, you should get a tackle box.” he pounded the table and laughed like a maniac.
After the joke had been milked like a cow during the Depression, our driver drove us into town and dropped us off at the hospital. Knarley wasn’t in a good mood, but he couldn’t talk anyway. I thanked our driver and walked into emergency. The lady at the counter started laughing and said to wait right there for a few minutes, she came back with her nurse friends and one of them asked which one of us needed to see the doctor.
I explained that my friend had the fishing lure stuck to his nose and mouth and he needed to see a doctor, because he was getting hungry. They took that information to be extremely funny and showed us into a small room and told us to wait.
Knarley was getting upset, I knew him quite well and could always tell when he was in a foul mood. We waited in silence.
The doctor showed up a few minutes later and said, “What can I do for you boys, today?”
I have always thought of doctors as fairly intelligent men, but sometimes an education is not a sure sign of intelligence.
Once again, I explained very carefully what had happened; however, this time I asked the doctor to save the treble hook barbs if possible, the lure was brand new and I was worried about replacing them.
The doctor assured me that he could probably save the hooks. He then asked if the fish were biting.
I told him, they were just starting to hit when Knarley got his nose hung up.
The doc was examining the nose and mouth by this time and said, “I hate it when you need to leave, just when they start biting. The doc and I traded fishing stories, while he worked his magic and removed my lure undamaged from Knarley’s face.
I’ve always had respect for fishermen and if they can tell fishing stories while working, they must possess a degree of intelligence; I found myself appreciating the doctor’s intelligence and realizing first impressions are not always accurate.
When the lure was free, the doctor handed it to me as if it were a newborn and said to let him now whether the experiment works. Again, my admiration for this doctor increased, for he was obviously a man of science if he could appreciate the scientific and noble nature of my experiment.
Now there are a few who might say, why do you tell us this story Skook?
I think the comparison is clear and obvious within today’s current events. Even though we were boys and the fish weren’t really biting, I didn’t tell my friend to hitchhike into town on his own while I caught enough fish for the winter: no, that isn’t what friends do, I helped him by telling everyone what happened and what had happened. I was with him until the ordeal was over and since he couldn’t speak I spoke for him.
At this time we have a loyal ally and trading partner that is in desperate trouble. I am referring to Japan and the aftermath of the quake and tsunami, they have a potential nuclear catastrophe and we could help in some small way to relieve the suffering and potential disaster. President Obama realizes the potential for disaster and has asked America to take a time out while filling in our brackets to email usaid.gov and offer help, then we can fill out our brackets with a clear conscience. He has decided to vacation in Rio over the weekend, Japan’s disaster happening at the same time that has us all filling out our brackets has left him feeling drained. The golf only helps so much, but a vacation will help him focus when he returns home.
As he does every year, the President filled out his brackets predicting the winners of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, but discussing it with Doris Burke of ESPN, he began with a call to stand with the people of Japan:
One of the things I wanted to do on the show was, as people are filling out their brackets — this is obviously a national pastime; we all have a great time, it’s a great diversion. But I know a lot of people are thinking how can they help the Japanese people during this time of need. If you go to usaid.gov — usaid.gov — that will list all the nonprofits, the charities that are helping out there. It would be wonderful for people to maybe offer a little help to the Japanese people at this time — as they’re filling out their brackets. It’s not going to take a lot of time. That’s usaid.gov. It could be really helpful.
Go to usaid.gov
As our president and leader of the Free World, it is reassuring to know that President Obama is aware of the potential for nuclear disaster in Japan and appreciates the seriousness of the situation. Hopefully after a strategic vacation and a round or two of golf, he will be rested enough to consider how we look to the rest of the world as Japan faces a nuclear meltdown all alone.
A professional horseman for over 50 years, Skook continues to work with horses. Skook has finished an historical novel, Fifty Thousand Years, that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The story follows a line of courageous women, from the Ice Ages to the present, as they meet the challenges of survival with grit and creativity. These are not women who whimper of being victims, they meet the challenges of survival as women who use their abilities without excuses or remorse, these women are winners, they are our ancestors.