August 27th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 33
Looking Back - John Kinnear
David Thompson’s Notebook- Flora and Fauna
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Thompson's 1916 Narrative
A few years ago I got interested in a man some have called:”the greatest land geographer who ever lived.” That man was David Thompson an explorer who mapped over three million square kilometers of the western provinces between 1784 and 1812. Thompson was not just a fur trader agent. He was also keenly interested in the land, people and animals he encountered during his travels and kept notebooks with him at all times. In all he filled 77 of them and was writing a book about them when he died in 1857. That volume was never published but in 1916 a Canadian geologist by the name of Joseph Burr Tyrell collected the notebooks and published them under the title: “David Thompson’s Narrative”.
His observations are fascinating and I thought it would be interesting to share some of his comments from them. What got me thinking about the narrative was the fact that we had a horrific summer of mosquitoes this year and how relentless they were. Nothing seemed to deter them. Here then are Thompson’s notes on mosquitoes. Take a deep breath when reading them. Thompson used very few periods, just a whole raft of commas and semi colons.
“After passing a long, gloomy and most severe winter, it will naturally be thought with what delight we enjoy the spring and summer. Of the former we know nothing but the melting of the snow and the ice becoming dangerous; summer such as it is, comes at once and with it myriads of tormenting musketoes; the air is thick with them, there is no cessation day or night of suffering from them. Smoke is no relief: they can stand more smoke than we can, and smoke cannot be carried about with us. The narrow windows were so crowded with them, they trod each other to death in such numbers we had to sweep them out twice a day.
Different persons feel them in a different manner. (no kidding). Some are swelled, even bloated, with intolerable itching; others feel only the smart of the minute wounds. Oil is the only remedy and that frequently applied; the Natives rub themselves with sturgeon oil, which is found to be far more effective than any other.
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All animals suffer from them, almost to madness; even the well feathered birds suffer about the eyes and neck.
While these insects are so numerous they are a terror to every creature: the dogs howl, roll themselves on the ground, or hide themselves in the water; the fox seems always in a fighting humour; he barks, snaps on all sides, and – however hungry and ready to go a birdnesting, of which he is fond—is fairly driven to seek shelter in his hole. A sailor finding swearing of no use, tried what tar could do and covered his face with it, but the musketoes stuck to it in such numbers as to blind him, and the tickling of their wings were worse than their bites. If fact oil is the only remedy.
The cold nights of September are the first and most steady relief. In America there always has been, and will be, woods, swamps, and rough ground, not fit for the plough, but admirably adapted to produce musketoes.”
Another of his journal entries came to mind when someone mentioned wild rice in a recipe to me. The vast majority of today’s wild rice is a hybrid and not at all wild. It is tough to chew and hard and takes a long time to cook. True wild rice is lighter, easier to cook and authentically harvested. The White Nation Ojibwe in Minnesota still harvest the true wild rice traditionally to this day.
Here is what Thompson says about it. “The wild rice is fully ripe in the early part of September. The natives lay thin birch rind all over the bottom of the canoe, a man lightly clothed, or naked, places himself in the middle of the canoe, and with a hand on each side, seizes the stocks and knocks the ears of rice against the inside of the canoe, into which the rice falls, and thus he continues until the canoe is full of rice; on coming ashore the women assist in unloading. A canoe may hold from ten to twelve bushels. He smokes his pipe, sings a song, and returns to collect another canoe load.
And so plentiful is the rice, an industrious man may fill his canoe three times in a day. Scaffolds are prepared about six feet from the ground made of small sticks covered with long grass; on this the rice is laid, and gentle clear fires kept underneath by the women, and turned until the rice is fully dried. The quantity collected is no more than the scaffolds can dry, as the rice is better on the stalk than on the ground. The rice when dried is pounded in a mortar made of a piece of hollow oak with a pestle of the same until the husk comes off. It is then put up in bags made of rushes and secured against animals. The natives collect not only enough for themselves, but also as much as the fur traders will buy from them; two or three ponds of water can furnish enough for all that is collected.”
Author’s Note: David Thompson’s Narrative, all 740 pages, can be found on the net in a link in Wikipedia under David Thompson. J.B. Tyrell travelled to many of the significant places in Thompson’s journal in 1916 to photograph them for the publication.
August 27th ~ Vol. 84 No. 33
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