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traplines

A trapper of the northern
Cree once told me
of the history of man
to beast before the
bludgeoning of bison
and the westward plunge
of iron into grassy soil.

We were toilers, not
of land, he said, but
traplines marking
sacred routes that
twine the hunger of
the one along the other
blessed by Manitou
without the cringing
thoughts of deprivation
and of cruelty.

I was his only
audience, for most
who saw the pelts
laid out of fox and
lupine gray, the snares
and traps, on leathern
heels turned away.

He caught my eye.
You do not fear this
politic. I do. I’m also
curious. My father’s
father fed his family on
small creatures trapped.
Through winters harsh,
there was no other way.

Come closer, then.
An open ear is oft
inherited. His voice
was soft and rolling in
the manner of the
Nations who criss-
crossed this land,
preceding us.

He ran a finger, whisky
brown and mottled,
strong as maple burl
cross a map.

The trapline is a
mastered path through
skill and scent. Fine
balance keens the
resolute and wipes the
weaker clean. But this
is simple chemistry.

The bait that draws
the wolverine repels
the mink; the snow that
covers tracks partakes
as much in symmetry
of hunt as man. No agent
goes unnoticed, nor is
judgment passed, except
in final moments, so I’m
told, when trapper lies
in pools of blood or
doubt. Did I forget? Did
I not honour well the
prey that I am now?

In trapping, there’s
no enemy; the only
foe, distraction. Mind
you not, he warned,
what bait the others
lay. If it repels, the
stench obnoxious
seems, this is your
Nature saying, stay
away—and when the
fir cones or the petals
of a season’s end smell
sweet, then know your
heart is opening, and
drop all doubt to
follow them.

The crossing of our
paths, the Cree and me,
was long ago, and many
trails I’ve walked and traps
both laid and fallen into, yet
his words continue to
extinguish fear, illuminating
something that still shines.
I see him, now and then, at
play with fox and wolverine
in grasses deep that span
the fields of Manitou. Their
hunt exalted, never done,
they’re planning traplines
in the summer sun.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2013