Professor of Biology, West Virginia Wesleyan College
One of West Virginia's finest botanists, George
Bowyer Rossbach, passed away on January 24, 2002,
at the age of 91. He joined the faculty of West Virginia Wesleyan College,
Buckhannon, West Virginia in 1949 with a B.S. degree from Harvard University
and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
He was the typical biologist of his era, able to
teach almost anything from comparative anatomy to plant systematics.
But his first love was collecting and identifying plants. Although most of
his specimens were from West Virginia and Maine, he collected from all around
the globe -- from Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Galapagos, the
Bahamas, the Carolinas, even Labrador as recently as the summer of 2000!
Housing over 30,000 specimens, including many swaps with other herbaria,
Wesleyan's herbarium, listed in the international registry of herbaria, was
named in his honor the George B. Rossbach
Herbarium. George typically collected three plants per collection, keeping
one at Wesleyan (WVW) and sending others to the herbaria of West Virginia
University, the University of Maine at Orono, the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or to the Royal Herbarium of
Canada in Ottawa.
George taught at Wesleyan until his retirement
in 1977. After spending several years of his retirement in Camden, Maine, he
returned to Buckhannon for his remaining years where he continued collecting
plants and leading field trips and ate his meals with students in the campus
dining hall. Always ready to go on a field trip anywhere, anytime, he cared
deeply about conservation of West Virginia's special places and contributed
in an invaluable way to our knowledge of West Virginia's flora. He will be
Rossbach, George Bowyer (1940) Erysimum
in North America. Thesis (M.A., Biology ) Stanford
---- (1941) Erysimum in North America.
Thesis (Ph.D., Biology), Stanford University.
Rossbach, George B. (1958) New taxa
and new combinations in the genus Erysimum
in North America. Aliso 4: 115-124.
---- (1958) The genus Erysimum (Cruciferae) in North America -- A key to the species. Madrono 14: 261-267.
---- (1966) By canoe down Thelon River. The Beaver (Autumn 1966): 4-13.
The following is a transcription Rossbach's
article about canoeing the Thelon River in Canada in 1965. THE BEAVER,
MAGAZINE OF THE NORTH was published quarterly by the Hudson's Bay Company in
Winnipeg Canada. The article contains many photographs (captions listed at
the end of the transcription).
Rossbach, George B. (1966) By canoe down Thelon River. The Beaver
(Autumn 1966): 4-13.
Northern Canada offers many choices of alluring
adventures by canoe. I had hoped long, and finally planned. I chose the
Thelon in the Northwest Territories for a trip in the summer of 1965. Though
the Thelon flows generally eastward, it presents an ecological effect of
going north. An eastward outlying strip of spruce woods lines its upper banks
above Beverly Lake, and below here there is only tundra. This change eastward
favoured my interest in taxonomic and geographical
botany. On the other hand, the barrens and spruce forest are rather simple to
behold and to get used to, yet in their simplicity they have a unique beauty.
Of all rivers, the Thelon has as good a representation of larger animals as
any and better than most: migrating herds of caribou, muskoxen in the Thelon
sanctuary, wolves, and up-river, the barrenground
grizzly. Some Eskimos still hunt caribou along its big lakes. The fishing is
largely excellent. There are some good rapids, yet too few to be a major
threat to life or progress even if one’s canoe is loaded, as it will be if a
botanist or a photographer travels far, carrying food and shelter.
We traveled probably over 400 miles in two
17-foot Grumman aluminum canoes rented at Yellowknife by arrangement with the
Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg. We paddled most of the way, but used on
three-h.p. motor, towing the second canoe, on parts
of the big lakes. This worked out well, but a shoulder-wrenching labour befell the steersman in the stern of the second
canoe. My company was Henry Briggs, naturalist, photographer, canoeist, and
good cook from Maine; Wayne Dunbar, Maine guide and canoeist; William Meier,
from New Hampshire, and also Lady, Henry’s fourteen-year-old collie dog. I baled
big bundles of botanical hay in an area little collected to date; Henry made
movies of wildlife, plants, scenery, Indians, Eskimos, and so on.
We drove from Maine to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where
we took a train to Edmonton, Alberta, then flew north to Yellowknife on the
north shore of Great Slave Lake. We enjoyed six days in this small, but
growing town of varied people, which has become, since the 1940s, much more
than a Hudson’s Bay Post of about a dozen white men and a band of Indians.
Gold mines did this. I looked out the Old Stope
Hotel window from atop a great cliff to view the lake and rocky,
spruce-tipped horizon, never darkened, for sunset and sunrise were
inseparable. Chained huskies wailed and groaned at times. Many of our neighbours were Dogrib Indians. In company with the
visiting nurse and a couple studying the native language, I visited an
isolated Dogrib village where people lived in cabins and smoked netted
whitefish and lake trout in tipis. We went by canoe. The nurse “shot” Indian babies in
Chief Sangris’s cabin. After six days of
preparation, packing, collecting plants, photographing, and eating, we took
off on June 26th, in a chartered Otter plane, with the canoes strapped on the
pontoons. We flew east along the eastern arm of the 300-mile lake, then
northeast over the last major spruce and jackpine
forest, rocky and sandy barrens, myriad lakes, the bigger ones with ice just
beginning to break in zigzag cracks, then over tundra with sand eskers, flats
with frost polygons and upheavals, and caribou trails, over huge cliffs,
canyons, and falls of the Lockhart and Hanbury
Rivers, to the junction of the Hanbury and the
bigger, east-flowing Thelon, where a fringe of extended spruce braves the
arctic barrens. Here, on the rock and sand of an ice-bulldozed shore we had
tea with our pilot, waved him goodbye, and began our five weeks of camping
and canoeing on a wild and beautiful river, as voluminous as, and often much
broader than the Mississippi, with five expansive lakes en route.
Our site for a preliminary base camp was moved
to a sand-bar-willow-scrub island populated with shy, juvenile, moulting Canada geese, inquisitive terns and herring
gulls, and several nesting ducks and plovers. We thus thought to avoid
encroachment by barrenground grizzlies, whose fresh
tracks lined the mainland shore. After we made camp I found grizzly tracks
We ascended the turbulent Hanbury
on a scenic over-night detour for about ten miles to 60-foot Helen Falls. We
lined canoes along the bank, or motored where water was not too swift. Local
flocks of cliff swallows wheeled about their clay-pot nests. I found here the
cairn and notes of the two recent parties who had canoed these river, led by
Eric Morse in 1962, and by Irving Fox in 1964. We sat behind a flimsy screen
of white spruce and twice watched huge grizzlies poke along the shore, swim
the swift, cold river, and sit on the opposite bank. Both eventually sniffed
us, and ran off over the barrens at an amazing speed – in the other
direction. We heard the whistled songs of Harris’s sparrow, which nests only
at treeline, and songs of tree sparrows,
white-crowned sparrows, grey-cheecked thrushes, at
least one kind of warbler, and even robins. Eastward, on open barrens,
longspurs, snow buntings, and horned larks were some of the commonest small
We located about thirty-five muskoxen on the
south-easterly side of the Thelon River just below its junction with the Hanbury River, and above our base camp. Henry and Wayne
went inland in a semi-circle, to approach the herd with a moving-picture
camera and tripod. Bill and I approached from a point nearer the river. Both
pairs of us managed to get very close to the animals. Bill and I kept behind
a screen of clumped black spruce and approached up-wind. They never smelt or
saw us. They were of various sizes, but there were no young calves among
them. They browsed the willow bushes and sometimes a lean black spruce swayed
as an individual rubbed its side against it. We noticed the high, massive
shoulders, strikingly shaggy wool, which also draped the spruces, the short,
fuzzy ears, and the down-curved, flare-ended horns. Often we heard a deep
rumbling sound resembling distant thunder. They mutter to themselves. At
times, bands of muskoxen cantered off over a barren hill, alarmed, it seemed,
by the photographers. They never formed the well-known protective circle.
While Bill and I stood with our backs to the high river-bluffs two cows
plodded along a trail, straight towards us, while I snapped some head-on
photographs until, dubious of muskox psychology, I
waved a hand when he seemed uncomfortably close, yet probably as much as
fifty feet away. The leading cow riveted her brown eyes upon me for a while,
then slowly turned round and plodded into the muskeg to browse. Far to the
northeast, below Grassy Island, we saw one more muskox,
a big bull browsing on willows by the shore. The wind was in our favour and we paddled very close before it galumphed
wildly off along the shore.
Bill also sighted a third grizzly, perhaps the
one which had left fresh tracks in the sand on our island where we first
camped. It, like the others, was wary, and ran over the brow of the barren
rise above the river. Even as far east as a point eight miles northwest of
Aberdeen Lake an Eskimo said a grizzly appeared on the tundra behind our tent
before we arose one morning. On the south shore of Beverly Lake, the
uppermost of the big lakes, we again saw signs of a grizzly. Here there is a
prefab cabin built by wildlife research men. Its interior was in complete
disarray. Parallel gouges of four and five claw-marks scored all walls and
ceiling above a shelf. There was a bashed hole in the plywood wall, specimen
vials were strewn over the floor, the half-open door
was jammed. A bear had evidently gone berserk. We missed him gladly.
At our first campsite we saw our first wolf,
which trotted easily, but swiftly, in zigzags over shore and tundra. It
seemed to know we were watching across the river, but it continued to sniff
and weave about. The shoulders and neck were heavy with white winter fur, the
flanks and hind quarters less shaggy and slightly darker. Altogether, we saw
four wolves, one here, one at Hornby Point, another
northeast of Lookout Point, and the fourth just southwest of Beverly Lake.
Tracks were frequent in beach sand. Once our cache of trout, buried in a snowbank, disappeared. We never knew where it went, but
wolves had visited here earlier. Wolves were neither bold nor very timid.
While I was grubbing specimens of plants (with my eyes on the ground) Wayne,
standing on a ledge above me said “Wolf”. I looked up to see a white wolf
snaking about among the gnarled dwarf spruces. It had not seen us, but did
soon after Wayne spoke. It gazed at us briefly, then
glided off on the tundra, often stopping to look back.
White and black spruce form scattering lines or
clumps along the Thelon almost as far as Beverly Lake. A few stands are of
notably big white spruce, usually occurring at notched drain-offs in the
bank. Stumps at Warden’s Grove have a hundred and more rings. Here stand
three log cabins, two old and crumbling, one very new. Leaning against an old
one was a toboggan. On it was printed: W. H. B. Hoare, a reminder of earlier
men associated with the Thelon Game Sanctuary through which we were passing.
The new cabin has an ingenious lock easily opened by people but not by
wolverines and bears. It is a chained iron rod in a socket. The rod can be
pulled out, or reinserted with a hammer, which hangs above the door. Nearby
is a cache. Plastic-wrapped goods reside on a platform atop four poles ringed
by the cylinders of gas drums to inhibit pilfering by wolverines. Here in the
heavy grove familiar robins were singing with the thrushes and sparrows, but
unlike robins southward, these were shy in the presence of people.
One of the most delightful groves is one near
which we camped northeast of Hornby Point. The big spruce grow along a cascade brook in a ravine. The nearby
open barrens, as usual in early July, were gaudy with the bright purplish
pink flowers of the dwarf Rhododendron called Lapland rosebay and the low,
white clusters of the small-leaved arctic Labrador tea, but in and bordering
the local woods I found twinflower, a columbine, and the only patch of red
raspberry and white-flowered currant that I saw on the trip east of Great
Slave Lake. Fragile bladder ferns were unfurling on a shaded sandstone cliff.
It was here we found the winter droppings of a moose, and just up-river the
conspicuous gnawings of porcupines. Moose have been
reported by Eskimos east to Beverly Lake, but it is said no white man has
seen one on the Thelon. Porcupines are isolated here.
At a high place on the bank called Lookout Point
we had a welcome few days’ stop-over in bad weather at the new wildlife
research cabin occupied by Ernest Kuyt of Fort
Smith. Ernie studies habits of wolves, and tags their pups in dens! I asked:
“And what if mother’s home?” “Whenever she is, she runs out and worries at a
distance, “ said Ernie. He took us by motored canoe
across the Thelon and up the Finnie, which is lined by the best and most
extensive example of a southerly type of true forest in this region. The
arctic flora was invaded here by a southern and western Canadian forest
flora. For example, here occur the one-flowered Pyrola
and buck-bean (Menyanthes)
local to one boggy pool, and the southerly species of Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum).
Then in a boggy area, with both black and white spruces, bearded with local,
long, black lichen, we saw a strikingly isolated colony of tamarack. Ernie Kuyt told me that even trembling aspen grew farther up
the Finnie. I had already seen one lone young poplar on the bank of the
Thelon. Balsam poplar has been collected near here by Dr John Tener, while studying muskoxen. Ernie showed us the old cuttings
of spruce by Eskimos when they still came here to cut wood for sleds maybe in
the 1930s. At the cabin where Ernie was staying I dried my plants at a stove.
We ate a delicious whitefish chowder concocted by
Henry Briggs. Since whitefish rarely bite a lure, we netted them. We had by
now caught and eaten lake trout, grayling, whitefish, and pike. Char were the
only new fish, yet to be netted at Baker Lake. Trout were fine, char best,
and pike poorest to eat.
Above and below Lookout Point are abrupt bluffs
of sand. High ones are the more attractive with old white spruces. Here the
fluffy, tawny, cute arctic ground squirrels sat stiffly by their burrows to
watch us pass. Lower sand ridges are more widely extensive along this part of
the Thelon. These are sparsely grown to strand-wheat (Elymus) grazed by geese before
it is tall and too tough.
On down the river were great cliffs where
rough-legged hawks and peregrine falcons nested. On the southerly, lee sides
of banks snow was still deeply drifted, and on a bar ice pans were stacked
higher than our heads. Camps by spruce clumps were replaced by ones on the
vast tundra barrens. Temperature varied from 27 degrees F to the 60s, and to
85 degrees F on the sunny sand, but the average was low,
and colder eastward. Occasionally frost silvered the tundra, dew froze on our
tarps, water froze in containers and sometimes our hands and feet were cold
while we were in the canoes.
Of lemmings and mice we saw only signs, saw but
one arctic hare, though many droppings, and but one arctic owl eating a trout
on a snow-bank. We saw but one family of arctic foxes, at the entrance to
Beverly Lake. Four fuzzy brown pups peered at us from their den atop the
bluff. Hundreds of geese strained their paddles and wings ahead of us, honking
continually, then when pressed, sinking low, and even diving. Flocks of them
pattered noisily up the sand-beach to hide in the willow thickets. They eat
young grasses and sedge flowers at this time of year. Occasional geese
differed much, and proved to be white-fronted geese. Some of these nervously
herded goslings ahead of them. Mergansers, other ducks, and occasional
yellow-billed and common loons flew or swam by, a few with fuzzy chicks.
Great whistling swans, always in pairs, took off from time to time. Flocks of
jaegers deftly maneuvered over river and barrens, but they did not dive on
longspurs as expected; the nabbed gnats off water or shingle beach. Arctic
terns hovered, heads bent down, and dived for young fish, but not minnows,
there being none. Small fish are young of large one or nine-spined sticklebacks or little miller’s thumb sculpins. Herring gulls ogled our fish-cleaning jobs.
Twice we saw pairs of tall brown lesser sandhill
cranes stalking on the tundra. Often a black and white ptarmigan would whir
and soar down by our campsite, to toddle and peer about our tent, cackling.
This usually happened in the dim light of middle night.
All the way east of herds of thousands of
caribou had just passed, traveling north, before we came along, leaving their
splayed, four-marked hoof-prints, sometimes accompanied by a pair of wolf
tracks by the river, and caribou had left their clotted hair on the water. We
saw straggling herds from time to time, swimming, or briefly nibbling or
resting, or more often swinging along at an easy, but very fast trot, all
going north or northeast.
Eight miles northwest of Aberdeen Lake we camped
by some hunting Eskimos and a couple of white men led by Mr. Ruttan who were ear-tagging swimming caribou from motored
canoes, aided by Eskimos, in a wildlife research study. Eskimos here still
live on caribou. They dry strips of meat and split long-bones for marrow,
often eating both raw, along with bannock and tea. They are generally very
pleasant people, and though rather shy, not diffident. Few speak any English.
Most are literate in their own Inuit, using a missionary’s syllabics.
Here, near the Eskimo camp we awaited more
possible herds of migrating caribou and calmer weather to allow us to travel.
Caribou did swim the river in sight above us, then
stride on northward, but only small herds appeared. The Eskimos watched for
them with binoculars. When Henry and Wayne were out on the tundra filming a
herd, and I was crouched on the sandy shore collecting my first yellow arctic
poppies and the oddly “displaced” sea-beach chickweed (Arenaria peploides) I heard three
distant shots. I looked up at the passing caribou I had been watching. A bull
at the rear of the herd staggered in circles, fell, arose, fell for good. An
Eskimo, followed by Henry and Wayne, walked to where it lay. Later, all three
men brought the dressed-out carcass, including viscera, head and velvet
antlers, to camp by canoe. The Eskimo hunter’s wife showed Henry how she
removed the sinews along the back and split them into thread to sew skin
These people often wear caribou skin boots,
mittens, and parkas. The women’s version of the parka is draped and fringed,
and a rear drape includes a big sack with accommodates a baby. Eskimos also
wear Hudson’s Bay Company woollens and rubber
boots. Hoods of parkas either of skin or cloth, may
be trimmed with fur of wolf or wolverine. Many of the men smoke pipes, most
purchased at the Hudson’s Bay store at Baker Lake, but some home-made with
soapstone bowls. Tobacco is carried in a big pouch slung on the shoulder. The
Eskimo campers’ tents are of canvas, but I am told that the women often make
them by sewing the pieces together. Accompanying these hunters are their
dogs, of which I saw two types in separate teams, one being wolf-like, i.e.
tall, with straight tails, the other chunkier, with curled tails. An idle kamutik, a
long, narrow sledge, lay on the shore.
Near this camp on a high point stood a big
square wooden box. We learnt it was a grave. On a point to the west we had seen
one open pit grave covered with rotting, furry skin clothing and mittens. A
rusted rifle probably of a latter 1890s make lay upon a rock above it. We
It was still never dark, yet rarely comfortably
warm. Birds still sang late and early. Swarms of gnats, a few butterflies,
moths, ground beetles, a small water beetle, stone-flies, ground spiders, and
a common earwig-like beach-crawler were usually active until evening or even
later. Mosquitoes were out in hungry force any time if the temperature rose
above 40 degrees F. They covered us and the tent, whined monotonously, and
followed the canoes in calm weather. I would sit of an evening on a bluff to
observe, listen, contemplate, and smoke, and watch the lights, shades, and
delicate colours change across the tundra, lichen
barrens, rocks, cliffs, or swirling water, or creaking, mist-covered ice-pack
– but never sitting for long, being driven to the tent by the hungry horde. I
have many blood relations up there now.
Deterrents to progress were wind, usually north,
and dangerous waves. Waves often kept us ashore, as did endless pack-ice on
Aberdeen Lake from July 15 to 26. Rapids either speeded us by the banks or,
occasionally, worried us with their huge standing waves rising below some
boulder deep under the heaving, gurgling, sucking surface. Wayne and Henry
were able stern-men in rapids, however. One series of rapids forced a very
necessary mile of portage. We waited a total of over two weeks for wind to
abate, or to rise and blow away the ice. Hold-ups afforded me time to explore
afoot, collect and dry plants, and write diary. I was never idle for long. I
climbed some 640-foot hills with ancient shore-cliffs lining their flanks
above the northeast shore of Aberdeen Lake, passed old Eskimo hunting camps
strewn with cracked bones, skulls, antlers, and a few discarded utensils. I
viewed the sweep of the lake and river we were to follow when ice blew out,
and I spotted the many promontories with humanoid Eskimo cairn markers. I
grubbed plants until my pant knees were gone, adding arctic pincushion (Diapensia lapponica) to
my collection. I took colour photos. Finally, on a
divide, I looked northward over the endless barrens and lakes toward the Back
River and towards the Arctic Sea over a hundred miles beyond the horizon.
On the larger lakes the north wind and
immediately following waves can swamp an unwary or too bold canoeist,
especially if his canoe is heavily loaded. Water is frigid and wide, allowing
little hope for a swimmer. We were crossing a broad stretch of water on the
so-called “Delta”, a network of channels curving between islands west of
Beverly Lake, when a squall and waves hit us so quickly I barely had time to
lay down my camera and bend to the paddle to help Wayne head into the breaking
crests. The other canoe scooped in four inches of water, its peril increased
by Henry’s collie dog, Lady. Suddenly and unusually she misbehaved by leaping
upon the high load and scuttling along the length of the canoe. Both canoes
made it to the sand beach were we waited out the wind and ate.
Just before entering Schultz Lake, the last big
lake west of Baker Lake, we passed, on the north side of the Thelon, a series
of prominent knobs of sandstone, conglomerate, and a bit of granitic rock, so
identified by a surveying geologist. A few abrupt volcanic faults split these
hills. Such topography was a change. Most of the bed-rock is the widespread
sandstone, though glacial erratics can vary. Later
we passed more granitic rock and greenstone. We camped on a low, wet, mossy-sedgy shore and meadow below an escarpment for a
well-needed rest. The next day I discovered a thus-far new flora on the
disturbed raw clay of the frost-boils or solifluction
polygons, on a plateau: brilliant yellow and violet species of Oxytropis being
the most conspicuous among them. I was to see such plants increasingly, on
banks and tundra as well, eastward to Baker Lake. Already, a common pink Hedysarum, the
bright yellow Arnica, and succulent, antiscorbutic Oxyria had
appeared. Heretofore, the white-petaled Dryas had
dominated the frost-boils and disturbed spots. I believe the change was
primarily due to added salts in the less sandy clay soil. We were now in a
rather recent marine subsidence area. Schultz Lake is one hundred and twenty-five
feet above sea-level. Below this lake in the Halfway Hills I found marine
shells of scallops and another bivalve in the clay of a stream-bank.
It was on this shelving shore that Wayne and
Bill caught the biggest lake trout on the trip. Wayne’s was hooked on a
fly-rod. Though the big fish’s fin arouse above the shallow water, it was
still not within reach. I thought it would break loose or break the rod.
Instead of playing it for an hour, as ardent fishermen tell of doing, Wayne
managed to maneuver this lively heft of dinner in circling stages to the
stern of the beached canoe in ten minutes. I gaffed it in the gills and
dragged it ashore. Though our weighing scales had been earlier stepped on and
demolished, we estimated the trout weighed about thirty pounds. When Henry
had snapped a picture of the fish we noted that two gawky sandhill
cranes were practically looking over his shoulder.
Northeast of us an aircraft took off. So did we. Near the western end of Schultz Lake, several hours,
miles, islands, and new plants eastward, and under the abrupt, snow-rimmed
640-foot bump called Whalebone Hill we met a crew of three Dominion
geologists led by J. A. Donaldson returning on foot to their tent. They were
most hospitable and informative, but jokingly disgruntled over the breakdown
of their reconnaissance helicopter eight miles inland. They had just walked
back to camp.
After eating and talking with this group of men,
collecting specimens, changing plant driers, and profiting by a night’s rest,
we made use of a most unusual glassy calm by motoring eastward the length of
Schultz Lake. We passed hills of sandstone, then granitic rock, left
Whalebone and its snow-drifts on the western horizon. All morning we
approached an eastern mirage of rising floating, and lowering bluffs and snowbanks. We passed myriads of black gnats of two sizes,
standing on the calm water, just emerged from pupal
skins, with occasional long-legged craneflies.
Trout sometimes arose to suck in the gnats. Mosquitoes followed us in a
slowly diminishing mob. We passed rock reefs, terns and jaegers, a belated,
hurried caribou, and finally the cairn-studded rock islands in the shallow
eastern end of Schultz Lake.
Rapids roared ahead. At the sudden constriction
and south bend at the end of the lake we found ourselves in narrow,
tumultuous rapids with fearsome standing waves. We had to head into the worst
of these. We speeded by high ledges of hard, resistant rock which caused
these rapids, into safe, but fast water. These rapids are not mentioned in
notes of travelers to my knowledge. The well-known and expected bigger ones
are about eight miles below Schultz Lake.
In the latter rapids we met eight
caribou-hunting Eskimos who kindly speeded our portage of a mile to only
about three hours. We paid them and gave them all our fish and bread, which
they immediately relished, but we needed a Galilee stretch of loaves and
fishes for this multitude. During my own three carries here, I not only
nabbed a stack of plants, but hungrily crunched sea-biscuits, which no one
else liked, though I found them quite delicious.
I always enjoyed eating, whether the usual
freeze-dried variations or daily fish. Ground squirrels watched us work and
eat. Two sat perkily against a sunlit slab of rock covered with yellow and
green lichen above their burrow. Pink Epilobium, yellow Arnica,
grew on the bank. Wild white rapids dashed and roared. Eskimos ate supper. We
were out of film.
Next day we camped on a meadow by a flowery
cascade brook between the abrupt rocky ridges of the Halfway Hills. This was
to be our last camp, but we didn’t know this yet. Rains were more frequent
from the lakes eastward, but a drizzling night did not spoil our visit at
this beautiful site, and as always, we left it beautiful. (A word her to
future campers: As urban dwellers increasingly spread, crowd, and hurry,
increasing numbers of people seek experience in a sadly shrinking wilderness.
I hope those who travel these northern rivers will note that we carried no firearms
nor needed any protection or illegal food, since no animal threatened us and
we carried our own concentrated packets of freeze-dried foods. We added to
our diet by fishing. Though we burnt wood for cooking when available above
the lakes, we always used dead branches and cut none of the meager forest,
alive or dead, and east of Beverly Lake we cooked solely on a gasoline
Coleman stove. Finally, I believe one would not identify our campsites by any
debris of cans or paper.)
At the last rapids below the Halfway Hills and
eight miles above Baker Lake, and in threatening weather, on July 29th, a
motored canoe-load of Eskimos overtook us. These excellent navigators lashed
our canoes to theirs and hauled us the last miles to Baker Lake Hudson’s Bay
Store, saving us a slow, wet, cold, windy finale to our paddling and camping.
Splashed, and stiff with cold and cramping, we were glad to reach the post,
even though later we increasingly missed the open barrens and the simple, but
simply beautiful solitude. That first night at the post I attended church
services. I truly enjoyed the company of the Anglican missionary and a
hundred of the 400 or 500 Eskimos in and out of Baker Lake. The Eskimos sang
very slowly the hymns we best know and like. They sang in Inuit, I in
English. The Reverend and Mrs. Whitton were most
kind to us. I dried plants and slept on a bed in a small house used at times
as a Sunday school. Oni its wall was a painting of a fur-clad Mary and Joseph
with Jesus bundled in skins, receiving furs and carvings from an Eskimo, an
Indian, and a Hudson’s Bay Company man, while a husky dog and a caribou
watched. I replenished my supply of pipe tobacco, which ran out the day I
arrived, ate chocolate-covered cherries, saw movies, and stuffed food into me
at the Department of Transport with pleasant company of transient government
workers, at $2.50 per meal. I noted how simple, basic things of life had
become most important.
The gorgeous display of pink, purple, yellow,
and white flowers on disturbed foundations, roads, and beach, or on tundra or
ledges deserves special mention. They were at their brief height this close
of July: arctic fireweed, with gaudy pink flowers, yellow poppy,
both loco-weeds, chickweeds, daisies, a native dandelion, the ever-present,
fleshy, clustered white saxifrage, and lush grasses. The showy pink Lapland
rosebay, a Rhododendron, and ubiquitous white Labrador tea of the sterile
barrens were scarcely present here in this richer soil.
The heavens turned the tap on and off most of
the time. It was here at Baker Lake, between the scudding, purple-black
clouds on the first of August that I saw my first star
since June the twentieth in Edmonton.
[There is a drawn map on pages 4-5. The following
are the page numbers and captions for photographs in the article:
p. 6 The abandoned Hoare and Knox cabin at Warden’s Grove.
p. 7 At Helen Falls film was changed near the cairn of Morse and Fox. Above,
a barrenground grizzly patrols the shore of the Hanbury, across the river from us.
p. 7 Grassy Island from the air.
p. 8 Looking up the Thelon River from a site about fifteen miles above Hornby Point.
p. 8 Muskox browsing on willows beside the Thelon.
p. 9 A clump of white spruce at Hornby Point,
beneath which is a wolf den. The tributary to the Thelon with its spruce wood
banks opposite Hornby Point (below) was
photographed at sundown, about 10 p.m.
p. 10 Migrating caribou on the run.
p. 10 One of our canoes passing the usual snow-drift opened by the north wind
on a south-facing bank.
p. 10 A two-month-old wolf on a shingle beach of the Thelon.
p.11 Finnie River, near the mouth, just south of
Lookout Point. The woods are predominantly white spruce.
p. 12 The oldest (56) and ablest Eskimo hunter smokes
a home-made pipe.
p. 12 Wayne Dunbar with the biggest lake trout, caught just above Schultz
p. 12 At the Eskimo caribou-hunters’ camp our canoe was inspected with
interest and outside the tent one of the ladies agreed to let Henry make a
tape recording of conversation and a song in Inuit.
p. 13 One of our riverside camps, with Wayne preparing meal, Bill Meier
contemplating chances of hooking the next feed, and George Rossbach, as usual, pressing plants.