The Ski Camp at the 'Old Mill' Site (1926 - Part 2)
Articles by Pollough Pogue
ki Camp at the 'Old Mill' Site, May, 1925. Pollough Pogue is 2nd from left wearing the toque.S
Catching a Live One
March 3rd, 1926
On his last trip over the long trapline which he and Eilif have set out in the lonely Cypress Lake country, Bill was trudging on his snowshoes through the silent, snow-padded hemlocks and cypress, when a thrill swept over him as he came suddenly upon a marten track heading for one of his traps.
He quickened his stride; soon he saw the marten, with a foot in the trap, as far up on the trunk of a hemlock as the trap chain would let it climb.
For a Coast marten the animal had an exceptionally dark and rich coat. It was a rather large one, about the size of a small kitten - not a very small kitten either.
The orange patch on its breast shone like gold in the sunlight; its fierce eyes glittered like yellow crystals.
From its throat came growls as harsh and cold as if its organ of voice had been made of metal.
It was Bill’s intention to keep it alive if possible, for a live marten is worth exactly twice as much as its pelt.
The extraordinary ferocity and startling quickness of the marten makes it very difficult to take it from a trap alive. Bill seized the animal behind the head with iron fingers enclosed in buckskin gloves and with the other hand sprung open the jaws of the trap. The marten, hissing like an angry cat, twisted his head with amazing strength and sank its teeth in the palm of Bill’s hand. Bill’s grip tightened until he was afraid he had choked the animal. The needle-sharp teeth would not let go. At last Bill released his hand with a strong twist.
He brought the savage creature to camp wrapped in a heavy shirt.
The captive, muttering its metallic growls, perfect expressions of it savage nature, was placed in a small wooden box, a part of the top of which was covered by netting made of hay wire.
It ate bread and milk with apparently a good appetite.
Except when eating it was never still, running nervously around the box and biting at the wire.
Trappers say that the marten is the fiercest of the smaller mammals, but that its ferocious spirit does not lead it to kill needlessly when it does not require food, as do the cruel and murderous weasel and mink.
I felt an admiration for the beautiful animal in the box and was glad to see it eat the bread and milk. I admired its strength and quickness and its high spirit, like tempered steel.
The box kept it a prisoner during the night and until afternoon of the next day. Then Bill, returning to the cabin from the cookhouse (it was Sunday and he had been helping Erik serve hotdogs and coffee to a swarm of hikers) found that his marten had torn a part of the haywire netting off the top of the box and escaped.
The cabin looked as if there had been an earthquake. The floor was a litter of dishes and various iktahs1 knocked down from shelves by the marten that had jumped from shelf to shelf in its excited haste to find a hole through which to escape from the room. In a corner of the cabin the animal had ripped the paper loose from the wall and ceiling and had discovered an exit, a crack between two ceiling boards. Through this Bill’s pet had gained the attic.
Bill came in haste to the door of my cabin across the trail, saying: “The devil is loose.” I rushed over with him to help him, And we were lucky. After we had pursued the marten over the ceiling beams for some time, the animal paused for a moment behind the brick chimney and Bill neatly dropped a noose of cord tied to the end of the ski stick over his head. It was like looping a trout.
But getting the snarling, hissing devil back into the box, now made more secure with hammer and nails, was not so easy. When the loop was loosened from its neck, Bill gripped the captives with a gloved hand, but shrieking, the marten twisted and fixed its teeth and Bill’s forefinger. The heavy glove he wore was no protection. The spirited creature would not let go, and again Bill had to wrench his finger out of the locked teeth, a painful business. Again the marten bit Bill’s hand through the buckskin before he dropped, writhing and squalling, into the box.
But the next day Bill packed his handsome devil, still in the box, which he put in the packsack, down the trail., and sold the animal to a man who intends to try to domesticate martens and raise them for their pelts.
1. iktahs - Chinook jargon for goods; merchandise; clothing
March 10, 1926
An appropriate name, exactly suitable, would be Cypress Mountain, my acquaintance said, sitting in front of my small cabin at the ski camp twenty-five hundred feet from the level of the sea, at 8 o’clock in the evening, on the first of April. Cypress Ridge, I told him; this is a ridge of mountains; Black Mountain, Bald Mountain1, Mount Daniel. (This is what we call the peak of Hollyburn, because the two Lions look down on it with the traditional expression of lions.) It was desirable, we had decided, to change the name of Hollyburn Ridge to a name which had a Canadian sound and a local meaning. On our ridge there are no holly bushes, and the word ‘burn’ does not suit our creeks.
In the clear, violet sky, as we talked, the familiar stars moved westward, but in the high purity of the air, their blue-white flashes were stingingly sharp. The evening air was vigorous, but all that day we had enjoyed summer, with a rich sunshine, new, exquisite green leaves, and fresh blossoms, and happy birdlife: robins had, for the first time in my experience, appeared with their liquid whistling, at the old Naismith2 mill; many birds with wilder throats had expressed characteristic charming optimism.
Always idiotically inclined to look on the bright side of things, I took their hopeful view as to the weather. Next day early in the morning the varied thrushes, the brightly warbling robins, the flickering juncos, the mimetic towhees still optimistically sang under low and heavy clouds, but the first snowflakes, fine as ashes stilled (their voices.)
It was Good Friday. All through the early part of the day hikers had come up the trail in weary files. We estimated that seven or eight hundred reached the ski camp.
Like joyous pyromaniacs they kindled fires in a hundred places, within the decayed mill buildings, in the ruined cabins, in the slash and brush close to the ski camp itself. With characteristic cheerful imbecility they heaped dry wood on their fires until a number of burning logs and stumps on the logged-off sidehill behind the old mill and places even in the green timber demanded expert attention. The old sawmill was set burning by khaki-breached foolish virgins who built a fire on the plank floor to boil their tea. The close season for fires in the woods had not yet begun, but a week of sunshine had dried out the slash and the lumber of the old buildings so that they burned eagerly. Hollyburn Mountain, with it swarms of fire-lighting hikers, the great majority of whom are inexperienced, careless and cheerfully irresponsible, is in imminent peril of fiery devastation.
But late in the afternoon of Good Friday, snow began to fall thickly; the hundreds of hikers, leaving their silly campfires burning and the woods littered with newspapers, paper serviettes and empty paper boxes and tin cans, hurried down the trail. It was the disorderly retreat of a rabble. We put out the fires and tidied up the worst of their litter.
Curtains of grey snow, heavy flakes dropping in a dense screen, enclosed us, and brought night early to the ski camp. A thick lattice of falling white hastened the dawn next morning.
I went early down the trail through snow a foot deep as far as the thousand foot level. From there it grew thinner until at Dundarave there was none. When I started up the trail again, in early afternoon, rain was falling. A heavy rolling of thunder made a background for the steady whispering of the rain. But soon, as I climbed, the rain took the concrete form of sleet. The electric storm pursued me, wrapping the mountain in cloud from which sharp explosions presently shook down flights of snowflakes. A white net of snow enmeshed me as I mounted above the two thousand-foot level. Lightning flickered through the blizzard of snow.
1. Bald Mountain is most likely Mt. Strachan, spelled “Strahan” (pronounced ‘Strawn’) by Pogue in several articles.
2. “Naismith” is the spelling used by Pogue. “Nasmyth” is the spelling used on the letterhead of the company which built and operated the mill.
May 28th, 1926
The Hollyburn bears disappeared about the middle of November last year. They did not leave the mountain. They denned up as woodsmen say, for their winter hibernation.
Hollyburn Mountain is the dwelling place of about twenty bears, judging by the tracks and signs we have seen in all parts of the mountain, from the Cypress Lake and a Black Mountain districts to the Capilano. These bears have fixed their residence on our mountain just as you have settled and established a home in some town or city or part of the country. But these bears are less likely to change their residence to some other mountain then you are to move to another city or town. The black bear is not a traveler; usually he spends his life in the same district and does not wander more than a few miles from the place where he was born and where he lives. So it is possible to keep approximate tab on the bears that dwell in a section of country with which one is well acquainted.
The dens of our bears are all above the 3000-foot level on the mountain. At about this time in the spring, when only patches of snow are left on the big meadows and plateaux, and the salmonberries on the lower slopes of the mountain are getting ripe, the bears awaken from the sleeplike state which is called hibernation, and come out of their winter shelters. For a few days they do not eat much; only biting off some green shoots such as fern fronds, and digging some roots and eating them, but they keep going down the mountain. By smashing into rotten logs and clawing into the sidehill they can get ants and wasps and other insects, choice morsels on which to break one’s fast. The two most delicious edibles in the mountain forest, (berries excepted), are the root stocks of the bracken and the amber-brown morels, both of which are very abundant and excellent food for bear or man.
Perhaps one of these bears will find a grouse’s nest and eat the eggs. In descending the mountain the bears roam all over the big sidehills, and by the time they get down to the lower slopes the salmonberries are ripe.
The salmonberries are ripening now down where the West Vancouver streets that run from the beach uphill, become mountain trails. The Hollyburn bears are on their way down there now. Soon they will be seen, as they are always at this time of year, by hikers and picnic parties and by people who live near the heads of those streets. Almost every spring a bear or two, more venturesome or more deficient in good sense then bears usually are, may be seen in the streets of West Vancouver as low down as Marine Drive. The vacant lots, mostly uncleared, provide good cover and plenty of berries.
The other day I went for a little hike around the mountain above the 2500 foot level. I expected to see a bear and I did. It was the first bear I have seen since last fall, when I saw a good many in the big meadows on the top of the mountain, where there were hundreds of acres of blueberry bushes burdened with rich berries almost as big as grapes. It is common belief that the black bear is a timid animal. City people have being told by nature authors, who in their city homes write brilliant articles and stories about wildlife of the woods and mountains, that bears and another wild animals are afraid of human beings. While I regard these writers with esteem and deference, and envy them their literary skill, I suspect that they have not been closely acquainted with the larger wild animals. I have met many bears and none of them showed the least timidity. My personal experience has indicated to me that the bear is an animal of dignified an independent mind. From my own experience, and from what I have learned from trappers and woodsmen, I do not think that the British Columbia mountain lion is an ignobly timid and spiritless animal. Nature writers tell us that the mountain lion is a craven creature. I do not think that any cat is a coward. I would think it is rather rash for city people in the woods to venture liberties with the bear or the cougar on the strength of the statements of these writers. It is not entirely safe to treat a large and powerful wild animal in his native fastnesses with contempt because a book or a magazine article has told you the animal is cowardly.
Wild animals are generally cautious. But in the Hollyburn woods, where they are seldom disturbed, bears usually show a cheerful indifference to the immediate nearness of men. Those I have seen have looked at me and moved slowly away.
The bear I saw the other day was turning over rocks on the stony southeastern slope of Black Mountain. I got close enough to see him licking up big ants. A numerous flight of flying ants had alighted on the mountainside and began to lose their wings, and crept beneath the stones. This was the bear’s opportunity. As I came close to him he heard me and smelt me and rose on his hind feet and took a good look at me as if he wished to memorize me so that if he met me again he would be able to recognize me as a former chance acquaintance. But I stood still, and soon he was busy devouring ants again. He was what loggers and trappers call a buck bear, and old.
I suppose ants must taste pretty good to a bear. I tried them once myself, but did not like their sweetish flavor.
Small Wild Life
July 5th, 1926
I had sunk into sleep, the night before, listening to the low and· grave “whoot-who-whoo-whooo” of a western horned owl in a tree behind my cabin; 1 was awakened, next morning, by the owl-like hooting of band-tailed pigeons.
I was still heavy with sleep, but it was four o'clock and the long summer day had begun; the customary morning musical potpourri started in the woods outside.
The mountain at this elevation is very rich in birdlife; there are many forest birds here; probably I have heard and seen them all, but I can name only few.
In my cabin, with its thin walls and doors and windows open, further sleep was impossible; a sapsucker with scarlet head and throat hammered with sharp drum-rattle on the roof shakes.
Varied thrushes whistled their long clear calls now without the sadness and longing they mistily expressed in evening dusk. Here at this elevation are both russet-backed and Alaska hermit thrushes; the russet-backed comes no farther up the mountain and the Alaska-hermit is heard from here (2500 feet) to the top (4700 feet). The freshness of the June morning at the ski camp is lyrical with the rich flute notes of both. As I started a fire in the stove a louder and inexpressibly beautiful whistle shivered through the lovely web woven by at least a dozen silver threads. Could it be that this faltering phrase came from the oboe of a wood god, a sylvan faun lest the thrushes he had taught should excel him in his own art?
The love calls of Steller jays, a single note resembling the clink of steel chain, liquid chuckles like those of water running among stones, and soft sounds imitated from thrushes, began when, after the sun lifted above the tree crowns, the thrushes grew silent.
As I sat at breakfast alone I heard a brushing of light feet on the floorboards of my porch. The cabin door was open, it always is, but before my visitor
entered he characteristically prepared me for his visit by a paroxysm of contumelious1 language. Then jerking along the floor he came in, still talking and saucing his talk abuse and threats. He entered swearing hard to keep his spirits up. He was a large and handsome Douglas squirrel, and a great scoundrel, and when on a marauding excursion he braved it out by blustering. He did not know that he was very welcome in my cabin. He entered swearing hard to keep his spirits up, like a pirate boarding a ship. He seized the morsel of bread I had placed on the floor for him, and carried it off like booty, cached it outside and returned for more loot. This time he climbed on the table, barking out scurrilous terms and snatched a bit of toast from my plate and scrambled through the door. He returned again and again, until I got up from the table, having finished eating and went outside. This Douglas squirrel and sometimes a smaller one, perhaps his mate, visit my cabin a number of times during the day. I leave bits of food on the floor, or on bench or table, for them, and of course they think they are stealing it. They think, I suppose, that I am an old fool.
Outside the door, every morning, I sprinkle a. handful of oatmeal and salt for the black-headed juncos and Oregon chipmunks.
The Juncos appear immediately, halt, half a dozen or more of them, and like a flock of miniature chicken, scratch and pick up the oatmeal flakes. Showing some nervousness by their restless switching of their long tails a pair of very small but handsome Oregon chipmunks take their share. Often a towhee or a varied thrush comes to partake of the oatmeal.
Sometimes Stellar jays with harsh squalling meant for intimidation, swoop down upon the food, driving the smaller breakfasters away.
When I chase the jays away, they perch in a tree close by and blaspheme like the buccaneers they are.
1. CONTUMELIOUS: insolently abusive and humiliating
July 26th, 1926
The stiff stems, like twisted wires, of the blueberry bushes on the great sidehill of Mt. Strahan were almost shoulder high and tangled closely together to deter an adventuring spirit.
My advance, with a heavy pack, through this jungle was slow, but the song, rich and wild, of the Alaska hermit thrush, made me think of the pure notes of flutes silent, in the hemlock gloom, since I had abandoned the forest.
Only a dusky twilight was left of the day when I emerged on the familiar meadows through which Cypress Creek descends, a narrow and creeping stream. The great bulk of Black Mountain, wrapped in hemlocks, darkened the meadows; at the lake, still and somber with the mountain’s shadow, I dropped my pack, unrolled my blankets in the heather and I found some dry bark for a small fire. Black Mountain seemed, as I kindled the fire, to darken, to increase in bulk; its mien was suddenly threatening.
Cypress Lake lies in the bottom of a cup of withdrawn mountains. Here after twilight has fallen, you feel the solitude of primeval nature. There is, to the man camping alone there, a strange profundity in the silence.
But the further one penetrated into wild nature, I told myself, dropping tea into the boiling water, the safer, in a physical sense, one was; on a city street, or in a roofed house, there was always danger to life; here, in the fragrant heather, nothing, not physiological; there was no possibility of casualty.
Tea with sugar, and canned corned beef and bread, then, in my blankets, tobacco, with the grey smoke from a battered pipe drifting into the clear sky; nighthawks whirring and whistling. But soon the pipe was laid down, and the huge frown of Black Mountain on the farther side of the lake, the indefinite mass of Strahan and Hollyburn, and the icy stars suddenly were blurred as sleep seized me.
Cold, a sharp chill swept over the meadows toward morning. I awoke shivering. Day began as I attempted, with stiffened fingers, to start a fire. The timbered heights that enclosed the meadows were indigo; the sky, over the eastward-flowing ridges, was blue-white. My fire of cypress bark, crimson without smoke, increased, humming. Soon the water seethed in the blackened pail, the coffee eddied, tawny foam; bacon hissed in the pan; breakfast was devoured.
August 10th, 1926
The woods are beginning to look and smell like fall.
The characteristic autumnal smell of the sidehill forest where broad-leaved trees and evergreens grow together is exactly the scent of smoke-tanned deer skin, a squaw-brown odor with mystic power to penetrate one’s heart with love of wild nature, like an Indian medicine charm.
An old flume I followed had led me down the mountain to a level where most of the trees were alders and maples, and hemlocks, cedars and firs were the minority.
Here I realized, suddenly, the nearness of fall, the decline of summer.
When the light wind stirred the trees showers of leaves sifted down with dry rattle through the branches. Like feathery snowflakes, bits of willowherb down floated among the blue-grey alder trunks. The ground was a beautiful mosaic of leaves that had lost their green coloring matter, and were dyed ochre and bronze and copper and orange, and a great variety of earth and bark shades. The air was perfumed with the autumnal scent, that of smoke-tanned buckskin, as if the forest gods were making medicine to enticement men back to nature from an artificial civilization.
The fallen leaves, resting lightly on the forest floor, did not conceal the salal and Oregon grape that held up clusters of ripe fruit to remind me of the bountiful favors of wild nature in late summer.
Both these fruits, cleverly scattered over the mountain’s lower slopes at this time of year, are neglected by human beings but are the almost exclusive nourishment of birds in the fall. The crops of grouse, from now until winter, are found to be full of salal berries.
Where I sat on a log spongy with mold, in the direct richness of a glow of sunshine that came through an opening in the forest floor of matted alder and maple branches, a spray of Oregon grape lay at my feet. Its long notched leaves were crimson and its small bunch of grapes were the color of ripeness. I plucked and ate them.
In quite ripe Oregon grapes lurks a delicious acid not found in any other fruit. The sharpness, neutralized by a sugar with an enchanting sweetness, is slow in leaving the pallet. And after the taste is lost, there still remains a delightful memory.
August 11th, 1926
The afternoon sun was warm, but a wind from the north was cool, like an introductory taste of autumn. The sky was pure blue, with immense masses of cumulus cloud piled up like snowy mountain peaks.
Like the bears, the birds and much of the wildlife of the mountains eat berries freely at this time of year. They provide me with a considerable part of the sustenance of life.
I spend an hour or two berry-picking almost every day.
I went as usual down the old skid road with my berry pail that afternoon amidst the usual minute twittering of juncos and thin miaowing of towhees.
Logging traditions of Hollyburn say that this skidroad was one of the earliest on the mountain. It is so old that it is, in places, almost imperceptible; it roams down from the 2500 foot level, seeking easy grades in its roundabout descent.
Once a well-made road, with cross-skids for heavy logs, dragged by mules, to slip over, it now is buried in willows, bracken, tangled bushes, willowherb and many other flowering plants, matted vines, and the below the 2000 foot level, salal.
Where the old road crosses wide burns, logged off in its active days, the berries are most abundant.
You have to push your way through interwoven blueberry bushes, multitudinously spangled with fruit blue as jewels. Many stemmed, tall ollalie, with fruits like miniature cherries, make vivid spots in the field of green. Many of the stumps are strung with blackberry vines.
Gathering, on such a perfect afternoon, such perfect berries, selecting the largest blueberries, the size, actually, of grapes, fill the mind with a peaceful satisfaction.
Of all the edible things that grow in the woods, a wide range of plants and fruit almost utterly neglected by human beings, mountain blueberries are the richest.
It gives me a feeling of deep regret to see times of such splendid fruit, surpassing in flavor any cultivated berries, wasted every year on the mountain where I live.
The lovely bloom, a turquoise lustre, on the blueberry is an indication of its quality, it’s sharp appetizing flavor. These skidroad berries have exceptional pungency, which may be attributed to the rich strike of the sun on the steep sidehill, and the lavish lashings of the side hill soil which washed around the roots in the rainy season.
Pushing through the green disorder of tangled stems and matted leaves that nearly obliterated the old skidroad, I soon filled my pail and wished I had a larger one.
I hung my pail from the gin pole over my campfire, let the berries stew slowly for five minutes, then put in a little sugar. A delicate fragrance rose from the hot stew.
August 17th, 1926
Usually the big creeks on Hollyburn flow all summer though they shrink to small streams. But this summer almost all of them are dry.
Cypress Creek is lower then for some years. The other creeks not dry have dwindled to trickles.
At the old Naismith mill, now a summer camp, where I live, the flume pond is a mud hole and the creek that feeds it has diminished to a thin stream densely populated by infusoria.
The only drinkable water near the mill is a small spring which issues from the ground in the deep shade of the primeval forest a quarter of a mile from the camp.
Around this spring stand great hemlocks and cedars roofing the forest with a thick thatch of knitted boughs, keeping out the sunlight. In the brown dusk the spring comes out of the spongy moss and litter that covers the forest floor. Years ago the loggers who lived at the camp boxed the spring hole round with planks.
In this box the water lies dark as ink, flecked with hemlock leaves and sending back your image darkly like a witch’s mirror.
No value is placed upon water until it gets scarce. On the mountain, after seven weeks of drought, we have learned to appreciate the importance of good water, particularly in hot weather.
Since the creeks of dried up we have realized the worth of water, and we regard our little spring very highly.
The water is ice-cold, and we know that it must come up from deep underlying stratified rock. It has a taint of sulfur.
It is a small spring, and a large number of thirsty people get water from it, but it has not failed. Few of the many hikers who come up the steep trail, arriving at the mill with parched throats, know where the spring is, but they always find water from the spring at the cookhouse, and loudly express their appreciation of the cold clear liquid, with its faint taste of sulfur. One of the rewards of the hike up the hot trail is the extraordinary thirst you get, and to gratify your thirst with a drink of our spring water is an exquisite delight.
The whereabouts of the spring is a secret known to a few, for it would be like profaning something sacred to allow the common herd of hikers to visit the spring. But we never refuse anyone who comes with thirsty throat as much as he wants of the cold satisfying water.
August 18th, 1926
I fondly believed that I had got acquainted with all the wildlife on the mountain, when, only a few days ago the pika introduced himself to me.
From the superficial knowledge I had of the pika, I never expected to find him living near my cabin at the old Naismith logging operation.
The books on the subject of wildlife of the mountains told me that the pika, little chief hare, or coney, dwells at considerable altitudes, an alpine animal homing among slide rock and on stony plateaux and shattered summits. But two, at least, inhabit the big dump of waste lumber in front of the old sawmill, near my cabin. Perhaps the jutting ends of the refuse planks, dumped down the side of the little gulch on which the mill stands, suggested a rock slide, the traditional abode of their ancestors. The old waste pile affords shelter exactly similar to slide rock.
The children1 passing a part of their vacation from school with me, are interested students of wildlife. They are the friends and protectors of the birds and smaller mammals on the mountain. One day not long since they added the pika to their list of wild neighbors.
For some time I had heard occasionally a sharp, artificial whistling bark, like the sound produced by mechanism, and not by natural organ of voice. This came apparently from just outside my cabin, which is not far from the waste dump of the old sawmill. I had never before heard the pika, and to the children belongs the credit for identifying the sound. In E.W. Nelson’s “American Mammals” they had read about the pika. Nelson exactly describes the pika’s bark as “resembling the sound made by squeezing a toy dog.”
When the children suggested to me that the sound came from a pika I was incredulous. But soon the children saw the little chief hare, sitting at the opening between two slab ends that stuck out from the waste pile. The only animal on the mountain which they had not already seen, the pika, big-eared, large-eyed, broad-headed, short-legged, short-tailed animal of a khaki color and about the size of a small plump rabbit, sat of the mouth of its crevice long enough for the children to examine it with their leisure, and when it disappeared, the young nature students scampered for the cabin, and grabbing Nelson, looked up Fuertes’ drawing of the pika, and all talking at once, they told me what they had seen.
Every doubt had been answered now, and we knew we had pikas for near neighbors.
Several times since I have seen the bunchy little animals, their round ears and knobby noses intent to hear or smell an enemy, their beadlike eyes on the watch, their tan-colored coats shading into the color of the slab pile in which they live. Rotund and big-eared, short-legged and almost tailless, they suggest brownies or gnomes, and their strange unnatural cry is in harmony with their odd appearance.
In the chinks and crevices of the big waste dump are plenty of hiding places and dry caches in which to cure the bundles of grasses and plant stems which these animals gather and store for winter food.
1. Pogue had three daughters, Isabelle, Marian, Maude & a son, Mickey.
The Old Packrat
September 9th, 1926
He was the oldest man I had seen on the mountain; from his silvery stubble and seamed, shriveled, weathered face he might have been seventy. His overalls were faded from many washings, and patched.
He came up the trail past my cabin at the Hollyburn ski camp, slouching like a man whose infirm legs were scarcely equal to the task of supporting this body; he was very tired. He packed with shoulder straps a heavy bedroll stuffed with food and clothing; a frying pan and a tea pail were tied to the outside; he carried in his right hand a real axe. I knew he was used to the woods; his pack showed it, and tenderfeet do not carry real axes.
A group of hikers in neat breeches, “lumberjack” shirts and trail boots, the kind of clothes city slickers wear when they go hiking, had halted at my cabin for a short spell; in postures of relaxation they lay, with cigarettes burning, beside the trail; conscious of their idle inspection the old man lengthened his loose-jointed stride and further humped his age back, keeping his eye on the ground.
“Better stop and have a cup of tea,” I said to him, as he passed close to my doorstep. “She’s a hard old climb.”
The tea, I told him, was on the stove in the cabin. Surprised by this exhibition of goodwill and friendly interest when he had expected nothing but unsympathetic indifference or even a degree of inimicality from us, the old man stopped suddenly and stood looking at me in uncertain silence.
“Drop your pack and come in,” I said; and he stepped up on the porch, separated himself, with a twisting and hitching of long, thin arms and wide, bony shoulders, from the bloated bedroll.
Inside, as I filled two mugs with tea, black and strong and boiling hot, and invited him to help himself to sugar, he observed that tea, when a man was played-out, was about the best thing. The spoon, in his enormous, scarred, hand, seemed very small. From his burning eyes I saw it was his physical vanity, and not his spirit, that had been exhausted by the climb.
If I thought, he told me, when he had taken two mugs of tea, and had declined bread and jam, he was not at home in the woods, I was mistaken; he had been in the city for three years, but previous he had being in the hills for fifteen summers, prospecting.
“I came to the city three years back to put in the remainder o’ my life with my daughter, in a comfortable home. But I can see this mountain from my window, and I’ve often thought I’d come over and take a look at her, make a little trip up the trail, an’ sleep out in the brush again for a couple of days. An’ so here I am.”
“In this weather, it won’t hurt you to sleep out for a few nights,” I said. On a piece of wrapping paper which had enclosed two pounds of bacon, I mapped the mountain. Here, I told him, sketching in trails and meadows, lakes and creeks, is the best camping place, nearly four thousand feet-good water, deer and bear.
“Y’u like to know, don’t y’u, that there’s deer and bear in the country. Not that y’u want their meat or their hides. Y’u just like them fer neighbors.
The old man lit a black wooden pipe as battered as himself.
“Could I make that lake before sundown?” He could, I said. He wouldn’t need to bother about a brush bed. The heather was thick. He could just spread his blankets and be comfortable
“I’m much obliged ta y’u. When I came up the trail, she was hiyu steep, an’ I got kinda tired, an’ when I see y’u fellahs in y’ur hikin’ rigs, an’ me in my old overalls, I felt kinda small. So I was hoofin’ her past without saying. ‘klahowya: I thought y’u wouldn’t have much use for an old packrat like me.”
“Don’t load yourself too heavy with samples of rock on the back trip,” I told the old prospector, as he started up the trailer game.
September 15th, 1926
The recent rain has filled up the headwaters of our creek1 and it is musical again having been almost dry for two months.
For a year and a half I have lived within hearing distance of this creek and its murmur has been to me a part of the still symphony heard against the background of the great silence of nature.
This symphony, which seems to mix with the mountain silence, is made up of many harmonious sounds, such as the sough of the forest, the continuing mumble of the creek, the multitudinous tongue of insect life and birdlife.
From the old Naismith sawmill, now Verne’s ski-camp, the creek tumbles down the side hill through series of miniature canyons, and we call it Canyon Creek.
The creek begins on the swampy plateau, several hundred feet above the old mill, but feeding the pond at the mill which was used as a reservoir for the storage of water for the lumber flume, it loses itself. On the other side of the pond beneath the dam, it enters upon a new incarnation and dives down a granite-walled gulch as Canyon Creek.
This summer it dwindled to a thread of water, trickling and spilling over its lichen-patched rocks.
Last summer I lived in a tent beside this creek a short distance below the old sawmill. I dammed the creek by driving sticks across the stream and piling up rocks and sod against the stakes. Then I dug out deep hole which filled up to the top of the dam. This gravel bottomed hole, full of clear, cold ever-changing water, served all summer as a bath, a reservoir and a refrigerator. I never shall forget this green and sparkling pool. It was heavily shaded by trees and shrubs, and rocks. On the hottest day it exerted a cool influence.
Above my camp the creek emerged from a little canyon with granite walls from fifteen to twenty feet high. This tiny gorge was always shrouded in umber gloom; the sunrays could not reach it. From this Cimmerian place of black and dripping rocks and perpetual cool damp, the water flowed almost ice cold into my pool.
Since last fall I have dwelt in a cabin at the old sawmill. My cabin stands on the edge of the little draw down which the creek hurries after it leaves the storage pond. Soon the defile grows deeper and more rugged; the creek thunders among big rocks and plunges in white cataracts and steaming cascades down miniature precipices. Every night during the continuing rain since last fall and early winter the creek’s heavy roar booming above the steady wash of the rain, composed my mind to sleep.
This summer, when the creek dwindled to a trickle and almost ran dry I was sorry for it with almost a personal feeling, as I have regretted the felling of a noble tree. I threaded the narrow rocky throat of the creek and the stream has shrunk to a dribble. The mess on the granite walls was dry for lack of spray, and the dipping duzel no longer darted up and down the gorges.
The creek had not been so nearly dry before as far back as men remembered.
But now the water is again rushing through the little canyons, sliding over the big blocks of mossy stone, carrying prismatic bubbles and masses of foam, dropping in creamy cascades into green pools.
1. The creek Pogue is describing in this article is Rodgers Creek.
The Deliberate Skunk
October 13th, 1926
Food left behind by picnic parties and campers around the old Naismith sawmill on Hollyburn Mountain, has made the place as popular with the smaller wild life of the mountain as it is with hikers. Skunks and raccoons, pikas, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, woodmice and woodrats, Steller jays and grouse are very abundant in the neighborhood of the old sawmill and seem to have moved in from the surrounding woods to make the vicinity of the mill their dwelling place, in order to feed upon the scraps of food thrown away by the hikers. Such animals as are active during the day are seen in unusual numbers around the old mill, and the nocturnal animals, particularly raccoons and skunks, though seldom seen, print their tracks in every direction on the paths and trails about the mill clearing.
Hikers who camp in the open air at the old mill or spread their blankets in the bunkhouses and cabins, and the Swedish sportsmen who run the ski-camp1, and myself, who are residents have other unmistakable evidence of the presence of these animals, in whom familiarity with the human species seems to have bred contempt. The cabin doors and windows are generally left open and animals and even birds, freely enter the cabins at all hours of the day and night. Food not kept in tin boxes is looted in a cheerful freebooting spirit.
This exactly answers my requirements and wishes. I came to live on the mountain to get better acquainted with wild life. To encourage my wild visitors, I leave food where they can get it, both inside my cabin and outside on the porch.
Often at daybreak, before I am up, Steller jays, making further sleep impossible by characteristic squalling, the harshest sound in wild nature, perch upon the feeding boards I have fastened outside the windows, steal the broken bread I have left there for the early Douglas squirrels and juncos, and fly in through the open windows, take the scraps I have left on the tables the night before (if the trade rats and white footed mice have not devoured them all during the night) and fly out through the open doorway.
Oregon chipmunks and small birds of several species I have enticed into my cabin by strewing oatmeal on the porch floor and on the floors of the two rooms.
Juncos are the most numerous and friendly. I have had half a dozen juncos in my cabin at once. I have had a varied thrush picking up oatmeal from the floor close to my feet as I eat at a table. I have been host to sparrows that darted into my cabin through an open window.
Soon after dark the night-wandering sniffing animals visit the cabin, first looking for food on the porch, then coming inside. Though I leave food for them in convenient places, almost invariably they first try to break into the tin boxes in which bread, butter and bacon are kept. The last thing done before turning in to my bunk is to put bricks from the furnace of the old mill, on the lids of the tin makumuk boxes.
I have been aroused from slumber many times by the noises made by a skunk or a raccoon endeavoring to raise the lid of a box with its nose.
There is a big old skunk that comes frequently into my cabin at night, and tries persistently to get the lid off a food box. His efforts always wake me up, and several times I have got out of my bunk and lighted a candle without scaring him away.
Skunks are animals born with a feeling of independence, which in this particular old fellow has expanded into a contempt for man. His confidence in his mephitio powers gives him such a feeling of security that when I get out of my blankets and advance toward him carrying a candle, he does not move away at first. I am usually in time to see him standing with his forepaws again at the side of a box, working at the lid with his nose. When the candle throws light upon his plundering activities, he gets down from the box but does not show any inclination to retreat; he only raises his tail with a gesture every woodsman knows.
There is no man intrepid enough to disregard this warning. I stand still. The skunk, after some uncertain moments, walks out of the open doorway with dignified leisure, keeping his tail lifted, his long claws rattling on the floor boards.
1. Oscar Pearson, Ole Anderson and Andrew Irving.
November 10th, 1926
“Home” is the most expansive word in the language, indefinitely expansive, as chemists say about gases.
It may mean a palace or a castle, a cabin or a tent, a cave or a lean-to of poles. In its most sketchy sense, home means a shelter or a partial shelter (the roof may leak).
But though the word “home” may signify so little and still convey its full meaning, there are in this world many men who are homeless. A moralist (such as you are reader) would say that it is their own fault.
At present I am homeless and it isn’t my own fault.
Over a year ago my tent at the 1500-foot level was stolen while I was absent on the top of the mountain.
There was a small cabin, untenanted except by packrats, at the old sawmill at the 2500-foot level. It was in a dilapidated condition and dirty, but I cleaned and repaired it, and moved in. Two good friends1 gave me able help with the repairs. The interior was made comfortable, and the roof of cedar shakes fixed so that it did not leak in the heaviest rains. I made the kind of house furniture, tables and chairs, that the pioneers shaped for their small cabins. An old stove was installed. The inside walls had been covered by a lining of boards. A partition divided the cabin into two rooms. In each of these was built a bunk.
A bunk is a form of bed universal in small and rudely constructed dwellings in the forest, in the mountains or on the edge of civilization. It is a box shaped of lumber, or peeled poles, and filled with fir boughs bowed down and laid from head to foot with the ends of one row overlapping the ends of the next, like shingles. This makes the bed as elastic as a spring mattress.
My bunks, built into the sides of the rooms between the partition and the walls, were constructed more elaborately than usual; they were boxed in and roofed over, and only partly open in front; they were deeper and wider, with shelves for books, pipes, tobacco and candles, and my four-point blankets spread on a bough mattress shingled with exceptional painstaking care, in my own bunk made up a luxurious bed. The other bunk was intended for the casual guests of a mountain trail.
It is an animal instinct to “den-up,” to creep into the warmth and comfort and safety of a withdrawn lair; this instinct is very strong in me, inherited, I suppose, from ancestors who reveled in the snug security and shelter of a cave. I loved the thick blankets and soft security of my boxed-in bunk; I took infinite delight and satisfaction in its cosiness and gloom. Lying there, reading by candlelight in the long winter evenings, and at length sinking into sleep lulled by the wash and rattle of the rain on the roof shakes, and the beating roar of the creek2, seemed to me the peak of human pleasure.
In the candlelit retirement of my bunk, I found old books, read many times before, more engaging. I found that the meditative lines of Reverend John Donne comforted my spirit, before I fell off to sleep, more than ever before. The whole adventure, with every aspect of which I was familiar, of Robinson Crusoe in his delightful island (which I would never have wanted to leave) seemed to me more vital and moving than at any time since my boyhood. I realized now, in the tobacco-scented bunk, its full charm. The human philosophy and interest of Thoreau’s Walden expanded in the soft light of my candles, and I felt more strongly, among the scarlet and green and yellow striped blankets of the Hudson’s Bay Company, with their associations of rich peltries and snowshoe trails, the fascination of Parkman.
The small cabin, with the addition of a covered porch, which was practically another room, and glass in its windows, and heated by its patched up stove, was a place to fill one with a sense of homely comfort. It was a convenient base from which to explore the big mountain, and continue my eager, intimate observations of wild life.
So I spent, outdoors, a great deal of time. I wrote when the rain held me indoors, but as usual with me, little of my writing survived the exact scrutiny of colder moods that quickly followed the kindled and spiritlike tempers of mind in which the creative impulse was active.
Otherwise I lived the life of a pioneer, a lonely prospector of minerals in the deep hills, or a hermit secluded in his pleasant hermitage.
I liked the life; I liked the cabin, with its walls decorated with evergreen bough, sprays of frosted vines, and old snowshoes, skis and guns.
I liked the mountain; I had a deepening feeling for the woods and wild nature.
Why not stay here, I often asked myself. I was now an aged man, with but a few more years to look forward to. If I could choose my burial place, at the not remote end, it would be here under a Douglas fir. The summer came and passed.
Then I was told, suddenly, that I would be forced to leave the cabin.
The owner of the mill cabins had decreed their demolition. I would have to leave at once, his representative told me3
1. The “two good friends” were Eilif Haxthow and Bill Beck, who were operating the ski camp at the abandoned Nasmyth Mill site. Excerpt from Eilif Haxthow’s journal, Hollyburn Ridge, November 30,1925: Another newcomer has also joined our group. It is Pogue. When the rainy season started in earnest, he and his tent just about washed away. When he didn’t want to move back to town, Bill and I fixed up a little cabin just above our place and that is where he is set for the winter.
2. Rodgers Creek
3. Pollough Pogue continued to live in his Hollyburn cabin at the 'old mill site' for at least one more year.
November 11th, 1926
The truth of this tale can be confirmed, if anybody demands verification, by two persons. But in the interest of the deer we will not disclose the location of the meadow; its isolation from Vancouver is inconsiderable and we do not wish rifleman to be common in these hills1. We had one hunter in this part of the mountains lately and we felt immense relief when he left, packing a seventy-five pound (drawn) black-tail buck.
Traveling on steep sidehills through heavy blueberry brush and struggling in and out of gullies with a big pack never had to me the aspect of a pleasure (you would think it agony): yet I do it so I don’t have to; it keeps me lean.
This is the only way to get to the meadow. It is the headwaters of a creek. Here is a big bowl with mountain ridges sloping sharply down to make the sides. The bottom of the natural amphitheatre is the meadow and a small lake which rises in the rainy season and floods a part of the meadow. There is just room enough between the mountains for the creek to run out of the lake. This is the circus maximus of a number of blacktails in the season of mating. About a dozen bucks, I think, use it as a combat stadium, a dueling ground, while many does watch the pushing-bouts with some interest, I suppose, for often the contests decide the question of whether the brown does will have an old buck, veteran of many conflicts, for a mate or some strong young blacktail sheik just starting his career as a gay Lothario, for a lover.
The meadow is a withdrawn, private place. Day was sending when we arrived there; the end came more quickly owing to the great dark shadowing mountains that enclosed the lake and meadow. We camped in an old trapper’s cabin not far from the meadow, in the darkness of big hemlocks
After supper we could hear big animals coming down the mountainsides through the brush; the night was charcoal-black among the trees; the sky was clear with many stars, and over the meadow and lake there was a great shadow of the huge mountain bulk that rose sharply on the west side of the meadow.
We heard all at once (it was very still) a chorus of gruff squalling and guttural squeals and bleatings and bellowings and snufflings and snarling coughs from the deep shadow on the far side of the meadow. Then we heard a sudden clicking and clashing and rattling of horns as antlered heads pushed and shoved, and the pronged tines grated together. As quickly as the brush would allow, we got down on the meadow. From the two bucks on the far side came what I might call shrill sneezes and sharp explosive whistling.
As we approached the meadow to deer forms blotted* themselves against the vagueness of the level to which we were descending. They disappeared in a moment as we stared through the darkness, but before we had reached the level of the meadow, we heard angry bugling and the sharp rasping of antlers to our left and on our side of the meadow. We moved as quietly as possible in that direction, but the belligerents heard us coming and bounded away.
An acetylene lamp showed us the fresh tracks. The ground underneath the heather was torn and ripped up by the edged hooves, indicating the fighting stances taken by the bellicose animals, and the manner in which they pushed and butted until one gave way.
We started to walk out on the meadow. We could hear heavy grunts and whistling snorts in the darkness on the far side. We were slipping around a bunch of dwarfed and deformed Alpine cypress when, with a rushing and scuffling, a little band of deer, three or four, we thought, crossed the meadow in front of us, in flying bounds.
The darkness ahead of us, in which were enveloped, we thought, at least seven or eight deer, probably more, was in penetrable to our eyesight. It seemed that the blacktails used the meadow as a meeting place in which to pursue the affairs of the mating season.
We did not wish to intrude our presence into their business, but we were acutely interested. We listened for some time to the challenges and struggles, but we had to depend on our ears; our eyes were useless in the darkness. As we returned to camp we could hear still more deer coming down the mountain sidehills to the meadow.
But next day we could read, in the fresh tracks and sign, more than enough to verify what our ears had told us the night before.
1. Pogue’s description of “Combat Meadows” fits that of Cypress Bowl near Yew Lake, (referred to as Cypress Lake in Pogue’s articles).
December 28th, 1926
It is a rule of life that sometimes when we get what we want we find that it is not as desirable in reality as it was in imagination.
In my cabin on Hollyburn Mountain, I have been praying for real winter, but now that I have got my wish I will acknowledge a sneaking desire for milder weather. The thin board walls of my cabin are a weak defense against sharp frosts and icy winds, and the manufacturer of my small “woodhog” stove certainly never had heard of the sufferings of frostbitten exploring parties in the blizzard-swept Arctic.
Since I came to dwell in this sketch of a cabin over a year ago the weather has hardly been cold enough to make a man accustomed to an outdoor life feel the need of a stove.
But it is so cold now that the stove, functioning at its highest caloric capacity, cannot prevent water in a pail at the other side of the room from freezing.
It is so cold that, at night, when I am in my bunk underneath my four-point Hudson’s Bay blankets that are almost as thick as peltries of furs, and the fire is out in the deficient stove, the cabin’s framework groans and some of the trees outside snap as they contract in the frost. My window is a fairy casement through which I see a magic forest, tall and black evergreens whitened with snow crowding round the cabin in the strange beauty of the spectral moonlight.
It is so cold that when the rugged Dalcarlians1 who are building the new Hollyburn ski-camp at First Lake, start from their cabin at the old mill in the ash-grey light of the late December dawn, to go to work, the dry snow of the trail, over which a team has towed many jags of lumber, grinds under their skis with a sharp and musical whining. Until this winter, I have not heard that sound since my Ontario winters of many years ago.
The snow-caps on the big stumps around the mill are nearly two feet thick, and at First Lake the snow is quite two feet deep.
The new trail cut by the Dalcarlians from First Lake to the old mill, for the purpose of moving lumber to the new camp to the mill, has been smoothed by the dragged lumber into a perfect ski slide. Starting at First Lake, the skiers can slide for about a mile in safety, for the trail is not steep.
It is deerskin moccasin weather; you can wear moccasins and they will keep you dry: the snowshoeing is good for Canadian snowshoes as well as skis; the snow is firm and dry.
The great Hollyburn plateau has a wilder and more romantically desolate aspect than you’ll find on any other mountain in the Vancouver district: now this mother-forgotten mountain top has a dreadful and sinister beauty, and the savage suggestion of some frozen and lifeless planet.
Go up there and you will feel its chilly fascination, but do not get lost in this snow waste.
1. DALCARLIANS: Swedes, including Oscar Pearson, Ole Anderson and Andrew Irving.