6 December, 2016 by katelaity
Rae chuckled again. He seemed to take amusement in adventures that would have been no laughing matter at the time. In such a way are great men known, that I can tell. Though no intrepid traveler myself, I admired the clear sense of courage and adventure I could see in Rae’s experiences. The man awed me, I shall be blunt. But I had only begun to taste of his wild times.
‘Unlike many in the factory, I made it my business to get to know the folk of the region, the Cree and further north, the Inuit peoples.’
‘The native tribes of the Hudson Bay? I suppose they are rather frightening folk to encounter?’ Tansy asked.
‘Not in the main. They were curious about the Europeans who came in their midst and like all people, they sometimes came to disagreements. My brethren largely regarded them as savages but I came to understand the unique traditions they had developed to deal with their harsh climate.’
‘That would be very important indeed,’ I said, shivering a little before I took another sip of tea. I could not even contemplate surviving such harshness myself. I was far too interested in my comforts. ‘But were they not simple, primitive people?’
‘Many thought them primitive because they did not write books like the men we consider learned. Yet they kept the equivalent of many volumes of information in their heads, memorized and passed down from parent to child.’ Rae nodded at the memory, as if he too shared some piece of that information, as indeed he seemed to do.
‘What kinds of information?’ Tansy was eager to hear.
‘Oh, all kinds of knowledge that assured their survival like how to tell from the colour of the water what lay beneath its surface, or how to tell from the clouds and the sky what the weather would be in a day or an hour. The winter weather often came on with a suddenness that took the settlers by surprise—to their distinct disadvantage. Thinking you had some weeks left to prepare for the hard times it could be quite a surprise to discover you had only a few hours.’
‘Those harsh winters!’ Tansy said, shaking his head. ‘How could you survive them? If nothing else, the snow must prevent you from even leaving your home!’
Rae hopped up and took some strange articles from a shelf. They looked rather like a pair of oversized tennis rackets, gut strung crisscrossing between a wooden frame with a sort of handle. ‘Do you know what these are?’ He handed them to Tansy and me. We looked them over.
‘Some sort of game rackets,’ I ventured as that is genuinely what I saw in them.
Tansy looked thoughtful, turning the item over and putting his hand through some odd leather straps right in the middle of the racket-thing. His eyes lit up. ‘Are they for walking on the snow?’
Rae nodded. ‘Spot on! That’s exactly what they are. We called them snowshoes, though of course you would wear your boots on them.’ He took the snowshoes from us and put them on the floor and stepped onto the frames. The leather straps went over his shoes and he tightened the laces that held the straps close. ‘You have to get them on tightly so they don’t slip.’
He then walked a few tentative steps across the floor. ‘Of course there’s no snow here but you can see the challenge of the stride.’
‘Indeed,’ Tansy agreed, ‘You have to adjust the normal way of walking to accommodate the extra space needed. It must be awkward.’
Rae nodded. ‘And for more taxing than simple walking too. I learned the skill from the Cree, who were very kind to me once they realised I did not have contempt for their world.’