The Nature of Assistance

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The sun was rising over the eastern line of forest. We didn't have
any time left. I glanced back over my shoulder to watch the rising of
the light, as we raced across the lake, and back into
civilisation. The last week had been one challenge after another,
starting with the premature ice melt, that had left us stranded.

We had finally packed both dogsleds along with the dogs into the first
long canoe, and were following it with our own.
The dogs were unaccustomed to boat travel, but there was no other way to
get them across. I estimated a four hour trip
to get us to the next leg of the overland journey. It wasn't over yet.

Jack, my partner, was paddling well now despite a serious leg injury
and fatigue. Three days ago, he had fallen into a bear trap. It
wasn't one of ours. So we knew then, that we had competition for
what we had believed was our little corner of the fur trade.

If I hadn'tbeen within hailing distance behind him with my own team,
things would have gone very badly for him. He might even have died
from hypothermia.

When things were going the absolute deadliest, we had received
unexpected help. From the competition, no less I didn't doubt.

An old man, with a very long, grisled beard came sauntering into the
camp well after dark. Jack was in agony, lying on the tarp with an
open wound in his leg from the trap I had just managed to pry off. The
fire I had started earlier was almost gutted, but I didn't have time to
look for rmore burnable wood. My first priority was to get Jack's
leg bandaged up, and his pain dulled down.

"Name's Bartholomew" he shouted at me over the din of the dogs. They made it clear strangers were not admitted to this camp. "Call me Bart
and get your dogs down! You need a poultice on that wound or he'll be
useless with fever tomorrow. "

He had come supplied with an Indian medicine pouch from which he
withdrew a powerfully astringent smelling pack of dried herbs. I
didn't know about this stuff. I glanced back at Jack. His pain glazed
eyes and brief nod told me all I needed to know. I made a path for Bart
between the dogs. If he pulled any stunts, the dogs could easily finish
him off.

After bandaging up Jack's leg, we built up the fire, fed the dogs, made
a quick supper, and slept. I didn't think Bart would still be with us
in the morning. But there he was, solid as life in the daylight the
next day. I thanked him for his help, expecting he would pull out after
breakfast.

The two boats, he had further down the lake, took him two days to bring
around to the eastern side. I waited, with little hope or expectation.
Bart seemed a very insubstantial figure to me. Quiet, retiring and
unobtrusive, but there when he was needed or could help. I wasn't even
sure how old he was.

As if on cue, the ice had started breaking up the day of the accident.
We were definitely going to be stranded here, I thought. But now, with
the two boats, "given" to us by Bart, we were able to move across the
lake at a good speed. When he had left us finally Bart would have no
payment or reward from us for the boats or his assistance. The only
requirement of us that he had made, was that we needed to leave the
eastern side of the lakeshore, before sunrise on the third day.

We had managed that, but just barely. Now that we were well into the
middle of the lake, I wasn't sure what I would see if I turned around to
search the shore again. Up ahead, I spied 5 loons swimming with the
first long canoe, as if in escort.

Then it dawned on me, if Jack was paddling at the front of my canoe, who
exactly was it that was paddling in the first one?

Writing by Regina Stemberger

Photo "midnight sun" by josef.stuefer

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