"There were many many sleds in those days," he says. "And when musk-ox die and the hunters hold a feast, you see many tepees, like big forest, in the Land without Trees. But now — !"
December 25, 1928
The Land of Feast and Famine - To the Upper Thelon
The conversation turns to hunting, and Tijon tells about the caribou. He was a little boy when he shot his first game, with a bow and arrow; since then he has shot many. He talks at length of the Caribou-Eaters who starved to death a good many years ago and advises me to eat reindeer moss whenever there is danger of going with an empty belly. Then he goes back to " the old days " when the Caribou- Eaters were a powerful people who made long expeditions up into the land of the Eskimo after musk-oxen. " There were many many sleds in those days," he says. " And when musk-ox die and the hunters hold a feast, you see many tepees, like big forest, in the Land without Trees. But now — ! " He makes a disparaging gesture in the direction of his fellow-Indians. The Eskimos he wants nothing at all to do with. In the past he has occasionally come across one of their ancient camps and found there the skin of an animal he has never seen alive (the seal). It also happened, that he has seen the tracks of " big snowshoe " in the snow and strange men far off in the distance. Aside from this, he has but one thing to say about his northern neighbor: " Husky nezonilly (Eskimo bad man)! "
Johnny begins to discuss dogs. He prefaces his remarks by reporting how excellent his own dogs are, then mysteriously hints about what happens to certain kinds of dogs when they get up into foreign country — the Barren Land. I sound him out, and he replies that such dogs never return to the woodland. He cites the example of a certain white trapper's dogs, nearly all of which were consumed. I cautiously suggest that perhaps they ran off after the caribou and got lost, or that they had had thin coats of fur and had frozen to death. But Johnny shakes his head in the negative; there is but one explanation: the foreign land gobbled them up!
The Indian's ability to orient himself in the wilderness has always been a source of amazement to me, and, in order to keep the conversation going, I begin speaking about the compass. I have lost mine long ago, but I take out my watch and illustrate as well as I can. The Indians look on with smiles on their faces and conclude that I am talking nonsense. Just when I am all wound up and stumped for words to explain the action of the needle's magnetic attraction for north and south, Tijon takes me by the arm and says: " Come, you see! " Together we leave the tent. The sky is bespangled with stars, and beneath them, over the woods, flame the Northern Lights. Tijon points to the Great Bear, the North Star, and the Pleiades. I cannot follow him through all the figures he draws, with strange descriptions, in the heavens, but I understand very well that he is explaining his compass to me. Then he directs my attention to the aurora and says: " Good clock." He points at the northern wall of the tent and describes an arc over to the east. " Morning early, you see," he says.
"But," I ask, " what do you do when there are no stars, no Northern Lights? " Then he points to the tall snow-drifts and makes it clear to me that those who have eyes in their heads after a storm can guide themselves along by these, and he explains how one can tell north from south from the bark and the limbs of the trees. At length he adds: " Maybe big wind in Land without Trees, maybe nothing see, but Indian always know way, here! " Smilingly he touches the tip of his finger to his forehead