In the Day Of the Trapline

field trips-0994

my good friend Doris, photographed by one of my students

The trapline is a hard life. There is wood to cut, water to haul, traps to set and dogs to feed. There isn’t much time for play.

Doris was born in Old Crow, Yukon, Canada where she lived for a portion of her childhood, but she spent much of her life on a trapline between Old Crow and Fort Yukon, Alaska, 160 miles from the comforts of a village.

Linx and marten, fox and wolf, wolverine, hare and muskrat were abundant and pelts brought a good price. Her family travelled to Fort Yukon to sell their furs. Back then the village was larger than it is today and sported the Sourdough Inn, a hospital and the Northwest Company store.

The only way to get there was by boat in summer. “Boats go so fast down the river now (she shows this with a motion of her hands). Back then our motor was 16 horsepower; it was slow but it was strong and could move a ton of supplies at a time.”

Reminiscing about caribou, Doris recounted how they would tan their hides. “We used the brains, there’s something in the brains that tans them.”

She also shared about the Crow Flats, outside Old Crow. Every year they would visit the flats to trap and hunt muskrats. “Old Crow is kind of in the mountains and Crow Flats is on the other side. We would go down there and bring back 1500 ‘rats.”

While hard work was plentiful and free time was scarce on the trapline, Doris recalls many fond memories of those days: her father’s sourdough pancakes for breakfast and evenings spent around jigsaw puzzles and games of rummy.

Doris lives in Fort Yukon now. It is smaller than it was in its heyday; there is no inn now, the hospital has been replaced by a clinic and the AC is the only store in town. She has many grandchildren here. As she puts it, “When you live in a village long enough, you’re related to nearly everybody.”


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