“So you’re the newspaper guy. You got your pen with ya? Better not have!”
I stood in the doorway, looking into the small main room of a hunt cabin. Looking back at me, menacingly, were 13 of the biggest, meanest, roughest looking fellows that this writer has ever had the dubious pleasure of meeting.
White haired and lacking teeth but with forearms like Popeye’s and a wicked gleam in his eye, one chap stepped forward and with a scowl relieved me of the two large tubs of butter tarts I was carrying. “Si’ down over there,” he said gruffly, pointing to a small space on a sofa almost entirely occupied by two glaring giants. “Shall I frisk him for recording devices?” growled one. “I could skin him like a rabbit,” snarled the other. As I turned to make my escape the entire room erupted with a roar of laughter. It was then the guy who had invited me on this ice fishing trip, popped his head around the door. “They’re looking after you, I see,” he grinned.
And so began a weekend in which I learned as much about rural Haliburtonian life as I’ve done in my previous eleven months here.
We ice fished, for starters. A sport entirely new to me, I initially thought the tiny rods were for children. Now, a number of my new angling companions could easily have felled a tree and used it as a fishing pole, so to see these fellows handling such dainty piscatorial tools was quite a sight. As each took two tiny rods from his backpack I smiled as it brought to mind the image of grizzly bears knitting.
We ate very well. Or to rephrase that, I ate while my new friends gorged themselves. Fresh air gives any man a good appetite, I know but the amount of food that these fellows packed away in a weekend could have fed the Boston Bruins for a fortnight. Paper plates were piled high and silence descended on the hunt camp. “Seconds?” barked the cook after a few minutes. A crescendo of scraping chairs, groans and expletives erupted as fourteen men all vied for first to the moose stew leftovers. “Pudding,” came the order not long after and I watched in awe as 40 butter tarts were consumed in a matter of seconds!
We drank plenty, too. In camp, the preferred beverage was rum and coke, although some of the party insisted on mixing clamato juice into beer. Just because they did it does not make it right, though!
Out on the ice the choice of alcoholic tipple became more exotic, and a little bit girly, if I can say that without offending female readers. Amaretto, peach schnapps, Irish cream, orange liquor… This parade of sickly sweet cocktail mixers was proffered to me by ruddy faced men mountains, now colossal in size due to the extra layers required to sit for hours poised over holes bored through the frozen lake. I smirked at the choice of drinks initially but soon came to appreciate their sweet energy boost and warming alcoholic kick. When the ‘skidoo oil’ was passed around I almost baulked but on trying what turned out to be a mix of whisky and cherry whisky I realised that this lethal concoction was the best of the lot. Faces glowed, the sun shone, we caught almost no fish.
Best of all though, we, or rather they, told stories. There was the one about the suicide deer, who kept coming back to be shot – told much to the chagrin of the fellow who kept missing it. It seems one poor chap once fell asleep drunk and in wet clothes, only to wake up frozen to the cold cabin floor. Not being able to move his legs he screamed like a banshee until he realised he wasn’t paralysed. And then there was the newcomer who, not knowing how to drill through the ice with a power auger, first pussy footed with the trigger, to no avail; then wobbled the machine a bit, no luck; finally, he gave the trigger a good squeeze, the auger bit hard into ice, spun him around and sent him skidding across the lake on his backside.
Unfortunately, that last chap was me. How my new chums roared with laughter.