Cavalcade at Cumberland

by Thom Carnahan

Most of the following story is a true account of events which actually transpired.   In a few obvious cases the truth has been momentarily set aside or improved on in order to revive an otherwise boring story about flying birds and such.   I ask for understanding and forgiveness for overly utilizing Author License in this Erudite Masterpiece of Prophetic Prose.     

We were beginning our camping/hunting/fishing trip to the Cumberland House area of North East Saskatchewan.   This is a beautiful huge wilderness area and is much the same today as when Peter Pond in 1777 came through during his voyages of discovery for the North West Fur Trading Company.   He was the first white person to venture into the Peace River country and the Arctic drainage system.   Our group consisted of Joe McKay, Franklin Carriere, Tom Roberts of Saskatchewan CBC Kewaitin Country fame, and this mendacious author.  

It was late September of 1998, and the weather was sunny and cool with no rain in the forecast.   It was the very best weather for the hunt!    We were out to harvest black bear, moose, and geese; and to try and encourage unsuspecting fish to grasp food on a hook.   Harvest is the sneaky terminology that hunters utilize to cover the process of murdering innocent animals.    It takes intrepid and courageous people to hunt such potentially dangerous big game. In those days the Cumberland House area was a great place to hunt.

We were travelling and hunting in Saskatchewanís Cumberland Delta, a vast array of many rivers which are formed by the Saskatchewan River as it flows into Cumberland Lake.   It is a good place for people getting lost.   The topography is forever changing.  We had boated in along the Pine River and set up camp not far from the Ducks Unlimited dam and boat ramp.  We suspected that the annual migration of geese would soon begin.       

Growing up in Tilbury, South Western Ontario in the 1950s, I was accustomed to seeing large flocks of geese overflying us on their way to Jack Minerís Migratory Bird Sanctuary; it was founded in 1904 and was the first of its kind in North America.    It is located on the Miner family property in Kingsville, Ontario.   Hundreds of thousands of geese would arrive in September in the 1940s and 1950s.     A tagging program was begun in 1916, and the sanctuary quickly began receiving mailed in tags from all over North America, including from Hudsonís Bay.   

Over the first few days, we had begun seeing a few small flocks of geese. And then it began slowly; almost imperceptibly at first. It was a faint, distant honking sound.  We began seeing and hearing geese at high altitude, perhaps as high as two kilometres, possibly taking in the advantage of the jet stream. They were approaching from the North East. And on and on they came. The increasing numbers, along with the ever present honking, increased exponentially by the hour.   The flocks began melding in ever larger flocks and then there were several levels of flocks. This natural phenomenon continued non-stop for the next three and one half days! The sky was completely clouded by geese from horizon to horizon.  

Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have had trouble believing it. But the readers can certainly believe this part.  From time to time the geese-peppered sky was so thick and numerous that the sun would completely eclipse. A few of us had even developed splotchy suntans/sunburns after a few days of this sun screening cavalcade. We looked as though we had been wearing mosquito netting; overall a rather pleasing effect! We heard the constant cacophonous honking at night and had difficulty sleeping. It would be impossible to guess at the numbers of geese that came through, something in the order of two million perhaps! They were not landing to rest or feed. 

I think it was Joe who mentioned that birds, especially geese were quite intelligent creatures.   We speculated on what might happen if they found out that all of us had harvested geese at one time or another.  Could geese be vengeful or forgiving we had wondered? Did they have the gift of memory?  Might any of them possibly recognize any of us from previous encounters?  We knew geese had great eyesight. Had we murdered any of their family members? Feelings of fear and guilt assailed us.  

Through binoculars we had determined that several of the flocks were being led by Emperor Geese. They are known to be bossy and ruthless; you donít question their decisions. Would it be possible for them to organize a large group attack on us, even billing us to death, we had thought?  We frightfully speculated on the possibility of a planned Group Evacuation which might result in the sinking of our boat.  Isnít it amazing the sort of horrific thoughts that can enter oneís small brain when you are defencelessly caught out in the open, in the wilderness?    After this episode, two of us quit hunting geese forever, just in case.  

As it turns out, this was the flock from Hudsonís Bay which annually flies over Cumberland House during migration, and then on their way to Quill Lakes and Southern points in Saskatchewan.  This was a pleasant connection and surprise to the days of my youth when some of the flocks from Hudsonís Bay also visited my home town. Perhaps many of them were avian ancestors from my childhood. 

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