Peter Pond newsletter :: February 2007 :: #27

Peter Pond Society editor Bill McDonald
Peter Pond Society editor Bill McDonald

Hello again, and Happy New Year since January is hardly behind us. I know Peter Pond Society 26 only appeared in December. But many more interesting items have popped up, and I'm obliged to share them with you like-minded people.

CANOE QUEST 2005

This is a race of 30 teams of 10-12 man/women/coed voyageur canoes from Lac La Loche to Sturgeon Landing, some 500 miles along the historic Churchill and Sturgeon Weir rivers, to celebrate Saskatchewan's Centennial June 18-July 5, 2005. They over-nighted at 12 native host communities, all welcoming them with banging drums and huge banquets. This is the same area paddled by Peter Pond and many who followed him, and he is mentioned in a two DVD video set on the race. The video shows the area described in my favorite wilderness paddling book, "The Lonely Land" by Sigurd Olson. See the fabulous website with photos and text on the race.

From it I have lifted a fabulous early morning photo of a start from Michel Village at the northern end of Peter Pond Lake. The photo currently serves as my computer's wallpaper. Now I finally have a picture of Peter Pond Lake and can see it looks just like any other lake.

I have also bought the fine two-DVD set, each 56 minutes long, of the race that shows just about every 6 a.m. start of the 16-day race saw similar sunrises. Thanks to Peter Pond Society member Peter Long for again alerting me to this fascinating piece of northern lore. His son, Warren, and friends were in one of the race boats, and it's Warren's website of that I feature. You'll remember Peter sent us a photo of the latest Peter Pond monument outside of Prince Albert, SK, after the other one apparently succumbed to bank erosion and fell into the North Saskatchewan River.

DVD order info is right on the site. As I did, you Americans will have to send an International Money Order available at your local post office. The charge was $30.90 Canadian, which I converted to and sent $27.00 American, which apparently covered it.

High points on the program: Disc I: Route Map (12:00); "Shake Hands with Big Buffalo" old custom in which a spruce bough is thrown into Peter Pond Lake, formerly called Buffalo Lake, for safe passage across (13:00); Peter Pond and the lake's history (19:20); a shot of Peter Pond Paddlers boat coming through Buffalo Narrows at southern end of Peter Pond Lake (42:47). Disc II: Otter Rapids, probably most dangerous, emptying into Grandmother Bay at Missinipe, SK where my 1988 Peter Pond Pilgrimage outfitter, Horizons Unlimited, is located (16:15); Stanley Mission, first Anglican church in the area described so well in "The Lonely Land," (21:00) and Frog Portage, where voyageurs would leave Churchill and cross to Sturgeon Weir, so called since a frog skin was hung in early days to demark the spot (28:50).

See Peter Long's 1993 Clearwater trip

CHAPIN BOOK PROGRESS

Speaking of Northern travel, New Hampshire writer David Chapin has been working on a book about Peter Pond. Here is recent email he sent on research trip last summer.

12/30/06: "Thanks for the newsletter. I went up to Manitoba and Saskatchewan to walk the Methye Portage and visit Pond related sites last August. I remember seeing some mention on your site of the Pond monument in Prince Albert. It is still there - just off "Peter Pond Ave" no less."

Here is Dave's photo of the Methye Portage monument at the southern end of the trail. Looks just like the old Peter Pond monument in Prince Albert.

12/31/06: "The monument is right near the mouth of a little creek that flows into the north end of Lac la Loche. The south end of the portage actually starts a few hundred yards up the creek from the monument, though some ATV trails start at the monument.

If you go up there canoeing again check out a book called Canoeing the Churchill; a practical Guide to the Voyageur Highway. It has some good descriptions of the old routes combined with information for current canoeists.

The timeline for when the book will be done is constantly getting longer. I have most of the period up to 1775 written in rough draft form. The big hunk of research I have left to do concerns Pond's activities after 1790. I'd like to get a better idea of what he did during his last 16 years, and I'm not sure if anyone has really looked. References to him as "Capt. Pond" suggest he went back to sea, (as Charles and Peter Jr were doing at the time) but I've yet to find the evidence for it. Also several merchant/traders who Pond would have known in Detroit and Michilimackinac in the 1765-1775 period were in business in NYC in the 1790s, so I'll be rummaging through some of their old business papers for evidence of Pond. My imagination tells me that when Pond got back to Milford he would have made use of old business contacts. So anyway, my goal is to have the manuscript taking shape by summer - at least enough to start shopping it around to publishers, which takes a long time."

1/1/07: "I drove up to the community of La Loche, parked, and paddled out to the portage. I had my canoe with me. It is about 12 miles out to it, so I camped on the trail for 2 nights and walked the portage. La Loche is not the best place to leave a car, but I found a guy to lock it in his yard. I considered taking the portage and paddling to Fort McMurray, but the flying service in La Loche was closed down and it seemed nicer to simply walk the portage with a day pack rather than portaging the canoe over.

I ended up driving around to Fort McMurray, because I wanted to see the junction of the rivers there. I got a kick out of the Peter Pond Shopping Centre.

I pretty much drove all around, stopping at Fort Dauphin in Manitoba, Cumberland House, and Prince Albert, as well as Buckingham House and Grand Portage on the way back. All-in-all I was bout 2 1/2 weeks on the road."

KARL KOSTER OF GRAND PORTAGE

Karl, a Peter Pond Society member, is the interpreter/ranger at Grand Portage, Minn. who lectures on different topics pertaining to its sizeable fur trade history, invoking Peter Pond's name several times a day. Here are some photos of him in action (http://www.navoyageur.org:80/food06.htm) plus his two articles on fur trade lore, one about pemmican, the food staple that nourished voyageurs on long canoe trips, the other about mosquitoes and other annoying bugs of the north.

"Pemmican, which is so useful, and in fact almost essential,
to the traveler…"
Pemmican: The "Power Bar" of the Fur Trade

If one food was responsible for the success of the fur trade in the Great Lakes it would be pemmican. As Canadian fur trader, geographer and explorer David Thompson reported, "pemmican affords the most nourishment in the least space and weight…" [Thompson, 312]. Beaver was the chosen fur and cloth the primary trade good, but the fuel powering men into the northern fur country was this vital food. Derived originally from Native American knowledge, whom the European traders had also depended for snowshoes, bark canoes, and other time and life saving advice.

Pemmican was vital and its use was never underestimated. Isaac Cowie, at Wood Mountain, Canada, 1870 wrote, "…found the trader, Kis-sis-away Tanner…He was the only person known to have any pemmican, having ten bags, which he esteemed worth their weight in gold. After some haggling, he sold me six bags at two shillings and six pence a pound, payable in cash at Fort Garry." (Cowie, 421.) Earlier at Fort Qu'Apelle in the 1860s, Cowie observed the value of even only one pemmican ingredient: "…open fireplaces and chimneys…made a cheerful blaze. In fact, the blaze was required for lighting purposes, for tallow was too much in demand in the making of pemmican to permit of its being used luxuriously in making candles merely to light the men's houses." (Cowie, 212)

The word pemmican has roots with the languages of the Cree; "pimikan" and the Abnaki; "pemikan". Historically, true pemmican was a combination of very dried, pounded meat mixed with the correct type of fat, a far cry from the beef jerky marketed as pemmican or "pemmican" of peanut butter and granola so familiar to Scouting groups. Paul Kane, in 1840s Canada, described it: "…slim slices of dried meat are pounded between two stones until the fibres separate; about 50 lbs. of this are put into a bag of buffalo skin, with about 40 lbs. of melted fat…hence its name in the Cree language, pemmi signifying meat, and kon, fat…One pound of this is considered equal to four pounds of ordinary meat, and the pemmican keeps for years perfectly good exposed to any weather." (Wheeler, 97)

Some fur companies that relied on pemmican had larger posts developed for the main purpose of supplying it to those men traveling into or inhabiting the interior. Both Native Americans and company employees produced pemmican and many Native groups obtained their trade goods simply by trading it. Once produced, it was commonly sold or stored in rawhide bags made of buffalo called taureauxs, often weighing 90 pounds.

Approximately two and a half pounds of pemmican is equivalent to eight pounds of fresh meat in nutritional value. Fur companies like the Hudson's Bay Company calculated food for an extended trip on an astounding eight pounds per man, per day or the equivalent in pemmican, about two pounds. Today, we measure nutritional value in calories, where one pound of red meat contains about 1400 calories. The fur trade allotment calculates to 11,200 calories per man, per day. The work performed by the men in canoe brigades was hard and nearly never ending, pemmican had the concentrated calories needed.

Pemmican Production:

When the meat from a buffalo was dried until brittle, the quantity was greatly reduced. For example, G.A Belcourt writes in "Buffalo Hunt" that, amazingly "a cow buffalo furnishes only sufficient pemmican for half a taureaux." (Belcourt, 16)

Early narratives give us a good picture of pemmican making. James Isham, in Hudson's Bay, 1740s, said, "…[Meat] beat between two Stones, till some of itt is as small as Dust…when pounded they putt itt into a bag and will Keep for several Years, the Bones they also pound small and Boil them…to Reserve the fatt, which fatt is fine and sweet as any Butter…Reckon'd by some Very good food by the English as well as Natives." (Isham, 156)

Gabriel Franchere, at Winnipeg River, 1814, described making it this way: "About fifty pounds of this meat is placed in a trough and about an equal quantity of tallow is melted and poured over it: it is thoroughly mixed into one mass, and when cold, is put up in bags made of undressed buffalo hide, with the hair outside…hardens, and will keep for years. It is eaten without any other preparation: but sometimes wild pears or dried berries are added, which render the flavor more agreeable." (Franchere, 177)

Alexander Henry (Younger), of Park River Post, 1801, recorded the proportions of meat and fat: "I made up my pemmican into bags of 90 pounds each - 50 pounds of beef and 40 pounds of grease. The women continue to cut up drowned buffalo to make tallow." (Coues, 175) Henry also observed when at Fort Vermilion in 1810,"The terrible weather has prevented us from making pemmican; the grease instantly gets cold and does not penetrate and mix properly with the beat meat." (Coues, 593) Buffalo fat was normally used but Cowie recorded in 1867, "They were generally fat [Prairie Wolves] and yielded a large proportion of the grease eaten by the Indians and made into the finer kind of pemmican by them." (Cowie, 250)

David Thompson, 1810, described how pemmican was packed for carrying. "Pimmecan is made up in bags of ninety pounds weight, made of the parchment hide of the Bison with the hair on…about thirty inches in length, by near twenty inches in breadth, and about four in thickness which makes them flat, the best shape for stowage and carriage…"(Thompson, 312)

Pemmican Pros and Cons:

That travelers and traders relished the pemmican is proved when David Thompson, in Saskatchewan, in 1786 reported, "Of this strong and wholesome food an Englishman requires little more than a pound a day, but a Canadian eats nearly two pounds a day." (Thompson, 42) Daniel Harmon at Lake Winnipeg in 1800 said, "…Our people like it much better than Milled Indian Corn & then boil as it is cooked in this Country…said to be very nourishing and healthy Food." (Harmon, 27-28)

Although pemmican was famous for its keeping qualities, occasionally it spoiled or was otherwise damaged. Because of that, Robert Hood, in Canada in 1819, took a dimmer view of it than many: "It is nourishing but unpalatable, and in summer, often mouldy or rancid." (Hood, 29) In 1806, "I examined the provisions and found the pimegan quite musty," wrote Alexander Mackenzie, the nephew of the Scottish-born Loyalist fur trader and Canadian explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie, "…our pimegan was hardly eatible…" and "pimegan was so bad I gave the men a dram and some sugar to mix with their pimegan the most of them got sick & weak having such bad provisons…" (Keith, 244-46). Another time, David Thompson, in 1810 Montana, reported: "Our Hoard…we found cut through by a Wolverine, whom we killed; he had eaten twenty five pounds of Pemmican, half of a dressed leather Skin, three pairs of Shoes, and cut to pieces seven large Saddles…" (Thompson, 430)

Pemmican Wars:

Pemmican's importance meant that a supply of the commodity could become a point of contention as it did in 1811 between archrivals the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company. Lord Selkirk of Hudson's Bay, acquired a large section of land approximately 116,000 acres. His plan was to establish an immigrant community in this area among the Red River and Assiniboine River watersheds. The Northwest Company was unhappy to see settlers imposed on fur trade lands. Additionally, the local Metis population who made their living supplying pemmican to the Northwest Company, made from the area's buffalo, would be adversely affected by immigrants moving in. The colony's Governor demanded all food, including buffalo and the pemmican produced for the Northwest Company voyageurs be retained for the new settlers. In 1816, the problem erupted into violence with Nor'wester Cuthbert Grant's Metis forces. The Battle of Seven Oaks was the eventual violent outcome ending with unfortunate deaths. All this for the control of the pemmican trade, the Nor'westers necessity, and the Metis' life-f. Alexander Henry wrote about the trade in 1808-09 that, "The principal occupation of these people [the Metis] is making pounded meat and grease, which they barter with us for liquor, tobacco, powder, balls, knives, awls, brass rings. Brass wire, blue beads, and other trinkets." (Henry, 511.)

Joy of Historical Cooking: Making Traditional Pemmican

Research by Karl A.Koster

Making pemmican of dried meat and melted fat is a simple task. The meat is great protein and the fat provides necessary energy. As Shelly Funston observed,"…fats have a higher caloric value than carbohydrates or protein. They also have a high satiety factor, which means that they take longer to digest, and consequently make the eater feel warm and well-fed for longer periods of time." (Funston, 153)

Drying the meat:

Any meat will do, even fish was used, but historically buffalo was favored. You can dry the meat in the sun, near a fire, or in an oven or dehydrator, until it is so brittle that when you bend it, the resulting jerky snaps and will not fold. Pound the dried meat until it is a stringy mass with a fine powder. Traditionally, it was pounded between stones to break it up but some modern pemmican makers have successfully used food processors.

Melting Fat:

The other main ingredient is fat. Suet is preferred; the waxy, hard fat found around the inner organs of animals, commonly used today for feeding birds and widely used in the past as shortening for puddings. It can be obtained from your butcher or from your next hunt. To render the fat, cut the suet into small cubes, heat, and strain out any impurities. It is best to use a heavy pot over low heat as the objective is to heat it slowly allowing it to gradually melt without any bubbles or smoke. Once properly rendered, allow the fat to cool into a snowy-white paste which should lack any smell or taste. A yellowish color or smokey taste may result from too high a temperature, while your suet isn't ruined, it just won't taste as good.

Assembling the pemmican:

You now have the ingredients for pemmican. Warm the suet only enough to pour, using caution not to overheat. The fat is used to bind the dried meat together and suet that is too hot will penetrate the meat, potentially causing the pemmican to go rancid. Combine the ingredients by gradually adding the melted suet to the pounded meat. The amount of suet you add to the meat varies, some recipes call for a meat heavy ratio of 3-2 or even 4-2. Once your pemmican takes on a fudge-like consistency you can rest assured you have added enough suet. The pemmican is now complete and you can press it into molds, form it into blocks, roll it into balls, or pack into bags for storage. Some people refrigerate their pemmican while others simply leave it in a cool, dry place.

Extra ingredients:

If you use fresh meat and want a historic treat, adding bone marrow fat from cracked bones makes "sweet" pemmican, a much-desired product in the past and a flavor still agreeable to many. It will take a fair amount of marrow fat to make a noticeable flavor.

One of the biggest questions concerning this amazing food is whether or not berries were added. Most period journals record pemmican without providing details of the ingredients though numerous accounts do tell of flavorful additions. Pemmican with berries are described as "seed" pemmican or "berry-pemmican." Among the berries mentioned are chokecherries, cranberries, saskatoons (service berries), and pin cherries. You may find it is just as simple to haul along dried berries and add them during the cooking process.

James Isham, at Hudson's' Bay in the 1740s observed, "Pimmegan as the Natives styles itt, is some of the Ruhiggen [meat], fatt and Cranberries mixed." (Isham, 156) David Thompson reported in 1789 that when service berries were added, "Pimmecan becomes a rich and agreeable food." (Thompson, 60)

"Strawberries, raspberries and paires", according to Daniel Harmon in 1801, "The latter both in shape and taste resemble what in the New England States are call Shad-berries" were all "excellent to mix with Pimican." (Harmon 49-50) Alexander Henry added cherries to his pemmican in 1810. (Coues, 594) John Franklin wrote in 1819-22, "…a black fruit, having a very astringent taste, whence the term choke-cherry applied to it. The Crees call it tawquoy-meena, and esteemed it to be when dried and bruised a good addition to pemmican." (Franklin, 136)

Perhaps you are a mint lover? While not common, "Wild mint leaves were used to flavour Blackfoot pemmican; their Blackfoot name (cax-xi-simmo, kak-it-simo) means …leaves used to flavour pemmican," according to Alex Johnson. (Gottfred, 1)

"…the rest made up 20 bags of Pemmican & 3 for myself 2 of Saskutten [Saskatoon] Berries contg. 8 gallons of Berries each bag weighs 101 lbs. & a Bag with 26 lbs. of Hard berries, the weight of it 83 lbs."
~ Peter Fidler, Chesterfield House, 1802 (Johnson, 319)

"…one bag of pemmican is generally made from each bison cow…Two pounds of this kind of food are sufficient for the daily support of a labouring man…The best pemmican is made of finely pounded meat, mixed with marrow, and further improved by the addition of dried berries or currants. If kept from the air, it may be preserved sound for several years…"
~ George Back, Arctic Expedition, 1833-35, (Back, 259)

Cooking with Pemmican:

Pemmican was prepared and eaten in several ways. The two most famous preparations include Rubbaboo, a soup or stew of pemmican, and fried pemmican called rechaud/rousseau/richot.

Peter Jacobs wrote in 1857, "The food that is generally prepared and eaten in these regions by voyageurs is what is called ahrubuhboo…took my kettle, went to the lake, and put in it about two quarts of water…into it some flour…while my soup was boiling hot I jumped at my hatchet or tomahawk, and cut to pieces about a pound weight of pemmican, after which I threw this into the kettle…Thus ends the cooking." (Nute, 55)

Robert Kennicott concurred. "Rubbaboo is a favorite dish with the northern voyageurs, when they can get it," he wrote in the 1850-60s. "It consists simply of pemmican made into a kind of soup by boiling in water. Flour is added when it can be obtained, and it is generally considered more palatable with a little sugar…I am authorized to state that hair, sticks, bark, spruce leaves, stones, sand, etc., enter into its composition, often quite largely." (Nute, 54)

Alexander Mackenzie, reported that he and his companions added wild parsnip tops with their pemmican for supper in 1793 (Mackenzie, Vol II. 87). George Back on an Arctic Expedition, 1833 to 1835, recorded that "in the spring they generally boil the young shoots of the Epilobium Angustifolium [Fireweed] along with it; and the Orkney men in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company add flour or oatmeal, thus rendering it much more palatable…it may be eaten raw, or mixed with a little water, and boiled." (Back, 259)

Archibald McLeod, at Fort Dauphin in 1801 supplied a quart of syrup to his men to eat with the pemmican. (Gates, 185)

According to W. J. Healy, "A lady who was born at the settlement [Red River] in 1842 said that pemmican could be eaten without cooking or it could be made into rubaboo by boiling it with potatoes, onions and any other vegetables. However the voyageur's favorite was rowshow, made by shredding the pemmican, mixing it with flour and water, and frying the mixture." (Engages, 3)

I feel raw pemmican tastes like a piece of old stale jerky mixed with a tallow candle! Though I have gotten used to it, I continue to find raw pemmican best only when I am really hungry. I enjoy frying pemmican or making a stew with it while adding either wild rice, flour or barley.

Pemmican is a tried and true food. Variations of it still exist, used by adventurers and scouting groups on trips. I too use it while re-enacting history, in fact, pemmican in its traditional form has fed me for several days as my sole food item. Pemmican is the true energy bar of the 18th and 19th centuries, one more thing that time cannot improve upon.

"A most terrible-some problem…"

Mosquitoes, Ticks and Black flies in the North Country
By Karl A. Koster

Those in the West may have to contend with big bears while those in the South have dangerous snakes. But here in the Great Northwest we have some of the most feared critters of all, mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks! Only one who has truly suffered can appreciate the following:

"We passed the night, around our fires. Prevented from falling asleep by the labour of brushing away the voracious hordes of mosquitoes, which unceasingly beset us with their stings, and poured forth their hateful and incessant buzzing in our ears. It certainly requires a different species of philosophy to withstand, undisturbed, the attacks of this ravenous insect. He who is inflicted, without complaining, by an unexpected change of fortune, or the death of a friend, may be thrown into a fit of restless impatience by the stings of a mosquito; and the traveler who is prepared to withstand the savage scalping knife, and the enraged bear, has nothing to oppose to the attacks of the enemy, which is too minute to be dreaded, and too numerous to be destroyed."
~Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Minnesota, 1820 (Schoolcraft 270-71)

Mosquitoes

The word "mosquito" entered our vocabulary during the 16th Century. Derived from Latin, French, and Portuguese, it is akin to the word "musket". Little fly, little bolt, or dart can be translated from the name. The terms "gnat" or "midge" were used in England to refer to mosquitoes and continue today.

Mosquitoes love swampy ground and breed in stagnant water. On any given day throughout the world, mosquitoes can number 100 trillion! The United States has roughly 170 separate species while Canada sports an additional 70 species (there are about 3,450 species world wide). If you were to invite every mosquito in the world into your tent for a night, you'd have to make room for a 551,155-pound guest! Perhaps, you are a voyageur and would like to fill your 90-pound pack with mosquitoes; it would take 16,329,325 mosquitoes!

A mosquito can live from two weeks to a month and can fly 2.5 mph. They find their victims by detecting body heat, moisture (sweat), and movement, or more exactingly, carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and natural skin oils. Good news, only female mosquitoes bite, thus there are only 50 trillion mosquitoes in this world that are about to leave their mark. The bumps left behind after a female bites you is merely a reaction to a protein contained in her spit. The spit delivers blood anticoagulants, which free the blood to flow through her "dagger"! Never fear, it would take 1,120,000 mosquito bites to drain an average adult of blood, provided they only take one millionth of a gallon per bite.

People from all around the world have developed ideas about these troublesome insects. Indians in British Columbia believe mosquitoes are ashes from the burning bodies of cannibals, while Rumanians feel mosquitoes were created from smoke of the devil's pipe. Many also believe mosquitoes will bite worse before an impending storm, but science does not support this.

With such a prolific amount of mosquitoes and our inability to safely stop breathing, sweating, and moving while continuing to live, what is a person to do? It is said that one should wear white or drab colors, avoiding red or bright colors. Also be aware that dusk and dawn are prime feeding hours for mosquitoes. To stop the "itch", try placing a hot (hotter the better) water compress on the bumps. The itching should intensify briefly, and then stop.

Dozens and dozens of quotes exist as proof of early travelers being plagued by mosquitoes. While in Minnesota, 1823, Stephen Long while wearing a "veil" (as a barrier from the bugs), "…found it necessary to keep a soldier constantly employed to brush away these troublesome insects." During 1862, Lord Milton and Dr. Cheadle paddled towards Fort Garry through our own Minnesota. They awoke unhappily one morning to find Milton's arms blistered from paddling with bare arms, while Cheadle and another man, exhibited faces that were impossible to recognize. So changed were they by the swelling of bites. (McCook, 28) Here are a few more quotes to chew upon:

"…the special Canadian mosquitoes, with their cruel torment. I really believe the plagues of Egypt were not more agonizing."
-Father Gabriel Marest, 1700 (Farmen, 9)

"But musketoes Bitt's [bite] with their sharpe bill in such a manner, that have their head Swell'd. as big as a tilterkin [presumably kilderkin, an 18-gallon cask], as to a man's not Seeing a mar'k he fires at for them is nothing, for on Coming out of the woods You may very well sweep a bushell of[f] one mans head;-Nay! Have been so thick we have been obliged to Shovel them away before we Cou'd gett in at the Doors."
~Giles Isham, Hudson Bay, 1743 (McCook, 27)

"…mosquitoes by the millions, and woodticks…tormented almost to death by insects...annoyed us so that we took no supper."
-Alexander Henry (younger), Portage La Prairie, 1802 (Henry, 212)

"Camped in an open plain where the musquitoes tormented us much & our horses more - Having tied mine I was not apprehensive that they would go off, & I told the others to do the same but they only tied some of them & left the rest at liberty - Not being able to sleep with the flies Some of us got uo, & lo! Eight of the horses were missing..."
~ Charles McKenzie, Upper Missouri River, 1806 (Wood & Theissen 296)

"…myriads of mosquitoes which appeared determined to extract the last drop of blood from my body. After battling with them until 4 o'clock next morning, my eyes almost blinded with their stings, I went in search of the horses."
~Paul Kane, near Fort Garry, 1846 (McCook, 28)

"…we could neither speak nor breathe without our mouths being filled with them; close your eyes and you had fast half a dozen. Fires were lit all around, but of no avail."
~Alexander Murray, Porcupine and Yukon River confluence, 1847 (McCook, 28)

Black flies

Black flies, also called buffalo or turkey gnats, are fierce biters who lay their larva in clear, moving water. There are more than 100 species of black flies in Minnesota and Canada. Black flies tend to peak in the spring and early summer.

Targeting necks, wrists, ankles, and beltlines they often leave a trail of blood with a swollen red area. Similar to mosquitoes it is the females who do the biting. Lucky for us they go to bed early and are afraid of the dark. Thus, making a dark area or "cave" in front of your head with a blanket will aid in keeping the black flies away. In contrary, you may wish to avoid dark colored clothing, especially blue and purple. On a positive note, remember swarms and bites of black flies indicate pure unpolluted water, something we all can appreciate.

The Minnesota/Wisconsin fur trader F. V. Malhiot, in 1804, describes black flies numbering in the "billions" and comments that they are literally "eating us up." (Malhiot, 212) The death of 20,000 head of livestock was attributed to black flies in Eastern Europe in 1923. Even today, black flies can rob a healthy cow of a 1/2 pint of blood a day!

Horse flies and deer flies can also torment. Commonly, wet bodies attract horse flies and it is those darn deer flies with the straight-angled wings that buzz your head and get entangled in your hair. Biting gnats, midges, sand flies, punkies, and no-see-ums are the smallest of the pests we will encounter in our Minnesota woods. These pesky beasts often give you a burning sensation when biting and therefore have been given the name brulot (burn, hot, or scorch) by the early French-Canadians. Still have scorn for these little guys? Just remember, that down in the tropics it is a member of this family of burning pests that pollinate the cacao plants. Remember, no midges, means no chocolate!

Ticks

Ticks are arachnids similar to spiders. Between hard and soft ticks there are about 800 species worldwide. Minnesota has primarily two types of ticks, Deer and Wood. Deer ticks, the primary carrier of Lyme disease, are about the size of a poppy seed, while Wood ticks tend to be larger and more common.

Like many insects the tick awaits movement, heat, or the smell of carbon dioxide to detect their unsuspecting host and hopefully catch a ride. Ticks can lie waiting for a host for up to 5 years without ever feeding! Ticks gather water from the air and only need to breathe 4 times per day! One researcher noted about the patient tick: " Nothing's on but the pilot light."

To help detect ticks you may wish to wear light colored clothing. Carry a mirror and lend a hand to a partner in conducting a "tick-check." You may wish to secure your leggings at the bottom and wrap your moccasins over them to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs. Ticks have a tendency to crawl "up", which means piling your clothing in a pyramid after disrobing may bring those critters to the top of the pile. Avoid tall grasses and stay in the center of trails and pathways. The "acorn" theory may also prove helpful in calculating years with high tick populations, researchers have been playing with the idea that the more acorns in a season, the more food for the deer, thus resulting in a healthy deer population, which means an increase in Deer ticks.

There are about eight major tick-borne diseases, with Lyme disease being the most common. Early diagnosis and detection is the key treatment for all transmitted tick diseases. The disease causing bacterium isn't fully transmitted from the tick to the host until it has been attached for more than 24 hours. Several new antibiotics and vaccinations are currently available. Minnesota is a high-risk tick area having more than 400 cases of Lyme disease reported during the year 2000.

So you've encountered a tick, what is the best way to remove it? Let us forget the proverbial favorites such as petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, and hot matches. These methods do not work and may cause the tick to regurgitate fluid back into you! The best method is the basic "tick-pick". Ticks secrete a bonding agent, which cements them to the host. This attachment can make removal a challenge. Pinch the tick as close to the skin as allows with a common tweezers and pull. You may wish to save the tick for future testing if you suspect that it may be a disease carrying tick.

Alexander Henry, the younger, in 1801, near Pembina Post speaks of ticks:

"Ever since April 25th we have been plagued with wood ticks…our clothes swarm with those troublesome and dangerous insects, which often get into the ear and cause inflammation…they cannot be removed without pulling the body from the head, which remains in the skin, and causes an itching that last for several months…they adhere to the flesh until they have sucked themselves full of blood and are swelled nearly to the size of a musket ball. Their natural size is about that of a grain of barley, and in shape thay are perfectly flatt, with a tough, hard skin, of a chestnut color. They continue to the end of July, when they suddenly disappear." (Henry/Coues, 180)

So What Works and What Doesn't?

With $150 million spent in the United States and Canada on mosquito control per year, this is serious business. Old-time concoctions range from Cedar oil to vanilla and alcohol mixes to putting sulphur in your socks! Some folks swear by these, science does not. Early in this century Mosquito fish were used to eat mosquito-larvae out of ponds, but this fell out of use, when it was discovered native fish species were being shoved out of their habit. Then came the invasion of Purple Martins, which were claimed to eat mosquitoes. This was discontinued when the truth that this bird ate no more mosquitoes than other birds came to light. Having bats around hardly helps either as mosquitoes make up only 0.7 % of their diet. How about citronella candles, oil, or plants? Science has not proved that they are at all effective. The only proven answer is DEET (N, N-dethyl-3-meta-tolumide). Historic? Hardly, but effective in masking odor, thus it's success.

The use of bear grease or skunk oil on whites, for the sole purpose of repelling insects has been extremely difficult to document. This plan works on the idea that insects will get "hung up" in the applied grease; this is akin to modern laborers wearing a hard hat covered in petroleum jelly to catch annoying insects like gnats, that buzz around. Personally, I have not found this to work and until researching have always thought of it as a perpetual myth. I would be interested in finding other sources stating the use of bear grease or skunk oil in addition to the following:

"To be in some measures secured against these insects, some besmear their face with butter or grease; for the gnats do not like to settle on greasy places."
~ Peter Kalm, Canada, 1750-51, (Kalm, 326)

"Mosquitos are the most troublesome insects…To keep them off, it is often necessary to rub lard on the face, hands, and body; the insects sticks to the grease and dies instantly."
~ French Soldier (J.C.B.), Canada, 1751-1761, (O'Neil, 27)

"They (particularly the Women) cover themselves with grease as a defence against ye Mousqueeto's & other Flies…"
~ James M. Hadden, Canada, 1777, (O'Neil, 50)

"…and the oil [Bear](of which it yields several gallons) is useful to anoint their hair and to rub their bodies, in order to defend them from musketoes."
~ Peter Grant, among the Sauteux, 1790-1806 (Masson 344)

Smudge fires of punk wood or green leaves was an extremely common, well documented, practice in the Great Lakes region.

"At night they lie in tents, if they can carry any with them; and make a great fire at the entrance, by the smoke of which the gnats are driven away."
~Peter Kalm, Lower Canada, 1750-51, (Kalm, 326)

"To obtain a respite from their vexations we were obliged at carrying-places to make fires and stand in the smoke."
~ Alexander Henry (elder), Matawa River, 1761, (Henry, 16):

"Water extraordinarily high and continued storms, which breed an incredible number of mosquitoes; obliged to have large kettles constantly smoking in our boat to keep them away."
~ Alexander Henry (younger), Pembina, 1805 (Henry, 281)

One unique problem in creating "smoke" was noted in The Columbia River, by Ross Cox:

"By {tobacco} smoking, we might keep them at a civil distance from our noses…but this was a preventive which, if constantly practiced, would have in short time reduced our tobacco to a small quantity." (Cox, 230)

Smudges can have another drawback, as Alexander Henry (younger) states:

"…The women made a smudge inside, but to no purpose; it only made matters worse by choking us with the bitter smoke. If we covered our heads, we were suffocated with heat; if we remained uncovered, we were choked with smoke and mosquitoes. I therefore, thought best to get out of doors, but was then in danger of being trampled to death by the horses, which surrounded the cabins to enjoy the smudge." (Henry/Coues, 287)

Many unique defense devices have been worn over the years to keep the bugs at bay. The wearing of a piece of cheesecloth netting over your head may serve as a barrier to the bugs. This lightweight addition to your gear has become quite popular for re-enactors. John Long, in his travels around Lake Superior 1768-1788, mentioned the "horrid fleas in Trois Riviere". (Long,J., 7) He notes Native mothers having "…gauze thrown over the young savage to keep off the mosquitoes…" (Long,J., 79)

Samuel Hearne traveling in the Hudson Bay area in 1771 describes a "musketto wig." The wig was made of woven oxen hair and worn over the head to protect one form the swarms of insects. (Speck, 88) This apparently did not always work as Hearne later mentions:

"…was wellcom'd by such a quantity of musketos…they fix their sting like great wasps that wee are nothings in the worls but knotts and bumps our flesh is." (Hearne, 82)

Alexander Henry (the younger) among the Mandan in 1806, tries a different approach: "…I had made a kind of mask of thin dressed caribou skin, to cover the head and face, and thus was more at ease than my companions, who could scarcely defend themselves…" (Henry/Coues, 285)

General Tips to Keep in Mind

Select dry areas to camp and avoid wet "breeding" areas. Moving water will favor black flies while standing water attracts mosquitoes. Camping on a high ridge may provide a helpful breeze. Many eastern natives built their summer villages on plains and meadows, taking advantage of an insect decreasing breeze. Often these areas were burned for the purpose of setting an open camp.

Properly cover your body. Pull down your shirtsleeves and wrap a scarf around your neck (a favorite insect spot it seems). Wrap your moccasin flaps over your leggings to keep out insects. Loose clothing may help to distance your tender flesh from biting bugs.

It is not normally the bite, but the noise of the mosquito that drives you nuts and keeps you awake. Plugging your ears can help gain a good night sleep. Using strips of material, tow, or even your own finger may prove successful in gaining respite. As the popular saying goes: "If you think you are too small to make a difference, you have never spent the night in a tent with a mosquito".

Do not bathe a few days before a trek (some shampoos and soaps actually attract insects), this will help to build up a layer of grime and dried perspiration which may aid in cloaking your body from insects.

Finally…tolerance and proper attitude is the key to survival from mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks. You must be willing to accept your fate when entering the woods during "bug season." Some days it seems nothing else matters in this world than to get a respite from the bugs. It is written that bulldozer drivers working on the Alaskan highway found the summer insects worse than the bitter cold of winter. Many natives knew better, when questioned what their peoples did about the horrid bugs during the summer, most replied that they did not go into the woods if not necessary. Great advice for the next time one plans to enter the woods on a hot summer day.

......Karl A. Koster details the life and skills of the Great Lakes Fur Trade (1763-1821) through writing, consulting and demonstrations. He is also on staff at Grand Portage National Monument along Lake Superior's North Shore. Historic food ways, bark canoes, snowshoes, toboggans, and straw hat manufacturing are a few of his historic passions. He is supported in his "history addiction" by his wife and daughter......

FUR TRADE TODAY

Ever wonder what became of the fur trade? Thought it faded away when Hudson's Bay Co. switched to retail? The PETA people squashed it? See this recent article from the NEW YORK TIMES:

Back in Style: The Fur Trade

December 24, 2006
By KATE GALBRAITH
The New York Times

TOM DeLISLE, sporting thigh-high waders, squishes through mud and cattails surrounding a pond near Albany, looking for wayward beavers that might have wandered into one of his underwater traps. Alas, his instant-kill traps, baited with Backbreaker castor oil, are empty. But Mr. DeLisle plans to keep trapping all winter, knowing that the pelts of beavers and other animals will grow thicker - and may fetch a better price when he sells them - as the months wear on.

"Come trapping season, it's hard to wait," Mr. DeLisle said of his pursuit. "It's like a kid on Christmas morning."

At his warehouse in northern Greece, Sotiris Vogiatzis, a fur wholesaler, eagerly waits for pelts from trappers like Mr. DeLisle because beaver is a hot fashion item in places like Russia and Turkey. Five years ago, Mr. Vogiatzis was buying 5,000 beaver pelts a year; now he buys about 30,000 annually, at prices that have climbed to $30 to $35 each, from about $26 to $28. After he gets the pelts - known in the trade as skins - he ships them to plants where they are sheared, tanned, plucked and dyed.

Once treated, the beaver skins make their way into the hands of fashion designers around the world, like Zuki Balaila in Montreal. Mr. Balaila has been working with beaver since the 1970s (when he was known as "Kooky Zuki," because he dyed beaver in vivid reds and blues for American fashionistas). Today, he serves markets far beyond North America.

"Now we export to China and Korea, which is unheard of," he said, taking special note of surging demand in Russia. "Moscow is like New York City."

As humble beaver skins circle the world at steadily rising prices, so goes the fur market as a whole. Buoyed by the globalization of trade and the broader reach of the fashion industry, sales of fur garments, trim and accessories amounted to about $13 billion for the fiscal year ended August 2005, the most recent for which data is available - up 9 percent from the previous year and up 40 percent from five years earlier, according to the International Fur Trade Federation. The organization predicts that fiscal 2006 will show a further climb in sales.

A variety of styles and colors - and for beaver, a new lightness and reversibility owing to improved shearing - has also helped fur fly off the rack worldwide. The price of mink, the gold standard of the fashion industry because of its softness and lightness, is at an all-time high (about $57 a pelt for Danish mink, for example). Even lesser-known furs have caught fire. The show-stealer has been muskrat, the "poor man's mink," which tripled in price during the last year, to roughly $8 a pelt. Lynx and western coyote skins are also selling well, while red fox and ubiquitous raccoon pelts have lagged. American consumers spent about $1.8 billion on fur last year, a 50 percent increase since 1998.

Looming over the entire industry, of course, are animal-rights activists such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, more commonly known as PETA. Activists have earned both enmity and fear in the fashion world for their in-your-face tactics, like the moment in 1996 when an unidentified protester tossed a dead raccoon onto the plate of Anna Wintour, Vogue's fur-wearing editor, as she dined at the Four Seasons.

While some designers, Ralph Lauren most recently, have abandoned fur after pressure from the animal-rights movement, the industry says that many more have taken it up. "The last five to six years, more than 400 international designers have included fur in their collections," said Tina Jagros, executive director of the North American Fur Association, a trade group. She estimates that this is double the number of designers who included it 15 years ago.

WITH sales soaring, the fur trade has become bolder about taking on activists - even securing Osama bin Laden-like status for antifur marauders. Last month, the industry claimed a victory when President Bush signed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which gives federal authorities enhanced powers to prosecute animal-rights activists for certain offenses. (The act defines "animal enterprise" as any "commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, research or testing.")

The main reason for the fur boom, however, may simply be that pricey pelts are now within the reach of a broader and younger population, particularly in developing countries like Russia and China. Innovations like knitted fur, laser-cutting, and precision dying techniques have also made fur more appealing. In another shift from decades past, fur is no longer considered intimidatingly formal.

"People are wearing their mink coats with their jeans," said Melisa Smart of the Alaskan Fur Company, a clothier based in Overland Park, Kan. A few years ago, she even made fur jersey-jackets emblazoned with the numbers of the Kansas City Chiefs football players. "You could order a red sheared-beaver jersey with the number 88 on it," she said.

Within the chain that delivers fur from the wild or from farms to wholesalers, designers and retailers stand the trappers, who occupy the most basic and brutal rung in the hierarchy. Fur farms provide about 85 percent of the world's skins, according to the trade federation, with wild fur remaining largely a North American commodity.

Although eight states have severely restricted trapping, some 150,000 trappers ply their trade each winter in the United States, and at least 70,000 in Canada. Increasingly, trappers focus on nuisance animals like beavers, muskrats or raccoons that suburbanites want removed. For his part, Mr. DeLisle arranges his trapping spots with homeowners and, like most trappers, pursues animals only part time.

Mr. DeLisle, a native New Yorker, began trapping when he was 13; his first catch was a muskrat. He recalls bicycling home with animals he had trapped, telling his mother about the catches, then skinning them in the basement, as he does at his own home today. Now his 17-year-old son enjoys trapping, too.

"It's either in your blood or it's not," Mr. DeLisle said of his hobby. A self-employed chimney sweep who traps for love of the outdoors, Mr. DeLisle caught 30 beavers last year. The $900 he earned selling those skins accounted for roughly a quarter of his yearly earnings from trapping, most of which he plows directly back into the purchase of expensive traps. Mr. DeLisle stores and stretches his pelts to dry them out and then sends them off for sale, generally to an auction.

For trappers, the most important auctions are held in Canada. There are three: the North American Fur Auctions in Toronto, which handles 5.5 million pelts a year; the Fur Harvesters Auction in North Bay, several hundred miles north of Toronto, with more than a million pelts annually (Mr. DeLisle sends his catches there); and a small one for western pelts in Vancouver.

Luxury skins like mink - which analysts say accounts for more than 70 percent of the fur sold in the United States - are mostly farmed. The largest mink producers are Denmark, with more than 12 million pelts annually, followed by China, the Netherlands, Russia and the United States. The other heavily farmed animal, fox, is concentrated mostly in Finland.

There are more than 300 mink farms in the United States, producing 2.9 million pelts. Utah has the most farms, owing to a large feeding cooperative in the state, but Wisconsin has the most animals, according to Teresa Platt, executive director of Fur Commission USA, an association of mink farms. Fur is so pivotal in Wisconsin that one House member from the state, Representative Tom Petri, was the leading sponsor of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act when it was originally introduced.

For decades, farm-raised animals like mink have been getting larger, and the pelts more profitable, because of careful breeding and feeding. Russia used to be a leader in mink farming. But annual mink production has dropped - to about 2.5 million pelts today from 15 million to 16 million before the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to Torben Nielsen, the chief executive of Kopenhagen Fur, the world's largest fur auctioneer.

China's burgeoning mink farms have come under special fire from animal-rights groups, which have sought to outlaw trapping and farming worldwide. PETA has posted a video on a Web site, furisdead.com, that it says was made in China and shows animals being skinned alive. The organization recently opened an office in Hong Kong.

People in the industry acknowledge problems. "Some of the farms we have visited are a very good standard. They use full European standards," said Thomas Wong, chairman of the Hong Kong International Fur Fair, where retailers buy garments for their stores. "But some of the farms they might take time to improve."

When the world's fur buyers gather at auctions, the atmosphere can be tumultuous. Mr. Vogiatzis, the Greek wholesaler, deals in most types of skins but buys particularly large quantities of raccoons at auctions. He describes the scene as a "madhouse."

During auction season in Toronto, truckloads of fur flood into the 150,000-square-foot warehouse of the North American Fur Auctions. As the items are sorted and displayed, the warehouse's concrete floor becomes slick with fur and oil.

Experienced graders in white coats categorize the skins by type and quality. The pelts - still stiff because they are raw and untanned - are then strung together into carefully labeled lots of varying sizes, some lots numbering in the hundreds. As the season progresses, the warehouse becomes a forest of dangling pelts, and the air within develops an intense odor.

In the refrigerated section - which resembles a closet packed with pelts, rather than dresses - raccoon skins are hung inside out (the better to expose blemishes), with their striped tails protruding below. They are hung in the cooler amid other skins, which on a recent visit included silver foxes with white-tipped tails, red foxes, coyotes, river otters and even a few dozen bears.

Several days before the auction, buyers and designers arrive to inspect the pelts before bidding. "When you have to stand up and check the skins for 14, 16 hours a day," Mr. Vogiatzis said, "it's not the easiest job in the world."

Mr. Vogiatzis, who joined his family's fur business 22 years ago, is one of the largest fur buyers in Greece and says his company has annual revenue of $8 million to $10 million. He started as a fur manufacturer in Kastoria, the center of the Greek fur industry, where he and his father employed 300 workers who made coats from minks, foxes and raccoons. But 15 years ago, Mr. Vogiatzis decided to shed the manufacturing side of his business and to deal exclusively in skins.

"It's like a small auction house here," he said of his operation. "Going around the world, selling skins - maybe it suits me better than production."

Mr. Vogiatzis has witnessed the advent of new fur markets, and the accompanying geographic shifts. When he joined his father's business, he sent furs mostly to Italy. Now most of his furs end up in Russia.

The No. 1 factor affecting his business, he said, is the weather. "When the weather is cold, everything is good for us - we can sell," he said. This season, however, he is worried about a warm spell in Russia. "We depend on God sometimes," he said.

The fur boom marks a turnaround from 15 years ago, when retail sales in the United States were barely half their current level. Fur's earlier peak came during the early to mid-1980s, when many women, newly ensconced in better-paying jobs, were using their spending power. Mr. DeLisle remembers those years as a time when "you would never see a road-kill raccoon, because somebody would pick it up and sell it."

But mink farms overproduced, prices fell for luxury furs and then all other categories of fur. The stock market crash of 1987, and the sour economy that followed, also hurt the luxury-goods market. At the same time, fur opponents were gaining strength. PETA was founded in 1980 and now has 1.2 million members. It quickly gained a following among celebrities and a reputation for attention-getting stunts.

Although Europe - where an appetite for beaver top hats helped push North American settlers west two centuries ago - remains a fashion leader, it is Russia and China that are driving demand.

At the Kopenhagen Fur Auction, about 70 percent of the fur sold is sent to China, according to Mr. Nielsen. Much of that is made into clothing there and then exported. China, particularly its Guangdong Province, has supplanted Manhattan as the world's leading manufacturing hub for fur.

An increasing amount of fur also stays in China, snapped up by ever-wealthier consumers. "In China and Russia, a fur coat is a symbol of success," said Mr. Nielsen, who noted that the same was true in Spain in the 1990s and Italy in the 1980s.

Russia's growing appetite for fur is not solely attributable to frigid winters. Some segments of the economy are flourishing on the back of high oil and gas prices. "Russians have a lot more money now," said Mark Downey, chief executive of Fur Harvesters. "They can afford more fashion design-type things."

People in the fur trade, meanwhile, say consumers are buying fur apparel earlier in life, with the average customer being 10 years younger than the buyers of 20 years ago, according to Mr. Nielsen. Another demographic coup also seems to be brewing. "Men are wearing it now," said Mr. Balaila, the Montreal designer.

Born in Beirut and raised in Israel, Mr. Balaila never saw fur garments up close until he arrived in Canada in 1973 to join his wife-to-be. She greeted him at the airport wearing a fur hat and a fur coat. He soon joined his father-in-law's fur manufacturing business, which focused largely on mink. He started out sweeping the floors, but as the 24-year-old passed by the coats, he became inspired

.

Mr. Balaila, who as a teenager enjoyed sketching clothes, quickly developed his own ideas for revamping his father-in-law's business. To his eye, the garments seemed dull - browns, blacks, whites - and "looked too old, too heavy, too massive" to appeal to the younger generation.

He resumed his sketching and soon had his own label. In 1986, he opened his own design shop, using unusual colors and lighter styles. Mr. Balaila manufactures his own garments, which is rare for a designer.

Despite producing only a few thousand expensive garments a year, designers like Mr. Balaila feed the global craving for fur. If fashion shows in Milan, Paris, New York and London are presenting more fur, or a new type or style, ordinary consumers start clamoring for cheaper look-alike items. Wholesale prices rise in tandem.

In the 1990s, when Mr. Balaila offered his apparel in Japan, his beaver garments were mistaken for a type of lamb. Now that beaver is a more popular fur, he plans to exhibit 40 items in mink, beaver and chinchilla at the Hong Kong International Fur Fair in February. "Those countries that don't have the weather to wear fur, they're looking for something new and something different," he said.

About 10 to 13 beaver pelts are used to make a knee-length coat. With pelt prices rising, Mr. Balaila charges more for his work. A sheared-beaver jacket that he might have sold wholesale to Saks Fifth Avenue or Macy's for $2,000 several years ago would probably go for about $4,000 today.

In Paris, Milan and New York, mink and fox - both farmed - have the largest presence among furs on the runways, and consumers are paying more for their mink coats and beaver hats. During the last five years, "we've seen a 5 to 10 percent increase each year in the price at the retail level across the board, regardless of whether it's mink or it's beaver or it's fox," said Angelo Papaevangelidis of Four Seasons Fur in Toronto, a manufacturer and retailer that sells up to 1,000 garments a year.

Despite strong demand, the fur industry remains on guard. As a luxury item, fur is extremely vulnerable to shifts in global economic winds. The animal-rights movement is still a chief concern. There is a widespread feeling among furriers that while the influence of the movement has declined in recent years, it remains potent.

For its part, PETA says serious problems remain underexamined. "We get calls from the public all the time who find that their dogs or cats get caught in leghold traps," said Dan Mathews, a PETA vice president who worries about drownings linked to underwater traps.

Trappers like Mr. DeLisle acknowledge that accidents do happen, but they say that trapping is done as humanely as possible, and that new techniques are constantly assessed.

The animal-rights movement has its own legislative priorities. The Humane Society of the United States is seeking better labeling of fur. Currently, according to the group, only fur priced over $150 must alert consumers to what type of animal it is from, and where it was produced.

Retailers, always on edge about the animal-rights arguments, are often loath to discuss fur. For example, Harrods of London provided its fur policy for this article, but in an e-mail message declined further comment, "due to the sensitive nature of this particular subject." Harrods closed its fur salon in 1990, but still sells fur-trimmed coats and accessories.

A HOT topic in Europe has been cat and dog fur. In November, the European Commission proposed a ban on the import, export and sale of such fur in the European Union, after acknowledging that some had slipped in unlabeled from China. The United States enacted a similar ban in 2000.

As is true of many industries these days, all eyes in the fur trade are likely to remain on China. The country's mink production is revving up, and its designers are gaining reputations overseas for style and quality.

So for beavers and other furry creatures, the world tour is likely to continue. A beaver snared by Mr. DeLisle on an icy New York morning next month could find its way to Mr. Vogiatzis and a pressing plant in Poland or Greece. Then it might be shipped to Siberia as a warm black hat with ear flaps. Another beaver could become a light blue sleeve in a soft and stylish reversible coat by Mr. Balaila, sold in a Korean department store for thousands of dollars.

"Nobody wants to wear what her grandmother or her mother was wearing," Mr. Balaila said. "You have to excite the people."

WILDERNESS PADDLERS GATHER IN VERMONT

Judy Pond and I have decided to have a mini-Peter Pond Society convention by together attending a symposium on Wilderness Paddling the weekend of March 9-11 in Fairlee, VT. It concerns an interesting collection of speakers on various aspects of canoeing and canoe-related history. I'm checking it out toward possibly conducting a Peter Pond lecture there next year. Maybe we can get some more Peter Pond Societyers to attend. You have until Feb. 24 to register. Hurry, there might be a wait list. Here's the website (www.alohafoundation.org/hulbert). Click on Public Events and Partnerships at left, scroll down to Calendar of Public Events, click on Wilderness Paddlers Gathering-March 9-11, 2007. Let's make a time of it.

Au revoir,
Bill