by Steve Wasylik

I was packing for a late season hunting trip and needed something warm for my hands. I opened up my storage trunk of winter clothes and on top of the pile was a pair of moose hide gauntlets. I picked them up and looked at the intricately beaded flower pattern on the backs. The smell of wood smoke from the tanning process drifted up to my nose. As I slid them on, I remember the words of Christine, the native Indian woman who had made them for me.

"I'll only make you a pair if you promise to wear them. Don't put them on a shelf somewhere."

The stains on the palms and the small cuts in the hide showed that I had kept my promise to her to use them whenever I could. She had become a friend over the years I had covered a northern BC district. Our first meeting had been anything but friendly when she had chased me out of her cabin door with an axe in her hand.

I had crossed swords with her husband Albert my first winter in the district. He did not hold me in high regard after I seized a number of illegal traps he was using. He was over 70 years old and had used the traps since he was a boy. There had been no officer covering the area for many years and the location of the trap line was remote so he had never had any trouble. After this incident, and to his credit, he came to me after a logging company had built a new road up one of his trap line trails and had buried many of his traps in the process. He had wanted them to replace the traps, but wasn't having much luck. I had managed to convince the road foreman to replace the traps in lieu of me investigating the company for destroying the well established trail. After I delivered the new traps Albert and I had settled our differences and had shared a few pots of tea at his cabin whenever I was in the area. Christine was often away in town visiting her children and grand children so our paths had never crossed.

Shortly after Christmas I received a letter from a trapper that stated that he had seen the remains of a caribou near Albert's trap line. He had seen a fresh caribou hide at Albert's cabin and was sure the meat was nearby as well. There was no season on caribou in the area so I was going to have to head out and pay Albert a visit. Complicating the situation was the fact that the land around Albert's cabin was officially a Reserve, so Albert may have had some right to kill the caribou for his own use. The letter didn't state the exact location of the kill so all that would have to be sorted out as well. I arranged with an officer from a neighboring district to come with me on the long snowmobile trip to Albert's.

We rode to the start of Albert's trap line and started out on snowmobiles. I knew the trail so we made good time. A short distance before the cabin we met Albert on the trail cutting firewood. We talked about the caribou and soon it was clear that he had killed the animal on the reserve. They would use all the meat and Christine was going to sell the raw hide to someone in town. The laws of the day prohibited the sale of the hide and Albert asked me to go to the cabin to explain it to his wife. We parted company with him and he said he would be along once he finished getting a load of firewood.

As we drove up to the cabin we could see the caribou hide lying in a frozen bundle on the front porch. We left the snow machines on the trail and walked the short distance to the cabin and I knocked on the door. It opened and a small one-eyed dog that was part Pekinese and part wolverine ran out and did several laps around my ankles threatening to chew a hole in my pants. The lady who opened the door was obviously surprised to see us and told the dog to settle down. After introductions were made I got down to business and told her that the sale of the hide could not go ahead. The following discussion did not go well. Christine insisted on selling the hide and I insisted that the hide couldn't be sold. I ended the argument by picking up the hide and telling her it was seized and she slammed the door and stomped off into the cabin.

As I was tying the hide to my machine and dodging the persistent ankle biting attempts from the dog, Albert drove up on his snowmobile. I explained to him what had happened and he laughed and bet me that Christine wasn't too happy. I filled out a receipt for the hide and went back and knocked on the door. There was no answer so I went inside and saw a stone-faced Christine sitting at a table on the other side of the room. I walked across to her and put the receipt on the table and asked her to come and see me the next time she was in town and we could try to sort things out. My words were met with a glare that could have frozen time.

As I headed out the door I heard a chair move and I saw Christine stand up, walk to the woodpile and pick up the axe lying nearby. I watched for a moment as she started towards me and then decided that it was best to get out of the cabin. I jumped through the door and turned to see where Christine was. Given that she was a rather full-figured gal, I had made it out the door well ahead of her, but she was still coming, fuming all the way. I negotiated my way past the dog and around a pile of firewood to put some distance between us. Christine stopped on the other side of the woodpile and started to tell me in no uncertain terms what she thought of me, my parents and any children I might ever father. She colorfully explained that she always sold caribou hides and just because I had come to the area she wasn't about to stop. All the while she accented her remarks by chopping exclamation points into the woodpile with the axe. The dog had joined her and was bouncing from one block of wood to another, adding its opinion to the discussion.

I looked over at my partner and Albert and saw that they were calmly rolling a couple of smokes sitting on their snow machines.

"I got you covered" my partner said as he and Albert lit their smokes from a shared match, enjoying my predicament. I decided to see if I could get Christine's mind off the hide and asked her how the dog had lost one of its eyes.

She drove the axe into the chopping block and said, "He lost if from looking at guys like you!" and stomped off into the cabin with her dog and slammed the door behind her.

That spring Christine came to town and by then I had determined that if she made moccasins out of the hide she could sell them. So I then gave her the hide back. Over time our initial meeting became a funny memory and eventually I earned a pair of her prized gauntlets. Albert died shortly before I left the northern district and the last time I saw Christine was when I went to pay my respects at their cabin. The smell of the wood smoke from the gauntlets would always remind me of the woman who made them.

Steve Wasylik is a conservation officer in Castlegar, British Columbia.