"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

to frighten an angel or intimidate a Caesar

A final excerpt from Malhiot's journal, written during his time at the fort in Lac du Flambeau. If Malhiot felt that Flambeau Lake was "worthier of the name of swamp," I can only imagine that he would have felt much the same about the Manitowish Waters chain!

Voyageurs at Dawn, Frances Ann Hopkins, 1871
[O]f all the spots and places I have seen in my thirteen years’ of travels, this is the most horrid and most sterile. The Portage road is truly that to heaven because it is narrow, full of overturned trees, obstacles, thorns, and muskegs. Men who go over it loaded and who are obliged to carry baggage over it, certainly deserve to be called “men.”

This vile portage is inhabited solely by owls, because no other animal could find a living there, and the hoots of those solitary birds are enough to frighten an angel or intimidate a Caesar.

As to Lac du Flambeau it is worthier of the name of swamp than of lake and at this season it would be easier to catch bullfrogs in the nets than fish. I have had the nets set three times since my arrival without catching a fish. Today I am sending Gauthier to cast his nets in another lake; perhaps we shall get some crawfish. With regard to the river I will never call it anything but a small stream, because in many places a mouse could cross it without wetting its belly. All the Savages I have seen so far seemed to me to be good providers; another time, when I shall have seen them all, I will speak of them more at length.
Next time you hop on your pontoon or climb in a canoe, think of those wiry Voyageurs paddling across the lakes and struggling on the narrow portage trails in between, carrying 90 pounds of gear. Monsieur Malhiot, suffering from toothache. The so-called Savages, whose culture we have at last learned to respect. The 200 years that separate us is not, in the scheme of things, so very far. It certainly puts our lifestyles in perspective!

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