December 15, 1928
The Indians imagine that the white trapper can predict the future when they're starving for caribou and eventually the prophecy comes true the first day but fails after that, leading the trapper to stop prophecizing at all.
The Land of Feast and Famine - To the Upper Thelon
Up until this time we had been pursuing the same course as the caribou and had regularly been able to butcher all the meat we required. Each time we shot something, we held a banquet and lived a life of gluttony. We would fell three or four caribou at a time, for it is astounding how much eight hungry men and thirty-two greedy dogs can stow away inside them when they set about it. Whenever we had enough to meet our requirements for the day, we never even thought of laying in a stock of meat for the next. The Indians were opposed to breaking camp with heavy loads for the sleds — quick light driving was to them of the utmost importance.
And if ever I were to mention the future, they would answer light-heartedly that, if there were caribou today, there would be caribou tomorrow.
But it was becoming more and more evident that we were in danger of losing contact with the caribou, which seemed to have swerved off on a more southerly course. This thought highly amused the Indians, for the previous year they had followed the herd all the way over to the Thelon; they shot all they needed, and never once did they have to stop and break trail, for there were hard-trodden paths all the way.
This was an error in calculation. But, for the time being, there was nothing else to do but to keep moving eastward with the hope that sooner or later we would again fall in with the herd.
Our meals were now all upset. At one time we were able to shoot some game, at another we couldn't find so much as a single track. Our bellies began to cave in and our spirits drooped. One evening we were particularly hungry as we sat about the stove and dreamed about food. I came out with the hopeful thought that on the morrow we would have meat in the pot. Immediately the Indians were on top of me, asking me how many caribou I thought we would fell. " Oh, two or three, I believe," I replied, jestingly. Then, when they all wanted to know how I knew, I realized that my statement had been taken seriously and that they imagined I was gifted with powers of divination. I felt somewhat ill at ease and did my best to change the subject. But I was unsuccessful, at best.
Next morning Isep started out on snowshoe a half-hour in advance of the main party. We could take no chances. Even if we were to drive in silence, the sound of our bells would frighten the game. We had been driving only a short time when we heard several shots ring out in rapid succession. We were approaching a lake, and there we saw a number of caribou dashing back and forth in confusion. Altogether we felled three deer. One had been merely wounded by the first shot and was running away with its tripes dragging along in the snow behind it. I stood ready to deliver the coup de grace when Johnny crowded in ahead of me, let go his sled, and permitted his dogs to dash off on their own initiative. Like wolves they raced straight for the caribou, which halted and pointed its antlers in the direction of the approaching storm. Down it went in a confusion of barking dogs, harness, and sled. " Dogs fine caribou hunters," came dryly from Johnny.
After the head had been severed from each carcass, we dealt out the leg bones amongst ourselves, split them, and ate the marrow right there on the spot. We first removed the stomachs and filled them half-full of blood, then carefully cut out the hearts, kidneys, and all visceral fat, and these we stuffed into fragments of the intestines, which were first washed in snow. Our days without food had given us a new view of what may be eaten. Nothing went to waste.
After having divided the carcasses, we made ourselves a fire and held a grand feast. All during the meal I was the center of attraction. Three caribou had, in truth, been slain and thus my prediction had come true. All were eager to know if I could divine the presence of caribou at any time I wished. I did not make much of a reply; instead, I cloaked myself in mystic shadows like any soothsayer and thanked my lucky stars. It may just as well be mentioned in this place that when on later occasions of food shortage I was called upon to prophesy the future, I was foolish enough to yield to flattery. On one day I predicted two caribou, on another I predicted four. On both days we went with empty stomachs. My authority was undermined, and I never again indulged in prophecy