Walking the Line: Trapping Time and Traditions

I have spent a significant portion of my life down a dirt road off County Road 45, in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario.

This section, west of Coboconk and abutting the Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands, is steeped in history for my family. It’s where my grandparents raised hundreds of cattle and where our families collected firewood for cold winters. It’s where my younger self would search for salamanders, run along toppled trees and pile wood onto my Dad’s truck in exchange for dimes and quarters.

My healthy imagination, love of the outdoors, appreciation for hard work and respect for the environment, was fostered in me there as a child.

It’s also home to a large trapping line my father has maintained for the majority of his life.

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The sounds of wires snapping, copper tubing clanging, nails hammering, knives sharpening and the god-awful stench of beaver are burned into my senses. Growing up, they were all regular sounds in our kitchen and basement once the weather turned cold.

The first snowfall always starts dinner table conversations about how frozen the ground is and whether there is enough ice cover. There are a lot less beaver now and barely any moose. As perennial as the grass, the first snowfall means it’s almost trapping season.

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I’ve never been truly comfortable with the idea of trapping animals. It’s always felt cruel to me. But I accepted, a long time ago, that it is part of my family, my heritage and my life experience.

As a child, I understood it was a thing my Dad did as an income source. It’s not something I spoke about with pride. It was pretty weird knowing that there were beaver pelts wrapped in grocery bags in our freezer whenever I grabbed the tub of ice cream.

Regardless of my inhibitions, I remained curious about the process. I’m a curious person. I like to understand how things work.

I’d sit with my Dad in the kitchen helping piece together snares whenever he was doing it. When I was bored, or wanted to hang out with him, I’d help clean and stretch pelts under my Dad’s watchful eye. It required a delicate precision, and I wasn’t good, but I think he got a kick out of my interest and willingness to give it a go.

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As an adult, I see his passion for trapping as something far more than just an income source. He enjoys it too much for that. Trapping and preparing pelts for him is what painting is to my mom. An art form to express who he is.

His loyalty and dedication to the trade is an homage to his ancestors and a very old Canadian tradition. Whether you’re against the trade or not, there is something to be said for working and creating with your bare hands in today’s fast-paced, disconnected, technology-driven society.

I know he worries about how this tradition, and his line, will pass down through our family; or if it will at all. Regardless of what the answer to that turns out to be, his love and respect of nature runs deep within all of us.

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I’ve been living in the city now for almost 15 years and there are mornings where I feel like I could make it to the office with my eyes closed. My mind and body just go in the direction they should without a thought.

My Dad is like that in the forest. He knows the trees, rocks and ground like the back of his hand. The gullies, ridges, marshes and creeks sound like old friends when he talks about them.  It’s his home away from home.

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Admittedly, I’d lost sight of those parts of my Dad until he had a heart attack 3 years ago. The story thankfully had a happy ending but it took almost losing him for me to realize how disconnected I’d become. I hadn’t spent quality time with him in quite a while. Certainly not sharing the things he loves.

So, the winter after he recovered he invited me out on a Christmas Eve drive and hike to set up some of his traps. He’d not been able to do anything the year before and he was itching. I wasn’t wanting him there alone and he seemed excited that I was willing to go.

The way I looked at it, he’d be trapping fishers and I’d be trapping time.

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We set out across the fields down towards the Head River. It was a beautiful, crisp winter morning. The sun was shining bright, dancing off the ice-covered branches and the fresh dusting of snow that’d fallen the night before.

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While the outside world was rushing from store to store to buy those last Christmas gifts, we were strolling through a winter wonderland, enjoying the serenity of these woods.

I’ve always loved how peaceful forests can be in the winter. The only sounds you can hear are the creaking of branches, winds whispering through the treetops, birds calling out to each other and the crunch of snow beneath your feet. It was those sounds that captured my attention as we walked deeper in search of his traps.

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Within 20 minutes he started mentioning a box and that it was close; down by the river. Sure enough, there it appeared wired to a tree trunk, covered in needles and branches from two seasons before.

He fumbled through his backpack to grab his hammer, a staple gun and some bait he’d brought along to put into the traps. I had no clue what he needed to do. I watched as he placed the bait at back of the box, fixed mesh in front so the fishers couldn’t get at it, and gently placed the trap at the front. Their attraction to the bait ultimately gets them caught.

First one done.

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After covering the box up with a fresh pile of evergreen branches, we were off to find a second box a bit further in from the water. Even he had trouble finding this one. We looked around and around, back-tracking here and there until we found it tucked away on a felled tree.

I stood back looking at the beauty around me. I loved how my Dad camouflaged into the scenery and I started snapping photos. This was my Dad in one of his truest forms, doing exactly what he loved, where he loved doing it.

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It’s quite an amazing thing when you see your parents in this kind of space. When you catch a glimpse of them, not as your parent, but as individuals with interests, passions, stories and lives.

Trapping isn’t glamorous, expensive, popular or in style, but that’s what makes it kind of cool. This tradition is old, real, rare and authentic. These are the same qualities I’d use to describe my Dad.

One of my favourite photos is from this day in the woods, 3 years ago. My Dad was walking far ahead of me. He’d finished what he wanted, so we were done. Time to head home.

I usually try to keep up, but  this time I held back a bit. Camera in hand, I called out to my Dad. He didn’t hear me, so I called again, “DAD!”

He stopped and slowly turned around. Seeing me set to capture his photo, he hastened a grin and I caught him. Snap!

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This photo captures my Dad’s spirit completely. I’ve heard that from so many who know him and have seen it. Most of all, I love that he looks happy and healthy.

They say that we often don’t truly appreciate things until they’re gone, and I think there is a lot of truth to it. I feel pretty lucky to have been given a second chance to appreciate; to trap time.

I will treasure this, always.

~~

Wild and Found

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8 thoughts on “Walking the Line: Trapping Time and Traditions

  1. I can clearly remember the excitement I’d feel when Hector would invite Dan and I to go check his trap line with him in the morning. I remember being in awe of his ability to know exactly where we and his traps were deep in the bush. It’s one of my most cherished adventures. I too remember piecing together snares and the honour of being taught to skin, stretch and clean a pelt to his standards. A lifestyle that, had it been more accessible to me, I would have adopted in a heartbeat. His skill, love and respect for his trade and most of all his patience will forever be ingrained in my memory and heart!

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  2. This article is amazing, my dad is also a trapper and i recognized him and myself in every word you wrote. You almost made me cry and now im looking forward Christmas time to walk the trapping line with him 🙂

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    1. Hi Eli! Thanks so much for your kind message. So nice! I’m really happy to hear this resonated with you and love that it’s inspiring you to spend some time with your Dad! You’ll never regret it! Have a lovely Christmas! Enjoy!

      Like

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