Drew Hayden Taylor

Drew Hayden Taylor
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Friday, May 2, 2008

KAMINISTIQUIA TALES - FOUR BY Joan Baril

The last of the Kaministiquia Tales , The Cougar, ends on a light note.

The Cougar

The cougar was driving everyone crazy. It had taken a young calf from the Maki place on the Dawson Road and killed all of the Neimi’s chickens. It was blamed for the disappearance of the Erickson’s cat. From time to time, someone saw it. The driver of the Kellogg Dairy truck, who came to collect the milk, had seen it twice, once on Alpilla Road by the Community Hall and then again up the North Branch. People worried about their kids and refused to let the little ones play outside alone.

When a report came in that the big cat bedded down for the night near a beaver pond off the Third Line, a plan was hatched at the Dawson Trail Gas Station.

“We have to set up an organized hunt,” said Timo Kivikoski. “We should start before dawn and walk in from the power line on the far side of the pond.”

Anita Erickson had a further idea. “Let’s end the hunt with a summer picnic. We’ll meet at the pond at noon. Everyone will want to see the corpse of that cougar and hear all about its downfall.”

The summer of 1929 had been a prosperous one for the small farms of Kaministiquia and a good time for a community picnic. A bountiful hay harvest was drying in the barns. The cows were happily giving milk and the dairy cheques were coming in helping to pay the debts at the Co-op store or finance a trip to town for the obligatory stop at Saasto’s Men’s Wear on Bay Street for winter bush clothes. Although there were many necessities to buy, this year most people had a little extra money to ease the long winter with books, playing cards, board games, records for the wind-up Victorola, or skis, skates and hockey equipment for both boys and girls.

When a bleating lamb was carried off in broad daylight across the fields of Silver Falls Road, the hunting plan picked up momentum and a Sunday was chosen.

The Kaministiquians were mostly Socialists and Communists and not at all religious. There were no churches in Kam. Sunday was a day for fishing, swimming in the river or visiting as well as the usual milking, butter making and chores.

On that Sunday, the last in August, the hunting party, six men and two women, started at three a.m. and in a damp foggy dawn, spread out through the dense bush heading in a semi-circle toward the pond. Robert Edwards took his Model T Ford around to the Third Line Road ready to catch a glimpse of the big cat if it broke cover and headed north across the fields. But at noon when the hunters assembled at their rendezvous under the big tree by the pond, they had to admit the morning had been a total flop. Not one glimpse of the marauding animal did anyone see.

Anita Erickson arrived in her old farm truck with the box packed full of local kids.“Where’s that dead pussy cat?” she yelled.

“Still out there,” Timo Kivikoski answered. “And still sharpening its claws.”

More people arrived and, after the picnic was consumed and after the bottle of rye whiskey went around, Robert Edwards got out his Brownie camera. By shouting loud enough and long enough so that even the kids who’d made a raft on the pond finally paid attention, he lined everyone up under the big tree to take the first Kam picnic photo

“Too bad we didn’t have that damned animal belly up in front of us,” Anita Erickson said. “What a fine rug that creature would make.”

A week later, when Robert Edwards was in Port Arthur, he read about the soaring stock market in the newspaper and wondered if he should sell his Noranda shares. He also picked up his photos at Lowry’s Camera Shop, but when he looked at the group picture of the picnic he staggered across the sidewalk in surprise. He looked again.

There they all were, his friends and neighbours, a smiling group of about twenty-five people, squinting at the camera, some lifting their glasses in mock toasts, unaware that high above them in the branches of the big tree, half hidden in the shadow, was the cougar, peering out among the leaves at the gathering below.

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