We went — the Irish setter and I — into the vast high barrens that lie midway between Trinity and Conception bays for a weekend away from civilization.
© Photo courtesy of University of Prince Edward Island.
Dr. William O'Flaherty
That place is an area of trackless wilderness, with large areas of windswept highland, all of it devoid of trees, except for a few stunted ones found in isolated valleys. High up there can be found many small ponds, with little evidence of water flow, in or out, their source of water a mystery. That area, I would venture, has changed little since the end of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago.
I had brought along a supply of food, matches and survival equipment, just in case, and, being as it was early October, a sleeping bag. A tent would have burdened me down, and besides, the weather forecast was for a sunny weekend with clear nights and a full moon.
The first evening I caught some trout of reasonable size, keeping the males (with the hooked snout on the lower jaw), throwing the full bellied females back into the water; it was, after all, the early part of the spawning season.
Little Red — the setter — and I slept that night under the open sky with full stomachs. The dog, disdaining dog food, preferred thrown pieces of cooked trout or roasted caplin from the fire, and rapidly fell asleep afterwards, knowing I was close by. It was blessed relief for me to be away, for a very short period, from Western Bay, from the telephone and the cars forever entering into my driveway.
I heard Canada geese that first night, and watched them fly across the face of the full moon, calling in answer to one another and to the laughter of the loons on the pond a thousand yards away, as I slept the sleep of the exhausted one, having trekked 20 miles that day.
The next day dawned with a clear sky and a day of hunting ahead — the partridge season.
The Irish setter had never been properly trained; setter dogs learn from one another, and copy the actions of more experienced animals. My red dog had never been out with another dog and the hunting was a disaster; only once did she stand till I could get a shot away and bring down a brace of partridge, but she was happy with that, and, I suppose, so was I. I told her so.
That late afternoon the sky darkened and the wind came in from the northeast, bringing in its fog.
I caught a few more trout in the late evening, though the number was less than the day before. I had hoped to bring home a dozen or so in a special ice pack that I had brought along, but we — the dog and I — ended up cooking and eating the works, with me staying up late by the campfire, knowing that there was a long night ahead.
I got into the sleeping bag at 8 p.m., when the dark of the night descended. The exhausted dog had long ago gone to sleep, lying on the moss amongst the gouldberry.
One hour later the rain started.
It wasn’t heavy rain, just an incessant, constant thing that gradually crept into my sleeping bag, in spite of the the green garbage bags that I had brought along and put in place, which were supposed to protect me.
The dog, with no shelter at all, soon began to whine, wondering, I’m sure, “What the hell are we doing in here in this place in the middle of the night?” She wanted to go home, an impossible task, in the darkness, here in this trackless wilderness. Hard enough to find your way along, come the dawn, a long time away.
Lying there I counted the minutes in my mind, and as I sensed the wet seeping into my clothes it felt like hours had gone by. In a short time, I told myself I would be on the way out. After all, it had to be two o’clock in the morning, for sure.
I knew there was no point in getting out of the sleeping bag and trying to light a fire. Everything was sopping wet.
A tired animal
Thinking it was 2 a.m., and encouraged by the thought, I looked at my fluorescent watch dials, and it showed it was only 11 p.m. I swore a profane oath at the weather god, heard only, thankfully, by the unhappy setter.
To be brief, and to put the night behind us, we both survived, the dog and I, and when the dawn came, got up to a sodden, cold and depressing world and started to walk out toward civilization.
We arrived, in the fog, back to the vehicle parked at the end of the car trail (a short ways inland from Western Bay), thanks to a small pocket compass and my familiarity with the area. We were soon home, safe and sound.
Sometimes the best part of a journey is the return back home. Certainly, no doubt, my Irish setter, who slept for 24 hours straight after our weekend in the wilderness, would agree.
— Dr. William O’Flaherty is author of a best-selling memoir entitled “Tomcats and House Calls: Memoir of a Country Doctor.” He worked a 40-year career as a country doctor in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. He was the country doctor in Western Bay, on the north shore of Conception Bay, from 1967 to 1989, and was born in the tiny fishing village of Long Beach, at the lower end Northern Bay. He writes from Moncton, NB.