New Horizons Writers Group – December 2014

The Trap Line

Bob Hirt

Making a few bucks as youngsters seemed overly important to us three boys back east. Never mind the three girls – they were on their own and probably never felt the “power” and prestige of having a few coins jingling in their pockets. We three boys, ages seven, 10 and 11 years old at the time wanted money desperately, for whatever reason I have no earthly idea. Anyway, Dad had noticed on a recent trip to see how the young cattle were doing in the distant pasture that the muskrats were making a thorough mess of the creek bank and maybe we should be trapping them to reduce their numbers. Besides, the girls had no stomach for any of this “trapping stuff,” leave alone getting out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and trudging the two miles of a trap line, dispatching of our booty and craftily setting the traps for yet another day. We learned fast; we three would alternate days, always two of us being together to brave the darkness and fetch home our bounty. Some days were especially prolific – five to seven animals, dead of course, slung over our shoulders, when a mere 12 or 13 traps were all we had set to start with. Some days, of course, we came home empty handed, disgruntled, still tired and now only half-hungry for our breakfast, for we had eaten most of the apple or carrot pieces that were to have been used for bait and now no longer needed.

Muskrat boards are about two feet long and tapered from eight inches wide down to a point.

Cleverly crafted by some old artisan, they serve as drying boards for the inverted skins. After a week or so of drying the skins are taken to merchants who huckster them out to furriers who then assemble dozens of the best quality skins into muskrat coats. I sometimes wonder if we ever even considered the possibility of contracting some strange disease carried harmlessly by these little animals.

One time a neighbor stopped by to inform us of a dying cow in that same distant pasture. He had observed while driving by that it hadn’t moved in many hours and that something must be wrong. Those were the kind of concerned neighbors we all love to have. We got the animal home and after some curious “poking around” by us kids my Dad called our veterinarian. After discussing various possibilities he entertained the thought of rabies and after the animal’s demise he removed the head and had the animal checked for this dread disease. Diagnosis: positive. And to think we kids had no idea of the potential disaster this could have wrought upon our family. We had no way of knowing. No thought was ever given to any preventive measures. How we all exposed ourselves with such carelessness still astounds me to this day. Thankfully, we all survived.

Life goes on and we all change, usually for the better, and we find more profitable and pleasurable endeavors. But then we stop to reminisce and recount the simple things that made us happy at the time.

Nostalgia, in proper measure, can be such an all-encompassing and beautiful word!