Don 1“...Some of the places around here you would never even find in an enchanted forest you know, really good spots. But like I say, in the spring you come up here this would be bright green and the tide would be in. There would be fish jumping, there would be gulls in here feeding. It would be way different. That's why a woodsman, like me, when you go to bed you sleep because you see that stuff all the time and it gives you a peace. When I sleep, I sleep. Instead of going to the bar, take a trip out the forest, even if you have to pay somebody to take you!”

[This interview was conducted on September, 2009 by Mount Allison students Sarah Trueman and Maureen Kitula. It was conducted during a walk in the woods at the Pugwash conservation site in Nova Scotia. Also present were Ashley Brzezicki, Dr. Marilyn Walker, and Louise Goodwin. The interviewee, Don Brown, is a skilled trapper who has a great deal of experience in the woods.]

Maureen
: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to have this passion for trapping.

Don: It's just that I love the woods. I just love the woods. I like being in the woods. I said to my wife if I die in the woods I'll be happy. I'm what you call the seventh son of the seventh son sort of thing. My father had seven and I'm the seventh. I used to have to look after the whole family. Because my dad was shot up in the war, I had to be the man of the family sort of. So I was the provider.

Maureen: So do you identify yourself as in touch with what's around you?

Don: Oh yah. I like the animals a lot although I have to get them. I still have a good respect for them.

Sarah: Did you get your knowledge of the land just from experiencing it?

Don: Yup. You're not born with it in you. You're born with a like of animals.

Sarah: Did you have someone who was your main teacher that told you all about it?

Don: No.

Sarah: You just went on your own and figured it out?

Don: Years ago my father came home from the war crippled up and was in a cast. And I went out and shot my first deer at ten years old to feed the family. Needless to say, the gun went that way, I went that way, and the deer went down. But it was food for the family

Maureen: Do you prefer to be alone in the woods?

Don: Alone, yah definitely alone. Some people don't do things right. They end up either throwing their gum wrapper, chase everything, or they're noisy. Oh, we just missed a snake. Like Émile says, you've got to watch the little stuff.

Maureen: How deep do you think your Métis instincts have influenced you?

Don: I'm sure they do a lot. There's bear scat with choke cherries in it. They eat the choke cherries and then the seeds are in the choke cherries. They swallow the whole thing down and they just pass it through. It's full of Vitamin C and they eat them before they have to hibernate. So Vitamin C is a necessity with hibernation. They eat a lot of that. In turn, the ones that they don't chew up end up germinating and putting out more choke cherries. So it acts like a fertilizer. Choke cherries have been gone for over a week. So that would be the last of the choke cherries. Maybe nine days old.

Sarah: How are you involved with the Métis community, if you are?

Don: Well I help out most with Émile...he's looking for stuff all the time. Instead of wasting the skull of a bear they use it for their biology and their ceremonies and I make sure nothing goes to waste. If a partridge is caught for eating, he gets the feathers for making his things with.

Maureen: Have you ever found any dead animals and found any good use for them?

Don: Yah. Two days ago I found a bird on the road. I salvaged it and took the feathers off of it.

Sarah: Do you find that a lot of people in the Métis community have been going away from the traditional way of life?

Don 2Don: Yah. It's pitiful because no races should be lost. It's like white races they're not keeping informed with their own families. You know, it's a terrible thing. Like Émile was saying, when you get your family circle, keep it.

Sarah: And what do you think can be done to change the present disrespect for the land?

Don: You know, just do what you're doing. It's up to you people right now to do all that. I mean later on we'll all be dead and your offspring are going to be told by you.

Maureen: Do you intend to pass the knowledge to your children?

Don: Yah. My son is a vice-president of a big company. He still likes to go to the woods. And my other daughter she's a registered nurse and she likes all that stuff. But I'm the main one out back.

Maureen: Are there any wild fruits around here that are edible to human beings?

Don: All kinds of them, the problem is with this time of year they're unfortunately all gone. A month ago you would have been into the raspberries, wild blueberries, hawthorne. Look at the pollution. Years and years ago the farmers that were here had to find a way of dumping their stuff. It has nothing to do with what Émile and them are doing. They'll probably get around to doing something about that.

Sarah: Can you tell us how old that track is?

Don: Yup. Less than twenty-four hours old. What happens is that you make a scuff on the fresh ground and it looks wet because it's underground. Once it gets on the surface the sun dries it out. When it dries it out the top is a different colour. It would be lighter and the bottom would be darker.

Sarah: If you could make sure that one aspect of the Métis culture was passed on for future generations what would it be, if you could choose?

Don : Well there's so much that's good about the culture. They could teach us a lot. Everything. Everything should be kept. Nobody should go extinct.

Don: Here is something really good. Here's rose hip. You eat one of those and it's got seeds in it and you spit the seeds out but one of those buds is the same as two oranges. When the Natives ground it up and made flour with it they ate that for their flour. High vitamin C so that fended off scurvy in the winter. If you're in the woods and you're hungry and you're lost and it's in the summer time this food's available all the time. If you make jam with it it's really, really good.

Maureen: What's the most important element in this ecosystem that you think has the strongest aura?

Don: Well there's no single one. Without the clean water you don't have good plants. Without clean water you don't have good animals. Without clean water you have nothing; without that air you don't have clean water. So it's one it's all linking together, like DNA everything has to be together. Some people say we don't need the water because it's not part of the plant. Right now they're not realizing what they are doing to the air. Taking the air away from us and that's everything. That's top banana. Oh they just keep doing it.

Sarah: Does happen to you often that you'll run into something (like a bear)? And if so, have you ever been in the situation where you've had kill the bear or anything like that?

Don: Yah, I got bites on my arm and on my back. One was on top of me and I stabbed it up near the groin and pulled the knife up and got him off of me so. It worked really well. I smelled a bear. Sometimes you smell them, they smell like old rag. They get wet a lot when they wallow in the water.

There's an herb, colt's foot. It has different medicinal purposes. They make teas out of it. It has hardly any smell to it at all really. When it's cooked up it shows its better features. See that yellow stuff in there, that's poison ivy. It doesn't bother me; I seem to be immune to poison ivy. I'm pretty well immune to everything.

Ashley: Is that tree the trembling aspen?

Don: Yah. It looks like the leaves are trembling. Actually when it's in the sun and you get one that's not so high just on the edge of the woods, it looks like a bunch of butterflies.

Maureen: Is it the way the moss faces the tree that is north or is it where the tree is facing that is north?

Don: No, see how that works in here it wouldn't apply because it's too thick. If you're out on the edge of a forest or in the centre of a clearing what happens is the tree will lean to the south because it wants to collect more sun so therefore the back of it is getting no sun. So it gets mossy on the back side. So it's not right dead on north but within reason it will give you an idea of which way's north, you know within degrees. You see if the moss is not usually there, it'll be right up the tree if we could find one it'd have to be in a heavier forest to see that.

Maureen: How old do you think these trees are according to the size of their trunks?

Don: Some of these here could be fifty years old. What stops them from growing is the lack of light. They don't get enough light so they just go spindling. But by the look of the trees, nothing's been cut in here for a long, long time, so you don't see any stumps. It could be anywhere between fifty and a hundred years old. What happens is they get more rings but the rings are tighter and then you have to look through a magnify glass to count the rings versus out in the sun when they grow so fast the rings get bigger.

Sarah: Do you know approximately how many bears are around this area?   

Don 3Don: Our area here, in this county, a lot of bears, I'd say close to six to eight bears per square mile... that's a lot of bears. That's not counting the ones that infiltrate the other systems. They hide in a high spot like this. You'll find a tree that's been smashed down, a root and they'll dig a hole underneath of it and line it with all kinds of stuff. I stepped on one one day. Well I just walked right on it, I went whoops.

Ashley: Jon said there was a really strong Aboriginal presence he re. I'm curious to see if you found any evidence other than what you've already mentioned, if there are flakes or anything?

Don: Well I found a bunch of arrowheads, gauges, and spearheads, but that wasn't here. I donated them all to the Halifax history museum; it should have my name on them.

Ashley: So, so far there haven't been any arrowheads or anything like that around here that you've found?

Don: Nothing so far. In this area there may not be. Where you have to find that is over by that tidal water because that's where they clammed all the time, and then they made their villages on the top of that.

...

That's what happens to the species; they just keep going without even looking you know. In here there's more, if you were in here in the spring of the year it'd be completely different. It would look dead but then everything wakes up and then just everything grows. Here it's not so bad for the plants. It's toward Halifax and the big cities where they have to reintroduce species, but not up here. We could find a plant of anything up here.

Maureen: Which trees are more dominant here?

Don: The deciduous, that would be the hardwood. They take over really fast. If you cut down a conifer, right away they'll take over but you know, it's still enhancing the bush sort of thing. They give off more oxygen than the conifers do so if you want oxygen have the hardwood and not the softwood but then they'll go plant the softwood so that they can sell the softwood and cut it down again. I'm thinking that 'well this is your air you're breathing, leave it alone'. But they've got to have that wood because they've got to build their houses. They should be recycling; they shouldn't be allowed to take any kind of wood to the dump. They take their wood, throw it in the dump and waste some perfectly good boards that could be salvaged and just throw them away. They can't deal with taking the nails out of it. Well, deal with it, that's part of the job, that's part of living, do it.

Maureen: Have there been bush fires here or anywhere around here?

Don: We're lucky, we didn't get a lot of bush of bush fires here, people are too careful here. I make sure that anybody who smokes doesn't come with me in the first place. I say, “You stink too bad, you stink worse than me if I didn't shower for two days if you smoke”. I mean we're lucky, we get the odd fire, grass fire, or the marsh gets on fire, but they leave it go, control it. If this burnt in the spring at the beginning of the year that would be an asset, it would regenerate better.

...

The peeper frog is going extinct. You can hardly hear them now. I think it's the acid rain. They're not extinct but there are a lot less of them. If you came out into the woods like ten years or fifteen years ago you'd hear “peep peep peep” just everywhere. It was just like a chorus, and now with the acid rain, they're so delicate. The acid rain seems to be killing them, that's what I think, killing them off. You [used to] hear them everywhere but now you can't hear them as much. Down around the place where I go out in Jersey there are still quite a few but there should be a lot more. It's because of cutting everything down and then the water runs off erosion into the habitat and then there's no oxygen in the water so the eggs can't hatch. Some of them are bonkers; the governments don't know this stuff. [They] just go ahead and do it, shut the forests down like that, who cares about the peepers, and it goes on and they're gone and that's gone and that's gone and the next thing you know we're gone because we didn't save the peepers.

Maureen: That view is good enough for a post card

Don: Yah, some of the places around here you would never even find in an enchanted forest you know, really good spots. But like I say, in the spring you come up here this would be right green and the tide would be in. There would be fish jumping, there would be gulls in here feeding. It would be way different. That's why a woodsman, like me, when you go to bed you sleep because you see that stuff all the time and it gives you a peace. When I sleep, I sleep.

Ashley: I don't want to go back.

Maureen: You have to be aware of what's around you.

Don: Yah. Instead of going to the bar, take a trip out the forest, even if you have to pay somebody to take you.