On the Labour Day weekend of 1974 or '75, my parents and I, along with Dad's mother and her friend Val Head, embarked on a fishing trip well north of the 57th parallel: to be precise, Mile 35 out of Lynn Lake, Manitoba on the road to Co-op Point near Vandekerckhove Lake. There we met Dad's friend Sheldon LeBlanc and LeBlanc's father-in-law. Dad met LeBlanc through Acklands, Limited; Dad set up and managed the branch in Leaf Rapids, while LeBlanc managed the store in Lynn Lake.
Before my recent trip to Alaska,this surely must have been my farthest trip north, a bumpy, desolate drive on barely-maintained gravel or dirt roads. I remember very little about the drive or the fishing (which Dad reports as "excellent;" apparently we caught plenty of great pickerel), but I recall with perfect clarity the unwanted guest that intruded upon our campfire.
Night had fallen, and it was terribly cold. The stars shone down through a clear black sky and the silhouettes of the tall pines, providing light but no warmth. For that, the seven of us huddled around the campfire as steaks sizzled on the Hibachi. (It was so cold, in fact, that Mom put her feet right in the campfire and melted the soles of her shoes.)
Then, from out of the darkness came the rapid flutter of beating wings. A whiskeyjack landed right on the grill, attempting to steal a piece of steak. It managed only to burn its talons, leaping back into the night, circling the fire, twittering in annoyance. A moment later it landed again...right on the top of my head.
I yelled in pain as the bird's claws sank into my skull. The adults were astounded, and Mom ran into our tent trailer, searching frantically for the camera.
"Don't move!" everyone said. "It'll fly away!"
"Ow!" I responded pitifully, enduring the pain.
And so I stood there, stoic, my face scrunched up, trying not to cry. The whiskeyjack twittered arrogantly, and at last Mom emerged from the tent trailer. She got into position, raised the camera...and the bird launched itself back into the night the instant before she could trigger the shutter.
I grumbled a little and rubbed my head, having endured the pain for nothing, but now that I'm grown I certainly understand everyone's desire to capture the image; it would have been one for the books.