Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Putting Food on the Table

For those who journeyed to a far off land in search of a better life, like my Gammie and Hadden ancestors in coming to early 20th century Saskatchewan, Canada, putting food on the table in the absence of modern Superstores meant hunting, fishing, trading and agriculture. Perhaps much in the same way it did for them in the Scottish Highlands. In 1904, the book "The Romance of Poaching in the Highlands of Scotland" was published, telling the stories of some of Scotland's greatest and most notorious 'poachers' - those who took game with a belief in a 'free forest.' The goal, of course, was to 'hunt' silently so as to avoid attracting the attention of local game wardens.

To accomplish the goal of putting food on the table, these silent hunters needed to be above all else, clever. My great uncle Alec Hadden shared with me many years ago, some of the tried and true methods that he knew were used in highlands when he was a boy. The top game catching 'tricks' were:

1. Raisins threaded with horse hair - the strands of horse hair needed to be not much more than one inch (about 2.5 cm) in length. Using a needle, a few strands were threaded through each raisin. These raisins were then scattered about the ground in an area frequented by pheasants. The pheasants, I'm told, would eat the raisins which would get caught in their throats because of the horse hair. The 'choked' pheasants would then fall on the ground to await pick-up by the 'hunter.'

2. Sulphur pots for Quail - Quail, I'm told, like to 'roost' in the upper branches of evergreen trees. To catch these birds, the silent 'hunters' would light a small sulphur pot at the base of the tree. The sulphur fumes would rise apparently causing causing the birds to lose consciousness and fall into the awaiting 'hunter's' hands.

3. Fishing with sulphur - another use for sulphur was to place a small amount in a glass jar with a cork top on it, running a short wick out through a small hole in the cork. By lighting the wick and floating the jar into a pool on a stream holding fish, the 'explosion' caused when the sulphur was lit would be sufficient to stun the fish and cause them to rise to the water's surface where the 'hunter' could then pick or scoop them up. The art to this technique apparently would lie in getting the quantity of sulphur just right - too much could shatter the jar, ending the 'fishing' trip.

I don't know if any of my ancestors used any of these techniques or if they knew of them simply because of common knowledge of the time - and I admit, I did not press for a confession (nor have I tried any of them myself!). But whether they were used because of a philosophical bent for the 'free forest' or used out of the necessity to feed a family, I was always amazed at how clever and inventive they were.

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