Tuesday, September 21, 2010
On the Telegraph Trail
I spend longer than I intend in Hazelton, but with Jozéf so close, I must make myself ready. I find work cooking at a fishing camp. I am finding English easier to understand, but still difficult to speak. At any rate, I have little to say. I listen, invisible, to the men telling stories around the campfire at night, and I learn.
I learn that thirty years ago, gold fever seized this land. Thousands of men came from all over and traveled even further north in search of wealth. Many died and few grew rich, but still they came to find their fortune – just as Kristian told me that Jozéf has come here to find his. Those were days of big dreams, and one such dream was to build a telegraph line a thousand miles north to Dawson City. I learn that from Hazelton, they built a lineman’s cabin every 32 miles. There are nine cabins between Hazelton and Telegraph Creek – more than 300 miles I must travel by foot, through the wilderness! The men talk of bears and wild cats. I wonder however I shall survive. But survive I must. I must find Jozéf.
I set out at the end of August with as much food as I can carry, the pistol and two ten dollar bills in my pocket – all the money I have in the world. These linemen must have supplies in their cabins. Perhaps I can purchase food from them as I go.
The air is cool, for that I am grateful. But the mountains and trees make me wish for the open plains. I follow the Telegraph Trail along the broad Skeena River, keeping the wire in sight, counting 32 miles to the first lineman’s cabin. In the flat lands of North Dakota, I easily walked 32 miles in a day. But through this thick forest, up hills and down gullies, 32 miles takes me three days. Brambles catch my clothing. Insects plague me. Giant black ravens spy on me from their high perches. Every rustle of leaves is a bear or a wild cat, stalking me.
At last I follow the wire to the first cabin, nothing more than a house of logs. I knock at the door, for despite my ragged appearance after many days in the wilderness, I am still civilized. When there is no reply, I go inside. I find one room – two bunks, a table with the telegraph machine. And food. I have had nothing but berries and stream water today, so I open a tin of beans. I barely have a mouthful when I hear him coming, whistling a tune. He opens the door – a bear of a man -- and I am caught, guilty of theft, trying to explain with my broken English that I will pay him for the food.
But the man is not angry, only surprised to see me, a woman, alone out here. He tells me his name is Sam. He wants to know my name. I tell him I am Lillian Alling. He asks me many more questions. How did I come here? Where am I going? Why am I here? I begin to think this Sam is very nosy. He works for the government. Does he plan to tell the police about me? About Jozéf? So I tell him a story. I tell him I have come from New York City. I tell him I am walking home to Russia, to Siberia. At this, Sam whistles.
Sam wants me to stay. He says it is too dangerous for me, a woman alone. Perhaps if I tell him the truth, he will understand what drives me. As it is, he calls me his “Mystery Woman” as I take my leave, heading north to Jozéf.
Labels: Travel blog