by Nancy Branch
In the rugged Nepisiguit River region of northern New Brunswick, two hunters face off. One is local sports lodge employee Danny Knockwood, a Mi’gmaw guide with a withered hand. The other is Mui’n, a one-eared black bear battling his inexorable hunger. When Danny is charged by the lodge owner to hunt down the bear that is frightening guests at the salmon pools, his personal values come into sharp conflict with his commitment to the task. The resulting confrontation tests both his physical strength and his beliefs, as Danny begins to recognize a kindred spirit within the fiercely determined bear.
IN HIS WINTER DEN below the upturned roots of a white pine, lying on a bed of balsam fir and scraped-up bits of forest duff, Mui’n awoke. The bear thrust his snout towards the narrow shaft of light from his breathing hole, ringed with ice formed by the heat of his breath. Hooking the curved claws of one large forepaw around the edge of the air vent, he pushed. A second taloned paw followed and pushed with greater force until hardened layers of snow exploded into the air. Mui’n’s front legs appeared and then his head, low to the ground, his tan-coloured nose twitching, his pink tongue tasting the air, his eyes, black and inscrutable, squinting against the insult of sunlight. Snow spilled from above one ear, the other having been torn away long ago in an escape from a Two-paw trap. The bear paced in front of his winter home, sleep-dazed, and then moved away from the stink of the den into the hungry spring.
ROLLING ONTO HIS SIDE in his bunk, Danny Knockwood pulled the grey wool blanket over his head against the sunlight pouring in through the cabin windows. Tegig, he thought, shivering. Spring sun had little warmth. Rooting deeper into a heated pocket of his bedding, Danny dozed but suddenly sat upright in the frosted morning.
“Moo elowtinook. Useless thing,” he muttered as he rubbed the numbness out of the withered hand that always gave him trouble when he overslept. In truth, the twisted appendage was not as debilitating as it appeared. Danny had learned to compensate for what nature had failed to give him. Sometimes he had to tie his left hand to the stock of his rifle when he was tracking, or prop the barrel of the gun across his elbow before taking a shot, but it never kept him from bagging game. And in his business, that was all that mattered.
“Christ, he’s a gimp,” an American sportsman had said the first day Danny had shown up for work as a guide for the Williamson Lumber Company Sports Lodge. “What kinda operation is this, anyways? Don’t want some fuggin’ gimp guidin’ us.”
But wobégwei had said little against him on his second day. The second day, Danny had appeared for work wearing a fierce, black-eyed scowl, his long hair flowing loose from under a bandana, and his shoulder-slung rifle tied with a raven feather painted to resemble an eagle’s. That day their tongues hadn’t wagged quite so much. And they’d said even less after Danny swiftly brought down the twelve-point buck one of the loudmouths had wounded with a piss-poor shot.
about the author
Maritime-born NANCY BRANCH holds an M.Ed. from the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. She now lives with her husband and son in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where she teaches Business English and English as a Second Language at Bishop’s University. One of her short stories has recently been published in The Mitre, Canada’s oldest literary journal. She is currently at work on a book of interconnected fiction stories entitled Journey Home, set on the Bay of Chaleur coast in northern New Brunswick.
from the library
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— Barbara Gowdy, author of Helpless and The White Bone
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