List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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the moisture of the reeking atmosphere, shower it upon the earth
from every dripping twig. The cheerless and uncomfortable aspect of
things without never fails to produce a corresponding effect upon
the minds of those within, and casts such a damp upon the spirits
that it appears to destroy for a time all sense of enjoyment. Many
persons (and myself among the number) are made aware of the approach
of a thunder-storm by an intense pain and weight about the head; and
I have heard numbers of Canadians complain that a thaw always made
them feel bilious and heavy, and greatly depressed their animal

I had a great desire to visit our new location, but when I looked
out upon the cheerless waste, I gave up the idea, and contented
myself with hoping for a better day on the morrow; but many morrows
came and went before a frost again hardened the road sufficiently
for me to make the attempt.

The prospect from the windows of my sister's log hut was not very
prepossessing. The small lake in front, which formed such a pretty
object in summer, now looked like an extensive field covered with
snow, hemmed in from the rest of the world by a dark belt of sombre
pine-woods. The clearing round the house was very small, and only
just reclaimed from the wilderness, and the greater part of it
covered with piles of brushwood, to be burnt the first dry days of
spring. The charred and blackened stumps on the few acres that had
been cleared during the preceding year were everything but
picturesque; and I concluded, as I turned, disgusted, from the
prospect before me, that there was very little beauty to be found in
the backwoods. But I came to this decision during a Canadian thaw,
be it remembered, when one is wont to view every object with
jaundiced eyes.

Moodie had only been able to secure sixty-six acres of his
government grant upon the Upper Katchawanook Lake, which, being
interpreted, means in English, the "Lake of the Waterfalls," a very
poetical meaning, which most Indian names have. He had, however,
secured a clergy reserve of two hundred acres adjoining; and he
afterwards purchased a fine lot, which likewise formed part of the
same block, one hundred acres, for 150 pounds.[1] This was an
enormously high price for wild land; but the prospect of opening
the Trent and Otonabee for the navigation of steamboats and other
small craft, was at that period a favourite speculation, and its
practicability, and the great advantages to be derived from it,
were so widely believed as to raise the value of the wild lands
along these remote waters to an enormous price; and settlers in
the vicinity were eager to secure lots, at any sacrifice, along
their shores.

[1] After a lapse of fifteen years, we have been glad to sell these
lots of land, after considerable clearings had been made upon them,
for less than they originally cost us.

Our government grant was upon the lake shore, and Moodie had chosen
for the site of his log house a bank that sloped gradually from the
edge of the water, until it attained to the dignity of a hill. Along
the top of this ridge, the forest road ran, and midway down the
hill, our humble home, already nearly completed, stood, surrounded
by the eternal forest. A few trees had been cleared in its immediate
vicinity, just sufficient to allow the workmen to proceed, and to
prevent the fall of any tree injuring the building, or the danger
of its taking fire during the process of burning the fallow.

A neighbour had undertaken to build this rude dwelling by contract,
and was to have it ready for us by the first week in the new year.
The want of boards to make the divisions in the apartments alone
hindered him from fulfilling his contract. These had lately been
procured, and the house was to be ready for our reception in the
course of a week. Our trunks and baggage had already been conveyed
thither by Mr. D---; and, in spite of my sister's kindness and
hospitality, I longed to find myself once more settled in a home
of my own.

The day after our arrival, I was agreeably surprised by a visit from
Monaghan, whom Moodie had once more taken into his service. The poor
fellow was delighted that his nurse-child, as he always called
little Katie, had not forgotten him, but evinced the most lively
satisfaction at the sight of her dark friend.

Early every morning, Moodie went off to the house; and the first
fine day, my sister undertook to escort me through the wood, to
inspect it. The proposal was joyfully accepted; and although I felt
rather timid when I found myself with only my female companion in
the vast forest, I kept my fears to myself, lest I should be
laughed at. This foolish dread of encountering wild beasts in the
woods, I never could wholly shake off, even after becoming a
constant resident in their gloomy depths, and accustomed to follow
the forest-path, alone, or attended with little children, daily.
The cracking of an old bough, or the hooting of the owl, was
enough to fill me with alarm, and try my strength in a precipitate
flight. Often have I stopped and reproached myself for want of
faith in the goodness of Providence, and repeated the text, "The
wicked are afraid when no man pursueth: but the righteous are as
bold as a lion," as if to shame myself into courage. But it would
not do; I could not overcome the weakness of the flesh. If I had
one of my infants with me, the wish to protect the child from any
danger which might beset my path gave me for a time a fictitious
courage; but it was like love fighting with despair.

It was in vain that my husband assured me that no person had ever
been attacked by wild animals in the woods, that a child might
traverse them even at night in safety; whilst I knew that wild
animals existed in those woods, I could not believe him, and my
fears on this head rather increased than diminished.

The snow had been so greatly decreased by the late thaw, that it
had been converted into a coating of ice, which afforded a dangerous
and slippery footing. My sister, who had resided for nearly twelve
months in the woods, was provided for her walk with Indian
moccasins, which rendered her quite independent; but I stumbled
at every step. The sun shone brightly, the air was clear and
invigorating, and, in spite of the treacherous ground and my foolish
fears, I greatly enjoyed my first walk in the woods. Naturally of a
cheerful, hopeful disposition, my sister was enthusiastic in her
admiration of the woods. She drew such a lively picture of the
charms of a summer residence in the forest that I began to feel
greatly interested in her descriptions, and to rejoice that we, too,
were to be her near neighbours and dwellers in the woods; and this
circumstance not a little reconciled me to the change.

Hoping that my husband would derive an income equal to the one he
had parted with from the investment of the price of his commission
in the steam-boat stock, I felt no dread of want. Our legacy of 700
pounds had afforded us means to purchase land, build our house, and
give out a large portion of land to be cleared, and, with a
considerable sum of money still in hand, our prospects for the
future were in no way discouraging.

When we reached the top of the ridge that overlooked our cot, my
sister stopped, and pointed out a log-house among the trees.
"There, S---," she said, "is your home. When that black cedar-swamp
is cleared away, that now hides the lake from us, you will have a
very pretty view." My conversation with her had quite altered the
aspect of the country, and predisposed me to view things in the most
favourable light. I found Moodie and Monaghan employed in piling up
heaps of bush near the house, which they intended to burn off by
hand previous to firing the rest of the fallow, to prevent any risk
to the building from fire. The house was made of cedar logs, and
presented a superior air of comfort to most dwellings of the same
kind. The dimensions were thirty-six feet in length, and thirty-two
in breadth, which gave us a nice parlour, a kitchen, and two small
bed-rooms, which were divided by plank partitions. Pantry or
store-room there was none; some rough shelves in the kitchen, and
a deal cupboard in a corner of the parlour, being the extent of our
accommodations in that way.

Our servant, Mary Tate, was busy scrubbing out the parlour and
bed-room; but the kitchen, and the sleeping-room off it, were still
knee-deep in chips, and filled with the carpenter's bench and tools,
and all our luggage. Such as it was, it was a palace when compared
to Old Satan's log hut, or the miserable cabin we had wintered in
during the severe winter of 1833, and I regarded it with complacency
as my future home.

While we were standing outside the building, conversing with my
husband, a young gentleman, of the name of Morgan, who had lately
purchased land in that vicinity, went into the kitchen to light his
pipe at the stove, and, with true backwood carelessness, let the
hot cinder fall among the dry chips that strewed the floor. A few
minutes after, the whole mass was in a blaze, and it was not without
great difficulty that Moodie and Mr. R--- succeeded in putting out
the fire. Thus were we nearly deprived of our home before we had
taken up our abode in it.

The indifference to the danger of fire in a country where most
of the dwellings are composed of inflammable materials, is truly
astonishing. Accustomed to see enormous fires blazing on every
hearth-stone, and to sleep in front of these fires, his bedding
often riddled with holes made by hot particles of wood flying out
during the night, and igniting beneath his very nose, the sturdy
backwoodsman never dreads an enemy in the element that he is used to
regard as his best friend. Yet what awful accidents, what ruinous
calamities arise, out of this criminal negligence, both to himself
and others!

A few days after this adventure, we bade adieu to my sister, and
took possession of our new dwelling, and commenced "a life in the

The first spring we spent in comparative ease and idleness. Our cows
had been left upon our old place during the winter. The ground had
to be cleared before it could receive a crop of any kind, and I had
little to do but to wander by the lake shore, or among the woods,
and amuse myself.

These were the halcyon days of the bush. My husband had purchased a
very light cedar canoe, to which he attached a keel and a sail; and
most of our leisure hours, directly the snows melted, were spent
upon the water.

These fishing and shooting excursions were delightful. The pure
beauty of the Canadian water, the sombre but august grandeur of the
vast forest that hemmed us in on every side and shut us out from the
rest of the world, soon cast a magic spell upon our spirits, and we
began to feel charmed with the freedom and solitude around us. Every
object was new to us. We felt as if we were the first discoverers
of every beautiful flower and stately tree that attracted our
attention, and we gave names to fantastic rocks and fairy isles, and
raised imaginary houses and bridges on every picturesque spot which
we floated past during our aquatic excursions. I learned the use of
the paddle, and became quite a proficient in the gentle craft.

It was not long before we received visits from the Indians, a people
whose beauty, talents, and good qualities have been somewhat
overrated, and invested with a poetical interest which they scarcely
deserve. Their honesty and love of truth are the finest traits in
characters otherwise dark and unlovely. But these are two God-like
attributes, and from them spring all that is generous and ennobling
about them.

There never was a people more sensible of kindness, or more grateful
for any little act of benevolence exercised towards them. We met
them with confidence; our dealings with them were conducted with the
strictest integrity; and they became attached to our persons, and in
no single instance ever destroyed the good opinion we entertained of

The tribes that occupy the shores of all these inland waters, back
of the great lakes, belong to the Chippewa or Missasagua Indians,
perhaps the least attractive of all these wild people, both with
regard to their physical and mental endowments.

The men of this tribe are generally small of stature, with very
coarse and repulsive features. The forehead is low and retreating,
the observing faculties large, the intellectual ones scarcely
developed; the ears large, and standing off from the face; the eyes
looking towards the temples, keen, snake-like, and far apart; the
cheek-bones prominent; the nose long and flat, the nostrils very
round; the jaw-bone projecting, massy, and brutal; the mouth
expressing ferocity and sullen determination; the teeth large, even,
and dazzlingly white. The mouth of the female differs widely in
expression from that of the male; the lips are fuller, the jaw less
projecting, and the smile is simple and agreeable. The women are a
merry, light-hearted set, and their constant laugh and incessant
prattle form a strange contrast to the iron taciturnity of their
grim lords.

Now I am upon the subject, I will recapitulate a few traits and
sketches of these people, as they came under my own immediate

A dry cedar-swamp, not far from the house, by the lake shore, had
been their usual place of encampment for many years. The whole block
of land was almost entirely covered with maple trees, and had
originally been an Indian sugar-bush. Although the favourite spot
had now passed into the hands of strangers, they still frequented
the place, to make canoes and baskets, to fish and shoot, and
occasionally to follow their old occupation.

Scarcely a week passed away without my being visited by the dark
strangers; and as my husband never allowed them to eat with the
servants (who viewed them with the same horror that Mrs. D--- did
black Mollineux), but brought them to his own table, they soon grew
friendly and communicative, and would point to every object that
attracted their attention, asking a thousand questions as to its
use, the material of which it was made, and if we were inclined to
exchange it for their commodities?

With a large map of Canada, they were infinitely delighted. In a
moment they recognised every bay and headland in Ontario, and almost
screamed with delight when, following the course of the Trent with
their fingers, they came to their own lake.

How eagerly each pointed out the spot to his fellows; how intently
their black heads were bent down, and their dark eyes fixed upon the
map. What strange, uncouth exclamations of surprise burst from their
lips as they rapidly repeated the Indian names for every lake and
river on this wonderful piece of paper.

The old chief, Peter Nogan, begged hard for the coveted treasure. He
would give "Canoe, venison, duck, fish, for it; and more by and by."

I felt sorry that I was unable to gratify his wishes; but the map
had cost upwards of six dollars, and was daily consulted by my
husband, in reference to the names and situations of localities
in the neighbourhood.

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