MacDonald, Ralph

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                                       RALPH J. MACDONALD
                                     By Ralph J. MacDonald


As a young lad in Hardwicke, New Brunswick I was happily subjected to a wonderful “Huckleberry Finn” lifestyle.

In summers I roamed the woodlands, many private spots known only to me and my dog, Bumper; dug clams, picked berries, fished in my own private fishing hole, swam in the warm waters of the Miramichi Bay, skated on The Creek, did all the things related to the seasons. It was wonderful!

Those memories could fill many books, chapter-by-chapter!

Beside me, always, wherever I went, was my trusty dog, “Bumper.” Bumper was aware of all the secret places I frequented. He learned that a dog didn’t meddle with skunks and porcupines, kept a distance with cats and that grazing deer in the spring were friends to be had.

Rowing in a dory to Fox Island, a couple of kilometers offshore, was something you did on a regular basis. There you could be alone. Nobody lived on the island, except Greg, the lighthouse keeper, who wasn’t a really friendly chap. I think he thought I was intruding on his property. Bumper didn’t like him either and he never showed any affection for my dog. The mosquitos were ferocious, coming in swarms to attack, but once you got to the other side of the island you were free of everything. Free to run the unspoiled beach for miles – no people, just the wind in your face and no mosquitos!

The island is a long narrow piece of land made up of marlin grass for the most part, a mixture of trees, some of which are stunted because of the rough winter conditions, and blueberry fields. I don’t know why they called it Fox Island because I never did see a fox, and if there were any, I would have found them!

From the end of Fox Island you can wade to Egg Island. That was another experience with thousands of birds nesting in the grasses; gulls, ducks and other waterfowl all screaming at you to “get off our island!” I believe today Egg Island is protected and so it should be.

Further on lies Bay du Vin Island. This island was inhabited in the 1800s, a farm operated there and it had, of all things, a hotel! Schooners would stop there and could enjoy “the comforts of home” in 19th century fashion. Some men jumped ship there and settled on the Miramichi, their descendants still live on the bay today.

Back in Hardwicke I had one fantastic life. With Mother having passed on, I lived with my dad and I had three wonderful aunts that lived in walking distance from our place.

Aunts Flora and Violet MacDonald and Christina Jenkins all vied up to keep an eye on me. With dad at sea most of the time, I usually stayed with one aunt or another, all of whom had boys my age.

In the early mornings I would get up, have porridge and then escape for the day. If I stayed around too long I might have to wash face and hands – something not really on my agenda.

Bumper and I would “take to the woods” and follow French River as a “courier du bois” always wondering where the river started. We would go up the south side so far to where it narrowed that you could jump across and come back on the other side. But one day we found the enchanted Indian village far up the river. It was a settlement of “Little People” and they had no connections with the outside world.

They lived off the land, hunting and fishing. And, because they had no outside connections, they had no reasons to establish fortifications. They wore loin cloths, lived in teepees and beheld a beautiful life in peace and harmony with Mother Earth.

Bumper and I would mingle with them in their tiny village and we learned to speak with them, some sign language and some verbal! The smell of their campfire, the beautiful colour of their tanned faces, and the serene stillness of them led me to appreciate how contented they were with their way of life. They had no chiefs, no written laws, no currency… they had an inbred instinct to share. Everything they gathered was shared with the community.

They communicated with the animals of the forest and Bumper and I took advantage of that. We talked with hundreds of wildlife; bears, moose, deer, raccoons and many little creatures. We got friendly with all of them. We confided in them, learned from them, and became “one of them.” When you drank from the river you changed, changed from what you were to a “Little People.”

Fighting was unknown and everybody respected their friends. I asked one of the “Little People” one day why they didn’t want to communicate with the outside world and I was told that what is out there is “the unknown,” but what was there was real and comforting. I loved these people, I wanted to stay with them forever and never leave their site, but I knew I had to return to my village that night. How perfect a world they had.

I told nobody of my visits. After all, who would believe me? And, furthermore, I’d be last to “squeal” on the “Little People.” The secret of the “Little People” will remain with me forever and although I have to live in my village I can, at least, find solace in remembering those fine people of the Forest of French River.

Today, I am too old to walk that river bank into those “unknown” forests, but memories of that day my late dog, Bumper, instill feelings of richness in the life of an old man who once walked the wood trails, jumped the old cedar rail fences, visited offshore islands and walked barefoot on the dusty roads of Hardwicke, N.B.

About that Indian Village – maybe you didn’t believe, but Bumper and I are the only ones who will ever really know.


Source: Miramichi Weekend – July 30, 2004

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