I am liking to think winter has had its share of our time and effort in Canada. The problem being we who call this home know it is far from changing anytime soon. We are seeing change in small increments at times like yesterday we had a 20 degree temperature swing for the better and last night and again today a fresh layer of snow.
So please do settle in as I pen a little of one recluse I came to know at the barrel of a shotgun. Well that is where I will start to share a little of the man known as Whiskey Jake. The fireplace is slowly burning, coffee and tea are on and yes Angel is here to cuddle and soak up any attention you may have to offer.
I was never a trophy hunter, rather always choosing the older and weaker moose and elk for my winter meat supply. My old van named Rolly's Royce had found its way through some very challenging terrain into an area I had only been to once. It was here I had found and older animal who had seen its better day. Even though he was a massive animal his time was limited and that year he would stock my freezer.
The Royce was capable of anywhere travel being a converted 4x4 with a winch on either end and as guessed I had built it with one thing in mind. Getting as far back into the wilderness as I could for the best hunting. This particular day it was very stormy with limited vision. To make a long story short the hunt had not been successful and to find that I had left the lights on and the van was stone dead.
I endded up spending the night camped out and when I awoke in the morning I could smell woodsmoke. Even though the likelihood of finding a battery to boost me I ventured out a little further up the trail and thus the meeting of the man known too most as Whiskey Jake.
Instinct and Fear
Just when man thinks he is alone is the time when you least expect meeting someone. Such was the case this day as I come across a series on rough painted signs, "No Trespassing, Stay Away and Leave Me Alone."
I had two things in mind that day, get a boost and get away. A half mile down into a ravine I found an older Willys Jeep that had seen it's better day. It had been hand painted in camouflage colours with a brush. I thought rather crude but not nearly as crude as the man who had done the task. I walked only a few hundred yards and was again faced with several signs that made a point of not being welcomed as I stood contemplating my next move.
It was then I heard the distinct sound of a shotgun being loaded with a deep voice which said only "Get Out." Not exactly the words you care to hear when you see the man behind the gun with full intension of letting you know the meaning of his warning. There is nothing which speaks louder than a double barrelled shotgun aimed in your general direction. Then he spoke again "Keep that rifle on your shoulder, obvious you do not read so well, turn around and leave.
After my explanation of needing a boast he lowered the gun slightly and spoke in that deep voice with a heavy accent. "Fool people are never prepared, what do you have in trade if I help you?" Trading was relatively common in the bush should you meet another. Things like chewing tobacco, staples such as flour, sugar etc were common place. As it turned out chewing tobacco was considered a fair trade. His instructions were to stay where I was and he would return with a battery. "No battery in the old girl I have it at the cabin, when I need it its ready." That said he turned and in a matter of moments and he disappeared into the trees. I was left to simply wait until he came back.
That was my first encounter with the man I come to know as Whiskey Jake, not the friendliest man but intriguing as to what would cause a man to want to live so far from anyone. Needless to say his having such an antisocial way about him.
A few hours later we were standing by the Royce which was running I handed over my tin of tobacco and bid him farewell.
He spoke again and said next time you are out this way you are welcomed if you bring flour, sugar and canned milk. Leave it at the sign that says "Leave Me Alone. There will be payment under the large log to the right of it. Keep in mind you are not welcome." He turned and walked away carrying his battery and shotgun and tin of tobacco. I watched a few minutes then heard a call from below. "More tobacco and take only the big bull moose."
A few weeks later I returned and early in the morning I did shot the big bull. After packing out the animal in quarters I stopped at his sign and placed the staples he had ordered. As I was about to leave he stepped out of the bush and spoke again. "Leave me some fresh liver I see that you got the old boy." This time the shotgun was aimed at the ground and his tone seemed to change.
Under the log I found something wrapped in oil cloth. It was a handmade knife with the name Frank Fridgeham roughly stamped in the handle. I still have that knife today and it has proven itself as one of the best I have ever used.
His Past Revealed
In life we have no idea what the other has been through unless they are willing to share in kindness. In doing so people respond in trust even though it may seem without heart. Whiskey was as individual as one could expect to take his own time in telling their story. Over the period of the next few years of visiting a few times per year he started to open up. Whiskey's dwelling had been built with his own hand and like many in outlying areas he was no more than a squatter. His lifestyle made for himself was one of choice, the reason came out after time. He had been raised in Germany and had fled during the time of the war.
Like many of his time facing what was before them he managed passage by ship to a new land. He found he was accepted but in his own words would say "I was never comfortable around people and felt the call to a life of seclusion." He spoke them with tears in his eyes. At the age of 14 he was forced to watch his parents and three siblings beaten and shot to death at the hands of the SS for harbouring Jewish people during the war. He had been beaten and left for dead. He would smile and say God was not finished with him yet.
Even though he had seen far more than any child should see he still held his faith in the Bible which sat opened on the table. Though the cabin was small he had an array of books in his library by some well known authors. Ask a question and he would reach for any book he felt could better answer the question.
One question which I asked on a regular basis was "Why live alone out here."
He would only smile and point out the one small window. "I stand and look at nature as being untouched, she is truthful in all ways. She never lies, never cheats you from seeing her beauty and yes her fury. I choose her over mankind and the world he has created in his attempts to become God over his false ideology."
I made it a point to stop a few times a year, it was one December before Christmas I found Whiskey's remains. He had passed away in a fire which had started from his homemade stove made from a barrel. Whiskey had died being a part of the land he loved. Nothing was left of his life, he left with nothing but the life he had lived.
I hold onto a few things he taught me. God and nature have become a great source of comfort over the years even though I live far from the peace and quiet he had surrounded himself with. I did later learn his true name was Jake, thats it just Jake. No last name and the reason for the name whiskey was not due to drinking but acquired due to the fact he was rich and strong as good whiskey. I was truly blessed to know this man who shared his story with me.... such is the story of the man known only as Whiskey.
© Rolly A. Chabot
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