May 29, 2013, by Orion staff
The May/June 2013 issue of Orion contains “Trapline,” an essay by David Treuer about his search for a skill—beaver trapping—which, after a childhood in Minnesota’s Leach Lake Reservation, holds a special spot in his sense of heritage and place. Here’s David on his time in the Canadian taiga, the origin of his essay, and the particular numbness of a trapper’s hands.
The experience you write about in “Trapline” takes place in northwestern Ontario, in the Canadian taiga. That’s a place not many people have visited—can you tell us a bit about what it’s like out there?
The boreal forest (or taiga) is my favorite landscape. It’s where I feel most at home. How can I describe something that is indescribably beautiful and varied? On one hand the boreal forest is the largest forest biome in the world, much larger than the Amazonian rainforest. It circles the globe—Canada, Alaska, Russia, Scandinavia. In Canada, where I spend a lot of time, the taiga is dominated by spruce and balsam, Precambrian granite, lakes, rivers, beaver ponds, swamps, and brush. In the summer travel by water is the only way to get around. The winter is much better for traveling since you can cross the ice.
It’s not what I would call a majestic landscape. There are few vistas. No mountains. When you are in it you are more or less either stuck in the trees or at water level. So while it’s not majestic it is intimate, vast, profound, and mostly quiet. No roads or cities, few towns. I’m kind of glad that not many people go there!
Growing up, you were exposed to the culture and practice of trapping animals. When did you begin to feel a desire to participate?
I did grow up around trappers but I cared more for Dungeons & Dragons and marching band (band geek!) while in high school. My yearning for the landscape and for activities tied to it (hunting, trapping, fishing) was born while I was far away, in college. I didn’t realize how important the place and the practices of my youth were to me until I couldn’t do them anymore. Trapping, in particular, became important when I moved back to Minnesota in the mid-1990s.
It’s funny, but I attached myself to trappers and trapping in the same way I had attached myself to writers and writing. I basically prostrated myself before the enormity of an activity, a calling, much larger than I was, practiced by people much more knowledgeable than I. In both cases—writing and trapping—humbling oneself can feel really good; to admit that you know nothing, that others know more, and to place yourself under their tutelage and at the mercy of their expertise…. It’s a great feeling.
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