Cat – Found and then Lost

Mikou helping write my blog

Mikou helping write my blog

A cat found me. It was the first I have seen since moving here. It walked up to me, did a shoulder roll, locked his blue eyes into mine and I was smitten. With so many loose dogs abound, we decided to take the cat in and try to find its owner.

I contacted the Cree radio station and requested an announcement about a lost cat, wrote on the wall of the local facebook page of Buy, Sell, Trade Mistissini, and put up posters at the grocery store and post office. I gave a basic description, but did not post a picture. The cat is a distinct breed and I wanted to make sure this lovely animal went to its rightful owners. I had a few calls, but no match.

Later that evening the phone rang.

Me:  Hello?

Mail Caller:  Who’s this?

Me:  Andi.


Me:  Is this about the cat?

MC:  Yeah, I lost my cat. My daughter’s cat. What does the cat look like?

Me:  You tell me what your lost cat looks like.


MC:  Grey, I think, and some white.

Me:  Was it a male or female?

MC:  Female.

Me:  Then it’s not your cat.

MC:  Give me your address. I am coming over to see the cat.

Me:  I am not giving you my address. It’s obviously not your cat.


Me:  No, I am not giving you my address because it is not your cat. I hope you find your daughter’s cat.  Good luck.

And I hung up.

I was a bit shaken by the aggressiveness of the man, so the next day I took down the posters.

Animals here are not coddled the way I am used to. They run loose in town, reproduce at will and when there are too many, they are culled. We’ve observed dogs tied to short chains, standing in excrement and watched one neighbouring dog standing in the freezing rain all day … he had to stand, because the alternative was to lie in a puddle of icy water.

“Mikou” (Mikey & Blue) was adapting to his new environment very well, staying close when I was on the computer and eventually venturing out to hunt a vole or lemming for me.

We discussed adopting this cat and I set up an appointment at the veterinarian in Chibougamau to have the cat scanned for a microchip and eventual castration. For holidays and trips south, a retired artist acquaintance in Chibougamau agreed to foster Mikou.

“We are taking a trip in the summer,” he assured me, “But I will arrange for someone to come into the house to take care of him.”

Was it my right to keep this cat? Had I done everything possible to find the owner?

But before making a final commitment, I posted picture on the local facebook page. The picture did not show the colour of the cat’s eyes clearly, nor the distinct markings on the tail.

The night before the vet’s appointment I received two more messages. A woman believed it was her 10-year-old son’s cat, and the woman’s sister, who believed it is her nephew’s cat. The cat had been a gift to the boy from his father. Then I received a message from the boy’s father who told me to bring the cat to his son.

All three adults could not describe the distinct markings on the cat’s tail (black ringed) nor did they know the colour of its eyes (blue), or even the gender of the cat (it is a very obvious male).

There were many messages back and forth, with me continually requesting some simple information.

“It’s my son’s cat. I don’t really know it.” Was one response

Finally, a picture was found. After going to the home and seeing the picture, which was obviously Mikou, we released him to his owners.

Our Mikou is now home with his family.  Only they’ve always called him “Minou.”


Feast for the Geese and One Tough Old Bird!

Community Welcome Back from Goose Break Feast

Community Welcome Back from Goose Break Feast

One of Andy’s students was adamant that we go with him to the Goose Break Community Feast.

“I will pick you up at 5:30 and you will be my guests,” he told us.

Round tables were set up at the arena for the event. On stage, tepees had been erected on a layer of spruce boughs, providing a place for kids to play hide and seek during the evening. Each table was set up with water bottles and a platter of fresh baking:  blueberry muffins, gently spiced boudin, thick, chewy cookies, and my beloved frybread.

Groups were already seated, and more families trickled in as mothers breastfed their babies, with grandparents toting toddlers, and the children playing quietly.

The feast was to begin at 5:45. Food was distributed, elders first, and then we waited for opening prayers … and waited and waited. That frybread, with the slightly crunchy crust, and soft innards, tasting so faintly of cinnamon and nutmeg was looking better and better. I was going to faint if I couldn’t bite into a piece soon!

Finally prayers were offered in Cree and we were able to tuck into our dinners.  Plates of two types of macaroni salad and a generous portion Canada goose were set before us. It was a surprisingly dark brown colour. I grab my plastic fork and knife and begin to cut. After breaking two tines of my fork I give up. Our host is watching me with amusement.

“You’ve got to eat Indian style,” he demonstrated as he grabbed the carcass and chewed.

I noticed that everyone was doing all right with their plastic implements. Next time I bring cutlery – but wait, didn’t I have that little Swiss army knife attached to my key chain? Eventually, I did manage to saw off a small piece of goose. It was chewy and tough, with a slight livery under taste.

This was also a special time for young boys, who had shot their first goose. They were called to the stage one by one and were presented with a certificate which indicated the age of the boy, the date of the first kill and the type of weapon used. Each child was applauded and pictures were taken of the beaming boys, some as young as six.

After dessert and a raffle for door prizes donated from local businesses or the band council, it was time for a goose calling competition. First the men held their contest to much hilarity and then the women. If I was goose, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, they sounded so good!

A young woman handed out pieces of beaded jewelry at random to women and I was the lucky recipient of a pretty pair of pink earrings. Must get my ears repierced.

The next day I asked another student why he wasn’t at the feast, because I saw the rest of his family there.

“I like my goose fresh, roasted on a fire,” he replied.

Subaru at Chibougamau

We drove into Chibougamau after work to take my car in for servicing. Andy was told that a good place to eat was a hotel restaurant, named after two Shakespearean characters. On our way out of the garage, we asked one of the service people at the counter, if indeed, this was a good place to eat.

“If you want something special, that’s where you go,” was the response.

Andy was served a hamburger plate with light brown phlegmy gravy, which he said tasted about as bad as it looked. A couple of cubes of boiled turnip and carrot accompanied it. The hamburger had grill markings on it, such as the ones bought frozen from the grocery store and it tasted overwhelmingly of BBQ sauce, even though there was no sauce on it. My Caesar salad consisted of rather limp romaine, covered with a swirl of bottled dressing. Mounded on top was a pile of coarsely grated cheddar cheese and little pink bits, which may have been artificial bacon. The special pasta I ordered was spaghetti covered with sauce made from a can of diced tomatoes with a few vegetables chopped into it. However, our Coors Lights were fresh and tasty.

We had no dessert or coffee. The bill came to $68.00, not including tip.

You can take the girl out of Montreal, but not the Montreal out of the girl.

From now on we cook at home or try to solicit more invitations to feasts.

When will it Stop?

I am writing an article about a specialized vocational program offered in a neighbouring community. I called the instructor to ask some preliminary questions and to set up an interview. I asked how many students he had.

“Five, but now only four,” he said. “I used to have five students, but one is in jail. He will be there for a long, long time.”

I didn’t press for an answer, but he continued anyways.

“His wife, they had to helicopter her out. I saw a picture. Her head was like a black and blue soccer ball.”

I do not know violence, except for what I’ve seen on TV. I have never seen adults hit one another.

I realize that statistics for violent crimes and abuse in northern, isolated communities is higher than the norm. I hear about it, but haven’t seen it yet, and hope I never will. Where does this happen? What is behind the shy smiles, the softly spoken Cree language?

The first week Andy arrived, there was a horrific head-on car collision, a suicide and a fatal beating. For the latter, two friends, after an evening of drinking and taking drugs, began to fight. One was bludgeoned to death. It was a closed casket service, as the body was unidentifiable.

Recently, at the local court, a young woman was called before the judge. She had been fighting with her boyfriend. When the boyfriend’s brother tried to intervene, she took a knife and stabbed the brother in the chest.

“What will happen to her?” I asked.

“She’s in the process of apologizing to family members,” was the answer.

On bulletin boards around town, there are notices for meetings for “Survivors of Residential Schools.”

Many adults of the community are still experiencing the trickle effect of residential schools. Children were removed from their homes and communities and sent to these schools. Did the lack of a nurturing upbringing create situations where parenting skills, which would have been acquired in a loving home, were somehow lost?

Alcohol? I don’t even know where to begin on that topic, except there must be a reason for dry communities.

Is it unusual for a small town, such as here, to have a bouncer at the local Tim Hortons?

Green Grass and Blue Waters

The view from our window in May

The view from our window in May

“How was the hunt?” I asked Andy as we approached Mistissini on our way back after Goose Break.

It hadn’t been that great, he explained. Instead of the usual 100 or so geese per hunter, this year’s yield was far less.

The ice had melted too quickly.

For the hunt, a large opening is carved in the lake with chain saws. In this artificial lake, decoys are set. But with the rapid melting of the ice, the decoys scattered making hunting less contained when the geese landed.

Spring came quickly this year. Just before Goose Break, the lake was frozen solid and there were several feet of snow on the ground. Now the lake was blue and the trees were shimmering pale green.

Up here, Spring CAN arrive too soon!

Winter View
Winter View

Why I love the Saquenay

It was time for Andy and me to head back north. We planned to stop in the Saguenay on our way and camp one night, instead of pushing through in one day as was custom.

I’ve always delighted in the lovely lilt of the Lac St. Jean area. A “merci” for directions, service in restaurants and stores is met with a resounding “Avec plaisir!”

The words flow melodiously, rising so slightly at the end of the sentence, and always accompanied by a wide smile. I have no trouble understanding French of that area, unlike Montreal joual, which is still a foreign language for me.

We found a campground, just north of La Tuque, one of the last settlements before the Saguenay. It had the charming name of “Camping Haut de la Chute” (Camping on top of the falls). The owner, Josée, insisted that reserving a site was not required.

« Il n’est pas nécessaire, il y a beaucoup d’espace! »

When we arrived, Josée was there to meet us.

“You are the couple that wants a quiet, woodsy place,” she said, smiling and shaking our hands.

We asked her where the nearest store was so we could purchase milk for our morning coffee. “Oh, non! C’est ne pas nécessaire! She cried.  She insisted it was too long a drive and asked us to bring a container, which she would fill with milk for us.

She then crammed us into her Golf cart to show us our site, overlooking the waterfall. It was heavily guarded by a chipmunk. After given passage, we established camp. This is very simple with an RV. We just plunked down two chairs overlooking the bluff. Since we had nothing else to do, we pulled a couple of Coors out of the fridge.

After a lovely slumber, the cedars wafting their heady scent and listening to the cascades, we packed up.

Josée met us again, shook our hands and wished us well with her warm smile.

Our first off the ground camping trip was absolutely perfect!

Little Brother comes for a Visit

My brother delighted in the trilingual signs - with French as a third language

My brother delighted in the trilingual signs – with French as a third language

Goose break is over and it was time for Andy to head north. What about me? Our break coincided with my mother’s hip replacement surgery and I wanted to stay behind for as long as she needed me. She adamantly insisted she was absolutely fine. She left rehab early against her doctor’s and physiotherapist’s recommendations.

“I want to be in my own home, by the river, in the house I’ve always lived in. That’s where I feel best,” she told them. In the short time I was there, she graduated from walker to cane to walking unassisted.

It was decided:  My brother, Chris, would drive north with Andy. Chris had some time off and looked forward to the drive and seeing our new home. I would stay behind to be with my mother. The next weekend, the two men would drive back to Montreal, and then Andy and I would head back north.

Chris was busy despite Murray’s Lodge being in the process of relocating to Elder’s Point and A.D.E.L.S. being closed due to renovation.

But my brother had a great time anyways. He spent a day at Chibougamau and made business contacts in the auto service industry, test drove my Subaru, walked around town, delighted in photographing the trilingual signs (with French considered a third language here), visited Andy and his students at the shop, had dinner with a colleague to enjoy fresh fish, and ate pan-fried moose steaks.

“How do you like it?” I asked eagerly when he called from Mistissini.

“I can’t get over the garbage. Everywhere, in the little streams, on the sides of the road. Garbage, garbage and garbage!”  **

I was disappointed, I had hoped to hear that he was having a great time, if at least an interesting one.

Before he hung up, he said “I’ll be back soon, maybe in a few weeks. I absolutely love it up there!”

** Just a note:  The band council hires townspeople for cleanup. Alongside the major roads, cleanup crews are busy and huge black garbage bags line the sides of the roads, awaiting pickup. He’ll be surprized when he comes back!