Mercury

As good as La Croix felt to my spirits, double more did Narrow Falls drag me down and below. La Croix voted themselves dry 14 years ago. It is water-locked. Sure, the occasional bottle got smuggled in. I myself had to fly out a drowning victim caused by drinking. And when they got to town, where drink was plentiful, often a big skid was at the end of their visit. But at the village the people laughed and joked with us. They helped us dock and unload.
They also knew respect. On medical days even the most fragile and suffering members of their community got firm but tender help by the bravest of the braves. When a person is half crippled by illness or pain it poses a considerable problem to walk up the narrow plank, duck through the small door and squeeze onto the bush seat of a Beaver.
Narrow falls, however, was different. Narrow Falls did have a road connecting it with the rest of the world. Only when it got flooded in the spring or a pileup of old beaters prevented traffic did we fly there.
Twenty or so ramshackle houses littered the shoreline of a fairly big lake. One was not supposed to eat the fish in it. The construction of a fair-sized dam upstream made the in-flowing river set vast areas of woods and grasses underwater with the result that the rotting biomass released mercury too fast and too much so that it was to exceed the national health limits.
After years of court battles and many deaths and bodily abnormalities induced by the poison in newborns, the Indians had won a cash settlement. The chief and his brother stole half and left the area for good, the rest bought enough booze to pretty well destroy all but very few of the adults. But, the children paid the biggest price.
An Ontario Provincial Police, as a passenger, told me he has seen the children running around in the winter with T-shirts and shoes with their toes poking out at 40 below. When they get sick nobody nurses them. The parents lie in a stupor somewhere or keep drinking at one of the always happening parties. The suicide rate is the highest in the country.
During the summer a week hardly passes without a violent death, the OPP continues. Either a hanging, a brutal knife or ax murder, or a couple times he discovered a body where the liver had not taken the abuse anymore and the pressure built up in it had finally relieved itself in an explosion, spurting blood out of its ears, mouth, asshole, and nostrils. A very bloody sight.

I could imagine.

When I tied the floatplane to a couple of disintegrating boards, barely held together by bent rusty nails and thin ropes on split cribs, two kids limped down to the plane.

"Did you bring us some booze, whiteman?"

"How come you are not in school ?"

"We don't have to go to school. We are Indians. Do you have some booze or no?"

"No, I don't have no alcohol."

"Go fuck off then."

He couldn't be more then eight years old, all scrubby and dirty. I want to lunge forward and grab him, but out the corner of my eye I see a movement at the backside of the plane. Another, even smaller, boy had slithered in that door and attempted to steal anything he could get his hands on.
The older one let out a warning cry and the little kid jumped into the lake, where he tried to swim to shore but started to sink. So, with one foot on the float and one hand holding to the strut, I grabbed him by his hair and pulled him over to the dock. He swung at me and then ran after his buddy, screaming and cursing.
I took the three boxes out of my bird and placed them on the sand beach. Schoolbooks and two others marked with social health and welfare stickers. I looked around the village, amazed that such a mess could exist. Garbage all over, paper and plastic bits flapping, a pile of gray antlers and a couple toothless grinning moose skulls.
Further down the lakeshore lay a snowmachine on its side, bullet holes through the cowling and a ripped track. Then I saw the two kids again, dragging an adult in tow. In one hand he held a bottle, it couldn't be nothing but whiskey, and in the other he carried a rifle. The kids pointed at me from the top of the hill, maybe fifty yards away and yelled at the man.
What happened then I still have a hard time believing. The man dropped to his knee, placed the butt of the rifle in his shoulder and aimed at me. I've left docks quick before, but this time I broke all records. I had the Beaver pushed off the dock and the engine running within seconds, when I heard the first shot. That one must have been wide, because the second one I felt hitting the plane.
Of course I kept going, thinking my chances lay better with a shot plane then to stick around 'till he hit me. At home base we found a hole at the top of the tailfin. Tom phoned the cops and a cruiser appeared.
"We'll look into it, but I can tell you nothing will happen. There ain't gonna be no witnesses. They probably wouldn't remember if they tried."
"How come nothing is done to help with the kids?"
"The social workers tried their best. But they are scared now. One woman got raped and killed there, a couple more beaten up real bad. 15 years ago, before the dam construction started, about 60 families lived at Narrow Falls. Now, I think, only fifteen are left. I give it another 5 or so more years and that problem will have dissolved itself."
We didn't fly there no more.

Note from the Editor. The last of three "having a look" bush flying stories by Mike Kemper. Mike has a book of these stories to publish. Contact him at:
Mike Kemper Nuedelshalbach 28, Remscheid 42855, Germany tel.:219141607
www.wuppertal-forum.de/wupper/luftbilder/welcome.htm
email:mikekempe@aol.com


"Running" Image by Rich Hulina.

Dave's Bush Pilot tip! Getting shot at is no excuse for forgetting to do your pre-take off checklist. When the heat is on, however, it's tough to remember where you left the checklist. I suggest inscribing 'em on the back of a beer bottle. That way your checklist will always be at hand when you need 'em the most. The "attitude indicator" will take you back to Aviation Friends.

John S Goulet Editor

Please feel free to e-mail
Horizons@BushPilot.com
with your comments.

Last modified on July 28th, 1997.
(c) Virtual Horizons, 1996.