By Ken Kristjanson, Winnipeg, MB
On a recent visit to Gramma’s old house, the new owner showed me what the cat had dragged in. Literally. It was a young weasel. As a young man, I was lucky to trap a weasel on what is now Willow Island. I well remember the beautiful white fur much prized by furriers. Fortunately, seeing one in town is rather rare – this first cousin of the mink is a viscous carnivore. As a teenager growing up in Gimli, I and many other boys would catch muskrats and other fur-bearing creatures for extra spending money using traps and snares. My friend Pogo Isfjord was particularly well-known for his prowess at snaring rabbits.
My afi (grandfather) told us kids a story about a weasel that he encountered at our fishing station on Humbug Bay in late fall, sometime in the early 1930s. It was the time before outboard motors were in general use. This meant that the men would row out from the station and set their nets and then, sometime later, they would row back and lift their nets. This happened in all kinds of weather. Generally, the fishermen would be in close proximity to the station.
Nets in those days were anchored by rocks. Large boulders would have stout rope wrapped around them and then they would be tied to the net, thus anchoring one end of the net. The same procedure would be employed at the other end of the net. As it happened this October day, one of the fishermen at the station had lost a rock and needed to row in to shore to find a replacement. As he approached the shore to get another boulder, he saw a murder of crows making an awful racket.
The fisherman beached his yawl and began investigating to see what the fuss was about. He discovered a mature weasel with its leg caught in an old rabbit snare. The bronze wire was attached securely to a small branch. The harder the weasel pulled, the tighter the wire grabbed its leg. From what the fisherman could surmise this life and death struggle had been going on for a while. The weasel lay exhausted from trying to free itself from the wire. The crows, sensing a free meal, swooped in. But the weasel was not done in yet and was able to grab one of the crows. After making a meal of the crow, the weasel spotted its next problem – a fisherman approaching. The fisherman had the same idea as the crows. He determined this would be a fine pelt. The weasel wanted none of this new adversary and, with newfound strength, no doubt egged on by the noisy crows, he finally broke free of the twig and vanished into the underbrush, trailing the wire behind.
A few days later, the weasel with the trailing wire showed up while the men were dressing their catch. Having escaped the wire trap, the crows, and the fur-seeking fisherman, the weasel had earned a reprieve from those at the station. The fishers often overcame long odds in their small boats on the big lake and they sort of adopted the scrappy little weasel. In the Icelandic way of giving nicknames, the weasel was named “Wired.” He hung around all fall, enjoying the delicious fish bits that regularly came his way. It got so that the men looked for the creature when they came ashore. The weasel did not disappoint them and he would take up his spot near the dressing tables – not too close – waiting for the tasty scraps.
Photo: Jana M. Cisar / USFWS