Spittin' Ain't Fittin' (Kodie Kermode Meets Mufferaw Joe)

By Kierstin A. Olson  

Introduction by Brenda-Lee Olsen

Kierstin is a 12 year old homeschool student from British Columbia. She enjoys writing and is challenged by putting thoughts into words. When she received the assignment to write a tall tale in the style of those told around the camp fires of the Old West, she came up with this version of how Big Joe spent a season or two with the elusive Spirit Bear of Northern BC. Note, in the early days of western canada, Alberta and Saskachewan were considered a part of the Northwest Territories.

Spittin' Ain't Fittin' (Kodie Kermode Meets Mufferaw Joe)
by Kierstin A. Olson

One summer, when Big Joe had had just about enough of Paul Bunyan and his Big Blue Ox, a kindly voyageur suggested Big Joe take a trip out west to the Skeena River. Big Joe had never heard of the Skeena before, but he figured that any place far from Paul and Blue would be a good place to be. Besides, that voyageur had regalled Big Joe with tall tales of the mighty Douglas Fir, and Big Joe was just sure that the Skeena would be a gold mine for a lumberman like him. So he packed his trusty ole ax, filled his knapsack with some provisions like flour, coffee, maple sugar and beans, climbed on his frog, and headed out to cross Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories to New Caledonia.

Now the Ottawa Valley is a long ways southwest of the Skeena, which meets the Pacific at Port Edward, but the voyageur had drawn Big Joe a rough map on a piece of birch bark, and Joe was hopping along the rivers at a goodly pace. When they passed Pile-O-Bones (that's Regina for you young'uns), Joe made a brief sojourn at Qu'appelle, to listen for the voice of the Indian Maiden callin'. Since he was stopped anyway, Joe fixed hisself a mess of beans and bannock. A passing Blackfeet smelled his food, and offered to share some pemmican for a bowl of beans. Joe took to pemmican like a kid to candy, and traded half his beans for a peck of pemmican. Pemmican, for those who don't know, is a traditional native food made by mixing saskatoon berries, bear meat and lots of fat. The sweet of the berries is supposed to disguise the gross of the fat, but, well, let's just say it's an acquired taste.

At Fort Battleford, where the N. Saskatchewan heads south, Big Joe turned his frog to the north. He hoped to make camp outside Calgary as to witness the morning stampede, so he travelled on when darkness fell. Come morning, Joe discovered he had missed Calgary altogether, and had spent the night hopping well in to the Rocky Mountains. Disappointed, Joe resolved to see Calgary on the trip home, but his disappointment didn't last too long as he got his first view of Mt. Robinson and Lake Louise. Lucky for Joe, it was summer, because if he had made his way through the Columbia Ice Fields in the middle the of winter, chances are, his frog would have fallen into hibernation from the cold.

After Mt. Robson, it's all downhill to the Skeena and Joe and his frog made short work of the journey. By mid-afternoon, Joe and the frog found himself at Gitanmaax, where the Bulkley meets the Skeena. Gitanmaax was a gold rush town, and Joe decided to make camp far away from the hustle of the frontier life. After he climbed down from his frog, Joe tossed his pack into the crown 80 foot tree spruce and patted the frog.

Making camp was a simple thing for Joe. He leaned a shoulder against a cedar, and as it toppled, he plucked off boughs to make a bed. Then with one swing of his ax, he split the trunk of the tree into firewood and kindlin' at the same time. The funny thing is, because Joe's ax was so mighty, he often found that not only did he have wood, he already had the fire started. And that's what happened this time too. Lucky for Joe, the fire season hadn't started and the ground was plenty wet, so the impact of the wood falling made a fire pit and no harm was done,

Now, if there is one thing that most wimminfolk find offensive in a man, it's chawin' and spittin'. Sad to say, Joe was plenty guilty of both. When a man lives alone in the woods as much as Joe, he tends to develop bad habits, and to forget the refinements taught by his momma. Again, sad to say, Joe was that kind of man. With his bed made and his fire started, Joe plopped himself down and took a chaw.

You young'uns need to know that chawin' is a disgustin' habit. It stains the teeth, stinks the breath, and well, I can't imagine anything too much worse than the habit of spittin' streams of brown expectorant everywhere. If you must chaw on somethin', chaw on that there pink gum, but for the love of Pete, don't be startin' on chawin tabbaky. I am tellin' you this so you won't be thinkin' Big Joe is an example you should follow.

Anywho ... as Joe was a chawin' and a spittin' into the headwaters of the Skeena, the river, which is crystal clear and ice cold, began to turn a yellowy brown. Big Joe is a biiiigggg man and when he takes to spittin', well, he could be puttin' out fires, if you remember how the tales go. It wasn't too long before the fish and the critters were complainin' loud and long about the taste of the water, and the smell.

Along the Skeena, when the critters take to complainin', or there's a fire to be put out, there's just one bear to call, and his name is Kodie Kermode. Now Kodie is a special bear. He's a white bear but he ain't a polar bear, and he ain't no albino bear - he's just a brown bear the good L-rd done made white so as he would stand out among the cedars along the Skeena.

Kodie heard them critters complainin' of Big Joe's hawkin' and he flew in to action. His black button of a nose lifted to scent the air, and he soon had Joe fixed. With ten strides Kodie had his four paws planted firmly in Big Joe's camp. Kodie ain't much to growlin' when talkin' will do, but when some lunatic lumberjack takes to pollutin' HIS river, Kodie ain't got no patience. He opened the conversation with a mighty growl, and well, let's just say the conversation went downhill from there.

It weren't long afore Big Joe found hisself with those gimongous, elephantine paws smack on the middle chest, and he near to swallowed his entire chaw. He made to spit it on the ground, but stopped hisself when Kodie growled again.

Taking a cue from a friendly owl, Kodie roared, "Give a hoot! Don't pollute!"

Big Joe, used to Blue and his own frog, was not taken back by a talking bear, but he wasn't quite sure how to proceed. It's hard to talk with a chaw in your craw, and if he couldn't spit it out, he didn't think Kodie would be able to understand him.

"Murmlfhisl." Joe asked

Kodie turned his head to the side and looked at Joe. "I beg your pardon?"

"Murmlfhisl? Whares pit chall?"

"Pardon?" Kodie's mama had been very strict on manners.

Finally Joe gave up and pulled the chaw from his mouth with his fingers. Brown juice dripped down his beard and Kodie made a face. Joe nodded at the chaw in his hand and Kodie grasped his meaning. He reached up and pulled down a bit of Old Man's Beard which was hanging from the tree behind him and handed it to Joe.

"Wrap it in the moss and bury it. Noxious stuff. Not fit for man nor beast."

Joe obeyed and as he did Kodie, stepped back off his chest and sat down on to his haunches.

"I do beg your pardon for my lack of manners," Kodie began, "But your spitting was affecting the river. Kermode, Kodie Kermode. Spelled kay, ee, ar, em, oh, dee, ee."

"Mufferaw. Joe Mufferaw. But most folks calls me Big Joe."

"Nice to meet you Mr. Mufferaw. Or may I call you Big Joe."

"You may."

Now Big Joe and Kodie hit it off. Mostways because Kodie was nothing like Blue, that old ox of Paul Bunyan's, but also because Kodie was as mannerly as a bear can be. He offered to show Joe around the Skeena from Gitanmaax on down to Port Edward, and the two of them spent the summer fishin' the salmon and oolichan runs, eating huckleberries and lobster mushrooms, drinking labrador tea, and basically enjoyin' all the dee-lights of the Skeena River Valley. Joe had a grand ole time, and come fall, he didn't even think of headin' home to the Ottawa Valley. Kodie showed Joe some of the finest stands of Douglas Fir you ever did see, and Joe did some selective lumberin' over the winter. Come the spring he floated them logs on down from Kitimaat to Vancouver and he made a huge bankroll. But the best part of the whole thing was the lesson Big Joe learned from Kodie Kermode - spittin' ain't fittin'!

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