Cabin Country by Darrin McGrath | Vol. 12 No. 5 (March 7 2019)
First of all, I'd like to say thanks to all the people who read this column and take the time to pass along kind word or story idea.
The long, cold, hungry month of March is upon us. I can remember as a child hearing my grandmother Annie Cahill (nee Power) of Outer Cove use this saying. It harkens back to the days when Newfoundlanders lived on fish and meat salted for the winter, and home grown vegetables kept in a root cellar.
By the time March rolled around many a family was starting to see their winter provisions begin to dwindle. March has thirty-one days so it is literally a “long” month. And, March was and still is known for its cold winds.
If seals showed up on ice pans, or a few caribou wandered near a community, the animals were harvested and shared around.
When the men went to the ice aboard sealing vessels, the flippers and carcass they brought home (not too mention any wages) was very important as a source of fresh meat in the winter diet.
Speaking of the seal hunt, it’s interesting to think about how water-proof, winter footwear has changed over time. Today, many people can’t venture outdoors in the winter without polypro socks and high-tech boots.
Many people (me included) wear the thick-soled rubber boots made by companies such as Dunlop or Bekina. These are vastly different from the fisherman’s thigh rubbers blocked with home-knit wool socks that were commonly worn in the past.
I remember asking an older man from the head of the bay, what the men wore in the woods logging back in the 1930s. He told me they wore, “thigh rubbers with wool socks.”
Back in the 1960s, I recall Dad telling me that the best boots he found for ice fishing were old rubber galoshes that you pulled on over your leather boots. In this way, you had wool socks inside leather boots encased in a water-proof rubber overshoe. They were warm as I remember.
Of course, many people used logans. These boots had felt liners with a rubber shoe sewn to a leather upper which laced up. The problem with these boots, as I remember, was that water could get in the seams where the leather was stitched onto the rubber. I can remember one day on Colliers Big Pond when the felts had gotten sweaty in my logans. I guess I stopped moving around because soon the soles of my feet were “burning” with the cold. Later when I took off the boots, a thin layer of frost had formed on the inside sole of the boot.
“Unemployment boots” came along a little later and seemed to be a combination of the galosh and the logan. My brother Jim and I were talking about these boots the other day. They were a calf-high rubber boot with a removable felt liner. At the time they appeared on the scene they seemed to be “state of the art” water-proof, winter footwear. But like the logans, the felts would get sweaty and if you stopped moving your feet would start to get cold.
Some contemporary knee boots are made from neoprene – like the material scuba diving suits are made from. I have never worn these boots but have been told they are warm and lightweight. I did look into buying a pair but when I explained to the sales clerk that I would be using the boots rabbit hunting and would almost constantly be in bushes and brush, he advised me to avoid purchasing them because the sticks would puncture the neoprene.
I have three pairs of knee rubbers. If you spend a lot of time in the woods you need different boots. And, I find it’s always a good idea to have a second pairs of boots in case you got a pair wet, or sweated up, and need of a change. I have a pair of the winter Dunplops, a pair of the Bekina winter safety rubbers and a pair of Bekina Step-Lite. I like the latter boot the most. It’s a knee high rubber that is light-weight. With a pair of heavy wool socks, I find these boots are ideal for rabbit hunting in the snow. As I’m getting older I find getting around in the snow to be more of a chore. And, having a light weight boot on just makes it much easier to navigate. Also, I find that my legs don’t get as heavy and tired. I find the lighter-weight knee rubber also works well with snowshoes. My legs don’t tire as easily and it makes a winter rabbit hunt on snowshoes more enjoyable.
Back in the old days, safety toe knee rubbers meant a steel toe and sole plate. That meant these boots were cold in the snow hunting or fishing. The modern safety rubbers have a composite toe and plate, making them much warmer. Having a reinforced sole/arch is a good thing to protect your feet.
Many people I know, like my brother Pat, swear by the so-called “bama socks.” I have a pair and have worn them a few times. They are ankle height and seem to be two-layers stitched together. They are warm, but I find that they also get very sweaty. In addition, you almost need to buy your rubber boots an extra size larger to accommodate the thick bama sock.
I paid almost twenty bucks for a pair of polypro socks one time. The polypro is supposed to wick the sweat away from your skin keeping you warm. But my feet got cold wearing these socks and I only used them once or twice and then decided to throw them out.
There is great variety among the types of water-proof footwear available to the outdoors-enthusiast. I have only mentioned a few types of boots, socks and liners that I am familiar with.