Sunday, January 30, 2005


Wild Rice! - (also called " Mahnoomin, Folle Avoine, Canadian Rice, Water Oats, Blackbird Oats, and Marsh Oats")

FALL! 2003! I loved the fall. Cool mornings, usually sunny skies, shorter days, moose-hunting season, beautiful colours in the bush, and, oh yeah, "Wild Rice"!

I blasted off from Silver Falls on the Winnipeg River in Manitoba. I was making a short flight of about 6-7 minutes duration to a "Wild Rice"-producing lake northeast of our base. As soon as I was airborne I could see fog in the distance and through "Murphy's Law" I knew that the lake I was going to would be covered. I decided to continue on as it was only a short distance. If I couldn't see the lake, I would return to base.

I arrived at the lake, which we call "Round Lake", and started to orbit. The fog was covering the lake, but I was starting to be able to see holes in the fog and occasionally the lake surface below. "Holy Crap", I muttered, as through one hole I watched the rice-picker skim by on the surface. I figured I would circle down and see if I could get down through a hole and land.

Round Lake is normally a well-producing wild rice lake, usually yielding about 70,000 lbs. of green rice yearly. It is very shallow with a loon-shit bottom, and is tricky to operate into and out of if the wind is wrong. One can only land and power taxi in two opposite directions, as water-rudders are useless due to the thickness of the rice and the fact that you are dragging bottom to get to the dock. Once at the dock, rice is loaded aboard the aircraft, and one has to be vigilant in calculating the load aboard, as the floats do not displace fully due to the fact you are sitting on bottom. One then warms up beside the dock, and opens the throttle, and takes off. Overcoming what displacement there is to "get on the step" is made easy as the aircraft basically becomes airborne right out of the mud. A lot of fun when the wind is correct, a royal pain in the ass when the wind is wrong.

I watched the picker go by again, and timed my descent. I will get underneath the low cloud cover (basically the fog as it was lifting), and circle to land. If it is still too low, I will climb back up and go back to base. Today I was flying Otter C-GHYB, with a 1000 HP Pezetel engine and DC-3 prop. I made it underneath the cloud cover and banked to land in the tracks in the rice and mud that we had made earlier in the week. I powered to the dock and was met by my friend Lindsay. His brother Barry was on the picker and I figure his heart beat erratically for a minute or two as I came through the cloud hole. This was not anything unsafe, just startling for him, I'm sure, to suddenly see an airplane, and not to have heard it due to the rice-picker noise.

Wild rice is an annual aquatic grass, and the only cereal grain that is native to North America, and has been a staple for the aboriginal people for at least a thousand years. It is very high in protein and carbohydrates, and very low in fat. It is also high in potassium and phosphorous content, and full of thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin (B vitamins).

The native people used to harvest wild rice
by canoe, knocking the long stems so that the ripe seeds would fall into the bottom of the canoes. Once an amount was gathered, it would be cooked over an open fire until hard. Then, it would be spread on a hide on the ground, and stepped on to dislodge the chaff from the kernel. Then it was thrown upwards in the air, with the chaff being blown away, and the kernel returning to the hide. Today, wild rice is cooked in large rotary grain-roasters, then agitated and screened according to size, with the chaff being separated, a very interesting process. As for the harvest of wild rice today, it is usally done with a twin-pontooned airboat powered by an automotive or aircraft engine turning a prop, with a large "header" in the front to gather the rice.

Barry pulled the airboat onto the landing and I greeted him. Then, he, Lindsay, and I loaded up old HYB with a load of wild rice. I bid them adieu, warmed up my horse, opened the throttle, and whistled into the sky. I repeated this scenario a few more times that day, and cleaned up the rice they had on hand at the lake. They would "pick" the lake again in a few more days, and we would go haul some more rice. A lot of fun when weather conditions are right, and just another day in my life.

Taxiing in and parking in the "grain" field... Posted by Hello

ABOVE: Getting to the dock can be tricky. MIDDLE: C-GHYB and her picking partner.... BELOW: The boys at work after dumping the "header" of rice... Posted by Hello

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home