"You're someone who's been injured. Something happened to
you, you know, that thing, and when it happened you reacted," said
Corbière. "And that reaction caused you to make a conclusion that has affected
your life ever since."
They had never spoken of it. Ever. In the decades that had
passed. But the old man was happy in his heart. At some time during his Earth
Walk he had become humble, one of the pillars of his evolution.
"Instead of taking some time and distance to be objective,
you made a decision after this incident based on logic cold and marred by
emotion. A fury of emotion. Skewered. And your reaction has dictated
your life ever since." He wanted the truth, so he got it. "This is why we're so
different. This one incident put you on this path you're on and because you
never re-evaluated it, you have gone deeper down the rabbit hole."
The silence was profound in its way.
"I wonder if you can ever come back." Corbière didn't want
to hurt him; he only wanted to enlighten. He only hoped to reverse his
brother's downward spiral.
His brother shrugged. Corbière knew he was pondering a deep
reservoir, which was his life. But rather than talking, he stood up with his
crossbow, gathered his things and called his dog. The forest at the end of the
property stirred, calling to him.
"It's time to hunt. Don't know when I'll be back but like I
said before, I'll return with meat for the winter."
The words sent a chill through Corbière.
The morning was cold, clouds hanging low, overcast, wind
stirring red pines towering over them. Mother Nature whispered things he could
not hear but that drew his brother towards her breast, something that he had
never felt. The lure was a mystery, the woods like the Greek alphabet, foreign
and confusing with nothing romantic about it. He saw the dense forest as
claustrophobic and sinister and full of dangers, a labyrinth of the unknown and
uncontrollable. Any possible enjoyment was hindered by fear. Exposed tree roots
were obstacles that could sprang an ankle, rocks with moss a slippery slick
there to trip, and low-hanging branches spears ready to poke out an eye.
Corbière watched him walk into the forest. Hair silver and
thick, disheveled and uncombed under his leather hat, faced scarred with pain.
His brother, an old man now, was resigned and stubborn to Fate, alone but
enlivened in a way, skeptical and apart from all that was modern. Nothing would
change him. Corbière could only watch him slide closer to the end of the line.
The posture of his resignation suggested his time of graduation into the spirit
world was near. He had been without a deer for two weeks and today was the last
day of hunting season, and he knew his brother would hunt for his food. If he
did not return he would go find him, something he did not want to do.
He did not return that night. Worried and sleepless,
Corbière faced the decision he did not want to make. And it was this that
spurred him to follow his brother into the bush. If he didn't go find him, he
knew somehow it would be the last time he would see him alive.
The ground was still wet from the rains, the tracks of his
boots visible in the trail leading into the vast forest that spanned over a
hundred miles to the coast of the island where the Canadian border met America.
Nothing but boreal forest, deep woods populated with deer and wolves and bears.
His brother knew these woods. A sanctuary from encroaching homes and
electricity and Internet connectivity, both of which he shunned. He chose to
live in his camper, his home perched on stones, nestled on the boundary of
Corbière's land, unseen and safe from tourists visiting the reservation and the
beach. It made the old man sick and angry because he was at constant war with
people coming up from the city for a weekend jaunt in the woods. "The white
man's world. Part-timers and phonies," he always said. He didn't have time for
any of them. And to ensure his separation he cocooned himself in Corbière's
backyard, a favour that he could never revoke.
Corbière had left a note for his wife that he had gone
hunting to find his brother for the day because he could not tell her that
morning before she went to work. He wrote he hoped he would be back before
nightfall. So populous were deer on the island he had no reason to think it
would be different. As deep as they could go into the bosom of Mother Nature,
Corbière took comfort that his house, clean and warm and safe and filled with
the smell of his wife's cooking, was reachable via the trails that led deep
into the woods.
Corbière followed his brother's tracks along the trail,
bright orange hunting apparel contrasting against the green and red and yellow
of the boreal vegetation surrounding him. Hunting had never interested him but
his brother saw it as the true life, man versus Nature, an opportunity to revel
in her beauty and to take her offerings as a gift but only to those who knew
the laws of the wild. Mohawk by blood and adopted into the reservation by the
Ojibwa centuries before, he had learned the old ways, eschewing the European
manner of domesticating cattle and slaughtering wholesale. "It's cheating," he
had said, "mass production like Henry Ford." It was why the white man suffered
from so many afflictions and diseases, an "offside" that offended the Great
Mother. The white man's ways were not in sync with the Native ways. He had
always said it was a lesson of how not to live.
The crunch of the bed of leaves underfoot was louder among
the trees, and the fresh smell he knew filled his lungs with vitamins that were
absent in cities. He loved the smell but that was as far as it went with
Corbière. He wasn't a part timer but he wasn't as dedicated to Nature as the
man he followed.
Massive cedars dwarfed oaks and birch, gnarly and
unapologetic in their majesty, soundless and proud in the winds. The milk pods
he passed beside a swamp were like cotton candy, wisps hitchhiking with the
breeze, the catalyst to a new life and new home. Recent rains quenched the
prolonged drought, welcomed by beavers poplar-branch gathering. To Corbière's
eye it was a mosaic; a canvas of colour enjoyed as a whole, a respite from the
endless miles he traveled on the network of roads that penetrated to the far
reaches of the fresh water archipelago on which they lived. The only noise was
of the Wind God breathing life into the trees and juniper bushes, which marked
the corner of the island. Cold bit through his jacket to let him know its
superiority, its iron hand that trumped his kind like a boot crushing an
insect. He was thankful for its beauty, but it was not his religion.
He approached a clearing, eyes keen to find movement, aware
this was where he brother would have stopped. He surveyed the ground by the
stream that snaked quietly through its middle like an artery. Turkey vultures
hovered overhead with six-foot wingspans watching prey. Ravens and crows
squawked in jealous rage at the ease of their flight, an inequality that
persisted from the beginning of time. The limestone ancient sediment that
remained from the time the archipelago had been all underwater. The great
bedrock that brought miners from around the world was farther north on the
mainland that marked the starting point and foundation, the firmament that made
him feel safe.
Several trails led deeper into the great forest so it took
time to find where his brother and dog had entered. At its entrance he
discerned the old man had hunted there, waiting patiently, a cluster of
footprints just inside the forest's canopy, a mark of patience that had not
Pulling his scarf tighter and banging his hands together to
garner feeling in his fingertips, he put his head down, took a deep breath and
entered the dark monster knowing that bears, cougars and wolves were the
masters of these parts. Even the pretty-eyed raccoons inhabiting this land were
fierce and brave, never an animal to back down from a fight if confronted.
When the old Mohawk awoke he did not know where he was until
he heard crows from above the trees. When he had drifted off the wind grew
strong and the drizzly air cleaned the pores in his exposed face, the itch of
cedar leaves still floating nearby from the onshore winds. He welcomed the
great Gabriel Dumont to join him hunting but in the forests of Ontario with a
bow rather than open prairies and a Winchester rifle.
He changed his socks like he always did when he awoke, dawn
still in the act of becoming, the smell of fresh tobacco and coffee steaming in
the morning air. The old man's knee was raw in the first of the mornings but
the tobacco soon made the pain bearable. He often took two cups but this
morning he took a third, fortifying his perspective for the day's hunt and all
that was at hand. His crossbow was cocked, arrow clipped on to the bow, a
second's draw, and hung loosely off his shoulder. He knew the kill was at hand.
Like a solemn cathedral to a beautiful religion of Mother Nature, fallen
branches cracked under his boots, the darkness waning deeper into the bush.
Squirrels and chipmunks killed prey and gathered plenty in their shared
playground, deciduous foliage bespeaking of an ancient place, existing since
the beginning of times, a hidden corner untrodden by the heel of man.
He saw a fox but did not move to draw. The yellowish-red hue
was illuminated in the rising sun, eyes looking with curiosity before it darted
back into the safety of forest cover.
Farther ahead, the old man prowled slowly with his crossbow
at the ready, arrows abundant in the small bag, his moustache wet with breath
and alive like whiskers on a cat. He used all his senses to detect movement of
the white tail, that which would lead him towards his prey. He had encountered
pheasants but had not risked the noise of shooting. It was venison he sought,
the meat that would sustain him and his dog throughout the winter months.
The recent winds had stripped the poplars and maples and
birch of their leaves leaving vast swathes naked and gray, cement-coloured void
of bright colours he saw in his dreams. The old man never woke before he had
lived out the night's stories, a stage showing the plays of his life in
countless forms. The old man had learned to savour the images and visions the
Great Spirit Manitou gave him during the night, guidelines of to how to live
well, signs of how best to live, to be remembered as a sacred morality. He knew
dreams were a conduit from his ancestor spirits, informing him of dangers that
lay ahead and enlightening him to decisions and life lessons.
The previous night he had stayed up for most of the night,
sitting under a massive cedar with his dog Klondike beside him for heat. He had
nodded off and had seen a stag with long curling antlers across a clearing
looking at him, watching him. Today the old man believed he would find the stag
and take the offering by Gitchie Manitou, continuing the timeless chain
of give-and-take that was the long tradition of survival and life in this
Over 40 miles deep into the forest now, the old man was
aware that the wild game who lived here had seldom encountered man. Protected
by lack of road access and absentee land owners, he was nestling further into
the bosom of Mother Nature, the true heart of things. It was a privilege to
exist in such a prehistoric environment untouched by the hand of man, a
sanctuary found in so few corners of the world. Only his dog and the Great Spirit
witnessed him being there so he had to honour his kill with respect.
He breathed deeply and let the richness of the scene imbue
him with energy, thankful and proud to carry on in the tradition of his Mohawk
forefathers. He welcomed his hunger because it enhanced his senses, like all
good hunters. He thought of the venison he would have, mixed the Native way
with onions and bread crumbs and spices, a year's worth of burgers he could
barbeque on the woodstove outside his camper. Just then he saw a stag, a huge
beast majestic and still watching him, his dog unaware of its presence.
He stood still, his crossbow ready, slowly lifting it and
aimed at the deer. Moving slightly to avoid the trees that obstructed his shot,
he knew the stag sensed danger. Both unmoved and high alert, he breathed deeply
and pressed the trigger, the arrowhead directed at the heart of the beast. The
swoosh of the arrow released from his bow was like a whisper, the impact of his
arrow striking the stag below the heart, the soft muted sound drowned out by
the scuffle of hooves when it ran deeper into the trees, fleeing the bite that
had stung it.
Klondike ran after the wounded stag, reckless in pursuit,
breaking branches storming towards it, barking and jumping over the divots
copying the stag's natural grace.
The old man moved quickly to catch his prey, running to the
spot where it had been hit. The deep grooves of its hooves left a trail for him
to follow, blood spilled against the fading foliage that carpeted the ground
before the snows. How long until it would fall from the mortal blow he did not
know. He cursed himself for not adjusting for the distance that let gravity
lower its flight. But it might have hit a branch that affected its trajectory,
but already it did not matter. Find the beast and end its suffering! "Go to
walk it down, dear Stag," he said to is dog. "Do not go gentle into that
good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. The harpoon has
struck. The arrowhead deep in the artery to bleed you dead. Don't concede yet!"
The old man laughed at his bravado and shrugged his shoulders playfully, the
stag jumping over the ground white tail moving in leaping arcs.
"I must track it him," he said to Klondike, murmuring
indecipherably to himself, words unformulated but thought out rapidly in his
mind, a soliloquy mired in solipsism, fast-forward at double speed.
I wish my brother was here, he thought, the impact of his
next task overwhelming him. The old man knew he would see it through, out of
honour and for what is right, the final kill required for closure, a noble
creature deserving of noble treatment.
The brisk pace of the old man kept him warm, even his feet,
which were always the crucial factor in an adventure of this nature. Curling
his toes as he walked he took comfort knowing he had two extra pairs of thick
wool socks in the bag slung over his shoulder. A quick review of his kit took
his mind of the pain in his right knee, a lasting reminder of how the sheer mileage
of distance walked had ground his cartilage down to wet sand. Now he could not
hold the grinding of bone-on-bone. He kept it bent, vigilant not to
hyper-extend his leg.
The injured stag followed a path narrow in the cedars where
the bottom of each cedar was bare from hungry deer who liked their cedar tea.
The deep bass of galloping had stopped. Tracks showed a slow walk, and places
where it had stopped for a rest. Even his dog Klondike knew to be light on its
"I will follow you deeper," he said to Klondike, as it
trailed behind him at a pace. "But I am not bleeding." Hearing his own voice
say these words made him quiet, profound in what now must be done. Find it old
man. Let your nose and ears bring you to the river flowing from the western cliffs
of the island, where the wild game fed like an eternal spring.
Klondike, a massive rotweiller and lab combo sauntered
without a light step behind him breathing heavily, whistling as if in long
continual sigh. The dog was loyal and always with him, even when he slept. A
pack of two, both limping at a relaxed pace. Of all the dogs he had had over
his lifetime Klondike was the most like him in outlook and temperament. Lived
like the day was a gift, something handed to him unexpectedly, both grateful for
the opportunity to enjoy it and find the flow of Mother Nature's heartbeat. To
capture one of Her wonders was a moment he sought at all costs, an offering
from the Great Spirit and evidence that untampered forests of the world lived
and breathed and provided to those who read the signs.
And he had become an old hand at seeing the many ways Nature
shone and inspired man to become better. It was his office and as well as his
place to feed and nourish. It made sense to him, where all was at peace and
balance and birds went about their business above the groundhogs and raccoons
and foxes busying themselves with chipmunks and rabbits. Even eagles chose the
archipelago to live. And that said all he needed to know about the islands in
the Great Lakes.
Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. How could they be wrong?
A light drizzle gave the forest a foggy hue, as if Middle
Earth was nearby. Fresh deer droppings suggested he was approaching a small
colony of where deer slept. They preferred cedar patches with ground covered
with dead cedar leaves, a carpet scented with medicine. He wondered at how they
slept under cedars and then spent their day eating from Nature's buffet.
Berries, cedar cones, juniper, acorns and the plentiful reserve of delicacies
that had caused the local deer population to surge to four-to-one more than
man. Even the timber wolves couldn't feed on the deer enough to cull them down
to balanced numbers. Only the recently imported black bears from the mainland
could bring them down other than hunters like him. The old man did not like the
way a bear made him feel. It disturbed his something like his equilibrium.
And any disruption to his flow was a threat to his survival.
But what kept him going were the sounds of his brother's
words and the old images of him as a young man, incidents of joy that made his
heart sad yet buoyant, hurt that there might not be anymore memories to add to
their repertoire of good times. An urgent, violent feeling drove him forward to
complete the kill. He had always looked out for his younger brother so why
should he stop now?
The power that exists in a man's actions speak long past his
time is done on his Earth Walk. The plight of man hinges on the shoulders of
Memories still flickered of when Ernesto Guevara resigned
from his post as Minister of Agriculture and his Cuban citizenship to instigate
insurgence for the people in Bolivia. Dedicated was the word he had remembered
used at the time. "If we don't try then we'll have to wait another 50 years."
Because Ernesto Lynch-Lynch was a guerilla proven in battle who was willing to
get his hands dirty in the struggle, was welcomed with open arms by the
fighters in the Bolivian highlands. He carried the rice and made the huts and
cleaned the weapons, patiently educating them of guerrilla warfare.
"This is how we fight an army using the bush as an asset."
And he spoke from the heart in his effort to empower the peasants overtaxed by
the elite, old ways dying slowly in a corner of the southern hemisphere. The
chain reaction must start in Bolivia and then it will follow the flow of regime
change south to Argentina where the people are rebelling in the streets.
Bolivia was America's Vietnam that had remained covert. It might have ended
with the execution of Che in the mountains of Bolivia. He would have to be
bodychecked if he was going to lose.
He wanted them to learn to read and write.
The old Mohawk did not expect the prayer but it came out of
him easily, coming from the heart so the words he found were true and clear,
tobacco, the conduit, in his hand.
After prayer, the glee in him spurned a lost memory during a
time in Bolivia when he had handed down all his accumulated knowledge of
medicines and Native way of life. He had wanted to summarize the education of a
shaman so the young man appeared clear-eyed and curious, and so he told him all
he knew. He spoke about ancestor spirits who protected you from harm, and how
offering tobacco was the way to honour your ancestor spirits. And how images in
your dreams tell you what your medicines were, and that it took nine days to
digest the full meaning of a vision. He made it clear that anger in all its
forms was an evil force that fought against the infinite drop of goodness in
your soul. Mother Nature was the balm to heal sores of all. In the plants were
where all mankind's medicines could be found. The old man always wished to give
his knowledge to his brother Corbière but it had not happened.
The natural trail in the forest blew wind directly at him.
He strode along an old Native trail long forgotten except the deer and wolves
and weasels. A symphony of creatures. He ate the hawberries, over ripe now and
some hardened from the frost. "The Song of Nature," he said into the wind.
How far did my stag go? He thought of the stag giving his
life and the nobility of it. He wondered in humble tones of its pain and its
struggle to accept the mortality of time's ill-timed bite.
He would rest for twenty minutes to alleviate the stress
from his knee and his back. The chipmunk looked at him, long hair gray and
silver depending on the sunlight.
"Like all us little one, you must put in the work to earn
your place on this earth." He dreamed immediately of wolves peaking around
trees, respectful of him and his dog, their place en route through wolf
He opened his eyes, his hand gripped on the crossbow, the
smell of the stag somewhere near. Limping ahead slowly, a rocky clearing caused
him to stop. Silently the old man surveyed, keeping a keen eye for a bushy
tail. The sound of the crick filled the air. When he looked at the water he saw
branches move against the far bank, then move away. Only when it moved farther
did he know the branches were the stag's antlers resting against the hardwood.
Its height made it easy to follow the rack down the
shoreline to where it drank. Blood ran down its shoulders where the arrow had
entered. Massive, the old papa had lived a full life and had strengthened the
stock of deer that roamed the archipelago. Through the trees the stag watched
him stir, its eyes ablaze and defiant, taking measure of the arrow shooter that
had pierced its lung. Blood dripped from the wound, wiped wide by scratches
against bark of broken branches. It was a grandfather who faced the next phase
of its existence.
If Corbière was here, he thought, he could act as a decoy to
preoccupy the stag while he readied his arrow. The stag breathed deeply to a
gurgle and then jumped downstream along the tree line. It must be going to its
watering hole, he thought, sweaty and wet in the drizzle.
He wanted to offer tobacco to honour the sheer majesty of
the deer, but he could not help trotting after it, stomach cramped from the
berries, hands cold from his nap.
"Shhh," he said to Klondike, eyes sharp and senses stirred.
He decided on a long shot since he could not risk it running up the ridge that
started up just behind the river. Crouching and resting his bow on a branch, he
dropped his bag and squinted down the site, left arm ready at the four. The old
man aimed for the meat of the neck, the fatal blow that would take it down. A
bird flew out of the trees that caused the magnificent beast to stare across
the water, perhaps sensing the arrow of its death was near. The old Mohawk
loved the stag when it stood by the water, knowing defeat was its destiny. He
aimed his bow and shot the arrow, finding the target and burying deep. The thud
of a direct hit. He savoured the reverberating bow line vibrating throughout
his fingertips. It was the sound of impact that made him know for certain the
arrowhead had struck true. Its back legs buckled, the crashing antlers striking
the flat limestone, the high whine of the fatal blow.
Not pity but a profound sadness overcame him, relief and
then finality, the end of something and the beginning of a new evolution. The
old Mohawk felt proud of witnessing the stags final moments of its life of deed
and daring, the end of abundance, power and plenty.
"I should've brought the bigger knife," he said to himself.
Half interested in the bloody deer crumpled by the crick,
Klondike whimpered as it sat beside the old man, tired and sore from the trail.
The dog coughed up a foggy billow in front of him. He took a pinch of tobacco
and raised it in his ungloved hand, mumbling a prayer to Gitchie Manitou.
"Great Father I honour and thank you for your offering and
for your guidance in finding this four-legged. I humbly accept it as sustenance
and life in the cold months to come. With respect and goodness in my heart, I
solemnly offer you this tobacco as a gift. Amen." His nerve endings
spurred by the small hairs on his shoulders, wet and damp under his layers of
Drops of rain slipped off his cowboy hat as he lit a
cigarette beside the stag.
There will be animals around, he thought. The whiff of blood
carries far along the crick, for the coyotes and raccoons that lurked.