Wordcarpenter Books
Injured
 

Even the peanut butter sandwiches he had eaten on the trail could not take away the cold that had got in him. Corbière had to keep moving but he would lose his brother's trail if he tracked at night, so he decided to walk around in the clearing where he nipped under the canopy of poplars along the exposed limestone. He would keep warm. Not having the tools to start a fire left him angry and frustrated. Lack of fire know-how left him pacing for most of the night hours.

His thoughts turned to the past, taking his mind away from growing unease of circumstance. Images of laughter on the beaches of north Ecuador warmed his core. Times of irresponsibility and recklessness, when the possibilities of life were before him, there for the taking. He never knew where he would end up but having those options made him feel safe during his struggle to find his way. He had fit in with the way of life of an expatriate, never feeling the urge to return to his native Canada and the chill of its winter wonderland. But his brother did not last long in South America, though he knew they would last as among the best they had ever shared.

All the while his brother had immersed himself in the Native culture, choosing to study with a medicine man, learning the old ways of the great Métis hunters of the prairies like Gabriel Dumont and Jerry Potts. Corbière had never shared this attraction with the old ways, preferring to ignore the strain of Mohawk blood that flowed through his veins. It was easy to do because he didn't look Anishinabec. And his Native past had been demolished when his grandmother had been taken to the residential schools and brought up to be European-Canadian. Neither of them knew anything about their Native heritage. It was his brother who explored it and then adopted it as his own. It made sense to him. The concept of time was similar. To the old man it was a world of balance and meaning.

But not to Corbière. The cold in his fingers and ears were a knife in his flesh during his chilled-to-the-bone all-nighter.

Even firewood was uncooperative and soggy.

Corbière decided if he did not find his older brother in the first few hours of the day he would return on his ATV with proper tools. He was exposing himself to too much danger. After all, if his brother wanted to die while hunting then perhaps that was how it should be. Who was I to think I have a say in the method or time of his graduation to the Spirit World? Is that not entirely personal? Even between brothers and family. The old Mohawk thought it might be the only thing that should be entirely ones own determination.

And then he thought of the incident. That one place he chose never to tread. Deep waters full of prickly swirls of illogically arranged variables, the end result always with the same unfitting remainder. The equation had incongruous seams so it had to be unmasked and seen for what it was: a fluke of timing and place. The car was moving slowly but when he had put his head out the door he didn't know that his buddy Rourke was not holding him from falling out. When he did fall out his head struck the pavement with a dull thud common to fractured skulls. He thought about it because he wanted to know why his brother was such an extremist, and never cared about danger that surrounded him. A head injury had changed him. He had said "There's nothing they can do. They're not going to put my head into a cast!" And that was the end of the discussion. Taking no treatment for a smack on the head might have cost him in some ways, though he could not bring himself to believe that his brother was not a happier man.

And that's why Corbière was scared.

()

"We're not going to be hungry this winter," the old man said to his dog. He stepped back from the stag's matted coat and shining blood, his muscles weary and hands sore from the weapon. He looked for the orange hue of the sunset through the lead gray clouds and knew light would be gone in less than a hour. How he longed for a fire and warm bed! That is what I work for, he said silently to himself. But it was a series of necessary steps that would enable him to complete his mission to package his kill back to his camper two days away.

It had always interested him that to disembowel a deer, it was only the first moment that was difficult. Whenever he tried to convince himself that the first cut was just a small thing, he could not do it. The sound and the feel and the smell and the sight of drawing blood with surgical intent was unpleasant. It was all gravy after finishing the ringpiece ripper. He wished young Corbière was with him because it would be something he would ask him to do on the condition that that was the only thing he had to do. Corbière could then sit back and watch him do the rest.

He used his old gloves for the rest of the operation, slinging the front legs up to a hanging branch that was perfect to bleed it. For this he chewed tobacco, the smell and bitter taste taking his attention away from the aromas of freshly cut flesh. And he knew the nicotine would keep him up most of the night before his early departure in the morning. Sleep was a low priority; guarding his meat was more important than shut eye.

Using his water bottle he cleaned the surface of some limestone and lay a half-dozen slices of meat from the large thigh, tight enough that it was still protected as it hung from the low-hanging bough, a large splatter of blood now pooling. If the slices were too bloody Klondike would enjoy spoils of the fresh kill. The drizzle would speed up the bleeding before he had to go. The old four-legged had already sampled some of the innards that he had thrown into the river. It was a water dog before land so it had happened before. There was nothing he would do. If Klondike's hunger pulled that hard into the water then it must be healthy liver and kidneys there for the taking. Old Klondike still had some gas in the pot and it knew what was good and what wasn't; the old rotty had mastered the art of seeing the signs from Mother Nature.

Both dog and man shared the same keen sense.

"Okay Klondike, time to get to work." He lit himself a cigarette and let the smoke come into his nostrils just a bit, which made him cough up the night's debris, and back into Mother Earth.

The stag would drain it twenty pounds lighter, but it would take every ounce of strength the old man had. He had been toying with the idea of an old two-poled sled contraption he had once seen his uncle construct, with shaved flat ends where two lodge-pole sized pines would bend into the weight of the meat strapped in with twine. Taking his hand axe from his bag he found two thin maples that made up the body of his sled.

When he cut the carcass and strapped each leg across the two poles, he saw that one of the legs had already been mauled, likely he thought by a weasel or fisher. It would be too fast to defend against. No way in hell the old man was going to cross-bow a fierce fisher, like a skinny badger with a bad temper.

"When'ya gonna fin'a fire lik' this? Eh? Eh?" The old puppy understood the tone of its master, proud and full-bellied beside the campfire. The bright orange flame warmed his chest, a scent of burnt cotton endings ignored. The smoky maple a perfume to the old man's senses.

The sparks could not camouflage the sounds of animals encroaching on them around the stones, the scent of cooked meat still heavy in the air. The rain had stopped and cold had set in. The old man broke some medium-sized twigs to fuel the teepee-shaped pieces, and lifted a wide-leaved branch to give it oxygen, the twigs drying into flame in moments. The dry force of heated vapour spread over the soaked foliage, the offering of firewood met with a humble prayer and offering of tobacco. It was the old man's way.

"O' Gitchie Manitou, I thank and honour you for your gift of fire and for the great four-legged offering, the antlers being there and kept with honour and dignity as one hunter to another, for you are the Great God, the Just God, the Father Spirit of us all. And you will punish asunder if one trespasses or steps out of line with the signs bestowed unto each of us during our Earth Walk. With respect. Amen."

The old man did not feel the dripping from his nose, or the cold that had penetrated his left knee. He drew nearer and nearer to the fire to keep his sinking temperature from falling too far. Klondike too moved so close to the flame that part of its hindquarters singed against the maple coals. In a whim the old man hugged his dog, firmly bringing it into his side, arms holding tight, giving a few moments until heat was born. The rotweiller, wide in stature, didn't move, holding its head high, neck muscles too big for a dog. A small bear.

The fire came alive when he poked it, and he danced up and down listening to the wildlife in the woods communicating in the snakes-and-ladders of the prey-eat-prey world of Nature. The meat had been too raw for his taste and it sat heavy in his stomach, thirsty for beer and starved for heat.

"Should've brought my bear skin, eh puppy?"

The old man stood leaning over the flame, feeling fleeting warmth and rubbing his head, the bump from the curb still there like a ditch along a road, dented by the hand of chance fluke, maltreated by rhyme and reason. It still hurt, especially when he was thirsty. He didn't trust the run-off water after the summer-long drought. Kept it to a minimum, sticking with his own water bottle, kept it so he was just above fainting level. When he felt the signs of passing out he would take a sip. It had become one of his numerous dangerous little games. And yet it had kept him alive.

The old man could not ignore the signs all around him. His epoch was one in a tide of prophecies about the coming of the end of civilization and the return to the simpler ways of survival. He watched the comet swoop down and create Hurricane Sandy in the perfect storm. He felt the change in magnetic poles, the shift predicted by the Mayans, December 21st being seven weeks away. Political upheaval and wars were the signs he saw but no one listened, except maybe Corbière, and Klondike. He had it all locked up there in that large frontal lobe, a Rotweiller Einstein with wobbly legs and a good heart. ‘Best swimmer from here to the States.

These were the old man's thoughts when he first saw the faint wisps of daylight hinting in the fog, low air heavy with moisture. It smelled of coming snow. The old man favored his knee when he stood up.

"I should've brought the bigger knife," he said, finally acknowledging that he still had not mastered the proper kit. "Ah but it is human to err."

Washing his knife the first fisher struck, crawling out of the brush behind the tree. He could hear the ripping of the flesh, efficient like chainsaws, teeth sharp as a blades. He could not help it when he said: "I'm sorry stag. What a rotten guard I am. The critters have taken their piece. Their pound of flesh, the crumbs of our heroic deed. They have defamed our hunt and took what was not theirs. I'm sorry I let them get you."

He swung the stick wildly at the fishers scurrying away from the hanging carcass. He used the big rock to protect his ankles from being bitten, a broken maple tree like a club when he struck the bravest scavengers, high-pitched yelps alerting others to danger. When they stopped most of he bottom shank was gone, fisher claw marks outlined on the raw meat of the leg.

"I should have hung you higher great stag," said the old Mohawk, bruised but not defeated. And he spoke in Ojibwa.

It was a while before silence returned to the forest, the fire brighter and the venison protected. He felt how his body hurt and that he had gone out too far. That he should have left the fishers to have their meal, and that he should have cut half and put it higher.

And later, just as he was about to open his eyes after the first fight the fishers returned with raccoons in cahoots, tearing flesh from above, using the upper branches as their route of attack. The carcass that was left was only a testament to the stag's immense size, the meat now ripped and useless except for some parts of one flank. He would take the entire animal because he wanted to bury it honourably near the crick by his camper back on the reservation.

Even skimping on the twine he barely had enough to complete all points tightly, giving the apparatus flexibility and give. He put the trump line around his forehead and dragged the maple poles and meat along the limestone embankment across the river to the east. The rising sun burned the fog in a zap, evaporation and perspiration in tandem hand in hand.

When he walked he could feel the sway of the antlers tied to his shoulders, heavy and unforgiving against his shoulder blades, the extra weight a terror to his knee. Aware of animals moving around him attracted by the smell of exposed flesh pungent in the air. Klondike growled at raccoons that held their ground when the old man passed, the dog letting the hackles up to say stay back.

The sled was cumbersome but he pressed on knowing that if he ditched the sled he would have to ditch a leg. The old man sensed it was a test for his life. Was he worthy to be a man? To still be part of the grand play that sang forever. Was his usefulness over? He was now only filler and fluff for the pillows?

He smelled the bear shit immediately. Klondike rolled in it, following some ancient instinct to show respect to the bear's territory, honouring the trespass, taking as its smell that of the bear's marker. Acknowledgement.

The wild bit hard to remind of its supremacy, that it can give and give not, and that what it does have can only be gotten with respect to the laws of the wild and poise under pressure. The kill for the old Mohawk must be made in the spirit of good sportsmanship and dignity for Nature. Bad spirits must be kept at bay. The wooded house of mammals hummed to its own drum, a sea of green branches wavering from the winds that skimmed atop the canopy.

When he needed help fate would step forward and he accepted what the forest gave him, even when hardship was required but he didn't want to be spread-eagled out here all alone. He concluded Klondike would hold tight until Corbière found him a few days from now if he was to fall.  

The old man collected birch bark when he came upon it, Mother Nature's fire starter homed between chosen rocks. It's the same thing that had always been done. If he didn't do it then someone else would. Somewhere along the line the rules changed, and hunting was no longer a free man's right. Restrictions and licenses had caused man's hunting instinct to wane, now atrophied and forgotten. A rusted limb withering from its trunk. If they make something out different to what it was, it had nothing to do with him. They were the whims of human history, that mantelpiece of morality that wove like a blanket below it all.

The dog offered its paw to be patted when he rested, reassurance from the predators that stalked them. It was a sad dog like the man, knowing of the tragedy of life's arc. With the smell of blood thick and stirring in his guts, and an animal wild in its core, the dog looked for the bear still untamed and unharnessed. The smell of bear in the air, they were outsiders passing unknown turf.

()

Corbière whistled out of habit, a comforting bagpipe from the lips, one of the few talents he possessed.

He had to be a cowboy, he thought to himself. It was the only meaningful life. Did he have to make the kill? Couldn't he go to the supermarket like everyone else? Why can he not see it is unnecessary to hunt deer to feed his pot? He does not need to kill to eat. Had we not ascended from that point in our evolution?

The forest was his brother's home, the safest place to be in the world, where the trees and wind create a sanctuary, timeless yet evolving, but to him it was a scary place where wild animals could rip you apart at any moment. Keeping the wolves and wildlife away was his foremost thought, intermingled with the sweat under his wool hat covered in wet snow that fell softly. The thought that this entire foray was for his brother's life failed to buoy his spirit. He knew the old man would welcome death while hunting as a badge of honour, as an end worthy of the suffering he had endured by turning his back on civilized life. He didn't want to face the truth that his brother didn't care anymore. About anything. Except his ongoing relationship with Mother Nature.

 ()

Glint off the antlers caught his eye from the sun coming up from the mainland east of Georgian Bay. He knelt beside the deer, its head rested on the rock, eyes slightly open, peace in its eyes. It had suffered enough. It was a good fight, just and valiant. Nature implored him to face the truths of her hardships, an unfolding fascination of brutality, like the mushrooms that fed the animals before they were taken down by the foxes and eagles. 

The thought scared the old Mohawk so he did not give it his attention but he knew it was there inside him, filed away and forbidden. He thought of the bear and the possibility some might still scrounging for their cave and might have sampled bear root, the medicine of choice for its hibernation. A stoned black bear can be an aggressive interchange.

"I don't want help," he said. It was the old man's code. He was a man who always stepped forward to bear the brunt of incident if danger threatened. "I don't want no one making up my mind that's all. That's the thing Klondike. I want to do my own thing. Just because some say things are a certain way now is beyond my control, so I have my retreat to the land of spruce and peregrine hawks and the hum of balance."

To follow an easier tack due east the old man took a different opening through the trees to a back way along the ridge that was the high point of the Great Lakes, the rock sticking out from the thin soil. The denser foliage was slower going but he was able to avoid the steep rocks at the foothills of the ridge climb.

When the sun had set the old man left the flashlight on for a while, establishing himself by the cedar patch, making sure there were no rodent homes nearby. He laid down with his knee raised, throbbing on both bone ends, the reminder of age wear and tear like a calling card to give up, loosen his shoulders and let the cold in. The water he drank chilled him to the bone but he had to take some. Klondike fell on top of him and then pushed against his body in the cold, rotweiller determined to maximize heat. He only needed twenty minutes. He didn't think the bear would be so high up on the escarpment. Last thing he remembered were the fluffy snowflakes landing on his nose. 

When he nodded off the landscapes were of South America in the Andes, tough mountainsides of trees woven like a tweed jacket after millennia of equatorial rains. In his dreams he saw Guevara-Lynch again, ground man and front man trooper. Leaving behind the United Nations to the politicians, Che went into the lush greens of deep river valleys where few men had ever been. They shared an eye for what was good and strong and gave power and what was just fluff. Before his eyes opened he was aware that Ernesto had touched many people's lives, but that his own life had not touched many, except for his ancestor spirits who watched over him.

His totem medicines were an added layer of defence stashed in his medicine bundle on his hip.

Klondike groaned when the old man arose, sensing urgency to reach safety and the comforts of his modern teepee. He looked east and found what he hoped to see at the highest peak in the entire Great Lakes, the lookout point. From where he was in the bush he was over four hours to the reservation.

Urinating in a bear's territory is some times a necessary risk. When the old Mohawk heard the snap of a twig he knew it explained the smell, thick with odour from the caked fur. When he saw the bear he backed up, leaving his penis dangling for a moment, posture slightly bowed. Klondike growled just in front of him, stance spread and hackles up. This dog, part rotweiller part bear, knew its foe, a young male looking for some meat for his pot. It was tired of salmon. On its hind legs said he wasn't going to be bullied, rolling its head and shoulder muscles. Klondike barked and went for the bear.

The bear swatted Klondike on the shoulder but not before finding purchase in the thick rolls of skin around the bear's neck, jaws tightening on the folds, the dog's body dangling from it before the bear smacked it down and fell on top of Klondike, the leg cracking like a branch of an old tree. He heard the yelp from the sounds the two bodies made, the old man walking backwards holding out his hand.

"Klondike!" For a moment the dog didn't move, the bear standing over the dog, arms stopped from cutting more flesh from the rotweiller. The bear looked at the old man and smelled the stag's meat freshly cut by the incisors of wild animals. The dog struggled to its feet hopping on three legs, simpering into the bushes and back to the old man. But instead of leaving the venison for the bear the old Mohawk took it over his shoulder with his bag and crossbow. He pondered shooting the bear but remembered the bow was a feeble weapon against such a predator.  

Chapter Five

Corbière heard barking across the field of ferns from the forest to the west and saw him lying on his stomach at the entrance to the reservation, Klondike beside him on guard. His posture was sharp, as if something had broken in his chest, his colour white like his hair, the silver no longer there.

Hearing the dog, Corbière's wife looked out the window from the kitchen to see the skeleton of the stag just inside the grass line her bottom lip fell. Her hand went to her chest when she saw the old man lying beside the deer carcass and his dog lying beside him, tired and wet. A tear came to her eye, not from knowing of his state but from the beauty of how it all fit together, as if the pieces interlocked creating a postcard image, of man and his most loyal friend and the spoils of the hunt.

Corbière arrived with coffee and doughnuts but the old man did not sit up, instead sipped his coffee at an angle. It did not look like he could crawl. Spent like an arrow, the old Mohawk lay with a smile, happy to be in this moment.

"You're a swell sport Klondike. Good doggie."

"Beautiful country around here." Corbière saw that his brother could not bend his left knee.

"You been to the escarpment? To the bluff?" The older brother squinted, head lulling back to look at the blue sky.

"Not since that time." They both remembered the time and the near-death experience after losing their way after an early nightfall. So often when they were together they faced events caused by extremist behaviour, as if between brothers only reaching the extreme was a fruitful experience. And always Corbière's wineskin. Cold and red like grape juice, dry and refreshing. The old man always had the flashlight and Corbière had the compass, and somehow between them had enough to squeak through. He had always thirsted for the edge, slow and gutsy, his broken face healed but still felt by unmended nerves.

 
 

 


 
 

 
 
 

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