“Try a different angle, it’s hard to see,” Alice directed from her tent as I snapped away. I was trying to capture the glistening spiders’ webs in the morning mist. Alice had noticed them as she soon she stepped out of her tent. It’d been an eventful night. A bear tore into her tent, marking her with his claws on her leg and chest. When she woke she scribbled the dream in her notebook for later analysis. The silky webs outside her tent were another sign.
Alice’s teacher, Uncle, had named her spiderwoman. She weaves webs to bring her what she desires and to connect people, he said. She was still settling into this new name – maybe the webs were a sign she was on the right track.
As for me, I was just trying to clear the mist from my own head after a few too many celebratory red wines the night before. Maybe next year I’d follow her lead – staying away from the wine and closer to my dreams.
After a steaming pot of coffee we were revved up for our last day: first pictograms and then lunch with the ancestors. We boated to Devil’s lake, cutting the engines to get a close look at the pictograms. Leonard told us our Ojibway ancestors had painted these bright red stories to attract the Mohawk, after they got wind the Mohwak were coming to attack. Having rarely seen such paintings, the Mohawk drew in to the cliff for a closer look. Rocks and arrows flew down on them and that’s when “we kicked ass,” said Sue proudly, as if she herself had shot the arrow.
We splashed the faint markings for a clearer picture.
People and animals, arrowheads and strong lines – but weaving together a story from these fading images proved beyond my capacity. I reached out, running my fingers along the smooth surface.
Then we made our way back down the river in search of the three red pines marking an ancient Ojibway burial ground. Leonard’s father used to take him here on their hunting and trapping trips to pay respects to the ancestors.
While the others lit a fire Alice and I decided to brave the freezing waters for a quick wash. I went first, tiptoeing along a thick log. I dropped Alice’s soap immediately and jumped out of the icy water in under a minute – so much for the clean part.
Slight indentations along the forest floor, thickly carpeted with red, white and jack pine needles, marked old graves.
We picnicked, sharing the now requisite pot of campfire tea. We offered tobacco and food to our ancestors. Laurie, Alice and Sue took out their drums and began to sing. Alice and Sue moved together around each of us. They beat the drums harder, singing louder and with a final bang drew the drum base close to my body – I could feel the vibrations from the taught skin of the drum in my own – an unexpectedly powerful force.
We left full and contented. I finally managed to snag the coveted seat at the front of Leonard’s canoe. I looked out at the winding river before me – and it was the sky. Nearing the end of our trip, things couldn’t be more whole.
Heading back to Toronto the next morning we passed the Arctic Watershed. “From here all rivers flow south to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence” the sign read – and my heart sank. But I knew I’d be back again next summer, driving the opposite direction. “From here all rivers flow north to Hudson Bay,” the sign would read. And I’d be crossing back ,to my other half.