I am going to see my mother this month and have been thinking about life’s decisions that take you away from the home of birth to the home of choice. My mom survived two rounds of cancer and on round two, with me lying there in the hospital beside her as she awaited surgery, she asked me why this was happening to her after surviving lung cancer surgery 4 years earlier. I dug down deep, as really not sure what to say other than it’s not fair and it all sucks. Instead, I had to find something better to say and offered up words of her strength to survive anything. There are no words to describe the pain cancer inflicts on a family and the individual. But my mom was a champ and 15 years later, here we are, on the cusp of a visit.
There was little I could do but be there for her and my stepfather for support and I travelled often to help. But it didn’t feel like I was doing much after I went home, 3,000 miles away. So from somewhere deep inside me, I started to write for my mom and in keeping with the respect for the aboriginal culture and art of storytelling (an art I love), I created stories of my family, my life and sometimes just stories. The one below would not have been possible without immersing myself in a wonderful culture in Canada’s North. A culture and a people that encouraged me to enter the challenging (in many ways) world of the mineral industry. A story made possible by being unemployed and unemployable, hunkered down in Archives learning and learning. And a story made possible from a mom who gave me all the strength I would ever need to enter a challenging industry….
The morning dew covered the land in the early hours. The Ancient One walked, searching the valleys for the birch tree he had seen in the dream. It was broken but strong and straight and a piece, as high as he was tall, called to him.
He could no longer walk as fast as he did in his youth and his waist-length hair, tied back, was now completely gray. But still he persevered; he had endurance and walked from valley to valley.
His eyes were not as good as in his youth, but inside he could see the tree from his dream, and he found a strength and spirit that spoke his name in the wind of this valley he had entered.
Years of experience and wisdom told him this was the valley he would find the tree.
For days he searched the hillside and the river valley, finding strength in the knowledge of the dream that this carving was to be his last and he was chosen to reveal the spirit of the tree.
In the wide valley, close to a quiet creek’s meeting of the great river flowing north, he found the birch tree that had called him in his dreams. The Ancient One cried out in joy for it had been struck by lightning, dried and cured in a heartbeat by powers greater than he. Truly a sign that whatever he carved would have power like no other.
The Ancient One found a secluded spot by the creek and made his camp, gathered sage and built a small fire. Sitting by the fire he reached inside his pack and took out a moosehide pouch. Inside each of his tools made of bone, stone and antler were carefully and individually wrapped in hide. Each tool he had made over the years was then laid out in front of him. From the pouch he produced an eagle feather which he laid in front of the tools. He burned the sage and cleansed himself in the smoke, smoked his pipe, and with his offerings asked Mother Earth to reveal the gift inside the wood.
After sitting peacefully by the fire for a great deal of time, he stood to inspect the remains of the birch tree. There were several sections of the large tree that had broken off, all looking fairly similar in size and dimension. Four pieces would work equally well for his purpose. He walked around looking at the four pieces, laying his hand on each section. One section, no longer or wider than the rest felt different when he placed both hands upon it. He could feel a force within, perhaps the spirits of the earth itself. This was the piece he was meant to carve, with an acceptance the spirit would reveal what lay inside the tree.
Days and nights passed. The Ancient One, never sleeping, carved. Slowly and patiently tenderly scraping great curls of wood away, he worked to reveal the image within. With his tools of stone, bone and antler he shaved then shaped the tree trunk. With fine tools, greater details began to emerge and the Ancient One sanded the image smooth.
He sang songs as he worked calling on the skills taught to him by his father and grandfathers. He sang songs to honour Creator and Mother Earth and their powers. But he also sang a song he had never learned from the ones before him, it was the song from the tree itself. As he sang this song, he would close his eyes and the carving would take over him. Gifts from the Creator would flow through his body and into his hands. The Ancient One became the one, which all the power flowed to allow the tree to reveal itself to the world.
In his beautiful, weathered hands, this carving took shape. Many days later, his eyes feasted upon the unfamiliar image of a young man with long, curly hair that he stained a fair colour. His features were of an ancient, with powerful, loving eyes that spoke of grace and a quiet nature, a strong chin yet cheeks and a nose like no man he had seen before. He wore a traditional caribou-skin jacket which covered other clothing he did not recognize. Around his neck a metal necklace peaked out of the shirt.
The young man was beautiful and looked wise beyond his years, which puzzled the Ancient One. How could such a young man have the look of an Ancient. And the curly, fair hair was a sign that made him wonder how the tree had acquired medicine.
The image before him pleased the Ancient One, the wood had spoken. He could never produce this image on his own. After many days of carving, he thanked Creator again, and left offerings before he would sleep.
Rested again, the Ancient One walked again to a place within the Valley, before his last journey home. The dream not only spoke of the spirit that wanted to reveal itself in the tree, but of the gift it would bring. The gift was for many, but would rest in the hands of the three Wise Women of the land.
The women were thankful to see the Ancient One and the beautiful carving. As the four sat and ate a meal by the fire the women ran their hands over the face of the man in the wood.
“The strength of this man is a special gift,” Gussie, the eldest women, told the Carver. “We are thankful for him and thankful to you for bringing him to us.”
“I did not create this, and it does not really belong to me. I want you to keep the man in the wood with you.”
“Thank you great Carver, we will keep him with us for now. But even we are not meant to keep this one forever, only to help him emerge from the wood.”
“I only ask one question of you before I leave. This face is so wise, but I do not know it, and the hair I know means someone special. Is this one of the K’ochen?”
Gussies stared straight into the eyes of the carving, never moving.
“He comes.” Gussie as she turned to Atta.
“I did not know it was time.” added Atta.
“But still, he comes.” Said Gussie as she looked at the Ancient One with a glowing smile. “The K’ochen comes to us now. The Cloud People come.”