Dusk was coming to the balcony of our Montreal apartment. We could see lights flickering on in windows of the city below the cliff. We lit cigarettes using the gas ring on the stove and I singed my hair. Standing on the highest balcony, I saw smoke drifting up and lights coming on: streetlamps, flickering neon signs and high-beams of cars, as I stood there with my friend and her brother. He was visiting from his cabin in the woods near Peterborough. A small cabin with a wood stove that never gave enough heat in winter—where one night, an owl swooped down and startled him just after he had put the campfire out. His cabin was near a place called Silent Lake, not far from Curve Lake and the petroglyphs. The air is fresh up there and feels gentle and warm when summer is coming.
Back then, just after the Good Friday agreement, Ireland was on our minds: the beginning of the end of the Troubles. Mohawks from Kanehsatà:ke invited the Northern Irish to speak to them of their struggles, so much like home—disputed borders and broken promises, guns threatening to fire, soldiers and police guarding all rights of way, armed checkpoints on the roads.1 Gerry Adams spoke at the university in Montreal and people gave him a standing ovation, but I stayed in my seat. I knew he lived in a house surrounded by a fortress. How could he be a man of peace? I suspected him. Afterwards, my friends and I were invited by an IRA supporter to have a beer at the nearby pub, in a private room, with Gerry Adams a few tables away. The whole time I waited for an explosion.
Years later, I visited Saskatchewan and a different friend, who took me walking on a flat, silent expanse of land covered in sage and short grasses. He showed me a tipi ring he had found near his home, and I stood in the circle. After dark, we sat by a campfire in the backyard, such a long way from the Ontario woods. No trees blocked the night sky—it went on and on forever. There I remembered the campfire in the woods at Silent Lake and the story of the owl. I remembered campfires among the trees in Kanehsatà:ke during the pow wow—everywhere I walked, the sound of drums and strumming guitars. I thought of Easter 1916 and how the Good Friday agreement in 1998 2 completed a circle. Near my friend’s home on the prairies, we listened to the crackling fire and talked about how medicine wheels and stones mark a year’s passing. We thought of how we were sitting under a slowly spinning night. Under the wheeling sky, our thoughts turned around and around the memory of stones.