In this life I’ve felt a touch, whispering of cloth against my skin; big sky flowing over me, an endless blanket of twinkling lights, round white moon floating there, caught in a tangle of branches and clouds. At the height of summer, I’ve walked at night in a stand of pines; the forest is small, but trees become deep and endless in darkness, and I wander there. I once found a clearing where women danced, their dresses swaying and jingling; the bells on their skirts gleaming silver in the pearly light. I’ve always wanted to dance like them, to circle round and round under branches of jack pines, on ground covered with soft, scented needles; round and round to the distant sound of drums.
In this country I’ve walked forests where leaves and needles sway softly, walked under spruce, pine, cedar, tamarack, maple, poplar, birch—walked over clear cuts too, over charred ground, as far as my eyes could see, with a shovel in my hand and saplings in my pockets. In northern B.C., near Cranberry River junction, I watched the sun set at nearly 11 o’clock, listened at night for the sounds of Cranberry River as I lay in my tent. But I never heard or saw it, only imagined the water, narrow and fast-running, bubbling over rocks, fed by cold melting snow running into a rocky bed every spring season, a river descending, always southward.
When I was a girl, I snowshoed in the forest on my grandparents’ land with my Grandpa, under the pine and spruce boughs. I watched him haul out logs, stood nearby as he cut and split them for firewood to heat the big cast iron stove in the kitchen, where a kettle of water always simmered, ready for tea. My grandparents had a swing set across from the old house, and in summer, I would swing as high as I could, watching the sun glint on the tin roof of their home, feeling the coolness of dark evergreens rising behind me. Toward sunset, the mosquitoes would bite my cousins and I as we flew back and forth, watching the sun descend, glinting on the thousands of smooth round stones mixed in the sand and soil of the driveway.
In the city there are pathways too, places where you can wear down the asphalt; I’ve added my footsteps along routes near my house, my boots rising and falling to the rhythm of rush hour traffic. I’ve packed down snow in winter and added my breath, smoky vapour in the freezing air. The big city feels small sometimes—for all its steel and concrete, at times it seems like little more than clusters of houses and office towers hunching along a southern border. Canada, our vast and powerful country, clinging tenuously to warmth and light, while our sleep is disturbed by dreams of driving off the road into darkness, of unexpected blizzards that bury us in snow drifts, of sitting there behind the wheel, frozen and silent until spring. Sometimes we dream of twisting roads leading to nowhere, of rutted gravel ending at the sites of closed down uranium and diamond mines, or an empty oil field, or a vast patch of razed ground. The truth is we only want a little bit of the wild, not too much. It reminds us painfully of all we’ve stolen from the land to feed our cities; of how we can’t manage there, or survive. We just want to live in safety, wrapped in our country Canada, that place of peace, order and good government.
The stand of pines where the drums reverberate, where I’ve walked at night, belongs to a people, the Onkwehonwe people at Kanehsatà:ke, every tree top and root, every needle-covered path. When I walk there it feels like someone’s home, like you could stand all night in a clearing where the moonlight washes over the branches, and pours over our heads, as mosquitoes bite us and the coolness of the woods drifts down upon us. I’d give it all up, the comfortable, polite neighbourhoods, the friendly faces of Canadians, the peacekeepers, our smug satisfaction. I’d give up the dream and cross over, follow the river currents in my memory. Extend my hands and feel the weight of wampum beads pressing into my skin, the weight of broken treaties, the smoothness of purple and white beads, row upon row, a sea of peace and friendship once offered. But I’m still wandering each day further away from my old home and onto the land; out of Canada and into the world, wide-open places, shimmering with stories, overgrown with relations.