Then next morning Joel, Lily, Nathanial, and the rest of the kitchen crew only had to warm up the breakfast preparations that the night shift had made. After breakfast Meribah and Marc went out to the gazebo, while the others washed the dishes and prepared for lunch.
When they completed their shifts, Marc complained about his blistered hands, and Nathanial about his bleached fingers, caused by the dishwashing. The other three, however, were in good humour. Marc and Joel decided to walk deeper inland, while everyone else went exploring the town.
Even though the sun was bright and high, the soft ground still sported a frozen crust which crackled and sank as the boys walked. The wild grass and weeds, in the meadow where they walked, had already turned yellow and brown, and some hung like broken lifeless limbs.
Three large trees stood in the centre of the meadow. The one in the middle was the largest and some of its branches reached and mingled with the trees on either side. The trees had many large boughs that had, from wind or other forces, been formed into chair and bed like forms.
The boys thought that there were children playing in the trees, seated on the boughs, but as they got nearer they found that they were Indians both young and old. If that was the only peculiarity, Joel and Marc would have had no trouble accepting it, but the Indians were not quite solid, they were transparent. As a young Joel on earth would have remarked, they were scary creepy spooky ghosts.
Mukwok came up behind them and amicably grabbed their shoulders. Neither of the boys had heard him, and he had startled both of them. To the delight of the Indian ghosts, they screamed in unison.
“An elephant could sneak up on the two of you,” said Mukwok. “So I guess you’re bored of the city already.”
“Yes we are,” said Marc inhaling deeply. “What would you know of elephants, living in this part?”
“Only that they are big,” said Mukwok smelling the air, “and that they smell as bad as white men.”
“Careful Mukwok, we too never forget,” smiled Joel.
“Who is your bold American friend, Waemitigozhi?” asked Mukwok to Marc. Joel looked at both boys with a very confused look on his face.
“Mukwok, meet Joel,” introduced Marc.
Mukwok held out his hand and Joel grabbed it and began to shake it. Mukwok smiled uncomfortably and grabbed Joel’s forearm. Joel returned his version of an uncomfortable smile and grabbed Mukwok’s forearm.
“Mukwok and I were friends in one of my earlier lifes,” said Marc. “I used to trade him beaver pelts for fish and vegetables.”
Joel looked at Mukwok inquisitively, “What did you call him?”
“I called him Waemitigozhi. It means Frenchman,” explained Mukwok. Marc turned to look at the trees while trying to hide his blushing. “Come Waemitigozhi, there is someone I would have you meet.”
Mukwok walked toward the left most tree and called his own name. One of the ghosts dropped down from the high branches and landed on one of the lower ones.
“Waemitigozhi meet my great great grandson Mukwok.” The ghost nodded and smiled at both of the boys. “Mukwok has been waiting for his free soul for a hundred years. Most Indians wait, at most, for six months, but as you know we bears always have to be different. His free soul just enjoys earth too much I guess,” explained Mukwok to Marc and Joel. He then looked up at his grandson, “Any sign of him today?”
“No, grandpa! Maybe tomorrow eh?”
“Yup, maybe tomorrow. I’ll see you then,” said Mukwok motioning to the boys to follow.
“I would like you to meet my wife. Bring your friend, Siginauk, he is funny even though he lacks manners and etiquette.”
Joel looked over at Marc. “Siginauk?”
Marc smiled and translated it for Joel. “Blackbird!”
“Well,” said Joel, “I guess its better than Frenchman, and I bet Rin would have loved it,” laughed Joel as he and Marc caught up with Mukwok.
The boys walked slowly, admiring the wilderness about them. Chipmunks and black squirrels dashed about among the trees topping off their supplies before winter set in. They came up on a deer who froze and watched them, either because she was hoping that she would not be seen or she was extremely afraid. She stayed a moment, but was gone as Joel twitched, startled by the beauty and trying to take it all in. The wind picked up slightly and a few clouds were blown in from the north.
“Mukwok,” started Joel, “can you tell me more about your peoples coming to Heaven and the tree ceremony? It’s very different from what we white people go through.”
“And it should be so. You only have one soul and it must be born again and again. This is not heaven that you walk on, this is the promised land of the Ojibwa, the kingdom of Nanabozo.” A glitter of pride shone in Mukwok’s eye as he opened his hands in gesture. “We, Ojibwa, don’t follow your path to heaven, we have our own. Our sins are punished when we are alive and on earth, we don’t stay there like you whites. As for the tree, that’s a little harder to explain. An Indian soul is made up of two parts, a body soul and a free soul. The body soul is the one that allows thought, reasoning, and consciousness. It can only leave the body for short periods, or the person would die. The free soul, the travelling soul, is the one that visits the land of dreams at night. It helps guide the hunter and warns him of danger from an eagle’s view.”
The boys came over a hill, and on the other side sat a bear getting the last rays of sun. Clouds were washing over it, and the grizzly grunted his annoyance.
Mukwok smiled and walked toward the bear. “Brother, you are only making the Manitos happy when you show your frustration.”
“Well brother,” grunted the bear, “you’ll probably change your mind when this storm settles in. I hope you’ve made some new boots already, or you too will be cursing in the kigizheb.”
“Ah morning promises snow and sleep for my large brother. I understand your mood now.” Mukwok hugged the bear, which towered over him. “Sleep well! You shall sup with us when you wake in the spring, of course.”
“Aubidaek, my brother. Aubidaek.” The grizzly bear turned toward Marc. “It is good to see you Waemitigozhi.”
“And I you, my large friend,” said Marc.
“Do you plan to stay on our island?” asked the bear.
“No, my friend. We are searching for the Kitche Manito and for answers.”
“This is good, he is a wise being. But expect no more than questions for answers, he is a witty one,” grumbled the bear.
“Thank you and sleep well, my friend.”
The bear, large with his winter stores, wobbled toward his lair as the boys started off again. Smoke could be seen over the trees, letting Marc and Joel know that they were close.
Mukwok returned to his explanation of Ojibwa death. “It takes four earth days for the souls to travel here. And they usually come separately, the free soul staying with the corpse and family for a time. My grandson and everyone else in the trees are waiting for their free souls to come. And when they do come and an Indian leaves the trees, we have a celebration. Our celebrations are so joyous that people on earth can see them. We are,” Joel could see the same glint of pride in Mukwok’s eye that had been there earlier, “the Northern Lights.”
They arrived at Mukwok’s log cabin, which looked very practical and cosy. There were no glass windows, only heavy shutters, and there was only one heavy door.
Mukwok opened the door and motioned the boys towards the inviting warmth within. “Kanata!” said Mukwok sarcastically though it was an Iroquoian term.
Once more Joel had to ask Marc what Mukwok had meant by saying Kanata. “Legend has it, that when Jacques Cartier first landed in Canada, the Iroquois tried to communicate that they were honoured by the Frenchmen’s visit and were welcoming them. The word kanata means community, and so, after hearing the natives repeat the phrase, welcome to our community, several times, the french assumed that the country where they landed was named Canada.”
Inside the cabin, a woman was busy working on a dear hide. Joel looked at Marc, and both were shocked by the sight. They had assumed that the leather garments that Mukwok and his wife wore, were simply brought with them from earth. The truth however, which was now apparent, was that Mukwok and probably all the Ojibwa hunted and killed animals in heaven.
Mukwok leaned his head back laughed. “I see that you do not approve of our killing Kitche Manito’s animals. Let me ask you a question. Have you eaten fish in heaven?”
“Yes, we have,” answered Joel, “but I have yet to hear a fish talk. The animals that you kill are sentient beings, they are aware of their self existence.”
“What is life, or death for that matter, without the thrill and exhilaration of the hunt? Both the hunter and the hunted feel it, they are alive at the time of the hunt. The Ojibwa have always believed that man and animal are equals, and here on our island both are still hunted. But when death occurs, the souls simply leave the meat behind and create a new body.” Mukwok sat down at the wooden table and motioned the two boys to do the same. “It is our way, and it has been promised to us by Nanabozo, or if you like, your Kitche Manito.”
“I must apologize for our reactions,” said Marc. “You must understand, we were never told of such things.”
“I do, Waemitigozhi,” nodded Mukwok. “And now, here is Eshkebug.” Mukwok pulled her to his side. She slapped him and laughed, then she bent down and kissed him.
“You forget your place, Mukwok,” said Eshkebug. “Outside you may be the greatest hunter, but in here you are my subject.” Mukwok made a sour face and slapped her behind. She slapped him again and walked over to the stove. “Men! They are only good for one thing.”
Mukwok winked at the boys and whispered, “And we know what that is.”
“Hunting!” hollered Eshkebug. “And not one thing more.”
Marc and Joel stayed and ate supper with Mukwok and Eshkebug. Their dinner was a tasty stew made with many vegetables and also moose meat. The three boys did the dishes, and Marc goaded Mukwok the whole time about hunting for a dishcloth.
The storm, that the grizzly had warned about, came much sooner than anyone had expected. The two boys had to stay with Mukwok and Eshkebug for the evening. Mukwok offered to send his free soul to tell Robert, the innkeeper, that they would not be returning, but Joel explained that they already knew because his eternal-mate and he were soulmelded.
All slept well that evening, except for Marc who was kept up by the shrill cries of the wind outside, and a scratching sound likely made by branches of a near by tree rubbing up against the cabin.