We didn't know it at the time but as soon as we entered the
inner realm of the forest through the crawl space a pack of coyotes were aware
of our presence. One of them, a thin brown coyote with a partially shaggy coat,
followed us like it was a sport, monitoring the scent and urine path of each
dog through the wet undergrowth. It wasn't until we hit the opening that Coyote
Brown decided to take a drink of water beside us, each dog growling very
slowly. Both of us hoped the dogs would mind themselves. Brown looked at me
when he drank, from one eye at least, showing us that he wasn't afraid of us
and that we were on his land now.
When I glanced at Harry I knew the best course of action was
nothing, so we all waited there, not moving for a long while, the dogs sitting
beside their masters watching the shaggy coyote sitting at the water's edge
forty yards away. We all watched a group of Sandhill cranes in the water near
the cedar patch squawk. And I swear we all put our ears back and let the
ancient screams sound like music in the wind. After a minute the coyote left
us, disappeared into the thick bush that gave this land no border or landmark.
"Good sign," said my brother. "Means we're going to be
protected by the four-leggeds. And that's good because I sense there could be
ancestor spirits in these woods." For a moment we could only hear the panting
of the dogs but there were shuffling sounds all around us. It was all alive.
All of it. In the opening the sunrays shined directly from above as if the
light added an extra ingredient of energy into the mix. The light came through
the trees like diamond slivers of brightness grinning in Loki'esque luck at
making it to the earth's skin.
"See that patch of orange hidden close to the birch?" Only
when he pointed did I see an orange patch in a shaded spot by a fallen birch.
"Yes, they are."
"No, we can't."
"Why shouldn't we? The Bear Man pointed us to this patch so
we should use them to find our goal."
"Don't worry. You worry too much."
"But Harry you know-"
"I know. Can't you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you my brother. Silly question served
"Listen Red, these are on our path so therefore they must
serve to help us. Only with that belief going in can we find the relic and
change history." I sighed, shoulders slouched. I never liked eating any raw
vegetables, particularly mushrooms. And the orange mushrooms were so similar in
look to the extremely poisonous other orange mushrooms. One has freckles and
the other doesn't. I mean: ‘are those flakes or insect nibbles or are they
freckles?' Miss the call and you could be down flat.
But Harry was really the best boy scout I knew. He had
always gone for his badges throughout our childhood and I think now he was
eager to apply all that knowledge on his own fieldtrips into the bush. And in
this instance, with his near perfect record of forays into the forest, he went
along with the medicine from the plants around us and washed it down with
bottle of tea I carried in my pack.
"If there are spirits here in this forest then with these
plants offered by the Great Spirit we will be able to find the hidden doors
that lead us to our destiny."
It was not much long after that that things really came
alive. Coyote Brown lingered along his favorite patch of land with others in
his pack, eyes lazy in the heat of the afternoon. A cluster of turtles were
perched on a rock that looked like barnacles from the distance. They only moved
their heads and even then they only moved when Klondike went near them. She
loved the water. But Mosquito was only interested in guarding me.
"Where did that come from?" Harry stood over a footprint.
"Looks almost like a-"
"It does, doesn't it? I agree."
"But would that be proper footwear for this terrain?"
The question perplexed us as we pondered the footprint,
large and the foot covered with basic leather.
"Could be... No. It's curious isn't it?" We both followed the
prints and partials along a line around a fallen tree into a pine forest where
the ground was covered with a rusty carpet. Cut into the soil were deer tracks
weaving through the undergrowth to a high point. Klondike ran forward and we
followed, soon hearing the falls.
"That sounds like water."
"Waterfalls the Elders said of this place. Ancient hiding
spot for the Ashinabe from the invading Europeans. Like the Switzerland of
Branches cut sharp against thick hides cut the skin easily,
the air quiet under the canopy.
"What else do you know of this place, according to the
"That there is a great waterfall that bridges this world
from theirs, the last remaining tribe in North America, unspoiled and at one
with the earth."
"They would have ground willow bark for pain medicine?"
"Live off the land?"
Despite sensing the waterfall near the walk was muted on the
fallen pine needles, the slope of the pineland suggested the edge of the
escarpment coming. The shuffle was a group of raccoons that waddled away from
us in a striped-eyed hurry. Looking the other way I saw Coyote Brown and his
mates on the other flank, the air getting heavy with moisture.
"Where do you think-"
"Over there, where it drops off by the broken cedar."
"I don't know. Gut I guess. I'm leaning there. If we find it
we can follow it in."
"Yes. But are you-"
"No, I'm not but if I were alone that's where I would move.
We don't know how far this goes. And it's easy going so let's cut to the water
source along this ridge, which I think is there: northwest.
When we first saw the creek it appeared small and partially
hidden by the flatness of the banks. The spillover was responsible for the wet
ground onto soil thinly spread over flat limestone. But because we were all
ready on high land the water must be coming from some of the many water springs
dotting the highlands of Ice Lake. And the water was fresh and clear and
I followed Harry downstream with the dogs walking slower,
remnants of bones from past meals along the water's edge. The winding stream
was like a liquid trail that had cut the surface of the underlying rock so that
it deepened as we walked to the edge of the escarpment. Klondike started to
whimper when a faint wisp of moisture wafted upwards, the grass now sparse.
Klondike showed no fear of heights when he sauntered to the rocky lip. The
ledge of rock was steep but the other side of the canyon was only a few
kilometers wide and spread out in a broken fissure on either side. It looked
like a hidden labyrinth of the forest on a sunken elevation like a valley left
aside from the modern eye, off the grid from satellites and electronic
"How do we get down there? There must be a way down.
Klondike! How do we get down there?" He pointed downwards with his finger, the
dog looking curiously for a moment until he turned in earnest wagging its tail.
"Go slowly. It's getting a bit fuzzy and there's nothing
fuzzy about gravity." It is true that my gait had become somewhat wobbly and
that I had slowed my pace to a crawl when close to the cliff's edge. A series
of ledges led back into a fissure where you had to cross to the other side
before descending farther down to the valley floor. Fractures in the rock
spread deeply outwards like a spider's web, each cut deep but very narrow. The
dogs had room to jump the fissures with ease though it went against their
Cooler lower down in the hidden canyon, the dogs ran forward
to the bottom where they ran around sniffing the corners for traces of
"We should get some sort of marker-"
"That's what I was thinking. But what should we use?" Harry
looked around for something he could place at the path's entrance so we culd
find our way out of there.
"Here." I picked up a dead branch and placed it diagonally
against the rock face but was not easy to see. So I found a few more and made a
loose bundle that had some distinction against the ground.
"No it won't" I said to counter Harry's look. So he found a
stone and placed it on the first upward step.
"So what is it then that we're looking for?" We stepped onto
the valley floor and saw the waterfall.
"That," I pointed. "The waterfall. From there we start."
We found a path to the base of the falls, a small amount of
water that hit lightly against mossy rock where the dogs smelled something
ripe. From the pungency of the smell I knew a bear was close by. I called my
dog over and made sure she knew what was going on - that she had to be extra
sharp on lookout.
"Can you take us away from the bear's territory?" Harry
thought about it for a moment and then nodded. Surveying the waterfall I saw an
image painted on a rock. Someone had made an image of Kokopelli holding a
spear, lines crisp, black like coal. Only close up did we see that he was
facing the north.
"See that?" Harry nodded and walked away from the water to
the north where there was another splinter in the rock that narrowed and then
opened into another oasis of valley floor. After a few minutes we both knew the
air was free of bear and that if we kept away from the water we could keep
danger at arm's length.
"What exactly do you think is down here?"
I told him I didn't know but that from one of my dreams with
the Black Racer appearing that there is some sort of historical relic hidden in
the heart of the forest beyond the waterfall.
"This is from your dream?" This seemed to take him
off guard. I hadn't made it clear that my knowledge of the Black Racer had only
been through dreams, and he didn't know that I had discerned anything of
significance from him.
"I didn't even know we could get past all those fallen trees
near the perimeter of the forest. But now that we're here let's remember how to
get back here without seeing the bear, and keep our eyes open for a sign of
"What else in your dream did you see?"
"A waterfall, the Black Racer, a full moon, a cave, poplar
trees. Those are some of the ingredients I remember.
"What does your gut tell you?"
It was a silly question but one that did deserve an answer
so I replied: "My gut tells me that the dream was an ancestor spirit telling me
that at some time in the future you will go deep into the forest and maybe find
this waterfall and if you do then maybe you will find this lost record and
fulfill a prophecy made almost three thousand years ago. There's so much I
don't know but if I were to tell you of my gut, that's it."
"Well one thing is for sure, not many people ever come down
Harry removed a pinch of tobacco from his tobacco pouch,
raised it in the air and spoke to the Great Spirit, asking for protection from
any restless or bad spirits in these parts, and to protect the dogs from
danger, and that we offer our respect in these new lands. When he placed the
tobacco on the ground I bowed my head and said ‘Amen.' Closing my eyes for a
moment I could sense spirits in the area, with the rock walls acting like
pinball flippers, bouncing sounds back at you. Even Sandhill cranes knew of
this remote place, their squawks loud against the cliff face. The loud rusty
screams made the heart of the forest prehistoric.
We had both been keeping our eye open for another moccasin
footprint so when Harry found another print neither of us were surprised. A
snake slithered by so when we looked down the print was plain to see. The only
change was that now it was probable that we would bump into this mountain man.
I was a fearless boy so it's interesting that I was full of fear during this
time. There was a wild man around and black bears and snakes crawling at our
feet and wandering spirits among the branches.
"Okay so if we bump into this dude then remember this is his
turf. Offer him tobacco. But be respectful. Let's not piss this guy off. That
would be bad. And we don't want bad right now."
No, I thought, we don't want bad. I looked at my compass and
the fissure went north, widening as we went. Mosquito was panting and soaking
wet and but brave at my feet and Klondike was ahead. Harry looked like
Huckleberry Finn but I called him The Hawberry Kid because he loved hawberries.
He ate them whenever he saw them. Free food from Mother Nature he said. And he
was right. But they were a bit too acidic for me.
And it was beside a Hawberry patch where Harry found another
Kokopelli holding a spear. Black paint. This one was older and worn but still
evenly drawn. What was the God of mischief and fertility doing here? I had
faith that there was an answer to these questions but at the time was unaware
We stood there at the Kokopelli marker and tried to figure
out what it meant. This one was face west where there was a patch of cedar
"Do you think?"
"Could be. Let me check."
A narrow channel of water flowed through this patch of
cedars where someone had used as a place to sit. The bark on the fallen tree
was worn as if a human sat there. A little farther over there was a campfire
that had recently been used.
Out from the bush walked a man wearing moccasins and dear
skins on his legs carry something he was eating in his hand.
"Rare it is that I see anyone in these parts," he said,
beholding the twins.
"Yes, are brothers, I see that." His beard was half white
but the rest was thin and fair, his hair still dark tied behind his head like a
mane. His gangly frame was lithe and lean under his leathers, his eyes open
wide, his senses alert and polished. The size of his eyes looking at me was
disconcerting at first because I remember thinking he might strike at me. I
didn't realize at the time that he regarded us as a potential threat, that we
might have been planted by the Ministry of the Environment as one of the local
ranger's attempts to identify him to kick him off what must be privately owned
"Do you live here?" Harry faced him directly, showing no
"Yes, this is where I spend my time. I have a few camps."
"What about the winters?"
"It does get cold but with the wood and a small area to heat
I manage. Don't get me wrong I can read and write and have tools that make my
life easier to live the old ways but society is now too sick to become part of
so only living off the grid can you have your freedom without your mobile phone
tracking you down to someone you don't want to see, or bills arriving at your
mailbox or random stops on the roads ready to pounce with a criminal charge or
jail time. It changed after Wikileaks was derailed with Assange in the
Ecuadorian embassy. Do you youngsters remember that?" I looked at Harry you
looked back at me. His lips came to together in a word and I knew it
"We remember that - when he spent ten years stuck in that
room yet still operated freely."
"How can anyone our age not know of Julian Assange. He is
our Anonymous Leader and our generation's Neo - a real life hero who was the
first to fight for Web freedoms, and who enabled Edward-"
"Snowden to inform the world of the trespasses of the NSA
and a few others, which resulted in Germany-"
"Kicking out the telecom giant who carried the service to
"It was a massive thing."
"True, it was big. It was the turning point. That's when I
said it was enough."
"But why here?" He looked at me curiously.
"Why not here? Man has been living down here since the
beginning of the last ice age - a continuous existence for 9000 years. Growing
up on the west of the island I had heard the legends of the Red Man holding out
here against the encroaching presence of the white man but like most of the
Natives here in the past they only came to Manitoulin during the summers in
honor of the Great Spirit Manitou but left for the winters to their winter
quarters. Some remained here, like that settlement in Sheguindah."
I knew the one he was referring to - a place where there had
been continuous human presence since 9000BCE.
"Does anyone else live here?" Harry sat down on the ground,
waiting for the moccasin man the also sit.
"Yes, some Natives live south of here for the summers, for
the past few years anyway. They leave me alone, which is good." He sat
cross-legged beside the cold campfire and half smiled at the twins in front of
him. His eyes were bloodshot as if they were infected with blood, eyelids
hooded over tired flesh and lined forehead. His face had a layer of dirt. Two
teeth were missing along the bottom of his mouth so when he spoke there was a
slight slur. He was a man who spent all his time in silence. There was
something beautiful about him, something that was harmonic with his rich
surroundings, something in tune with Nature's hum that somehow radiated out
from him. In a matter of minutes Harry and I were transformed from an
outer-grid mentality to an au naturale disposition closer aligned to the
demands of the environment in balance. By finding equilibrium with natural
surroundings one can attune their senses and mind to a sharp edge, reaching the
heights of potential otherwise difficult to reach in the modern manmade urban
The moccasin man's underlying premise is philosophical more
than anything, and by seeing it through it puts a man in these kinds of
"The water is good here," said Harry, which caught the
deer-skinned man's attention.
"Yes, very good water. In fact the water here is spring
water with added natural nutrients for a long life. Something to do with the
level of magnesium and calcium." He reached into his pocket and then offered
Harry and I some of the homemade biscuits he ate.
"It's ground corn salted with some boiled plants. My own
invention. I like it. Gives me energy a little bit." We both took half of what
he offered and then watched as we each ate the food, grimacing only a little to
"That's like the old ground corn the Indians made during the
Les Voyageurs era. What was that stuff called?" They both thought of what the
food was called in the history books but none of us could remember.
"They mixed it with decomposing fish as well didn't they?"
The moccasin man nodded with vigor like a sage teaching an apprentice.
"For more flavor. The corn without salt is tasteless. Hard
to eat. Let the fish ferment and then use that strong odor and saltiness to mix
into the ground corn and water and then heat them. They become biscuits similar
to those we just ate. The only difference is that I add some dried plant leaves
and use egg to keep it all together."
"My tongue feels funny."
"Numb." I said.
"The biscuit you ate has some health benefits." Harry and I
glanced at one another but were interrupted from our telepathic communication
when the dogs picked up a scent and ran off making noise.
"One thing your dogs need to watch is being porcupined
around here. There are more than a few and are not afraid to throw their weight
around." I told him that both our dogs had already been ‘porcupined'
before, both need the assistance of the vet to removed quills from around the
mouth, upper lip and inside the mouth.
"Do you know about the Native legends around here?" Harry
stood in front of the Moccasin Man in earnest. He studied my brother for a few
moments and then shrugged his shoulders, choosing to like these innocent twin
"Let me take you to a place where you can get a good
perspective of the valley. It's a vantage point. And on the way I'll tell you
about some of the stories that tell of this place's past." The crunch underboot
and the heavy sounds of birds was all I could hear as we started off for what
was to become a turning point in my life.