Wordcarpenter Books
Red Mantle

Chapter Three

Coyote Brown

 

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.

"Are they-"

"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."

"But-"

"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 to deflect."

"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."

"Heavy."

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 Manitoulin Island."

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 Elders?"

"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?"

"Yes."

"Wear leathers?"

"Yes."

"Live off the land?"

"Yes."

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."

"Why-"

"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 plentiful.

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 surveillance.

"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 instincts.

Cooler lower down in the hidden canyon, the dogs ran forward to the bottom where they ran around sniffing the corners for traces of boundaries.

"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 history.

"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 here."

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.

 

Chapter Five

 

Arrow

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 of them.

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 trees.

"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.

"We-"

"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 land.

"Do you live here?" Harry faced him directly, showing no fear.

"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 immediately.

"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 Virginia."

"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 environment.

The moccasin man's underlying premise is philosophical more than anything, and by seeing it through it puts a man in these kinds of extremes.

"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 be polite.

"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 brothers.

"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.

 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 

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