Spirits of the Past - A Short Story
Category: News & PoliticsBy: kavika • one week ago • 28 comments
Situated on the Minnesota Canadian border lies an area of natural beauty. Rivers, creeks, lakes, bog, towering forests, and a variety of wildlife. The area harkens back to what the area was the 16th century. This is known as the ''Boundary Waters''. A protected area that is positioned on both sides of the border, part in the United States and part in Canada.
Void of highways, ATV's and the commercial expansion that has destroyed so many of nature's wonders the area is home to a very small population and is a beacon for nature lovers. Canoe trips are the most popular form of transportation and tourists flock to the area to enjoy this age-old form of travel.
With its vast stands of birch, maple, poplar, and willow trees, co-existing with heavy undergrowth, bogs and peat moss, rivers, and lakes. Wildlife thrives here. The Bald Eagle is a common sight as are hawks, bears, moose, deer, and the ever-present wolf. Muskrat, beaver, and otter dominate the streams and rivers. Bass, Pike, and Walleye are common in the lakes. Wild rice grows on the lake's edge and along the rivers.
It is a paradise that is difficult to find in today's America.
With its beauty comes a past that is little known to today's visitors. A past that writes a chapter in the history of the United States and Canada.
This is the home of the ''Ancient Ones''. They have been here since time began. They are the protectors of this ancient land and destroyers of anyone that would soil it.
As the tourist glides through the pristine waters in a modern-day canoe with their guide showing them the way, or as they walk the trails that wander through the dense forests they feel as if they're alone in this vast wilderness. Their thoughts take them back to a time when there were no automobiles, no ATVs or snowmobiles. To a time when travel was by foot or birch bark canoe, their romantic view of times past belies the history that surrounds the Boundary Waters.
Sam Ralston and his wife Susan, along with their friends Tom and Marge Wentworth wanted a vacation that was different and away from the hubbub of Chicago.
Both couples were born and raised in the city and had lived there their entire lives. To them, the local park was the ''wilderness''. Dogs and cats were about as wild an animal as they had ever encountered. Oh yes, they had been to the zoo and seen the wild animals. Animals that were held in by concrete and steel, their natural environment taken from them. They had read stories and seen documentaries of animals in the wild and this vacation would be different. They wanted to ''go back to nature'' and had decided on spending two weeks in the Boundary Waters.
Their flight from Chicago to Duluth Minnesota was uneventful. They rented a car in Duluth and drove the hundred-plus miles to Ely Minnesota. The jumping-off point to the Boundary Waters.
Arriving in Ely they were delighted with the small town and its people. Finding their outfitter and guide was no trouble in a town this small. Entering the small wooden building with a painted sign that read, ''Larson Outfitters and Guide Service'' they met Bill Larson, owner, and guide. Bill had owned the company for twenty years, a man in his mid 40's, he had been born and raised here and was considered one of the best guides in the north country.
They would spend the night in a small cabin owned by Bill. He would spend the next few hours showing them how to handle a canoe, check their supplies, and be sure that they had insect repellent. The next morning they would leave for ten days following the rivers, streams, and lakes through the Boundary Waters. At times they would have to portage from one stream to the next. Both couples were anxious to start their adventure.
The next morning at 6 Bill was knocking on their cabin door. Canoes were loaded and Bill had double-checked all the equipment and food that they would be taking with them. Everything was in order, all Bill had to do was to get them into the canoes and head out into ten days of adventure.
They would be three to a canoe, Bill, Sam, and Susan in one canoe and Tom, Marge, and the second guide Duncan in the other canoe. With Tom, Marge and Duncan was a huge animal, 130 pounds or more. Sable in color with cold blue eyes. Duncan called it Ogichidaa (protector). Tom and Marge looked at the Protector with some apprehension. Bill was a descendant of generations of Swedes, light in complexion with wavy blond hair. Duncan on the other hand was darker in color, more bronze than brown. His hair, long dark brown. The most distinctive feature of Duncan was his piercing eyes. Both men were experts in their trade
At 7 am they pushed off, the couples ready for their adventure into the wilderness. As they chatted among themselves Bill and Duncan's paddles cut through the water without any splash. Small ripples left behind the only sign that they were moving through the calm clear water.
The ripples were not the only thing that was following them. They would soon learn that they were not alone.
As they glided across the lake, the canoes cut through the water with little resistance. Bill and Duncan guided the canoes with ease, their experience dating back decades. Both sat in the rear of the canoes, it was easier to handle them and keep their eyes on their guests that way.
Their guests were lost in the beauty of what their eyes were seeing. They left the lake and paddled up a small river, the lush forest growing right up to the shores of the river. As they rounded a bend in the river it opened up to a small lake. Susan cried out in surprise and delight, there was a bull moose feeding. Its huge body submerged in the lake, its head beneath the water ripping up the soft growth on the bottom of the lake. Its head rose above the water, vegetation hanging from its rack.
Both couples stared in wonder at this huge beast. They had never seen anything like it, 1600 pounds, its rack stretching six feet across as it looked at them. They were only thirty yards from it as Bill and Duncan held the canoes in place not wanting to risk annoying the moose, they knew that a bull moose would charge anything, it was best to simply sit still and wait him out. They didn't need an angry bull moose charging their canoes.
As they watched the moose it slowly walked back to the shoreline and disappeared into the forest. Its huge rack moving through the trees with ease.
As they crossed the lake and entered a river everyone was excited about what they had seen. Bill and Duncan smiled to themselves, it was always fun to see city folks come face to face with a bull moose.
The day on the water was one of excitement and wonder for both couples. They had never seen nature this close, the forest surrounding them, the trees reaching to the sky, birds casting shadows across the water, squirrels scampering through the trees, and the sight of the moose still had them excited.
Later in the day, a wind came up, not strong but with amateurs in the canoes, it was time to set up camp for the night. Bill and Duncan headed the canoes into the shoreline. Protector jumped from the canoe ears at full prick alert as he sniffed the site soon he laid down, a signal to Duncan that the area was safe. Unloading their gear and setting up camp and preparing a fire took the better part of an hour, by that time the sun was starting to set, the wind had stopped and the air hung heavy.
Duncan got the fire going, making a small smudge pot to keep the mosquitoes away that were sure to visit soon.
Bill started telling their guests the history of the area. This area was home to the Ojibwe. At one point in time their area started around the Hudson Bay and spread as far west as present day Montana, they knew no boundary between countries. This was their country no matter what the whites wanted to call it. Duncan then took over the storytelling, mixing words from the Ojibwe language into his story. He told them the story of the Ojibwe when they defeated the Mohawk and the Iroquois Nation, then the Sioux and the Sac and Fox. Many times taking in their defeated foes into the Ojibwe Nation. He told them of the young boy that had been captured from the Dakota by the Ojibwe and how White Thunderbird had become one of the great leaders of the Ojibwe.
They listened to all that Duncan told them. They had never seen a real Indian to their knowledge, now they were in the heartland of the Ojibwe, who was known among other tribes and themselves as Anishinaabe, the First People.
Duncan then told them of the French that had come to the area to trap fur, they had traded with the Ojibwe for decades and they had become the most powerful of all Indian Nations. There was inter-marriage between the French and Ojibwe which can still be seen today. French names for many towns and many Anishinaabe carried a French name.
It was getting late and Duncan told them he would tell them more in the next couple of days.
As they drifted off to sleep none of them heard the distant sound of the drums. Softly drifting through the night, only Duncan and Protector heard it. The soothing sound hiding a much more sinister movement.
The next morning they were up early and heading deeper into the unknown. They traveled down the rivers, having to portage when the river came too narrow or shallow to support their canoes. Bill and Duncan were at home, their guests still in wonder of what they were seeing.
Behind them, shadows moved through the forest, silent and with a purpose. A single birch bark canoe with two men in it, men whose skin was bronze with long flowing hair as they moved silently through the water. The fog was still laying on the water at this time of the morning making the canoe impossible to see, it's paddles made no sound as they cut the water.
Moving through the forest the shadows made no sound, their footfalls didn't disturb the forest floor. They moved like ghosts through the timber. High in the trees, the Great Horned Owl looked down on them, the forest was suddenly silent.
No one in the party was aware that something was different, all except Duncan, a slight smile played at the corners of his mouth as he pulled on the paddle, secure in the knowledge that he belonged to the Boundary Waters, his ancestors had traded furs with the French, his father's father had fought at Sugar Point on Leech Lake. He laughed to himself, the last battle of the Indian Wars they say. No, it's not the last battle. The Pillager Band of Ojibwe had defeated the 3rd U.S. Infantry there and Duncan knew that their Spirits were around him. His grandfather, Thunder Water had told him the stories of the battle which he had fought in.
The group pulled their canoes to the shore to set up camp for the night. Again Protector searched the site. Bill got the fire going as Duncan pushed the canoe back into the water, getting in he paddled a hundred yards offshore. The group looked at Bill and asked what is Duncan doing? Bill looked at them and explained to them that Duncan was going to get fish for them. They looked out at Duncan and saw him kneeling in the canoe with a spear in his hand. They didn't understand what was going on. Bill then explained to them that it was the way of the Ojibwe to spearfish, something that few had ever seen.
Soon Duncan paddles back to the shore with four good-sized walleye as the group watched in amazement. Duncan cleaned, wrapped them in tinfoil and added wild rice, lemon onion, and put them in the fire.
The group finished their dinner, one that was the way of the Ojibwe. They had never had anything as nearly as good. The group was getting more and more interested in the way of the Ojibwe. This is the way they had lived for hundreds of years.
Later as they sat around the fire, a half-moon shining above them and the majestic forest surrounding them, Bill looked over at Duncan and said, Duncan please continue telling our guests the history of the area. With that, deep in the background, the soft din of the drums started. Again no one heard them except Duncan and Protector. In the surrounding forest, there was a movement among the trees.
Duncan began to tell them of the great Ojibwe Chiefs. Bug-O-Nay-Geeshig or as the whites called him, Hole-In-The-Day the younger and his father, Hole-In-The-Day the elder, the great war chief of the Ojibwe. His story moved on to Chief Buffalo, Broken Tooth, Flat Mouth, and the great woman warrior, Goes Across The Sky Woman...He told them of the use of birch bark and how it was used to build their canoes, some of which reach thirty feet and could carry twelve warriors with all their equipment. How it was used to make pots to hold food and water and for their housing, and how they were used to record the history of the Ojibwe people. He told them of the ''Sacred Scrolls of the Midewiwin'' the secret society of healers that the history of the Ojibwe people was written on, some dated back over a thousand years. The guests were enthralled by the stories and could feel themselves drifting back in time. Being in the heartland of Ojibwe added to their feelings.
Duncan asked them if they enjoyed maple syrup. They all said they loved it on their pancakes and Duncan smiled and then told them of how the Ojibwe tapped the maple trees for the syrup and how they used it to keep their food from spoiling. How wild rice was named manoomin in the Anishinaabe language and was called the food that grows on water, the guests were falling deeper and deeper into his spell.
His melodic voice held them, his eyes burned into them and they could feel the power that he had. He told them the story of the Windigo, the terrifying creature of Ojibwe legend. By the time he was done all four of them were terrified. The darkness of the night surrounding them, the calls of animals mixed in with the darkness, and far in the background the drums, the drums were always there, and only now did they hear them.
Seeing that they were spellbound by his stories, he then told them of the spirits or as he called them the Manitous. How each of them had a Manitou and how the Ojibwe had two souls and all other living things had a soul. He told them of the ''Teaching Rocks'' and the creation story of the Ojibwe.
He told them the story of Gitchi Sabe, the Big Foot of the Anishinaabe. A gentle creature that lived in the forest and protected children lost in the forest.. Duncan explained how Gitchi Sabe was a shapeshifter, and he could be sitting beside them disguised as Duncan, Bill, or Protector. The eyes quickly shifted to Bill and Protector wondering, what if.
He told them of the legend of Mishipeshu , a creature that lives in the lakes and rivers and protected the waters.
Duncan looks at each of them and asked if they wanted to hear the story of the Ghost Wolves. They eagerly shook their heads yes. As Duncan described them and their part in the Anishinaabe life they each looked at the huge beast that Duncan called Ogichidaa, and a shudder ran through them.
They felt that they had become part of Ducan's stories. Then he told them of the Anishinaabe Thunderbird, the symbol of the Ojibwe people. The Thunderbird was the most powerful of all Manitou's and lived on the edge of the earth. So powerful that a human could not see one and live. The Thunderbird was the protector of Mother Earth.
When they heard that they quickly had questions for Duncan. They were all ''tree huggers'' and felt that we were doing much damage to Mother Earth. Duncan could feel their concern and knew that they were people of the forest.
They didn't notice the movement around their campground, nor the eyes flashing in the moonlight. Duncan didn't have to notice, he knew that they were there. They were always there.
Far to the northeast heavy clouds were building, winds were stirring and the air was becoming heavy with humidity.
The group went to their tents and dropped off to sleep. Bill made sure that the canoes were well anchored to the shore as Duncan picked up the scraps of food left, they didn't need a black bear or a pack of wolves coming into camp to feed. Protector laid next to their tents as always alert to his surroundings.
Soon all were asleep. To the north the clouds were moving steadily across the sky, the moon was now covered and there was little light. Winds were starting to move the branches of the trees, dancing to the music of nature. The water on the rivers and lakes was roiling.
The night was turning on them. Soon Mother Nature and the Spirits would have their way.
In Duluth, a city of 100,000, a hundred plus miles from the Boundary Waters the U.S. Weather Bureau was issuing a warning of a storm moving in the area of the Boundary Waters. High winds, heavy rain thunder, and lightning, this being October, a cold front could accompany the storm.
Radio stations in the area were broadcasting alerts of the storm and in Ely, short wave radio operators were trying to contact guides and their clients in the Boundary Waters and warn them of the storm headed their way. A storm of this size was not to be ignored. Ignoring it could mean death in the wilderness.
The storm moved west as the rain started to pelt the earth, lightning strikes toppling trees, and the wind tearing into everything in its path. Waves building on the lakes and rivers, slapping hard into the shore, their strength growing stronger by the second.
The group was now awake, the wind ripping at their tents, lightning's deadly fingers reaching from the heavens to earth, thunder pounding and shaking the earth. Bill put on his rain poncho and left his tent, checking to be sure that their equipment was secure. Then he went to each tent to warn them to stay inside the tent, the storm would soon pass.
A deadly finger of lightning reached out and a huge pine tree toppled, its weight crushing the canoes, the waves reaching further onto the shore, pounding the already damaged canoes. Bill knew that this was not going to be an ordinary storm as he felt his skin getting colder, the temperature was dropping.
In their tents Sam, Susan, and their friends, Tom and Marge were terrified, they had never experienced a storm like this. Back in Chicago when there was a storm they were safe in their homes, protected from nature, now nothing but a tent stood between them and the fury of Mother Nature.
Bill knew that the cold front could be deadly to the group. Freezing rain would drop their body temperature to a dangerous level. He remembered the stories of the surprise storm that caught duck hunters, many froze to death in the horrible storm of 1940. Forty-nine had died in Minnesota, many froze to death, and those that tried to take their boats back across lakes to seek shelter drown in the rough waters. But that was mid-November, this was October. A beautiful time in northern Minnesota leaves changing color in the Minnesota autumn, the air crisp and comfortable.
They had experienced beautiful days in the 60s and the nights in the low 50s. Now the temperature was already in the low 40's and headed down. The rain was cold, very cold with the wind whipping it to a frenzy.
Shadows moved around the outside of the campsite, glowing eyes looking out from the dark as a birch bark canoe glided across the water.
Bill yelled to Duncan, there was no answer. Bill pulled back the flap of his tent but he wasn't there and Protector was missing. Radio operators back in Ely were sending out messages of the storm along with a dire new warning. Cold front, freezing rain, danger! danger!
Bill knew that their lives hung in the balance, but there was nothing he could do, his body temperature was dropping and his fingers were getting numb, he was soaked to the skin, his rain gear of little protection against the fury of Mother Nature. Bill pulled Tom and Marge out of their tent and got them into Sam and Susan's tent, now the five of them huddled together hoping that they could outlast the storm.
Bill was worried about Duncan, where the hell was he. He hoped that Duncan hadn't been injured, they have been friends for a long time and the worry showed on Bill's face.
The temperature was now freezing and the rain was turning to sleet, they couldn't survive much longer in this. Bill kept trying to re-assure his clients that there was nothing to worry about, but they knew better, they were soaked as was all of their equipment, and the cold was tightening its deadly grip on them.
The wind ripped open the flap to their tent and they looked into the fury that was there. Stunned, they thought they saw a man standing there. A huge clap of thunder split the air, a tentacle of death reached for the earth, lighting up the dark as it moved towards them.
Then they were able to make out the figure standing there. Duncan stood in the freezing rain, wearing only jeans. Barefoot, with no shirt, he was looking towards the heavens. The freezing rain stinging his body, the wind ripping through his hair. Next to him was Protector. Then he raised his arm towards the sky as the deadly bolt of lightning reached him. They watched in awe as the lightning reached his hand. At that moment Duncan was transformed, his hair was braided and reached his lower back, buckskin covered his legs, and a breastplate showed across his chest. Bear claws hung around his neck and paint covered his face, Stone Hand was among them. Protector threw back his head and from deep within him came the haunting howl of the wolf. They could not believe what they were seeing, then slowly out of the shadows of the timber walked ghostly figures, each moving toward their tent. Ogichidaa walked out to meet them, again chilling howl erupted from his throat. Their brains screamed Ghost Wolves. A canoe slid onto the shore and two more figures stepped out of it onto the shoreline. The bronze skin pelted by rain, they made their way towards the campsite.
The Spirits of the Past had come for them. Recoiling in terror they were sure that they were going to die.
Three days later throughout the upper Midwest, newspapers, TV, and radio were carrying the story of the deadly storm and the strange story that a group of survivors was telling. It was hard to believe, and most thought that the group was seeking their fifteen minutes of fame.
Some nonsense of Indians and wolves appearing and protecting them from the storm, and one of them that could catch lightning. It made for good stories, but it soon passed.
Sam, Susan, Tom, and Marge were back in Chicago their lives changed forever, knowing that they had met, The Spirits of the Past.
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