the foundations here are tended to with such precision that thick bark can be peeled clear away the height of giizhikaatigoog. exacting slices, clean angles, and textured edges make a WSÁNEĆ aesthetic that’s sure. horizontal cuts, the graceful tri-angles, the upward harvest exist right alongside trails made by “friends of” the provincial park that claims and occupies this place. these trees stand there with majestic authority witnessing visitors who hike them. how, as you turn the bend, lost in your own self, this precision, this straight up the height of the tree to the sky in front of us all, endures and in doing so holds us to account to where we are, whose where we are in. compels consideration of slices and angles, edges and shapes, the im/possibility of removing valuable exteriors away using sacred methods straight upward to seemingly unreachable reaches. forces us to face the now-exposed inner curvature of this life. hard, smooth, misshapen in places. cedar leaf shadow. vulnerable. unfazed by the vulnerability. it just grows new, beautifully hearty edges and seams to support it.
As the young folx say, “It’s been a minute”.
The minute though, hasn’t been for lack of wanting to be here.
Over the very long time, I’ve thought of “anishinaabeweziwin” often.
And been in conversations with others about this place, too. This place who I now see as a friend.
Been in conversation about a tugging.
I asked about writing pain, as I’ve done here in this place, here and there. Rarely, but raw.
I wondered out loud what it means to write pain or trauma that results in nothing different other than its’ public exposure. I suppose it wants to be healing writing. I suppose it asks for help. Or, witnesses.
Why inscribe pain into a place, a friend, into the out-open if it amounts to nothing but still feeling it, now it is just in the wide open?
I wondered what it meant that writing it out and having it here hasn’t done anything but make me feel like one or several gaping wounds remains gaping. When writing pain reveals something about what Tressie MacMillan Cottom refers to as the scab or not yet scabbed in trauma writing. Gaping wounds here, out there. Around.
Kinda like Nanabush, I suppose.
A walking wound.
Makes me think of how some, in the modern moment, describe Nanabush as a buffoon and I wonder if this is because he walks around with his wounds wide open. As though to say, “Here I am everybody, hurting.” The Mother Theresa’s, cult leaders, and narcissists of the modern moment love that shit: the walking around wounded. Deer. Fools.
So, I had that conversation. A few times. With the living. The computer screen animated with brilliant people. Spirit. In my brain.
I was invited to consider giving myself permission to go back and remove the painful pieces.
“You can do that.”
I liked that idea. Even writing that idea into being makes me feel good. You can take out the painful pieces.
The pain about the painful pieces. Take it all away. I could.
But, what does it mean if I do? About my friend, “anishinaabeweziwin”.
I didn’t do.
Another person invited me to consider leaving it. “This is life, after all. Yours. Anishinaabe.”
I appreciated having people to have these conversations with. Still, I did nothing. And still, nothing is resolved. I remain mulling. Now, writing. Trying to. Been.
Over the past few months, I have kept and keep wanting to post. I keep wanting to get caught up with an old friend. There’s been so much in public life that I wanted to write about. Things to mull over. So many stories to tell. Photo collages. Meh. Writing, mm. I have three pieces started. Semi-finished. I won’t post them. They don’t feel full up. So, I keep writing and stopping. Thinking about these colours with those shapes, edges, angles, lighting; triptychs, trips, a description. Joy. Walking away, back. Start again. Wave my hand—leave me alone, I’ll get back when the time is right. I’m thankful for this friend and contemplate how the relationship is changing. A couple of weeks ago, I edited “About” as medicine. Now a fourth iteration of the purpose of this blog which was born as a way to relief the anxieties around the expectations of academia, I took out the bit about pain and the interesting part about citational process. Pain as portal was necessary before (or so I felt); it doesn’t feel necessary anymore. Removing the pain of the pain feels good. I may put the bit back in about citational process because it’s interesting and has potential. And, this place is a good place for that bit of interesting. I’ll do that in a minute.
I want to write and post because I keep imagining there is something about me that keeps tugging on him, keeps him coming back to check on me. Segueing from his life ever so gently and briefly just to see about me. Here and there. On occasion. No one gets hurt. He showed up in my dreams this past month. The relief of knowing he still cared was everything. His entering my life, still unavailable, being torn—frustrating to read but I read him. I admit, I’d rather that than nothing. I keep thinking I can sense him here. On the land. My land. In me. Longing about. Not (yet) willing to make a move that matters in any significant way. Gestures.
I want to write because a woman is also here.
Skulking around. No judgement. It’s her nature. I contemplate giving her something to run with because her nibi seems to be receding or, repeating itself.
I contemplated me as libation. Woman-as-familiar-taste-to-her.
I want to write about pronouns and identity and how in a modern global, colonial, English-speaking world “she” and “her” are legible but how really for me, I live like my pronouns are my clan and my name and the summer ceremony I have yet to do for both. Fall now, too. That’s Anishinaabe. It’s not cis or trans or queer; beyond the binary. It’s just Anishinaabe. Ojibway. How my sexuality is my clan and my name and my tobacco offered every morning, words spoken to all the directions and ancestors. Today. How my sexuality is a chemistry, a spark, time, and care-to. It’s a moment, a process, not an expectation or marking or parameter.
Pronoun: makwa. waaseyaa’sin.
Sexuality: same. More. Ceremony. Flicker.
I want to write about little bits laid on hot glowing rocks making sparks. Flying up. giizhik medicine in the air.
I’m really just trying to keep up with the rhythm of life since I hunkered down to finish my PhD last spring and into the fall. There was that. It’s been almost a year since done was reached. Then there’s been my family’s recovery from the more than a decade of graduate school. A job. There’s movement and these wholly saturated autumns. Heavy, joyful rain. My skin is dewy?
There’s my Dad, too. He got the flu at the beginning of this year. I was scared he would die. The last time I was scared he would die was winter 2017. It triggered me so that was a ride. This time, I was just stressed so that was good. I asked my step-mom and his neighbour to make him up some fish broth the way I was taught. I knew being from the east ocean and raised on cod, it would do something for him at a cellular level, if not deeper. I feel that way about food. Food from the lands and waters that our bodies are buried into and born out of, on repeat. It’s food that’s cellular-DNA-microscopic-spaces-deep good for us.
Dad didn’t want any broth.
He got worse.
He said, “Ok.”
His neighbour made him some.
I was scared it was too late. I really worried he would die.
I considered n’dodem and wondered what I should do. I smudged and late at night, I took out n’dewe’igan and sang. I just sang whatever came to me. I chanted, or something. I did that until it felt like I didn’t need to do it anymore. I imagined him and the vibrations reaching him. I imagined our dodem system, my mother’s land, the stories I’ve read and learned regarding makwa. I let myself put everything into visualizing him fighting that flu—the vibrations of those medicinal sounds and those intentions knocking the shit out of that virus.
I didn’t tell anybody. Not even him. The silence that comes with such statements with my white family is worse than the silence of not saying anything. It’s just me anyways. What I do. What I want. Think. Feel. Need. Do. It’s just me really trusting who we are as Anishinaabe. Nobody needs to know. I don’t need to talk about it. It’s ours. It’s what we do. See?
He got better.
It was anishinaabe mashkiki; makwa dodem mashkiki.
I went to Transylvania, Romania with a womxn who asked me to be her companion while she travelled around the region doing research for her poetry project. We travelled with a woman-friend of hers while there. A week in, we arrived in Brasov. We were all just getting settled into our hotel rooms when a text came in from my brother:
Chris, Dad had a stroke. It’s bad.
A few hours ago. I was home with him.
K. Are you ok?
Forty-eight hours later, I was by my Dad’s bedside in Ontario; stayed for ten days and slept in a lounge chair beside him the whole time. He was awake for four hours maximum a day but when he was, he knew I was there and he knew I had him. I want to elaborate on all this. It’s one of those posts that isn’t full up yet.
I went back again three weeks later. Stayed for a few days. I went again in July. This time by daaban. It was my first solo drive across so many Indigenous Nations (aka Canada).
Well, the Fur Beebs was with me.
While I was super scared of driving through Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies and of breaking down, particularly where there was no cell signal, nothing bad happened. It turned out to be a hands-raised-to-the-sky-eff-yea kind of experience that included visits with friends, family and listening to great, great, great music. It included long phone conversations through the prairies and one, two, three interesting podcasts when the music and audio books weren’t cutting it. It was seeing land-things I never imagined before, like treetops coming out of the flat, green fields; like prairies opening up into gaping ravines. Like little unexpected gift-treats of geology and colours and shapes that filled me up so good.
It included one return drive back to B.C. a month ago with my girl. I can’t describe the thrill of heading out on the road back home with her.
All this sounds rad, yes. But I was scared and stressed and had to do a lot of work to stay in a good place. On driving across the country alone:
My first teacher was my Dad. This included some things on how to be a human being: one of them was how to be with a beloved who is sick.
No questions asked.
You just go.
(Money may be tight, but you do everything you can to get there. Be there.)
You just drive 300 km when your adult kid is getting their wisdom teeth out for a day surgery. You show up after an 8-hour shift in the steel plant to be with her in the hospital when she’s a little girl and your wife just left you (for good reason). You leave your family no matter how pissed off your wife is to go be with your friend on his death bed even if the dying takes weeks. Even if she gets really pissed off.
You sit alongside your person in the waiting room, in the hallway, in the hospital room, in silence. You do it for hours.
You just sit alongside them.
Because it’s everything.
It wasn’t just him who taught me. There have been girlfriends and mother-figures. Clan mothers. Mary Jane. You just go. No biggy. You certainly don’t blog about it. Pat yourself on the back. That’s another thing my Dad taught me. Don’t.
To be honest, it kills me to think of our old ones being alone in any situation. It killed me to think of my Dad being alone. It does.
And now it’s been just over four months since he lost his ability to talk and execute basic tasks.
I’ve learned that life does not relent. But, blowing bubbles on a windy day helped. So too did trying to teach him to blow bubbles, watching him give over to just waving a big bubble-making wand around. Happy.
Witnessing him and my step-mom, who suffers with chronic pain but still tries to go see him (they’re just friends now), I’ve learned about life and its’ relentlessness.
I’ve learned that, as one nêhiyaw blogger writes about her Auntie’s wisdom, as you get older you don’t remember or cling to the bad stuff, you just remember the good.
This must be what was happening to me while there in the Soo, there back home, in the thick of relationships.
This must be what happened to me this summer.
Some kind of letting-go magic, because, I love to cling.
There’s something hard-earned about the glowing embers of anger in me that makes me not want to let go of it. Not now, now ever. Fuck gentle. Fuck forgiveness. Earn it. Warrant it. Give me a reason to. For instance, I clung to the memory of a white aunt calling me a squaw when I was twelve because she was angry with my step-mom. I’ve learned this about white women. We are their whipping posts when they are all come apart over anything no matter how old we are, no matter how fickle the reason for their come apart. Magic happened because I let it go when she hugged me at forty-seven. Then, she hugged me again. This time wearing a Cleveland Indians shirt. And then, her niece, my cousin. Maybe I just remembered the good for self-preservation reasons. I mean, if you have to live in a context of gas-lighting and racismsexism (never mind the deeply invisibilized coloniality of the context), then maybe it’s survival to let it go. Maybe its survival with some people to let it go but maybe for others it’s a shedding of pain and unresolved matters when other, more important ones present themselves. I think I birthed both kinds of letting go this summer. You just remember the good whatever the context, whatever the why. I felt okay with it then, there. Four thousand plus kilometres distance between me and that gives me space to think it through. Consider. Reconsider. For when I go back. And, order up that (Cleveland) Caucasians t-shirt I’ve always thought was brilliant but always wondered what context I might wear it in.
At 81, my Dad’s life has entered a new chapter and I witnessed him roll with the punches with grace and a grin. Some things of him have disappeared or receded but other things have come to the fore in a big way.
Like his spirit.
I hadn’t heard his, “Hey kid” on the other end of the phone up until a few days ago. That his face popped up on my phone meant that he was able to use his. That he said words that sounded like “Hey kid” was like a little gift from gizhe manidoo. I’ll likely not hear it again the way I have all my life. And, he also recently Facetime’d me at 5 am my time for the first time earlier this week using my girls eight-year-old iPad. To teach him to use it and to get Facetime going was a thing. It’s the only application on the screen other than a radio app which is too difficult for him to understand. We talked—he babbled, I grunted (it was 5 am my time after all). He called me again later that day. This time he babbled and I used English; he saw me and I saw his feet. Trying to tell him to hit the button to reverse the screen was no use. The next day, he picked up his phone and called me: “Hewo. Wha-u-yooin?” It was everything. And, this time of our lives offers so much up for the contemplating.
There was this and that and this and that. And the other day.
The other day, I ended up on memory lane with a friend. We used to go driving around a lot together when I lived in his territory. Now that I don’t live there anymore, we drive around memory lane on occasion.
Ten years ago, this month I was just finishing my MA and starting my PhD about Anishinaabeg womxn and the sugar bush. I consider the Indigenous academy-inside-the-settler-academy and think, it’s not safe to do that in any real way so
i’m working first
on a monograph
not a book
I think of Indigenous womxn of various generational locations in the Indigenous academy-inside-the-settler-academy who have engaged in complaint who have gone quiet who have documented and archived their pain and their fight in order to survive. Their life-lines inform me. Anyhow, after I got over the fact that a decade ago I started my PhD, me and my friend got to reminiscing about the things we would be up to this time of year. There’s manoominike but we were particularly remembering the duck hunting. And the bass fishing. wewebenaabii. Damn. That was good for the soul but it was hard work paddling him around the thick lily pads and tall grasses. He laughed. I’d been in a canoe growing up but only for playing around in on the lake with friends; I was no paddler. I learned from him that paddling was a skill, an art, and in particular, an anishinaabe art. I still think about how trusting he was letting me paddle around, particularly during one of the last dagwaagii (autumns) I was still living there: nodin was high and after some deliberation we decided to head out. Geezus, it was everything I could do to keep us slowed down enough to maneuver around the grasses, careful not to startle zhiishiibag (ducks) too soon. All I remember was that wind at my back, the dark blue water with waves (small but big enough to be dangerous for a canoe) and how petrified I was about the conditions, my lack of skill, and that we would tip, he would drown, and the whole community would blame me for letting their beloved Elder go duck hunting in that weather! And, the bass fishing. First, we had to go catch the little amakakiig (frogs) for bait and then we’d head to this little lake. The last time we went to get amakakiig, I remember his frog hunting technique: crouch down low, come up quiet behind them with a slow hand and then snatch! He was really good at that. He’d get them and then bloop, into the minnow bucket they’d go. Little bright greens frogs. When there was enough, off to the little zaa’igan we’d go and then into the canoe looking for the perfect spot amidst the lily-pads to ker-plunk amakakii down into it, hoping for a bass or two. You’d think that frogging isn’t much but this is the guy who went far into the court system to protect his peoples bull frog hunting rights which he was successful in (albeit there are really no bullfrogs left to hunt) and how this, decades later, had a thing to do with his people getting their hunting and spearing rights back. Settler law is a bizarre beast. The unruly ways Indigenous resistance and endurance work, a mysterious and beautiful one. Timing seems a powerful factor in the alchemy of how things work out.
We talk about all the things we did on the land when I was living over there. I openly wondered why gizhe manidoo allowed me to learn all those things with him only to make it so that I am now in someone else’s territory. Now he’s there in his home still and I’m out of my territory, and we’re reminiscing as land-based practice. He says he doesn’t go out on the land much since I’ve left—no one to take him. I’m sure he just says that to make me feel not so lonely.
I go back even further and think about some of my first teachers. I think about the first womxn I learned anishinaabe’aadiziwin from. Cedar. I think of Jules Casselman, who learned from these people who learned from these people. That was about twenty-five years ago. I’ve learned from many others over the years. Gramma Jean, Elders in ceremonies, womxn in circles and on and on. I’ve learned that cedar is a cleanser and a protector. I hear it crackling in the lodge. A hot tea. A medicine pillow, good for niibaa. A funeral. A floor for a sweat. A bath before and after a fast. Washing a lover and reciprocal. Healing a child. Blessing a baby. Something pretty.
In the spirit of honouring the power of Anishinaabeg medicines and Coast Salish medicines, I’ve taken to going to the WSÁNEĆ peoples sacred mountain called Lau’wel’new to harvest some cedar. I use this cedar for work. Specifically, I hang it outside my office door, around my desk and from a large mounted print of a photo of “Lummi Woman” taken by Edward Curtis that I have on my bookshelf. Ok, it’s literally an alter to her. She keeps me accountable. And, the relationships portrayed in this portrait keeps me mindful. The cedar is a blessing, cleanser, and protector in this case. I want folx who come to my office to be greeted with this. I want Lummi ikawe to be protected. I want her to protect me. I want to be blessed.
Going to the mountain is always bitter sweet. Sweet because it’s the Pacific forest. Bitter because this place, this sacred mountain, claimed by settlers a long time ago, is named John Dean Park. John Dean’s cabin is still there somewhere. On any day, you’ll find all kinds of hikers. On this day, Labour Day, the place was busy. The signage is settler signage except for one or two that reflect Indigenous presence. I worried about being interrogated by a settler nature lover or sexistracist for harvesting cedar. It’s happened to me and my friend in my own territory. I was annoyed with the feeling of feeling afraid. The white peoples’ ignorance, entitlement, and bliss bothers me. Wrong. It scares me. The (un)intentionally of all of it scares me. The (lack of) consciousness scares me. I hadn’t realized how deeply the matter was in my body as I was walking until I came across a sight for sore Anishinaabe eyes: WSÁNEĆ womxn’s presence in the shape of bark strips harvested from gargantuan red cedars. It felt like the womxn were right there. It felt robust, and animated, and healthy. It made me happy and relieved to witness this. Elation. Amidst the dominance of settler colonial presence, WSÁNEĆ endurance reigns:
I rounded the bend and fell to my knees.
Back home, we call these ones, giizhikaatigoog. This translates as sky trees. The old one said we called them this because of the way they raise their arms up to the sky. The name WSÁNEĆ folx have for this one is XPÁY.
This place, a beautiful friend.