20 December, 2016 by katelaity
‘You seem to have managed quite well with the snowshoes,’ I said, not concealing very well the envy I felt at the impressive strides he made across the floor. ‘For someone not born to that world.’
Rae laughed. ‘I found an aptitude for the stride. I must admit to feeling rather chuffed when the Inuit gave me a name to honour that accomplishment: Aglooka.’
Tansy sat up, bursting with curiosity. ‘What does it mean, Aglooka?’ Tansy did have a fancy for interesting words, probably from that colonial upbringing.
‘It means something like “the one who takes very long strides” which I suppose was a bit of chaffing as well as they saw me as often in too much of a hurry for their liking.’
‘Did they not appreciate your speed?’ It seemed odd to me. ‘Or were they just piqued at your success in their art?’
‘Oh, none of that. The Inuit folk were as curious about my culture as I was about theirs, something they seldom found among the other European settlers. But they saw rushing as somewhat foolhardy. In a world as full of dangers as theirs, caution is a sign of wisdom.’
‘I suppose in the frozen north there are many dangers,’ Tansy said, looking thoughtful again, ‘but the weather must be at the top of the list. A slight injury that might be an inconvenience in another place could mean death in a snow storm when you are far from help.’
Rae nodded and sat down to take off the strange snowshoes, handing them over to Tansy and me to give us a chance to examine them more closely. ‘If you do not know well the signs for a change in the weather, you could be caught out quite badly and at your own peril.’
‘But surely in Moose Factory you were well taken care of?’ He might have welcomed a chance to visit the exotic places, yet amongst familiar folk he probably felt more safe.
‘Even there things were not all that settled. I made a study of the Cree folk while I was there and learned many things, not just using and making snowshoes. The Europeans mostly focused on trapping for fur, but from the Cree I learned to track and hunt the caribou and how to make the most of the bounty it provided.’
‘Is it different from say, a cow?’ Tansy would show interest in tasteless subjects like that.
‘Indeed, the Cree used just about everything they could from the creature, not just the meat for food, but the antlers for various uses, the hooves even, which were boiled down into a kind of jelly. All as Kisemanito ordained, as they would say.’
‘That is their god, I suppose?’ I recalled some legends of the native Americans that I had read as a child but only vaguely recalled. ‘Are they not instructed in Christian ways?’
The remark seemed to amuse Rae, though I could not have said why. ‘There was a church in Moose Factory. I think the Cree thought it rather a waste of space. Their great spirit could not be contained by a mere building but filled the entire world.’
‘An interesting sort of superstition,’ I said but Tansy interrupted me.
‘How curious, rather like the concept of immanence, isn’t it? Is their great spirit responsible for all things, good and bad?’
‘Things are fortunate or unfortunate, but part of the great spirit. Rather like some Indian philosophies, I seem to recall. The ones that do not focus on transcendence.’
‘I would rather we got back to adventure,’ I said, stifling a yawn. ‘Philosophy never did much for me.’
‘Nor you for it,’ Tansy said with a chuckle that if I had not been full of cake and whisky, I might have challenged. As it was I found myself unable to be concerned.
‘Well, I have one tale that will curl your toes under,’ Rae said. ‘I might hesitate to tell it in the dark, but as there’s still a bit of light I will risk it.’
‘There’s an ominous start.’ I gave an involuntary shudder.
‘Wait until I tell you its name: Wendigo.’ He pronounced the word with all the power of a born storyteller and I shivered again.
We both leaned forward to hear more as Rae settled back in his chair to take a sip of whisky.