When you come to stand upon the land there’s a sense in you that you’ve seen it all before. Not in any empirical way perhaps. Not in any western sense of recognition. But more in the way it comes to feel upon your skin, the way it floods you with recollection.
Standing beside a tiny creek in the mountains I suddenly remember how it felt to catch minnows in a jar. The goggle-eyed sense of wonder at those silvered, wriggling beams of light darting between stones and the feel of the water on my arms, cool and slick as the surface of dreams.
I lived my life for the sudden flare of sunlight when I broke from the bush back then. The land beckoned through my bedroom window so that sometimes when the house was quiet I stood there just to hear the call of it spoken in a language that I didn’t know. Calling me to it.
That creek ran out of farmland and wound its way to the reservoir behind an old mill, the voice of it a chuckle, its edges dappled by the shadows of old elms and its light like the dancing bluish green eyes of the girl on the bus you could never find a way to say a word to.
I’d lay across a long flat stone to dip a mason jar elbows deep and hung there, suspended, while minnows nibbled at my fingertips. I let that arm dangle until the feeling went away then raised it with minnows frantic in the sudden absence of their world.
I couldn’t keep them. Couldn’t carry them home like a carnival prize, give them names or place them in a bowl upon my desk. No, something in me understood that some things ache to be free and the charm of them resides in their ability to be that freedom.
So I let them go. Let them swim away. But I carried something of that creek, that cold against my arms, the sun-warmed stone against my belly, the breeze, the light and the idea of minnows away with me forever.
So that standing on the edge of another creek at fifty-five it’s like years haven’t happened at all. It’s a journey, this life. A crossing of creeks on stepping stones where so much comes to depend on maintaining balance on every careful placing of the foot.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway from Wabasemong First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. His latest book, Indian Horse is available in stores now. Trade Paperback $21.95 ISBN 978-1-55365-402-5