Fred Kelly got me on a forestry crew as a deadfall bucker that fall, and I became a working man. When trees fell down or when the wind knocked them over I took a chainsaw and cut them into lengths that the log skidders could haul to the trucks. It was hard, heavy work, but there was something in the strain that I liked. I took to picking up eight-foot lengths of log and bearing them out of the tangle on my shoulders. I became known as a hard worker, industrious, and after a few weeks the company shipped me off to their logging camp on the shores of Nagagami Lake.

It took a float plane to get us in, and I watched the great green carpet of the land roll out below my face pressed to the window. When we landed I could feel it all around me, like the press of a living thing. The view from the bunkhouse was stark and beautiful. Any fear I’d carried about my first venture into the bush as a logger vanished. I’d stand on the rocks in the dim hours before any of the others had woken and feel it enter me like light. I’d close my eyes and feel it. The land was a presence. It had eyes, and I was being scrutinized. But I never felt out of place. Late in the evenings I’d walk into the trees, stride through the bush until I was wrapped in it, cocooned. The stars that pinwheeled above spun a thousand light years away. Time, mystery, departure and union were there all at once. I wondered if this was what it meant to be Indian, Ojibway. A ritual. A ceremony, ancient and simple and personal. If I could have borne it with me into the day-to-day life of the camp, things might have been different.

But they weren’t. These were northern men, Finns, Swedes, Germans, Quebecois and Russians. They were lumberjacks. They were as efficient with the giant two-handed rip saws, axes and horse teams as they were with chainsaws and tractors. They were steeped in the tradition of it. They were huge, brawny men who bellowed and roared and skipped back and forth between languages over the course of a conversation, so I never knew where the gist of it was leading. Drinkers. Hard and deliberate. They spent their evenings in the loquacious flow of liquor, smoking and playing cards. Brawls erupted quickly and ended the same way. Then they’d return to their game, the blood of them cut with the next fresh deal, fists clutching cards like a throat.

They didn’t know what to make of me. There hadn’t been an Indian in their midst before. So I never joined them in their evening distractions. When I came back in from the bush I’d huddle in my bunk and read. When they started calling me “Chief” and “Tonto,” “Geronimo” or “wagon burner,” I’d heard it so often before that I didn’t offer a reaction. That bothered them. I suppose they took my silence for high-mindedness, the books in my hands as a rebuff. They began to take my measure in the only way they knew how.

They’d push me hard in the woods and wait to see if I could keep up. I always could. When they pressed hard with their saws and axes through the trunks of great trees I did the same and I carried heavy lengths of sawn timber through the bush without a complaint. They tried to find a weakness in me, but I was determined that they would not. So they made it personal. They saw to it that I drew the assignment to clean the outhouses. I dumped lime and swept and batted at the flies that congregated in swarming masses. I washed dishes. I mopped the kitchen floor, carted garbage and shovelled up the mess bears and raccoons left scattered about the small gravel pit the camp used as a landfill. I oiled and greased tractors, hosed down trucks and skidders and washed down the bunkhouse each day before my shift started. The more they tried to exhaust me, the harder I worked. I did all of it without saying a word. Then I’d lie in my bunk and read by flashlight after they tumbled into bed and be awake and in motion by the time they rose.

They took to more insulting name-calling and swearing at me. Even when they took to pushing me and tripping me and swiping at me when I passed, I’d just level a blank look at the offender and keep on with the work.

Only on the land did I find calm. There I could relax. I could rest. I could sit looking out across the wide expanse of lake forever. But the time always came to turn back to the bunkhouse. I’d squint hard at the lighted windows of the camp and I’d draw into myself. I’d haul in a lungful of air, hold it, compact all my dark energy until it sat in my gut like a black marble, cold and glassy and hard. Then I’d walk back into their midst and they’d stop their game and challenge me. I’d walk to my bunk and lie down and read long into the night.

Then one night a big Swede named Jorgenson called to me, gestured crudely toward me. I stared at the ceiling for a moment. Then I rolled off the bunk and walked slowly to the table where he sat playing cards. As they laughed, I planted my feet wide. Jorgenson stood up and swung a meaty fist at my face. I blocked his punch with my forearm and reached out with my other hand and latched onto his throat. I squeezed. Hard. I walked forward slowly with the man’s throat in my hand, wordlessly, lifting and pushing and squeezing at the same time. The big Swede clutched and grabbed and swatted at me, but the pressure of my grip was so great he weakened and dropped to his knees, red-faced and gasping with his eyes bugging out. As I let him drop to the floor I punched him in the head with everything I had, and he crumpled onto the floorboards. I turned to face the rest of them. I was frigid blackness inside, like water under a berg. I wanted another one to stand, wanted another one to swing at me, invite me to erupt. But they stayed seated, and nobody spoke as I walked slowly over to the table and picked up Jorgenson’s discarded hand of cards. I studied the cards, then smirked and tossed the hand back on the table.

“Game over,” I said. They never bothered me again.