I made Gods Lake by early afternoon. My insides still felt like sandpaper. There was an eerie silence as I made the portage, feeling the bush close off behind me. The shadows were deep and ominous. When I stepped out onto the western edge of the lake and looked across it, it was as though I had never left.

I’d never walked the shore of the lake completely. But I did so that day, and every step closer to our old family campsite transported me further back. The angst in my belly disappeared. My thoughts cleared. I walked in a peace I could not recall having experienced before. I reached out to touch the broad span of ferns, the trunks of trees, leaves, grasses. A part of me remembered each sensation. The smell in the air was rich and earthy, with a wisp of swamp and bog. Dying things and living things together. The air was filled with birdsong. I broke through the trees fifty yards from the foot of the cliff. As I knelt on the stone beach, gazing up at the cliff, the clouds at its upper edge moved as though it was a living being, breathing. I closed my eyes, close to weeping, and I heard my name whispered. I opened my eyes to see a flotilla of canoes gliding toward the shore.

Benjamin. My grandmother, with my Grandfather Solomon. My mother and father. Strangers I took to be ancient members of my family. Wind-tanned, leathery faces, deeply creased and lined. My people. And there was Shabogeesick himself, paddling solo in a birch bark canoe that looked ancient and brittle but rode the water like a wisp. He raised the flat of his paddle in salute, then beached his canoe and stepped ashore. He stood a pace away from me, studying me intently.

“You have come far,” he said finally.

“Yes,” I replied.

“The journey you make is good.”

“What am I to learn here?”

He swept his arm to take in the lake, the shore and the cliff behind us. “You’ve come to learn to carry this place within you. This place of beginnings and endings.”

I looked up to see an eagle circling the rim of the cliff. Shabogeesick laid a hand on my shoulder, and we were suddenly on the top of the cliff. He put a hide pouch in my right hand and a broad eagle feather fan in my left. Shabogeesick gazed at me kindly. I closed my eyes again, and when I opened them he was gone.

I stood on the edge of the cliff with my pouch and eagle feather fan and my family stood around the fire in the trees looking up at me. Soft singing, low like a prayer, came from the boats below. I took a pinch of the tobacco from the pouch and held it up to the evening star. As I did, the sky eased into purples and blues and indigos. The singing from below rose higher and the great northern lights emerged to dance beneath the unblinking eye of the moon. I cried in great heaving gasps. I let myself mourn. Allowed every ounce of sorrow and desperation, loneliness and regret to eke out of me. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. Then I heard my name.


The moon hung in the sky like the face of a drum. As I watched, it became the shining face of a rink, where Indian boys in cast-off skates laughed in the thrill of the game, the smallest among them zooming in and out on outsized skates. I offered tobacco to the lake where everything started and everything ended, to the cliff that had made this the place of my people, and I offered my thanks aloud in an Ojibway prayer.