We made Gods Lake in the early afternoon of a day in late summer. It was a great bowl of inkpot black sunk into the granite and edged with spruce, pine and fir. At its shoreline, as my grandmother had told us, were tall cedars, a tamarack bog and a wide shallow bay at the southern end, where manoomin grew in abundance. The air was still at first. But as we paddled toward the northern end, where the grey-white cliffs spilled their gravel down to form the beach, a breeze came up and we could hear bird sounds from the reeds and shallows. A pair of eagles watched us from the top of a ragged old pine. A mother bear and two cubs broke apart at our approach and galloped up through the bracken and the meadow to disappear into the trees at its edge. It was warm and the sky above us was festooned with small clouds.

We pitched our tents in a glade in the trees. Every morning I could flip back the flap of the tent my brother and I shared and see the water and the opposite shore, the mist off it dreamlike. There were game and fish and berries and we ate like we never had before. Everyone seemed to take to the promise of this place. Ben rallied enough to help me with gathering firewood, setting the night lines and tramping up to the top of the ridge where we would sit and just look out over the land. The gods of Gods Lake seemed pleased that we were there, and as the weeks dwindled off to the far edge of summer, our camp was light-hearted and peaceful.

I tramped up the ridge alone as my brother slept in the tent late one afternoon. From there it seemed as though the entire world was a carpet of green pocked with bald grey places where spires and shoulders of rock rose through the trees. The sky was a clear and endless blue. A faint breeze eased over the lake. I’d come to favour a small jut of pink granite that looked like the bottom of an overturned canoe. From it I could see in every direction, and I loved being surrounded by all of that amazing space. As I sat there with the warmth of the sun spilled over me, I closed my eyes. I could hear the breeze in the trees. There was a tempo to it. Slow. Measured. My breathing slowed to match it. That’s when I heard my name. It was whispered so softly, I thought at first that I’d imagined it. Then I heard it again. My eyes flew open and I looked around. No one was there, only the branches of the trees bouncing easily in the breeze. Frail clouds had fanned out across the great canopy of blue sky. I stood and walked to the edge of the ridge and looked down. The drop was steep.

“Saul.” It came to me long and stretched out so that it didn’t really sound like a word at all. But I heard it nonetheless. “Saul.”

When I looked down at the lake again, I saw people. They were busy in canoes setting nets. A group of women waded in the shallows gathering cattail roots, and laughing children splashed at minnows. A few young men walked out of the trees carrying deer carcasses on poles, and now I could see a camp of a dozen wigwams at the foot of the great cliff. Women were scraping hides stretched out on poplar frames while children ran around them. A pair of elders sat beside a fire, and as I watched, one of the men looked up at me and nodded. He raised his black bowl pipe in my direction.

Then, suddenly, it was night. The fire at the centre of the camp burned high and in the flickering light I could see people dancing. Someone played a hand drum and the song they sang pierced the darkness where I stood with high, jubilant syllables of praise. The fire sent the fragrances of cedar and sage and roasting meat up to me and I felt a great hunger. The moon was full in the sky. As the rhythm of the drum and the song slowed, it became a social dance and I heard laughter clear as the call of night birds.

Then it was the deep of night and in the dim blue light of that full moon the camp slept. The fire had dwindled to lazy smoke curling up and over everything. A pair of dogs slept close to it. At the foot of the rock beach, canoes bumped and jostled in the light push of wavelets breaking on the stone. The man I had seen earlier by the fire was standing on the beach and he was singing. He held a long stick with a glowing end, and I could smell sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar and sage as he set the stick down on a flat rock and fanned the smoke up and over himself with a long feather fan. In the song that rose up to me I heard fragments of the Old Talk. The man raised his arms up high with his fingers splayed. When he’d finished singing, he bowed his head. Silence lay heavy over everything. I shivered. A long time passed, and then out of the west came the wail of a wolf song. The wolf song rose higher and higher and as it reached its crescendo I saw the face of the old man in the face of the moon. He stared back at me and the light in his eyes comforted me. Then he closed his eyes slowly and everything changed again.

Now it was morning. The fog rising up off the lake moved across the rock beach to envelop the camp. A rumble shook the ground at my feet and I heard the sound of rock cascading.

I fell to the ground as the rumbling grew louder. A cloud of dust rolled over me. When the rumble had subsided, the silence was so deep it scared me. I crept to the edge of the ridge and looked over. The face of the cliff had collapsed, and the camp was gone. Vanished. Even the trees had been scraped away and the beach was strewn with boulders. The chalky smell of rock dust brought tears to my eyes and I stood there weeping, my shoulders shaking at the thought of those people buried under all that stone.

“Saul,” I heard behind me.

I turned and my grandmother was standing there with her arms spread open. I fell into them and cried into her bosom.