I guess you could say Duane Crow was a bad boy. Everybody knows he’d been in some trouble before. If you were keeping track, you could say a lot of trouble over the years. Never made it past Grade 10. Never held down a job for more than a year; going in and out of jail kind of limits your employment opportunities. Still, I knew he was a good boy. He just made a lot of bad choices. Who hasn’t? A lot of you are thinking I have to say that. I’m his grandfather, and I’m giving the eulogy. But I truly believe the boy had untapped potential. And in the end, he proved it to me.

I still remember him as a gap-toothed young boy, climbing trees and swimming in Otter Lake. He loved to explore. He had the whole world before him, and I always thought he was meant for something special. My daughter tried as best she could. His father… Well, the less said about him the better, I suppose. The only good thing he ever did for the boy was teach him how to play guitar. But when Duane’s mother passed on seven years ago, I think that was what really derailed him. It was like Duane became angry at the world. He stopped trying… Or I guess you could say he started trying the wrong things. All that unfocused energy got him in so much trouble. Drinking, drugs, fights and, finally, a fondness for taking other people’s cars. Only twenty-six years old, and already people had painted him bad for life. That’s how he ended up on Thunderbird Island. Thank the Creator for sentencing circles.

White people, feeling so guilty for everything they’ve done to us over the last five hundred years, are always trying to make amends in one way or another. This year, it was the imposition of a sentencing circle for Native young offenders. The Crown suggested that for lesser crimes the local elders get together and come up with an alternative punishment. As most of you know, the Native way is to repair the damage and heal the wound, not to exact punishment for something already done.

One month on one of our islands, learning the ways of our people, trying to ground himself in tradition. I know Duane didn’t really believe in our traditional ways, but maybe he thought this option was a lot easier than half a year of cement, steel and guards at the local jail. Maybe he felt it would be like going camping for a couple weeks. He could be short-sighted that way. Whatever the reason, the important thing was we got him to the island.

I remember when he was brought before the elders after his last little escapade. Afterwards, as I walked him out of the building, he didn’t look up. Like I said, inside he was a good boy. Duane knew he’d done bad and was embarrassed to be paraded in front of us all.

“I’m sorry, Poppa. I really am,” he said. That’s what he called me, Poppa. And I could tell he was speaking the truth. “I don’t know why I took that car. I knew I’d get caught.”

“When you take these cars, are you running away from something or to something?”

“I… I wanna go someplace, but I don’t know where. Other than you, Poppa, this place has been shitty to me. I’m bored. I’m frustrated. I’m… something.”

He sounded like a lot of the youth in our community, stuck between the past and the future. The true goal is finding enough of both to make your life worth living.

I told him it was okay, that he was there to make amends for stealing those cars.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Someday I’ll make you proud. I’ll be famous and you’ll be able to say with pride, ‘That’s my grandson.’ I promise.”

I told him he didn’t have to promise me anything. Famous don’t mean nothing. I told him just to look after himself and the important things in his life. I told him that’s why people often fall off the road into the ditch. That’s 90 percent of just getting through the day—looking after things.

Duane nodded before we entered the room where the elders were waiting. “I’ll try, Poppa,” he said.

We elders felt that Duane’s problem was a lack of understanding of his place in the universe. Yeah, I know, that sounds so airy-fairy, like we’d be having him do yoga or something, but it’s true. We explained to him that he needed to know who he was, where he came from and what his path was. You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve come from. That was one of the things my grandson had to look after. Otherwise, he’d be like a shiny metal ball in one of those pinball machines, just banging here and there, making a lot of noise but not really accomplishing much. I told him I would come over to the island frequently, to give him instruction in the traditions of our people. Still, I don’t know if he fully understood what we expected of him.

We chose Thunderbird Island because it’s fairly isolated and large enough to provide the boy with some space to wander about and not feel trapped. More importantly, that’s where the petroglyphs are. A thousand years or so ago, some of our people carved images on the wall of a cliff, just a dozen feet up from the shore. Overall there seems to be maybe thirty or thirty-five separate images scattered across the limestone wall, ranging in size from the width of a hand to the size of a Hula Hoop. It’s difficult to tell what some of the images are supposed to represent. Over the centuries, some have faded, others you aren’t sure where one picture stops and another begins, and a few, around the edges, have crumbled off and fallen to the ground. Time and weather can be formidable enemies of Aboriginal art. Not to mention the bunch of carved initials and rude words that populated the edge of the petroglyphs. Reminders left by dozens of stupid people trying to find immortality by hacking away at a sacred site.

This has been a sacred place to us for as long as we can remember. When I was young, I would canoe for hours across the big lake to get there and sit for days, looking at them, trying to figure them out. Some were easily identifiable, like fish and animals. Others were a little more unusual. A few were just bizarre. Sprinkled among them were non-specific shapes that some anthropologist once described as geometric. As a kid, I just thought they were pretty.

It took me a while to understand these were the musings and dreams of our ancestors, the thoughts and history of our people carved into Mother Earth for us to see. People always told me I was just imagining it, but I was sure I could feel a delicate hum coming from those rocks. A subtle vibration. Nobody else felt it, so I always figured they were right and it was my own silliness. As I learned later, I wasn’t alone in my silliness.

We felt that putting Duane so close to the petroglyphs, literally on their doorstep, would be like the heart and soul of his people looking over his shoulder, giving him a path to follow. Being on Thunderbird Island would give him some time to look after things. Sometimes being alone with yourself, with your thoughts and realizations, can be more trying than a long prison term. Or for some, it can teach you a lot more than one of those degrees at a university. It depends on the person. I hoped Duane would do as I had done and ponder the images so lovingly etched into the rock. Long hours in front of them had taught me patience and contemplation. But Duane seemed more interested in making sure he had enough cigarettes to get him through the week, till I would show up with his next boatful of supplies.

We arrived at Thunderbird Island and unloaded the boat. “So, what am I supposed to do until you get back?” Duane asked me.

I told him, “Wake up with the sun. Go to bed with the sun. Make yourself some tea. Look at those pictures on the wall. Respect life.”

“That’s it?!”

I think he was expecting more, like it was some sort of boot camp.

“Yep, that’s it. The only thing I, or anybody, can really teach you is to do what you can to be a good person. I know that probably sounds stupid, but the only reason we’re put on this earth, I believe, is to try and make it a better place when we leave than when we entered it. See, that’s the real trick. Everything else is just details.”

His forehead crinkled as he processed what I had said. Next, I filled him in on the rules: he was not to leave the island for any reason. Everything he needed, outside of the food I would bring, was on that island. It was up to him to figure out what he needed in this world. That was his responsibility—to figure things out. Why he was so angry. What he needed in life to be happy. Why he took things. Why he fought people. Why he had ended up there on Thunderbird Island. He had to look after things.

I left him there that first week, a gradually diminishing figure on a Central Ontario beach, looking confused and a little apprehensive. I don’t think he’d ever spent a week by himself, alone, with no way of talking to other people or occupying his time. Duane always acted tough, but as my boat pulled away I thought I saw that little boy I remembered, so confused and hurt, asking me where his father was.

So he spent that first week alone on Thunderbird Island. Later, he told me he just about went crazy with boredom. Basically, getting firewood, swatting mosquitos and swimming were the only things to do. So he would sit there where he had set up camp, watching the birds, occasionally strumming his guitar. After some discussion, we elders had decided to allow him to bring the guitar. It wasn’t like we were sending him to one of those Russian prisons or anything. By the end of the second day, he had named all the birds that liked to hang around his camp. Same with the chipmunks and squirrels and a porcupine that watched him from a nearby tree during the day, always changing trees at night.

It was on the third day that he found himself in front of the petroglyphs. He’d seen them a couple times as a kid, when his family or the school would bring him out for a day trip. But this time, with a good fifteen hours of June daylight to kill, he propped up his lawn chair directly in front of the wall. Normally, doing exactly what he’d been told to do would have grated on Duane’s pride, but he had pretty much exhausted all the other time-wasting possibilities on the island.

So he sat there, playing his guitar, smoking and looking at the images. He told me he would string some of the images together and make up stories to pass the hours. Two days of this. By the third day, he found himself letting those carved images just wash over him, like an aroma or light. That day he barely touched his guitar. Instead, he would lean forward, frequently leaving his chair, and approach the engraved hollows. His fingers touched them, feeling their texture and tracing the images chiselled into the soft limestone. Like there was a message somewhere in the ageless stone. All those stories he had been making up about the carvings started falling to the ground. A different saga was emerging from the weathered rock.

When I returned that Sunday, I saw him standing on the shallow beach, waiting. Again I saw the little boy he’d once been, so lonely yet happy at my arrival.

“There you are. I wasn’t sure you were coming!” was his greeting to me.

“I ain’t got no place else to be. Besides, I thought you might be hungry.”

I brought out a bucket of fried chicken, his favourite as a kid. I guess he was still a kid deep inside, because he grabbed it right out of my hand and ripped into it. His only other comment, between drumsticks, was “You bring my cigarettes?”

After unloading the boat, I spent a couple hours catching up with him. The day was mostly consumed with me doing my elder thing and telling him what he should do now that he was comfortable on the island. We talked a while about ceremonies and teachings. I gave him some sage and sweet grass. He seemed receptive, almost interested.

I spoke of nature, of the Creator, of the importance of having respect for other people and, just as important, respect for yourself. Normally Duane would have rolled his eyes at this lecture, but I guess he was so starved for the sound of a human voice that he listened. Didn’t ask many questions, just listened, till near the end.

All around I could hear the birds scolding us for disturbing their little island. Off in the distance, a Sea-Doo was making a racket as it crossed the lake some miles away. I could tell he was biding his time to ask me something. Finally, he worked up the nerve.

“Those petroglyphs… they’re something special, aren’t they? I mean, I thought they were just pretty things chipped into a wall. But there’s a purpose to them, ain’t there?”

I asked why he thought that.

“Just a feeling.”

“What kind of feeling?” I pressed.

A moment passed, then the old Duane came back, because the only answer I got was a shrug.

When I returned the subsequent week, I could tell the carvings were beginning to consume his interest. As soon as I got out of the boat, he ushered me toward the wall. He had moved his camp to directly in front of it, and there was a pile of cigarette butts scattered across the pine needles there. I asked if he’d been doing the ceremonies I had taught him, but I don’t think he heard me. Duane put his hand on one of the carvings, the one that looked like a turtle.

“Put your hand here. Tell me if you feel anything.”

He grabbed my hand and held it up against the wall, looking at me with an odd intensity. I felt the rough texture of the limestone, the softness of some moss, the shallow indent of what had been laboriously carved into the sedimentary rock thousands of years ago. Then I remembered my own youth. The humming. But putting my hand on that rock wall, I didn’t feel anything.

“You’re talking about the buzzing, aren’t you?” I asked.

He smiled, glad I knew what he was talking about. “Not buzzing. It’s not totally something you hear. And it’s not vibrating, something you can just feel. It’s a combination of both. Or neither. Or something else completely. It’s so slight and elusive… I wasn’t sure it was even there. But you know what I’m talking about. I’m not crazy.”

That’s what he said to me that day. Once more I listened to the rock with my hand, but what I had experienced in my younger years was no longer there.

Instead, I told my grandson of my own experiences with those petroglyphs. But I had had children coming and a life to live. I had obligations. Several members of my family had pointed out to me that I had spent way too much time on this stupid island with nothing to show for it. My grandson was glad to find out he wasn’t crazy. I was pretty happy to find out I wasn’t either.

“Wonder what it is,” he said.

 “Maybe it’s an underground river or something,” I suggested, not very convincingly.

As we ate our lunch, his attention kept returning to the wall of images. After some prodding, Duane shared with me more of his thoughts regarding those petroglyphs. It seemed my wayward and unfocused grandson had been studying them pretty deeply. He’d noticed that they were arranged in some sort of pattern. He wasn’t sure what the pattern was or meant, but he said if you sat there long enough and let the glyphs tell you their own story their own way, you could almost make it out, like a whisper in the wind. Those were his words. He said you couldn’t help but notice after a while that there was a sort of order to all the things carved into that wall. Like it was the Earth telling us a story, he said. Or more accurately, he added, like it was a song waiting to be sung.

“What if,” he said, his voice cracking with growing excitement, “the petroglyphs are like that set of lines musicians write, and each of the images is a note?”

Duane pulled out his guitar and played me a couple bars of music. And then he played them again, with the odd wrong note inserted where a right note had been. The song didn’t work. The magic was lost. That’s what the wall reminded him of—a pattern of pictures. Some of the carvings had been added over the years, but the wrong image in the wrong place. But a lot of them were in the right place. He thought that’s what was causing the buzzing or humming or whatever it was.

By this time, I was thinking that maybe we had been wrong to put Duane on this island alone for the last two weeks. It was true I hadn’t seen him so flushed with excitement or focused on something positive in a long time. I mean, it was good that he had developed a connection with what his ancestors had done a long time ago, but I was beginning to get a little worried. I remember saying to my grandson that maybe it was time he came back to the mainland, that he’d spent enough time on Thunderbird Island. He looked at me like I had asked him to fly to the moon.

“No thanks, Poppa. I’m not done yet.”

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about his court-mandated sentence or something else. Anyway, I had inadvertently closed the door on the topic and we’d reached the end of our conversation. Duane didn’t want to talk anymore, about the petroglyphs or anything else. The wall he had spent years building, emotional brick by emotional brick, had once again risen into place. So, still a little worried, I packed up my boat and returned across the lake to the mainland, concerned about what my next trip to the island might bring. Behind me I could see him on the shore, watching my motorboat plow through the water. Then I saw him turn and walk toward the petroglyphs.

That next week was the longest of my life. I kept telling myself there was nothing to worry about. The Creator had indeed made a complex and mysterious world, but most of it was explainable. I left at dawn the following Sunday, needing to make sure my grandson was okay, a little afraid of what I might find.

After two hours in my motorboat navigating the submerged tree stumps and rocky outcroppings common in the Canadian Shield lakes, I saw him waiting for me on the landing spit. I felt better. All his camping equipment was packed, and he looked calm and ready to return to the world of the reserve. In fact, he looked more than ready. There was a sense of excitement about him and an eagerness to move forward, but he was unwilling to talk about it much. He just said everything was okay, he just needed to check some things out.

“Like what?” I asked.

“I’ll let you know when I know” was all he said.

As he settled into the front of the boat, I saw something sticking out of his backpack. It had feathers.

“What’s that?” I asked.

He looked at it for a moment before pulling it out and handing it to me. It looked like a tomahawk. Not one you’d find at the local craft store, made for three bucks but costing the tourists fifteen. It looked real. We hadn’t made real tomahawks on the Otter Lake First Nation in almost two hundred years. Still, the binding was leather and sinew, holding the oval stone in place, making it a truly dangerous weapon. Dyed porcupine quills gave colour and texture to the foot-and-a-half-long handle. To these old eyes, it was an impressive piece of work.

“Where’d you get this?”

Shrugging, he looked back at the island. “I found it.”

That was kind of hard to believe. It didn’t appear to have been weathered by several hundred years of exposure to the elements, and if I hadn’t known better, the front of the stone looked stained with what looked like blood. Things weren’t adding up, I thought.

“Where’d you find it?”

He pointed back at the island. “Over there.”

“On the island?”


“Where on the island?”

It was a moment before he answered my question. “I don’t know yet.”

That was the last thing Duane said on our trip. He tucked the tomahawk back into his bag. The attitude that had originally gotten him into trouble and sent to the island had been transformed. The look of anger or rebellion was replaced with contemplation and interest. His mind seemed wrapped around a thought. The moment my boat hit the dock, he thanked me quickly and trotted off down the road. Something had happened to my grandson, and I didn’t know what.

A few days passed and something about the way Duane had acted kept eating away at me. All this talk about the petroglyphs, the tomahawk and the changed attitude made me think the path we had chosen for this young man was changing direction. Duane had been living with his father’s sister since his return from the island, and she told me over the phone that he seemed to be staying out of trouble, spending a lot of time on the internet, looking at all sorts of strange stuff. Other than video games and porn, he’d never had much time for doing anything on that computerized thing. But now he was on it late into the night, focused and eager, like a young buck on his first moose hunt.

So I decided to pay my grandson a visit. When I arrived he was on the computer, tucked away in the corner of the living room. On top of the monitor was that tomahawk. As I approached, I could see the screen. He was looking at rocks. Much bigger than the ones on the island. Tall ones standing in a circle. Maybe he was interested in a career in geology, I tried to tell myself. Duane didn’t look up when I approached. It was like there was a tunnel connecting his eyes to the screen. I’d seen a similar look in strip clubs, back in my youth.

“Hey, Grandson, find anything interesting on that thing?”

Duane looked over his shoulder at the sound of my voice, gave me a quick smile and nod, then just as quickly went back to looking at the screen. I tried to coax him out a bit, talk to him as I had when he was young, but he had no time for me. He wasn’t rude about it, just severely preoccupied. I decided to play his game.

“So, what’s so damn interesting about those big rocks? More interesting than your own grandfather?”

I could see the question registering, and luckily for me, it opened him up.

“It’s a place called Stonehenge, Poppa. In England. It’s thousands and thousands of years old. They’re not exactly sure what it was used for, but they think it might be a calendar of some kind.”

It looked awfully big and awkward to be a calendar—I kept a much smaller one in my wallet—but I kept my mouth shut. About that, anyway.

“Okay, so it’s a big stone calendar. That’s interesting to you? Those English people are weird anyway. Do you know they drink their beer warm?”

No response to my joke. His fingers started hunting and pecking across the keyboard, making a clicking sound. Other images popped up pretty quick.

“These are the Nazca Lines, somewhere down in Peru. Kilometres and kilometres of pictures scratched into the ground by Native people a long time ago.”

The images my grandson showed me looked kind of pretty, I thought, pictures of spiders and hummingbirds etched in the dirt. Why somebody would want to do that I couldn’t figure out, but it certainly looked nice.

“Again, scientists have all sorts of ideas about what they could be, but nothing definite. And look at this…” Once again, his fingers clicked and clacked on those plastic buttons. More images came up. “These are rock carvings in Scotland. Five thousand years old.” I heard the computer go click again. “And these etchings in a boulder were found in Egypt. They’re from long before they built those pyramids and stuff. Like 4000 BC or something.” Click. “This is Machu Picchu, a mysterious Incan city made almost entirely out of rock.” Another click and a wall of different yet familiar images appeared. “This is called Judaculla Rock, in North Carolina. Doesn’t it look a lot like the petroglyphs on Thunderbird Island?”

It did indeed. I was beginning to notice a theme.

“A lot of people in this world do interesting things with rocks, I suppose.”

He nodded, almost too eagerly. “Yeah, but I’ve been reading up on these things. There are articles and pictures all over the internet about this kind of grid configuration. If you mark all the places that have petroglyphs, or places where rocks are used in sacred ways, on a map of the Earth, they look like a network, or graph maybe. Definitely there’s a pattern of some sort to them.”

Now, even I knew that the internet was a place you could find theories about everything—that Elvis was still alive, that one race of people actually ruled the world (which would be a huge surprise to our chief and band council), that aliens were responsible for the success of McDonald’s. The internet breeds conspiracy theories like the swamp behind my house breeds mosquitos. I tried to tell him that, but he wasn’t listening.

“Why are you so fixated on this?” I asked my grandson.

For a moment, I saw him pause. Then his eyes darted back to the computer screen, and I could see he was trying to make a decision.

“It’s kinda hard to explain.”

“Have you tried?”

I could tell something was fighting in his head.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” he offered. “Why don’t you come for dinner? Aunt Maggie will be at work, but she usually leaves me a casserole or something.”

I agreed.

We made some small talk, but the conversation had ended. As I left the house, I wondered what he was up to. All this mystery. Was he back to doing bad things again? I didn’t think so. Bad things and research about rocks and petroglyphs seldom went together. I decided to do a bit of research of my own. Not on a computer, but in the real world.

The next morning, I was on my way to Thunderbird Island. A man of my age doesn’t do overnight trips to rocky islands much, so I opted to spend as much of the day there as possible. The sun was barely up as I pulled away from the dock. A few hours later, as I approached the island, I saw another boat pulled up on the shore. It took me a few minutes before I recognized it as Maggie’s boat. Duane must have borrowed it to come back over. But I could tell the campsite, petroglyphs and, I got the feeling, the whole island were deserted. Duane knew better than to abandon his aunt’s boat. And since it was an island, where would he go without that boat? More mystery, and a man my age doesn’t take well to mysteries. It’s way too much effort to figure them out.

As mysteries go, the first clue was easy to find. It was located on the petroglyph wall. Two new carvings. The limestone chips and dust were lying fresh on the moss at the base. About three feet up, maybe seven inches long, was a stick figure wearing what looked like a baseball cap. Duane. Maybe six feet farther up was a spiral, similar to one Duane had shown me the day before on his computer, in one of those far-off places. He had defaced this sacred site. I was angry. I was really angry. Not only was this illegal by white men’s laws, it was deeply disrespectful by our own beliefs. I planned to have a very serious and possibly loud word or two with that boy. Elders aren’t supposed to yell, but I felt this time it was due.

Not knowing what else to do—contrary to what you may have heard, elders aren’t all-knowing—I decided to go home and maybe cool down. I was half tempted to tow Maggie’s boat back and leave the boy stranded, but then I thought, Screw it. He took it out here and abandoned it, let him deal with her wrath. I was done doing favours for that boy. He was on his own.

The sun was just about to dip beneath the treeline when I heard footsteps coming up my driveway. I was enjoying my afternoon tea, so it took me a moment to recognize the step pattern—that’s something us old geezers can do. Some of us know the sound of how every person in the village walks. It’s like how people speak; no two people have the same footsteps. It was Duane, back from whatever mischief he’d been up to. I’d been thinking all day about what I was going to say to him. Should I yell at him for an hour and then kill him, or kill him and then yell at him? I’m exaggerating of course, but sometimes kids and grandkids will make you feel that way. Regardless, I figured I’d feel the situation out before making a decision.

Before he got to the door, I yelled to him, “I know it’s you, Duane. You get your ass in here.” I stood to meet him as the screen door opened.

What walked through that door startled me. Yesterday, Duane had been clean-shaven, washed and maintained. This Duane had a three-or-four-day beard growth. His hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week. And even from clear across the living room, I could smell his BO. It was the kind that had fermented over several days and naturally kept the mosquitos away.

“Where the hell have you been?”

“I know we were gonna have dinner at Maggie’s tonight… It was tonight, wasn’t it? But I thought maybe I should come over here first. Hope that’s okay?” I noticed he had his backpack with him when he dropped it to the ground with a loud and heavy thud. “I know you got a lot of questions…”

“Damn right I do! What the hell have you been up to and—”

“Sorry, Poppa, but you got anything to eat? I haven’t eaten a lot in the last few days. I have to remember to bring more food.”

I didn’t really know what he meant, but he was my grandson, and hospitality has been part of our culture since Time Immemorial, even when it comes to rude, crazy grandkids. Two sandwiches and a carton of milk later, he asked to take a shower. It was almost half an hour before he finally sat down at the table with me, wearing a pair of my track pants and a spare T-shirt I am ashamed to say has grown a little small for me.

“What’s wrong with the shower at Maggie’s? And she doesn’t feed you either?”

Duane smiled like these were the questions of a child. We elders don’t get a lot of smiles like that, and it made me kind of mad.


He opened his backpack and removed something long and thin, then hid it under the tablecloth. “I got something to show you first,” he said, “and it’s part of the answer to your question.”

My grandson then placed it on the table in front of me. It looked like one of those old-time flintlock pistols, like in those pirate movies or something. I picked it up. It was heavy and smelled of what I assumed was gunpowder.

“Did you steal this?” I asked.

A sequence of expressions flashed across his face: surprise, a little shame and then amusement.

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re right. I did steal it. But not from a store.” From here, to put it politely, his story got a bit weird. In fact, I struggled to make sense of it. “I took it off what I think was a coureur de bois. At least, that’s what we were told to call them in school. I’m going to have to research them, but you know, those French guys who traded goods for furs with Native people a long time ago. That’s who I took it from. That’s where I’ve been. Oh, Poppa, it’s great to be back.”

“You took it from somebody that hasn’t prowled these woods in hundreds of years? And just how did you do this?”

Duane started flossing his teeth. I guess there was no floss back in coureur de bois times.

“You know, for people who spent all their time travelling this wild country, living off the land, battling rapids and all sorts of difficulties, you’d think they’d be a lot braver than they actually were. I also brought back some axes and beaver pelts that I left on the island. I’m kind of new to this, Poppa, and I need some advice. I’d like to start paying rent at Aunt Maggie’s and was thinking about selling them to a museum or something, but I wanted to clear it with you. I didn’t want you to think I was doing bad things again.”

Here came the big question. “You brought them back from where?”

He smiled again, before taking a deep breath. “Well, here’s where it gets complicated. I don’t know if it was a different dimension, or maybe a universe with the same kind of history, or maybe I just travelled back in time. I haven’t figured that out yet. I should have paid more attention in science class back in school, but I know it’s something like that. It has to be. Got any potato chips? That’s what I’ve been craving for the last three days.”

“You were back in time… or in another… What did you call it… dimension? For the last three days?!”

“Yeah, it took longer than I thought. I lost my hammer and chisel when I fell in the river. You know Otter Lake used to be an actual river way back when? A fast-moving one, too. I guess that’s why the coureurs de bois were using it. I had to steal some stuff from their camp to survive. It’s amazing what you can do with a flashlight and a cellphone that plays recorded messages. Scared the heck out of them, and they ran off like spooked rabbits. Boy, was I terrified for a moment. But here I am. Salt and vinegar if you have them.”

Somehow, as I tried to figure all this out, I got him his chips. Duane seemed quite earnest and sincere. As problematic as he had been as a child, then later as an adult, was he really the type to sit there and lie directly to my face? Or worse than that, maybe he thought I was a complete idiot. The final possibility was my grandson was crazy. None of these options were particularly appealing.

It seemed Duane could tell by the expression on my face that I was having a little trouble believing his story.

“I guess I wouldn’t believe it either. But I swear to you, Poppa, that’s where I was. And it has to do with those petroglyphs.”

Whether or not I believed him, I had figured out it had something to do with that place.

“The two new carvings on the wall… that was you?”

 “Yep, that’s how it works. Except there’s four there now.”

Okay, now I knew the boy was lying. “No, I was there this morning. I saw the two new carvings… Only two.”

“Yeah, those were what—I guess you could say—opened the door and let me… ‘travel’ is the best word I can use. I had to add a note to the song of the petroglyphs, one that matched the rhythm of the other ones that were already there.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“And of course, I had to carve another to get back. You probably didn’t notice the one I’d carved a few days ago to get back with the tomahawk because it had aged over the years and looked like the rest. If you look closely, you’ll notice another new one I just added a couple hours ago… or centuries ago, depending on how you want to look at it.”

Something suddenly occurred to him, making him look at me with new interest. “Or maybe you won’t. I mean, for you, they will have always been there, so maybe that’s why you didn’t notice the first one. This all gets so complicated. Time, or dimension, travel isn’t for the stupid, I guess.”

By now I was wondering if I should call 911.

“Back when I was on the island, I could tell those pictures weren’t random or haphazard. There was a story or pattern there. I told you that. It took a while, but I’ve figured out the pattern of the glyphs. It was kind of like a code, so I think now I know how to use them. I’ve been through them twice. You add to it, and it… like… increases whatever power is there and opens some sort of door. It’s so cool.”

I remembered the music analogy he’d explained to me by playing his guitar and thought there was a weird sort of logic to what he was saying. Over the years, a lot of idiots had carved their initials into the limestone surrounding the ancient pictures, but probably no mysterious time doorways opened up for them.

“And then I got back to the mainland and read about all those places around the world. They’re all connected somehow. One guy says it’s because of the resonant harmonics in the crystals located in the igneous rocks. It creates a sort of frequency that somehow manages to open these doors.” This did not sound like my car-stealing grandson at all. “These places of power occur at regular intervals around the world. It’s like our ancestors knew and understood this, that’s why they put the petroglyphs there. But over the years, we forgot about them. I guess we were too busy dealing with all the white men who had suddenly appeared. Then smallpox and measles probably killed off a lot of wise people. But I figured it out, Poppa, I could see what they had done. I’m not as stupid as everybody thinks I am.”

I wanted to tell my grandson that nobody thought he was stupid, but I didn’t get the chance.

“I told you that I would make you proud of me. I’ll be famous for more than stealing cars. Everybody will know me and Otter Lake. I’ve done what nobody else—at least in a long time—has been able to do. All by myself. Just think of all the things we can accomplish, the history we can change. It’s amazing, the possibilities. Maybe I’ll go back and kick Columbus’s and Custer’s asses!” Duane laughed at his own joke. “History isn’t in books anymore. We can walk through it.”

Once again I saw that young boy I’d loved since long ago, wanting to be appreciated and applauded, like all children.

I was beginning to put two and two together, at least within the context of what Duane was trying to tell me. Whether I believed every single word my grandson told me was another matter.

“That tomahawk you showed me a couple days ago. That’s where you got it… through the petroglyphs?”

“Yep. I think it was our ancestors’. How far back, I don’t know. I know there’s some way to tell by looking at the stars and mapping the constellations, and then comparing them with the way they look today, but I’ll figure that out later. Hey, but one guy I saw paddling a canoe looked a lot like Uncle Floyd.”

As any grandfather and elder worth his salt knows, the power in a good story shouldn’t be dismissed. However, all this talk of time travel and dimension-hopping was getting way over my head.

“So this is what you’re doing with your life now? Travelling through time and dimensions, stealing stuff?”

For a moment, he looked embarrassed and a little hurt. “No. I got bigger plans. I just wanted to have something to show you—and everybody else—that I wasn’t lying.” He finished the bag of chips.

I picked up the flintlock gun and had to admit it looked pretty real. I had no idea what a fake one looked like, but if this was bogus, somebody sure had put a lot of time and effort into making a convincingly decent fake.

“You can keep it, Poppa. It’s yours.”

All this was too much for an old man. I had run out of questions.

“You know how you always talk about how we have to struggle to keep what culture we have, hold on to the language, all that stuff. Now you don’t have to worry. Everything our ancestors had, we can have again.” His eyes were gleaming with those amazing possibilities he had mentioned.

Admittedly, my experience as an elder hadn’t really prepared me for a conversation like this, but I had seen enough science fiction movies to know this kind of thing was dangerous. Those Anishinabe and coureurs de bois that he had run into on those two trips—supposedly run into—were probably tough customers. I told my grandson of my concerns, but he was like a kid with a motorcycle, thinking only of the speed and the thrill, not of the potential accidents.

“I’ll be good, Poppa. You’ll see. And… and… and I can do so much good. I’ll be able to answer so many questions. I’ll be able to help our people back then, you know, deal with everything that’s going to happen. Maybe sometime you can come back with me.” He suddenly got more excited. “Yeah, you can speak Anishinabe way better than me. Let’s do it sometime! Okay?”

I had no answer at that time. I wish I had.

Gathering his stuff up, still smiling, he left my house. That was about two weeks ago. I didn’t see him for a week. Logic told me that he was in hiding, trying to make me think he’d gone through that doorway of his. Giving more substance to his story. That he was actually up to something he didn’t want me to know about, that this was just some big con or something. I do believe there are places in this world, and I guess all the other worlds that may be out there, that ordinary men and women shouldn’t walk. They’re not meant to. Especially twenty-six-year-old car thieves.

Something kept gnawing at me, and I went over to the island. As I had half expected, I discovered two new images etched into the wall, but no Duane. I found myself placing my hand on the rock. The same place Duane had put my hand just a few weeks ago. It might have been my imagination, but I thought I could feel a buzzing… then I heard a groan.

It was Duane, lying on the far side of his boat, nestled behind some cedar shrubs. He was running a high fever and was barely conscious. A rash of some sort had spread across his face and neck. I could see some on his hands and arms too. Some years earlier, my son had given me one of those cellphones. I rarely used it, but I couldn’t think of a better reason. Because of my high blood pressure and diabetes, I had the health clinic’s number programmed in. It was ringing when Duane grabbed my arm, surprisingly strong for somebody in his condition.

“I tried to help. I did, Poppa, ’cause I knew you’d want me to. It was horrible. I tried to make the world a better place… but I don’t think I should have…”

His eyes rolled back in his head and he threw up what looked like blood, but it was so dark and thick. A good and proper elder shouldn’t curse, but I didn’t care. As I waited for help to arrive, I found myself growing angrier and angrier—angry at my grandson for his foolishness, angry at myself for bringing him to this island, angry at the island for what it had done to Duane.

Now, I know nothing about this science stuff, and I tended to lean a little more toward the skeptical end of the spectrum, especially when it came to Duane’s story. Today, I’m not so rigid in that department. He did get his wish, though. He did become famous… He’s been all over the news. I’ve been interviewed a half-dozen times myself about it all. I kept most of his claims to myself, for obvious reasons. As for his theory about the petroglyphs as a doorway to other times or other dimensions, I am now leaning more toward his time-travel theory.

How else would you explain the fact that he was the first person to die of smallpox in North America since the 1930s? Doctors say the disease was stamped out worldwide in the 1970s. Nobody knows where or how Duane caught it. In fact, it seems downright impossible by medical standards. At the moment, as you know, the whole reserve is under quarantine and we had to get special permission for this funeral. My arm looks like a pincushion from all the blood that’s been taken and all the inoculations I’ve been given.

Most people forget that a couple hundred years ago, a lot of Native people around here died of the disease. Just as, I figure, we’ve lost the knowledge of how to use the petroglyphs properly. If you toy with them, they will toy with you.

Duane pointed out to me that a lot of these mysterious engravings were done by people now long gone. Strong, vibrant, imaginative people. Did they die out, he wondered to me, get mixed in with other tribes, or did they just slip into the crack between the worlds and end up somewhere else? Now that’s an interesting question.

Sometimes, when I’m lying in bed now, I can feel a slight buzzing in my hand. Almost like the petroglyphs are calling me.