Saturday, 14 January 2012

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Eight

Be Still Thy Heart this is an article written in 1889
and published in Harper's Magazine of that date.


In the solitude of these far northern woods, one understands how it is that the Indians have peopled them in their imagination with manitous, windigos and a host of minor sprites.There is no cheerful hum of insects in the air, no call of familiar birds ; a hush seems to have fallen over the forest, and one shares in the seeming expectancy, and strains the ear for some coming sound. It seems quite in keeping with the surroundings that these dark woods and shadowy cliffs should be the home of the creatures of the Indian mythology. Around the camp-fire at night is the place to learn of them, when no sound is heard but the soft rustle of the pines, and break of the swift current against the rocks, unless at times a Ko-ko-ko-o, or great barred owl, flies near the camp. At such times we were told stories of the Manabozho that ruled over the lakes, and had his head-quarters up here, and many and long were the tales of his valorous deeds. In fact, on one island, we saw a fragment of his white rabbit-skin blanket, which was caught by the branches and torn off as Manabozho rushed down the river, in great wrath, to punish an enemy which had appeared at the Sault Ste. Marie. It turned to glittering quartz afterwards, and still flashes in the sun as white as when Manabozho lost it.

Then there was " Gah-puh-ke-ta-je-wung "- meaning "water striking against a rock " - a great manitou that lives under White's Chute, a place on the river where the rapids rush against a wall of rock, and are thrown back on either side into a pool about four hundred feet across. Here, in the old  times, the voyagers always made an offering of tobacco as they passed, to bring good luck to their trip; even now it is done occasionally - very quietly, however, as these Indians have almost all been converted, and are supposed to have left the old superstitions behind them. We did not fail to slip a choice bit of "Myrtle Navy" over the side of our canoe as we passed.

Lesser manitous there were too, that haunted deep holes at the mouths of rivers, animals endowed with speech and in league with the manitous, and there were windigoes, most unpleasant creatures that seemed to be a kind of ghoul, and were very malignant. I was always much interested in these creatures, perhaps because it was permitted us to see their mischief working  on one occasion.

We had camped one afternoon, on our way home, at Bechah Onegum, or Pine Portage, and the guides and I had just started in our canoe to run down the rapids to the fishing -ground, when suddenly we heard a rushing, crackling noise, which was echoed back and forth by the high trap cliffs, and looking about, startled by the confused sound which seemed all around us, we saw across the river, where the Cariboo Mountains tower above the rapids, an immense pine-tree which had become loosened from its hold in the rocks, five hundred feet above the bed of the river. It leaped from cliff to cliff, striking with a hoarse, booming sound, breaking in its wild fall many smaller trees, and was followed by them in its downward course, and by detached fragments of rocks. As we looked in wonder, we saw it strike the rapids below with a fearful crash, dashing up great waves on the steep sides of the precipice; the water foamed and hissed, the tree was broken into a hundred fragments by the fall, and the great limbs surged up and down in the waves and then were quickly hurried down into the rapids to the fall below. It was a thrilling sight; we watched it all in silence; and when the last sound died away I turned to Joseph for the sympathy and appreciation that he never failed to give. As he met my eyes, he said, in a low tone: "Windigo!" "Why Windigo, Joseph?" I asked. Joseph gave his shoulders a little shrug, and took up the paddle to push the canoe off shore. "It is very quiet today ," he said, significantly, " and the little wind we have blows the other way."

This will be concluded in Part Nine: A Time for Good-by

No comments:

Post a Comment