"Alone" Chapter 6
Welcome as Always
Bundle up when coming to visit today we are a little on the chilly side. The fire has been started and all the goodies are out and ready so please help yourself.
It seems like I have lost a few months along the way since retiring back in June. Hard to believe it has already been close to 11 months. In reflection I wonder what I have accomplished in that time besides following the passion to write. Now that we have pending spring and summer coming it will be a welcome time to sit out on the back deck and write. So refreshing to spend sometime outdoors and hear the birds and the sounds of birds and nature. The cabin will be used this year often. I so love the peace and solitude out there and the freedom to just rest. A place where the only clock that works is the internal one.
Please gather around, make yourselves comfortable and above all find some peace and of course love. My home is yours and enjoy the warmth of the fire. Lets see where we travel today.
“Cramped but Blessed”
I had a middle seat. On one side was an older Native woman dressed in very simple clothing. On the other side was a government man in a suit. As the aircraft climbed out of Whitehorse, I was able to see familiar landmarks I had hiked through many times. A favorite was Grey Mountain. At its peak one could see for miles in many directions. It was a easy climb except for the last 1000 feet or so that called for agility and stamina.
From this altitude everything looked small and simple, unlike the actual trail with its many obstacles. The higher we climbed the harder it became to make out the familiar. I thought about the change I was about to encounter in Edmonton and was already missing the Yukon and my dog Tannis.
We hit some turbulence that caused the plane to pitch and toss about, an unsettling feeling for anyone new to flying, but I had spent many hours in smaller aircraft where it was not uncommon to lose a few hundred feet at a time. A true northerner could withstand that kind of abuse.
I smiled at the lady beside me as she gripped the seat handles, looking a little nervous. When I patted her hand and smiled, she gave me a nervous, toothless smile. Just then we broke through the clouds on our left, and an incredible sight of peace and tranquility appeared. White billowing clouds as far as the eye could see, with a bright sun lighting the whole horizon. She leaned forward and spoke softly, raising her hands while she looked out the window. She was probably in her 80’s, dressed very modestly. Her hair was thin and grey, and her brown, wrinkled face unique. Those wrinkles told a story all their own. Years of being in the sun had tanned her darker than her Native colouring. Her dark eyes shone and when she smiled she could light the darkest room. She was excited and pointed and nodded at the sight before her.
At times like this I thought of the chaos of life below, shattered lives, people who are hurting, the pain and suffering, yet while in the sky looking at the view, I felt true peace.
If that is what heaven is all about, I love the idea of what eternity holds for me. No man or woman should miss leaving the darkness of the world behind and finding such an amazing view.
I glanced about the aircraft and noticed each person was caught up in what he or she was doing. No one was really talking because they were absorbed in their own little worlds. I thought of the emptiness and hollowness all around me. People hardly ever communicated anymore. Many people had so much to tell and yet they held it all inside.
I tried to talk to the government man next to me but without much success. The best I could get from him was a grunt, so I decided it was best to leave that conversation alone and leave him to his paper. This would be like most flights long and tiring at the thought of the many stops along the way.
On the other hand, the Native woman took a liking to me right away. Maybe it was the smell of smoke. She could barely speak English and I could barely speak the Cree Language but we managed. She laughed when I told her my name, smiled and nodded if she could understand, and then watched how earnestly I attempted to explain, rolling my hands in circles. We continued the mixed dialogue until she grasped the conversation.
I could not help but notice the bracelet she wore. It was beautifully handmade and the beading was intriguingly woven through porcupine quills. I asked her what it meant and she shared as best she could in half English and half Cree.
“The beads tell the story of my life. Each design opens a new chapter,” she shared as she twisted the bracelet slowly stopping and laughing and smiling at a few. She shared a little of each. The more I talked with her the more I liked her and her mannerisms. This lady had much to teach and talk about.
She told me her name as she pointed to herself. “Iskwiw.” When I asked what it meant she laughed and said, “It means female.” She claimed her father was uneducated and had named her that because she was a girl. She grinned toothlessly and went off speaking Cree like I understood all she said.
Iskwiw asked where I had learned the little Cree I knew and I told her about my friendship with the Taggish. She seemed shocked that they had accepted me among them. Often considered to be a great honour in their cultures. She smiled and touched my hand and left hers there.
Proudly I took out my gifts and shared their meaning with her. Bracelets, necklaces, moccasins for my niece’s new baby, as well as several small hand-stretched pieces of moose hide with hand painted flowers, blended in with intriguing beadwork. She was moved by the fine work. One piece in particular caught her eye as she took it gently into her hands. She held it close to her chest and pointed at the sky, tears slowly falling down her wrinkled and weathered cheeks. She kissed the painting and passed it back to me with the greatest reverence.
”This picture means God,” she said with tear filled eyes.
The government man moved a bit farther away from the smell, and several people turned their heads, sniffing at the air, perhaps thinking the plane was on fire. Iskwiw and I simply acted like this was normal. After all, the gifts and stories were for those who cared about and understood the Native culture. Should they not I considered it to be a great loss because it was heartfelt and simplistic and had true meaning.
Iskwiw told me she was going to Edmonton to be admitted to the Cross Cancer Institute for tests. The doctor in Old Crow—a small Native settlement in the Yukon—suspected she had breast cancer. She said she had great faith and spoke the name Jesus many times. Iskwiw pointed to her left breast and made a sign with her hands, her short weathered fingers curled into a ball. It indicated she had a lump in her breast. She made a motion as though holding a knife and, with one sweep, pretended to cut the breast off. Slapping her hands together she motioned tossing the discarded breast out the window. She then took the hem of her dressed as though wiping her hands. She had made her point and nothing more needed to be said.
What a wonderful woman she turned out to be: as simple as the day is long, with no frills and full of wisdom and life. I knew I could learn many lessons from her even if our time together would be during this flight. She was a teacher and I was the willing student as she shared much of the hardships she had experienced.
She asked me if she could pray for me just before we landed in Edmonton. I never forgot the feel of those old weathered hands on mine. They were gentle and filled with love. She murmured a prayer in Cree and I was able to pick up parts of it. The prayer had great meaning and tears rolled down her face as she spoke. It touched me as well, even though I understood little. Iskwiw was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave me many words of wisdom. She spoke the term “leader,” “great white man of God, father to many.” She pointed to my heart and said, “Touch many with God’s gift.”
It was a poignant moment. Even though I also found peace in prayer, this was somehow different. I could not comprehend everything at the time but, she had prayed this prayer into my life, and much later I would come to understand much of what she had said.
I helped get her luggage and saw her to a taxi. Our farewell was simple; she placed both hands on my face and gently kissed my cheek, saying, “God travels with you, Rolly.”
As the taxi drove away, my heart was heavy because of what she was about to face. I wondered if she would ever leave the hospital and return home. Old Crow, the community she came from, was not all that far away from where I lived. I would make it a point to plan a visit there soon. I had some other friends that Iskwiw knew as well. It would be a homecoming of sorts for me to see them and, hopefully, her.
As I made my way back into the airport, the entire family greeted me. I had been so busy helping Iskwiw that I had failed to see them. They all joked that I had finally found a wife who would put up with me. Later I told them Iskwiw’s story. Both my parents sat with tear filled eyes knowing her future would hold even more trials.
The city was exactly as I remembered it: the noise, pollution, concrete and asphalt. This was far more than I was accustomed to. There were people everywhere, and the first thing that struck me was the same as what I had seen on the plane was that people were so caught up their own worlds they had no time for each other.
It was sad to think of all the untold stories here. The Yukon was the complete opposite; people had a way about them in comparison.
My dad was a great one for striking up a conversation anywhere with anyone. It was something he learned at an early age. After all, someone had to start. The result could be a wonderful long-lasting friendship or one that only endured for a few moments while they were talking.
But I hated living in the city, even at an early age. It was a lonely place at the best of times. It was unheard of to talk to the person next to me in line. I distrusted them immediately and had the sense they were wondering what I wanted from them, when I had simply said hello.
Trust is something that has to be earned and it comes only when people share a relationship. But people were so busy rushing about they had little time for each other.
The north had always been much different; people cared about each other there. No matter how big or small a community, people reached out and offered a simple wave hello or struck up a conversation. Rarely did I eat a meal alone in a restaurant; someone would usually come up and ask if I minded if they joined me. Often they were complete strangers. Outsiders were easy to spot in crowds, because they were generally alone.
As we drove through the maze of tall buildings I thought again about Iskwiw’s story and what lay ahead for her.
I was feeling closed in with all the traffic, buildings and noise. I had only been on the ground a few hours and my throat was already irritated. The familiar headache had started from all the exhaust and pollution.
My mom and dad were dressed as always in their finest, aging more each time I saw them. My two sisters were always up to something, maturing gracefully, always willing to share a story about my youth where I was the brunt of many hours of laughter. My brother was usually the shy one, adding his comments about my antics. The nieces and nephews entered the conversation asking, “Tell us more. My family suggested a restaurant they frequented. It boasted a forty-foot buffet table. At the first sight of it I was sickened by the assortment and the amount of food that was available.
It had everything and anything—all you could eat for a reasonable price. Even though I was hungry the food was far too rich compared to my normal diet of what I called “plug the hole” food. I was used to eating whatever was handy. The night before the fare had been rabbit stew, with everything taken from the land. The meal was simple yet filling. I remembered that all I had eaten that day was bannock and my morning coffee and aircraft peanuts.
Before we ate Dad bowed his head in a prayer over the entire family and the food we were about to eat. He thanked God that He had brought his son home safely, paused and prayed over Iskwiw as well; that God would give her peace in what she was about to face.
My thoughts went to my newfound friend and I could not help but smile thinking I should have complained about the number of dry peanuts in the bag. One bag in particular was short 11 peanuts, the average being 36. Counting them was what I called in-flight entertainment.
Iskwiw had only eaten one bag. She tucked the others away for her grandchildren, writing the name of each child on the bag. She also cleaned out the airline magazine and emergency folder in her seat back. She was in the process of taking the airsickness bag when I stopped her and told her what it was for. She just smiled, folded it up and put into her overnight bag. She laughed when I passed her mine as well. It was a heartwarming laugh that I so loved to hear. Yes I indeed did like this lady.
She likely had already planned a very important use for it. I smiled at the thought of her, yet was saddened by her ordeal alone in the city. I knew the hospital where she was, and I became excited at the thought of going to visit her. It would do us both good.
© Copyrighted and Monitored by the Writer Rolly A. Chabot
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