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"Alone" Chapter Twelve
Are you an adventurist. Do you like a challenge. Do you take on the world with gusto. Are you one who never backs down when faced with adversity. Do you say bring it on no matter what. If you are then you know who you are and no that life can throw many twists at you, I suppose the question is have you called for them or do they just happen. How do you respond.
Welcome to another Fireside chat and what happens to us when we look at life through the eyes of Iskwiw. One might wonder why I have dedicated so much time to this lady and yet I can answer that question for you. "Wisdom" would be the word I would use and use it freely and openly and the effect she had on me at the time, later in life and yes even today.
She had a gift of holding the hardest of hearts accountable and did so with the outpouring of love that radiated throughout all who she touched in her life. We often question the legitimacy of the claim of people living on. This is one lady that will live on for many years through her love she shared with people.
Come along and rest awhile and take in the wisdom she has to offer. I do hope you find a gem or two that you can carry on through her and these few simple words. Rest awhile and help yourselves to the gifts before you. Coffee, tea and yes even some goodies. Stay as long as you like and above all else know that you are loved...
I spent four days with the Cree. On the last night there was a great celebration of thanksgiving for the bounty that was to come from the land. It was their way of thanking their Creator in advance and such a sight for me to watch and be a part of.
There were dancers, music, and arctic games in which the whole community participated. Even Iskwiw danced and persuaded me to come along. I was no dancer by any means, but I managed because there was no real method other than to move freely.
I attracted many laughs as Iskwiw guided me through the important motions. I learned that all the moves were meant to mimic native animals. Iskwiw designated me to be the bear through the motions of her hands: the clawing of trees and digging through the ground. I could feel the drumbeats throughout my body as I started to mimic the bear. After a time I was one with everyone else dancing in the light of the community fire. The northern lights sang across the sky that night as brightly as I had ever seen them. Iskwiw, the caribou, and I, the bear, danced late into the night. Many were dressed in traditional clothing, a vivid array of colors, a true celebration of their heritage.
As I prepared for the trip home the next morning Iskwiw came to say goodbye, tears in her eyes as she showed me a small package wrapped in a white handkerchief and tied with a simple string.
She took both my hands and placed her gift in my right hand, rolling my fingers closed. “Do not open it until I have gone to be with my Father in heaven,” she instructed me. “This is a special gift that you are to give to another you love someday.”
I was puzzled but had come to learn not to question these people. The gift was Iskwiw’s way of speaking when she was not present.
We stood for many minutes, knowing it was the last time we would see each other. Iskwiw prayed again in her native tongue. When she was finished she kissed me on the cheek, pointed to my chest then hers and said, “Kiskatchua.” It means “love” in the Kwanlin Dun language. She pointed to her chest then to mine and repeated, “Kiskatchua.”
She turned in a small circle, repeating “Kiskatchua,” then “Him.” She pointed to the sky and again to our chests and waved her hand in all directions. As she spoke the tears flowed from her weathered eyes. “He is here, Rolly,” she said in broken Cree, “in your heart.”
Iskwiw slowly walked to a small rise near the airstrip, turned and pointed at the sky and to me again, and again said, “Kiskatchua.” That was the last time I saw her. I was saddened as the plane started down the runway. I was leaving a special friend behind and knew she would be gone soon.
At the controls, Rob pushed the Beaver to its limits. It rattled and shook the whole time until finally, at the last moment, he pulled back hard on the yoke and Old Crow fell away beneath us. The flight would be a little over three hours. I opened my hand and looked at the small package, wondering what Iskwiw had given me, a gift to be given away she had said. That was a mystery but I would have to wait as I had promised.
Rob was to be the contact point for messages and news from Old Crow. He would get me the news of Iskwiw’s passing. As we flew I closed my eyes, thinking of all that had happened since I left home: Iskwiw, my family, Chin and his family. It had been a good journey, especially because I had been a part of something as important as Iskwiw’s final days. I was happy I had made the extra trip and brought her back to her people.
On the way to Edmonton Iskwiw had told me, “The most important function we have as humans is to care for each other. That’s it, wrapped in a nutshell.” She had smiled a little. ”God calls us to care and to love, plain and simple. There is no magic in having a full life," she had gone on to say.
I asked her, “How do I love when others refuse to?”
Her response was simple. “Love them anyway.”
Rob flew a bit out of the way as he wanted to check on the Porcupine Caribou herd that had started to move north after its winter migration in the south. It was a sight many would pay dearly for. Thousands of animals moving in formation toward the Arctic and the lush, nourishing lichens and mosses they ate to gain the weight needed to survive the harsh winter months ahead. Thousands upon thousands traveling in a straight line in places and others in massive groups.
Estimates are that every spring 125,000 plus head of caribou gather with one thing in mind: to reach their calving grounds. It is one of those phenomena in nature that is beyond human understanding. It just happens. As the herds gather they grow in numbers. Rob explained there were four main herds that had come together already. I had to move up front to see the view and Rob gave me the extra headset, since the noise of the Beaver was too much this close to the engine. Any aircraft had to stay 2000 feet above the animals. It was a regulation and getting caught meant a huge fine.
That herd had been protected for years. Only the Old Crow people were allowed to hunt at will to meet their needs. They did so with reverence to the animal. After each was shot the hunter the people gathered the meat and everything the animal provided. Then they would bow in prayer, thanking the creator God for the bounty. It was strange to watch, as all they had to do was shoot and take what they needed. Accuracy was unnecessary.
It was as if the herd was oblivious of man or anything else that might spook them. The Cree allowed nothing to go to waste; they used all parts of the animal. I looked below as two herds started to come together. The terrain behind them was scarred from the many hooves that had beaten it down. But the Arctic had a way of repairing itself quickly as it had done for many thousands of years without the help of man.
Each year the caribou traveled the same route. For them it was a highway of sorts. I could not help but think of the wonder of God's creation as I watched. I felt that what I was seeing should be considered the eighth wonder of the world.
As we approached Whitehorse, crossing the Alaska Highway, I was able to pick out many prominent landmarks. One winding road seemed to double back and swallow itself over and over again. It had been built that way during the war in order to keep the military traffic from running in a straight line, should an enemy fighter plane make it into Canadian airspace. It claimed to be an engineering feat of its time and opened the north to many to come and take in the riches it offered.
I was lost in thought when Rob spoke quietly. “Iskwiw will be dearly missed. It was her that shared the gospel with me. Because of her I accepted the Lord.” He paused and cleared his throat. “She’s changed many lives over the years by the way she loves her God.” He told me with damp eyes the way salvation had changed his life.
“I had been searching for years and each time someone brought up the subject I closed the door. But that little lady had something far more powerful than anything I had ever seen before. She had the love of her Jesus living within her. She shared her faith with me one night and it changed my life completely.” He cleared his throat. “Rolly, have you ever considered accepting that kind of faith?”
“What I have seen this past several days has brought a new understanding to the word faith and it’s something I will be considering,” was all I could say at the time.
The landing was as smooth as they come because of Rob’s many years of experience at the yoke. I slipped the small gift Iskwiw had given me into my shirt pocket and caught the faint smell of smoke. Iskwiw had blessed me indeed. After collecting my belongings, which had been dropped off in Whitehorse a few days earlier, I found my snow-covered van parked just where I had left it.
I called the truck lines and the freight had arrived from Edmonton with the gifts for Johnny and Mino. I picked it up on my way through town. The giving would come later, for now I had one thing in mind and that was to get Tannis.
It started with the usual protest and I went to pick her up on the other side of town. Wendy said she knew I was coming because Tannis had started to fuss a few minutes earlier. Her hearing was exceptional and she recognized the sound of the van long before I entered the driveway. The dog was very excited to see me and knew she was heading home. I took the time for a romp on the floor with her and tossed the ball.
Tannis caught a sniff of the light smoke fragrance from my shirt pocket and knew it was familiar. I was tempted to open the package there but wanted to do so in private. I thanked Wendy for her help and she smiled. “My pleasure, lets have a coffee and I will catch you up on the news, you and Tannis are always welcome.”
It had been a long and rewarding few weeks and I was certainly ready for some down time back at the cabin and the world I had been missing so much.
I made a phone call home to announce that I had made it back. My parents welcomed it as always. My father said a lot about the visit and how nice it had been to see me again. As he talked, mom was giving instructions in the background. “Tell him to call more often and to be sure and eat better. He’s far too thin for my liking.” Mothers will be mothers but dad just kept talking, not hearing her at all. He had likely turned down his hearing aide anyway.
I was looking forward to some much-needed rest. The old lumpy couch I slept on in Old Crow had left much to be desired. It had been right next to the wood stove that burned night and day at the home I stayed in. I smiled at the thought of the three little heads that had peeked out at the strange man on their couch each morning as breakfast was being cooked. They were the children of Joe and Sarah, friends of Iskwiw’s who had readily accepted me into the community.
The cabin was like an iceberg inside, I started the two fires and within an hour it started to warm, even Tannis was curled in a ball to stay warm.
It was late when I finally climbed into the king-size water bed. I was home and it was a good feeling to again be in the familiar. I had come to love the feel of the bed as it swayed slowly back and forth. My final thoughts of the day were of the sweet elderly Native woman who had decided to call me friend.
Morning came early and the chatter just outside told me Sammy the squirrel had noticed I had arrived home and was demanding the supply of nuts I put out each morning. Sammy had likely been a resident there for many years,
I slipped out of bed and put the morning coffee on. Taking a generous helping of nuts from an old coffee can, I set them out on a log. Sammy was already waiting. I had made it a game to see if someday this little critter would actually come eat out of my hand. In the few short months I had been doing it Sammy had moved from the tree to within a few inches of my fingertips.
I thought someday the trust would grow enough, but for now my simplest movement resulted in the squirrel running away. It was going to be a long training session.
My coffee was finally ready and I sat on the railing of the deck looking over the place that had become my home. That morning I felt a new kind of peace that I could not understand. Something was different. As I stared at the Golden Horn, the mountain that had become like a sentry on duty, I thought of God and his creation. I thought about the order of life, family, friends, relationships and the gifts the Heavenly Father had given to each person.
It was a testimony I had heard many times over the past few days, and it was like it was new each time. Iskwiw’s final words in Cree stuck in my heart, just as she had.. Kiskatchua
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