The ride home

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I rode back from a great meal at the old Pierini homestead cottage on my motorcycle the other night. I was hoping to beat the rain on my way back to Kirkland Lake. It wasn’t a long ride but the sun had gone down and heavy clouds hung overhead with light drizzle here and there. As I drove, the rain began to pelt then turned into stinging droplets that bounced off my leather jacket and jeans. I put down my visor, slowed down and took it easy.

In the blue twilight, the forest around me became a dark silhouette of familiar pointed pine trees. I could feel the rain slowly soaking through some of my clothing. The air was chilled but I was warm and dry under my layers. I breathed in the fresh scent of the rain, the pine forest and the damp muskeg around me. The hum of a 1978 Honda Goldwing rumbled underneath me and I kept an eye out for traffic, animals, obstacles on the road and the slick wet pavement. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a time not so long ago back in my community of Attawapiskat.

Every summer during the long hot days of July, my parents, Susan and Marius, would often take us out onto James Bay for a day trip or for a long weekend to Akamiski Island or Twin Island a bit north of the mouth of the Attawapiskat River. Those were great trips as they offered us children a chance to break away from the community and spend time with each other on the land without any distractions or the dysfunction of town living. Life was simple out there on the land. We all pitched in to make a fire. Someone would boil water for a large pot of strong tea. Mom would prepare a goose and make bannock. Dad tended to the camp repairing items we needed to survive, maintaining the outboard motor or building shelters.

Once we had settled down and some work was done we all ended up around the campfire with nothing to do but enjoy each other’s company. Mom and dad would tell us stories of the land and the people, our relatives and our ancestors who inhabited this area for generations.

When it was time to bed down, it was easy to fall into sleep with the crackling of the burning logs, the lapping of the ocean water on the pebble shore and the wind in the trees to send us peacefully into the dream world. It was so comfortable to be in the wilderness surrounded by my family and parents out here on the island shore away from all the complexities of a modern life back in the community.

When we finally packed up to leave, we were always disappointed to be heading back into town. Even though we were returning to friends and family there was something unsettling about having to head back to a life of so many rules, boundaries and demands.

More often than not, dad would plan our return home for the latest high tide of the day, which usually meant we would be riding our 22-foot freighter canoe in the dark. Keeping track of tides is an important skill in the north and one has to know what the water level is at all times because if you arrive at the wrong moment, you either damage your canoe or motor and you might get stranded for hours somewhere on the bay or the river before you could complete your journey.

I can still hear dad hollering over the roar of his 30-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor, letting us know we were almost at the river. He would skilfully head south along the coast, being fully aware of where the mouth of the river was before turning west. Many times it would rain on those cool late summer evenings and we would shelter ourselves under blue-coloured plastic tarps as we made our way home.

The scent of the pine, the damp muskeg, the rain and the oily exhaust of the motor make up the same ingredients I identified with on my bike ride. The hum of the motor and the darkness of the landscape all around me took me back. The cold, the wet, the wind in my face and the smells all send me back to those trips on the land.

As I guided the Goldwing through the rain on the dark highway I could almost sense that if I glanced into my rear view mirror I would see my dad at the back of the canoe keeping us safe and moving forward at the controls. It occurred to me with a deep feeling of contentment that no matter where I go these days, my parents are never far from my mind.

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