“Maybe everything we need to know we have forgotten, this journey is a search for lost wisdom.”
If I were a hobbit who left the shire, the wizards on this journey are the wise grandmothers and grandfathers, the lakes are the dragons. This one is called Mishipeshu. The Ojibwa name for Lake Superior is Gichigami which means, Great Water.
Maybe it’s where I am within myself on this journey, now almost two years in, but from the very beginning of paddling with Gichigami, the spirit of this water, these ancient rocks and places of this lands ancestors has been a very sacred time for me. It’s been four weeks and I have only paddled 300km but I feel my heart has traveled so far.
It began reuniting with an old friend who I had not seen for over 20 years. Johanna came out to help me paddle the first week. On the second day, the wind whipped up, white caps popped up everywhere and we let the wind and waves take us into the shore. We tucked behind a cedar tree to get protection from the wind, and Johanna took out her phone to get a weather update and there was a text saying her mother Hanna had died a few hours ago.
When we woke up that morning, after coffee, we smudged and held space for her mom. So, when Johanna read the message we were both humbled and deeply moved that she died while we were thinking of her spirit. While we sat there tucked into the protection of the cedar tree, an eagle came within 20 feet just behind us and we both gasped and watched it soar up into the winds.
The rational mind can’t diminish the truth of the heart. What is felt is so much more powerful than what is thought.
The winds kept us on shore for three days. And that turned out to be good fortune, because we got to go and meet a hero of my mine, Grandmother Josephine, the water walker. Always trust the unfolding. In the old way, everything happens for a reason.
For 14 years, she has walked around all the Great Lakes and prayed for the protection of water for our future generations. She has inspired and touched the hearts of many. Mine is one of them You can follow her journey at www.motherearthwaterwalk.com.
Whenever I see the sunlight now on the water, I remember the light in her eyes while we spoke. I cried hard after the encounter so profoundly moved by her humility, by her understanding, by her tears of hope.
All this in the first week.
Then I began paddling solo from the site of the old Mamainse Harbour and the home of another wise woman, Ellen Van Laar. http://www.ellenvanlaar.com. I call her the good witch. The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald lies out in front of her home five miles. One of the life boats washed up on the shore at Coppermine Point, walking distance down the beach. Three times this month when I have shored in bad weather, the good witch appeared and brought me to warmth and good food. On my birthday I watched waves and the wind as she played Bach on her violin and cooked up moose and potatoes for breakfast. Her home walls are filled with her paintings, her passion for the earth and water expressed in color and symbols and swirls of creative power.
In week three I was symbolically joined by three women paddling their own canoe and kayak, Jennifer and her daughter Molly from the Sault and their good friend Michelle from Gaspe. My menu went from fast food to a gourmet restaurant. I went from lone wolf to a pack. Jennifer and Michelle both have much more paddling experience then I and were great teachers. Molly is 16 and her strength, spirit and and maturity gives me hope for the future. I trusted her judgement as much as I trusted any of ours.
We paddled and camped together for four days till we passed the pictographs in Agawa, a traditional sacred place of the Ojibwe people. We shored in Sinclair Cove and I was going to carry on solo the next day. The next morning I woke up to Jennifer screaming in a warrior tone , “ HEY. HEY. HEY” and Michelle yelling in French and I’m like, what the heck, is there a bear in our camp? As I stumbled out of my tent I saw my red canoe, Kwimu being paddled out from shore by two young men. It appeared it was being stolen. Anyways, they heeded the warrior cry of Jennifer and Michelle and paddled the canoe back to shore. Smart men. Then the rain came and we sat with a small fire, coffee and chocolate. It was May 22nd. Just up the hill beginning the next morning I had heard an Ojibwe Shaman Rodney Elie and his partner Dorothy were holding a four day fast and ceremonies for six days. I thought it would be interesting to spend a day with them. I am in pre school in the old way. I knew there would be good teachers there.
Then Ellen’s friend Rick showed up and with it the opportunity to do so. Ellen had been invited but was leaving town. She offered to ask if I could attend. The next day she introduced me to Rodney, and hiked with me to the pictographs I had paddled by two days earlier and helped me find a place for my fast. My one day turned into 6 days.
It ended yesterday. I have sat with no words till this morning. I learned much from Rodney, Dorothy and everyone who sat around the sacred fire this week about Ojibwe traditional knowledge. Thank you Rodney Elie for sunrise ceremonies, sweats and my first fast. In the old way spirit is in all natural things and not in anything man made. They pray with, not to. I can still feel the sunrise ceremony drumming in my heart beat. I carry it with me now as I return to the water to paddle.
I am starting to remember.
Meegwetch to the people who have showed me kindness on this journey and in my life. That is the spirit of this land.
lead image: Michele Van De Kaa
image of Grandmother Josephine and I : Johanna Neuteboom