River 16 - Mark and Paul's Excellent Adventure

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River

By Dawn Natelle

Chapter 16

So far: River meets two new people, and the river bestows gifts on them. Carla gets a family, and a chance to be a girl, including a shopping trip. River and her new lawyer go to town, and make up with the hospital and the liquor agency. Then they cap off a busy day with a trip to Colin, resident computer nerd, and discover that a viral product means money will be coming into the reserve.

And now: For a change we will look at the following four days, Wednesday to Saturday as a block, in a series of vignettes looking at the main characters in the story.

River was busy for the next few days. She spent most of it in the new store after Nick worked some magic and got a lease signed, a deposit paid for and announced that there were several thousand dollars available for supplies to clean and repair the building. Nelson got the power connected in only two days, and allowed several extension cords to run through his store into the new area in the meantime. It turned out that having construction in the new store was entertainment to most of the idlers in town and on the reserve, and River somehow managed to convince all of the First Nations people, and quite a few townspeople who popped in to look around to join her cleaning crew.

The town had a small lumberyard/hardware store, and River purchased most of the needed cleaning supplies there, pretty much emptying out their stock. She also bought all of the white paint in the store, and ordered a lot more. The store manager was astounded, since his normal price for paint was a few dollars a gallon higher than the best prices in Sault. When he saw the scope of River’s order, he sharpened his pencil and came up with a discount that would bring the price down to near what she would get if she bought in the city. He was thrilled to get what looked like was going to be a 20% increase in his yearly sales, and River was happy to know that a financially shaky store was now stable, and would be around when local people needed to buy a bit of lumber or supplies without having to go to Terrace Bay.

The store windows were the first dealt with, and nearly 20 years of grime were removed from both inside and outside. Just cleaning the dirt away made the inside brighter and cheerier, although there was still a lot of work needed inside. The initial supply of paint went to the outside, around the windows and doors. One First Nations woman spent the entire day working on the beautiful old double doors, polishing the brass push bars, cleaning the windows until they were spotless, and then painting the wood parts of the doors red, making an attractive entranceway into the store.

Carl Bluelake, the painter who had done the painting of the Alpha wolf, was called in to consult on the design of the storefront. He liked the red door, which was a good thing, since River knew a major battle would be required to get the woman to change it. In fact, River suggested the name of the store could be Red Door First Nations Arts and Crafts. She polled all her helpers, who were proud to be consulted about the name and nearly unanimously loved the name.

Carl was told to buy three 4x8 sheets of top grade plywood, sawn into 2x8 pieces at the lumberyard. This would make a 48 foot long nameplate sign for the front of the store, replacing the smaller Northern Stores sign that had been in the same location years ago. River left the design completely up to Carl, and told him to also buy paints and supplies at the hardware store and put it on her account, along with the wood.

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Colin reported in at midday on Thursday to update River on the eBay sales. He had sold Lyle and George’s monstrosity for $129,450 US, which worked out to over $150,000 Canadian. Nick had been wrong, and found that eBay’s commission maxed out at $750, practically nothing on a sale of that size. He had arranged with George and Lyle that the store would keep 25% commission on items over $50,000, with lower rates of 20% for items over $1000, and 15% for over $100. Smaller items would be charged at 10%.

The other good news was that Colin had sold one of Ben Stormcloud’s birch bark canoes for $3800, nearly four times what he usually got for one. The result was that soon the store would have almost $40,000 in operating capital from the commissions on the two items. River immediately agreed to Colin’s wish list of nearly $5000 for computer equipment and web hosting costs for the new web page, which he had somehow managed to complete while selling the canoe and sculpture.

River had to work out delivery for the two items. The winner of the sculpture was the Sacramento body shop, which had originated as a dealer in Indian Motorcycles, and thus would pay anything for the native-inspired totem of auto parts. The canoe was going to an address in Colorado, and Ben also wanted to deliver it personally. George insisted in installing the sculpture herself, so she and Ben borrowed an old, but reliable truck from another band member and made plans to head out on Monday. River had to insist on a rental of $500 to the truck owner, and told the two travellers that they were to stay at good motels along the way. Nick estimated the delivery cost at $6000 and the body shop was thrilled to learn that they could get their art installed by the creator for that price. A $200 fee was offered to the canoe buyer, who grumbled at the price. Nick then offered to have the unit delivered for $150 by UPS, but with no guarantees to the condition on arrival. The man buying the canoe chose to pay the extra when he found out that he would get a chance to meet the craftsman who had built it.

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With the exception of the time that River needed him, Nick had spent most of the several days giving pretty much every member of the band a ride in his BMW. He had eight or nine kids in the car at a time, but was more restrained with the elders, who rode three at a time. He often took them off the reserve, and to other places they knew in the area. He was repaid for his time, and a considerable gas bill, by the lore that the old people passed on to him as they passed through areas they had visited in their youth. When he left over 10 years ago, he had hated those old stories. Now he couldn’t get enough of them.

With his younger riders, he was paid back by the pure joy the youngsters had in riding in the fanciest car that any of them had ever seen. Nick realized that he liked kids. He was practically an elder to them, and one who had lived in the big city for years. He loved the way they listened raptly to his stories about the city and its hustle and bustle, and why the slower life on the reserve was better. He realized that he wanted to be a father, and to have several children of his own.

The first evening, he took the three Stormcloud girls for their ride. He heard from Liesl that she had spent the day playing dolls with his new sister Carla. Marilyn and Shelly talked about their forthcoming trip with Ria and Rod up the river, which Nick found fascinating. Actually, it was Marilyn that he found most fascinating, and on the next three nights only those two went for drives out to the lake to watch the sunset and to talk.

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Carla came to her new home on Wednesday evening like she was charged up on caffeine. She had spent the entire day with Liesl just being a girl, playing with dolls, dressing up, talking, and playing with lipstick (the only makeup Liesl was allowed to have). Carla was 14, but looked 11, and Liesl was 10, but acted 14, so the girls were a good fit together. Liesl was the leader in most of their activities, and Carla the follower, only objecting when Liesl wanted to do something that she considered boyish. They did go out in the early afternoon to the river, and sat on the banks overlooking the swiftly flowing water. Liesl noted a rabbit nearby and pointed to it. As a boy, Carl would have thrown a stone at it because that was what boys did, but deliberately missed it, since he hated hurting anything. Carla instead coaxed the rabbit closer by pulling out some grasses and slowly showing them to the rabbit. Slowly and surely, to Liesl’s amazement, the timid animal approached, and soon was munching the grass.

Over the next hour other rabbits approached, and both Liesl and Carla had fun feeding them. Finally, one of the wolves of the people passed by and the rabbits seemed to scatter. “That was so fun,” Liesl said. “I wish Night had picked a different time to visit though. He … Wait, what is so funny?”

“Look,” Carla said, and lifted her skirts. Underneath were four smaller rabbits, shaking in fear as they cowered around her bare legs. “They all ran in there to hide.”

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It was later that evening that River finally got a chance to meet with Wayne, and explain who the man she had been driving around with was. To her surprise, he laughed at her fears of jealousy.

“I was worried a bit,” he chuckled. “I mean: what a car. He offered me a ride, and on it he explained everything. He even told me that I could take the car to London (Ontario) when I go back to college. That will be great. It takes eight hours to go to Toronto on the Greyhound, and then another three hours to get to the university. Driving will save several hours, and be way more comfortable. Nick wants to sell the car, and I will do it in London. There are a lot of rich kids at the university, and if not I will use Kijiji to sell it. He is good with anything over $25,000 and that should be easy to get. I get 10% of the first $25,000 and 20% of anything over that. I think it will sell for $30,000, so that could be $3,500 towards my term.”

River laughed: “I can just see you turning into the typical used car salesman. Are you going to buy a plaid suit?”

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Ria and Rod spent those days preparing for their trip upriver. Coming back would be easy, but upriver they had to fight the current. Ben provided two older but sturdy canoes. They hoped to get to Stone Ledge Reservation in six days, and would spend two or three days there meeting the people. Then they would head up to Ice Spring reservation, a walk of three days each way. They would have to carry their tents and supplies on their backs. After two or three days there, it was three more days back to Stone Ledge, and then only two or three days downstream on the River. The four would leave on Sunday, after River’s river service, and would not be expected back for 18-21 days.

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Alison and Dale were also busy those few days. Alison was continually refining her presentation, as well as getting ready for their return to Toronto on Sunday, right after the morning services. This would be her first presentation to a vice president at the bank, and she rehearsed what she wanted to say, and answers to any possible questions that he might have.

Dale found that he was split two ways a bit over those days. River called him several times to come to the store where she had questions of a construction nature. He soon realized that she had co-opted pretty much all of his crew as volunteers for a full day Saturday and that night she practised the ‘puppy dog eyes’ trick that little girls of all ages use on their fathers, and he agreed to spend the day there as well supervising. Of course that meant that he had a second project to plan, order supplies for, and troubleshoot.

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Mark and Paul were gone from Wednesday to Saturday. They had met a bachelor elder who had taken a shine to the two young white boys, and offered to take them on an overnight adventure. Kemosabe would accompany them and, keeping the molester incident in mind, River asked the river if the trip was wise. She was told that Tall John George was completely safe, and that the boys would thrive in his hands. River had more than a little convincing to do before Alison and Dale would agree to let them go. That earned her a tight hug from Mark, and a smile of thanks from Paul.

The boys packed light. Tall John wouldn’t let them take a tent or sleeping bags, only blankets and two days’ worth of food. They would live off the land, he said. If they couldn’t fish, trap, or hunt any food, they would be back the following night. But he expected them to be gone until Saturday night. River insisted that they be back for the Sunday service. The boys left early Thursday morning. River was up, of course, and a tearful Alison was also there to hug her littlest boy away on his great adventure, to his great embarrassment.

The first night the boys built a birch lodge, under the direction of Tall John. By the time it was completed they were exhausted, and collapsed into their snug little house, which kept them warm in their blankets all night, and dry from the morning dew that covered the lodge at dawn, when Tall John took them out to set traps.

Their traps were not the garish metal things that trappers today use, but traditional Ojibwe traps made of cedar and other woods. They set several dozen, and then moved away and sat in a circle and learned how to make bows and fire-tipped arrows. Tall John told how in the old times there would be arrow makers who chipped flint tips for the arrows, but without access to these they used an older method of charring the tips of the arrows to harden them. By late afternoon they had each made a bow strung with deer gut Tall John had brought, and two or three usable arrows, fletched with feathers from Tall John’s pack. By usable, this means that each boy could shoot one for perhaps 10 or 12 feet, slightly further than they could throw them.

On the way back, they checked their traps, and found a small rabbit trapped in one of them. There was a vote and it was two to one to allow the small animal to go free. The boys learned about Ojibwe justice when they discovered that the vote was won by Tall John’s single vote. He took a rock and put the rabbit out of its misery. Both boys cringed at the final squeal of the animal, and Paul actually vomited as Tall John demonstrated how to skin and clean the animal, with Kemosabe getting his choice of the offal. Mark didn’t tease his friend about his discomfort, as he had nearly lost his lunch as well. Both boys vowed that they would not eat the tiny animal.

That resolve lasted until the rabbit stew was half cooked. On the way back Tall John pointed out several different plants, and the boys were able to dig up wild carrots, onions, and other tubers. As well they gathered mushrooms that Tall John declared safe to eat, while he pointed out others that would cause sickness or delirium. When the stew was half cooked in the pot, the smell was overpowering, along with the boys’ hunger. Both hungry boys gladly shared the stew out of the pot, even relishing the taste of the rabbit.

The next morning they went to the river (their trip had been several miles upriver from the reservation) where they spent time fishing in a tributary of the river. Tall John explained that while there were more fish in the main river, it was too cold to stand in that for more than a few seconds. He taught the boys how to make fish spears and a willow basket to land the fish in. Once done, they spent several hours in the stream, attempting to spear a fish. Tall John explained parallax by sticking his spear into the river, so they could see the apparent bend in the stick where it touched the water. This meant they had to aim below a fish to spear it.

This was extremely helpful in allowing the boys to scare the fish much closer than before. Finally, in late afternoon Tall John said they had best hope for another rabbit, or the stew would be vegetarian this night.

Tall John packed up the small amount of goods they had, and had Paul clean up the site, using the Ojibwe credo of leaving a site in better condition than they found it. As they did this, Mark went to the main river, and was able to see several fish lazing just off the bank. It was too far for him to spear them, but he crept into the water. It was cold, painfully so, but the fish didn’t notice him until he was close enough. He thrust his spear, just under a particularly fat trout, and was surprised to feel resistance. The spear entered the fish, as the others scattered.

“Good strike, boy,” Tall John said, getting out the creel. Mark tossed the fish to him, then hurried out of the water. “Fish stew tonight.”

Mark was shivering as he stood on the bank, and Tall John felt his legs. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the boy’s legs, sitting him down. “I don’t know how you did that, boy,” Tall John said. “I can’t spend 10 seconds in that water and you were there for nearly two minutes.”

“My sister spends hours in it,” Mark shivered. “She is the rivertalker. I was in it a long time when I was with her close by. But alone it is really cold.”

“That must be it,” Tall John said. “It’s in your blood.”

“It nearly froze my blood,” Mark said.

“You boys sit here for a while with the wolf,” Tall John said. “I’ll check the three northern traps while you warm up, and then we’ll check the others on the way back to the lodge.”

It was nearly an hour later when Tall John returned, and Mark was able to give him back his jacket. The two boys again were directed to seek root plants as they made their way back, and to their surprise they discovered that they were able to spot many before Tall John even saw them. They also came across a blueberry patch, and again Tall John left them to gorge as he took the fish and veggies back to start the stew.

The boys were purple faced when they arrived at camp, directed on the proper path by the smell of roasting trout. There was a fish stew, but most of the smell came from fillets grilling atop the fire in a lattice of soaked willow branches. The boys feasted again, and soon had fish juice and stew gravy added to the blueberry juice on their faces.

The next day was Saturday, and they had to pack up. The lodge was allowed to stay, since it would be a starting point for any other hunter who needed a place to stay. But the rest of the site was cleaned up to the point where it looked untouched. Finally Tall John declared it ready, and the boys knelt with him in a circle. Tall John pulled a rattle out of his pack, and shook it as he sang a song of thanks to Manitou. Paul didn’t understand the words of the song, but Mark found that he knew a few, somehow. He clearly heard the words for Manitou, trout, thanks, and peace. After the song was ended, the boys marvelled at the rattle, which was made entirely of deer, with toes for the rattles, and a piece of antler providing the part that Tall John shook.

Before they left, they walked the trap line, dismantling each trap. Each boy took one of the traps they had set with them in their packs. In one trap they found a marten, dead, but only for a short time, Tall John declared. He skinned it, giving the pelt to Paul, since Mark had gotten the rabbit fur. They planned to eat trail food for their lunch, so Kemosabe feasted on more than just offal this time. After they disabled the last traps, they headed downriver, arriving at the park at about 5 p.m., just as River and Dale had returned from a successful day at the store and where Alison was making a final dinner of hot dogs and corn.

River smiled as her brother and Paul recounted their great adventure. The trip was the highlight of this entire vacation for the boys. River felt sorry for Mark, having to go back to Toronto for the next school year. She knew he would be back for Christmas, but she was going to miss him. He had matured so much over the past few weeks. It was like he was a year older. He had been her bratty brother before, but now she knew she loved him dearly.

Mark and Paul proudly showed off the furs they had trapped during their trip. They dumped the smelly furs at Alison’s feet, telling her that Tall John had told them that it was for the squaw to treat the furs and make them into clothing.

“I’m no squaw,” Alison declared. The boys looked at River, who shook her head while giving them a look that said ‘don’t even ask.’ “There may be a reason why Tall John never married,” Alison laughed. River suggested that they take the furs to one of the elder women after dinner.



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