River 10 - Moonie's Story

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By Dawn Natelle


So far: Shortly after a traditional religious ceremony at the river had been a huge success, River and Wayne are running full tilt through the reservation towards the highway, where Moonie’s chicken hatchery stands. Two shotgun blasts had been heard, and one squeal from a wounded wolf.

River was a few dozen yards behind Wayne as he veered away from the river, running at full speed. Even so, she nearly caught up with him as they neared the hatchery, where they saw an old man prancing about, waving his shotgun. River barely noticed him, but as he saw her he stopped dancing, and his face went ashen white. River instead looked at the two wolves lying bleeding before them.

Wayne picked up Night, who seemed to be less hurt, and asked: “To the river?” River nodded, and then picked up Jerome, the smaller wolf, who was bleeding profusely from multiple buckshot hits. Jerome weighed about 50 pounds, one of the first wolves born this year. Night weighed over 125 pounds, and was large for a wolf, full grown at four years of age. Wayne didn’t seem to feel the weight as he was off and running back to the river. River picked up Jerome, and also didn’t seem to feel his weight, so she started running after the others.

About halfway to the river she felt Jerome shudder, and then suddenly it was as if he were a few pounds lighter. River saw Wayne plunge into the river with Night, and then heard the river speak: “Too late.” River pulled up along the bank and gently laid the cooling body of Jerome down on the riverbank, tears streaming down her face. “Too late” echoed through her head. “Too late.”

“Save the other,” the river said, and the girl was jolted back into action, plunging into the river, wading out to the middle where Wayne was shivering as a pink bloom surrounded them. River moved closer and the river warmed both man and wolf, and the pink seemed to lessen.

“If Night dies, I will kill Moonie myself,” Wayne muttered. “I may kill him anyway. How is Jerome?”

“He didn’t make it,” River sobbed, and Wayne looked over at the bank, where the body of the young wolf lay. “I’ll kill him.”

“Enough of that,” she said grimly. “We have a wolf to save.”

“He feels stronger already,” Wayne said. There was no more pink in the water, and the big wolf held between them was beginning to breathe stronger. But there was a long time before he would be healed.

“Who is this Moonie?” River asked Wayne, setting off a weird explanation that came from the river itself as much as from Wayne, since much of the story took place before he was born.

Mike was a 14-year-old boy in 1964 when his father informed him that he would be sent to a military-style academy for the balance of his high school years, so that he could join the army when he turned 18 and serve as all the males of his family had since the Civil War. Mike was a gentle soul, and had been a bit of a discipline problem in high school, joking and wisecracking through Grade 9. His father was determined to “solve” that problem through the academy.

Mike was just as determined, and one morning in late June he hitchhiked out of Omaha and headed west. Two weeks later he was in San Francisco, where there was a burgeoning youth movement in its birth throes. A few weeks later he met a young blonde girl from Toronto. Gloria was a couple years older, and immediately was taken by the wiry young lad. She introduced him to marijuana, a newly popular drug called LSD, and to sex. Mike liked the first two, but it was the third one that really captured his attention. He was soon a near slave to Gloria, willing to do whatever she wanted.

But there really wasn’t anything Gloria wanted. Her goal in life was to live, enjoy music, dance, read, and spend time talking about the problems of the world in the coffee houses of the time. The pair became a common sight at the happenings of 1964 San Francisco, living in the trendy North Beach area at first, and later moving to the cheaper and more exciting Haight-Ashbury district, which was just then becoming popular with young people.

At the time you could actually meet and talk to the musicians who played the coffee houses and occasionally bars, and over the next five years the folk sounds of the coffee houses turned into the San Francisco sound of the Fillmore Auditorium. The times they are a-changin’, Dylan wrote, and Mike and Gloria were there to watch it all happen. For one thing, Mike became known as Moondog in 1966, and Gloria took the name Goldberry about the same time, using a little known character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

O slender as a willow-wand! O clearer than clear water!
O reed by the living pool! Fair River-daughter!
O spring-time and summer-time, and spring again after!
O wind on the waterfall, and the leaves’ laughter!

was how Frodo described the River-woman’s daughter in the book.

It was early in 1971 when Moondog and Goldberry became disenchanted with the west coast. Tour busses now travelled along Haight street, with fat tourists pointing and laughing at the ‘hippies.’ Police were hassling the kids, and drug sales had been taken over by a more criminal element. After living for a few months in a commune in the desert, they decided to come back to Canada, where Moondog wouldn’t have to worry about the draft, and where Goldberry’s family lived in Toronto.

They hitchhiked across the country, crossing the border at night through a Saskatchewan-North Dakota border crossing that closed down at 8 p.m. They got rides to Winnipeg, then to Thunder Bay. They were in the middle of a ride they hoped would take them to Toronto when the driver made a pass at Goldberry in the tiny village of St. Mary’s. When she slapped his face after he suggested that a sexual act might pay for the ride, he dumped them in the wilderness.

The Trans-Canada highway went through the village, founded only 10 years earlier when a pulp and paper mill had been built near the town. Prior to that, only an Indian reservation, a trading post/fur trader, and an Anglican church existed. By 1971 the village was nearing 1000 people, and status as a town, with several stores and other services.

Goldberry, shaken by her experience with the car driver, decided that they would camp out overnight by the nearby river, and decided to put her sore feet into the water. Moondog tried to do the same, but found the river too cold to do more than wash his feet. They spent the night in a small tent, and woke up the next morning to see a small Indian girl standing outside of their pup tent.

The girl led them up the river to her family home, where the hippie couple were amazed to find eight other children as well as welcoming parents who offered them breakfast and, later in the day, lunch. While lounging about the ramshackle house, Moondog told the family that his current dream was to start a small farm somewhere in Ontario, and live off the land. The father noted that they were already in Ontario, and wondered if they were interested in farming here.

Things progressed, and eventually the band council agreed to lease them a small farm of 25 acres on the western edge of the reservation. Moondog wanted to own the land, but the elders explained that people cannot own the land, only use it and care for it. They said the couple could use the land in return for supplying a third of their produce to the people of the river who were in need.

Moondog built a small log cabin on the land, and Goldberry planted a garden, even though it was a bit late in the season for most plants. Goldberry revelled in the native culture of sharing, conservation, and clan, becoming a regular participant in the activities of the people of the river. Moondog tried to make friends in the town, but the mill workers and merchants were less than pleased with “hippies” invading their community, and pretty much shut them out. Instead the pair became more and more oriented towards the native community, who were also regularly shunned by the “Christians” of the village.

Twenty years passed. Goldberry’s garden yielded enough food for the couple to live off, even after giving the band a share. Seven years into their stay, Moondog, despairing over the difficulty in farming on the rocky Canadian Shield, added a small henhouse with a dozen birds. That finally paid off, and over the few dozen years their operation expanded to nearly 400 birds, providing eggs to the town, which had started to accept the couple, and to nearby Terrace Bay.

Then disaster struck. Goldberry developed cancer, but ignored the pains until it was too late. She suffered for less than a year, and then was gone. Moonie, as the people now called him, was grief-stricken. His birds would have died, had he not started using some of the youngsters from the band to help him operate the place. It was more than a year before he started to see the world again. He had created a shrine around Goldberry’s grave, overlooking her garden, which had gone to ruin as he grieved. It was later, when the woman whose children were keeping the hatchery going noted that the neglected garden would not have been to Goldberry’s liking, that Moonie started to come out of his black space. He cleaned up the garden that spring, and planted and tended it again, and started to pay more attention to the hatchery as well.

“I didn’t know most of that,” Wayne said. Being close to River meant that he had heard the river speaking to her. Suddenly, the wolf cradled between them howled a low, mournful cry, and started to thrash about. Wolves do not like being held or petted, so River and Wayne started moving towards the banks. Even so, Night could not wait, and twisted out of their arms and leapt for the bank, coming up short. He yelped as he hit the icy water, and then jumped up on the bank, approaching the body of his fallen brother.

Night sniffed once or twice, and then let out another howl. It was answered, first by nearby wolves in the reservation, and then later by a chorus of the wild wolves. Wayne helped River out of the water, and was amazed again that her deerskin skirts were completely dry, while his denim jeans were soaked, although the water on them was not cold. They stood a few dozen yards away from Night, as other wolves congregated in a circle, howling as they arrived. The people also started to arrive, and like River and Wayne, stood a respectful distance away. With one exception: Rod Ravensclaw and his girlfriend Ria walked up to the fallen wolf. Rod had been the native that had named Jerome and had bonded to him closest, and he broke down, kneeling and gathering up the shell of his departed friend, his tears flowing freely as Ria put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

As this was happening, more wolves were arriving. It was the wild pack that Jerome had been a member of a few short weeks ago. They stood a distance away from the humans, and howled out their mournful cries. Rod stood, and hurried away. As he did, River started singing the Ojibwe death song. Seconds later the crystalline voices of Marilyn and Shelly joined in, and soon the entire tribe was singing, as the wolves howled a deep counterpoint.

Rod hadn’t gone far. He returned carrying a borrowed spade, and started to dig a bit up the bank, far enough from the river to remain dry. As the people and the wolves sang their lament, he got the hole down several feet deep, and then got out and carefully carried Jerome’s body into the hole. He again clambered out of the hole, and was about to start burying his friend, when the wolves of the reservation started coming around the grave. Each paused and sniffed once or twice, and then howled in grief, moving on to let another wolf say goodbye.

River saw the wild pack in the distance, and spoke to the Alpha male. She promised him that his people could safely approach if they also wanted to say goodbye, and gestured for the people to move back another 10 yards or so. Only Rod stood at the grave, leaning heavily on his spade as the Alpha male approached at the end of the line of reservation wolves, followed by his pack.

The last wolf was a grown female, and her lament was longer and harder than any of the earlier ones. River and Rod both realized at the same moment that this was Jerome’s mother. Rod bent over, and stroked the wolf in compassion, and she looked up at him with sorrowful eyes for a moment. Then the moment was over, and she realized that she was being touched by one of the humans, and darted back away to the far side of her pack.

Rod stood, and then slowly shovelled dirt onto the corpse. After about five shovels full, he broke down crying again, and Wayne and River hurried up to him. Wayne took the shovel, while River engulfed the teen into her arms, as his girlfriend Ria took him at the other side. Wayne only laid three more shovels on the body, when Harold Redbear came and took the shovel, laying one more bit of dirt on the grave. Ben Stormcloud was next, and a long line containing all the men and older boys of the band took turns filling the grave. When all the dirt was gone, Rod went and gathered a rock from the riverbank, and laid it on the top of the grave. Others, men and women alike, placed stones.

At the end of the line Mark and Paul, along with River’s parents, added stones. Both boys were in tears, as was Alison. Even River’s father, Dale was fighting with his emotions. All the family remembered the support that Jerome and Night had given their son and his friend when they had been attacked in the washroom the week prior.

With the last stone laid, River and Wayne’s sisters again sang the second funeral song. Somehow John Lonewolf had gotten his drum, and he beat out the rhythm the girls sang to. This song was less of mourning, and more of rebirth and freedom. As they sang, the people watching, even the Waters, who did not understand the words, saw an image that the music created. Everyone at the riverbank that day saw a vision of a young wolf, racing along the sky towards the great Manitou. River wondered if the wolves saw it too, and the Alpha male said they did, and promised her a gift.

As the last notes drifted down the river, River looked up at the wild pack, still standing closer to the people then they normally would. The Alpha male nosed two young wolves, cubs no longer, but not yet full grown, out of the pack into a space between the wild pack and the reservation pack. Night stepped forward and accepted the gift of the Alpha male. He nudged the two terrified young wolves away from their Alpha male. River stepped forward and knelt down, embracing each around the neck. At her touch, the fear and terror left the animals, and they felt calm and happy to be members of their new pack.

“Who did this thing?” Rod asked Wayne.

“Moonie,” Wayne spat. “And he looked pleased at himself for doing it.”

“I’ll kill him,” Rod said. “We will all …”

“No!” shouted River. “There will be no vigilante mob descending on that old man. This is between him, and the wolves. The wolves will decide his fate, not the people. Rod. Wayne. Harold. You three men and three wolves will go. Night and these two newcomers. But it will be the wolves who decide on the guilt of Moonie. Not the people.”

With that River and the three men, and Night and the three wolves headed off to the hatchery, as the other people slowly dispersed back to their homes. Moonie was found sitting on the stool he had built next to Goldberry’s grave, his shotgun on his lap. He had heard the wolf howls from the river, and worried about what was to come. When he saw the group approaching, with River in the lead, his face turned pale. He looked at the grave, and then at River as she neared.

“Goldberry?” he asked. “You have come back to me?”

“I am not Goldberry,” River said solemnly, reaching up and taking the shotgun, handing it to Wayne behind her. “I am River, and you have shot one of my friends.”

“Two,” he said. “A smaller one, and one that looked a lot like that one.” He pointed at Night, who stood silently but with fangs bared.

“Why would you do that?” River said. “They weren’t hurting you.”

“They are wolves,” Moonie protested. “Everyone knows wolves are bad. And … and they steal my chickens.”

“Did you see them take any chickens? Do any other animals steal chickens?”

“The foxes do. All the time. Usually one or two a week, though none this past week,” Moonie said.

“Did you ever think that perhaps the wolves were helping you? Did you know that Jerome, the wolf you killed, spent most of his nights around your hatchery, keeping the foxes from coming? He was helping you and you killed him!”

Moonie looked around in horror as he realized that he had shot a friend, not a predator. It was as if he had pumped buckshot into one of the Indian boys that gathered eggs for him, and fed his chickens. He crumbled to the ground. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know,” he sobbed.

“Your fate will be decided by these wolves,” River said. “They can take your throat if they feel it is right.”

“I deserve to die, Goldberry,” Moonie said. “Soon I will be with you again.”

Night stepped forward, fangs bared. He had no qualms about dispatching this old man who had painfully shot him, and killed his friend. He snarled and was about to leap at the awaiting throat when one of the younger wolves jumped onto his side, stopping him.

That younger wolf went up to Moonie, who lay with his eyes closed, waiting for teeth to sink into his throat. Instead he felt the long tongue of the wolf lick his face. He opened his eyes, and put his arms around the beast, as though she was a dog.

“I wouldn’t do that, Moonie,” Wayne warned. “They don’t like to be held.” Moonie dropped his arms immediately as the wolf licked him again.

“I think it is safe to say that she isn’t just tasting,” River said with a giggle. “She has decided, even to the point of stopping her Alpha male from taking things in an entirely different way. But this does not mean you are off the hook, Moonie. You did a terrible thing, and you will need to pay. The river wants you to atone, and the people want you to atone.”

“What shall I do?”

“I brought Harold Redbear along with me. He is wise in the ways of the people. You must build a sweat lodge near the river, within sight of Jerome’s grave. When it is complete, the people will have a sweat lodge ceremony, where you will confess your sins. Then you will plunge into the river, and stay in the water as long as you can stand the cold. When you come out, go back into the lodge, and stay there until you are warmed.”

“After the first day, you will do this again, and again. You are to perform a token ceremony, for only the elders can perform a full ceremony, then the river plunge, and then back into the warmth of the lodge again. You will do this every day until there is ice on the river so thick you cannot break through. If the river stays clear all winter, then you will do it all through the spring, summer, fall and next winter until the river freezes. The river will decide the length of your punishment. Go with Harold and find a good spot for the lodge, and let him tell you what needs to be done.”

The two walked away, and a second later the female wolf bounded after them. Night stood looking confused at what had happened, causing Wayne to laugh. “My friend, I think that will not be the last time that little she-wolf gets her way with you. I see the two of you will have an interesting future.”

Rod was not the carefree 19-year-old that River had known. He seemed sombre now, more adult and less a child. It was as if adulthood had been thrust upon him too soon. River would need to talk about him with the river tomorrow morning. But now she had an idea of her own.

“Rod? We have a new friend of the people with us,” she glanced down at the young male wolf. “Is it too soon, or would you be able to take over and show him around the reservation? I’m sure that Night will help.”

Rod looked torn. His friendship with Jerome had been a huge part of his life. Would adopting this new wolf lessen that? After a moments thought, he replied: “Yes. I think I will. I will name him Silver, for the silver stripe in his fur. Come on Silver, I want you to meet Ria. I think you will like her.” With that he strode off towards the river, with the two wolves following along.

That left River and Wayne alone at the hatchery, with the sounds of chickens clucking in the background. “Come,” Wayne ordered, as River nestled her head into his chest. “It has been a long day, and we need to get home.”

River looked up at the big man, and decided to tease him. “You know, you spent a long time in the river today with Night. You’d better check and make sure it didn’t start turning you into a girl.”

Wayne seized up. “What? Really? Do you think …?”

River giggled as she led the distraught man along.

Over the next week or so, Moonie built the sweat lodge to the specifications of Harold and other elders. Moonie did most of the work, although there were always one or two First Nations men with him, helping with things like lashing the building together without nails or metal of any sort. Finally the lodge was built, large enough for 20 people at one time, and the initial ceremony was held. Moonie and three others who had been cleansed plunged into the river after the ceremony. The others immediately leapt out of the icy water, but Moonie spent almost a minute before leaving, shivering and blue. In the lodge Lena Stoneman awaited him with a warm Hudson’s Bay blanket. Lena was the mother of the boys who helped Moonie run the hatchery. She was a widow, her husband having died in a logging accident in British Columbia three years earlier.

Because there hadn’t been a sweat lodge on the reservation for many years, there were ceremonies each day that week, with Moonie always taking part. Lena was always there at the end to warm him with the huge woollen blanket. Moonie worked at his atonement: by the end of the week, when he was the only one using the lodge, he was staying in the cold water for over two minutes. A month later it was closer to 10 minutes, and Moonie and Lena were the only ones in the lodge most mornings. Pippen, the young she-wolf, was by his side almost the entire time, sitting on the river bank while he sputtered about in the frigid water.

Occasionally the lodge was used by the people. Often parents with recalcitrant teens would send them to the lodge. Teenage delinquency was way down on the reservation since River had performed the ceremony in the river and taught the young people their history and their language, but there were still boys, and occasionally girls, who needed to be reminded of their place. The lodge was a convenient place to do that, and those parents who also insisted that their boys immerse themselves in the river as Moonie did, found that there were few repeat offenders.

It was late November when Moonie made his last dash into the water, staying nearly 10 minutes in the water, which had a thin coating of ice on it. Pippen eventually howled, and that roused Moonie from the trance he had fallen into. He was barely able to climb out of the water, and only made it because Lena, alerted by the wolf, was there to help him into the lodge. He lay on the floor of the sweat lodge for an hour after, and was unable to stop shivering. Lena finally took him to her home, one of the nicer ones on the reservation. Her late husband had made good money topping trees in BC, and invested it into his home during the off season.

The next morning Moonie tried to get up out of the bed he was in, delirious with fever, but insistent on going to the lodge. Lena sent one of her children for River, and they arrived to find Lena practically sitting on the weakened man. “The river is coated in ice, Moonie,” River told him. “Your punishment is over. You are ill. Rest here and let Lena look after you.”

With that the frail old man slumped back into the bed. In his delirium, he didn’t see River, but his youthful wife, and she had ordered him to let Lena look after him. Something broke within him: the decade long grief he suffered ended, and he meekly obeyed the younger First Nations woman. He spent nearly a week in bed, in fever at first, kept alive by Lena spooning chicken noodle soup into him: soup made from one of the older chickens from the hatchery.

When the fever finally broke, Moonie woke ravenous one morning. He looked to his left and saw a photo of Goldberry on the side table, along with one of the photo albums that Goldberry had put together of the good times. He then turned to the other side, and saw the ample curves of Lena, who was not a thin woman after six pregnancies and seven births. For a second Moonie was shocked at finding himself in bed with another woman, but then he remembered hearing Goldberry tell him to ‘let Lena look after you.’

Moonie never did move out of Lena’s house. The people of the town clucked like Moonie’s chickens over the old man and the woman nearly 30 years his junior, but the people of the river just smiled. The next spring there was a ceremony at the river, where River officiated, blessing their union. Lena’s youngest daughter held the picture of Goldberry during the ceremony, and as he was pronounced one of the people, Moonie thought he saw the face in the picture smile. Moonie was led into the water by River, and she sang as the river taught Moonie the history of the people, and the language. And when he came out of the water an hour later he looked 20 years younger.

In fact, that evening Lena and Moonie celebrated their union the traditional way, and nine months later Lena gave birth to a baby girl. She named her Goldberry, Goldie for short. No, she was not blonde, but had rich black hair and a complexion that befitted her mixed race heritage. She did, however, grow up to be a free spirit like her namesake, and many times Moonie looked at his daughter, the only child he had with Lena, and was certain he could see the original Goldberry in her personality and her actions.

Moonie himself lived long, thanks to the gift of the river, and was one of the last of the original hippies to die. He saw all his daughters marry, for he treated Lena’s children as his own. He saw his beloved Lena age, and finally die before him, but only slightly. He had mourned Goldberry for more than 10 years, but Lena only a week. They found his body in the river, near the town, and the new young doctor at the hospital gave the opinion that he had died of a heart attack, caused by the shock of the icy waters of the river on a 100-year-old body. But when River arrived with Moonie’s sons, she knew immediately that he had died of heartbreak, and the river had merely ended his suffering.

And now we leave the story of Lena and Moonie, and go back to our original tale.

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