August 7, 2013 § 2 Comments
They arrive in Stanley Mission at the time of the Gathering, and cross the Churchill River system to the shore where the white church gleams. As they crest the hill from the docks, a meadow opens before them and the community does too.
A covered stage is prominent on the hill and spectator benches form a loose arc, following the curve of the boreal forest. Wooden walkways lead into the shade of the bush; there, an outdoor kitchen hums with activity as a lineup forms for lunch. Beyond, the graveyard is vibrant with silk flowers and coloured garland and the church, blinding in the sun, silently surveys the river bend as it has done for 153 years.
The first person they meet is the Chief; she deftly fillets fish and cracks jokes with a group of men in preparation for the evening meal. A little further into the trees, moose meat smokes over a low fire. A row of canvas tents edge the meadow; each shelters a woman of immense skill. The first shapes moose bone into tools for scraping hide; the next sews moccasins with exquisite beadwork; the third winds wet sheets of birch bark into berry baskets. These hands are brown and lined and full of knowledge passed through the matriarchal line.
Lunch is moose meat and moose stew and fried fish and bannock and conversation and laughter with the people of Stanley Mission. Cree fills the women’s ears with its melody. A square dancing competition begins; the caller holds a cigarette throughout, his right boot tapping the beat, his grin as wide as the sky, his calls unintelligible except to the dancers who twirl and step and misstep and laugh at it all.
In and around the church children play unknown games, back and forth between sunshine and stained glass splashes. The women watch and listen and laugh with this wonderful community, feeling the generous welcome they have been offered. They have only gratitude to offer in return.
The sun moves to the west; they say farewell.
This is the end of their northern road. They turn back but keep the laughter in their hearts for the way home.