It's dark, dark. I'm walking beside the ski hill when I hear a faint rumble at my back. I turn to see car lights at the tree line. I turn again and keep walking for a minute or less, then turn as the car approaches, just to be sure it sees me. The vehicle slows, but it's not Michael.
The window rolls down. "You light up brilliantly," says my neighbour.
I take a few steps toward her SUV. "Look what my girlfriends from Hong Kong sent," I say, holding up my blue-parka arm, with a neon yellow reflector wrist band. "They want me to be safe."
She laughs. "Well, you light up just beautifully."
At the hospital I smell smoke, campfire smoke. I stop. Breathe in, two, three, then out two, three. That smell always slows me down. It's camping. It's devotionals around a bon fire. It's corn roasts. It's prayer. It's singing. It's hot chocolate and marshmallows. It's holding hands. It's drying out after being wet.
Behind the hospital, I see they are building a fire, a small flame in the distance. I think of Raelee's story and Niska's fire and wonder if someone is making a sweat. I know they have a culture room in the hospital and encourage traditional healing. I stand still. I send prayers into that world I don't understand. I breathe deeply, turn and keep walking.
Jade and I are off to Wolseley today for an Office of the Treaty Commissioner's Teaching Treaties in the Classroom workshop. This is my day three of four training and Jade's day one. We meet two elders, Thelma Musqua and Robert Bellegarde. We hear presentations from Susan Beaudin and Leah MacDonald. Sandy Pinay Schindler and Tara Prystay-Thiessen facilitate the day. Jade and I take a picture with our workshop buddies all holding resources from the treaty kit. There's Jodi Flaman, teacher-librarian from Whitewood, Kennedy, and Broadview; Lindsey Akrigg from Lipton; Leila Brodner from Cupar, Noelle Bonk from Grenfell.
I thank Elder Thelma during lunch for her words, especially the way she shared her difficult morning -- car trouble, bank trouble, time trouble -- and her laughter. She reminds me of my own grandmother, so real and relevant, laughing at herself and speaking her passion for children, family and education.
I see Elder Robert leaving after lunch, and I catch him at the door. Ask if I can take his picture. We step outside for the natural sunlight. I ask if he'd mind if I put the picture on my blog. No. He doesn't want me to, but he asks about the blog. I tell him I'm trying to learn and think about treaties. He is kind in his interest, and I find out he works with Alma Poitras in the governance centre. I ask if I can write about some of the things he shared, and yes, he is okay with that, but would I drop it by so he can see what I write before I publish it. And I'm happy for this connection.
Jade and I talk and talk all the way home.
Dean, Arwen and I climb into the Envoy and I turn around and start driving back toward Woseley, this time turning off at Sintaluta for Carry the Kettle First Nation. We walk into the gymnasium and fourteen table tennis tables and around sixty to seventy kids are swarming the tables, the sound of pings and pongs echoing amid the chatter. At the end of the evening I'm wearing a gold medal, just lucky that Delvin Cappo lost out in the semi-final on the other side of the draw because there's no way I would have beat him.
We drive home in the dark, thankful that the Shell station is open in Indian Head because the gas light has just turned on. We arrive home safely, which Dean and I don't take for granted, since we once hit a deer on the way home from Carry the Kettle and once, when Dean had only been in Canada for a few months and spoke very little English, we drove through a blinding blizzard and he had to stay overnight at our home in Katapewa.
I think back to the note on the back of the wrist reflector bands, "To keep our friend safe and sound xoxo." And I think about the fire burning at the hospital, and the kindness and prayers of the elders today, and my neighbour's laughter and care this morning, and my fellow educators, and leaders like Sandy and Tara, not to mention my table tennis buddies, and Dean and Arwen, and yes, I can say that I am safe and sound in such good company.