Editor’s Note: The following material is the first chapter of a novel, The Shaman’s Quest, by Norman W Wilson, PhD. The Shaman’s Quest is the first novel of six in a series called The Shamanic Mysteries. The second, of the series, The Shaman’s Transformation is scheduled for release by September.
“The nature of the sacred quest is such that you may have a word, name, or concept of what it is you are looking for, some idea of what it is, how and where it may be found.” Tau Malachi – The Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas
Often, as it was in my case, I couldn’t put a handle on what I was looking for. For me, the mystery began when I was a kid traveling with my parents into the backcountry of the Canadian bush.
My father, actually I don’t remember of ever calling him that or calling him pop or dad nor do I remember him calling me by my name, Adam. He would pack a large trailer full of supplies, two toys, and two of my favorite books for me. I was allowed a note book and a couple of ball points to have in the Buick.
Fishing gear, life jackets, boat cushions, a twenty-five horse Johnson outboard motor, cans for gasoline, and cans for kerosene got stashed along the sides of a gigantic ice chest that sat over the middle axel of the trailer. He’d had it made special as well as the trailer.
Everything had to be balanced just so. I guess he viewed life that way. There had to be meat, potatoes, and two vegetables on his plate. Balanced. A fishing lure had to have two sets of hooks, no singles, or threes; one set in front and one at the rear of the lure. Spinners were the exception. The three pronged hook is always at the rear. Even his office desk is balanced: telephone on the right, family photo on the left, pen set in the center.
The ice chest which held such a prestigious position held much of our food: flour, salt, pepper, sugar, coffee, pastas, and dozens of other consumable items. Fresh stuff we bought at the last small town some fifty miles before hitting the off road to the lake and our camp. A pillow, blanket, snacks, and a thermos of coffee went in the car. Suitcases, full of enough clothes to last two months, went into the trunk.
We headed out at about three in the morning because my father liked to get an early start. We were heading into northeastern Quebec Province where we would spend the summer on a large lake with a group of Indians who camped there. It was a sixteen hour trip, with stops only to gas up, and to eat one meal while on the road. If I had to pee he pulled off to the side of the road. As soon as we got there, he would nap for an hour and then unload the trailer, and go fishing. He seemed drawn to the water, needing it to nourish him. Strange I never thought of it that way then, but now is now and things are different.
He got away from it all by going to the lake. No telephones ringing, no radio, or television. No one at the office pestering him with questions about commodities. No parties and dinners with insufferable people. Whatever attracted him about the lake; it seemed to pull him further into himself. During those times my mother took long walks into the woods and sometimes the two of us would visit one of the teepees. Much of the time I was left to explore my version of the world.
Living in a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor, a legless cast-iron pot-bellied stove, and one window covered with cheese-cloth created just the right setting for an adventurous seven-year old. Two beds, actually wooden poles driven into the earthen floor with scrapped moose skin drawn tight for the mattresses, lined up against the two side walls of the cabin. The stove sat in the middle of the room, a small hand made wooden table sat beneath the lone window. An old wooden chair sat at each end. Along the side of the table, a cut log, about 24 inches high when standing on its end became by chair. An old rocking chair occupied a space near the stove. My mother called it a Boston rocker.
We lit kerosene lamps when it got dark. No electricity. My father believed I should have at least one chore. Each day I went into the woods to a natural spring with a tin bucket to get our drinking water. Once I dispensed the water bugs and mosquitoes, I would scoop up the water, and slosh it back to the cabin. And since we didn’t have running water there wasn’t an inside toilet. We had the “out house.” Fortunately one of the items packed was toilet paper.
Besides hearing the wolves running during the night, the occasional bear using the side of the cabin as a backscratcher, and the grunts and heavy breathing that sometimes came from my parents’ bed, a few other things still remain clear in my mind. First, the Indians had no children. I suppose that made me a curiosity. The whispering among the Indian women who pretended I wasn’t there whenever I ventured up to one of their teepees bothered me. And finally, an episode involving my father particularly stands out in memory.
He and I seldom had anything to say to one another. As I said earlier, I never made reference to him as dad or pop. I always remained at a polite and discrete distance both physically and emotionally. I think by the time I was five I stopped wondering about it even though I noticed how other boys and their fathers behaved toward one another. I used to wish he’d pick me up and carry me high up on his shoulders. He never did, of course.
When he did speak to me it was always an order, almost barked, never “Adam, will you do this or do that?” Yet, I felt a generosity about him. That certainly sounds like a contradiction if I ever head of one, but that’s what brings me to this other remembrance. It was such a powerful thing, so much so that I can bring it graphically to mind with ease. It became a great object lesson in my life.
It happened on one of the earlier trips we made into the Canadian bush. He had taken me out in the boat fishing. I didn’t catch anything but he had a nice catch of Greathnothern Pike. As I scrambled up the sandy embankment to our little log cabin I saw an old Indian woman standing near the cabin. I had not seen her before.
She was a mess; her tangled white-streaked hair, full of leaves tumbled down around a sunken wrinkled face. Her muddy dress clung to her skinny body. She began talking and gesturing. Sounded like gibberish to me so I just stood there, too dumb to say anything. Once my father climbed up the bank and spotted her, he spoke to her in the same sort of gibberish. He sure seemed to understand. Anyway, he did the damndest thing. He picked out the largest fish, walked over to her, and gave it to her. Immediately she began to gum it. Even though she had no teeth she somehow tore it open and began eating it, guts, and all.
Seeing my concern my father said, “She’s been left to die. The others of her tribe have moved on. She’s too old and sickly to travel with them.”
“Why?” I whispered.
“It’s her duty to stay behind. No more questions!”
Her duty to die? I wondered. I thought everyone was to live life to the fullest, whatever that meant. And from Bible School I remembered they added the statement, to serve others.
At the time I thought it the cruelest thing I had ever heard of—not realizing, of course, that I had passed judgment on a culture with a different set of values than mine. Today I consider such judgment pretentious.
Later that night, after he had had his evening glass of whiskey, I mustered up the courage to dare ask him another question.
“What are those Indian women always whispering about? Every time I go near them they start to whisper. Isn’t that rude?”
“Guess they figure some things are not for your ears. They talk about some high mucky muck of a medicine man. Seems he disappeared right in front of their eyes. If you ask me, it was simply too much of that cheap rot gut they drink.”
“Did you ever see him?”
It was always that way. I always had more questions than he wanted to answer. Eventually, I stopped asking him, and looked elsewhere.
We finally stopped making the sojourn into the backwoods when I was in my teens but for the fourteen summers that we were there I asked about the mysterious medicine man the old ones whispered about, the one who could disappear— right in front of your eyes. During those many trips I picked up bits and pieces of information about him. Nothing really specific, just vague stuff.
A dropped comment immediately became fodder for more questions and like precious pieces of gold, they had become something for me to treasure. During those fourteen summers I meticulously jotted down those treasures in my note books.
Back then, of course I had no idea this disappearing Indian medicine man would now become the driving force in my existence: the center for my quest. Actually the external representation of my quest.
Most twenty-one year old guys would be out getting laid, but here I am on the road searching for some old fart that might even be dead by now.
One thing for sure, I am battling heavy eyes, and it’s a losing battle. Flashes of yellow lightning raced across the darkened sky providing glimpses of strangely shaped clouds.
“Damn, I’m driving into a hurricane.”
©Norman W Wilson, PhD 2010
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