By The Still Waters
By H.M. Cooper
Stephen's voice is a little high. He's only thirteen years old and it hasn't broken yet. He stands at the altar, in front of the arc, like a holy angel and sings the words of the haftorah in Hebrew. His mouth is round. His eyes are wide and slightly glazed with a muted ecstasy. The sound issuing from his throat is clear and strong. There is something almost mournful in his music. It is his Bar Mitzvah. He is begging G-d for momentum.
The synagogue is full of visitors. All the aisles are full. Face after face, upturned or downturned in thought, is intent upon this coming of age. There are tears in the eyes of a few who are moved by the meaning of the passage Stephen is reading and there are happy smiles on the faces of others who are glad of this moment for Stephen. The congregation is Orthodox. The women are separated from the men. The light filtering in through the stained glass windows is holy light. The music of Stephen's voice is a holy sound.
Stephen is reaching a crescendo in his portion of the Torah. His mother and sister grin with satisfaction and joy. His father and brother, Nathan, beam like schoolboys who have just been released from class for the summer. There is a gentle hum among the congregation.
This gentle hum carries over the roof of the urban synagogue. It rises to the skies and drifts like a chant to the heavens. It becomes rhythmic and profound as it reaches high above the treetops outside the city. It picks up momentum and becomes deep as it travels north over the rock and green of the Canadian shield. It joins with a music of another kind. The beating of the drum in a native reserve, miles from the beat of the city. Here is a ceremony equally mystic and old; an Indian pow-wow in a small northern reserve.
Six drummers pound out a rhythm on the round native drum. They chant deeply. Around them natives of the community dance and sing. They sing of spiritual mysteries and of praise to God. Among them is a young seeker. His name is Tom Highfeather. His face is ecstatic and devoted. His feet pound in the dirt. His leather jerkin swings wildly in air as he swirls round and round. Pictures of the Jewish ceremony in the city and the Native ceremony on the reserve play and mingle. The sounds of the different chantings become one happy sound. The dancing feet of Tom Highfeather and the open mouth of Stephen Cohen interrupt one another in their devotions. The faces of the Orthodox congregation and the faces of the native dancers offer
compliments to each other. Finally, the music hits its peak and falls; Stephen finishes his singing and the drums stop. There is quiet. There is calm. Stephen sits by the Arc like a soldier. Tom Highfeather smiles to the sun.
At the reception after the Bar Mitzvah there are many people. Stephen sits at the head table with his family and makes a short speech. "My brother in particular is to be thanked very deeply. For hours, when I was studying the Haftorah, he told me stories and interpreted the words. He should be a Rabbi, not a doctor in my opinion. He should practice putting people together instead of cutting them apart."
Nathan dances later with his girlfriend, Sarah. She is a vivacious girl of eighteen. But she is upset with Nathan because he is planing on doing something she is adamantly against. Nathan and two friends had planned on taking a camping trip two days after the Bar Mitzvah, but the two friends had to back down. Nathan intends on going by himself into the bush anyway. He insists that he can handle himself well enough to do it on his own, that its a test of his endurance and worthiness and that it is important to him.
Sarah feels that Nathan will take too many chances and get himself into trouble. She doesn't accept that he's a competent enough woodsman to take care of himself alone in the bush for five days. She thinks he should wait till later in the summer when he has some friends to go with. Nathan interprets this opportunity as a chance to be close to God.
Nathan has his way in the end, with Sarah intent on driving him to the park and picking him up there when he returns. He must plan every single day of the outing and show his plans to Sarah. He must have a complete itinery of where he is going on the lakes and a firm schedule. He must wear a life preserver at all times in his canoe and prepare his camp every evening well before dark at a designated campsite. More than this,he must promise not to be foolhardy or brazen and take stupid risks. None of this fully satisfies Sarah, but it placates her enough to keep things at a slow boil.
The next day, which is Sunday, Nathan's father joins him while he is preparing his gear for the trip. He is not terribly happy about letting Nathan do this on his own but he feels that Nathan is old enough to make his own decisions and be fairly independent. He wants to know what is so important about doing this; he has never been an outdoorsman and the allure of the bush means little to him.
Nathan explains what it means to be on the shield, by a lake, with a canoe and close to God. The feeling of oneness with creation is breathtaking. The very idea that you can survive in such primitive conditions is exhilarating to Nathan. The feeling of competence, of personal achievement is powerful. And at the same time, the feeling of being in more natural perspective, of being a small part of something much larger than you is very real and compelling. To be in the shield, on the lakes, is so much a part of being a part of Canadian mythology that Nathan believes it to be a kind of 'coming of age' for himself as a Canadian. A kind of 'Bar Mitzvah of the North" for Canadian boys.
Nathan's father is very proud of his son. He is a hard worker and a diligent student and he trusts him very deeply. He's not convinced that he really understands why Nathan is doing this but he accepts that Nathan will do it with a certain dignity and skill.
Tom Highfeather sits with his young cousin in their kitchen on the reserve. Before them sits the thin round drum. Tom draws four quarters on the drum with chalk and describes the world to his cousin:
"In the beginning the creator made four lands and he gave one of them to each of the four nations. The north He gave to the White nation. They became keepers of fire. To the south He gave the Yellow peoples dominion over the air. In the East, He gave the Black peoples care of the waters. And to the West He gave the red peoples the trust of the earth. Each of these four peoples is beloved of the Creator on account of their sacred trust. Together they make up the unity of the great circle. But now the earth is in danger and it is the Red man's destiny to provide guidance and give great gifts to the rest of the peoples. It is the Red man who will show to the other nations now the beauty and holiness of the earth, how to protect it, keep it sacred, make it pure."
"Will the red man give these gifts to the other nations of the earth in a spirit of peace and fellowship?" his cousin asks.
"Yes. These gifts will be given in a spirit of peace and goodwill. It is our prayer, as a people, that the other peoples will accept what we offer then in the same spirit."
"They have never accepted our gifts before. Why should they accept them now?"
"The time is right. They will accept. They will have no choice but to accept. The time is right and they will accept. Or else all the nations of the earth will die."
The young boy frowns. "To their last dying breath the white race will deny that anything good comes from us. They may accept the teachings because they are forced to, but they will steal it rather than take it as a gift as it is meant."
"They will accept it and acknowledge that we are their equal. I promise this. I predict it. It is in our legends and it is in our stories. The red man will be an important part of bringing peace and goodness to the races of the earth. This is true and cannot be contradicted."
Nathan sits in his home sauna, a towel draped over his lap. He imagines that he is in a canoe, by himself, on a smooth lake. Beside him on the lake are dense forests of pine trees and spruce. Out of the forest rises a great grey city. The towers of the tall buildings lie as ruins on the shore.
He beaches his canoe and approaches the ruins. There is rubble everywhere. He enters the opening to an old apartment house; it is many stories high.
He is in a ruined corridor. Down the aisle he can see flickering shadows and can hear a soft sound, like music, coming from one of the rooms. He approaches slowly. The sound grows louder. He abruptly turns into the doorway. There are rough curtains flickering in the sunlit window. Beneath them sits a young girl of about eighteen. She is singing softly a light song which has no words. In her arms is an infant, nursing at her breast. She looks up at Nathan and smiles benignly. The baby stops sucking and starts to cry.
Tom Highfeather is sweating profusely. He is sitting in the sweat lodge of his reserve. He breathes deeply, then spreads his arms wide and faces the sky.
"O Grandfather! Guide me and protect me in my quest! Give me good visions that will lead me to the truth and meaning of my existence. Let me know the secrets of my heart and let me learn the ways of nature. Help me to know my vision when I find it and to understand what you intend for me in this life. Let my heart and my spirit be purified and help me to find my peace with myself."
Nathan is in the shower in the bathroom near the sauna. The water splays over his upturned face and hair. He is shaving by the mirror. His reflection is very clear.
Tom kneels by an open fire in the grounds where the pow wow was held. He pokes the burning logs with a stick. He looks up at the sun above him. It is blinding bright above his head.
It is Monday morning. The sound of birds singing in the trees is a backdrop to Nathan and Sarah loading the pack into the car. Their conversation is light and playful as they drive away from Nathan's suburban home, through the city to the highway and north towards the park where Nathan is going to camp. The scenery changes from the lowland green surrounding the city to the brown and grey of the approaching shield. The rolling meadows and fields become the hard cropped scenario of rock cuts and marsh land and clear open lakes. They sing Hebrew and popular songs to each other. They talk about their relationship and where it might go. They talk about Sarah's plans to study English and Nathan's intent to make it into medical school. The few hours drift by quickly and before long they are approaching the park.
"Now remember to wear your life preserver at all times while you are in the canoe and on the water, Nathan." Sarah chimes. "And wear a t-shirt when you are in the sun. And a hat, other than your skull cap if the sun is too bright. And you have to give both me and the people in the canoe shop a map of your destination and find out from them where you can camp. And if you're not back at the canoe dock within an hour of noon on Friday I'm calling out the park police."
At the canoe shop Nathan selects an appropriate canoe. Sarah is busy talking to the person in the gift shop about the weather and the dangers of the lakes. Nathan goes into the canoe shed and finds a map hand drawn on some paper tacked to the wall of the shed. He copies it onto a notebook and marks some spots along the lake. He makes another copy for Sarah, loads up the canoe and prepares to journey and at the same time Sarah joins him on the dock. They hug, kiss, say goodbye and he gives the two maps to Sarah. She stands on the dock until he turns the corner of the lake and is out of sight. Then she goes into the canoe store to find the person in charge.
She finds the right person and hands him the piece of paper, explaining that it is her boyfriends route for five days on the water. He looks at it askance. He says, "This is just a map of this lake, lady, the cottages just around here. The places your friend has marked are only about a mile apart from each other and they are cottages, not campsites. I don't where he's going but wherever it is, it's not on THIS piece of paper."
Sarah is frightened and horrified. She rushes out to the canoe dock but of course Nathan is long out of sight. Her voice, as she calls out Nathan's name, carries over the water like mist. Nathan, as he paddles through the peaceful lakes, hears it only distantly like the call of an ancient siren. He dreams, as the water drifts by his bow, of mermaids in the lake calling out to him for joy. Nathan paddles through the still waters of the lake. He passes cottages and fishermen and a motor boat runs by. He waves at the different people. He takes off his shirt and paddles bare chested. he takes a sandwich out of his pack and eats it in the boat. Finally he reaches a low underpass in the lake over which runs a small road. He beeches his canoe and climbs up over the road to look into the distance. A large lake spreads out ahead. He looks at his map, turns it around, shakes his head and folds it into his pants pocket. He says a brief prayer in Hebrew and returns to his canoe.
He paddles under the low bridge. Before him spreads a clear lake with no cottages or other boats on it. He paddles steadily through the water. Birds fly overhead, fish jump around him. The sun begins to sink on the horizon and he finds a nice campsite on a small island in the middle of the lake.
He collects wood, pitches his tent, builds a fire and cooks some food. Before he eats he says a short prayer. As the sun sets he paces by the shoreline and dovens in Hebrew. When it is dark he sits by the fire with his legs crossed and gazes into the flames. A vision of Sarah comes out of the deep water; she is wearing a modest wedding dress that clings to her body. She rises from the water and stands before the flames. "You are my Jewish Canadian mensh", she says. "I want to love you for all eternity."
She sits next to him by the fire. "I love you, Sarah.", Nathan says. "I want you to be my bride." Sarah reaches out and takes Nathan's face in her hands. She brings her lips to his lips and kisses him deeply. They fall over in an embrace. The fire smokes and crackles.
In the morning dew the ashes of the fire lie spent. Nathan is lying asleep in his bag inside the tent. A scratching noise can be heard. Nathan wakes up and listens. He rises and cautiously leaves the tent. There is a family of racoons playing in the garbage by the fire. They scatter when they see Nathan approach from the tent. Nathan laughs and makes faces at them. He is in a very happy mood.
He ventures into the water with a bar of soap to wash himself and brush his teeth. The water is quite cold. He says a blessing over the soap: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who has created the fragrance of lavender to keep our bodies fresh smelling and clean." He cleans up the campsite, packs his things into the canoe, and sets out onto the lake for a second days travel.
On this second day Nathan loosens up a bit. He sings songs as he paddles through the waters. He jumps off the side of the canoe into the water to swim. He sees moose drinking by the
shore. He explores the shore by an old abandoned logging camp. He pitches his tent near the mouth of the lake.
At night he sits by the fire and watches it flicker and burn. In his imagination the Rabbi is sitting next to him with Sarah sitting on the other side of the Rabbi. "I don't want him to be a Rabbi.", she is saying, still in her wedding gown. "I want him to be a gynecologist and help people like everybody else."
"He is a very spiritual person," the Rabbi says. "Just look at this fire, how it consumes wood. Nathan's passion for God is like that fire; it is burning and it consumes his reason. I'm not saying he shouldn't study medicine and become a man of science. But I am saying that his desire for a spiritual destiny will always be there. Of this I am quite certain"
"I want to be a doctor.", Nathan says to Sarah as he leans across the Rabbi. "I like science and want to do good work. I want to make my mother and my father proud of me, too, and be able to support a wife and children. But suppose that we are poor, Sarah. Suppose that I don't get into medical school at all and have to go to teacher's college and be a teacher"
"I'd want an immediate divorce." Sarah says. "Rabbi, I refuse to marry any Jewish man whose last name doesn't end with several letters of the alphabet."
"You are joking, of course?" the Rabbi says.
"Of course I'm Joking!" Sarah cries. "Do you think that I'm not human. I'm in love with him whatever the outcome might be. As God is my witness, Rabbi, if he were the janitor in an insane asylum I'd live there with him and love him just the same. If another Holocaust were come along in our lifetime, God forbid, and we were torn apart on account of our religion I would seek him out again after it was over and love him again. He's not perfect, of course, but he's perfect for me. God means us to be together, Rabbi, and I'm one with His will. We can have a life together; I know that that is true."
The Rabbi pulls a wine glass out of his pocket and wraps it in Nathan's dirty t-shirt. He places it on the rocks in front of Nathan's foot. "Break that." he says plainly. Nathan breaks it with his shoe and rubs it into the rock. "Mazel-tov"!" the Rabbi says. "Now you may kiss the bride." Sarah and Nathan kiss. "But I'm only 18." says Sarah. "You can tell your great grandchildren that you married young for love." Nathan replies. She jumps onto Nathan's back giggling and laughing and he carries her into the tent. In Nathan's imagination they can be heard making love in the tent while he actually sits hugging his knees and smiling by the fire. It reflects in the water like a flickering jewel. The sound of a loon echoes across the forest. Nathan sighs happily and watches the fire burn.
The next morning Nathan packs the canoe and pulls out the map to have a look at it. He turns it upside down and all around in his hands. "It may as well be a chart of someone's gastrointestinal tract." he says. "Then at least I'd know what to do with it." He crumples it up and puts it back into his pocket. He shades his eyes and looks at the sun. "The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. That's east." He turns around. "That's west. That's north and that's the frigid south. Today is Wednesday and I have two more days to travel home." He looks to the north. "I'll go that way one more half day before turning back. Let's see what adventures await me." He crawls into the canoe, puts his life preserver around his chest, and pushes off. Soon the sun is high in the sky, but dark clouds are forming and a wind is coming up. Nathan finds himself at the mouth of a narrow river. He takes out the map and looks at it carefully.
Meanwhile, his boat is being slowly but steadily swept down river. The map blows out of his hand, his canoe is blown powerfully towards the shore which is so tangles with bush that landing is impossible. At the same time the strong current tales hold of the tiny craft and grips it. Nathan tries to control the boat but cannot.
The water gets more wild and white very quickly. Nathan's canoe is beaten against the rocks. Suddenly a great swell of water rises over and exposed rock and the canoe tips right over casting Nathan into the water. He clings at first to the bow of the overturned canoe but he soon looses his grip as it is battered against the rocks by the current. He is separated from the craft and only his life preserver keeps him afloat. The canoe is badly battered. Suddenly Nathan cries out in pain. His eyes go misty. He makes his way to a clearing on the shore; an outcrop of rock and sand. He pulls himself up and reaches for his right leg. As he pulls himself up onto the shore it is exposed out of the water. It is twisted badly and is bleeding below the knee. Nathan swears in Yiddish. He grimaces in pain. He crawls further onto the beach and collapses in exhaustion. He mumbles a Hebrew prayer.
Raindrops fall upon Nathan's sleeping face. His eyes open. He is lying by the shore in the rain. He pulls himself up the bank, favouring his injured leg, to the protection of the sweeping trees. He huddles there while the rain comes down.
The sun breaks fairly low on the horizon through the clouds. Nathan cuts a stout bough from one of the nearby trees and uses it for a crutch. "The first law of survival is to keep your cool and not panic and get disoriented." he says. "The second law is to call like crazy for help." Nathan starts to call for help. He cries "Mayday. Help. I'm in trouble. Help!" But he soon runs out of voice. "The third law of survival is to carry safety implements. I have my knife. I have waterproofed matches and a good lighter." He pulls out the crumpled map. "And I have suitable kindling for a warm fire." He starts to look for wood.
In short order Nathan has built a small fireplace out of rocks and a blazing fire inside of it. The
sun has just set. He talks to God. "Lord of my father's and my father's father's. My leg is not
broken, its just badly sprained. In your infinite wisdom and mercy you have left this poor, lonely
Canadian Jewish outdoors man without a hope of making it back to the canoe shop alive. Not
only am I stranded down river on a raging current with my canoe lost or broken, but I have no
food, no shelter, no warm clothing. You have left me my lighter, my crutch, my wits and my
will to survive. I will not let you down, nor will I curse you out of anguish and guilt. In the
morning, when it comes, I will try to find my boat and hope that it is not too badly damaged.
Perhaps my pack and my supplies are still in it. I will pray for your help. In two days Sarah will
alert the camp officers that I am Missing and they will search for me. All is certainly not lost.
"I want to confess to you that I love Sarah. This, of course you already know because you must have planned it that way. I want to become a doctor and help people. I have so much to live for. 'Adonai eluhanu Adonai echud'. Thou art the most powerful, Thou art the all-merciful, Thou art the all-knowing and the kind. Don't be angry with me because I am a little arrogant sometimes. Or because I sometimes have sexy thoughts about Hanna Stein. Everybody has sexy thoughts about Hanna Stein. She encourages hem by the way she acts. In your infinite wisdom and goodness you made her a very sexy girl. But I would never do anything about it. Not even in my deepest thoughts.
"When Moses wandered in the desert for forty years you protected him. When Noah, an upright and righteous man sought comfort from the crowd you instructed him. When David slew Goliath you guided him. I am not a Moses, or a Noah or a David. I'm a simple second year university student who fears you and loves you. I pray, give me a chance. Don't kill me yet. But if you must, let me go out in a brave way, praising God like a good Jew".
David raises his voice loudly and sings the whole "Shema Yisroael". He continues to sing Hebrew songs and prayers. In a tiny camp on a neighboring lake not too far away Tom Highfeather is sitting by a fire roasting meat. He hears the singing come drifting over the water. He looks down at the earth and smiles. In a low voice he begins to chant in his native tongue. In the early morning Nathan wades out into the river to look for his canoe. He can't venture very far because the current is too strong. "It could be anywhere." he says. "A mile or two down river stuck in some rocks or even at the bottom of the water." He trudges back to shore, hobbles on his hurt leg and picks up his crutch. He begins to cut down sticks to build a shelter but he has a fairly hard time. Suddenly he hears a crashing sound in the bush. He retreats to the waters edge to see what it is that approaches. "Who are you?" he calls. "Are you animal, vegetable or mineral?" he cries.
Suddenly a large red shape crashes through the bush. It is his canoe. Carrying the canoe is a young native man; Tom Highfeather. On his back is Nathan's pack.
"I found this boat down river." Tom says. "It has a big hole in it here, see." He points to a large hole in the bow of the canoe. "I can fix it but I don't have the right materials with
me. Maybe there's something we can use to fix it in your pack."
"Its my canoe." Nathan says. "I capsized in the rapids and hurt my leg."
"I can see that." Tom says. "It looks pretty broken to me."
"No. Just sprained. Its not broken."
Tom puts down the canoe and approaches Nathan who tries to hobble forward but collapses en route. Tom touches the leg gently; Nathan howls in pain. "It's broken." Tom says. "See how swollen it is around the calf. That's where the break is. We'll have to make a splint for it. Then we can go to work on the canoe."
"They'll be sending out a search party for me in a few days, I think. Day after tomorrow for sure."
"That's good." Tom says as he collects wood for the splint. He looks in the pack and takes out a t-shirt. "We'll have to use this to tie the splint. You don't need it?"
Nathan shakes his head. "No. You can use it." Tom goes off into the bush to find the right kind of wood.
When Nathan's leg is bound tightly in cloth and wood Tom turns his attention to the busted canoe. "Can I use the canvas of your tent to patch the boat?" Tom asks. "We'll build a lean-to to keep warm."
"Sure. What will you use to bind it with?"
"Sap and gum. There's lots of it around."
As Tom is fixing the broken canoe, carefully setting the broken wood and cracked canvas straight, Nathan is telling him about himself.
"I live in very well kept environment. My house is cleaned by Alecia, our housekeeper. My father isn't very handy; the most dangerous thing I think I've ever seen him do is change a light bulb. I don't know a thing about cars except not to drive one on the Sabbath. My father is a businessman. He owns a pretty big textile shop and factory. His father was a petty merchant. He used to buy old clothes, fix them up and sell them all over again. They came from Poland when my father was just born.
"I learned to camp at overnight camp in Haliburton. I love it. I thought I was a pretty good outdoors man until I hit that river. You seem to know what your doing pretty well. "I have a girlfriend. Her name is Sarah. I think we're in love but I've never been in love before so how should I know. I think I want to marry her. What do you think of that?
"I study general science at the university. I'm in second year. I want to go to medical school and my marks so far are good enough.
"What do you want out of life?"
When the boat is fixed Tom's excitement rises. He picks the canoe up and carries into the water. It sits there for a minute on top of the water like a crown. The two boys yell and shout.
"You're a pretty good woodsman!" Nathan tells Tom. Then the boat slowly takes on water and sinks to the gunnels by the shore. The two boys look at each other and Tom scratches his head. "I must have forgot something. Let me try again."
By high noon the boat is floating solidly on the water, there is a smart lean-to at the rear of the camp by the woods, the tent with a large hole in the side is pitched behind the fire and the boys are eating canned beans by the fire with their knives.
"My name is Tom Highfeather." Tom says. "I'm an Ojibway. I live on a reserve about 25 miles northeast of here as the crow flies. This is my vision quest. I won't go back until I've seen what I must see and know what I have to know. I've been out five days now. Could be twelve more before I return."
"What's a vision quest?" Nathan asks.
"Its when you go by yourself into the bush and fast and pray and maybe hunt a little for what little food you need to keep you alive. You stay in the bush until you meet your vision. That's an encounter with the great spirit. Its a very spirit type of thing. When you come back, you tell one of the elders what happened and he helps you know what to do next. The vision gives you the meaning of things. Its a way of growing to be wise. I want to be wise, like my grandfather. I want to know things like him."
"My grandfather was very wise. He died two years ago of a brain hemorrhage. He taught me a lot Yiddish and a large part of the Torah."
"Its Hebrew and German mostly. Its a language. A very rich language."
"That's our law. Its the five books of Moses, actually. We study and read it all the time."
"You're Jewish?" Tom asks.
"Yes. Orthodox." Nathan replies smiling.
Tom laughs loudly. He pats Nathan proudly on the back.
"You're Jewish!" he cries. "I've never met anyone who is Jewish before but I've read about them in the bible and my grandfather has told me that they were a great nation of white people who were very close to God."
"We're still very close to God. We love God and fear Him."
"But I've never met one before. That's what is so funny."
"What's funny about it? We get around , you know. We're wanderers, you know. We come from tribes too , you know , just like you do. We're human, we exist, we belong in the bush just as much as you do."
"Sorry. That's not what's funny. What's funny is to go on a vision quest and meet a Jew with a broken leg in the middle of the bush." Tom slaps his leg in joy.
"You find that funny? I don't find it funny. I think you and I have been blessed."
"But that's what I mean. It is great blessing to meet you here in the bush on my vision quest. Its very powerful medicine."
"I think so."
"I think so too. Wait till I tell my grandfather that I helped a Jew with a broken leg in the bush on my vision quest! He'll start to dance. Its a very, very powerful sign. Is that why you wear that beeny? As a sign of being Jewish?"
"It's out of humility for God that we wear it. Its sort of a sign of our devotion, if that's what you mean."
"It's good." says Tom. "It looks very good on your head. You love the Great Spirit and you cover your head to show it. That's good. I like Jews. You are good."
Nathan looks like he has swallowed something slightly poisonous. Tom smiles broadly with satisfaction and digs into his beans.
That night it rains heavily. Nathan sleeps under the upturned canoe propped up beside the tent.
Tom sleeps in the shelter of the lean-to. Nathan is moaning in his sleep; he is in a great deal of
pain. Suddenly Tom's face appears out of the dark. "Are you in a lot of pain?" he asks. "Yes."
Nathan replies. "Try to bear it till morning." Tom says. "Then we'll see what we can do." In the
morning the sky has cleared and the sun is bright. Nathan wakes up but Tom is not there. He
reaches down to his leg; it is swollen and inflamed with puss. He says a prayer in English for
protection and healing. He uses his crutch to get out of his shelter and hobble to the lake. He
takes off his clothes and slides in. Tom reappears from the forest carrying bark and leaves. He
builds a fire and boils water. Nathan emerges from the river, drys himself off, puts on his clothes
and approaches Tom.
"Your leg is infected." Tom says.
"Yes. I know."
"I am making some medicine for it. It is native medicine that my grandfather taught me to make when I was small. It will help the infection and ease the pain."
"I have some aspirin and some disinfectant in my first aid kit."
"Good medicine. Bring it along."
Tom wraps Nathan's leg in boiled bark and leaves. He tells Nathan to rest on the shore. "Tomorrow the searchers should start looking for you." he says. "We will stay here and wait until they find us. I think that's the best thing to do."
Tom and Nathan sit on the beach by the river and look at the water running by. "Tell me about
your family." Nathan says.
"I was born on the reserve two hundred miles away from the nearest city. My mother was only seventeen, and my father had already run off with another woman. He came back just after I was born but my mother was pretty mad at him. She wouldn't marry him for three more years. "My mother was pretty good looking when she was young. She's still not bad looking I guess for a woman near forty. I have five brother's and sisters. Two of them have different fathers. That's the way it is in a native community. Its small and things can get a little mixed up. But they're still my brother's and sisters. I see them that way.
"My father is a rambler, but he's not a bad guy. He doesn't live on the reserve anymore but he comes back every now and then to see my mother and the rest. He always brings a little money and a little booze. He's married to another woman in the city; sometimes she comes to visit too. We don't fight. We all get along pretty well. Whatever hard feelings may have been there some time are gone now. He works driving truck mostly. He can pretty well hold a steady job, 'cept he drinks sometimes and looses it. Drink is poison to our people; I believe that. I drink, but I can hold my peace with it. I'm not a alcoholic. But sometimes you do it just because it seems to be the only thing left to do.
"There's a lot of suicide among the young people on the reserve. It happens in the strangest way sometimes. When I was fourteen one of my cousins had a car. Seven of us went for a ride off the reserve, drinkin' and hootin' and carryin' on. We camped out by an old wooded field and started playing around there. My other cousin, who was thirteen, wandered off. We thought she was going to have a pee but after an hour she hadn't come back and we went to find her. She was hanging by a skipping rope from a tree in the woods. She was just thirteen. It really shook me up. Some part of life just poisoned that girls spirit and she died. It happens on the reserve. Some people just don't have no hope.
"I'm a very spiritual person. My grandfather taught me the old Indian ways. When I was younger I was Red Power. I was angry all the time and very political. Now I'm more into the spirit, the native spirit. I believe that the earth is our sacred trust and that the Indian has real important destiny in uniting the people of the earth into saving the earth. I'm proud to be native; I'm not ashamed of my roots. I'm proud of my native heritage and past. I'm proud of our religion and its ways. This is important to me; I'm a Indian and I will always be proud of who I am and who my forefathers were."
Tom takes out some tobacco and begins to roll a cigarette.
"I don't know anything about Indians. I've never actually met one face to face before, except bumming money on the street. I felt sorry for them. They usually had no place to live."
"The earth is our home and we live on it how we please. Those guys bumming money; they look like lost souls to you but to me they're people with lives and families just like any white person, only the culture is different. Those guys, they don't see no shame in bumming money; they think its the right thing to do. They don't understand white culture too well and they're not a part of it. I don't know sweet dick all about white culture really, I mean what it's really all about. But I know what it means to be Indian.
"When the white man first came to our country they had no honour. They killed our warriors, our wives and children...all they wanted to do was wipe us out. Many of our people stopped fighting it after a while. They lay down dead and defeated before the onslaught of white medicine. For generations the Indian suffered a loss of who they were and what they were living for. But now its changing. Indians are becoming proud again in a new way. We dance the old dances and chant the old prayers but we look to the white man as a helper and friend in saving all the races from destruction. We hope there is a place for us in the hearts of all peoples. We bring important gifts of peace and healing to the earth."
He lights the cigarette and takes a deep puff. Then he hands it to Nathan.
"Here. Take this. It's a sign of friendship."
Nathan takes the cigarette in his hand, takes a puff, coughs, and hands it back to Tom.
Meanwhile Sarah is driving North to the lake. Her car speeds along the highway. Rock music is playing on the radio. She looks quite relaxed.
"I always thought of Indians in two ways." Nathan says to Tom. "Either they were poor souls who were restricted to living on reservations in primitive conditions, or they were like you
see them on Westerns. Riding horses all the time and shooting bows and arrows. Until speaking with you now, I don't think I ever thought that you might be a whole people with a culture of your own just like we have."
"We are a people. With a culture and history of our own"
"The Jewish people, my people, also have a heritage and culture of our own. And we've been severely persecuted too throughout history...for five thousand years! The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Philistines. The Cossacks in Russia. Right up to the Nazi's in Europe during the Holocaust and even now in Israel, our homeland, we don't have peace"
"What's the 'Holocaust'? I've never heard that word before but it sounds important to me."
"The Holocaust was the systematic elimination of six million Jews in Europe during World War Two by the Nazi's. You've never heard of it before?"
"No. I didn't know Jews were persecuted. I only heard that they were rich. But my grandfather also told me that they were an ancient people and that the whole of the old part of the bible comes from the Jews. I remember something that's Jewish. I learned it by heart when I was small, but I don't know if I remember it all now. It went something like...'even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil..."
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."
The boys recite the 23 Psalm together. Then they are silent for a moment.
"You got a staff right there. Your crutch."
"And He has 'leadeth me beside the still waters for His names sake."
"It's beautiful. Who set down those words?"
"David. A great King of the Jews, before he was king. Listen to this. I love this:" Nathan sings out loudly "Shema Yisroael. Adonai elohanu. Adonai echud."
"What do the words mean?"
"Hear O Israel! The Lord thy God the Lord is One." It was at one time a battle cry of the Hebrew people. Its a very central phrase in our religion."
"Listen to this!" Tom makes the sound of a loon.
"That's how I call my little brother home from the bush when its time to eat."
Both boys laugh. "I have some fishing gear in my pack. Would you like to fish for our dinner?"
Sarah is standing by the side of the dock at the canoe shop. She looks at her watch. She goes into the store to find the man in charge. He gets on phone to the park police.
Later, as the sun is setting, the two youths fish from the canoe. Nathan is lying between the seats with his feet on a towel and Tom Highfeather is in the stern. A large bass is
trailing the bait. It swims round and round the hook, approaching, moving past, swinging back. Nathan's voice can be heard like music. "All Jews aren't rich. That's a stupid myth that arises from prejudice. In the old days in Europe, at the time when the industrial revolution was just beginning to take place, the Jewish religion permitted usery...the charging of interest on money...while the Christian religion forbade it. So the Jews were involved in finance...or could be. The myth developed that all jews were rich.
"But the mass of the Jews were far from rich in Europe at the time. They were mostly peasants or artisans living in little communities that were pretty well segregated from the larger community. They were isolated and persecuted all over Europe. In many places they weren't allowed to participate in economic life. They were restricted."
"My great-great grandfather was a chief," Tom says. "At the time that the white man wanted to restrict us to reservations. These reservations were political; they had nothing to do with the land. You couldn't live on them in the old ways; hunting and fishing were impossible for us then. My Great-great Grandfather wanted us to live in peace with the white people. He thought they could be reasoned with. He convinced our people to stay on the reserve and respect the law. Our reservation is not as bad as some of the others where there wasn't a strong chief to instruct both the whites and the Indians. Some communities fell apart after a generation. They couldn't hold onto the old ways and many drifted off the reserve into the cities where they had lots of trouble. But our community has held onto old values as much as possible. This has been handed down to me by my grandfather.
"Look at that fish...in the water by the boat. Sh-h-h. It is attracted to the bread. See. It swims in
circles around the line. It wants that bread. Soon it will make up its mind and strike.
That is how I am with my future. I am lured to the town but I don't want to leave the reserve either. I circle and circle and circle around the lure. But I am afraid it is a trap; I will be caught on a hook like this fish will be caught on a hook and my insides, my native insides, will be ripped out. I will become what we call an 'apple'; red on the outside but white through and through. But I must also follow my destiny. This is the meaning of my quest."
The fish strikes the hook just at this moment. Nathan pulls it on board. "We eat fish tonight!"
Tom says. Nathan smiles broadly. "There's more where he came from. Soon it will be the
Sabbath and I won't be able to fish anymore. Let's move over there."
"Can't you fish on the Sabbath?"
"No. I have to say my prayers and I'm not supposed to work. But in situations of life and death you can make an exception. I think that this is a situation like that. Let's catch one more
fish and go back to camp. I'll explain about the sabbath then."
At the canoe shop the park police are talking with Sarah. They tell her that they can't do do much
until morning. She calls Nathan's parents. They get in the car to drive to the park.
As the sun sets Nathan pulls a prayer shawl from his belongings and drapes it over his head and shoulders. "This is our holy day, the sabbath, from sundown Friday till sundown
Saturday. On Friday evening we go to the synagogue and pray. We welcome the sabbath like a lover welcomes his bride. We praise God for His goodness and blessings.
In the home the women prepare a sabbath meal. They light candles and say ritual prayers." Nathan says the prayers in Hebrew. He makes a gesture over the fire like it were candles. This is how I doven." he says to Tom. "Listen." And Nathan dovens by the light of the fire. Tom listens intently to Nathan's prayer. He imagines himself in the sweat lodge on the reserve. A woman dressed like a bride smiles at him from a corner of the lodge. She has a gold coin in her teeth. In the dark Nathan and Tom cook fish over the open fire. Nathan is in a lot of pain. "They should be looking for me now." Nathan says. "Sarah will have contacted the authorities a few hours ago. Maybe a plane will go by. We should stay up during the night to keep the fire burning, don't you think?"
Tom says nothing for a moment. He eats some fish."Your leg is pretty bad. They won't send a plane until tomorrow, most likely. But you're probably right about the fire; it should be going all night. I want you to sleep. You need your strength. I'll stay up by the fire. Don't worry about a thing."
"Poor Sarah will be hysterical by now. She'll think I've drowned."
"Is that your girlfriend?"
"Soon, I hope, my fiance."
"I have a girlfriend. On the reserve."
"What's her name?"
"Mary . She's not that pretty but she's very powerful. She can read books like anything and she knows things I don't know. Like I can survive in the bush alright but she can make a hut feel like a palace or something. Her skin is always cool except when we're in bed together. Then she burns like coals. Her eyes are real dark then and she feels like something ready to be born again or something. I think that I love her but I'm not too sure yet. She's only seventeen but I feel happy about her, like she were my sister but not so stupid about it."
"Sarah is pretty. I love the way she looks. She's always very clean and she dresses in good clothes except for jeans sometimes. She's not as religious as I am, but her family is Orthodox too. Well, actually, they're almost conservative to be truthful. They belong to a Conservative Shull. She wants to study English and be an English teacher in High School. She's good at arts. I'm good at sciences."
"Love is funny, huh? Whether you're Jewish or Native, whether you hunt for your food or buy it in tin cans its what brings you home every time."
"I guess so. Here's to love!" Nathan holds out his palm. Tom strikes it.
Later, in the dark by the flickering light of the fire,
Nathan sweats and moans feverishly. Tom applies some broth made of bark and leaves to his leg. Then he sits back down by the fire,
He hears the drums of his people. In a vision he is standing by the shore in full native dress. He dances on the sand to the sound of the music. Great native dancers appear like wraiths in the sky. One of them comes down to him. He chants to him in his native language. Without sound a great bear breaks through the forest on its haunches. It approaches Tom, who backs down. It passes Nathan lying sleeping on the ground. It licks Nathan's wound. Then it comes to Tom. It roars. Tom takes its snout and slaps it like it were an impetuous dog. The bear relents. It
licks Tom's feet. Tom and the bear walk back into the bush.
Nathan shifts in his sleep.
In the morning Nathan wakes up to find Tom gone. He calls out his name but there is no response. The fire is still aflame but dying down. He looks down at his leg. It is very infected but the fever has broken. He uses his staff to rise to his feet and descends to the shore. Mist rises up from the water. Birds are singing in the trees. The sound of a motor from the lake can be heard in the distance. Through the mist a small motor boat breaks. Tom and two other men are sitting in it. Tom's face is bright with joy.
Nathan is lying in the bottom of the boat with Tom sitting beside him. Nathan recites the first part of the 23 psalm. A radio in the hands of one of the other men crackles. He tells Nathan that his mother and father are waiting for him in town.
The boat reaches a small community of cottages where a seaplane is waiting. Nathan is lifted into a stretcher by the plane. Tom watches from the boat. "Shalom!" Nathan calls out to him. "Thank you very much. You saved my life."
"What does 'Shalom' mean?"
"I've finished my vision quest."
"What did you see?"
"My ancestors telling me spread my gifts to the earth. I have to leave the reserve now and learn about the white man's ways so I can help them."
"Goodbye. You helped me very much."
"It was a gift of the Great Spirit."
Nathan is hauled aboard the plane,
Back at the canoe shop Nathan's mother and father and Sarah are waiting for his return. They hear the plane landing and rush out to the dock. Nathan is lowered in the stretcher. Sarah is nearly hysterical with relief and concern.
In the hospital Nathan's parents and his friend are waiting to find out about his leg. It is being operated on. Nathan's eyes are closed. The mask is over his face. He is dreaming of Tom and Sarah and Mary and him talking and laughing together on the reserve. He dreams of clear water.
The doctor comes in and tells the family that he has saved the leg but that it was sheer luck that did it. It was badly infected but some medicine an indian applied to the swelling prevented gangrene. "Oh." says Sarah. "His leg was saved by an Indian?"
"His life was saved by a native who found him in the bush."
Sarah looks at Nathan's mother. "Mrs. Cohen. He's got quite a story to tell. I think he may have got more than he was looking for."
"Thank God he's alright, that's all I want to know." Mrs. Cohen says. "Thank God there was someone there when he needed them."
Tom stands by a field near his home on the reserve. He is with his Grandfather. "I learned a Jewish word . Shalom. It means peace."
"It is a great religion. Almost as old as our own"
"What does it mean that I met a bear?"
"That you are a peacemaker. The kind of warrior that loves peace."
"What does it mean that I met a Jew"
"That the Great Spirit favours you and your kind. Now come home with me and make me some food. And I will explain more to you about what your visions signify."
Tom takes a skull cap out of his pocket and puts it on his head. "Shalom." He says to his
Grandfather. And his Grandfather replies "Shalom."