The sun was warm as two best friends trudged along the trail. Peter was first to speak, since this hike was his idea.
"Thanks a lot for keeping your promise, and taking me."
"My word is important to me," Jay said.
"Are you going to be long, Jay?" his mother had asked.
"No, just one day and one night."
"Are you going to teach your friend some of our Mi'Kmaq ways?"
"Yes, I will show what grandfather taught me, about Mother Earth. And how she could be a friend. Or an enemy."
"Teach him well Jay," she had said. "Do you have enough food?"
"Yes." His mother did not ask what was in his packsack. She trusted him. “And I brought some of your “Lusginigen and beans,” he said.
And she drove the boys to the Thompson property, in Greenfield, Nova Scotia. Jim was an old friend of his grandfather's and had given permission for them to camp there. He owned over 500 acres of woods with a creek on it.
"Jay! Jay! Is that a moose?" Peter pointed anxiously at an animal staring from beside a shadowy spruce tree. “Will he attack us?”
Jay breathed in the fullness of the forest. He turned and looked at his friend. Peter was stocky and blond. His checkered shirt and jeans were tight on him. He was a little chubby, thought Jay.
"That is a deer,” he said patiently. “A buck that is curious in these woods. He will not bite,” Jay said with a smile. Just then, the majestic deer turned, waved his white tail as a flag and disappeared into the woods.
"Thanks for not laughing, Eagle Eyes," Peter said. He knew his friend liked that name.
"Now we rest," Jay said. And they did. Two friends sat quietly beside each other in the woods.
Peter needed a friend. He was called "Chubby" and "Oink, Oink" at school. He didn't think he was fat. He just liked munchies too much.
"How did you get them to stop calling you names like, 'No Tongue,' Jay? Sorry, I mean Eagle Eyes."
"I learned to watch from outside the circle. A trick to survive my enemies," Eagle Eyes answered. "At school their taunts were mean, words without caring. Arrows to pierce my skin," he continued.
"I became a proud Mi'Kmaq. It was my grandfather's wish to reclaim the spirit of my ancestors. That is, before he went to Niskam."
"Yes, but some called you "Wagon Burner" and other terrible things. How did you stand it?"
"I became "No Tongue" when my father's sickness took him away from my mother and I. Grandfather encouraged me, during my loneliness. Then he honored me with a new name, Eagle Eyes.”
"It must have been really hard."
"Enough talk for now, Peter. First, a drink of juice then time to go. We're almost there." The campsite was perfect. The road hugged the edge of the hill then dipped into a little valley. A stream flowed under a rickety looking bridge.
"It's perfect," breathed Peter. He was glad for a friend like Eagle Eyes. He used to feel sorry for his Native chum, when some kids picked on him. But somehow he avoided arguments and fighting. Other kids called him "Chicken," but Peter knew better. When Peter arm-wrestled against his friend, he always lost.
"There must be a beaver dam further up the stream."
"How do you know?" Peter asked.
"The water is flowing too slowly. We can see later then have a swim."
They picked a sheltered spot on the side of the hill, near a supply of firewood. "Not far to walk for our fire," explained Eagle Eyes. Peter's friend showed him how to make a shelter, using boughs beginning from the bottom of their frame outline. Then adding layers until the top was covered.
"How come the front of our lean-to is so low?" Peter asked.
"To keep our body heat close to us, instead of rising to the ceiling."
Sleeping bags were laid on top of a thick bed of fir branches. "To keep away the cold," Eagle Eyes explained. The fireplace was next. Eagle Eyes called it an altar fire.
Green poplar sticks, two feet long were laid in a square. Each square was cut smaller and laid on top of each other, until the last layer was about three feet from the ground. The top was covered sod, mud side up.
"Now when we cook, there is no danger of a forest fire," Jay said. Eagle Eyes showed Peter where to find dry twigs. "Only those easily snapped with fingers are ready for our needs," he said. Eagle Eyes teased his friend. "White man likes big fire, stands far away to get warm. Native makes small fire, needs little firewood. More time to have fun." Then he poked Peter on the arm.
Both boys wrestled and grunted until their energy was all used up. And as Peter knew, the quiet strength of his friend won the match again. Arms tucked under their heads, they watched clouds turn into different shapes.
"How come you didn't clobber that ‘nutso’ bully who bugged you at school?" Peter asked.
Eagle Eyes looked carefully at his friend, as the wind blew against his shiny hair back. "What joy would I have if I hurt him?" he answered.
"Well, the others might have left you alone," Peter answered.
"I know I could have beaten him."
"Yes." Peter said. "I know it and you know it. But, did they know it?"
"It was not necessary to prove my strength. They finally did leave me alone," Eagle Eyes said.
"Sure, after awhile. Then they started calling you "No Tongue." You hardly spoke to anyone anymore. You didn't have any friends."
"I had one."
Peter stopped talking. He got the message.
After finding the beaver dam, Jay led the way to the beaver house. It was a little hill made of sticks and mud, about four feet square. And seemed to float on top of the water. The sun was warm and the water perfect for a dip. Jay splashed water his face, wrists and tummy. Then said a prayer and jumped in. “It’s very deep here!” He yelled to Peter.
Too late, his friend followed his ritual and jumped in alongside. Except he couldn’t swim and panicked when he was unable to touch bottom. And swallowed several mouthfuls of water.
“Help me!” the boy managed to say as he finally broke surface. Then Jay’s powerful arms surrounded his friend from behind and pulled him to shore. Both looked at each other with grins on their faces.
“No fooling. I want you to teach me how to swim, “ Peter said. “Man, I didn’t think the dam was so deep close to the beaver house. A short swim lesson followed.
During the night in the lean-to Peter was afraid and snuggled closer to his friend. Cries from a pack of coyotes seemed to be just a short distance away. Eagle Eyes seemed so confident and unafraid. Peter was learning so much from him. What a chum. What a good friend, he thought.
The next day looked like rain would spoil their short time left. But it didn’t. "Besides," Eagle Eyes said, "It is only water and is refreshing to Mother Earth."
Peter was much braver as he followed his friend into the chilly morning beaver pond to have a swim before breakfast. This time they chose a spot where the water was less deep. Eagle Eyes made the first splash. Then Peter jumped in, his scream muffled by the freezing water.
After a meal and cleaning up their campsite, they were on their way back home. Peter felt lighter and happy. His friend easily leaped ahead and Peter hurried to catch up.
"Eagle Eyes. I learned so much from you. Can we do it again, soon?"
"Yes, my grandfather and I will teach you more."
"But you said he's dead, Eagle Eyes."
"Look around you Peter. His Spirit is with us among the woods. Last night he helped me be strong and take away your fear."
"Yes. It was my arm that held you until you calmed down."
Peter's hand moved to his friend's shoulder. "Thanks."
Before long they came to the gravel road where Eagle Eyes' mother waited in her car. As they clambered in she asked, "Well boys...have fun?"
"Sure did!" Peter answered.
"Did your friend learn anything Eagle Eyes?"
He looked back at his mother the Bear, his Protector. He turned to his friend Peter now tanned from the sun, his white skin looking healthier. Freckles danced on his face. Eagle Eyes noticed a greater confidence in Peter.
"Not just my friend, mother." He answered. "He is now my brother," Eagle Eyes said proudly. "And yes, he learned much."
* * *
© Richard & Esther Provencher