I grew up on the land. It is true that we were farmers and my elders saw the land differently from the way Native People do, but we still respected it.
Grandad had a large collection of arrow and axe heads that kept turning up each year after he had ploughed the land. He obviously had a good eye to be able to spot those artefacts from his tractor seat. I also believe that he respected them as well and knew that each one had its own story to tell.
Our two farms totaled two hundred acres, sixty of which we called ‘the bush’, probably called a forest by non-farmers. Unfortunately, the bush was underappreciated in the fifties and sixties, but not by me. It was my playground. Once inside it’s boundaries, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I would just wander around until I came to a fence. I then had to figure out whose fence it was – did it belong to the eastern boundary or the western one? Early on, it was easy to get disoriented. I do not say lost because that would not have been possible as there were fences on all sides save at the creek. Then one day, I learned of a way to find directions from the movement of the sun if it was near noon. Just stick a big stick in the ground and then with small sticks, plot the movement of its shadow.
Although our farms constituted only two hundred acres, I was never limited to those boundaries. To the west were another four or five farms, each with its own version of a bush. To the east was my friend Jim’s farm bordered by what was called ‘the Canal’. To the north was a large creek, much too wide for a non-swimmer to traverse. Truth be told, I could likely have walked across it, but then I would have had to explain my wet clothes to my mom. If I wanted to travel outside of my territory, I just had to hop a fence.
One day on one of my many rambles, I came to the western edge of Grandad’s farm. When I looked up, there was a large clearing with a very tall dead tree in the centre. At its top sat a huge nest with two small heads peaking over the edge. On a branch of the tree and on the edge of the nest sat two beautiful Bald Eagles. I was stunned. I had never heard of their existence. Later I would learn that they had been around for many years. I say many years because, as you may know, Bald Eagles mate for life, but they do have a limited life span. What you may not know is that if a mate dies, the survivor seeks a new and younger mate, thus assuring that the territory will remain in their talons and those of their descendants.
I would later learn from a neighbouring farmer that a tree had blown down in his bush and the eagle’s nest had been as large as the bed of a typical hay wagon, or about ten feet across.
But to return to the story. I was stunned by this discovery and that spot became one of my favourite hangouts. I would sit behind the fence and watch for hours. Well for twenty minutes at least – remember, for a nine-year-old thirty minutes can seem like hours, especially if you are listening to a parental rant.
Although the nest would move over the years, it stayed within a radius of that spot and the creek to the north for another forty or so years, and I would visit it whenever I had a chance to visit the area. Once when I was about forty-seven, I took a friend with me. We trod across the two farms and right up to the nest which now stood in an empty field. We circled the nest, and when we headed back one of the eagles flew out over us and circled until we had left the farm. Perhaps it was escorting us to be sure we left. I prefer to think it was a blessing.
During those early years, I often went exploring in the woods, I found black raspberries and hickory nuts, and once I found a giant oak tree. I am sure it wasn’t a giant except to a ten-year-old, but it was bigger than most trees since the bush had been harvested for timber a few times since the first settlers came in the late 1700s. It was special to me nonetheless because I had found it.
Many years later while researching family history, I learned that on the north side of the creek at the back of our farm, there had once been a native encampment. That meant that the place where I wandered freely as child had once been the home to a group of Aboriginal people. I began to appreciate how blessed I had been and why my Grandad had collected all those artefacts. I also understood better that it was our settling of the land which had forced them to leave their home.
As you can see, or will when you have read my book, this growing up on that particular farm had a great effect on the creation of my story.
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.