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Wootihu didn’t know what to think about this style of delivery so he mostly kept quiet as he paid attention to the current of the river.

Soon they would see Muskrat dwellings and Nanabozhu would turn into a Muskrat and talk about the social habits of Muskrats. And then he would say out of the blue, “The Bagwajiwinini were a virtuous people, in all senses of the word.”

While Nanabozhu was talking and transforming back and forth; navigating Mud River was not so easy for Wootihu, as it was shallow in some places and deeper in others. So the water was sometimes up to his ankles, and sometimes up to his neck. While he was splashing through the river he had to listen carefully as Nanabozhu would get lost in thought and would speak only when he felt like it.

“The reason you don’t see many of them now is because they are so caught up in their own cares, they do not often go out of their way.”

Wootihu heard this all the while plagued by mosquitoes which whined irritatingly around any of his exposed skin, and deer and moose flies would painfully bite him whenever they could find a spot to land–usually tangling in the hair on his head.

The mud sucked at his feet, slowing him down and tiring him out.

That was how they traversed the whole length of Mud River as it meandered around and up through the reservation, until they arrived at the bridge by the Fishery. The place that Wootihu originally thought they were going!

The only beings Wootihu had seen were a few kids  swimming in the pond just before the bridge and some houses back of town. This had taken them eight more hours and the longest night of the summer was approaching.

“I was hoping we would have seen one by now.” said a dejected and worn out Wootihu.

Nanabozhu eyed Wootihu with a hint of sadness. “I’ll take you to a place where I know one will be at home, but I’ll have to blindfold you because it’s so close to downtown Redby.

So Nanabozhu blindfolded Wootihu and turned him around four times, and led him by the hand, taking him circuitous ways until they arrived inside of the home of the Bagwajiwinini. Night had descended.

Nanabozhu’s parting words were, “I will leave you here so you can ask him all the questions you want when you see him, but don’t take the blindfold off until you have counted to eight, as I make my exit.”

With that, Wootihu heard footsteps out of the house and a door closing softly as he slowly counted to eight by one thousands. And then took off his blindfold.

Wootihu found himself standing in front of his bathroom mirror.

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“That’s not something I can explain to you at this time,” answered Nanabozhu, “It’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself as we go along. But if you will open the eyes of your understanding and ponder what you are seeing, you will learn to recognize them. Think of this as a trial run.”

So Wootihu started wading down Mud River. Nanabozhu had turned into a Wabizheshii  (a Pine Marten), so he could more easily move among the willows,

and grasses,

and fallen trees,

that lined or fell into the river,

all the while talking to Wootihu.

The information about the Bagwajiwininiwug came out sparingly, interspersed with the conversations the two had about many things.

“The Bagwajiwininiwug have become small in stature…”began Nanabozhu.

“Of course, that’s why they are called the Little People.” said Wootihu.

“But it’s not what you think.” Nanabozhu corrected as they wound their way downstream. Wootihu waited for more on this but it was not forthcoming. Instead, Nanabozhu transformed into an Otter and gestured to a place where the otters slid down a hillside into Mud River, talked about otters, and then he would change into a human again and say, “The Bagwajiwininiwug of long ago are much different from those of today. Then, one could turn a lake of water into earth, just by commanding it.”

Then they would be quiet for a while as Wootihu splashed and waded down a difficult stretch of the river. Or climbed over or through downed trees. And then Nanabozhu would get a faraway look in his eyes and he would say, “Help another Bagwajiwikwei (or Little woman) obtain a mustard seed and she could command the mountains to move and the mountains would flee out of their place.”

And then Nanabozhu would point out a High Bush Cranberry hanging out of reach over the river and talk about them for a while, change into a Robin, fly over and eat a few, and then change back, and  say, “The Bagwajiwininiwug could talk to the animikii face to face– who delivered messages to them straight from the Creator”.

“They could do all of that?”

“Yep,” answered Nanabozhu, “watch out for that swift running water. You could knock your head against a partially submerged tree in it and drown.”

**** To be continued ****

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Now, Wootihu thought that they would walk a few blocks to where Mud River emptied out into Red Lake at the Fishery, but they walked all the way from Wootihu’s house which was in Redby–on Copper City Road, and took the Kinney Lake Trail road past Kinney Lake and onward to the South Edge of the reservation. Then they took the south boundary road east to where Mud River entered the land of The People, just West of Highway 15.

This took them from sunup to noon as the south boundary was a good ways away!

While they walked there, Nanabozhu subtly drew Wootihu out to talk about himself, and his family, and the things that were important to him. Which he didn’t mind at all, as although he recognized that Nanabozhu was doing this, he realized as the Anishinabeg do, that one had to approach some subjects circumspectly, (especially when talking with a demigod). Wootihu knew that Nanabozhu would talk about the Bagwajiwininiwug in his own good time and in his own way.

“Okay,” said Nanabozhu, “You’ll have to wade down Mud River because they will be by the river bank and the best place to see the entrances of their houses, is from the middle.”

“What do their houses look like?” asked Wootihu.

**** To be continued ****

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Wootihu almost forgot to ask his question as he looked at Nanabozhu. He looked like the quintessential Anishinabe. He was handsome, and he had thick, jet black Raven hair; the kind with the purple highlights. He was tall, about five feet ten inches; tall enough that most women looked up to him but not so tall so as to intimidate naive or foolish men. He had bright but dark brown eyes that glinted like a raptor. And a nose that had just enough of a suggestion of a hook to it to make him interesting.

Now Wootihu was an honest if somewhat innocent Red Laker, so he told Nanabozhu; “I would really like to meet a Bagwajiwinini–one of the little people. But I am afraid you will play some kind of trick and leave a permanent mark on me and the rest of the Anishinabeg to show you did it.”

“Hmmm”, said Nanabozhu eyeing Wootihu speculatively. “I promise I will not lie to you, and I will not leave any physical mark on you.  And concerning the Bagwajiwininiwug, they are all over the reservation, if you know what to look for.” Nanabozhu smiled that little boy smile of his. “For your part, it will probably take us all day to find one and you’ll have to invest a lot of effort. In which time you will not be able to use any modern conveniences such as a car, or your cell-phone, and I will tell you just enough about them so you can know one when you see one. “How about that?” said Nanabozhu with a smirk on his face.

“Deal” said Wootihu. And they spat on their hands and shook them.

There may be some Bagwajiwininiwug at Mud River,” said Nanabozhu. “Let’s look there.”

**** To be continued ****

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When he told them what he was going to do, his friends thought he was crazy. You see, Nanabozhu was the Anishinabeg trickster demigod and if you had any kind of meaningful interaction with him he always played some kind of trick on you, or left some kind of mark on your species. That’s where the Loons got their red eyes, or the Kingfishers the ruffled feathers of their crests. And he was important enough, that he would reveal himself to you in his human form maybe only once in your life time.

So Wootihu set out to find Nanabozhu.

In those days, Nanabozhu was much easier to find… if you dared. All you had to do was find any piece of wood and knock on it four times, then call his name after you knocked and repeat all of that three more times until Nanabozhu answered.

Thus it was the next Saturday morning that Wootihu did this;

Knock knock Knock knock,

“Nanabozhu?”

Knock knock knock knock,

“Nanabozhu.”

Knock knock knock knock,

“Nanabozhu!”

Knock knock knock knock,

“Nanaboooooooozhu.”

on the outside of his closed bathroom door, which was the closest piece of wood he had in the house at the time.

After which Wootihu heard the sound of a toilet flushing, and then the sounds of someone zipping their pants and then washing their hands in the sink. The door opened to reveal Nanabozhu standing behind it, holding it open.

A questioning Nanabozhu looked at Wootihu and asked, “Yes?”

**** To be continued ****

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Once there was a Red Laker named Wootihu. Now, this was not his real name, nor was it his Indian name. It was his nickname. Most Red Lakers had nicknames. You might hear names like “Bunny”, ”Ishky”, “Crick”, or “Boogins” when you were talking to your friends in school.

You see, a bunch of Barred Owls lived around Wootihu and he would hear them calling in the evening, at night and in the early morning. He got to know their calls pretty well, and even was able to perfect his call so that they came and “talked” to him. One night, a strange Barred Owl called outside his window. But instead of the “Woo Woo Woo, Woo Woo Wa Hoo” he expected, what he heard was: “Woo woo woo, Woo Ti Hoo“.

Woo Ti Hoo?!” What kind of a call was that? It was either a young Barred Owl just learning to call or it was an owl who was developmentally disabled.

While the other Barred Owls didn’t seem to notice, this young man was intrigued. He was so engrossed in this call that he couldn’t get it out of his head, so he had to tell all of his friends at school the next few days. Having heard many an Owl tale before, his friends could only groan, or roll their eyes, or shake their heads when he related this. This nickname stuck when one of his friends said “Okay Wootihu, we get it”. This produced a few chuckles, because of which, it was too late for Wootihu. Sometimes his friends called him “Wooti”, and sometimes they just said “Who?” in jest when his name was called for attendance in class for first period.

Now lately, Wootihu had been thinking a lot about the Bagwagiwininiwug or the Little People. You see, he didn’t know much about them except that he had heard they were generally a mischievous and benevolent people. However, he wanted to know more, although he couldn’t really find anyone who knew a great deal about them.

So he decided to ask Nanabozhu.

**** To be continued ****

(I had such a fun time writing this story. I wanted to share it with you all at once. But it looked so long on the page and I get so impatient that I sometimes don’t read something if it looks too long, (Is that just me?) so I decided to break it up into smaller parts so it will be more manageable. I hope you  enjoy it too.)

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Chainsaw

Had to cut down one of the oaks that had died for firewood yesterday. It was a big tree. The base of the trunk was wider than the blade of the chainsaw, so I had to cut it from both sides in order to cut through it. It reminded me of lumberjacking out in the woods with my dad as a teenager. Each tree has it’s own smell; Red Oak, Jack-pine, Poplar, Cedar.

There are all of these little rituals that are part of being a lumberjack. You check your saw first, to make sure it is filled with saw gas –the correct mixture of gasoline and 2 cycle oil for the piston– and also fill it with 30 weight bar and chain oil.

Then you have to make sure the chain is sharp. In the old days we used a round file–some still do. Nowadays, you can buy a little electric chainsaw blade sharpener that runs off of your car’s twelve volt battery. Or you can buy an electric sharpener that runs off of your home’s electricity. Most recently, the Oregon company even makes a special blade, chain, and sharpener that all work together to sharpen the chain in 5 seconds!

There is nothing more integral to lumberjacking than having a sharp chainsaw. When you have one, your chainsaw cuts through hardwood “like butta’ “. You hardly have to put any pressure on the wood. The weight of your chainsaw is enough. Conversely, when your chainsaw is dull, cutting wood is the most unnecessary kind of hard work you will ever do; or ever want to do.

The chainsaw doesn’t get dull as fast when cutting softwoods like pine.  But eventually it does get dull. You can tell because when it is sharp, little wood chips fountain out from the chainsaw. But when it begins to dull, the wood exits the chainsaw as sawdust. So the lumberjack cycles through the ritual of sharpening, sawing and sharpening again throughout the day.

What kind of chainsaw you use is important as well. Everyone swears by the brand of chainsaw they use. The big ones around here are Stihl and Husqvarna.  I bought a Poulan Pro 20” incher. (Blade side is important too.) That’s the kind of chainsaw suburban guys use to cut up the occasional tree. It’s performance is spotty. I was hoping I got a good one when I bought it, but the thing quit on me after my third cut. I took it in to get it fixed and found out the  piston was scored so I had to borrow a friend’s chainsaw–a Husqvarna 435. (I just love that name. I go around saying it to myself with what I think of as a Swedish accent. “Hüskvahrnah” with a rolled r). Husqvarna, Husqvarna! I’m in love with that brand.

I’ll probably buy one for myself because they are so easy to start and maintain.

Being out in nature is the other great part of the experience. Cool misty forest this morning, (I have one more tree to go) no bugs.

The only part I don’t look forward to is moving the actual wood around. Pulling the blocks out of the woods, transporting them, and then stacking them to be chopped up. That’s work! Where are the muscular young folk when you need them?!

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A few years ago. I traveled to the fifth lake in String O’ Lakes. It was not an easy trek (relatively speaking) because I had to drag my canoe about a hundred feet over a floating bog in order to reach the fourth lake and after having paddled across it, had to thrash through heavy undergrowth, and then climb the ridge that separated that lake from the fifth lake.

Revisiting the fifth lake was something I had to do in order to satisfy my need “to see what was on the other side”. It’s that same feeling you get when you stand on the coast and you want to follow it to see what is around the corner, or when you want to follow the river around just one more bend. I think I have a much better understanding of why the world was mapped as early as it was.

When I first visited the fifth lake, I didn’t have a fishing pole with me before then but resolved to come back again when I did because I was curious to see if that lake had fish in it.

I had saved a hundred bucks of my vacation money in order to buy a small blowup boat and some fishing gear in order to satisfy my curiosity. Here is a picture of a “boat” I found on sale at “Menards” for 45 bucks and the Zebco rod and reel I found at “Walmart” for 16.
Raft
The box the boat came in said it was for two men, but at 205 lbs, it barely fit me. Indeed, I had to be VERY careful when I turned around in it so I wouldn’t let water seep in, as the sides of the raft were only a few inches above the water line.

The backpack contained a half-gallon of water, a couple of apples and a bag of White Cheddar Cheese puffs. Those are the greatest. You really have to try them. 🙂

It is rare that I have encountered other people at String O’ Lakes, but you can tell from friends and family that have left comments that a fair amount of people have been there. However, since the water level has more often than not been low, I believe that the number of people who have visited the fourth lake have not been very many.

*
Since the fifth lake is even more inaccessible, I believe the number of people who have visited it has been limited to the rare hunter or trapper who was able to walk to it, or snowshoe to it in the winter. Or, perhaps to someone who has a four-wheeler.

Of all the time I spent in Red Lake (ten days this last trip) I was only able to spend a day out in the woods. But it was worth it.  I mentioned the drive to String O’ Lakes. It was fun using my brother’s truck. I had to cut a few trees down in order to park the truck up on the hill where pop wanted to build, as high winds from a storm a couple of years earlier had knocked down some of the big trees that were there.

It took a while getting used to the oars. And since the little boat didn’t have a keel, I had to put in some effort to keep it from zigzagging back and forth as I rowed. It didn’t matter whether there was a front or a back as it responded equally well no matter what direction I rowed.

Here is a composite picture of the fifth lake.

Fifth Lake

The signature Norway Pine and Beaver house let you know that you have arrived at Paradise.

Norway Pine and Beaver House

This is what I had to slog through to get to the fourth Lake

Passage to Fourth Lake

Try as I might, I couldn’t stay awake while I was out there (on the fifth lake.) I napped on and off for about three hours. It was great! The weather was warm and there was enough cloud cover so that I didn’t get sunburned. I would have thought that the breeze would have blown me all over the lake while I was sleeping, but the strange thing was, each time I woke up I found myself in this position in relation to the Beaver House.

AwakeningI did do some fishing while I was there. Nary a bite. So the jury is still out on whether there are fish or not. I did not retrace my steps back to the fourth and second lake. Rather, I portaged my little boat through deer trails  that ran along the ridge between the fourth and fifth lakes to the third lake. While the boat only weighed about ten pounds inflated, it started to feel pretty heavy by the time I was able to get to the third lake. I had just enough time to paddle back to the landing on the first lake and start home before it got dark.

I just noticed that my blog registers 7000 hits so far. Thank you, each and every one of you, for hanging in there for me! May you all get the chance to visit your own “Fifth Lake” this year.

Best Wishes,

Russell Littlecreek

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Now that I am back, I have been thinking about the different feeling of living on the reservation versus living away from it.  The Anishinabeg are blessed to live in Red Lake. There is a different feeling living there.

Ours is big for one thing, so there is a lot to see. I found myself rediscovering places I had known before, but also discovering new things and new places. As time passes I discovered many things stayed the same and many things had changed.

The scenery is all so varied. There are different kinds of lakes: Red Lake, which is BIG, and small lakes, lakes of different sizes, lakes which have different kinds of fish in them, rivers creeks, swamps. sloughs, marshes,  Forests of different trees: Birch, Jack Pine, Norway Pine, Cedar, Poplar, Maple, Various Oaks and Tamarack, and all the different kinds of plants.

I also found myself enjoying spiritual experiences. I don’t mean supernatural experiences, I mean just meeting another/other beings. Sometimes those were people: family, friends, people from high school, and people I hadn’t met before. Sometimes they were the crows, deer, eagles, squirrels in mom’s back yard, mom’s or the many neighbor’s dogs, the huge bears at the dump, fish in the water, the partridges I heard out in the woods, ducks, geese, loons, a field mouse.

I am reminded that we take so many things for granted. I remember moving here to Missouri and seeing a Nuthatch hopping down (facing downward) a tree trunk looking for bugs. The first times it was such a novel experience. Now I take it more for granted. The point is however, that there are so many strange and beautiful things in nature, and I found myself wanting to travel about the reservation as an exercise in experiencing those things.

One difference, I suspect was that I felt this was land held in common with other Anishinabeg that I could experience as I wanted, subject to my personal controls of common sense, moderation, and consideration, and not to the outside rules imposed on me by an impersonal authority.

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The crows, the crows!

They TALK TALK TALK,

ALL DAY LONG!

 
in Red Lake.

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