Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, April 01, 2016

A is for Assiniboine

My novel began on a vacation trip to Fort Vancouver, reconstructed to capture a sense of the fur trade era, mid 19th Century. A sign at the edge of a field surprised me; it simply stated, "Once Scotsmen, Native Americans, Hawaiians, and M├ętis worked these fields."  I was fascinated by this mix of nationalities.

Three years later, I'm finishing the first final edits on the rough draft of my third novel, Rivers of Stone, set in the 1840s, to tell the story of Catriona Brody MacDonnell, who crossed Canada from York Factory in Upper Manitoba to Fort Vancouver in the State of Washington with a fur trade brigade in search of her husband. The twist, based partly on historic fact: She was disguised as a boy.

One of my goals in telling this story is to fairly represent the close ties between the fur traders, the M├ętis, and native peoples, in Canada, called aborigines. I constantly wonder if I have achieved this. For Cat, in her journey, meets and is helped by many native peoples -- the Cree, the Blackfeet, the Iroquois, the Salish, and the Assiniboine.

But I am outside native culture. My understandings come from reading. I have known only one Assiniboine, a poet who shall remain nameless because he is no longer with us. He taught me much in one afternoon.

We had just finished a poetry reading pretty well attended as such events go, and I went to congratulate him. I hovered on the edge of the group surrounding him, until he spoke, inviting me to the inner circle. "You didn't see me telling you to come closer?" he asked later. He explained that he had nodded his head and that such gestures are a second language. For those who know.

Today is the first day of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Nearly 1,000 bloggers are jumping in with daily posts. Some are organized around a theme. In past years, I've written poetry, each day anew. This year, my posts will reflect the process of writing my story, random thoughts, and perhaps, like today, an occasional poem, this one to remember my friend.

A Poem of Healing

The birds scatter across the clouds as the sun
rises in the east, pink and winter-warm, a healing song.
It is good this morning to the east.

The birds wheel and turn south. It is winter.
The clouds are gray, but they are not stormy.
It is good this morning to the south.

The clouds are shadowed pink to the west
with paths of blue between the massed white,
a surprising strong blue for winter, my friend,
a good sight to the west where the ocean lies.

And to the north, more birds make their morning journey.
I see not dark clouds, but light, pale gray clouds;
the ground is green with winter rain,
and the sheep have much to eat.
Winter is here in this still morning, a time of healing.

All is good from where I am as far as I can see.
The birds fly, and they are beautiful.
The clouds cover our mother earth,
and she is beautiful.
I can see the earth whole in all directions.

We humans go north and south, east and west.
We heal ourselves, my friend, by being
in all directions and in one place, connected.