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“There are no truths, Coyote,” I says. “Only stories.”
“Okay, I’ll try and be careful with the stories that I tell.”
— Thomas King
Adam and Noah had yet to learn about my tricks.
Tla-o-qui-aht (C) was breathing more than usual. As Tla-o-qui-aht inhaled, its rising crest created waves for the experienced surfers that frequented its beaches. Adam studied the messy waves, looking for the best entrance. He finished his ‘breakfast’ beer, threw the can into the recycling bin, and grabbed his surfboard.
“Adam! There’s like nobody out here, man,” shouted Noah, a tall, gangly man that couldn’t decide whether to carry the board above his head, under his arm, or just drag the darn thing.
“You’ll be fine, Noah,” Adam shouted as he jogged toward the water with a skip in his step.
“I don’t know about this. You sure I got this foot strap on, right?” Noah asked, but Adam was already halfway to the water.
Adam could read every wave's future as he carved up and down their faces, always knowing when they would break. He surfed wave after wave as Noah splashed in a circle; the relentless waves pushing his buoyant beginner's board—and not-so-buoyant body—back toward the shore. The wind couldn’t seem to make up its mind, and before Noah knew it, he was being pushed in a new direction. Waves kept crashing over him, shortening his breath as he gulped for air. Disoriented, he swam towards what seemed to be a calmer section. He slid off his board, hoping to reach the sand underneath him. The undertow pulled him under the water and towards a riptide. When he popped back up, he reached for his board. When he finally managed to pull himself up, he had already been sucked toward the open ocean.
“Adam! Fucking Adam,” he screamed.
Adam flew off another wave, landing in the water the way a child might jump into a swimming pool. The waves settled down for a moment, and a grey heron swooped down towards the water, leading Adam’s eyes in the right direction. He turned his board around and saw Noah fighting the riptide. Adam swam towards the riptide and let it take him towards Noah. Noah had managed to break free from the riptide and into calmer waters, but the ferocious winds weren’t letting him get back to the shore.
“Noah,” Adam yelled as he paddled toward him.
“I told you! I told you it wasn’t safe,” Noah said.
“Don’t fight it. Let it take you out, Noah,”
“Are you crazy?” Noah said, but he knew he had no other choice, and the two young gifted further away from shore until the rip lost its power.
“A boat,” Adam said and pointed towards a Boston Whaler in the distance.
The boys were quickly losing their energy in the two-degree weather, but it didn’t take long for the skipper to notice two surfers swimming toward her. She pulled her crab cages out of the water and drove the boat towards the boys.
“I don’t think you’ll have much luck catching waves all the way out here,” she said as she helped the boys onto her boat.
“You saved our lives,” Adam said as he stared at the young woman in a traditional Salish bark cape and spruce hat that protected her against the rain.
“Yeah, well, you boys owe me some crabs. Had to pull these cages up early to rescue you.”
“Of course,” Adam said as Noah began laughing hysterically.
Noah laughed and laughed until tears streamed down his face.
“What’s going on there, bud?” Adam asked.
Noah kept on laughing until he let himself collapse onto one of the boat seats. He gazed out at the coastline—beaches stretched out in front of the living and breathing rainforest. The howling wind came to a stop, and my trick had ended.
“Our home’s alive, my friends. It’s very much alive.”
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Throughout their travels, I had grown to like Scott and Tia and decided that I wouldn’t mind if they called this place home. A trick was in order, and Ronnie (or Black Bear, as his friends called him) would help me.
Kenkéknem (Black Bear) was an elder from the Shuswap that brought tourists into a small sweat lodge on the Shuswap Lake. Noah had met him at one of the pipeline protests and recommended that his cousin Scott and Scott’s Fiancé Tia visit Kenkéknem. They walked along the pebbled shore alongside the Shuswap Lake, and towards a trail decorated with red and yellow wildflowers. Kenkéknem, several paces in front of the couple, tip-toed around a flower, even when it stood alone in the middle of the path.
“Here we are,” Kenkéknem said as he moved the wooden and hide barrier to reveal the inside of the sweat lodge. Before he could say another word, Tia was already by his side and peering into the underground dig-out supported by beams of wood and tree roots. A breeze rushed through the pine trees, and Scott lifted his arms to let it blow all around his body.
“If it gets too hot, you can always leave. You show no disrespect,” Kenkéknem said.
“Yeah, okay. I mean. I’ll be fine.”
Kenkéknem smiled and then guided Scott into the sweat lodge. They had to crawl on their hands and knees to avoid hitting the ceiling made of earth. Kenkéknem threw a splash of water on the red-hot rocks in the middle of the sweat lodge. He explained that the fabric sacks filled with sacred herbs indicate the North, East, South, and West. He would be communicating with them in the Shuswap language, Secwepemc.
When Kenkéknem began to sing his prayers, both Scott and Tia fell into a trance, engrossed by the sound of Secwepemc. Every several minutes, Kenkéknem would speak in English, letting Scott and Tia know that more water would be added, increasing the temperature.
“Scott, you always can lower yourself to the ground where it’s cooler,” Kenkéknem said.
Scott, upset that he must have appeared weaker than Tia, sat upright, puffing out his chest more than before. Boys will be boys (an insidious and tricky saying that I didn’t come up with).
Tia was falling in love with Kenkéknem’s stories even though she didn’t understand a word. As she sat there, listening to Kenkéknem’s stories, the 270 years of culture turned into thousands of years of knowledge.
Finally, it was time for the mother rock—the final round. The temperature seemed to double, and so did Scott’s vision. Kenkéknem noticed Scott’s head falling to the side and immediately dragged him outside.
“Take his other arm over your shoulder,” Kenkéknem said.
Tia and Kenkéknem helped Scott across the rocky beach towards the cool Little Shuswap lake, Skwlax. Kenkéknem suggested lowering him into the water, but Tia just let him drop, laughing. As soon as his body hit the water, he jumped right back up to Tia’s giant smile.
Scott inhaled deeply, scanned the surrounding land, and began splashing water at Tia, accidentally splashing Kenkéknem.
“How dare you splash a Native Elder.”
Before Scott could tell if Kenkéknem was serious or not, Kenkéknem began to splash water back at Scott.
And that’s the day Scott and Tia always referred to when people asked how they decided to settle down in Canada.
Sometimes I help people create unbreakable bonds through first-time experiences—especially ones that involve an element of mischief.
The four boys sat on the secluded rocky beach overlooking Okanagan Lake. The rolling hills in front of them thirsted for water. Parts of the hills were covered in dried grasses and sage, whereas other sections were filled with pine trees that acted as matchsticks at this time of year. The BC fires—which seemed to get worse every year—were at least a few hundred kilometres from the boys, but the smoke still caused the setting sun to turn into an orange ball. To the boys, the sun seemed to expand and contract, disintegrating into the smoke and then solidifying again.
“What the hell are you doing, Noah?” Adam asked when he noticed Noah on his cell phone.
“Huh, oh, nothing,” Noah said when he was really just looking up how to avoid panic attacks.
“Man, you should be looking out. Like, out there. Where a damn star is sinking behind our hills,” Adam said.
“Well, actually, the earth is rotating around the sun, and the sun is just—”
“It’s both, Jacques,” JJ said.
“I don’t know what I’m feeling. What am I thinking? Is thinking feeling?” Noah asked.
“Noah, put your phone away. In fact, let’s all turn our phones off,” Adam said.
JJ’s phone was already off. The other boys proceeded to turn off their phones, trying not to get distracted by the letters and numbers that seemed to move across the screen.
Adam moved closer to Noah, put his arm around him, and pulled him close, “all you need is bromance.”
JJ and Jacque moved closer as well, and the four boys stared out at the setting sun. Noah calmed down and began to breathe with the earth along with the other boys. Every breath became precious. As time started to lose its meaning and the sky began to darken, the boys decided it was time to roam around the forest. The trees allowed little moonlight to reach the forest floor, but the plants seemed to have an electric energy that allowed the boys to see precisely where they were going.
“Does everything look like it has this geometric phylum to you guys?” Jacques asked.
“Dude, yes,” Adam said.
“It’s like everything is connected. The rock, that sage, the mushrooms, us. We all rely on one another.” Noah said, “That’s some Native shit, isn’t it, JJ?”
JJ laughed and pulled his friend in close, “Sure, buddy.”
“Maybe it’s just some human thinking that got lost somewhere along the way with us white ass mofos,” Adam said.
“Kicx. It means ‘he arrived’ in Nsyilxcən. My grandpa used to say it when someone realized something important.”
“Kicx,” Noah said. “It has a good sound.”
“A lot of what you’ve told me, JJ, like about harmony with nature, and understanding that you’re children of mother earth—it’s not that different from science. Some people seem to use scientific thought, and Western thought interchangeably, but it’s wrong. We’re not separate from it, we’re nothing without it,” Jacques said.
“Amen, brother,” Adam said.
At first, it was just JJ that started laughing, and then Noah and Jacques joined in.
“Amen wasn’t the best word choice, was it?”
“No, no, it wasn’t,” Noah said and continued to laugh with his friends. “I feel ya, Jacques. I mean, you know how my parents always jumped from country to country? I never really felt at home anywhere. Like, I don’t know if the Canadian culture is my culture because whose culture is it now anyway? But the land, the land isn’t mine either… but it is me. This land is what makes me Canadian.” Noah began digging his hands into the dirt. “I don’t want to sound like a hippy, but this feels pretty damn good.”
The rest of the friends did exactly like Noah. The four of them laughed and smiled as they dug their hands deeper into the soil.
“I think my grandpa is here with us, guys,” JJ said.
“Hell yeah, he is. I’m looking at a part of him right now,” Adam said as he looked at JJ.
“Remember when you finally invited us white boys over, and your gramps made us promise to do whatever we can to protect this place?” Noah said.
“Yeah,” JJ said.
“I guess we vowed to protect each other,” Adam said.
The four boys, with their hands in the dirt, looked at each other and saw everything they needed.
“I love you guys. I love you guys so much,” JJ said.
“Amen,” Jacques said, and the four friends laughed and loved and thought for the rest of the night.
If there aren’t any truths, then why would I need to tell these painful stories?
JJ’s dog, Ruffle, ran towards a young sugar maple and began to whimper.
“Good boy, Ruffle,” Jacques said as he sat next to the dog and rubbed his head. “You found him.”
Jacques stared up at Montmorency Falls, which was already forming a wall of ice. As he looked up at the glistening wall, he saw himself and JJ climbing up. They were just finishing their last semester studying physics engineering at McGill University and needed a new type of rush to refresh their minds. A rush that didn’t involve the nerves you get before an exam, but a rush that had a more intrinsic meaning—a rush that meant life or death.
JJ and Jacques had only been ice climbing for a year when they decided to climb Montmorency Falls. They were at that age where they thought they were invincible.
Do I really need to go on with this story? Does this need to be written down? Maybe we could let someone speak.
Jacques put his arm around the sugar maple and said, “So, Noah’s in jail for being an eco-terrorist, and Adam’s in the hospital again with—Zut, I can’t keep track of his injuries anymore. Something with his leg. You’d be damn proud of them, man. They’ve already booked time off to come here next year so they can talk to you. Well, I’m sure they talk to you elsewhere. But Ruffle swears you’re right here. I know you’re back in Okanagan as well, but Ruffle’s a Frenchie through and through. And we’re going to stay here for a while. Le Québec est devenu ami , didn’t it, JJ? I will get those damn philistine friends of ours to learn another language. But anyway. Enough of this babble. You know why I’m here. You’re… I’d be dead without you. I’d be nothing I know. And you’re still everything. I still wake up screaming at the sound of you cutting the rope. But I will not let you die, brother. All we are is stories, so I’m going to keep telling all yours. And what should I do about the stories that aren't mine to tell? I’ll wait for you to give me an answer.
This story is now available on Substack. I am slowly transferring all my writing to Substack because the writing community is much stronger there and they have are creating features so we can move away from social media hell. I'm not sure if I'll switch from Ghost yet, but I'm trying Substack out.
Thank you for all your support.