20 December 2008

Mi'kotso'tokaaniksi Aiksikkiaakiyaa

llll ) llllllllllllllllllll Mi’kotso’tokaaniksi Aiksikkiaakiyaa

First day of clear blue skies for some sleeps now, and I had to get outside despite the severe cold. Bundled to the hilt, and yet still not quite enough, I took a walk along Naapisisahtaa, where it becomes confluent with Isski’taiitahtaa. I walked on the river itself, noting that the coyotes – like myself – follow a route along the ice close to the bank. I wonder if the sound of the water beneath keeps them away from the middle.

I took my time walking up to a still-open section of water, where there were significant aapsspiniiksi gathered. I moved only three or four paces at a time, pausing longer between. As I grew near, all the aapsspiniiksi stood up at once and quickly took to the air. At first, I was sure that I had finally scared them. But as they lifted, I saw the real culprit running along the ice on the other side, a single coyote who proceeded to follow them in their flight upriver. In their immediate absence, I found a good blind beside a boulder, where I could overlook the exposed water in case they returned. But after all grew quiet, and some further minutes passed, I decided to move on.

Entering the brush behind an older ksisskstakioyis, I began noticing curiously pattered carvings in bands around some of the willow stems. They were a kind of checker pattern or removed bark that reminded me immediately of the cut-out designs of old war shirts. I photographed several of the marked trees, thinking that they must have been made by something like a woodpecker… which was very interesting to me, because woodpeckers, flickers, and the like are very important allies to warriors, for their ability to quickly dodge or hop to the other side of a tree trunk. For many years, I’d thought the holes in the “bullet-proof” war shirts were merely that, representations of bullet or arrow holes, while the one wearing it goes undamaged. To realize that there may be a connection between these designs and certain birds multiplies the symbol’s significance. (After returning home this evening, I did a bit of research and question-asking online and found that the artist is almost definitely a sapsucker species, although which might prefer willow I don’t know)

Eventually, the aapsspiniiksi began slowly returning to the open water source, and by that time I was very cold and happy to start heading back in that direction. I followed an old ksisskstaki canal (now dry) out, along the way coming across a porcupine feeding near its den. This one had taken over one of the old ksisskstaki lodges along the side of the canal, perhaps moved from last-year’s porcupine location in a burrow under a nearby cottonwood. As I would soon learn, the latter den is now apparently occupied by coyotes.

I sight of the river just as a great wave of aapsspiniiksi passed overhead, coming from upriver. About a dozen of these decided to land in the open water where I was positioned. And no sooner had they sat down on the ice than I saw them jump to their feet again, and then watched as two coyotes came out onto the shore. They started trotting toward me, and came within about ten meters before they realized that I was sitting there. The two quickly turned and fled upriver, and the aapsspiniiksi calmed back down and sat again on the ice. When the coyotes climbed the bank some distance away, they began immediately to howl, and I watched as one of them threw clouds of snow in the air. I don’t know if they found something in that bank and were digging it out, announcing it, or what was going on. But soon they trotted off again, into the woods, where they continued to howl for the next ten minutes or so. By that time, the sun had gone a ways beyond the horizon, it was getting dark, and I made my way back to the truck, frozen toes and all.