By Hilary Hellums
Some pronunciation helpers:
Midewin (mi-day-win) a member of the lodge
Midewiwin (mi-day-wee-win) our sacred medicine lodge
Anishnabe (ah-nish-na-bay) first people
Gitchi Manitou (gi-chee man-ah-doo) our name for Great Spirit
Megis (meh-geez) cowrie shell
Migwitch (meg-witch) means thank you
The path begins at the water’s edge
It leads you to the ivy hedge
To enter the grove and be safe from fright
One must be there at dawns first light
Answer the riddle in a voice that’s clear
Or otherwise face your darkest fear
**A speck of green in a sea of blue
I am the heart that still rings true
Spirit lives here all year round
Come listen to the drumming sound
What am I?
** (Answer: Madeline Island- Spiritual home of the Ojibway people)
Rosa was excited to be going away for the summer. She loved going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to stay with Grandma Anita on the reservation. They had always been close, she thought of grandma as her best friend. They were able to talk and share secrets, things you don’t tell parents. She would be there for her 16th birthday which made this vacation ever more special.
The school year was ending in a matter of days but Rosa’s mind wasn’t on school work anymore. “I’m tired of studying!” she cried out.
Rachel (her mother) said “Come on honey, you’re almost done now. Don’t mess up when you are so close to the end of the year! Please?”
“All right mom.” Rachel smiled and hugged her daughter; she knew Rosa was ready to go. She envied her the time off, wishing she could go too. Rachel had a feeling deep in her heart that this trip was going to change her daughter somehow but it would be in a good way. Rachel never worried about Rosa’s safety up there. Grandmas’ family was there and protected Rosa. The men there were better than a guard of military soldiers for her.
Rosa also felt something special was going to happen this summer. She wrote in her journal, ‘It’s like a dream that was so amazing but when I woke up, all I can recall is the feeling but nothing else.’
The night before leaving, Rosa found her dad in his study. Adam was sitting at his desk working on the computer.
Rosa stood in the doorway. “Dad, can I talk to you?”
Adam looked up and smiled. “Of course honey! What’s up?”
Rosa sat in a chair in front of her father. She struggled with the wording; “Dad, have you ever had the feeling that something was going to happen to you but you didn’t know what it was going to be?”
“Rosa, do you think something bad is going to happen to you?” Adam asked anxiously.
“NO, no Dad! It’s nothing like that! I have this feeling that sometime during the summer something will happen and I don’t know what it is. It’s more than a birthday party; it feels…..I don’t know……more mysterious I guess.”
Adam sat back in his chair relieved. He thought of what Rosa said. After a few moments, he smiled to himself. He remembered something.
“Dad, what are you smiling about?” Rosa asked.
“Well, my love. Your father was remembering his own trips to Michigan. I was a teenager when Mom and I went to the rez, after my father passed away. I was a mess, 15 years old and my dad was gone. He was sick for a long time and we took care of him. Mom and I were so tired; going to the rez was a welcome rest for us. The first summer there was quiet, we got ourselves back together. However, my 16th year; that summer was interesting indeed.” Adam had a far-away look in his eyes; he looked younger.
“What happened while you were there?” Rosa was curious now.
“Honey, as much as I would love to tell you, I can’t.” Adam looked at Rosa.
“Why not?!” Rosa cried impatiently.
“Rosa, we have talked many times about the beliefs and ways of our ancestors. I’m not sure if I believe or not, I didn’t grow up in those ways. Over time I have come to respect them and those who do believe.” He was serious now.
“Like Auntie Hilary and Auntie Cely?” Rosa asked.
“Yes. They walk a different path but that doesn’t make it any less viable. I have seen some things I have no explanation for. That summer was one of those things. I know for each person, it’s different and must be kept secret or it won’t work.”
“I don’t understand! You can’t tell me anything?” Rosa was frustrated now.
“Monkey, calm down,” Adam said. “Look at it this way. Remember the stories where the hero has to go on a journey but has no idea of what will happen until he’s in the middle of it?”
“Yes.” Rosa said quietly.
“Well, this is something like that. It’s unique to each person, I can’t help you. But when you come home, we’ll talk about it. I know this; Aunt Hilary and Cely will help you. They work with the energies and spirits of the place. When it’s time, they will know and so will you.”
Adam looked at his daughter and knew it was her time. He felt hot tears in his eyes as he remembered the little baby he once held, the little girl he had played with. Now here was this beautiful young woman standing in front of him, ready to begin her own journey. His heart ached a little but he knew she would be fine.
“Come here and give your dad a big hug and kiss! Then off to bed with you, you have a long day of traveling tomorrow!”
They hugged, holding each other quietly for a time. Neither of them saw the others tears, but they felt them. Rosa knew the next time she hugged her father; she would be changed, but in a good way.
After a long day of traveling; 2 flights with a 3 hour lay-over in Minneapolis, Rosa finally landed in Marquette. Now she was in a car with grandma and Auntie Hilary heading up to the rez.
“I’m so glad you were able to talk your dad into letting you fly into Marquette. It’s so much easier to pick you up there and a shorter car ride for you” said Hilary.
“I’m glad too! The airport was so boring! I wasn’t even afraid of the little plane after that, I wanted to get out of there!”
Grandma Anita laughed. “Oh, I hate those little planes. They bounce too much and make me nervous. My stomach gets all upset.”
“I know what you mean grandma. I get the same way sometimes!” Rosa exclaimed.
“Well, you’re here and safe now. Relax and eat the sandwich we brought for you. Maybe take a short nap. We’ll be home soon” said Hilary.
Rosa ate her sandwich and looked out the window. The trees were so much taller here than in Denver. The woods on the sides of the road were light until you got about 20 feet in where it becomes much darker. It was wild up here. Sometimes you could see Lake Superior through the trees. She loved this place. She looked out and let her mind wander; falling asleep as the car gently rocked her.
“Rosa, wake up! We’re at the house sweetie!” Grandma laughed, “She’s out like a light!”
Rosa startled awake. She had been dreaming about something in the woods but the dream faded quickly. All that was left was a feeling of mysterious excitement. “Come on sleepy head! Help us carry your stuff into the house!” Hilary laughed with grandma.
Rosa got out of the car and went around to the trunk. She grabbed her suitcases and headed into the house. Once in the door, she looked around. Grandma’s house looked like it always did making her feel cozy and warm. She was glad to be in her second home.
“I have your room all ready. I got a new bed for you since you’re taller now. I hope it’s comfortable for you. The closet is all yours too. I cleaned out the desk so you can put your computer there. Get unpacked then we’ll talk about dinner.” Grandma left the room and went into the kitchen with Hilary.
Rosa unpacked quickly. She could hear the women talking and laughing in the kitchen. Auntie Hilary’s laugh always made Rosa smile. She hung her clothes, and then set up her computer on the desk but she didn’t plug it in. It was now her room for the summer.
“Grandma, I have to call home and let them know I got here ok!” Rosa called out.
“Ok sweetie! You know where the phone is.” Grandma shouted back.
Rosa called home and her mother answered.
“Hey mom, I’m here and everything is ok.” Rosa sat on the bed.
“Oh honey, I’m so glad you called. I miss you already!” Rachel held back some tears.
“Mom, it’s only for the summer and I’ve done this before!” Rosa smiled.
“I know, I know. It’s that….well…your dad told me about your talk last night and I got worried and well…you know how I am when it comes to you.” Rachel sniffled a bit.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you about it. I talked to dad because I thought he would know what I was talking about. He did, but he couldn’t tell me all of it.”
“He told me the same thing. But he also knows that they’ll take care of you while you’re there and so do I. I miss you!” Rachel was crying now, she didn’t try to hold back anymore.
“I miss you too mom! Tell dad I called and I’ll call in a few days. I love you!” Rosa had tears in her eyes now.
“I love you too baby! Give everyone there our love! Bye!” Rachel hung up and cried some more.
And with that, Rosa hung up the phone, took a deep breath, dried her tears and went into the kitchen to talk about dinner.
Time flew by as Rosa, grandma, Hilary and Cely went shopping, on walks, to the beach and wherever to have fun. Sometimes they woke up early, sometimes late; it didn’t matter, there was no schedule to follow. Soon people were talking about what to do on the 4th of July. Rosa started to get excited again as her birthday was only 12 days after that and hopefully the answers to the dreams she had been having.
The dreams were all the same; vague feelings of being deep in the woods, hearing the water from the lake, the smell of campfire smoke and pine trees, and always hearing laughter in the background. When she woke, the dream would leave her with feelings of longing and anticipation.
“I think we should have a huge beach party this year and watch the fireworks over the water!” said Aunt Cely.
Hilary and Cely were at the house working on powwow dresses. This would be Rosa’s debut as a woman dancer and there was much to be done.
“Do you know if anyone is using the big pavilion at the powwow grounds? We could use that for the main party and walk to the beach for the fireworks. It’s not that far. If anyone can’t walk, we can drive them down.” Aunt Hilary said.
“Oh, that would be wonderful! I love the powwow grounds! It’s so peaceful down there and I love the tall trees!” Rosa exclaimed.
“All right then, I’ll call the tribal center and see if it’s available. If it is, I’ll reserve it. You three get to spread the word to the family if we can use the place. It’s the only place big enough for us anyway, other than the senior’s center. And I don’t want to be inside if the weather is nice” said grandma.
Grandma walked to the phone and called the tribal center. Rosa went to sit by Hilary and Cely.
“Auntie Cely, I wanted to tell you about this dream I have been having for a while. Can we talk about it?”
“Sure! Can Hilary join us too?”
“Yes please! I’ll tell grandma we’re going outside for a break.”
Rosa went to tell grandma while Hilary and Cely looked at each other and smiled. They had been waiting for her to talk to them.
Cely sat on a bench with a sigh. Hilary sat next to her and they waited for Rosa to come outside. When she did, she had some drinks with her.
“Mmm, I love lemonade when it’s warm like this. I can’t drink it in the winter, it doesn’t taste right somehow” said Hilary after taking a large swallow of the cold beverage.
Cely nodded, “I agree.” Cely also took a sip and smiled at Rosa.
Rosa sat on the grass and looked towards the bay. She didn’t know how to start.
Hilary nudged her with her foot. “Alright my girl, what’s up?”
Rosa smiled and looked at the two women. She loved these two crazy ladies. They lived life on their terms. Rosa loved and admired them for that.
“I know this won’t sound crazy to you guys because of the spiritual stuff you deal with. But I’m having a hard time getting a grasp on it.”
Cely smiled at her and said “Well, start from the beginning. If we have a question, we’ll ask but otherwise we won’t interrupt.”
Rosa took a deep breath and began.
“The dreams began before I left school. They’re basically the same. I’ve gone into the deep woods. The trees are so tall I can’t see the tops of them. It’s dense too, the light is dim but I can still see. I get to a circular clearing. There’s the smell of fire smoke and pine trees. I always hear laughing but I don’t know where it’s coming from. I don’t feel as though they are laughing at me, it’s more like a celebration and people are laughing.”
“Do you know where this is happening?” asked Cely.
“I know it’s here somewhere. I feel it in my heart. What does it mean? I asked dad and he knew something but he couldn’t tell me. He said it’s different for everyone. What’s different? What’s going on?” Rosa asked.
Cely sat back and closed her eyes. Hilary was looking at the woods. Then they leaned into each other and started whispering. Rosa tried to hear what they were saying but it was impossible. When they stopped talking, they sat back and looked at Rosa.
Cely spoke first. “Well, it’s time for you, my girl, to make your first journey and become a woman of this tribe. We weren’t sure if you would be invited since you don’t live here all the time. Hilary felt you would though because you love your family and the land. We see it in your face when you’re here. Spirit is calling you Rosa and we need to prepare you. This journey will happen on your birthday and before the powwow. When you dance this year, it’ll have new meaning for you.” Cely smiled and blew Rosa a kiss.
Hilary stood up and said “Let’s go back inside, talk to grandma, and eat some lunch. We need to work on the powwow regalia some more. Cely and I will talk tonight and start to get things going.” Rosa stood and Hilary took Rosa’s hand in hers, “I’m proud of you and happy that you are going on this journey. It can change your life.”
Rosa looked towards the bay before going inside. She felt better knowing that it hadn’t been her imagination.
The 4th of July family picnic was a huge success. They had the powwow grounds all to themselves and it was a good thing too as everyone showed up. There was so much food, they could have eaten for days and still not eaten it all. Children were everywhere, running around and playing. There were several campfires going and the adults were in various groups, talking and eating. No alcohol was allowed since they were in the sacred space of the powwow grounds. It wasn’t missed.
Rosa’s attention was drawn to one end of the grounds; there was something there, like a shadow in the bushes but when she would look, there wasn’t anything there.
As the day wore on, Rosa decided to go down to the beach. She walked over to where grandma was reclining in her chaise chair. She was looking at everyone and smiling.
“Grandma, I’m going to walk to the beach. Is that ok?”
“Sure my girl. I’m going to nap for a bit now that I’m in the shade. Come wake me before it gets too late, I want to see the fireworks.” Grandma smiled. “Have fun and be careful.” “I will.”
Rosa walked over to their car, grabbed her towel off the hood and headed to the beach.
She took her time walking the dirt road. It was much quieter than the city but this area had its own sounds; frogs, birds, the water, the wind through the trees. It was peaceful.
Suddenly the hair on the back of her neck stood up, she felt someone watching her. She turned around slowly to look but there wasn’t anyone there. The pond was still and the wind had stopped. As she looked across the pond, she saw some bushes moving.
“Ok, that’s not right. There’s no wind and only those branches are moving” she thought to herself. Then they stopped. Slowly, she turned around and began walking faster to the beach.
“I’m imagining things. I’m so worked up about this whole dream thing that I’m seeing things. I’m going to have some fun and relax.” Rosa ran the rest of the way to the beach.
The fireworks across the bay were beautiful and reflected on the bays surface. The family was on the beach, laughing and enjoying each other. Rosa was having a great time but in the back of her mind she was thinking about what she had seen earlier.
The days passed quickly once the holiday was over. Lots of time was spent at grandma’s house; working on beading, ironing and getting everyone’s regalia together. Grandma was making Rosa some new moccasins as her feet had grown. Conversations were light and often funny; food was always available and people frequently stopped by to see how things were going or to ask for help with their outfits.
A few days before Rosa’s birthday, Hilary and grandma talked about the journey over some tea.
“Cely and I are taking Rosa for the day tomorrow. We’re going up to the point. It’s time to get her ready.” Hilary sipped her tea.
Grandma sighed. “I know. I wish I could go too but I but I have too much to finish up. How early should I have her up tomorrow?” Grandma poured another cup of tea.
“I’ll come get her around 7. We’ll pick up Cely on the way. Breakfast will be on the road. I want some good time up at the point. We should be home by dinner if all goes well.”
Hilary was there at 7:05. Rosa was waiting outside for her as grandma had gone back to sleep.
“Where are we going today auntie? Grandma wouldn’t tell me anything except that I had to be up early today.” It was hard to contain her energy.
Hilary smiled. “Well, after we pick up Cely, we’re going to have some breakfast up at Johnson’s restaurant. They have some great breakfast food. Then we’ll head up to the point. It’s time to begin the teachings for your journey.”
Rosa’s heart jumped! “What do you mean by teachings?”
“It’s the spiritual teachings about who we are as a tribe, who you are as a person and member of the tribe, and where we came from. But let’s wait for all that until after we eat. There’s Cely!” They saw her standing on her porch waving at them. They pulled up into her driveway. Cely got in the car and they drove off to the restaurant.
They could smell the bacon from the parking lot; they were all hungry now. Once inside, Cely picked a booth in the corner where they could talk in relative quiet.
Rosa asked “What do you recommend here? Everything looks good!”
Cely replied “I love the blueberry pancakes and bacon. I think I’ll have some apple juice and coffee too.”
“I’m having the eggs and french toast platter with some sausage and bacon with coffee.” Hilary said.
Rosa looked over everything, she noticed that they were eating on the heavy side and took the cue. “I think I’m going to have the same as Aunt Hilary. I’m hungry this morning.”
The waitress came and took their orders. She brought coffee which smelled wonderful and was freshly made. The three looked at each other while fixing their cups of coffee, wondering who would start talking first.
Cely laughed and said “Ok, I’ll start since no one else wants to. Rosa, we’re going to be doing some serious teachings today and you need to be focused and remember what we teach you. You have two days until your journey; it’s not much time.”
“What’s going to happen on my journey? Is it dangerous?” Rosa sounded anxious.
Hilary replied, “Don’t stress about this. The morning of your birthday, before dawn, we will pick you up and take you to a very special location up here near the point called The Estivant Pines. It’s a nature sanctuary and one of the last areas with virgin forest. It’s a very sacred place and our people protect it. That’s where you will be taking your journey.”
“What can I expect?” Rosa wanted to know everything now; she didn’t like being in the dark.
“Please my girl, relax” answered Cely. “You’ll know when it’s time. Have patience. I know it’s hard. These are ways that are as old as the Anishnabe people themselves; this is how it’s been handed down from generation to generation.”
Rosa sat back and sulked a little. The waitress brought the food and it looked wonderful. Rosa was suddenly very hungry. All three began to eat.
“If you feel yourself getting impatient Rosa, can I suggest something?” asked Hilary.
“Sure.” Rosa dove into her eggs.
“Close your eyes and feel the impatience inside you as though it were something tangible. Take a deep breath, hold it, then let it go and feel the impatience flow out of your body with the exhaled breath. Repeat it as many times as you need. This isn’t a time for feeling this way. It clouds your heart and mind, and makes you act without thinking. That could be very dangerous.” Hilary returned to her food.
With this information, Rosa realized this was going to be more than she ever dreamt. The word danger scared her a little bit, but she knew it was meant to do that. She knew her aunts would protect her, but she was going to have to step up and learn what she needed.
She ate her breakfast quietly, not really hearing her aunts’ talk and laugh. They knew she was processing the information so they let her alone with her thoughts.
After breakfast, they went up to the point. This is at the end of the “finger” that sticks out into Lake Superior. The main town is Copper Harbor and is a summer tourist place; in the winter it’s locked up and very few folks live there year round. They drove until they found a spot where a picnic bench was available with few people around. Cely sprinkled tobacco around the area where they would sit. Now it was sacred space. They spread out a blanket and Rosa sat down. Hilary and Cely sat on the bench.
“Did you bring the notebook we asked you to? Cely asked.
“Yes,” Rosa answered.
“Get it out now so you can write some notes for yourself. You won’t be allowed to take them with you on the journey but you can study them over the next few days.”
Rosa got her notebook and some pens out. She was ready.
“What do you know of our spiritual ways as of now?” Cely asked.
“Grandma tells me stories and I know what I heard at the powwow teachings. Our real name is Anishnabe, which means first people and we have been in Upper Michigan for a very long time. The four directions have special meanings and we have clans. We are Loon and Eagle clan”
“What do you know of the 4 directions and their meanings?” asked Hilary.
“East is the beginning and the season is spring. South is summer, west is fall, and north is winter. That’s it.”
Cely began; “Since you know the East as the beginning, we’ll start there. The East is the source of knowledge. It is where you pay listen to what Mother Earth has to tell you. The element associated with it is Air. The herb of the East is Tobacco. We use this to carry our prayers up to Great Spirit. The smoke is your thoughts and prayers made visible.”
“The South is the land of birth and growth. It is where the birds go in the winter and when they return, they carry seeds to help replenish the land. The herb of the South is Cedar and the element is Fire. We use Cedar to purify our bodies from disease and protect it from evil or negative energies. This is why it is used in the sweat lodge.”
Cely nodded to Hilary and she began to speak; “The next direction is the West. This is the direction of the setting sun and beyond here the spirits have their home. Do not fear them; this is where you can learn about things that are not of this world. The element is Water. The herb of the West is Sage. This purifies the body and your surroundings. It is why we smudge homes with Sage. It gets rid of the negative energies left by others.”
“The last direction is the North. This is the home of Bear Power and Medicine. Bear is the guardian of plant medicine and those cures for humans. When you see the Northern Lights that is when Bear Power is strongest. Earth is the element here. The herb for the North is Sweetgrass. This was the first plant to grow on Mother Earth. We braid it as you would braid your mother’s hair. The smoke keeps evil away from you and your home; it also protects you when you travel.”
“Did you get all that?” asked Cely.
“I think so.” Rosa replied. “Give me a minute to make sure before we go on.”
After a few minutes of writing, Rosa said “Ok, I think I have it. Keep going.”
Cely nodded her head. “Now we move to the Spiritual Home of the Anishnabe- Madeline Island. It lies on the northern side of the point, close to Ashland, Wisconsin. This is why most of the major ceremonies are held in Ashland. When our people migrated from the East, they felt pulled to this particular place. Madeline Island is where the Midewiwin Lodge began and the waterdrum sounded. It’s important for you to know the island name and why it is significant.”
“Are you ready for the next bit of information?” Hilary asked.
Hilary began; “As you know, our ancestors are very important to us. We learn from their stories. They watch over us and guide us when we feel lost or confused. In looking back, we also look forward. We believe that all we do is for and will influence the next seven generations. This is why we must take care of our earthly home. If we do not do this for our own sakes, we must for those who will follow us. The old ways had separate men’s and women’s teachings. Women’s teachings were not about keeping house and all that nonsense you hear from new age books. Women’s teachings were about the special kinds of power we hold in our bodies. We create life. We birth it, we feed it, we tend to the ill, and we bury the dead. It is women who feel the emotional heart of Mother Earth. Men have their own power and their own lessons. Your father, if he chooses, can share what he learned with you. The Jewish people also separated men’s and women’s teachings and have reverence for the ancestors. It’s important to see where you are from so you can decide where you want to go. Does that make sense?”
“Yes it does. Mom tells me all the time that I come from a long line of strong and stubborn women.” Rosa said. They all laughed.
“Yes, we are mighty warriors at times!” Cely said while laughing.
After they settled down, Cely spoke: “The last thing we have to teach you is about the Sacred Shell. After Gitchi Manito created the earth, all the plants and animals were complete and living in harmony. He then decided to take part of his own spirit and make it into physical form. He took 4 parts of Mother earth, one from each direction, and blew into them using a sacred shell. From this union of earth and breath, man was created. This shell is called Megis and also known as a Cowrie shell. We use these shells for many things; on regalia, or in ceremony, they can also be seen in the dreamtime. But always they remind us of our origin and history and that we are sacred beings and part of the creator.”
Rosa smiled. “I’ve always loved those shells.” Hilary and Cely smiled.
“All right my dear. Now it’s time for you to go sit and digest what we have told you. There’s a nice beach over that way where you’ll find a place. We’re going to go into Copper Harbor and get some lunch to bring back. We’ll take our time. You need to process and meditate. Stay on the beach and we’ll find you. Ok?” asked Hilary.
“Ok. Can I have some water?”
“Sure! Take these bottles. Watch the waves and listen to the lake. He might share more with you if he’s in the mood.” said Hilary.
Rosa took the water bottles, her notebook and pens, the blanket and walked to the beach. When she finally went out of sight Cely and Hilary hugged each other. Things were going well so far. They packed up the rest of their items, got into the car and drove off without saying a word.
Rosa arranged herself on the beach and sat down. She didn’t know where to start, her mind was racing. She grabbed her notebook and looked at the information. There was so much here!
“Ok, how would I arrange this if I was taking a test and had a lot of information but didn’t know what questions were going to be asked” she thought.
“I would start with breaking it into chunks and work on it little by little.”
Rosa worked for several hours on the teachings. She would get up and read, walk around and read, then say it out loud to make sure she got it all. Now she was tired and her eyes hurt a bit. She decided to relax and listen to the water.
She sat on the blanket and watched the waves. Her mind slowed down, her breathing relaxed. Everything was peaceful and she lay down on her side so she could see the waves. She fell asleep.
In her dream, she walked along the shore of a lake. It was cool and rainy with some fog. Looking down, she saw the faint remnants of a path leading away from the lake into the woods. As she looked, she heard a quiet but clear voice singing-
“The path begins at the water’s edge It leads you to the ivy hedge To enter the grove and be safe from fright One must be there at dawns first light Answer the riddle in a whisper clear Or otherwise face your darkest fear **A speck of green in a sea of blue I am the heart that still rings true Spirit lives here all year round Come listen to the drumming sound”
The voice seemed to be coming from all around her. She looked up and saw the trees, dark and tall. The fog was rolling out of the woods like balls, bouncing along the water’s edge. It was spooky here and she began to feel anxious.
She walked on the path to the edge of the trees and looked in. There seemed to be something dark further in but she couldn’t make out what it was. Then she was swept back into the real world with a jolt and back on the beach. This time she remembered not only the dream but the song too. She heard her aunts walking towards her. They were laughing.
“Ah”, cried Hilary, “the look on your face tells me you got some information in the Dreamtime. Am I right?”
“YES!” cried Rosa. “I remember it all for the first time! Let me tell you about it.”
“No, no” interrupted Cely. “That was for you and you alone. That dream is your key to what will happen. Write down what you remember then close the notebook. Then we’ll eat since its well past lunch time. We can answer questions about the earlier information if you have any. We’ll do something fun before heading back to grandma’s for dinner.”
Rosa felt her stomach growl as though she hadn’t eaten all day and quickly wrote down the strange song she had heard. Cely and Hilary brought sandwiches, fruit, drinks, and some wonderful chocolate candies for a small dessert.
After the meal, they packed up and got into the car to head back towards Baraga. They stopped in Houghton and window shopped for a while. Rosa loved the large drawbridge that separated Houghton and Hancock. She took some pictures of it.
Cely called grandma while Rosa was taking her pictures. “Hey Nita, want us to pick up something for dinner on our way back? We’re in Houghton right now.”
“Sure! I didn’t plan anything since I didn’t know when you would be back. You know what I like, surprise me.” She sounded like she had been napping.
“All right. I’ll call you when we’re on the way.” Cely hung up and walked over to Hilary and Rosa. “She wants us to pick out what we’re having for dinner. What are you two in the mood for?”
The three stopped at the grocery store and picked up some items for a pasta and salad dinner. No one talked about the day. Then they were off to grandmas for dinner, and then maybe watch a movie and rest for the night.
Rosa lay on her bed that night with the song stuck in her head. She couldn’t figure out the riddle. She knew it was a location but where?
Morning came and Rosa had not slept much. She had tossed and turned, the dream coming and going in her mind. She got up and took a shower to clear her head. Now hungry and craving coffee, she went into the kitchen. Grandma was there, fixing her breakfast. The coffee smelled good.
“Good morning my girl! Oh, you look terrible! I know you were up half the night. Cely and Hilary left instructions that you are to take today and rest. You have a very early day tomorrow. They’re coming to get you at 3 am.” Grandma set her food down and sat at the table.
“What? Why so early?” Rosa cried.
“Well, they have to drive up to the point again and you know how long that takes. You must be ready and in place before dawn. It comes early you know this time of year”, grandma explained. Rosa took her coffee and sat down across from her grandmother. She was concerned.
“Grandma, do I have to do this tomorrow? Would all of you be mad or disappointed if I stopped this?” Rosa asked.
“Rosa honey, listen to me. Of course we wouldn’t be mad or anything if you chose to stop. You always have freedom of choice in these things. Sometimes people are not as ready as we think or want them to be. That’s what today is for. It’s time for you to decide if this is something you want to do. We can’t pressure you, we can only help and support your choices. You won’t be seeing your aunties today. I’m calling them at 7 tonight to let them know what you have decided. Then we’ll go from there.” Grandma smiled at her.
“Will there be any consequences if I don’t go through with this? Can I do this some other year?” Rosa asked.
“The only consequences will be that you return home the same as when you left it. As far as another time, I don’t know. As we get older, the journeys change. It wouldn’t be the same one you are being given tomorrow. Now have some coffee and breakfast. I, too, am to let you be today. I can drive you to the beach or somewhere else if you like, let me know. Otherwise, I’m going to be working on the regalia and beading.”
Grandma stood up, walked over to her and bent over to kiss the top of her head and hug her gently. Rosa closed her eyes and hugged back. She felt reassured that it really was her choice. Now all she had to do was decide.
Rosa spent most of the day in her room, thinking through it all. She read her notes over and over. She puzzled over the riddle, wondering what it meant. She wanted to call Hilary or Cely but she couldn’t. She had to think this out for herself.
By late morning, she had decided to go through with the ceremony. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity she was being given and she wasn’t going to turn it down. She was a little afraid, who wouldn’t be? She liked knowing all the details. But she also remembered something her dad had said about the hero’s journey. They never knew what would happen; there would be no point in doing it if one knew the outcome. The answers come from the journey itself. And so she was set to make her own journey tomorrow.
Afternoon came and she was still stuck on the riddle. She sat at her desk and turned on the computer to check her email. ‘Maybe if I get my mind off it for a while it will come to me’, she thought. While she waited for the computer to boot up, she looked at the large map on the wall of Lake Superior.
Her eyes looked at the point. She got up to look closer. There was Copper Harbor. And there was the Estivant Pines Natural Sanctuary. She followed the shoreline down on the northern side of the point. She hadn’t been there. She was wondering why no one had taken her there when she spotted the islands in the lake.
They were the Apostle Islands, and there it was- Madeline Island. What was it they told her about that place? She grabbed her notes and looked through them: ’the spiritual home of the Anishnabe; the start of the Midewiwin lodge; the waterdrum sounded here.’
Wait a minute! Rosa got very excited! She knew the answer to the riddle! ’A speck of green in a sea of blue. The heart that rings true. Spirit lives here. The drumming sound.’ The answer was Madeline Island! Of course, it all made sense! She was ready.
Rosa woke at 2 am. She hadn’t slept much, she was too excited. She had no clue what was going to happen today but she was ready.
Grandma told her to dress warm as it was cool, cloudy and very foggy. ‘Good between weather’ she said. Rosa didn’t know what that meant but she would soon find out. She brought some extra clothes and her notes so she could go over them in the car. Grandma had a little breakfast ready for her. Some toast, jam, tea, and an apple.
“No meat this morning my girl. On ceremony days we do not eat flesh so our spirits will be clear. We’ll eat more once you’re back. You’ll be very hungry.”
“Thank you, grandma. I’m too excited to eat more than this anyway.”
Grandma looked at Rosa. If all went well, she would be coming back a changed woman. Grandma’s eyes filled with tears.
“Grandma, are you ok? Rosa asked. She went over to her and clasped her hands.
“Oh, I’ll be fine. Happy birthday! You’re 16 years old today and such a wonderful young woman. I can’t believe you are the same little baby I held so many years ago.”
Rosa hugged her. They loved each other deeply. Suddenly, there was a car honk outside.
“That’s Cely and Hilary. You better get your stuff and go. You have a long drive and in this fog it will be slower than normal. I love you my girl, don’t forget that!”
“I love you too grandma! I’ll be fine; I know it in my heart.”
And with that, Rosa grabbed her bag and went out the door into the early morning. Grandma watched from her window as they drove off.
“Gitchi Manito, please keep them all safe today. I love them so much. Migwitch!” she prayed.
The drive up took only a little bit longer than normal. The fog seemed to clear in front as they drove and would close around in back of them. It was as though it was letting only them through on this morning, they saw no other cars in either direction.
Once they got to the turn-off for the Estivant, Hilary stopped the car. Cely was in the front passenger seat and turned to talk to Rosa; “Ok my girl. We’re getting ready to drive in. This is your last chance to stop. Once we’re on the road, you must not speak until it is time for you to do so. Listen to your heart. We will give you some final instructions once there and then you are on your own. Do we go forward or turn back?”
“We go forward” Rosa replied.
With that, Hilary drove into the sanctuary.
It was darker here than on the road. The fog was everywhere. Hilary had the fog lights on so she could see the road. It was slow going.
After about 10 minutes, they pulled into a small parking lot area. This is where the hiking trails begin. It was also where Rosa would start her journey. They got out of the car, Hilary popped the trunk hood.
“Cely, get your blankets and thermos out now so the trunk shutting won’t disturb Rosa. Grab my polar coat too please?”
She turned to Rosa; “Here’s a small flashlight; keep it pointed to the ground so you don’t ruin your night vision or disturb other creatures. There will come a time when you can turn it off, you’ll know when. Leave your notes in the car. Cely’s staying in the car since it’s too chilly for her. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Rosa opened her mouth to ask what she meant but Hilary put her hand over her mouth. “No talking remember? Not until you need to. Let’s get Cely bundled up and then we’re off.”
They got Cely comfortable in the car. She grabbed Rosa’s hand and kissed it. “I love you my girl. Happy Birthday and I hope this journey is all you hoped for. I will see you in a while.”
Rosa smiled at her and nodded her head yes.
“Ok, let’s go! Turn on the flashlight; point it at the ground first. We’ll walk slowly; the ground is soft and damp.” Hilary walked ahead but needed no light.
After a few minutes, Rosa looked back to see if she could see the car. It was gone in the darkness.
“Rosa, come on” Hilary said quietly.
They came to the edge of a lake. It was grayish black and still, like a dark mirror. There were no sounds other than what they were making. Rosa shivered a bit, whether from cold or fear she didn’t know.
“Rosa” Hilary whispered, “This is where we part ways. I know you dreamt this place and heard the song. Nod your head if understand.”
Rosa nodded. She thought to herself ’how does she know that? I didn’t tell either of them about the song!’ This is what made her aunts different in many ways, they walked with spirit. They knew things others did not. It’s why they were Midewin.
“Play the song in your head now. It will tell you what to do and where to go. It’s important to know that nothing can harm you if you are open, humble and honest with yourself. Ego will get you in trouble. If you do get into trouble, I will come for you. Otherwise, I will wait for you. Are you ok to do this?”
Rosa nodded yes. “Then turn around and begin your journey.”
Rosa turned around and faced the lake. The flashlight was on and pointed to the ground. It wasn’t a very strong one, only enough to light the path like a candle. She turned to look at Hilary but she was gone. Rosa hadn’t heard her leave. She was alone in the darkness. Forward was the only choice.
Rosa walked slowly into the fog being very careful to avoid getting too close to the water’s edge. She started humming the song in her head, trying not to sing it out loud.
‘The path begins at the water’s edge, it leads you to the ivy hedge’ she thought. She knew she only had to walk around the lake edge and there would be the path veering into the woods. She walked slowly but more confidently now. She had been here.
Almost there….there it was! The path turned towards the trees. Carefully now she stepped, the grass was damp with dew. The fog seemed to create a tunnel of sorts now; she could see back and forwards only about 20 feet. There was no noise; the area was still asleep. She was at the edge of the woods. She wanted to shine the flashlight in but she couldn’t. She turned it off and stepped into the woods.
As soon as she stepped through the trees, she heard faint noises. Some birds chirping, squirrels scampering in the trees, other creatures rousing from their slumbers. It felt different here. The first faint light of dawn was beginning to show. She must hurry to the hedge; she had to be there before sunup.
With her eyes adjusted to the darkness and the faint light of dawn, she could see the hedge not far away. The path was clearer now; she kept moving, the sun was rising.
At the hedge, she stopped. She wanted to say that she was here. After what seemed like forever, she heard a faint sound like laughing in the distance. She knew that laugh!! She had heard it before and it was coming closer.
Rosa heard movement on the other side of the hedge. The laughter was mixed with the sound of talking. Rosa shook from excitement. ‘Who is over there?’ she wanted to cry out! She stayed silent.
A pale white glow came from within the hedge in front of her. A voice rang out: “A speck of green in a sea of blue. I am the heart that still rings true. Spirit lives here all year round. Come listen to the drumming sound. What am I?”
Rosa took a breath and said quietly “Madeline Island; the spiritual home of the Anishnabe people.”
The glow grew brighter and the branches of the hedge began to part. Soon a doorway appeared and she heard the voice say: “Come in and be welcome, daughter.”
Rosa stepped through.
Back at the car and on the path, both Hilary and Cely smiled to themselves. Grandma, who was sitting at the dining room table doing beadwork, looked out the window. She smiled too.
Rosa stepped into bright sunshine, lush green trees and a feeling of life all around her. She was in a grove where everything seemed to shimmer in the light. Looking around, she was awestruck by the pure beauty of it all. She looked across the grove and saw an animal coming towards her. As it came closer, she realized that she knew this beast. It was Pickles, her white tiger! But how can that be? He was a stuffed animal at home on her bed. As he came up to her, she called out “Pickles?”
“Yes, it is me” he replied.
“How is this possible?” she asked.
He smiled, “I am alive in your thoughts and so I am alive here. This place is alive in your dreamtime as well. We are on Madeline Island and you have a journey to take. I am your guide and guardian. Come, let us go. We don’t want to keep the others waiting.”
He rubbed against her legs and purred loudly. Rosa laughed as she petted her friend. He turned to go back where he had come from and said “Follow me my girl!” Off they walked across the grove.
Once they were in the trees, they followed a smooth path towards the beach. Rosa wanted to ask a thousand questions but she knew they wouldn’t be answered now. She had to be more patient.
Once on the beach, Pickles stopped. He looked at her, “Have a seat on the log over there. Someone will be along shortly. I will be in the tree line keeping watch.” He rubbed against her, and then walked away. She went and sat down.
It wasn’t long before she heard movement through the trees on her left. She looked and saw a large dark shape coming towards her. Once it broke through the trees, she saw it was a large dark brown bear! It came to the beach and sat down on her left in the sand. Rosa was shaking a little and didn’t know what to do. The bear looked at her and smiled warmly.
“Relax Rosa; I’m here with gifts for you. I am Ursa. I live here with Pickles; I’m your Aunt Hilary’s medicine helper. Please open the bag on my side and take out the four bundles.”
Rosa did as asked and placed the bundles on the log next to her. “You can open them now. Start with the yellow, then the red, black and white ones.”
Rosa opened the yellow bundle and found a tobacco twist. She smelled it; earthy, sweet and nothing like cigarettes. This was the real thing. The red bundle contained cedar branches; the black contained sage and the white was sweetgrass. “These are the sacred herbs; tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass and sage. We use these in ceremonies and to cleanse ourselves and our homes” Rosa explained.
“Those are yours to keep. Now, it’s time for you to walk the path to the next group of rocks. There you can sit and wait for the next helper to arrive. I am always here if you need me. Happy birthday!” Ursa walked over to Rosa and hugged her in a warm embrace, and then she walked back into the woods. Rosa watched and felt a sense of love for the great creature. Pickles came over to her; “Let’s go Rosa” Rosa tied up the bundles again and placed them in the bag that Ursa had left for her. Rosa and Pickles then walked the path together.
They came to an outcropping of rocks and in the middle was a small sandy circle. Rosa sat on one of the stones while Pickles waited just on the outside of the circle. Rosa was listening for another animal to come out of the woods so she didn’t see or hear the huge eagle as it flew over her head. She was looking towards the woods when the eagle spoke.
“Rosa, look this way” the eagle said. Rosa jumped and spun her head around. She saw the eagle looking right at her and for a moment, she swore it was smiling at her. “I am smiling at you. My name is Star. I am here to give you another gift. Look at the ground.”
Rosa saw a package on the ground wrapped in some beautiful purple fabric. As she unwrapped, she realized the fabric was actually a shawl like the women wear for powwow. The long fringe was also purple. There were no decorations on it but it was still beautiful.
“The shawl is yours and the decorations are yours to design and place on it.” Rosa smiled. Once the shawl was open, she found a beautiful cowrie shell necklace inside. “It’s so pretty!” she cried. She put the necklace on. Tears fell on her cheeks. She looked up at Star.
“I’m glad you think so. These gifts will always be a reminder for you of who you are and where you come from. I must leave now. If you follow the path along the beach, it will take you back to the grove. Be well my sister!” With that, Star spread her wings and flew up into the sky. Rosa watched until she could no longer see her. Pickles came over and rubbed against her legs. Rosa wrapped the bag in the shawl and carried it close to her chest. “We must go now” said Pickles.
They walked along the path and were just heading back into the woods when they heard several loud gunshot blasts come from where they had just been. Rosa immediately dropped the shawl bundle and ran back to the circle. Pickled followed her.
As they came around to the outcropping, they saw a man shooting up into the sky. Rosa looked up and saw Star circling around trying to avoid the bullets. She looked down and saw Ursa lying on the sand with a wound in her side. There was blood all over the sand. Rosa got very angry and ran towards the hunter, yelling “Stop it! STOP!”
She tackled the man and both fell on the ground. “Hey, what the hell are you doing?! Leave me alone you crazy thing! I have a right to kill whatever I want!”
Rosa and the man struggled for control of the gun. He was much larger than her but she used that to her advantage. She used her martial arts knowledge and soon had him yelling in pain. She leaped up and grabbed his rifle. She swung it down and broke it into pieces on the rocks. She turned to the man; “What do you think you’re doing here? This is a sacred area, these animals are sacred! You can’t do this!!! I’ll report you to the authorities! Get out of here NOW!!!” He turned and ran down the beach and out of sight.
Rosa turned and knelt down by Ursa’s side. Tears streamed down her face as she checked the wound. “Ursa! Ursa! Are you ok? Please talk to me! Please God, let her be okay!”
Ursa lifted her head and looked at Rosa. “I’m all right my girl. You saved me. You saved us all.” She rose up on her legs and nudged Rosa’s face. Star landed on a rock near Rosa and said “Well done! You showed a great deal of courage and bravery! You fought for what you believed in. We are all very proud of you!”
Rosa stood up. “What? This wasn’t real? Was this part of the journey?” She was confused.
Pickles, Ursa and Star, who rode on Ursa’s back; led Rosa back to the clearing where she had first met Pickles. It was no longer empty but filled with people and animals. Her mind didn’t recognize anyone but her heart did; these were her ancestors. They stood and smiled at her. As she walked with Pickles at her side, some of the people reached out to her. She took their hands and they said “Migwitch”.
They stopped in the center of the grove and Rosa sat on a log. Pickles lay down at her feet. The drummers began to play and the people sang a song in a language older than time. Tears flowed down Rosa’s cheeks. Her mind didn’t need to know the words, this was a song of thanksgiving and it was for her. She bowed her head in grateful prayer.
The smell of cedar and sweetgrass filled her nostrils and she knew she was being smudged. She looked up and saw an old woman’s face in front of her. The woman smiled and Rosa’s heart filled with love. She had never known any feeling like this before; she knew that this was the love of Spirit, of unconditional love. Tears continued to roll down her cheeks. As they looked at each other, the woman’s face changed. It became another woman’s face, younger this time. Rosa continued to watch as she morphed into many women’s faces, including her aunts Hilary and Cely, her grandmother, and finally her mother’s face.
“We are proud of you my girl. You faced the unknown with courage, prepared yourself as asked, and when confronted with a challenge, you rose and fought for what is right, even putting your life in danger. You are now a woman and can return to the world a changed person.”
“Can I ever come back here?” Rosa asked.
“Of course you can. The way will always be open to you now in the dreamtime and in your meditations. When it is time for your next journey, you will come here again as well. Listen to your heart and you will hear us speak to you. It is time for you to go back now. Your loved ones await you.” With that, the woman faded away and Pickles was looking at her.
“Are you ready?” Pickles asked.
“Yes, I think I am. I feel sad to be leaving here.” Rosa tried to memorize everything she saw, picked up the shawl bundle and held it close to her chest.
“Don’t worry Rosa, we’re always with you.” Pickles rubbed against her legs and purred loudly. Then he nudged her back to the hedge. Rosa saw the opening there and stopped.
“Pickles, how can I ever thank you enough for walking beside me?” Rosa dropped to her knees and hugged the tiger with all her might. When they parted, she saw tears rolling down his face.
“I love you too Rosa. Now go before it is too late.” He turned and ran into the trees. Rosa turned around and walked through the hedge where her family was waiting.
The light of morning hit her eyes as she stepped through the hedge. There was no fog and it was warmer now. Rosa felt dizzy but she took a deep breath and felt better.
“Rosa! Over here!”
Rosa looked and saw Hilary standing by the lakes edge. She noticed that she was on the other side of the lake from where she entered. Hilary was right where she said she would be; at the end. Rosa’s heart lifted seeing her aunt. She ran over to her and gave her a big hug! They both laughed as they hugged even tighter.
“Well, it seems you had a good time in there!”
“Oh god, auntie! It was amazing! I don’t think I could describe it!”
“You aren’t meant to dear one. Let’s get back to the car. Cely wants to see you and we need to get home so grandma can celebrate too. You can show us the gifts once we’re back at the house.”
With that, they walked back to the car and Cely. She was smiling as she saw the two of them come around the edge. More hugs, tears and laughter came before they got into the car.
Rosa stared out the window as they drove back. So much to process, she felt full. Her eyes threatened to close time and again; finally winning. She slept.
“Rosa! Wake up! We’re here!” Cely called.
With a start, she woke up and looked around. She was disoriented for a minute; she had been back in the grove. Grandma was coming towards the car.
“Grandma!” Rosa cried.
She ran out of the car and into grandma’s arms. Finally, they separated and grandma said “well, my dear. You are a woman now. I’m so proud of you! Let’s go inside.”
Cely spoke: “One thing Rosa; process what happened to you for a while. We can answer questions but don’t rush this part. Take your time.”
With that, the women went inside to eat, and to see what Rosa had brought back from her journey.
The powwow came a week later and Rosa danced with the Traditional Women for the first time. She stood alongside her aunts and grandmother. As they filed into the arena, tears of joy filled Rosa’s eyes. Never had she been so proud to be where she was. She felt so connected to everyone. The whole family had come to see her in her first Grand Entry. She saw their faces in the crowd, smiling and waving at her.
Rosa danced all 3 days of the powwow. She even learned to dance the two-step and entered the Midnight two-Step competition. She and her partner came in 2nd place. She ate fry bread and Indian tacos, shopped along vendor’s row and walked the beach. Powwow came and went; the weeks flew by and soon it was time for to leave. School would be starting in a week.
Grandma, Cely and Hilary drove her to the airport in Marquette. All along the way, they did the same things they always did but Rosa felt differently this time. She was being treated as ‘one of the women’ and not as a young girl anymore. It felt good.
Inside the airport, they hugged and said their farewells. Grandma was last.
“I love you so much my girl. I’m proud of you and I know your parents will be too. I wish you could stay here longer but its ok, I’ll be out there for the winter in a few months and we can do our thing some more.”
Rosa replied “Grandma, I love you too! Thank you for such a wonderful summer! I have no words for what it means to me.”
They looked at each other for a moment and smiled. Rosa then picked up her bags and got on the plane.
“Well” said Cely, “that was fun. I’m so proud of her. She’s an amazing young woman! Adam and Rachel will be proud too! I miss her already!”
They stayed to watch the plane take off. The three women had tears on their faces as the plane lifted off and disappeared into the clouds.
Rosa went up the escalator to the main floor of the airport; she was excited to see her parents. She had been glad to be home before, but today was different.
As she stepped off the escalator, she searched the crowd for Adam and Rachel. She spotted them first and smiled. Her dad was looking for her; she saw him differently too. She knew something of the journey he had gone on in his youth. Rachel was next to Adam. Rosa felt a deeper kinship to her parents. The ancestral lines she had witnessed made her feel so much; she had only begun to process the impact on her mind and heart. She walked forward and they saw her.
“Mom! Dad!” Rosa cried out.
Rachel ran over and hugged her deeply.
“Oh god I missed you so much! I’m so happy to see you!” Rachel was crying.
“I’m happy to be home too mom.” Rosa smiled at her mother.
“Hey, it’s my turn!” Adam said. Rosa let go of Rachel and turned to hug her father. She felt the tears on his face.
“Hey dad, I missed you,” Rosa whispered.
“I missed you too sweetie,” Adam whispered back.
They pulled apart and looked at each other. Adam held her hand as they turned to go to the baggage claim area. Rachel walked ahead of them.
“Dad, I think we can talk now about our journeys. I would love to hear about yours.”
“Yes, my girl. We can definitely talk about it. Grandma, Cely and Hilary filled us in on some of it and let us know you were ok. Let’s get home and eat. We can talk tonight. It’s warm out and we can sit on the back patio under the stars.”
Rosa walked with her father over to the baggage carousel where Rachel waited for them. Rosa had stepped into a new world where the possibilities were endless. It was going to get interesting indeed and Rosa was quite happy about it.