Falling Star got up earlier than usual from her pallet in the great longhouse she shared with the rest of the Eagle Clan. She was brimming with excitement and hurried to complete her preparations for the camas harvesting expedition she was going on. All the other women were also rousing themselves and getting up. They were going to be spending the next two days on the annual camas harvesting, now that the camas flowers had done to seed. The harvesting was done by pairs or small groups of women, who would fan out across the great, rolling meadows that surrounded their territory. Dotted with the characteristic oak trees that co-exist in camas meadows, the ground was occasionally broken by rocky up-thrusts of the shallow bedrock. In the meadows, the women would harvest the camas by uprooting the plants and slicing off the precious bulbs, stowing them in the cedar-plaited baskets worn on their backs.
This was the first time that Falling Star wasn’t going to just be accompanying her mother or her aunts, and she felt almost grown up with the responsibility. Plus, she’d have two whole days with her best friend, Starlight, who lived in the neighboring village. Starlight was also a member of the Eagle Clan, and they were both being trained as healers, since the two of them came from a long line of shamans and medicine women. As much as she liked learning all about the ways to heal sicknesses and bind wounds, Falling Star also enjoyed the simple, laborious task of gathering camas bulbs.
She packed up her supply of baskets, along with some food for a couple of days; smoked salmon, oolichans and bright red huckleberries. She had her cutting knife that she’d be using in the camas meadows, and a few other more general purpose implements, a sleeping roll, and for fire, a slate lined basket that contained a glowing coal that was nesting on the center of some damp moss. Falling Star loaded everything into the canoe she had been told to use. She pushed off from the gently sloping beach and guided her small craft out of the bay and into the sheltered harbor. Paddling up into the harbor reaches, past the rocky crags she admired how the smooth red trunks of the arbutus trees stood out in marked contrast to the deep shiny green of their leaves. Staying close to shore, she soon saw her friend, Starlight, who was making her way to the small, pebbly beach that was their meeting place. Falling Star expertly brought the canoe in, just barely grounding it on the beach so that Starlight could load her things without getting wet. The two girls greeted each other excitedly, talking over each others’ sentences, which caused them to break into peals of laughter. “Oh Starlight, it’s so good to see you, again! This is going to be fun!” “I know, Falling Star, ever since my grandmother gave her permission, I’ve been looking forward to it. And no more memorizing and lessons for the next couple of days!” said Starlight in return.
Starlight got everything stowed away and took her place at the bow, after giving the canoe a hearty push and swinging her lithe young body into the craft. She had brought her own paddle, of course, and was soon settling into a good steady rhythm that worked for both of them. She turned her head around, and said, “Let’s pick up the pace so we can get through the Cammusack narrows before the tide turns. Otherwise we’ll have to wait.” Falling Star didn’t need much encouragement, since she didn’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of the reversing falls either. The place was mysterious and full of strange magic and they both wanted to get through it quickly. It was the spot where the harbor tightened down to a narrow passageway, beyond which lay the more expansive waterway, leading to the upper reaches of Portage Inlet, where they were headed. When the tide turned, the water surged through the gap, creating a waterfall effect that was too strong for even the mightiest warriors to paddle through. The girls starting singing a paddling song and the canoe darted forward as if it had wings. Falling Star guided them into the center of the flow, just as they felt the almost imperceptible shift of the water, so close beneath their thighs. “Come on”, she yelled, “Give it everything you’ve got!” Both girls were really digging in on each stroke, keeping up the momentum as best they could. But with each stroke, the force of the water grew more and more intense and the canoe started to slow down. It was as if invisible fingers were reaching up through the cold grey water to grab the canoe. Starlight managed to find an untapped reserve of strength and started to pick up her rhythm a little, which sparked the competitive urge in Falling Star to do the same. Slowly, they began to pick up speed and gain back the momentum they had lost. With a final mighty effort they suddenly broke through the narrows, with a spurt of speed that really did make it feel like they were flying, or at least about to lift off the water like the geese and swans that scattered before them. The girls whooped in glee as they realized they had won the race with the rising tide. Now that they were able to relax, they began to talk, picking up a conversation that had been dropped some two moons ago, when they had last spent any time together.
David Trudel © 2012