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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Springtime snooze

BY Xavier Kataquapit Apr 10, 2021

It’s getting warmer outside, and I’ve taken the time to get my deck chairs out to sit under the warmth of the sun. After a strange winter of seeing the inside my house all the time due to the pandemic restrictions, it feels good to be under a clear blue sky again in the backyard. 

Something as simple yet as precious as the warmth of the sun on my face as I lay back in my deck chair brought back memories of my youth in Attawapiskat. I thought about those times under a warm spring sun surrounded by melting snow. I recalled going out on the land with my father Marius and my brothers or my cousins to places like Nawashi River, the birthplace of my mother and her family. When we arrived there at the start of the goose hunting season in late March there was still a winter-like landscape. But within a week or two, the ever-brightening spring sun quickly turned the snow into melting ice and water. 

During the annual goose hunt we would space each other about a kilometre or two apart in blinds we built in the slushy snow next to ponds and marshland. We knew that Niska, the Cree word for goose, would be coming the grasslands soon to be freed from their winter blanket. We dug out our blinds with shovels and then lined the spot with brush and twigs. Next, we lay down fresh cut pine boughs that would keep us dry and cozy for hours. A layer of tall dry yellowed grass was then laid on top to camouflage the dark green boughs. From the vantage point of a goose flying overhead, the blind blended into the melting snowy landscape. 

The design was practical because the raised walls blocked the wind, and the dry cushion of branches, pine boughs and grass made an excellent bed to rest on. With a thick layer of winter wear, parkas and snow pants, it was possible to lay back and enjoy a restful sleep in the warmth of the spring sun. 

We always did our best to get to our blinds early. These first few hours of daylight were very active for migrating geese. The geese also flew later in the day closer to dusk. The least desired time of the day for hunting were the midday hours. As the sun rose high overhead it would get warmer as the landscape of water, snow and ice lit up. During midday the geese would stop flying close to the ground. Still, now and then we would hear the distant honking of geese flying high above us as specs in the blue sky. 

Midday was our snooze time in the sun. To get comfortable I would arrange my blind to stretch out, lay down a thick parka over the grass and pine boughs then position myself facing the sun. I would usually have a good supply of bannock and a thermos of hot tea. It wouldn’t take long for me to fall asleep.

My dad had told me stories of my grandfather James goose hunting on the land long ago. He noted that back then hunters didn’t spend much time in their blinds because they had to keep going back to their camps for food and water. In those days, hunters had few supplies to comfort them so they wouldn’t stay in one blind for long. That story made me appreciate my warm, down-filled parka, waterproof boots and pants, and ample food and drink. 

Blinds today are a lot more luxurious, and many hunters even bring satellite phones or GPS units in case of emergencies as they hunt in remote wilderness areas. They have the latest in clothing, hunting gear, and sustenance for the day. 

At one point in the middle of my snooze on my deck chair in the backyard I woke to the call of a flock of geese flying by and expected to find myself back on the James Bay coast in a blind. I half expected the familiar flutter of heavy wings buffeting the air as a goose prepared to land. I thought of how my dad would have scolded me for falling asleep if he came by to check on me in the blind. That put a smile on my face.

Back in my backyard reality, I was happy to feel the warmth of the sun and the comfort of my memories during a little snooze. 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.