My partner Misty is moving up to the Chequamegon Bay. The news here isn’t that we’re getting back together—we never entirely broke up—but that Misty is moving house in the middle of a global pandemic.
Back in August, when I started recounting my summer here, I was playing a little trick on myself. Since summer of 2017, I had been meaning to write something about the traditional Ojibwe fast that I went on that May. But at the time, I found it just too big a project to tackle, and I punted it. This past May, I went on another fast, and I knew that if I promised to tell about my entire summer, I would eventually force myself to write about the summer’s fast, which in turn would make me tell about my fast in 2017.
Today is February ninth. On this morning bright with sunlight off the snow, I put on my boots and coat and carried my wooden turtle out to the woods behind the house I live in now. I walked over the narrow, handmade bridge over the creek, my feet elevated a foot and a half above the deck on hard-packed old snow, and sat down on one of the stumps that serve for steps on the far side.
Anything that might be called “spiritual development” in my life proceeds slowly and haltingly. In the year after I spent those couple days under the pines with my name in May of 2018, I had moments that approached transcendence, like some of the days I spent bicycling around Lake Superior. I also had long periods of just muddling through, like the month I spent in a limbo between places to live, humping my big hiking backpack around Minneapolis to crash on friends’ couches and under bridges, frankly baffled as to the point of being alive.
If I hadn’t been looking for the sign, I probably would’ve gone right past it—a little brown one by the side of the trail that said walk in campsite. I slowed to a stop and took my bike by the handlebars down off the pavement and into woods that fairly sighed with spring.
Once the jiisakaan was taken down, all we fasters picked up the warm blankets we’d huddled up in to watch, and got on Pebaam’s boat. With the help of Stacy and a snazzy million-candlepower light he’d just gotten, he took us back through the enclosing darkness and a drizzle that muted conversation, to all our various islands. He dropped me off last. “Got a light?” he asked.
My fast began at sunrise, while I was still asleep. In the late morning, once we fasters had packed, we got on Pebaam’s boat and he drove us to all corners of Nigigoonsiminikaaning to drop us off at our fasting places. I was the last one. Pebaam floated up next to a pink granite slab at deck height, and I tossed all my stuff onto this little island, then jumped on and watched Pebaam’s boat dwindle into the distance.