Summer without campfire stories? No way! Here’s one of mine that we will publish in three parts over the next three weeks.
Grey twilight fell across the far shore of Shkendang Lake, obscuring bit by bit the brooding shoreline, the thick-waisted white pines, and the old cabin standing alone on the rocky point. The cabin’s washed out red tin roof, and the rough hewn log porch below it, were barely visible now from the Garrison family cottage directly across the bay.
Shainie Garrison leaned forward and squinted fiercely. Her slender 13-year-old fingers squeezed the chair armrests with a force that threatened to snap them. Lights and shadows from the campfire danced in her intense brown eyes while the faint band of freckles below them coloured with excitement.
“There it is!” she cried, propelling herself from the chair and pointing over the fire and across the lake. “It’s there again. The light.”
Shainie’s father Paul dropped an armload of split firewood and bent low to peer out over the water. Nothing. Nothing but a dark far shore and more darkness spreading across the half-kilometre of water separating them from Ghostly Point.
“Shainie,” her father sighed with exasperation. “We’ve been through this before. There is nothing there.”
“But dad there was. There was! I saw it! A light was on. Then it went out. Just like the other times.”
Paul Garrison stepped into the campfire circle and placed his hands gently on his daughter’s slim shoulders, which trembled from excitement. “Honey, no one has stayed at the cabin in decades. It’s probably the last rays of the sun glinting off a window or the roof.”
Shainie looked into the gentleness of her father’s grey eyes. Oh, how she wanted to believe him. But he was wrong. It wasn’t sunlight. It was a campfire or lantern light. She just knew it.
Her parents were becoming concerned at her insistence that she had seen the light at Ghostly Point several times. It seemed to possess her, drawing her to sit by the campfire every evening waiting for it to reappear.
Marcella Garrison understood that her daughter was a creative child with a vivid imagination, but worried that the phantom light story was becoming more than a young girl’s fantasy. She wondered if tall tale story swapping between Shainie and her grandfather, a renowned storyteller, had anything to do with her daughter’s fantasizing.
“Maybe you shouldn’t tell her all those stories, Dad,” Marcella told her father one morning. “She needs to stop with these stories about a light at the cabin.”
“The girl has a wonderful imagination,” said Ira Desilets, a tall sun-toughened outdoorsman who had built Shainie a small cedar-strip canoe that she could take out by herself, on the strict understanding that she wear her life jacket.
“And who knows. . . maybe the girl is seeing something.”
He had encountered some genuine mysteries in his many years in bush country. Every tale of the woods, no matter how outrageous, was based on some truth. Even the story of how the lake got its name.
Shkendang is ‘grieving’ in the Ojibwe language and the Ojibwe who had lived in the area named it after a tragedy a century before.
Every spring before the Europeans arrived, the Ojibwe came to the lake to catch the lake trout that were plentiful just after the ice melted. They camped at
Ghostly Point and at night their campfires illuminated the waters surrounding the rocky point. Their chants joined the wood smoke drifting skyward to Gzhemnidoo, the great spirit, in respect and thanks for the nourishment they took from Mother Earth.
Their Gimaa, or leader, had one daughter who he affectionately called Moong, meaning Loon Who Brings Happiness. She was beautiful, happy, and skilled in the woods as a hunter, fisher and gatherer of food, much like the loons with whom they shared the lake.
Early one morning Moong canoed out to fish alone. She planned to fill her canoe bottom with trout to impress and please her father, ignoring the warning of an old man who cautioned about dark skies building on the western horizon.
Next week: Part 2 - The tragedy