of the First Leaf
Ten canoes evenly spaced
in a V-shape, glide closer to a mass of green land where the shore
curves inward to a beach and open field. Like a flock of birds
migrating south for the winter. The river reflects the pine trees that
jut up from both sides of the cove. Antlike figures move around on the
beach near the sacred rocks, and further ashore where the rocky coast
turns into field. A wisp of smoke spirals up from what looks like a
glowing fire. Conical frameworks of wigwams circle the fire and
permanent long house dwellings.
The birch bark canoe in the lead
contains four men that paddle in synchrony with ease and grace. Kapsq
sits in the front. An eagle feather dangles from his thick black braid
that stretches down between his shoulder blades. Sweat glistens on his
brow. A bead of it breaks free, dripping past his sunken cheek bones
and tight mouth.
The men in the birch bark canoe switch
their paddles in unison. Kapsq lifts his paddle trickling with water
out of the blue water’s surface and plunges it through the opposite
side. Wet spots darken his leather loin cloth and leggings. His brown
biceps flex as he slowly carves his paddle into the tops of the
undulation over and over again.
Kapsq can’t imagine how the Dawnland
people survived the harsh winter months on the coast of Peskomuhkati
before the Great Spirit led them to Sacred Rock Cove.
As a child he liked the stories the
Shaman told them, how one of the past Shamans, Spomkik, He Who Soars
High, went out into the woods and fasted, awaiting a vision from the
Great Spirit. On the fourth day he sat cross-legged on a boulder,
meditating. A stream of light pierced through an opening in the trees,
and forced Spomkik to open his eyes. Everything in the woods was quiet
and seemed to stand still, until a single leaf fell from the tree,
feathering through the air from the tree directly above him. It was the
Great Spirit telling Spomkik the direction the Dawnland people should
go to seek shelter for the coming winter months. Since then the
Dawnland people would travel at the fall of the first leaf to Sacred
Kapsq steers the canoe away from the
sacred rocks toward the pebbly beach.
A boy in a canoe several yards away from
Kapsq points up, and yells, “Look,” in Passamaquoddy.
Seven eagles circle over the beach and
sacred rocks. Kapsq smiles. They always seem to show up during
important events. It was said that past ancestors looked through the
eyes of these wise messengers.
When the canoes get closer to shore, the
men, women, and children jump into the ankle-high water and push them
the rest of the way. The men pick the canoes up over their heads,
carrying them toward a path that makes its way up to the field. Wooden
palisades that circle the long houses and wigwams mark the entrance to
the village where they would stay for the cold months.
Kapsq stays behind, and walks toward the
sacred rocks. Long brown rocks protrude out from the beach toward the
tide like beached whales. Two elder women coax a younger pregnant woman
who sits in the birthing pool between two of the sacred rocks,
screaming through clenched teeth.
Suwwaku, the Dawnland people’s Shaman
kneels on the top of a rock overlooking the three women, humming. His
beady black eyes peer down at the rock and the rough pitted surface of
his creation. He pounds at the top of a sharp pointed rock with a
hammer stone, pecking away at the top of the rock to make a swirl-like
Kapsq stands on the pebbly surface below
the sacred rock and watches Suwwaku at work. The design symbolizes the
umbilical cord, and goes nicely with the other geometric shapes that
signify important past events that occurred at the site. On the side of
the rock, further down from where Suwwaku kneels, are womanly figures
with their hands on their triangular hips in the midst of the Pine Cone
dance. The dance represents fertility and life. Another figure pecked
into the rock, faded by the tide is said to be a drawing of the great
Shaman Spomkik in eagle form as a memoriam to him, and the Great
Spirit, giving thanks for discovering Sacred Rock Cove and the fall of
the first leaf.
The pregnant woman arches her back and
screams through clenched teeth. She slaps at the tidal water with one
hand while her other grips at the folds of her hiked up dress. Ribbons
of blood spiral outward from her as the baby crowns revealing a full
set of dark hair.
One of the older women sits behind her,
supporting her back. She strokes the pregnant woman’s sweat drenched
hair. Her singing is low key, and quiet.
The other woman kneels between the
pregnant woman’s legs with her hands cupped together.
“One day the angry tide will come,” the
Shaman Suwwaku says, “it will wash away all our stories and with it our
people’s heritage. We must do everything in our power to prevent it,
young Kapsq.” He looks up to the sky. “Once nature takes it, there’s no
A high-pitched cry surfaces as the old
woman lifts the pink infant up from under the water, and raises him
above her head. Kapsq and Suwwaku turn their attention to the screaming
infant, and everyone hoots.
“This is a good omen, young Kapsq. A
child born on the fall of the first leaf,” Suwakku says. Age weathers
his face. “The male warrior will mean the survival of our people for
the coming winter months. The Great Spirit is kind.” He looks up to the
sky. Small puffs of clouds creep past. Suwwaku slowly closes his eyes