I keep breathing, trying not to get ahead of myself, filling my days by checking off tasks from my list, my nights with song and dance as much as possible, taking last minute delays in stride, knowing that Walking with Wolf is but days away from being born. The only other event in my life that required this much patience was when I had cancer. I never considered myself particularly patient – I’m not normally anxious either – I just like to get things done. Pro-active, that’s how I’d describe myself, and it is when I can’t do anything to expedite a situation that I start to lose patience. In 1991, when I was beating cancer with chemotherapy and then radiation, I had to learn how to live one day at a time, that you couldn’t rush the process, and that being relaxed was much more effective than being antsy. I learned how to wait.
Back in the 1980s, I became friends with Gary Potts, who was the Chief of the Ojibway of Bear Island, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai, on beautiful Lake Temagami in northeastern Ontario. We were all concerned with the future of the area – the health of the lake, the survival of the forests, the fish, the moose, the people. Gary’s concern came from his blood, his heritage and his spiritual tie to the land that his people had lived on forever. I lived a couple of hours further north of Temagami, and came into the area as a visitor, loving to swim in the cold deep clear water of the lake, canoe past the craggy rocky shoreline, walk softly on the pine-needle floor of the forest. I became involved with the Temagami Wilderness Society, initially concerned about the environment and the pine trees, but soon learned about the native’s struggle for social justice. After much public debate, soul searching, and through the experience of knowing the local inhabitants on all sides of the issues, I stopped calling myself an environmentalist and started calling myself a social activist. Ever since, I have tried to proceed in any activism I’ve been involved in with the well-being of all parties – human and non-human – as my motivation because I just can’t accept that only saving the trees, important though that may be, is the answer.
Although there were stresses in the relationships between local landowners, the government, forestry and mining companies and their employees, the natives, and the environmentalists – we all had our own “agendas” afterall – somehow I managed to forge a respectful, warm relationship with Gary. And because of knowing him, I learned a lot. One of the things he taught me, which came in very handy in the years that followed when I was fighting the “big C”, was about patience. We were in the middle of the blockading of a logging road – an action instigated by the environmentalists but ultimately controlled by the Anishnabai – and even as we stood our ground, tall pine trees were being cut, some by industry, some by activists with a different idea on how to manage the situation. In the final days of the environmentalists’ blockade, after I had been living in a tent in the bush for several weeks (this, about a year before I would be diagnosed with cancer), having dealt with actions and controversy on a daily basis, my physical energy was ebbing and with each blow to the forest around us, my spirit suffered.
One day, on the shore of Lake Wakimika, I had a conversation with Gary. When he realized that I was losing faith and strength, he reminded me of how long the native people of North America have been working to see the treaties that were signed honoured, to reclaim their lands, to right the many wrongs that were imposed on them. He said “Kay, if we cried over every tree that has fallen, every plant that has been stepped on, every battle that we’ve lost – even though these things are important – we wouldn’t have the energy to continue the struggle. You say a prayer for the loss and then pick up and carry on. And laugh alot. It has taken an incredible amount of patience and perseverance to sustain our energy and continue on our path. If your path is a just one, you can keep going forward despite the many roadblocks.”
His words have stayed with me and supported me now through many of my own struggles – most profoundly during my cancer treatments, and again, during these last months, his voice has been whispering in the back of my conscience. I will always love Gary for his kindness and admire his tenacity and his heart. Whenever I manage to get back onto that glorious Lake Temagami, seeing this man, whose beauty equals that of the land he is so much apart of, is a gift. We’ve laughed together much more than we’ve cried, but there have been many tears as well. And many lessons.
So I repeat his words now, in these final days of waiting for Walking with Wolf. I will be fine, before I know it that book will be in my hands and I’ll be on that plane to Costa Rica. Patience, Kay, patience. However, may I say that if there is one more delay, I just might be heard screaming “Give me an epidural – PLEASE!”