MATTIE WOKE UP TO ELLWYN singing Bodine’s song. She dressed and found Fawn and Grandmother at the kitchen table. The girl was watching an Ellwyn video accompanied by the hit song on her tablet. Grandmother was watching Mattie.
“Good morning.” There was fresh coffee, thank goodness.
“Have you seen this video, Mattie?”
“You’ve got to watch it, it’s awesome.”
Grandmother said something in their language and pointed to the clock on the kitchen wall.
“I’ve got swimming lessons at the rec centre. We’ll have to watch it later.”
Mattie went out on the deck with her coffee and watched Fawn ride off on her bike. Back in the kitchen, she refilled her cup and sat across from the old woman.
On the table in front of Florence was a tray of tiny beads sorted by colour. She focused on threading the vibrant beads using a long needle, then knotting them into position.
“You don’t like me do you?” Mattie said.
“I like you Mattie. I feel your strength. You’re strong and it worries me.”
“You speak English.”
“I’m a residential school graduate and survivor.” She put down the needle, took off her glasses and cleaned them with a piece of paper towel. Glasses back on, she continued beading.
“Sometimes the energy is right, but the time is wrong. Sometimes the time is right, but the energy is wrong.” Florence said. She glanced over at the pattern beside the tray, then threaded a dozen beads; six turquoise, two yellow and four pink.” You can’t fight this, Mattie. If you do, you’ll be unhappy. And you will cause others to be unhappy as well.”
“More coffee, Florence?”
Mattie got up, refilled the old woman’s mug and placed it beside her. Florence added fours spoons of sugar, stirred and took a sip.
“You must wait until the energy and time are aligned. Then there’s harmony and happiness.” Florence knotted the wire and trimmed the excess with snips. She chose an earring hook from a small box and using round-nosed pliers twisted the clasp open and inserted it on end of the intricate design. She closed the clasp with the pliers and put the finished earring on the table.
“That’s beautiful.” Mattie loved the vivid colours and intricate design.
“Simon is special. People are drawn to him.” Florence re-threaded the needle with beading wire. “Have you noticed how he wins you over without even talking?” She smiled at the thought of her grandson. “But when he does talk people listen. That’s because Simon speaks from his heart. Most people talk from their head, some people don’t use their head, just their mouth.”
Florence put down the needle and flexed her fingers. “Arthritis.” She picked it back up and continued to bead. She was deft at the task.
“Great leaders know it’s not fair to ask of others what you won’t do yourself. Simon is always at the front of the line; whether it’s getting arrested protesting the pipeline, or facing down to the National Guard at Standing Rock. Our people will follow Simon. He’ll be a great leader.”
Grandmother was right about her grandson, he had charisma. Come to think of it, she’d trusted Simon immediately, and trust was something Mattie bestowed on few and only after knowing them a long time. But a great leader? That had yet to be determined, and as far as she was concerned it wouldn’t be a positive attribute. She’d about had it being in the shadow of someone’s spotlight.
“And you think I might prevent Simon from fulfilling his, his... destiny?” Mattie said.
“Simon is the future of our people. We need him more than you do.”
Even if Mattie wanted to, and she wasn’t sure she did, how could you argue with that? She might be capable of ruining one man’s career, but certainly not impede the destiny of a people.
Florence had finished the other earring. She put them in her palm and offered them to Mattie.
“Thanks, Florence.” Mattie put them on. It probably wasn’t a good time to tell Grandmother she’d stopped wearing earrings a few years ago after Pickles ripped one out of her earlobe thinking it was a toy.
In the late afternoon, the family converged on the house.
“It will be leftovers tonight,” Rose announced.
“Why don’t I take you all out to dinner to thank you for your kindness,” Mattie said. She couldn’t eat venison stew fresh cooked, let alone warmed over.
“Why don’t you two go?” his father said.
“I’ve got to go back up to the cabin with more fish for the Eagle,” Simon said.
“I hope you’re using the Pink Salmon out of the freezer and not the Sockeye,” Rose said.
“What Eagle?” Mattie said.
“The mate to the one you found. It’s trying to raise the chicks on its own.”
“Are you sure you want to go back there?” Rose said.
The idea freaked Mattie out, but she needed to see that the surviving Eagle was coping with caring for the chicks. Being a single parent couldn’t be easy. And what was it Liz had said, you had to confront your fears, though it hadn’t worked out too good for her.
“How about we get takeout, then drive back to the meadow?” Mattie said. Anything rather than leftover venison stew.
Simon’s face lit up. “A&W?”
“Great. I love their onion rings.”
ONION RINGS, FRIES and a passable veggie burger, the grease coated the inside Mattie’s mouth. She loved every bite.
Simon ate with one hand and drove with the other as they sped up the highway in his pickup, the ATV loaded in the back.
Twenty minutes and they were at the trail head. Simon loaded the salmon wrapped in newspaper in the cargo rack of the ATV and passed Mattie a helmet. She buckled the chin strap, snuggled in behind him and hung on tight. In fifteen minutes they were at the cabin. Simon parked, and they headed off across the meadow.
“We got about an hour before the sun drops behind Mount Robson and the bugs come out.” Simon was walking swiftly and Mattie was having a difficult time keeping up.
“Have you left food for it before?”
“Yesterday, when I found you in the cabin.”
That was yesterday? It seemed time had slowed down, likely because of all the new things that had happened, and continued to happen. She’d had enough new experiences to last a long time and welcomed a return to stability and routine. She wanted to get to know Simon better and thought she might stay on one more day, but after her talk with Florence she decided to stick to her travel plans. She’d miss him, but the longer she stayed the more it would hurt. Grandmother was right, the energy was right, but the timing was wrong. Maybe some day though...
They reached the bluff.
“We have to climb the bluff and leave it some place high up that’s difficult for other animals to get it,” Simon said.
“There it is, there it is.” Mattie’s heart soared at the sight of the Eagle approaching the nest.
A gunshot echoed across the meadow. The Eagle faltered.
It spiraled down trailing loose feathers and disappeared among the tree tops.
Simon was scrambling up the bluffs and Mattie was right behind him. When they reached the summit, a man with his back to them was stuffing the bird into a burlap potato sack.
“Stop.” Mattie was about to charge the murderer, but Simon held her back.
The man dropped the bag, picked up his rifle and pointed it at them. “What the fuck Simon, you scared the shit out of me,” he said.
“It’s illegal to kill Eagles you bastard,” Mattie said. “You’re going to jail.”
“Who’s she? The shooter was about their age, skinny with greasy long black hair. He wore a plaid shirt, torn jeans and running shoes.
“Put down the rifle, Franklin.”
“You know this murderer?” Mattie was in Simon’s face.
“He’s my cousin,” Simon said. “Hey, Franklin, put the rifle down, you’re making me nervous.”
“I’m calling nine-one-one and reporting this.” Mattie pulled out her cell phone. What did you know, there was a signal.
Franklin raised the rifle.
“Mattie, put the phone away,” Simon said.
“What? No way.”
“Tell her to put it away, cuz.”
“Shut up, Franklin. You’re in a lot of shit so don’t piss me off.”
Franklin drop the rifle and Mattie put the phone in her pocket.
Simon walked up to his cousin, picked up the rifle and emptied the chamber.
“It’s just a fucking Eagle, cuz. They are almost as many now as crows.”
“You know what would happen if you got caught? With your priors.”
“One less Eagle and I really need the money. Who’s going know?”
“I know and soon so will the RCMP,” Mattie said.
“Who is she, one of the environmentalists you hang out with?” Franklin said. “You’re not going to let a white woman send one of your family to jail are you?”
“Don’t worry about her.” Simon put his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. Franklin hung his head. “You back using, Frank?”
“No, no. It’s just there’s no work and Mom’s sick.”
“Why didn’t you come to me, Franklin?”
“You know, I don’t know, what the hell. Hey, I’m sorry, Simon. I fucked up.”
“I’ll make some calls. I’ll get you and Aunt Daisy some help. But don’t do this again.”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Okay, how are you getting back to town?”
“I got Mom’s car. I came in through the logging roads.”
“Oh yeah, we’re taking the bird,” Simon said.
“Come on, Simon. Give me a break.”
“I’m giving you a break,” Simon said. “It goes to Grandmother, she’ll do what’s right by it.”
“You’re not going to tell her I killed it?”
“I sure am. I expect you’ll hear from her.”
“Maybe get your girlfriend to call the cops instead.”
Simon smiled. “Better get going before it gets dark. Aunt Daisy’s Caprice can’t take too many potholes.”
“Hey, nice to meet you, Bird Lady,” Franklin said.
Funny thing, Mattie was sure he meant it.
Franklin walked into the bush and disappeared. Simon picked up the bag with the dead Eagle.
“What about the chicks?” Mattie said.
Mattie looked up and there were the two Ravens already circling the nest.
Neither spoke as they walked across the meadow and rode down the trail on the ATV. Now driving in the pickup back to Simon's, Mattie didn’t know what to do.
There was a moment if she'd got a hold of the rifle she was sure she would have shot Franklin and then maybe bashed in his head with the rifle butt. She was glad hadn’t, but that didn’t mean she thought he should get off with a scolding from Florence. She could still call the RCMP and report it. She could even give them the killer’s identity. Simon had told his cousin not to worry about her. What was he going to do? She’d damn well report this heinous crime if she wanted to. In fact she might be breaking the law if she didn’t. She’d let Simon talk first and then respond accordingly. But if he didn’t say something soon she would and once she got started well, let’s just say she was very upset.
“We’re getting pulled over,” Simon said.
Mattie looked in the side mirror and saw the red and blue strobe of a police car behind them. “Were you speeding?”
“No.” Simon pulled over.
A constable approached on the driver’s side, another positioned himself on the passenger side near the rear of the vehicle.
“Driver’s license and registration, sir.”
“You forgot who I was since the last time you stopped me, Steve? What was it, four days ago?
“And the young lady with you. Does she have some identification?”
“Is this legal?” Mattie said.
Mattie handed over her I.D.
“Stay in the vehicle for your own safety, while I call this in.”
“What’s this about, Simon?”
“Just a little game they play. Be patient,” he smiled. “And polite.”
The cop was back at the window. “Do you mind telling us what’s in the brown bag the in bed of the truck?”
“A dead Eagle,” Mattie said. “I found it near the cabin where I’m doing field work for the University of British Columbia.”
“How was it killed?”
“Someone shot it.”
“Do you know anything about this, Simon?” the officer said.
“Only what she’s told me.”
“The university contracts Simon to look after the cabin and take researchers to it from the airport,” Mattie said.
“Are you aware, Ms. Saunders, that it’s illegal to transport Eagle carcasses, and it’s prohibited to sell any part of it?”
“I know. Tomorrow, Simon is taking me to the Fish and Wildlife district office to turn it over and fill out a report.”
“Okay, then. Drive safe.”
“Thanks, Mattie,” Simon said. They were underway again and only five minutes from Valemount.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Mattie said. “I’m still not sure what I’m going to do.”
If Mattie told the RCMP what she’d witnessed Simon would have had to corroborate it, because unlike the #MeToo movement, the cops didn’t believe you just because you were a woman. If it came to that, Mattie had a good idea who Simon would side with. Maybe it was not only the wrong time and wrong energy but plain and simple wrong.
“I’ve book my flights home. Can you drive me to McBride airport Thursday to catch the plane?” Mattie said.
Simon seemed surprised. “I’ll work something out.”
“And the Eagle, where’s the nearest Fish and Wildlife district office?”
“Prince George. I’ll contact them and they’ll probably send the local conservation officer to pick it up.”
“Your cousin’s a drug addict,” Mattie said.
“He’ll do anything to get money for drugs, likely kill more Eagles.”
“Not if Florence has anything to say about it.”
“You’re kidding yourself, Simon, if you think anything your Grandmother can say will make a difference.”
Simon pulled into the yard and parked beside the house.
“You don’t know, Franklin. You don’t know what he’s been through, yet you’re prepared to judge him.”
“I don’t know Franklin, but I know drug addicts. They all have some sob story about why they’re determined to destroy themselves, and you know what, I couldn't care less. It’s the damage they do to innocent victims on their way down, in this case Eagles, that bothers me.”
“Just like there are some healthy, well adjusted white people who make poor choices and become addicted there probably are some First Nations people as well. But it’s more likely most addicts are dealing with unresolved childhood trauma and none so much as my people.” Simon was angry, but in control.
“I’m not going to lecture you on all the reasons for this, but there are a lot, they’re horrific and the overwhelming majority were caused, and are still are caused, by the colonization of First Nations by Europeans.
“I suggest you get educated about the issue.” Simon said. “I’m tired of repeating myself.”
“And how do I do that?”
“A good place to start would be to read Lynda Gray’s book. First Nations 101.”
“So you think sacrificing a few Eagles is not a big deal?”
“I didn’t say that, but you need a reality check, Mattie. Humans are more important than birds.”
Simon sighed. His anger dissolved into resignation. Mattie could relate because that’s how she felt when it came to rescuing her birds. No matter how much education, protesting and pleading it made little difference. As long as there was money to be made exotic birds would continue to be captured, sold, neglected and die to the point of extinction. They had at least one thing in common, they both were patrons of lost causes.
As far as a reality check, she’d gladly take one, it could only be better, but Simon’s assertion humans were more important than birds had yet to be proven.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish