The salty mist of the Pacific Ocean kisses my face gently, like a grandmother to her grandchild. A breeze brushed the hair out of my eyes, and finally I felt it; I was home.Read Danielle Recalma's Under his wing
This story is based on a true story, a short tale of a spiritual journey I took at the tender age of 7, accidentally. This takes place in Qualicum, British Columbia, my home land. This story includes learning from our animal brothers and sisters, talking with Elders that have passed, protocol, and a touch of fighting colonialism both at that age of 7 and in present day. I wrote this story as a narrative consisting of my present self at the location of what happened, speaking about what happened ten years prior in the same location. At this point in my life I wasn't well aware of the impact my culture had on my life, of course being that young I didn't yet know the perils of residential school, the genocide, and the ongoing colonial violence in the present time. However, this journey definitely opened my eyes and widened the perception of the path I was to walk across.
The salty mist of the Pacific Ocean kisses my face gently, like a grandmother to her grandchild. A breeze brushed the hair out of my eyes, and finally I felt it; I was home. The reserve of my family is in Qualicum, British Columbia. In the Pentlatch language, Qualicum means “Where the dog salmon (Chum salmon) run”; a perfect name, I suppose. Ever since they put us on a reserve, we’ve been fighting that current. But I was born south of Qualicum, in Victoria. A regular fish out of water, one might say. I was left high and dry in a concrete jungle, far from the gentle kisses of my grandmother ocean. I used to come up to visit every few weeks with my dad, he calls me “Pies”. I loved the 3 hour car rides of just him, me, and his fishing stories. But one of our trips changed me; on a brisk autumn day, we were on our way to my grandfather’s funeral.
My dad, ?Ogwila, stayed with his father right up to the end. His siblings hated it, because dad is the medicine man, and they thought he was trying to keep grandpa alive, when really he was helping his father stop feeling pain. One of his siblings even tied his medicine bag into knots, and no one ever confessed who did it. I remember my stomach being in knots, too. He came home after grandpa died, it was the look in his eyes that told me. The trip up to the service was quiet. No stories, no jokes, just silence.
“Pies,” he uttered in a melancholy tone.
“Yeah?” I replied, shifting from my graceful position of my face being smash on the window, to face him. I braced myself for an important lesson to learn from him.
“Remember this: wait until the plastic is off at the funeral to eat the food.” And he gave me one of his smug silly grins. I chuckled.
“But really, pies, you gotta be quiet during the ceremony, and take it all in. You’re only seven, you have a lot to learn.”
It is protocol in Aboriginal culture that the young people and children remain silent and take in everything happening around them. At the tender age of seven, I knew just as much. So when we arrived to the ceremony, I did just that. I sat, listened, cried, took my father’s large tough hand gently into my frail small hand, and waited for the plastic to come off before eating the food. There was drumming, singing, laughing, and a memoir written by Grandpa’s best friend. The memoir took an hour to get through, because if we know anything, it’s that as us natives get older, we like to take our time telling stories. But don’t worry, I’m not that old.
After the ceremony, everyone went to my Grandmother’s place, but not me. As soon as we arrived, I realized death meant not coming back, it meant I’d never hear Grandpa’s loud “HEY!” as we entered the bottom stairwell, or grab his cane for him, or see his chronically shaking hands instantly become steady as he brushes Grandmother’s face. When everyone started to get to the house, I told my father I was going to the beach for a bit. He nodded, gave me a hug, and bid me goodbye.
I left so quickly I forgot to put my shoes on. I ran down the pine needle-dusted driveway, past the highway lined with cedar trees, as tears crested my bottom eyelids. I ran like the salmon. As I reached the dusty campsite road, I slowed down and crossed its threshold until I reached the rock wall of the Qualicum beach. I sat down, closed my eyes, and started to sing, uttering out the melody of “La Vie En Rose”, Louis Armstrong’s version. Suddenly, a loud thump came from beside me; my eyes snapped open and my head whipped around to see a bald eagle had landed on my left, about 4 feet away. It maintained eye contact with me, and I became frightened. It ducked as I started to get up, so I slowly moved to a sitting position and began singing again.
“Hold me close and hold me fast, the magic spell you cast, this is la vie en rose…”
And the eagle settled again.
“When you kiss me heaven sighs, and though I close my eyes, I see la vie en rose…”
It cocked its head to me and inched a little closer.
“When you press me to your heart, I’m in a world apart, a world where roses bloom…”
It turned its head towards the ocean and let out a beautiful familiar cry, but as if in sympathy. I lay myself back down, and closed my eyes. I awoke once more, but I was an eagle as well. The eagle gifted me with a vision. I left my body and lifted myself off the ground with great wings, and followed the eagle after he passed over me. My body filled with intense energy as I soared to a near tree top. When I perched, my grandfather’s eyes had replaced those of the eagle, and he began to speak to me.
“Danielle, you must listen.” He croaked out, and I felt tears surfacing.
“To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom.” He began. I had heard this in school; it is part of the seven grandfather teachings.
“The Creator gives us wisdom for the good of other people. And you are gifted with helping others be strong, eh. You will help people be free, but do not let your pride get in the way of your learning. People will be lookin’ to you, don’t go showing them selfishness.”
“It is an honour to see you again, grandpa.” I moved a talon backward, and bowed. I stepped backwards once more, and fell out of the tree with a loss of control.
As I hurtled toward the ground, I let out a cry, and awoke into reality instantly. The eagle turned around, and flew away. Tears were now falling down my face like a powerful river on a bed of earth, and I got up to run back to Grandma’s. Once again, past the cedar trees on the highway, and staggering down the pine needle-dusted driveway. I burst through the door, and my father came to comfort me.
“What happened, Pies?” He said, holding me strongly.
“I saw Grandpa. I saw Grandpa in an eagle, and he gave me a lesson.”
I collapsed in his arms, and he put me into bed.
It’s been ten years now, and I’m seen as a leader in my community. I still come back to the rock wall when I visit. I watch the sun bid goodbye for the day with an array of beautiful colours, listen to the eagle songs, and mumble the lyrics to La Vie En Rose. I always have hope the eagle will return, but he never physically does. I have dreams of him all the time, I repeat the words Grandpa said to me every day. The vision proved to me that our ancestors, our Elders, they never really leave us. If we call out to them in the ways we can, they will listen, and then will come. I hop off the rock wall, and dip my fingers into the ocean. I see Grandpa in the colourful sunsets, in the cedar trees, in the eagles. I come back for you, Grandpa. I hope you’ll do the same for me one day.