It was many years ago. I was very young and had a broken ankle. A bucking horse had kicked me as I got off on the pickup man at a rodeo in St.Paul, MN. I won third.
I had a total of $230 in my pocket, no way to get back to Texas and no prospects.
Danny LeDuc was a saddle bronc rider from Sapawe. It described it to me as a small town on a lake in Ontario. Sapawe is somewhat west of Kashabowie, east of Ft. Frances and north and south of nothing but trees and water. "Come home with me and we will go ricin." He said, "You don't have to stand up for that."
So, with no prospects or appointments, I went. Course, I had no idea what ricin was. I learned.
Manomin is what the Shinbobs or Ojibwe call wild rice. It is important to them. Not only do they need it to eat, they sell it.
Still today, my favorite rice to eat with ducks. Today, most of it is harvested by big boats with a deal like a combine. The old way is by canoe with sticks called beaters.
I went ricin.
We drove a million miles and that is just an estimate. Most of it was on roads that don't and never have, existed. Somehow we not only got to Sapawe, we made it to Danny's house, a typical reservation house, built with BIA money and painted the color of whatever was on sale. Unlike many rez houses, all the windows had glass intact.
Anish na. Danny's uncle greeted us with the standard Ojibwe greeting meaning how are you, you hungry and there is work to do. I came to understand, it meant whatever facial expression went with it. (Figure that out.) So, we went ricin. It was early September and the water in the lake I can't begin to name was clear and cold. Leon, Danny's uncle stood in the back of the big canoe and poled. Danny and I used two cedar sticks called beaters to hold the rice over the side and gently beat the rice off.
Now and then, I would see a huge fish fin away through the stalks. Leon said they were muskies and there were some that were big enough to attack a man.
For a brief instant, I saw a black bear spin and run off the shore. Leon said they were everywhere and if you left them alone and used your head, harmless. There were other canoes on the lake and there was a lot of friendly shouting and singing. I joined in and got laughed at, plenty. Even Chuck knows I can't sing a lick but in my version of Shinbob, it didn't matter.
Late in the afternoon, a bald eagle floated over the canoes and everything got quiet until it passed.
A moose eyed us from the far bank. He was belly deep and would submerge his head completely under water. Then, he would come up with long, green reeds dangling from his mouth. Leon said he would be too old and tough to make good meat but his younger daughter would be just fine. Year later I found out he sure right about the meat.
Every now and then, we would stop and scoop the loose rice from the bottom of the canoe and put it in big sacks that went into the truck.
Today, when I buy wild rice at the store, I recall those big sacks of rice. I'll bet each one weighed at least 100-pounds.
Of course, that was before it was dried and hulled and whatever else they do to it.
I use to think all the birds in the world were in the marshes of Louisiana.
After that day, I figured they must be evenly split. There were birds everywhere. They would fly up in front of us, hover or circle, then settle back right behind us. Made a heck of a racket, too. I reckon they were also speaking Shinbob.
Each day for 10 days, we went to a different lake and repeated the same routine. I got pretty good at ricin and could even sing a word or two of their songs.
The Ojibwe that I met were a happy people and generous. They liked to eat, too.
One day, just about owl time, we were loading the canoes and the Shinbobs, as if on cue, all stopped and looked at the lake. I had not noticed but when I turned, the sight caught my breath.
The sunset was mind-boggling. The lake and the far shore were black. A hump of trees stood out against a red sky.
It was as if somewhere everything was on fire. I felt that was a signal to me that I was ready to move on. The sun had set on my ricin career.
Two days later, we cut the cast off my leg, substituting tape and an Ace bandage. Danny and I headed down that endless road to a rodeo in Ft. Madison, IA.
Since sunsets signal the end of something...usually a day, I figured that would be a good way to end this column.
Besides, a month from today, our archery season opens. Maybe I'll shoot a few arrows or maybe, just watch the sunset on the hill behind the house.
Join me, won't you? The Master has been painting some beautiful pictures here of late.
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