Kung photo: Ileah Mattice
Rhonda Lee McIsaac
Looking out at the water from the shoreline, black k’yaaluuwee Pelagic cormorants stand against the shifting wind patterns and heavy washes of waves. They perch on the rocky outcroppings each year in varying numbers. Southern breezes shift to the North bringing colder air and more southeast gales to Haida Gwaii. Under rainy skies, thick fog rolls over the landscape and down the inlet towards the mountains soon to be dusted with snow.
Ducks and hlgit.un geese migrate from the north to the south. Their flight overhead is heard before they can be seen. They gather on the slough, grassy expanses, and on calm lakes and quiet inlets. Silence is broken by their honks and calls. Occasionally, a shot gun blast breaks the cool air for a meal. Spent chum salmon carcasses lay densely strewn in cold pools along riverbeds and estuaries, the remains returning to the earth to nourish life on land. Late season taayii Coho salmon run upriver sometimes in late Skusang Kungaas.
Kal alder leaves fall from the canopy blanketing the ground in decaying mulch. Stepping into the forest the canopy overhead swings under the force of winds. Branches slowly sway from green cedar, sprays of spruce, delicate leafy green spays of huckleberry bushes down to the fading brown sword ferns. The last red huckleberries cling waterlogged to their faded green stems on bushes. The leaves rest on wide faded thimbleberry bushes. Tiny apples have frozen and turned to sauce in their thick skins and hungry ravens and eagles pluck at them enjoying the last bounty of Kalga Kungaas.
In the villages, wood piles grow, stacked high with dried yellow cedar and hemlock for cozy home fires. The sight of taan black bear lessens as they set to hibernate having shared the bountiful summer berries. Laundry lines are lonely except for heavy water droplets hang. Wind-blown washes of clams, cockles and hlk‘wiigee scallops speckle Northern beaches after northeast storms.
Shrugging off the weather in Naan’s kitchen, her handwritten recipe cards come out. Local fruits and berries sourced at secret spots and Labrador tea leaves are set to be jarred for gifts or upcoming feasts. Jewel coloured mason jars full of greengage jam stand on counters freshly pulled from pressure cookers. Freezers are full with deer wrapped in brown butchers paper and vacuum-packed xaguu halibut and salmon will provide healthy meals year-round.
Online weather warnings blaze red across their screens as concerned citizens get their yards and boats ready for gale force winds and possible power outages that comes with high winds and dropping temperatures as winter has set in.
Family and clan members gather over casual and cozy dinners full of long conversations about family and history to learn about the old ways. Adults quietly mull over hot dark tea and hand out baked sweet treats to eager outstretched hands. Colourful sunsets quickly fade to black and starry nights. We settle comfortably under blankets knowing that this season of darkness will pass, but for now, we succumb to rest and absorb the knowledge and quality time that winter invites.
This article includes select words in Xaad kil.
This article is published in the recent Autumn Haida Laas. View or download the full edition here.