By Leigh Nunan, Community Journalism Trainer
As I step outside the door my ears are filled with the familiar sound of cacophonous honking.
No, I’m not back in Toronto. This is Eabametoong. I’m on my way to work.
Looking around, I can’t see the source of the honking, but I don’t need to. I’ve heard it many times, as have you. The geese are flying south for the winter.
Xavier Sagutch, a local photographer, has given me several copies of the “Eabametoong First Nation’s Biodiversity Atlas.” He took most of the photos in the stunning book, but he’s humble about it. He just wants the books out in the community where people can learn from them.
The Canada goose, the atlas informs me, is called nika in Ojibway.
There is a hunt here every spring when the nika migrate. It’s an important food source. I remind myself to ask Charlotte, my landlady, why the hunt is not mirrored when they fly though again in the fall.
Charlotte is a well loved character here. Every last person I’ve met has said the same three things about her. That she is an amazing chef, that she has an incredible laugh, and that I’m going to love living with her. All three have proven true.
As I continue my walk I notice the gravel road is sprinkled with small yellow leaves. All around me the trees are just starting to don their fall colours. A hint of yellow here, a tinge of orange there. A general sense that the greens are less intensely green but instead richer, earthier.
I walk past the school every day, but now it’s alive with kids running, laughing, yelling. Teachers cajoling them into wriggling, haphazard lines.
Charlotte’s four granddaughters are in there somewhere. I’ve been getting to know them over the past weeks. Especially Haylee, who is usually too shy to speak yet has taken me by the hand and led me on some of the most elaborate (if silent) games of make believe I’ve ever played.
And this next sign of fall is one that brings me right back to my own childhood in a small town: the smell of wood smoke in the air.
People will be burning wood to heat their homes all winter, but you eventually acclimatize to the scent. It’s only in the fall that it’s so present. Like the nika, it demands your attention. It’s invigorating. I’d almost forgotten how it felt, after years in Toronto.
Charlotte heats her house with what she calls ‘grandmother wood’ because it’s small enough that you don’t have to split the logs to fit them in the stove. She laughs as she says this.
I continue my walk, past the band office and the clinic. I’m nearing the communications building which houses the radio station, the cable office, and my workspace. We’re also nearing the end of our sensory tour of Eabametoong.
So far, I expect, I’ve described a picture of fall that is familiar to most in Canada.
However, there is one sense I have yet to mention: taste.
Sorry Toronto, but there will be no pumpkin spice lattes here, nor pumpkin spice anything else. I don’t know if I can even expect to taste that ahead-of-its-time vanguard of the pumpkin spice movement, my childhood favourite, actual pumpkin pie.
(OK, let’s be real, childhood-schmildhood. My mother’s pumpkin pie is still my favourite thing and I’m getting homesick just thinking about it.)
But here, so it seems, the taste of fall is not cinnamon and nutmeg.
Moose, by the way, is called mooz. (And I didn’t think I knew any Ojibway yet.)
The whole community is gearing up now for the fall hunt. Everywhere I turn, the anticipation is palpable. Everyone is looking forward to that first taste of this fall’s fresh mooz meat.
As I sit writing this, Charlotte is preparing for a week-long trip to her cabin down the Albany River. She and her niece will be hunting. She laughs as she tells me she’ll be bringing back a big bull. She laughs a lot.
A week is a short trip for Charlotte. I get the impression that she would spend most of her time out in the bush – hunting, fishing, eating wild foods and drinking the river’s fresh water – if she could.
I’m looking forward to her return though. To sitting around the kitchen table with Charlotte her family, that gaggle of granddaughters, and tasting what the master chef can do with her big bull mooz.