The picture is one of a series which I took at Lac La Biche in Alberta, Canada. The night before I left my lovely Faye for the final time - less than a month later she passed away .
The art work is by my good friend and cover designer, Angela Priest.
The young Cree stood by the aircraft. He had seen many such flying birds carrying men and supplies all over the land, but had never imagined he would go in one. For him the land travel of his forefathers had been good enough for all his tender years. He had gone on horses around the reservations.Got used to the long rides with many stops, the first thing he learned was to value the horse. It was not only the most reliable transport when looked after, but also your friend
Standing by the aircraft the young warrior was neither in awe of it, nor was he scared. Not knowing how they flew, it was not his concern for now. All he knew was that he had to go a long way and only way was to fly there. The family truck was used for trips from the reservation to town for supplies but there was no way it would have lasted even a third of the distance for this trip without a major service.
Harry did not have the luxury of time as the Elders had called a tribal meeting and he had to be there tomorrow.
The pilot was going through his usual check up before accepting the aircraft as air worthy. As the pilot it was his responsibility to check the aircraft for himself and as ex- serviceman, he never assumed anything. He had heard of too many crashed aircraft and seen too many crash sites, for the sight of a wreck to leave him
The Cree Indian just stood by the aircraft, gently saying a prayer to one of his spirit guides
The pilot looked at him with respect that comes from seeing too many lifeless bodies scattered. Here was a man who lived life on the edge. Dick Moore had respect for the elemental guides, he had seen things which over the years he had still not been able to get to grips with.
From aircraft with no fuel landing on vapours and travelling beyond their distances; to ones with full fuel loads having to land shortly after take off only to find if they had gone further, a serious loss of life would have occurred. He long ago stopped trying to find the reason for these things and accepted that when your day came, all the luck in the world will not stop it nor any spirit guide you believe in.
“This your first flight kid?’”
“Yes sir. I have seen the birds flying around but never thought I would go in nor did I have a wish to fly. If my guide wanted that he would have made me a bird of the wind, as the eagles and hawks.”
“I agree in part there but man had been given the ability to build flying machines so we can travel great journeys quicker. By the way my name is Dick, you can cut the sir out. Lost that when I came out of the Air Force.”
”My name is Harry.”
“Well Harry, we have nothing to worry about. I have flown for many years in all conditions and never had the slightest thing go wrong. Tthis is only a short flight from here to the Lac La Biche strip, so we should not be more than a couple of hours up, have you safe before you know it.”
“If you do not mind I will still say a short prayer to Nerja. She will be my guide for this flight and I have never contacted her before. We are entering her regions, it is correct to ask her guidance.”
“You go ahead Harry. I never scorn others beliefs I have my own and so far they are good for me.”
As Harry stood with hands clasped in prayer slowly asking Nerja for guidance to land. Dick walked around the aircraft doing his thorough check list and making sure all was OK
When Dick came around the tail for the final time. Harry turned to face him and saw something moving under the shirt Dick was wearing
“I see you to believe in the spirit world Dick and have your own mascot to guide you.”
“Oh! Yes I certainly do believe Harry. Seen many strange things in my time and felt their presences so have no doubts I do believe in them. Which is why I did not scorn you, when you said your prayer’
Harry took Dick’s necklet carefully in his hand, noticing the colouring and style of beadwork.
“I didn’t realise you had been to Wyoming Dick?”
“I haven’t Harry. What gave you that idea? I have not been to the US for a good many years and even then it was to Montana and North Dakota, what gave you the idea I was in Wyoming Harry?”
“Your necklet is so typical of the images we have seen of Northern Arapaho colouring and style, I just thought you had.”
Dick chuckled as he said, “No this was a gift from a late friend; she used to live in Lac La Biche, and it belonged to her husband. He had it made by a Cree lady in nearby Plamondon. Just before she passed away she said I could have it, I have worn it since in memory of the three months we shared before she left us and for the love we shared. The only time I don’t wear it is when I got to bed or have a shower.”
The flight from Prince Edward island in Nova Scotia to Lac La Biche is about 3 hours in a twin seat aircraft. Dick and Harry were not too concerned this was his first flight, people all over had taken longer first time flights. It did not help Harry knowing this as your first flight is all about you. The young Cree had never even thought of travelling this far before, most of his travels took him to nearby reservations.
The tribal gathering of the Northern tribes happened every five years and with his father too old for the long journey, his brother on tribal business in another part of the territory. This honour fell upon Harry. As younger brother of the tribal chief, he had never expected this great honour, he was content to do his tribal duty in the reservations, and the provinces nearby
The aircraft rolled smoothly along the short grass runway. All that was needed here as few heavy aircraft ever landed this far north, the light aircraft could use the grass for most of the year. The aircraft rose like a young eagle on her first flight. Harry was amazed at the feeling he got as he saw the earth drop below,
This is what it must feel like to be a bird he thought to himself. Then Harry saw Dick reach to his emblem and kiss it
“Do you not have faith in this craft Dick?“ asked Harry.
“Sure I do Harry. We have been through rough times together.”
“Then why do you kiss the emblem and say a little prayer?”
“Up here and out in the wilderness, it cannot help to get some extra help from above. If we need it.”
“I know why you hold your figurine Harry. She gives you the strength to carry on, and praying to her you think helps you.”
What Harry saw he could not believe as the rose, mountain tops fell below as the headed North West and towards the ice fields
“Why do we head so far north, when a direct route would be shorter Dick?“ Harry queried.
“Flight regulations Harry. We are not allowed to fly over populated areas in case of an accident.”
“My grandfather told me of a land so white, all you see is white. Of Saskqwatch and bears whiter than the snow and bigger than men. I never thought of seeing the land. All the stories are true ‘
“I cannot vouch for Sasqwatch as I have never seen them. I am not saying they don’t exist just I haven’t seen them, so I have an open mind. As for the bears, yes they are bigger than men and whiter than the snow; they can kill you with one blow from their paws. Up here in the summer the people have a bear watch, as the ice melts and the bears get forced to scavenge from trash bins. The most dangerous thing is not the bear, not the Sasqwatch. But the ice herself Harry. It can drive you crazy, ask anyone who has climbed a mountain or spent days trapped on an ice field.”
“Why is that?”
“Its called snow blindness, the pure uninterrupted white of the ice fields and the biting winds make you see things which aren’t there. And miss things which are, because you don’t believe they are.”
“In a short while we will be leaving Nova Scotia air space and heading across the caps. Out of direct radar but still in contact with the ground if we need them. Not that we will Harry. We have more than enough fuel and it is just a short journey, I have done many times in the past We should be touching down in about three hours with the current winds.”
Flying, first West out of the vast expanse of the Hudson Bay, the Indian was amazed that from so high, you can see so far, and yet as Dick said all you can see is white, from up here you can see the caps and mounds easy, but Harry began to wonder how scared it must be to be down there, alone and cold, he was so used to trees and forests he could not imagine a land so white, and with no signs of animals
"Dick, is this land peopled by natives as I see no signs of reservations or tipis for homes?"
"No, the nearest are the Northern Cree. "Harry said pointing to his left as the plane hit an air pocket and jumped a little "This whole area to the North is so empty, no people live here, just the bears, seals and foxes."
"W, w, what was that Dick?"
"Don’t worry Harry, just a little turbulence, we are picking up a cross wind from the prairie below. I altered our course a tiny bit to fly into her, otherwise we will find ourselves being blown off course. And we don’t want that do we, "Dick laughed as he finished
Harry was getting scared and worried now, didn’t know what to think as this was new to him and he felt uneasy. Especially as Dick was joking about getting blown off course.
"The area below is known as the Territories to the aircrew, to others Harry it is called North-West territories nothing but barren ice apart from a few drilling rigs here this time of year. In a few months, the ice will go and be replaced by beautiful blue water, not that that will help if you crashed."
"Why is that Dick?"
"Go down in that and you would freeze in the time it takes to say your name. The water looks nice but it is still about 20 below freezing Harry. As soon as you go in, the water drains your body heat and saps your strength."
"You know a lot Dick."
‘"Pays to Harry. Always know your territory and respect it. I learned that from my service days."
Knowing Harry’s concerns over the flight, Dick had not told him but the small crosswind the had hit had turned and was now a strong headwind. The airspeed indicator on the dash had dropped about 5kph, this was not a major worry to Dick. He allowed for this when he fuelled up but now, things were different as he was going to be cutting it fine with the headwind and could not afford it to rise again.
Dick had stopped the joking, things were now serious for them. Harry could sense the tension, knowing not what he could do, he started quietly chanting to himself in prayer to Nerja.
"Go ahead Harry, don’t worry about me. We need all the help we can have now. The crosswind has turned and we are flying into it now. The airspeed is dropping, we should be all right. But if it picks up more, we will be in serious trouble.
Harry looked at Dick and said "I know we are in trouble, you may fly the winds in the aeroplane, but it is the same when I paddle against the flow. It takes more energy and you don’t go as far Dick."
As soon as Dick mentioned the wind, it did pick up strength. As well as gusting, the fuel gauge dropped alarmingly quicker than he imagined and he knew he was not going to trust to luck any more.
"Harry you better pray hard to Nerja, I do not think we will make it to Lac La Biche now."
"Don't worry she will not let us down Dick!"
As Dick looked out of the window, no ground in sight just a mass of snow. Hhe heard the sound all pilots fear as the engine spluttered and then cut out,just as he thought nothing worse could happen, he saw smoke coming in the cabin.
"Well Harry. It's over now I think. With no fuel in the tank, engine dead and now fumes. Please say it cannot get worse."
"Trust to Nerja, Dick. Go with your senses now, not the instruments and we will be safe."
"IF you say so Harry, but I am not hoping for much, from here on in!"
As the turned to make the landing run at Lac La Biche, Dick called in to the ham radio on the ground.
"Lac La Biche tower, this is Piper Alpha 56890, coming in to land. We are about 20 miles out and need a landing strip cleared please."
"Piper Alpha 56890, this Lac La Biche. Dick you cannot land here we have zero visibility and snow on the ground. You will have to divert to either Niskau or Edmonton."
"Is that Joe? That is a big negative on that, we have no choice. The fuel gone and engines are dead it is you or the lake."
"Your call Dick, but you have been told."
"Roger that Joe, my call. We are coming in. Pray we make it. Over and out."
Dick was not sure but he thought he could smell Sandalwood in the cabin.After a short intake to get his senses right. He noticed it was from the cowling and was coming around them.
"Stand by Harry it is up to Nerja now. This will be rough, I am making no excuses, I just hope we make it."
As the plane turned the edge of the lake, wheels barely above the icy lake below them. Dick was sure he would lose the battle for the landing, every foot seemed to draw them closer to the water. Far away he could see the ice starting to form at the edge of the lake but here it was just icy water
Then, as if by magic the plane started to rise. Slower and slower but certainly rising.
"I don’t believe this Harry but we have a slim chance of making it. We are going up but still have the hills and the water tower to clear before we are safe."
The plane rose above the hills easily but the extra to clear the tower Dick was sure would not work. Jjust before they appeared to be on a collision course, a huge gust came, pushing them clear.
This gust, for some reason also released a little fuel. The propeller started again just enough to use as a brake and ensure the landing was smooth.
As Dick got out, the first thing he did was to hug Harry, then fall on the cold ground in thankfulness of arriving safely. He lay for a few minutes, after all the tension it was good to relax.
Later that evening he was met by the reporter for the Lac La Biche post as he sat having his whisky, Dick retold the story. Even though he lived it, the more he told it the stranger it seemed.
"What did you think was the turning point Dick?" the reporter asked him.
"That is an easy, there we were engine dead and losing height, 20 miles out over an icy lake, when I smelt Sandalwood. At that point I knew there was something more to the beliefs of my Cree passenger than just faith."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey Of Faith April 2, 2012
By Nanci Maynard
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This was an excellent short-short story. In fact, I finished reading it during my commute home on the subway.
The best way to describe this story is: It is a story about faith.
It involves two different men from two different cultures. One White and one Native American/Cree. Both were placed in an extremely dangerous situation and both depended on their faith to bring them out safely.
This wonderfully short story answered the question: "Who do you call on and cling to in the time of trouble?" I expected more, but "Nerja" was so skillfully written additional words would've ruined it.
Short and to the point, this was an excellent and highly recommended read.