Feb 06 ● BY Jaymie Campbell
The summer this year has been rainy and cold. The way I prefer. The plants grow bigger and taller with only bouts of sunshine as opposed to being beaten on all summer. The flies don’t gnat as badly on me and I don’t sweat so much.
I feel so heavy right now, I can tell the seasons are changing. Only months ago I was pulled taut to the body beneath me, the ribs and other bones making impressions into me. I could feel the stretch as we walked through the bush in the areas where we have the most movement. Whenever the body ran or swam I could feel the heartbeat hard against me, as if it was trying to break out. Beating, beating, beating like a drum inside of me. Now I am warmer, covered in a layer of thick fat beneath me as insulation. The bones no longer push into me and the beating has changed to a duller tone, more content to stay put inside.
I start to shoot out more and more hairs to cover myself. I know it will be a cold winter, a long one, and it is time to begin to grow a long warm blanket for myself and the body I protect. I can feel the pressure of all the follicles beginning to burst as the hairs push through to the outside and I itch from it. It protects me more and more from the moisture in the air that will eventually freeze the longer hairs, except from where I wrap around the snout. I am always cold there.
* * *
This year, I am harvested. I feel a sharp pain, twice, as the metal enters and leaves me, on opposing sides. I can feel the warm blood spill out across me around the holes. It is so warm that for an instant I feel relief from the impending cold and the burning sting. I can feel all the hairs that cover me go rigid and then I am squished on one side as the body I cover comes to the ground.
The drumbeat fades. The gentle expansion I feel with each breath becomes smaller and smaller until it stops. The dampness of the leaves against me as the sun goes down and the frost stretches towards me. I haven’t been here before; I do not know what comes next.
* * *
Something light and fragrant is placed upon my shoulder. I can sense that there is ceremony here, a gift being offered in reciprocity. It comforts me and brings peace to this place, this sacred time.
I feel pressure as the metal pierces through in several spots, but it is no longer painful. With each entry, I feel the cavities filling up with air, almost gasping with relief at the fresh air filling them. The hands that are on me work quickly, expertly. I am separated almost in one gigantic piece from the body that grew me, nurtured me, though the spirit now surrounds us all.
The blood spills out in warm waves over the broken pieces of the moon and stars. This feeling is not black and white, but somewhere in between, knowing no bounds of space or time as the expanse of all that I hold in gives way. The blood gives one final gush as I am pulled from the body and it soaks into the dirt underneath, leaving a stain. The organs once held together and kept warm by me now slump into a different shape, somehow less ready than I am to carry on and become nourishment.
I am folded and creased in new places, wrapped in a rope and pulled tightly into a mighty and neat package. It is cold now, I can feel the flesh against fur, fur against flesh, over and over. My edges beginning to harden and tighten to the air as I have never had exposed edges before. We traverse the same bush where I have lived, journeying to a new place.
* * *
I am placed wholly into darkness and it envelopes me, allowing rest. I can hear the bustling of many creatures around me, kin, working hard to process the gift that we are. I am aware of the responsibility of reciprocity that exists here and that this relationship is carried out respectfully so as not to bring harm.
Eventually, I am plunged into water. Air pockets between my folds gasp for air and reach up, only to be pushed under and release columns of bubbles. I am unravelled, over and over, brought out into the air and thrust under again. It feels nurturing to be bathed. Many hands turn me over and over as I am inspected and it helps to loosen the tightness. I feel my flesh massaged between worn hands. All around my edges first, and then in large cones throughout the surface, running water off and splashing.
I stay there, in the tub overnight, again shrouded in darkness with a heavy rock placed on top to hold me under the surface. The fur covering me dances all around, back and forth, living one final night of celebration before it is transformed. I swell up as I drink in more and more water, thickening and becoming heavy with rest.
The next day, daylight streams into the barrel. Hands once again swirl me around the bucket satisfactorily, purposefully. I hear many voices, young and old, and smells of smoke and burnt wood permeate the damp air. I see clouds of moisture exuding from the lips of my kin as they hover around me. I am finally pulled out of the water with great effort and draped over arms and shoulders.
I am hung across wide and long beams lifted off the ground. Thick parts of my flesh around the neck, and odder-shaped obtrusions around where the legs and tail used to be get trimmed off. I can feel slits being placed all around the edges of me, starting in the East and working their way around. I am lifted off the beams and two ropes are laced through the slits, starting at the top and working away from one another as I am pulleyed up onto a frame and stretched flat, my flesh exposed. I am pulled tighter and tighter around the beams, equally on all sides. I fit perfectly, different frames built to accommodate different sizes and seasons.
* * *
The fleshing begins. It is not painful, though repetitive. It takes skill and practice to do this fluidly. I am thick and strong, but I will either tear or not release the layers of flesh and fat if the angle isn’t just right. It begins at the top and rolls downwards in little wet tubes of fat. Some of it is translucent, and some of it is thick and speckled with blood vessels. Pressure pulls down on the separating layers to help it scrape clear, creating a pocket between me and my own flesh. It is more abrupt than when this happens at season change, gradually over the cold, long winters. Now it is purposely pulled from me, morphing and transforming me into something different. It feels like release, like shedding and celebrating the conclusion of a season of my lifetime.
There are parts around my neck where this happens over and over in an effort to remove thicker fat, and areas near my waist where the fat comes off easier. The more that is removed, the more I begin to dry and loosen on the frame from the consistent scraping. Periodically, there is a pause and the ropes woven around my edges are tightened as I reach deeper for the outer frame.
Eventually, this concludes. The frame is flipped over so my fur is now exposed and the frame is lifted off the ground for air flow. It is still early enough in the Fall that the sunshine during the day is enough to dry me out. I tighten and dry in place, releasing the last bit of moisture from my fur cover into the air. It is damp and cool at nighttime, that brisk Fall mountain air signalling what is to come.
The bottom of the frame is lowered back onto the ground, and this time there are several hands. The tool has changed as well, this time smoother with less itchy teeth. I feel the weight of warm bodies kneeling across me, and they push down hard and sure this time, more rapidly than when my fat was being removed. The metal scraping against my skin generates warm heat that concentrates in spots where the hands work, making it easier for me to release the fur. It falls from me in clumps and rolls down into piles on the ground. Curls of skin and hair remain suspended on the ropes and dry shavings cover the hands and bodies like confetti.
I am bare. Cleared of the years before me, prepped for the ones to come. More weathered hands run over me, back and forth, checking for spots not quite finished. There is an air of finality, of pride, even though the process is long from finished. Pepsi bottles hiss in the air and lighters crack with puffs of smoke to celebrate a job well done.
* * *
I feel the ropes removed from the now well dried out holes and I buckle into a stiff bend as I come down from the frame. A sharp knife trims all the way around my edges again, removing the row of holes. I am once again placed into a barrel of water. People visit around me as meat hangs above the low fire drying. The hands pull me out in sections and twist and rub, spin and squeeze the water back into me. I swell again, though this time not so heavy without the fat. I once again spend the night suspended in the water and darkness before I am spread out on the ground and thrust again into the heat of the sun.
I am dried out and held over thick smoke from evergreen branches. So thick that eyes water and the air is punctuated by coughing. I am soaked again, then stretched over fire. Rubbed hard and fast on metal bars, then soaked and stretched over fire again and again. It happens so often and so fast I feel dizzy, unable to keep track. Each time I am plunged back into the water I am reminded that everything is cyclical. I feel the dry stiffness that I had become begin to give way, to soften and fold.
Extra attention is paid to where I remain stiff and tight. Those spots rubbed over and over metal bars and pulled hard. I am manifesting to these hands that hold me to exercise patience, caution and care. Exemplifying the teachings of what it means to be taught a life lesson, over and over, until you eventually hear the Creator in your being. I am the one being softened, but I am the one holding the teachings to do the softening of these hands.
When it is enough, I am sewn together again. In the same place I was when I once covered another being, but there used to be no seam. I am strung up and smothered in smoke and heat once again, but this time I tan and turn a deep caramel hue. I am flipped inside out and the process happens again, before the seam is cut wide open and I am stretched one last time. I feel faces bury into me with deep inhales taken, and I am hugged tightly like family. I am once again transformed.
* * *
I am passed into new hands that now hold a different spirit and are weighted with a different gift. Collectively, we all understand that none of us can carry all these pieces of knowledge, and that it is from this place of shared responsibility that we thrive. Our bond is forged by many hands holding our teachings. Smoke passes over me once more, waved back and forth by a winged one above. A ceremony occurs again here, giving thanks for what I was and what I am to become. This time I am cut up the middle and slowly divided into more and more pieces. This is my path to disperse my medicine, and I am calmed.
I am stitched through with needle and string, over and over and held firmly in hands. Each stitch adds a new colour or shape, creating depth and intricacy, like a dance. It is so efficiently done that at times I become one with the hands and we are both guided by a memory beyond this physical world. I am lifted up and down, spun around and flipped over as the stitches pull me tight and stiff to support the beads that now lay across me. Different stories and teachings are sewn in with each pull of thread, a teaching that will now live on.
Several of my pieces are eventually sewn back together with sinew. I admire my own strength and tenacity. I am looked at admiringly and with pride while passing through many hands. The echo of deep laughter, food, and stories surround me.
Then the hands that transformed me this time will give me away.
* * *
Now it is time to dance. I will hold in love and grace these dancers’ feet, and they will barely touch the grass as they move. I am once again held by the pounding of the drum around me and feel comforted. The beat that once lay caged inside of me is now free to explode in colour and fervour. I am in a relationship with the jingles that sway above me; I help them to move their medicine across the earth while being blessed with each beat. I will take on the colour of the earth and the grass, and my smoke smell will blend with fire and cigarette smoke from aunties, fading ever so slightly from being slid on and off. I will travel and win awards, offer comfort in strange places and love in reciprocity until eventually I can no longer be repaired with the addition of new layers to my soul.
When that day comes, I will hold the most prestigious place of all, passed down from generations. I will be placed in honour behind glass above the dining room table of all the hands that have helped to shape me. I will witness the stories and watch over the many milestones of all those who I have grown to love and those who love me. A reminder of our bond and our strength with this land. Held in love and in loss, but always a reminder of who we are and where we come from. From that moose, from this land, pushed and pulled, heated and cooled, stretched and tightened.