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Authors: Louise Erdrich


BOOK: Chickadee
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For Netaa-niimid Aamo-ikwe



he year was 1866, and the girl whose first step was a hop, Omakayas, sometimes skipped as she chased after her children. Omakayas and her husband, Animikiins, had moved away from the villages on the shores of Lake of the Woods. They wanted to escape the illnesses that the fur traders brought along with bright cloth and wonderful tools. Omakayas, Animikiins, and their family lived in a remote land that gave them everything they needed: birchbark for making houses, animals and plants for food, wood for warmth, and cold sparkling water to dip and drink from the lake. This year, however, a most precious being would be stolen from them. They would follow. Only an act so shocking would bring them away from all they knew, onto the Great Plains. There they would learn how to survive in a landscape of harsh charms and brutal winds. They would learn the ways of the horse, the oxcart, and their new neighbors, the Metis. They would build their life anew and change forever.


hickadee was sure that he remembered everything about the day that he and his twin brother were born.

“It was cold, wasn't it, Nimama? Just like today? Didn't the snow come suddenly? I remember that there was lots of snow!”

Omakayas looked down at him and smiled wearily. She had told this story a hundred times, and Chickadee had told it a hundred times more. He had heard it so many times that he now believed that
was the one who remembered every detail. He was an exhausting child, and there were two of him! His twin, Makoons, was using a stick to spear an imaginary bear like the old woman in his mother's stories.

“I'm Old Tallow!” he cried. “Stand still, Nimama. You be the bear!”

Omakayas growled and took the stick.

The twins were eight years old, and Omakayas was alone in the camp with them. Their father, Animikiins, was out hunting moose. Ordinarily, he would have taken the boys along so they could learn to hunt by his side. But today the air had that iron edge of snow. The sky was growing dark and the clouds looked heavy. Snow for certain. Perhaps that was why Chickadee could not stop talking about the day he was born.

“I remember,” he started again, “you were out collecting wood. I was cold.”

were cold,” Makoons corrected.

“You were out collecting wood for a big fire, Nimama, when suddenly the snow just whirled down out of nowhere! It was a flash storm, a blizzard! You started back to the lodge. You staggered, carrying your load of wood.”

Chickadee pitched forward and Makoons pretended he was a heavy wind and tried to push his brother over. Omakayas sighed again, and picked through some manoomin, wild rice, for stray stones and husks. She was boiling the last of their meat over a small fire and hoping that Animikiins would have luck out on the trail of a moose. She was humming a hunting song under her breath, to help him. Chickadee tugged on her heavy blue wool dress.

“You staggered into the camp! You barely made it! You crawled into the lodge and got close to the fire. You threw down the firewood and opened your blanket and—”

“Ai'ii,” said Omakayas.

“There I was,” said Chickadee, with great satisfaction. “I had come to help you. I had flown into your blanket.”

“The snow was so thick in the air that the little chickadee must have knocked right into me, and nestled close,” said Omakayas. She was always drawn into the story, in spite of herself.

BOOK: Chickadee
4.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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