Mary’s heart is pounding, racing like it’s going to burst. She is running to her parent’s cabin where she grew up and the safest place she knows. The sight she just saw was spectacular from a distance, but as she stood at the frozen shore of the lake…
Mary proudly looks at her daughter as she finishes her first set of snowshoes. The fall weather was a time of preparation for her family. The boreal forest had relentless winters that often hit the northern families hard. The family enjoyed many of the supplies from the nearest trading forts but snowshoes were a necessity that only they themselves could count on for quality as the ones at the fort seemed to be made to sell cheaply.
Mary’s daughter, Margret, felt much pride as she held up her snowshoes to her father, Daniel. Daniel pats his daughter on the head and congratulates her on a job well done. Daniel remembers all too clearly the tale his wife told him many years ago when they started their courtship.
… The lights came nearer and nearer until they were over the tips of the tall spruce trees across the lake. There the lights hovered and shimmered lightly. A slight drop in height soon followed as they came to rest on the shore of the other side of the lake, just a thousand of her father’s paces in distance.
Daniel could remember the fear and trembling as Mary told him the story of her snowshoes breaking as she ran from the machi-pimithākan (bad plane aka, UFO or flying saucer). He remembers how Mary said that nobody believed her when she got to her parent’s cabin. They laughed and told her she was seeing things and only her grandmother didn’t laugh, as if she understood what Mary had seen.
Mary ran as fast as her old snowshoes could take her. Soon, the frame starts to crack, she horridly recalls her hesitation to make herself new snowshoes for the winter because she wanted more time to play. She falls and twists her ankle as she quickly, regrettably, looks back at the craft that has landed across the lake. She hobbles slowly to the door of the cabin and bursts in to find her family staring at her frightened face. “machi-pimithākan!” She screams, as her family is rendered speechless by the word. Daniel recalls Mary’s family giving her the benefit of the doubt and rush out to take a look.
Mary lays by her grandmother as she softly cries in horror and pain. Her grandmother tries to comfort her and reassure her that they won’t come back anytime soon. Mary vividly remembers her grandmother telling her that she had seen something similar when she was a little girl. Her grandmother tells her that it is a group of spirits coming down to check on the most special of the family, a light for each previous generation that is signaling hope that the great circle will go on forever. It is a passing of the torch to the new bearer and that it is her turn. Mary wakes up still laying in her grandmother’s arms. The family had gone to check and saw only a slight crevice of melted snow where they think Mary used a lit torch to melt the snow in order to prank them.
The family had heard stories before from grandma but they never took it seriously. They were Christianized and were told that superstitions such as their legends were just stories and that it was an abomination to practice traditional teachings. The term “machi-pimithākan” came from recent sightings in the stories from magazines and is a translational of “evil flying device”, “bad or evil airplanes” or UFO.
Mary never really recovered from the situation and felt that if her snowshoes had held out for the run, she would have gotten to the cabin on time to prove her story, but she was too late. Her regret lay with her hesitation to make new snowshoes, how lazy and stupid was she?
Mary’s grandmother told her of their past when all the people were still Indians. There were no such words as machi-pimithākan or any other whiteman words in use at the time. It was not until the whiteman decided to Christianize the Indians that the old ways started to become frowned upon and even made illegal by the government. She was told not to pass on her knowledge as to discourage the Indian-ness of her people.
The spirits of the past have always come to visit in each generation when the torch bearer would tell the tale of hope that we were all part of the circle. A signal that the current bearer would pass and go with the spirits back to the next world and the new bearer would keep the promise of hope.
As Mary listened to the laughs and the harsh scolding, she turned to her grandmother who had fallen asleep. She gives her an ever gentle push as she moves her face close to hers but instead, her grandmother gently falls limp on her back. Tears fall down Mary’s face as she realizes what happened.
Daniel recalls Mary telling him that she tried telling the family what really happened that it was the spirits that were visiting and she might be the new bearer. They all just laughed until they realize too that grandma was no longer with them, Mary knew her precious grandmother had gone to join their ancestors in the never ending circle of life.