||September 11, 2008
GOLD MEDALIST- Best Canadian fiction- western region (IPPY Awards)
Abe Williston- the bush pilot
Ted Corrigan and Jack Redsky- childhood friends
Diana Corrigan and Jenny Redsky- mothers spanning two cultures
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Ed Zaruk's website
For twenty years Abe Williston flew all over the world. Now, at the controls of a small airplane owned by Michael Redsky, he was headed back to Kenora, Ontario, returning to close friends he'd left behind as Native culture was being sacrificed on the whiteman's altar of bureaucracy. Would there be something to keep him from leaving a second time? The memories of forgotten friendships held no answers.
Set in simpler times against the background of Northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods, ALTAR and THRONE explores the friendships between Natives and whites, tested by a world turning more complex as cultures collide.
Listen to CBC radio interview with Carolina de Ryk
Jack Redsky, a member of the Fish Clan and full-blooded Indian, was proud of his Ojibway heritage. The coming of the white man to the Lake of the Woods had changed the way of life for his father and grandfather, some for good, some for bad, but mostly it just made things complicated.
From these two men, Jack had been entrusted with the legends and values that had served his nation from times unknown. Even as the white man’s society eroded his culture, Jack learned carefully the lessons taught him about how to deal with the change.
“Be like a tall tree,” his grandfather had said. “Bend when the wind blows. A tree that does not bend will fall. Bend, but keep your roots in sacred Indian soil.”
The winds of change blew gently on Jack when Ted Caucutt came into his life more than two decades ago.
Jack’s father had fished around the point from the Caucutt’s camp on the Lake of the Woods, and often tied up at the long dock, made of old telegraph poles to chat with Ted’s father, Charlie.
As was his custom, Charlie had invited Jack’s father to the lodge where they relaxed and smoked in the shade of a verandah. Jack who’d just turned eleven that summer, sat in the boat watching Ted fish off the end of the dock. Hopping out when Ted called him, Jack had run down the dock to stand beside Ted, fascinated by the new rod-and-reel he was using.
“Wanna try it?” Ted asked, holding the rod out toward Jack.
Jack nodded his head, excitement filling his face as he took the rod in both hands and swung it. Holding the reel with his thumb too long caused the lure to jerk back and land in the water about fifteen feet out.
“Give it a long sweeping swing,” Ted said, making a gesture with his right arm. “Then give it a gentle flick of the wrist and let go of your thumb just as the rod points straight out.” Jack wound the line in and tried it again, this time dropping the lure some fifty feet out in the lake.
“Now you got it!”
White teeth gleamed against Jack’s smooth, brown skin. Ted patted him on the back. “Try it again.”
Ten minutes later, Jack had the hang of it, plunking the lure into the lake almost a hundred feet out. When he started reeling it back, the line jerked tight. Moments later, a Walleye danced on the surface, a brass lure hanging from its mouth.
There had been many more fish caught over the years as each boy grew to manhood in their separate worlds. Just as fate had brought them together, it continued to overlap their lives as they married and had children: Jack and Jenny, three boys, Ted and his wife, Diana, two girls.
Raising the rifle Ted had given him for a wedding present, Jack felt the cold steel draw warmth from his fingers while he squinted through the sights. As he did every autumn before the leaves turned, Ted stood beside him on the hunt. This year Jack was determined to take the big buck that had been growing fat on his wife’s garden.
Antlers filled the gun sights. Jack lowered the rifle a tiny fraction, settled the stock against his shoulder, and eased the trigger back.
Abe Williston loved Northwestern Ontario from the air. Vast panoramas of trees and lakes under an ever-changing sky, swamps with bone-white tree snags reflecting the afternoon sun, the Lake of the Woods with its thousands of islands surrounded by emerald shorelines. He wished he was still flying instead of tying his plane to a tree in the middle of nowhere. Oh, well, he thought, testing the knot, if he had to have trouble anywhere, this was probably not a bad place to be.
The day had started off a pilot’s delight, gorgeous sunrise, long wisps of cloud high in the sky. Perfect weather for flying. It had taken him three trips in his old biplane built a few years after the Great War, and already obsolete, to move two prospectors and their gear to a place known only as an X marked on Abe’s flight map.
When his dad had died of pneumonia, his mom couldn’t keep up the farm in Saskatchewan. Abe had no interest in growing wheat, so they sold it a few months before the stock market crash brought on the depression. Unlike his father, who considered it a waste of time and money, his mom had always encouraged him to become a pilot. Now she insisted he use the money to follow his dream of owning an airplane.
Abe could have taken it all and bought a new plane, but his mom would have had to go to work. Abe refused to let that happen, accepting only enough to arrange for financing of his present plane from its previous owner. Long hours and lots of mechanical work had seen him pay the loan off over the last two years, but the old biplane was showing its age.
Little things kept causing big problems. Today it had been a broken fuel line forcing Abe to land in a bay near the Long Grass Indian Reservation. What now separated him from help was a half mile of trees and brush. Satisfied his knot would hold, he checked to make sure all the switches were off, then stepped from the float. A shot rang off in the distance as Abe tucked his sleeping bag under one arm and walked into the forest.
When the single shot reverberated in the forest, Jenny Redsky stopped picking beans from her garden, back of a wood-frame house built three years ago by the government of Canada. The house had two bedrooms and a kitchen with an adjoining area used as a livingroom. The toilet was forty feet outside the back door.
In the quiet that followed she smiled to herself and went back to her picking, gently working the beans from corn stalks around which they had become intertwined.
She always looked forward to Ted Caucutt taking a week off from his job with the Canadian Pacific Railway and spending a few days with her husband, Jack. If they got a deer, Ted would probably leave in the morning for his father’s camp.
Jenny brushed away a fly from the side of her head thinking how good life was as a gentle breeze rustled the leaves, some displaying autumn colours about the edges.
A little hand tugged at her wool skirt. She looked down into black eyes tinged with gray.
Jenny took two bean pods from her youngest son, Michael. “Thank you.” Placing them in her woven basket, she pointed to another pole. “You want to get me three from that one this time?”
Michael broke into a grin and ran off. Jenny knew her son liked to use numbers. She felt he understood them very well for a boy of four. A commotion behind broke her thoughts.
“Give it back!”
“I found it.”
Jenny watched her two oldest sons chase barefoot around the back of the garden. Pete and Johnnie were born a year and a half apart. Where had ten years gone, she wondered, as Pete dashed by, holding something Jenny couldn’t identify. Close on his heels, Johnnie kept hollering, “Give it to me. It’s mine.”
“No way.” Pete looked back at his brother. “I saw it first.” His foot caught a fallen log, sending him sprawling. Johnnie was on top of him before he quit rolling. Whatever they were arguing over was forgotten as they started a good-natured wrestling match.
Jenny had learned to ignore her sons constant play fighting and took her beans inside as Michael ran over to join the fray. She was cutting and cleaning them in a galvanised wash pan that served as a sink when, through the little four-pane window, she saw Jack and Ted, each holding an antler, dragging a deer carcass out of the trees. Wiping her hands, she hurried outside.
Jack met her with a smile as the wind lifted the tips of his long hair. “Here’s your big buck.” Letting go of the antler in his hands, he allowed the deer’s head to fall on the ground.
Ted, shorter than either Jenny or Jack, let go his, and the animal’s head rolled sideways. “Jack nailed him right in the neck.”
“He’ll go a hundred and twenty pounds.” Jack moved beside his wife, rubbing the small of her back.
“So he should, all he’s eaten from my garden.” Jenny touched her man’s arm, feeling the hard muscle. It always gave her a tingle. She’d come back to that thought later tonight. “We’ll give your folks a hind quarter.”
“And make new winter moccasins for us all,” Jack said, leaning his rifle against a tree. Taking out his hunting knife, he carved out a loin strip and handed it to his wife. “Supper.”
Pete, Johnnie, and Michael ran up. Michael kicked the deer’s head.
“Hey!” Jack grabbed his youngest son by the shoulder. “The Great Manitou gave us this one. He runs no more so that we may eat. Do not abuse the Great One’s generosity.”
Through Storyteller Eyes
QUESNEL CARIBOO OBSERVER
Through storyteller eyes
By Annie Gallant | November 04, 2008
Almost 20 years ago, Ed Zaruk gave up his expensive hobbies and informed his wife Marian he was going to be a writer.
Since he always loved reading, Zaruk figured a couple of pencils and a few sheets of paper would be his investment.
But his first novel, which now lays in a drawer, unpublished, took 10 years to complete.
“Writing is the hardest work I’ve ever done,” Zaruk said.
A comfy couch in a hotel lobby, yellow lined pad of paper and a few free hours are all he needs to write.
“I drive a lot in my regular job,” Zaruk said.
“That’s where I work out my ideas.”
That first manuscript was painstakingly perused by Marian where spelling, grammar and structure were scrutinized.
“I have a stack of rejection letters for that novel,” Zaruk said.
He wrote what he loved, a thriller novel.
However, what possibly is the most influential exercise during that process was the couple began attending writers conferences, including the prestigious conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo. where they rubbed shoulders and picked the brains of some of North America’s best novelists.
Many of which were women.
“I started reading women authors and switched from plot driven work to character development,” he said.
“It was totally out of my genre.”
A chance reading of a true story about a pilot who flew a Norseman bush plane, carrying Indian children to residential schools, sent Zaruk on a journey to a completely different world.
On their way to Jackson Hole in 2004, Ed waited anxiously for his wife to finish reading what he had been working on for six months.
“I was prepared to put it in the drawer with the other three manuscripts,” he said.
“She loved it.”
But Zaruk was far from finished, the subject matter was controversial, the character development and relationships complex.
The novel was taking on a life of its own and Zaruk followed its lead.
Wanting to set the right foundation for this body of work, research played a big part in his writing, digging for the authentic details about a lifestyle almost gone.
Zaruk found through the residential school system and urbanization of First Nations people, much of the Native culture was lost.
His first chapter, where white boy Ted meets Ojibway Native Jack, took three months to develop.
“I wanted to portray the universal language of children at play,” Zaruk said.
“It took a long time.”
Alter and Throne took almost two years to complete.
Set in Kenora, Ont., Zaruk developed the Native personalities based on his personal experience there as an aviation mechanic, stories from his mother who lived around Native communities before residential schools and his research.
Ed and Marian didn’t always agree on how the story developed. In fact, his wife demanded one very tragic scene be removed, but Zaruk remained firm.
“I go where the characters take me,” he said.
“The characters are my friends. That scene had to remain in the story.”
Alter and Throne carries the reader through the challenging times when the Canadian government, in partnership
with the church, removed Native children from their historical and cultural roots and placed them in the hands of sometimes corrupt and cruel individuals.
Zaruk weaves his story based on fictional, but authentic characters in an emotionally gripping tale where friendships and family relationships are tested, and sometimes fail.
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