Andrew and I have a tendency to stop for anything that looks historical. Earlier this summer, we were zipping along Highway 68 in the R.M. of Alonsa, returning from our northern Manitoban vacation. Suddenly I spied a faded sign that indicated “Thunderbird Nest Historical Site”. An arrow pointed to a gravel road.
“You should take that road!” I suggested with confidence and enthusiasm.
Andrew agreed, slamming on the brakes and cranking the wheel. Off we toodled down a road that looked more like a private driveway.
I kept thinking this historical site would announce itself shortly with an obvious sign.
We saw no signs.
We kept driving.
We began to think that perhaps I imagined the sign. Or maybe I misunderstood it. This couldn’t possibly be right.
We began to wonder if perhaps we were trespassing.
That unsettled feeling of violating someone’s occupied land began to make my heart pound.
I found myself questioning everything.
“Should we keep going?” Andrew asked.
“Where could we even turn the car around?” I replied.
We continued, getting further and further away from good old Highway 68.
A sign finally emerged. It was completely blank.
“That might be it,” Andrew suggested.
“No way,” I said. “That sign could’ve said anything. How can we know it’s right? Better keep going.”
Shortly thereafter, we encountered a gate. For whatever reason, I figured we should probably keep going.
We kept following the trail for what felt like a terrible eternity, and it led us to a cattle pasture beside the endless Lake Manitoba, where we were able to turn our little car around. We had come to the end.
“I definitely screwed up and now we will die!” I announced to Andrew dramatically, my heart in my throat. “I’m so sorry!”
As we encountered the gate again, Andrew gasped. “The gate is closed.”
“NO.” My heart exploded in panic. “This is how it ends!” I was flooded with horror.
“Haha just kidding,” he said with a boyish grin, casually driving through the still-open gate.
I sank into my seat in relief before punching him in the arm. “Jeepers you almost gave me a heart attack!”
He smiled over at me. Well he’s the best.
Crisis averted, yet that uncomfortable feeling stayed with us. I only took two pictures from this adventure, because it really didn’t feel right. The whole time I couldn’t shake the idea that we didn’t belong here. We shouldn’t be here. This was a mistake. We shouldn’t have come.
When we arrived at home, I looked up “Thunderbird Nest Manitoba” and learned that it’s a sacred Anishinaabe site. A circle of stones forms a nest to attract the mythical Thunderbird, a shape-shifting guardian spirit which is able to transform itself from an eagle to a man.
Andrew was probably right: the blank sign had once directed visitors to the site and we should have stopped there. But in a way, I’m glad we didn’t find it on this trip. I’m glad I experienced that awful feeling of trespassing, instead. As a settler, it’s probably the right way to experience all sites and all places here in North America.
That unsettled feeling of violating someone’s occupied land.
(To see photos of the Thunderbird Nest, a quick search online will get you what you’re after.)