Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice - Excerpt
Moon of the Crusted Snow

a novel by Waubgeshig Rice


AILEEN TURNED TO THE CROWD AND SPOKE. “Boozhoo, Zhaawshgogiiizhgokwe n’dizhnakaaz,” she said. “Wawashkesh n’dodem.” After introducing herself in Anishinaabemowin, she addressed the crowd in English. “Good afternoon, my relatives.” Her quiet, authoritative voice echoed through the large room. “Thank you all for coming here today.” As an elder, she had the full attention of everyone in the room. Any eyes that might have rolled during the smudge were nonetheless now fixed on her. She was everyone’s auntie, even if they weren’t related by blood.

“Winter is here,” she continued. “Maybe it came a little earlier than we all expected. It’s the time when the trees go to sleep. The bears go to sleep. We all rest. And then we will be reborn in the spring. But it’s important to make sure we’re ready. Now is the time to help your relatives prepare their winter homes. Make sure they have enough food. Enough wood. Enough medicine to make it through the dark season.”

Heads nodded in the crowd. Evan tried to read the faces, people no doubt thinking of their own winter inventory and what they would need. Some looked slightly panicked. “So I’m going to offer a prayer,” she smiled. “I’m gonna ask the Great Spirit to take care of us this winter. We’re gonna need it.” She smiled reassuringly and began to speak in her first language once again, introducing herself once more in Anishinaabemowin, and then giving thanks for health and all the other gifts from the Creator.

Aileen finished with a strong miigwech, and a smattering of responses rolled through the audience as they thanked the elder for opening the meeting. Candace helped her back to her chair while Evan finished smudging the last few people lined up in front of him.

That was Terry’s cue. He cleared his throat, wiped his palms on the thighs of his jeans, and stood up. He thanked Aileen for the prayer, and Evan for the smudge. He then thanked everyone who showed up to the all-members meeting.

“As you all know by now,” he started, “we’re having some issues with the infrastructure here in the community. If you didn’t know, you must be living under a rock.” The feeble joke got a chuckle out of some people, and he relaxed a bit. He pushed it. “Anyone who’s still living under a rock is buried under three feet of snow by now!” Louder laughter followed. A hint of tension lingered in some stoic faces, but most of it had dissipated.

His voice became more serious. “Last Wednesday, our satellite service went out. That knocked out TV and internet. Most of you noticed. We got a lot of visitors down here at the band office that day. Here we just thought you were all coming to wish Walter a happy birthday,” he giggled and looked down at his cousin, and the crowd chuckled again. “These things happen, so we gave it a day. Sometime in there, the phone lines went down for some reason too. When all those things still weren’t working on Thursday, we tried to call our service provider down in Gibson with our off-grid sat phone. But that wasn’t working either. We figured we’d wait another day just to see if it came on.

“Then sometime overnight Thursday, the power went out. It’s the first time we’ve lost power like that since we connected to the grid three years ago. We sent our guys to check the nearest transformers. They looked fine but they’re dead. There’s nothing coming in from the dam. And because we have no communication, we’ve had no updates.”

Parkas rustled as people whispered to neighbours and family. From their place at the front of the room, Terry and the councillors could see the anxiety building in the gym.

“Don’t worry, we’re confident it’ll come back on,” he quickly uttered. “They spent a hundred million dollars getting this line to us. The longer we go without power, the worse it’ll look on the province. So you can be sure there are people down in the big smoke and at the dam working on this right now. We just don’t know exactly what the problem is yet.”

The rest of the councillors sat looking out at their relatives and friends. Each attempted to appear confident in the uneasy confusion.

“On Saturday, we turned on the generators so you could put the lights and heat back on,” Terry reminded them. “We wanted to give you a chance to keep working on whatever you still needed to do before winter. Stuff like arranging your food in your freezers and bringing wood inside. Looks like we did that just in time too. We’re keeping the generators on for the time being, but we still need you to conserve energy. Only turn on lights in the room you’re in. Don’t use your electric oven if you don’t have to. If you’re gonna watch DVDs, please do it sparingly.

“It’s been a long time since the generators ran all winter. The diesel tanks are only half full. We’re supposed to get some new shipments in once the service road is iced over for the truckers. We ordered maintenance supplies last month and that delivery is supposed to happen sometime in the next couple weeks. Same time as the next food truckload for the Northern. But hopefully by then, we’ll be back on the grid.”

“What the fuck, Terry?” a voice shouted from the back. Evan’s much older cousin Mark angrily pulled his toque off his head and stood up. “So we just gotta wait around and hope this shit returns to normal?”

“We’re just asking you to be patient, Mark,” the chief replied. The lights shimmered off Mark’s scalp that showed through his thinning brown hair. “The plans are in place. The generators are running. That’s what they’re there for. Emergencies. They’re doing what they’re supposed to right now.”



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