I heard a crack and a grunt from behind me as Ranger tripped over a root or something. I turned to check his recovery, when I remembered … Ranger was in front of me. I turned forward again and saw him standing about 10 meters ahead, with head tipped back, sniffing the air.
“You smell that?” he asked.
“Smell what ? We don’t got a dog to blame it on, so you might as well confess eh ?” I joked.
He continued sniffing and said “It smells like, burnt leather”.
I was walking toward him, sniffing the air myself, when I felt an icy draft run down the back of my legs. I quickly turned again only to see the trail meandering through the bush behind me. Then it hit me.
“There it is, an acrid, musky scent. Not objectionable, just unfamiliar” I suggested.
“Yeah ! that’s it. He agreed. “Not unpleasant, just kinda strange”.
“Aww this is Southern Ontario, who knows what kind of factory might be upwind of this trail?” I
offered, as I casually reached into my hiking bag.
“Yeah, I suppose that could be it”. He stopped and glanced over my shoulder. I turned to look as well and asked,
“Hmm” he grunted. “Thought I” he shook his head, “saw something”. He shrugged his shoulders and concluded, “Just shadows of the trees and clouds I guess”.
As he turned and started walking up the hill, I pulled the predator repellant canister from my bag, dis-engaged the safety switch, and gently placed my thumb on the trigger. The next few kilometers were uneventful though oddly silent, no birds singing, no grouse drumming, no squirrels or chipmunks scurrying about. Regardless, we concluded another lovely morning on a newly discovered backroad trail.
Over lunch, Ranger asked if I ever felt like we were being watched as we explore. With all the wildlife studies I’ve done, I expect a dozen or more pairs of eyes watching us at all times. Ranger frowned, shook his head and explained that he meant something else. “You know, how you get that creepy feeling every now and then? Do you ever get that ?” I smiled weakly and asked if he noticed what I had in my hand for half the walk we’d just finished. He had noticed the pepper spray canister. “That’s why I asked, knowing you were carrying that made me wonder if you felt it too.” I assured him that I certainly did, but that I also suspected we’d just creeped ourselves out. “Yeah, I suppose so” he sighed.
Two days later Ranger (ever the Historian), sent an email with the attached excerpts, from two books in his library :
The following is an excerpt from “Indian Wigwams and Campfire Legends of the Wyandot Tribe” by Cmdr. William E. F. Harris HMS Sheffield 1783
Anue heard a thud, and a soft grunt behind him. Assuming the elderly Oghtaeh had tripped over something, he turned to frown at him for the noise when he remembered Oghtaeh was in front of him. Seeing nothing behind, he turned forward again to see Oghtaeh turning his head from side to side. He was sniffing the warm mid-day air for something. Anue stepped quietly toward him as a cold draft ran down his back. He spun around, swinging his stone and antler battle axe. Marauding bands of Iroquois were known to be in the area. There was nothing behind him. He turned back to Oghtaeh and softly asked,
“Do you scent prey or Iroquios Oghtaeh?”
“Neither” came Oghtaeh’s ominous answer. “I cannot say what it is, only what it is not. It is not prey. It is not Iroquois. It is not friendly, and it is very close”.
Oghtaeh turned to face Anue. Then, lifting his gaze above Anue’s head, he closed his eyes and sadly said,
“It is done Anue”.
Anue spun about, swinging his …
A band of Iroquois stopped to listen to a haunting wail coming from the direction of the Sunrise. The youngest of them whispered “Windigo?”. They changed direction and headed for home, as the wind in the trees drowned-out the distant cries of pain and terror.
The following is an excerpt from “Tales from the Early Days of Upper Canada” by Andrew C. Beckner U.E.L. 1840
Nathaniel Heberdon was a good provider to his family. He had taken over the saw mill in the Fall of 1823, only 3 years after arriving on the banks of the Ganaraska river. The mill was upstream by a half hour walk from town. Heberdon and maintenance man Jonathan Corkney, often made the walk together. It was late November and they turned their collars to the bitter wind blowing downstream from the North. Conversation was difficult, so they would hold off until arrival at the mill. On the way, Corkney stumbled on a tree root and fell. Heberdon hurried forward to help him up. Grabbing his arm and pulling him up, Heberdon shouted over the wind,
“Let me assist you Mr. Corkney. Are you quite alright ?”
“Quite well Sir, thank you Mr. Heberdon” Corkney replied as he brushed off his trousers. The wind had intensified considerably, and the two men were being whiplashed by the surrounding shrubbery along the path.
“Shall we get along now Mr.Corkney? I believe the weather is worsening” Heberdon suggested. But before Corkney could respond, they both caught a scent on the wind.
“Whatever is that odd smell ?” Heberdon asked, when a terrible thought occurred to him “The mill ! The mill’s ablaze!” Corkney assured his employer that it was not the mill.
“Nay Sir, that’s not a mill fire Mr. Heberdon”. That I’m sure of, but what exactly it is, I cannot tell you Sir”.
“Well, we need shelter soon, so we’d best be on our way Mr Corkney”. Then he saw Corkney’s terrified eyes staring over Heberdon’s left shoulder, as he shouted over the wind,
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall …”
Heberdon’s decapitated body was found amongst the shore-ice on Christmas day. Corkney was never seen nor heard from again.
Now, over the years, and on my own time I’ve studied the history, arts, and legends of many Native cultures. I even learned to speak a little Chippewa from a book written by a Hudson Bay Factor in 1791. Back in College days I used to tell the wife (girlfriend at that time) “Ni sakia kin”. Don’t bother Googling that because the Jesuit priests screwed it up. That’s a phonetic spelling from before the priests’ arrival. I know there are dozens of spirit creatures in those cultures. They were used for everything from explaining the unexplainable, through keeping children away from fast moving waterways or deep dark forests, to mystifying dumbass white men who’d believe anything for a shilling.
We’ve all heard of Bigfoot, Nessie, and Yeti. Not many are familiar with Windigo, Misiginebig, and Mishibizhiw from the cultures right in our own backyards. Yeah, I know. If the names were easier to pronounce, you might’ve heard of them. I find it strange/amusing how society can dismiss the possibility of one unproven being’s existence, while allowing another, the greater courtesy. From a scientist’s perspective, I can no more dismiss the possibility of a windigo than I can a bigfoot, as I can’t prove either exists, any more than I can prove neither exists. Competent scientists don’t believe. We either know, or we don’t.
So, we returned to the trail that spooked us so bad, and walked it again … nuthin’ ! I guess we just had a funny day the time before, and a normal day the next. It’s a lovely trail actually, with lots of open young forest and virtually no undergrowth. Easy to walk and enjoy. Ranger snapped a quick picture over his shoulder as we drove away. I was sure I smelled the acrid scent of burnt leather.