The howling wind outside my cabin taunts my memory. More than fifty years have passed since the day I stepped aboard the Esmeralda, for the New World.
I close my eyes and picture myself, as a young man filled with wanderlust, and adventure eager to make my mark on the world. That day I stood looking up at the siren carved from Moroccan teak I felt overpowered by her prescence, and wondered how the vessel would fair for it was well known that a woman aboard ship meant disaster to not only the ship, but to all aboard.
Late that afternoon I was aboard my Uncle's fishing troller as we docked in our designated area when I spotted the first mate of the Esmeralda headed our way. I waved to him, as I jumped ashore eager to tie off before our brief conversation. Hey, Nicolas meet me when you are done at the 'Old Scow' a local tavern.
My mind filled with all sorts of thoughts and what it might be that Koen had to tell me. The word about my home town of Noordwijk aan Zee, Holland was that Koen was selecting a crew for the Spanish merchant ship the Esmeralda with an unknown destination.
Later, that night when all the equipment on my uncle's fishing vessel had been stored safely and the deck scrubbed I headed to the 'Old Scow' to meet Koen.
The atmosphere within the tavern had me on edge from the very moment I set foot inside for here were the ruffians from many coasts. I scanned the darkened room until I spotted Koen then as I made my way towards the back stopped a time or two for a few words with a sailor, or lad.
Ah, laddie he said glad you came, here sit. Then Koen raised an arm and signalled for another round of drinks. When the drinks arrived he picked up a glass of Dutch gin and placed the shot glass in front of me. Let us drink to good fortune. Then he asked me if I wanted to be a fisherman for the rest of my days. For he knew I had the itch to see far off lands. Our talk reverted to the local scene, ladies and home life. A couple of rounds later Koen broached the subject I was waiting for, that of the New World.
Koen leaned forward across the table and motioned me closer then talked softly in my ear. Laddie, would you be interested in an adventure of a lifetime. What is on your mind, Koen? Well you know I am gathering a crew for the Esmeralda and thought you might like the adventure of sailing on a merchant ship. A chance to learn and grow as a seaman expand your horizons. The destination is the New World a once in a lifetime opportunity. I told him I would need a day or two to think about his offer. "Do not wait too long for we sail at dawn on the fourth day of May," he said. The sparkle in my eye at the mention of the New World must have given myself away, as he thumped my back with his hand.
A week had passed since our meeting at the tavern. A renewed flow of energy coursed through my veins, as I glanced upon the few wordly items I had come to posses over the years. My duffel bag packed with my clothes, and the old sextant from my great, grandfather. I hoisted the bag over my powerful shoulder, and headed down to the dock, for the last time. I wondered just then if I would ever see my home again then, as quick just walked on.
I arrived at the crack of dawn whilst sea gulls flew and filled the air with their raucous calls and seamen of all sizes began to haul various wooden crates aboard ship. I quickly stowed my duffel bag, and began to help with the loading of supplies for what would be a three month voyage. The work was strenuous, as I carried a number of forty kilo barrels filled with salted pork. The mainstay of our food supply. I fell into the rhythm quite naturally and worked steadily until the evening meal.
Seated on a rough hewn board I extended my hand to the closest sailor introducing myself, but soon realized the others were far more eager to chow down, as each man swallowed his portion and wiped the tin plate off with a coarse piece of rye bread.
After our meal Koen pulled me aside to give me fair warning about one who might bully me. When the time comes stand your ground, and give all you got show him what kind of a man he has chosen, as a rival.
A week out to sea and the challenge became apparent, as every chance the fellow had he would bump into me. I kept my temper in check and just carried on with my duties which only aggravated the man further. For he wanted to show what the insolence of youth meant to him. The time would come I had no doubt in my mind, and I was ready.
Aye, laddie said the cook can ye go down into the hold and fetch me up a bag of spuds. Aye, aye I said and went on my way down into the hold, spotted the pile of bags, and hoisted one upon my shoulders then turned around, and headed for the stairs. Just as I took my first step a burly arm reached out from the inky darkness, grabbed my arm and yanked me quite literally off my feet sending the bag of spuds careening across the floor.
Quick, as a cat I rose and spun on the balls of my feet. Balanced, I swept my left leg around and caught the man by surprise, as he tumbled backwards. He bellowed, as he hit the floor with a thud uncertain of what had just happened. He stood up slowly then charged head bent like a battering ram. I stood with my feet shoulder width apart and waited while my hands closed into powerful fists. The moment his head came into range I let fly with a powerful left cross that stunned him, as he stopped dead in his tracks and shook his head.
Through my peripheral vision I noticed we were no longer the only ones below, as other sailors came to witness the action. Bully boy was not to be outdone. He butted my nose with his forehead and a gush of blood splattered on the wooden floor boards. We circled the other looking for weaknesses, as I kept my distance from his powerful grasp for surely he would have crushed the life out of me given the chance.
I feinted then struck in a fury of powerful strikes each a crunching blow that made him wince. He was wheezing and I knew I had broken a rib or two and still he persisted until that final uppercut knocked him out cold. Two of the other seamen pulled his sorry ass deeper into the hold to sleep it off.
I bent and gathered up the spuds thrusting them back into the burlap sack then hoisted the bag on my shoulder and headed up on deck.
Koen saw the blood on my sleeve, as I emerged from the hold and gave me an imperceptible nod, as I passed him towards the galley. I had earned the respect of the other seamen, and was welcomed, as one of their own.
The Esmeralda had been out to sea for a month when a gale whipped the sea into a froth. A cry from high above caught our attention, as a sailor plunged headlong into the sea. There was nothing too be done for the man, as he plunged into the depths, and was swept away. It was these instances that sharpened a man's mind.
We experienced exceptionally good weather, as the wind blew endlessly for the next two weeks. A time or two we saw huge gray whales emerge from the depths and heard their cries. Two days later in the late afternoon a pod of white-sided dolphins raced the ship and on another occasion I saw a massive swordfish leap high through the air before returning to the depths.
Two months out to sea brought another creature from the depths an enormous squid. I awoke to the call 'All hands on Deck,' as the bell clanged. When I emerged a tentacle nearly swiped me overboard. Splinters of wood flew through the air in ever direction, as the squid's tentacles grabbed hold of the ship's hull. I hurried to retrieve an axe to help one of my mates wrapped in a long slimy arm. The suction cups pulsated a meter from my head, as I chopped in a flurry of strikes through the rubbery flesh severing the limb that held my shipmate.
A meter to my left I saw the creature's beak and dull black eye a moment before Koen through a harpoon. Blood spewed from the wound, and the squid released its grip slinking back into the sea. Within moments the water roiled with the fury of sharks, as they tore at the flesh of the squid. The sea turned red, as the huge creature sank to the depths trailing bits of flesh and cartilage.
Everyone was eager to be away and quickly managed to secure the ships flailing sails. A week and a half had passed, as if a day had when I heard a call from above 'land ho' off to starboard. I stood amongst the other sailors as we blocked the late afternoon sun from our eyes, and gazed upon the shores of the New World.
We had arrived on August 10, 1775 just over three months at sea.
Early the next morning we anchored in a small cove. The captain gave the order for a small party of sailors to go ashore and search for fresh water, and a fresh supply of meat. I was lucky to be included in that first party.
Koen the first mate had issued the shore party rifles, powder horns, and a pouch of lead balls for each man going ashore. Eager the few who were chosen climbed over the rail, and climbed down through the netting to the skiff below. We shoved off and rowed in earnest, as the boat skimmed the last few meters to shore.
A couple of the sailors dropped to their knees, and kissed the ground. I on the other hand needed a few moments to steady my legs. Three months at sea had caused them to seem rubbery on land, but all of a sudden I was caught up in the wonderment, laughing like a madman.
I stood in awe of the raw nature, as I strode foward wary for whom we might encounter upon our trek. Fresh water was a major concern, as the ships stocks had been reduced to almost nil. Water barrels needed to be filled, and that fell upon me, as the junior of the group while others shot a deer and several pheasants.
We loaded up our small craft, and headed back to the ship unperturbed by what we had not seen. Not more than a dozen meters in the thick woods stood a group of native men armed with bows, and arrows. They looked upon us and spoke briefly in their native tongue before they followed us through the woods along the shoreline. There they saw for the first time a huge wooden ship, and men with white skin.
The ship's carpenter and crew had been busy for several days repairing the damage the squid had caused to the battered rails and hull of the ship before the captain deemed the ship seaworthy, and gave the order to hoist sails, and set sail along the coast of this New World.
The other sailors, and I became accustomed to life along the shores, as we foraged for fresh water and food sources on several occasions. And it was on one such foray that a sailor spotted a shiny bit of yellow in a stream. He picked it up and held it to the light for the others to see when a scream filled us with dread. The sailor on the outskirts of our small company fell dead with a spear through the heart. Arrows whipped through the air in every direction, as men raced for their weapons, and cover.
Luckily, at the time I had been relieving myself when the cry erupted and bedlam ensued. I lay hidden behind an embankment. There I steadied my nerves and taking up my rifle quickly began the process of loading my flintlock, but as I peeked over the edge noticed I was the soul survivor. In prudence I remained still and waited as the painted, red, devils scalped my mates and made off with their rifles, and clothes. My whole body shook uncontrolabbly as the realization of the situation at hand finally dawned on me. Then suddenly I collapsed, struck from behind.
Groggy, I managed to open a swollen eye and gaze around. Through the haze of my mind I made out a group of eight of these painted devils around a fire taunting each other with their trophies. I tried to move, but was trussed up like a pig, for roasting. From the corner of my eye I saw another native moving silently in my direction. Then felt the fellows knife slice through my bonds, and with a quick tap on my shoulder motioned me to follow.
Silently, we slipped through the forest wary not to make a sound, and alert my captors. I silently prayed for a miracle, as we raced on through the night before we stopped by a small stream for a much needed drink. The stout fellow looked me in the face and tried a word, or two, but seeing I did not understand reverted to sign language. Suddnely, he stood up and cocked his head sideways then motioned with his finger not to make a sound, as we slunk back into the underbrush. Not more than an arms length away was a bronzed leg. I held my breath. Then suddenly there was a cry off in the distance, and the leg raced through the bush.
As the days passed I learned my new friends name was Makwa, and that he belonged to the Anishinaabe tribe and our destination. A land known as the forests edge. A place where the long grasses began and stretched across the country to the great Rocky Mountains of the west.
When I asked how he had been in the area to the east he made a slight rippling effect with his arm and apparently after much guesswork I came to the conclusion he had rowed in some sort of craft. Makwa had traded with the Mohawks and was returning home when he happened upon the scene and followed the trail to were he had seen me tied. Why had he chosen to rescue me I could not phathom, but certainly was grateful he had.
With the hunters moon I realized it must be near the end of August when we emerged from the forest into a glen. Here was the first time I saw a 'tipi' a tall structure of angled poles wrapped in buffalo skins. Each tipi housed a native family group. Makwa had me follow him through the villiage to the grandest tipi were I surmised the chief of the band resided.
I followed Makwa's lead, as he bent, and moved into the interior, but was suddenly shocked to see an older version of Makwa sitting cross legged in front of us. I stood back while the two conversed then was introduced to Chief Minweweh of the Anishinaabe; Makwah's father. After much discussion it was decided that I would be allowed to spend the winter with the band.
The following days were filled with instruction from Makwa on how to survive with nature. I learned to make fire with a small bow and plank, to set snares and learned about the many plants where either food or medicines derived. We raced the other through the woods and for fun used sticks to move a ball of tightly wrapped skins from one side to the other of a predetermined area. It was over the couse of this comaderie that the young men quickly adopted me, as one of their own.
As we stood together Makwa pointed out a young maiden who had her eye on me from the moment I had walked out of the tipi that first morning. She is beautiful is she not he had asked and I bashful only grunted. She would keep you warm during the cold winter months. I had to admit that part did interest me having a warm body next to mine.
During the late fall I was to have my native name ceremony. After great consternation on my part I accepted, and was invited by the Chief to attend the ceremony which was held in front of the whole villiage. From that day forward I was to be known as He Who Walks Alone.
The Chief had had a dream the previous night that I was to set out on a long journey far across the waving seas of grass and over the tallest mountains to the west to the land between. There I would encounter a fierce native band known as the Xeni Gwet'in and live out my days by a lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
The band and I faired well over the winter and when the first signs of spring arrived I was eager to see where that vision lay. Makwa would accompany me across the vast grasslands until we reached the tallest mountains from there I would be on my own.
Once the snows had melted and the rivers thawed we set out one fine morning. Great flocks of birds filled the sky from morning until night, as we began our trek across the waving grasslands. Here too we would need to be wary for the tribes of Cree and Blackfoot lived and hunted. Attuned to the natural ways I too began to pick up the signs that a small party had passed this way during the last couple of days. Luckily, we averted any confrontation and just naturally ran on.
Then one afternoon the ground shook beneath our feet. Makwa signalled me to follow him up a rise where we lay side by side and witnessed the first vast herd of tatanka (buffalo) come over a rise. The herd was so vast the numbers immeasurable, as wave after wave of the hairy beasts thundered on by. A cloud of dust billowed up obscuring the main portion of the herd and when two days later the herd had passed our location the praire grass had all, but been torn from the ground.
A day later, as I stood on a knoll and looked in every direction there was only a sea of waving grass as far as the horizon. But this was not the true perspective, as within the grassy confines there were numerous gullies that might hide groups of beasts, or men. Which might be the more dangerous being trampled by the throngs of buffalo, or scalped by a foe in battle? I cared for neither and was rather found of my head of dark brown hair.
Then quite by accident we came upon a pack of red wolves and just watched the family group play until the leader whined and every member stood erect their attention directed away from us. Noses into the wind they caught the scent of buffalo just a moment before we did and raced off through the tall grass.
I can still remember it was not too long after we witnessed the wolf pack that an eerie occurrence happened to me. I awoke in the middle of the night and for some reason seemed I was alone. A mist rolled across the area where I walked. Unable to see, but a few feet away I walked slowly something was drawing my attention some shape at the edge of my vision. For the very first time I seemed to have no fear then suddenly a massive white buffalo appeared directly in front of me.
He snorted and his hot breath sent streams of vapor into the night sky. I stood my ground and waited. There could not have been more than a dozen paces between us. I took a tentative step forward then another as he remained motionless. His red eyes piercing into my soul. I raised my right hand high above my head and as an inteligble voice came from my lips I stepped right up to the massive head. My hand rested on the coarse fur of Tatanka for a moment. My eyes wide at the experience and the blood pumping through my veins when suddenly the massive beast seemed to vanish.
I returned to camp just as Makwa woke and looked across the fire at me. What have you seen, he asked. I saw He Who Walks Alone in a dream just now you and the white buffalo. Nicolas, did you see him in the flesh? With eyes wide I said yes he was there right before me, as I laid a hand upon him he vanished. That is when Makwa removed a medicine bag from his belongings and gave it to me. Apparently his father had seen the same dream the night before we had departed. Take this and wear it always it will protect you from the evil of the world.
Three days later we came across an elderly Shoshone man singing his death chant. Out of respect we let him be and carried on.
Several days later we left the grassy plains for forests and rock and began our climb. That night would be our last together as Makwa had fulfilled his promise to bring me to the tall mountains. By nightfall we had our meat on a spit over the campfire. We shared the meat and retold moments of our time together. We laughed heartily for a time then retired for the night.
The next morning we stood facing the other grabbed forearms and wished the other well on their travels, then parted ways. Makwa was to return home and I to venture to the lands of the Xeni Gwet'in a fierce native tribe who lived along the shores of a turquoise lake with sheer mountains on the far side. In the dream that Netweweh had I was to find my home at a lake surrounded on three sides by snow-capped mountain peaks.
Here and there certain areas gave me a chill, as if in a past lifetime I had been here, but how could that even be possible I thought. I was surely the first whiteman to ever come this far west. I then resembled a native male by all accounts bronzed by the sun, my long dark brown hair tied with a strand hung over my shoulders. I used the same implements for hunting, and gathered plants, and herbs, as needed.
Three weeks from the time I had parted with Makwa I came into a region of many lakes. I was certainly on the right path or so my intuition was telling me. Off in the distance stood a tall mountain with three rocky outcroppings at the very top then just lower there seemed to be a thick sheet of ice. The mountain gave the impression of an old man protecting his territory. I was drawn closer and continued to explore in that direction. First, I came to a mighty flowing river that needed to be crossed. With powerful arm strokes I managed to gain the otherside, but did happen to be swept further down river than anticipated.
Then as I climbed up the opposing bank I saw far off in the distance what appearred to be a set of four hills. I was immediately drawn and continued to find my way through the bush. Late the next day I climbed to the top of the largest of these hills and looked down upon a lake. Something held my attention as I stood stock still. On three sides there were snow-capped mountains. And to the far left was that Old Man Mountain I had seen earlier. This was most certainly the place from Netweweh's dream.
I was excited as I made my way down through the trees until I popped out on the shoreline. Home is where the heart is and this very place felt like home. I could not put a finger on exactly how I knew other than it was a gut instinct.
I prepared my camp and took out some pemmican to chew on while I gazed at the beauty before me. This I decided was where I would build my home.
Author's Note: I first wrote Shores of Chaunigan back in 2014 and over the years the story got lost or waylaid or for some inexplicable reason just plain disappeared. However, I was able to find an excerpt on an external hard drive and began to refit the story, as I remembered it in my mind.
Part One: Shores of Chaunigan- Circa 1775; The New World
Part Two: Shores of Chaunigan- Life with Rebecca
In addition I believe this story to be an incarnation of my life. My Mother mentioned to me that I had a great, grandfater who was a fisherman and he lived in Noordwijk aan Zee, Holland. She also told me of a great uncle who sailed to the New World. Be it truth or fiction I find it's an interesting read.