Trying to keep up with the giant man was magic enough for a six-year-old. Charlie was an elder from the Curve Lake Reserve north of Peterborough—a master woodsman who had been hired by my father to work on a survival movie he was filming for the Department of Lands and Forests. When they weren’t filming, Charlie would take my brother and I into the bush and teach us magic—like boiling water in a birchbark pot. This day my father tagged along because Charlie was taking us to see the carvings in the rock—the Stoney Lake petroglyphs, a secret place connected to the gravel road by an overgrown trail. Only Charlie knew the trail.
Charlie seemed to float through the shadows along the rough trail on a cushion of air while the rest of us tripped and struggled and swatted at mosquitoes. An opening suddenly appeared, the sun illuminating a sloped terrace of rock surrounded by lush juniper and a picture book full of what looked to me like cartoon characters chiseled into the granite. Charlie told us not to walk on the rock. We didn’t. He explained what the characters meant, but I didn’t understand what he was saying. He just smiled, said something in a strange language, then took tobacco out of a pouch he carried and scattered it over the rocks. It was 1957.