The Equinox Petroglyph Project:      

Fall of the First Leaf 
by Ellen Nicholas

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Fall of the First Leaf

      Ten canoes evenly spaced in a V-shape, glide closer to a mass of green land where the shore curves inward to a beach and open field. Like a flock of birds migrating south for the winter. The river reflects the pine trees that jut up from both sides of the cove. Antlike figures move around on the beach near the sacred rocks, and further ashore where the rocky coast turns into field. A wisp of smoke spirals up from what looks like a glowing fire. Conical frameworks of wigwams circle the fire and permanent long house dwellings.

      The birch bark canoe in the lead contains four men that paddle in synchrony with ease and grace. Kapsq sits in the front. An eagle feather dangles from his thick black braid that stretches down between his shoulder blades. Sweat glistens on his brow. A bead of it breaks free, dripping past his sunken cheek bones and tight mouth.

      The men in the birch bark canoe switch their paddles in unison. Kapsq lifts his paddle trickling with water out of the blue water’s surface and plunges it through the opposite side. Wet spots darken his leather loin cloth and leggings. His brown biceps flex as he slowly carves his paddle into the tops of the undulation over and over again.

      Kapsq can’t imagine how the Dawnland people survived the harsh winter months on the coast of Peskomuhkati before the Great Spirit led them to Sacred Rock Cove.

      As a child he liked the stories the Shaman told them, how one of the past Shamans, Spomkik, He Who Soars High, went out into the woods and fasted, awaiting a vision from the Great Spirit. On the fourth day he sat cross-legged on a boulder, meditating. A stream of light pierced through an opening in the trees, and forced Spomkik to open his eyes. Everything in the woods was quiet and seemed to stand still, until a single leaf fell from the tree, feathering through the air from the tree directly above him. It was the Great Spirit telling Spomkik the direction the Dawnland people should go to seek shelter for the coming winter months. Since then the Dawnland people would travel at the fall of the first leaf to Sacred Rock Cove.

      Kapsq steers the canoe away from the sacred rocks toward the pebbly beach.

      A boy in a canoe several yards away from Kapsq points up, and yells, “Look,” in Passamaquoddy.

      Seven eagles circle over the beach and sacred rocks. Kapsq smiles. They always seem to show up during important events. It was said that past ancestors looked through the eyes of these wise messengers.

      When the canoes get closer to shore, the men, women, and children jump into the ankle-high water and push them the rest of the way. The men pick the canoes up over their heads, carrying them toward a path that makes its way up to the field. Wooden palisades that circle the long houses and wigwams mark the entrance to the village where they would stay for the cold months.

      Kapsq stays behind, and walks toward the sacred rocks. Long brown rocks protrude out from the beach toward the tide like beached whales. Two elder women coax a younger pregnant woman who sits in the birthing pool between two of the sacred rocks, screaming through clenched teeth.

      Suwwaku, the Dawnland people’s Shaman kneels on the top of a rock overlooking the three women, humming. His beady black eyes peer down at the rock and the rough pitted surface of his creation. He pounds at the top of a sharp pointed rock with a hammer stone, pecking away at the top of the rock to make a swirl-like design.

      Kapsq stands on the pebbly surface below the sacred rock and watches Suwwaku at work. The design symbolizes the umbilical cord, and goes nicely with the other geometric shapes that signify important past events that occurred at the site. On the side of the rock, further down from where Suwwaku kneels, are womanly figures with their hands on their triangular hips in the midst of the Pine Cone dance. The dance represents fertility and life. Another figure pecked into the rock, faded by the tide is said to be a drawing of the great Shaman Spomkik in eagle form as a memoriam to him, and the Great Spirit, giving thanks for discovering Sacred Rock Cove and the fall of the first leaf.

      The pregnant woman arches her back and screams through clenched teeth. She slaps at the tidal water with one hand while her other grips at the folds of her hiked up dress. Ribbons of blood spiral outward from her as the baby crowns revealing a full set of dark hair.

      One of the older women sits behind her, supporting her back. She strokes the pregnant woman’s sweat drenched hair. Her singing is low key, and quiet.

      The other woman kneels between the pregnant woman’s legs with her hands cupped together.

      “One day the angry tide will come,” the Shaman Suwwaku says, “it will wash away all our stories and with it our people’s heritage. We must do everything in our power to prevent it, young Kapsq.” He looks up to the sky. “Once nature takes it, there’s no coming back.”

      A high-pitched cry surfaces as the old woman lifts the pink infant up from under the water, and raises him above her head. Kapsq and Suwwaku turn their attention to the screaming infant, and everyone hoots.

      “This is a good omen, young Kapsq. A child born on the fall of the first leaf,” Suwakku says. Age weathers his face. “The male warrior will mean the survival of our people for the coming winter months. The Great Spirit is kind.” He looks up to the sky. Small puffs of clouds creep past. Suwwaku slowly closes his eyes and hums.