In my dream, it was a dark and stormy night. Two giant birds of prey swirled around and lightning flashed from their eyes. The thunder was so loud it filled my little body. I felt torn apart. I was five or six years old, a solitary little white boy who still spoke with an English accent.
My family had recently immigrated to Canada and bought an auto court in the small B.C. coastal
village of Mill Bay. In those post World War II days, it was a full couple of hours drive north of Victoria. By far the youngest of five children, I was small enough to be overlooked in the rush of family life and so I happily filled my days wandering among the tall evergreens of the coast and playing on the beach. I played solitary little games, like seeing how far I could hop, hop, hop, from drift logs to boulders and back again without landing on gravel Sometimes I used long poles to lever and roll big logs down into the water. Soon I was building rafts and polling myself along the shore and later a mast and tarpaulin sail allowed me a greater range of travel. I fished of course, for rockfish at the near-shore reefs and for shiners through the cracks in the government wharf. I became skilled at throwing rocks at bits of driftwood or skimming flat ones to see how many skips I could get. I spent an enormous amount of time ( I had no idea of time) squatting beside tide pools and watching the miniature world of bullheads, hermit crabs, and limpets. I learned to row the family skiff around as naturally as walking. All this without benefit of life-jacket, swimming skills or adult supervision. I knew the tides and the sea-weedy smells of the breezes that blew. I loved that place.
About that time I got my first jack knife and started to whittle. I cut my fingers on a regular basis. At first, a whistle carved from a willow stick, later a spear, and then I started to carve totem poles: totem poles with the Thunderbird on the top with its wings carved separately and nailed to the back. No-one in the family remarked on this particularly, just little Billy keeping busy and out of the way. I`d not told of my dream of course: like my dangerously independent adventures on the bay, I sensibly kept this to myself. There were no words anyway in my own culture, no context within which to understand that powerful dream.
Looking back at this formative time of my early life, I wonder about what I choose to recall and give significance to. Is it simply me in the present, looking back and finding links to create a story retroactively? Maybe, but I don`t think so. The little Billy I remember is truly the essence of my present self. I`m still a poor swimmer, for example, and still mess around in boats without a life-jacket or even adult supervision. I still dream big dreams. Really of course, it is that first powerful Thunderbird dream that fascinates me. I have continued to carve throughout my life, my cedar box in which I keep my valuable stuff like journals, feathers, and interesting rocks, has the dream image carved and painted on it.
That Thunderbird dream though, surely if we believe that images like that come out of and are the story of a particular group of people, in this case the Native Indian peoples of this coast, then why me? I think that orderly ideas come out of a human-centered point of view. The other option is wilder, that the Thunderbird is a truly powerful spirit of this coast: it was here when the first peoples arrived in this land and came to know its voice and it was still here to speak to a little English boy who had slipped through his culture`s fingertips and fell into love with the spirit of this land.