The Four Seasons of Ininaatig
Our maple tree, Ininaatig, was planted in our suburban backyard in 1952. He has a nine foot wide trunk with tall graceful limbs branching out from his main trunk. “Ininaatig” means “man tree” in Ojibwe; “inini” = man and “metig” = tree. We Ojibwe people believe Ininaatig has a spirit who told our ancestors how to harvest his sap when they were starving.
All winter Ininaatig waits for warm days when snow melts and when his sap begins to run; it is one of the first signs of spring. My husband Bob also waits for spring when the night temperature is below freezing and the day temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. He gathers it and together we filter and boil it to half its original content. The sap must be watched so it doesn’t burn. One year, it did burn filling our nostrils with the pungent odor of burned maple sugar.
During the short delicious months of summer, we spend a lot of time under Ininaatig’s canopy. My writing group meets in the shade he casts, all five women sprawling on colorful tablecloths. Ininaatig dips his branches low to hear me recite my naming story, “I am named Kewetahbenaisequay, for the thunderbeings who circle the sky during thunderstorms.
From the the porch I watch lightning streak across the sky above Ininaatig. Before the rains come, my son and I put tobacco under Ininaatig’s branches praying to the powerful thunder beings, theAnimikiig. Lightning illuminates Ininaatig and the wind bends his branches wildly. As I fall asleep I hope his big branches hold strong.
Through long winter months we abandon Ininiaatig and our barren backyard. Out the window, I see rabbit and squirrel paths pin wheeling from Ininaatig to the four corners of the yard. In the harsh winter days, I see one squirrel’s nest high in Ininaatig’s branches and imagine the squirrels burrowing around Ininaatig’s roots.
Ininaatig anchors our backyard. His roots anchor me to the land, reminding me of my Ojibwe traditions. When I pray, my words drift like mist over fences and freeways back to the spirits of my ancestors.