Predicting the Weather with Molly and Edouard
A walk in nature can help us understand and predict the weather, if we take the time to observe the signs. Molly and Edouard, an Anishinaabe couple from Pikogan, share their story and advice for learning the “heart of weather.”
“Are you dressed for the forest?” Molly asks me, scrutinizing my winter gear from top to bottom. She holds out a bottle of fresh water to her husband, Edouard, and speaks a few words to him in Anishinaabemowin. The couple alternates fluidly between their mother tongue and French.
“But in the woods, it’s almost always in Anishinaabemowin. It’s not the same philosophy, the same thought-forms,” says Molly.
“No, it’s not the same thing,” Edouard confirms, picking up his walking stick from where it stands near the door. “But making the transition from the city to the woods takes a while. For me, it takes two days. . . ”
“. . . To be and to think as you truly are,” says Molly, completing the thought. “In the woods, you take your time, each thing in its time. Since we retired, we go to the forest more often.”
Molly watches us leave and then sits back down on the brown velvet couch, warmed by the rays of sun coming in through the window. With her patched-up hips, she prefers to stay inside where it’s warm. She picks up her work from where she left it: a moccasin she rests on her round belly. With her glasses perched at the end of her nose, Molly’s gaze shifts back and forth between her needle and the large television screen.
Outside the house, the community of Pikogan lays out its straight lines of bungalows, gleaming between February’s immaculate banks of snow. The roof of Molly and Edouard’s blue house is crowned with a white crust like meringue, which hangs down over the kitchen window.
Edouard shows me his walking stick, given to him by his granddaughter Chantal. It’s a long piece of wood “chewed by the beaver.” Molly has decorated it with coloured ribbons, symbolizing the diversity of humankind.
Every morning, Edouard takes the trail that begins behind the cultural centre. From there, he heads through the spruce grove and continues on the path that encircles the Anishinaabe community of Pikogan, located about five kilometres from the city of Amos in Abitibi.
The vast forest stands in stark contrast to this small neighbourhood where trees are scarce. Edouard spends long moments here “without headphones,” listening to nature. “It’s my way of recharging,” he says. He tests the hardened snow with his stick before taking a step; as soon as our feet leave the middle of the path, we’re in snow up to our knees.
Edouard continues his walk through the village. He lifts his stick proudly to point out the municipal facilities, managed by the band council on which he served for several years: the youth centre, the medical transport, the daycare, the community radio, the old pumphouse, the school where Molly worked for so long as a teacher, and where their daughter, Mélanie, now teaches Anishinaabemowin.
You might recognize Edouard from the cover of the book Savoir faire in which this essay first appeared.Learn more
Molly and Edouard have lived side by side since the beginning. On one of the nine roads in the village, their childhood homes still stand facing each other. A wine-red bungalow and a beige one, among the first to be built in the community in the 1960s. “Before that, we didn’t have an assigned reserve. I grew up on the land,” says Edouard.
Both were born in the late 1940s. Molly and Edouard spent their younger years in the forest with their respective clans before being sent to residential school. When one such school was established in 1955 not far from Amos, it led to the construction of houses and drew families from the surrounding area. “In some way, this is what gathered us together,” says Edouard.
But those years at the residential school were difficult. He left the school when he was 14 years old.
“I told them, ‘I don’t want to come here anymore. I want to be with my parents.’ At first they tried to refuse, under the pretext that we lived in tents. When the house was built in 1963, I never went back.”
When we get back to the house, Molly hasn’t budged an inch. The television show is all that has changed: The Price Is Right, one of her favourites. Her moccasin, though, has progressed significantly. From the living room window, you can see the schoolyard of the primary school — even in retirement, Molly is never far from her life as a teacher. Her years in residential school proved decisive in her choice of vocation. “I saw the children suffering, growing bored, sometimes sick. I’m the one who would go comfort them. I was a little Mother Teresa,” she says.
The nuns were not kind to her or her peers. One day she witnessed one of her friends being assaulted by one of the nuns, and she knew what her future job would be. “The nun grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him over his desk. I thought to myself, ‘Aie! One day I will be a teacher, but I won’t be like you.’”
The school where she worked is still standing today, largely thanks to Molly. After residential school, her choices were guided by a single goal: to found a school in her own community. After spending some time at the teachers’ training college in Amos when she was 18, she left to further her studies at the University of Sherbrooke.
In 1968, with the agreement of the school board in Amos, she opened a kindergarten class in the basement of the Pikogan church. This is how the Migwan School was born.
Molly threads her needle with beige thread and continues sewing her moccasins. Since she retired eight years ago, she has dedicated all her time to crafting, which she learned when she was little by watching the Elders of her clan: moccasins, necklaces, traditional powwow costumes, and gowns for the village’s graduates.
Molly and Edouard, both in their seventies, are now part of a circle of Elders whom people come to consult. The group is currently thinking about extending the May school break to two weeks in order to allow more time to recharge in nature. During this time, Pikogan empties out and a large part of the community heads out to camp.
Even before this kind of break was made official, the couple never hesitated to take their kids out of school for a few days or to skip a hockey practice to take them to their camp. The family finds its “home of peace” some 70 km away, in the “real woods.”
“I would say to the coach, ‘He’s never gonna be in the national league, but he’ll always be an Indian. That’s why I’m taking him to the woods.’”
Molly and Edouard have only good memories from these times spent with their kids.
“In the beginning, before the logging companies made all their roads, we would walk along the river,” remembers Edouard. “There was no one else around. We could hunt at night with the kids in the canoe.”
“And they would fall asleep! They’d be rocked like that. We would make a bed of spruce and branches in the bottom of the canoe, with a bear skin on top. Imagine how comfortable they were!” Molly adds.
“And that isn’t possible anymore, because of the logging roads?”
“No, there are too many people in the woods. There’s more noise and everything.”
“But hunting at night, it’s such an adventure. Aie! I would get all kinds of feelings,” exclaims Molly.
Edouard listens to his wife relate their adventures. Molly understands how to bring words to life, never afraid of naming things, weighing the silences, holding her audience in suspense.
Soon, the couple will head back to the forest — the rhythm of nature will regain hold. Molly and Edouard will find themselves side by side once again.
Edouard will gather pieces of bark, which Molly will transform into crafts. “How can I explain?” she muses, when I ask her about how she’ll feel then. “It’s freedom. The freedom to choose, to do what you want, when you want, and you know that freedom doesn’t come cheap.”
Observing nature to predict the weather
When he was little, Edouard learned the land with his grandmother, who taught him the following tips, before the settlement of his community slowed his apprenticeship. As the last living witnesses to another world, the Mowatt-Kistabishes make sure the young people from Pikogan are present when they share their knowledge and precious memories of a childhood spent in the forest.
Molly calls this Nokom (pronounced no-goum), an Anishinaabemowin word meaning “to be in the present moment, in communion with nature.” She believes that being in nature and observing it leads to understanding and introspection. From this we learn “the heart of weather” and can anticipate changes: precipitation, mild weather, cold snaps, and so on.
This is useful knowledge for anyone who wants to take a break and unplug from technology, and to consider the tools that came before weather apps.
- On winter days, one or more halos can sometimes form around the sun. These circles appear against a sky covered with fine clouds and are particularly bright on both sides of the sun. They’re lightly tinted yellow, blue, and red, like a rainbow. It is said then that “the sun has ears” — it’s a sign that there will be a cold snap.The longer this phenomenon is visible, the longer the cold snap will persist. For example, if the sun keeps its ears for two or three days, this means a long period of cold is coming.
- Before a storm, various changes in the behaviour of animals, plants, and the environment can be observed. This is the case for leaves in the trees: the ambient air softens them, and their underside is revealed by the wind. A light earthy smell can be perceived as a result of the humidification of the soil.The waves in the river, ripples formed by the water’s movement — Edouard calls them “branches” — can also change direction with an approaching low. The water grows darker. Birds fly lower than usual.
- Good weather is accompanied by promising signs, such as a wind that changes direction to chase away dark clouds. The presence of a rainbow also confirms a return of good weather after the rain. Birds begin to sing again, the wind dies down, and nature regains its calm.
Eugénie Emond is a freelance journalist. She also holds a master’s in gerontology from the University of Sherbrooke. Her work has won three Independent Journalism Awards and two gold medals at the Canadian Digital Publishing Awards.
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