The Legend of Pierre

The August night chilled under a full moon as scores of junior campers circled the campfire on the hill overlooking Center Lake; a perfect setting for a story. But I didn’t yet have a story, just a mossy prop.

While exploring the lakeshore by canoe in the early days of the camp, I spotted the remains of wooded boat half-buried in bottom muck. Obviously, it had been there a long time. I wondered why it sank; wooden boats ordinarily don’t sink.  Some campers had noticed the boat too. With that relic as a prop, I launched the story with not a clue where it would lead.

A story must have good guys and bad. The good guys would be Ojibwa and Pottawatomie villagers; the bad guy: Pierre, the cheating fur trader. I gave him the boat. The moonlit setting and crackling fire didn’t need much of a story.

We journeyed to the fur trade days and the first people who lived live near Center Lake. Pierre’s cheating angered the Indians, but they feared his rifle. For many days they tracked him, plotting revenge. One night, he camped on the very spot where our fire burned.

One moonlit night Pierre sat by his fire, rifle and fur bundles nearby. His fire burned low, as had ours. From the dark forest, Pottawatomie warriors watched, waiting for Pierre to sleep. A wolf howled in the distance.

A movement disturbed a great gray owl. It flew heavily through the forest and swept low over Pierre’s fading fire. Surmising something had disturbed the owl; he gathered his rifle and furs and stumbled through the dark toward the security of the lake.

Meanwhile, Ojibwa war canoes glided toward the shore below Pierre’s camp. , Pottawatomie and Ojibwa war cries filled the night. Pierre threw his furs in the boat and pushed from shore. Their foe fully visible in the moonlight, arrows flew from land and water.

In desperation, Pierre stood to leap overboard. An arrow stuck. Pierre fell, tipping the small boat. It slowly sank under its ill-gotten load, and there it rests today.

The campers sat by the glowing coals, caught up in the story. In a hushed voice I added, “On this very hill when the moon is full and the night is still, you can hear Pierre’s heart, beating, beating.

Then the hair on the back of my neck stiffened. Through the night came athunk, athunk, a thunk. I swear: Until that moment, I had never noticed the faint pulse of an oil rig a few fields over.

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