Border? Cork shook his head, thinking how easily that international marker was crossed on this lake. There was no line on the water to delineate one nation from the other. Kitchimanidoo, the Creator, had made the land a boundless whole. It was human beings who felt the need for arbitrary divisions and drew the lines. Too often, he thought, in human blood.

He held the tiller of the little Evinrude outboard, guiding the dinghy southwesterly across broad, open water toward a gathering of islands humped along the horizon. In the half hour since they’d left the houseboat, he hadn’t exchanged a word with Jenny. Which, he strongly suspected, was just fine with her.

The lake was beautiful and, like so many things of beauty, deceptive. The water that day was like glass. The vast size of the lake suggested depth, but Cork knew that beneath the tranquil surface lay reefs and rocks that in the blink of an eye could slit a hull or chew the blades off a prop. He’d been using GPS to follow the main channel between the islands and had been keeping a good speed. But south of Big Narrows he swung the boat west out of the channel, slowed to a crawl, and entered an archipelago composed of dozens of islands, large and small. The shorelines were rocky, the interiors covered with tall pine and sturdy spruce and leafy poplar. Cork eased the boat patiently along, studying the screen of the Garmin GPS mounted to the dash, into which he’d downloaded a program for Lake of the Woods. The water was the color of weak green tea, and he told Jenny, who sat in the bow, to keep her eyes peeled for snags that the GPS couldn’t possibly indicate. After fifteen minutes of careful navigation, he guided the dinghy up to the rocky edge of a small island. He eased the bow next to a boulder whose top rose from the water like the head of a bald man, and he cut the engine.

“Grab the bow line and jump ashore,” he told Jenny.

She leaped to the boulder, rope in hand.

“Can you tie us off?”

She slid a few feet down the side of the boulder and leaped nimbly to shore, where she tied the boat to a section of rotting fallen timber.

Cork stepped to the bow, leaped to the boulder, then to shore.

“Got your camera?” he asked.

Jenny patted her belt where her Canon hung in a nylon case.

“Okay,” Cork said. “Let’s take a hike.”

The island was nearly bare of vegetation and was dominated by a rock formation that rose conelike at the center. Cork led the way along the rock slope, following the vague suggestion of a trail that gradually spiraled upward around the cone. All around them lay a gathering of islands so thick that no matter which way Cork looked they appeared to form a solid shoreline. Between the islands ran a confusing maze of narrow channels.

“Where are we?” Jenny asked.

“Someplace not many folks know about. Probably the only ones who do are Shinnob.”

He used the word that was shorthand for the Anishinaabeg, the First People, who were also known as Ojibwe or Chippewa. Anishinaabe blood ran through Cork and, therefore, through his daughter Jenny.

“On a map, this island doesn’t have a name,” Cork said. “But Shinnobs call it Neejawnisug.”

“What does it mean?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.”

They reached the top, which was crowned by a great white stone that looked as if it had been cleaved by an ax. The southern side was rounded and pocked, but the north side was a solid face ten feet tall. It lay in full sunlight, golden, and when Jenny saw that glowing face of rock, her eyes went large.

“Pictographs,” she said. “They’re beautiful, Dad. Do you know what they mean?”

Cork studied the figures painted in ocher that covered the face of the stone.

“Henry Meloux told me they’re a kind of invocation to Kitchimanidoo for safety. He said the Anishinaabeg who drew them were being pursued by Dakota and had come to hide. They left the children here, and that’s why they call it Neejawnisug. It means ‘the children.’ They left the women, too, and went off to fight the enemy. They trusted this place because there are so many islands and so many channels that it’s almost impossible to find your way here.”

“You found it easily enough.”

“When I was sixteen, Henry brought me. Giigiwishimowin,” Cork said.

“Your vision quest,” Jenny interpreted.

“By then it was no longer a common practice among the Ojibwe,” Cork said. “But Henry insisted.”

“Why here?”

“He never told me.”

“Did you receive your vision?”

“I did.”

Jenny didn’t ask about her father’s dream vision, and if she had, he probably wouldn’t have told her.

“Have you been here since?”


“How did you find it so easily? I mean, after so many years?”

“I spent a long afternoon coming here with Henry. He made me memorize every twist and turn.”

“That had to be forty years ago. A long time to remember.”

“You mean for an old man.”

“I couldn’t find my way back here.”

“If it was important, I bet you could.”

Jenny snapped photos of the drawings on the stone and, for a long time, was silent. “And did Kitchimanidoo hide the children successfully?” she finally asked.

“I don’t know. Nor did Henry.”

He could see her mind working, and that was one of the reasons he’d brought her. Unanswered questions were part of what drove her. He was uncertain how to broach the other reason he’d asked her to come.

“God, it’s hot,” Jenny said, looking toward the sun, which baked them. “Not even a breath of wind.”

“Dog days.”

“Not technically,” she said.

“Technically?” He smiled. “So when are dog days? Technically.”

“According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the forty days from July third through August eleventh.”

He shook his head. “You’re way too precise in your thinking. Your mom, she was the same way.”

Jenny brought her gaze to bear on her father. “She was a lawyer. She had to be precise. Legal strictures. I’m a journalist. Lots of the same strictures apply.” She looked away, down at the water a hundred feet below. “Mind if I take a dip before we go on?”

“No. Mind if I join you?”

They descended the cone and retraced their path to the boulder where the boat was secured. They’d worn their bathing suits under their other clothing, and they quickly stripped. Jenny slipped into the water first and Cork followed.

The lake had been warming all summer, but even so it still held a chill that was a wonderful relief to the heat of the day.

“So?” Cork said, in clumsy opening.

His daughter turned her head to the sky and closed her eyes and lay on her back, so that her ears were below the surface and she could pretend not to hear him.

“I just want to know one thing. And I know you can hear me.”

“It starts with one thing,” she said with her eyes still closed. “It ends up everything. That’s how you operate.”

“Old dog, old trick,” he said, waited a moment, then repeated, “So?”

She righted herself, treaded water, and gave in. “All right, what do you want to know?”

“Are you going to marry him?”

“That’s a complicated question.”

“I think the question is fairly simple.”

“Well, I can’t answer it.”

“Because of you or him?”

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