Updated: Jun 12
As Tobias rose to begin his day in the dead heat of summer, holding a stop and slow sign for traffic all day in his worn, unwashed jeans and worn out work boots covered in asphalt, he fills his water bottles as he goes through his routine. Each morning it was the same for Tobias, get his cracked cell phone and go to the washroom. Next, head to the living room and turn on anything that can be interesting so early in the morning during the week, usually the CBC to watch the decline of modern society while taking shots. Usually when preparing for the day, a lot of people choose coffee, tea, and other morning type beverages to go with their breakfast. Tobias on the other hand preferred orange juice with a kick. In his mind he was just living life as it was motions. These motions, he decided, could use a little spice because Picton in the summer -time, and in life in general, can be brutal. Watching the world unfold made him feel like his life wasn’t so bad. So when Tobias was filling his water bottles it was with vodka, enough to last him until at least lunch-time so he could run to the El-Seebo and replenish.
This continued for him day by day until a major weather alert was issued in late December. He called his foreman to check on the work for the day and was told to go in as usual. So, Tobias began his morning routine. What was good for him was that he lived on the reserve just on the other side of the bridge, so he would fix himself a harmless drink for the road to work. Never once was Tobias caught for driving while intoxicated where there were many times that he should have. Instead of the usual half hour trip, it took him forty-five minutes or more to reach the site. When he arrived he took his post as usual as they were going to continue work until the weather came in, because they were close to a month behind in their work. To stay warm, Tobias thought it a good idea to stock up on a little more vodka to keep warm, knowing it just makes him feel warm and doing it anyway. He had an excellent view of the work area from the top of the hill where the work began, he always took the highest point so he could keep track of where everyone was in case he needed to refill.
Tobias was a tall, light skin Mohawk with a thick 1980’s style moustache, which completely matched his appearance as an Indigenous Freddy Mercury. As a labourer, nobody knew about or cared what he was doing, as the crew he worked with consisted of mostly older men, which made it easy for him to hide his drinks in plain sight. As each day passed, he would have a couple more drinks than the day before. He was functional, intelligent, and witty to which he attributed to his ability to drink. Being otherwise accomplished, he chose to function in a way known to him. After all, everything that is passed down to each generation is a good thing. Tobias had excellent skills of persuasion and reason, to which he used to his own personal advantage; he could always convince himself that it was fine to have a few drinks.
While on his post during the weather advisory Tobias took his usual break and went to a place where he could be alone and have a cigarette while trying to get his buzz back, or improve it. This he also had a routine for. Cigarette, open however many water bottles he wanted to refill, pour in the vodka to which he could now do in a perfect stream on a bumpy road because wasting even a drop would be Armageddon; take a few gulps of the bottle, close it, relieve himself and head back. A science to which he was proud of in a way, after all he did believe it to be one of his own accomplishments, to actually keep consistent with something without quitting like every other thing he had done in his life.
On his way back to the site he saw an odd looking stone protruding from the snow in what looked to be a small clearing between a large dead bush and a maple tree that was bigger than he had seen in all of his 21 years of life. Tobias’ mind went everywhere as his body shook with anticipation as to what this could be, as the stone did not look naturally formed and was placed to carefully and precise. The very appearance of this entire area was out of place, and Tobias loved all that was out of place. Remembering he is only warm from the alcohol, he zipped up his flannel and proceeded toward the strange setup.
As he approached, a call came in on his old flip phone but he ignored it. Two more calls and voicemails to which he didn’t listen to later, he finally had the silence he so sought. Beside the massive maple tree he felt like nothing, a speck of dust in a sandstorm or a drop of rain in a hail storm. The sheer mass was intimidating and he felt as though he had been staring at it for hours. He turned his attention to the rock about ten feet from the tree and had a sudden feeling of reluctance. Not backing down from whatever feeling came up Tobias covered it up with a shot and examined the back of the rock. It seemed as any other rock with the exception of a side that was completely smooth and the other lumpy with tiny grooves, yet entirely smooth. There was no significance to him so he turned to take another look at the maple and went back to work. When he returned he learned that he in fact had been gone for hours and had missed some calls from his boss, and was now out of a job. It was of no concern to Tobias as he applied for employment insurance to support his habits, as it was only him he was taking care of.
Mid-Winter ceremonies went and passed as Tobias sat alone watching television with his liquid companion, not participating because of the shame he felt for failing his people. Spring came around and he decided to go see if anyone else had found that giant maple tree because he never thought to check it before, only because of the sheer awe he was in when he found it. Lucky for him the tree was still there and appeared to be untapped. Tobias started a fire near the stone to begin marking the area and making it a comfortable space. By nightfall Tobias had emptied his buckets twice and was using the sap water as a chaser every so often as it was the sweetest sap water he had ever tasted.
While preparing to leave, he set his jacket on the stone and put the fire out with snow. Leaving a make-shift lid for each bucket Tobias was going to bring a larger barrel for the morning. With nothing to do the next day and some cash in his pocket, he went into town looking for a better time than holding a sign on a road. Sitting at the bar he saw the regulars hustle newbies, talentless loners singing karaoke, and desperate people looking to satisfy themselves with who or whatever they can at the end of the night.
Tonight was no different than any other, other than the fact that the regulars were acting stranger toward him. They seemed to be almost offended by his presence but still welcomed him into their conversations and antics. During a game of darts a middle aged man with sick skin and a happy smile on his face told him to wake up. Having just thrown a useless dart he chalked the comment up to the guy being some asshole. He headed home and put his coat on the couch on top of a few empty bottles that were ready to be taken in for deposit. On the back of his jacket was a pattern in ashes from the rock which appeared to spell out the word “drink”.
The next day a little hair of the dog and water on his face he headed out to start his day having completed his home –drink preparation system. He returned to the old maple with a larger bucket, happy to see that nothing had been disturbed. Again he started a fire and went on like the day before, collecting sap and drinking while on an old laptop looking up funny clips and movies while using an internet stick that barely worked when there was a good signal. Each time Tobias would collect another bucket he would pour it in the barrel and take back as much as he could. People started noticing how much sap he had, so Tobias decided he would sell it since he was out of work and his benefits would be running out soon. He went to some of his co-workers and gave them a cup. They said it was the best that even they had ever tasted.
Tobias took orders and had his co-workers spread word of how amazing this sap water is, and buying it in water form, the customer can boil it to their desired consistency. It was fool-proof plan, as if it were a dream that had finally come true. He spent the last of his money on some jars and spent the rest on a Texas Mickey of vodka. It took all night but he managed to get all of the jars filled and everybody’s order filled. A different sense of accomplishment was starting to come over him which he quickly covered up due to fear of the unknown. As the season ran down to an end, Tobias was ready to deliver all of his orders. He travelled for at least an hour in every direction selling the best maple sap anyone will ever taste. By late evening he was exhausted, a thousand dollars richer minus the two hundred he spent on drink just to have a supply. After drinking and playing games on his phone until it died he eventually passed out cold to the world and the next morning, set out on his hairy dog back to the maple to clean his space up. As the sun began to rise he could see the indents on the rock that appeared to say “drink”. With a chuckle he agreed, after all it was written in stone; so he had a few shots and headed out of the bush after he finished.
As he emerged from the bush he felt sick so he stopped to take a break when his cell phone started ringing. This time he decided he should probably answer it, after what happened last time losing his job he didn’t want a similar thing to happen with his sap customers. On the other end it was his brother Neil, telling Tobias to get to his house as fast as he could. Hearing the distress in his brother’s voice Tobias took a shot, loaded up the supplies in the truck and left in a hurry. Speeding as fast as he could over slippery and slushy roads, he feared that he would crash and not make it to his brother in time for whatever is happening. He safely arrived and ran to the house where his brother was there to meet him at the door.
He had never seen Neil look so agitated before, he was usually calm and collected; that could have something to do with all the indica, though. As Tobias was within distance, Neil swung and hit him so hard he fell back into the snow. Filled with sudden rage Tobias attacked his brother. They struggled until Neil pinned him and yelled at him to wake up with a voice so distressed it was disturbing. Neil kept repeating how horrible a person could be to do such things to people, Neil gave Tobias a jar and told him to run out of sight and drink, he and others would then come find him. With a massive headache Tobias took off to the treeline. He sat beside a tree and cracked open the jar his brother gave him. It was one of the four jars of sap he had sold his brother, still sealed. Desperate to dry his throat with the fresh sap water, he broke the seal and drank as much as he could all at once.
As the liquid poured down his throat he immediately thought the water had gone bad, and that was why Neil was so angry. The more he thought about it the angrier he got as there was a total overreaction. When he finished swallowing he had a sudden burning feeling through his throat and into his stomach. His senses were overwhelmed as he realized that the sap water was in fact vodka and the realization that in every jar there was vodka. The ones he sold to the day care and school, elders lodge and a craft shop were all not what they were supposed to be. Realizing why his brother was so enraged he looked back from the treeline to see Neil coming toward him with a small group of men, wives and nieces on the porch of the house watching.
Tobias ran to the maple where he had gotten the sap from and unplugged one of the holes as proof of where he got his sap water from, and it was in fact the best that he had ever tasted. The group approached him enraged and ready to take his life. Three children had died because of this water and ten more in the hospital. Neil’s wife had a miscarriage after learning her three year old just suffered alcohol poisoning from their uncle’s so called sap water. They drew in closer and closer yelling the most disgusting and well deserved insults, names, and threats telling Tobias to wake the hell up and take ownership. The hole was unplugged and Tobias convinced one of the men to try the water from the tree. It was in fact delicious, the best that anyone could have ever tasted. The men drew in suspecting that Tobias had tricked the former co-workers by giving them the real sap water and having them spread a good word about it, then filling the jars with alcohol as a way to get back at his community for ostracizing him and shutting him out. His anger turned to disgust and then understanding, a realization that he had done something so horrible the consequences these warriors were about to deliver was accepted and his fate was sealed.
The first blow to the head, Tobias opened his eyes to his brother standing beside his hospital bed with tears on his face and his eyes red in pain. Believing he had just survived a horrible beating and unable to talk, Neil spoke to Tobias in tears saying that he had been there waiting after the accident telling him to wake up. At some points he would become angry and his wife would come in and bring him back. This behaviour was out of place for what Tobias had just done, and a reality hit when a police officer came into the room to question him.
The officer began questioning Tobias before he could even focus on what he was seeing, and told him to start his story from the beginning. Feeling the shame and guilt of creating such a tragedy, Tobias felt like he wanted to die and happily started telling his story of the maple tree. Confused, the officer left and returned with a detective and doctor. They explained to him that he had been hit by a drunk driver while holding his stop-slow sign and had been in the intensive care unit for three days. It was still the beating heat of summer outside. He was hit with his worst nightmare, causing pain to his people and especially the next generations of Indigenous people.
Tobias stayed and recovered throughout the month, and began a sobriety recovery program so he wouldn’t go through such a real nightmare again and enrolled in an out-patient program in Kingston and kept to it for six months, while continuing work as a labourer. When spring came around he decided that he would check to see if that tree was really there, and it was. When he went up to it he saw the stone exactly as in his dream with the smooth side and the indented side. He tasted the water, and it was the best he had ever had in his 21 years of life. He plugged the hole and went back to his community and began telling people about this tree and it was decided that Tobias would show them to this tree so they could try it for themselves.
As he lead the group to the maple some people began to gasp and become anxious, they could see this giant maple over the top of the pines as if it had grown over night. When they arrived at the base, the sheer size was astonishing as if their group was but a single star in an ever expanding universe. Tobias showed Neil and the rest of the group the rock and pointed out how it said drink on the indents in the one side. The tree was so massive that it had the ability to provide enough sap water for every person in the community for free; a medicine given at a time when it was desperately needed for the survival of the Mohawks and Indigenous people everywhere.
A longhouse was erected at the site of the great maple tree but Tobias was unable to see the completion or participate in the ceremony. Over the course of the construction he continued to stay in recovery and become a role model for older and younger generations until he went to sleep before the first day of harvest and never woke up. He had finished his job and his body was too ill to continue even considering the progress he had made in recovery. Yet his lesson stayed with the people, as forever this maple would stand as a token to humanity. The lesson to accept each other and try to empathise with each other in any way we can, to survive as a Nation we share resources and create opportunities for each other helping anyone that you can on the way with the expectation that they help others in turn.
Tobias was laid to rest where he had built the fire in his dream, and different medicines started growing in the area of the maple and the rock. When Neil visits Tobias’ grave he never goes to the rock, even when tapping it in the spring except for one brisk September morning where he noticed that Tobias had made one small mistake. Upon further observation Neil noticed the rock actually said Dream. To this day Neil swears that Tobias knew what it truly said, but his mind was so clouded with unresolved pain, mental health issues, and addiction that to him the rock looked like it said what he saw in himself; nothing but a drink ready to go down, where in reality he saved an huge portion of the next generations from addictions through the message he was given and was strong enough to deliver. The strength he had he could never see for himself even after accomplishing such unity. It was time for him to come back again and discover himself for who he really is again in another life using the things he left for the people in the past.
Sha'tekayenton "Andrew" Brant