fish camp

From the moment I jumped into the boat to head my Jijuu’s fish camp, I could literally feel my mind ease and my body begin to let go of tension and stress. I can honestly say that our fish camp is my happiest place on Earth. It is where I can think my straightest and find my balance all while learning about my Gwich’in heritage and spending time with my Jijuu.

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While at fish camp, there is always work to be done. The nets have to be checked all day long, the fish need to be scaled, gutted, cleaned and cut to be dried, we need to gather the right type of wood to be burned for the fish to dry properly, fetch water from the creek, cook meals, keep the place clean and we always end our nights with a game of soccer. Some would say that the best part of fish camp is the nightly soccer game – it can get pretty crazy sometimes, especially when everyone is out on the field. It isn’t so much about the score or who’s winning, but the laughter and teasing that we all share together, especially my Jijuu who stands on the side lines coaching and laughing like it’s going out of style.

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It is a really great feeling to be up there with my family and seeing everyone working together as a team to get all of the work done. And it really fills me with so much pride to watch my Jijuu pulling fish out of the net, cutting it up and hanging it in the fish house that her father had built when she was just a child.

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I can never stress enough, how much I admire and appreciate this little woman who I call my Jijuu. She is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is the hardest worker I know. Although she is in her late 70’s, she is always working, always moving, always doing something – right from the moment she rises right until she lays her head back down to sleep. In the time it takes me to cut one fish to dry, she’s finishing off her fourth. While I’m struggling to get up the hill, she’s already pouring herself a cup of tea and lighting her cigarette. She amazes me beyond words with what she is capable of. I can only hope and pray to one day be half of the women that she is. She is my truest friend.

 – shayla snowshoe

thirty-three

I turned thirty-three earlier this year, and I celebrated at my nephew’s birthday party (he was turning five). I drank a few beers as the million and one kids bowled, screamed, ran around and caused chaos. I ate cake, telling everyone that he had high-jacked my birthday celebrations, and we laughed.

My birthday has never caused me stress, or made me freak out. I love celebrating me (note: I also love celebrating other people’s birthdays) and I love being able to justify the day spent on buying makeup, clothes, eating fancy food and being a diva. I’m one of those people who want birthday months. Love me, spoil me. Be my friend, eeeee.

Anyways, I was going through some digital archives, and was just giggling to myself. Some of these… cringe-worthy.

Let’s go through memory lane.

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March 2008. 24 yrs old. Charleston, SC. This was my first trip to Charleston, to visit my brother Trent. It was hot. Crazy hot. I had bangs, and reddish hair. I know, styling. But I went with my parents and my fiancé, at the time. We went to hockey games, the local aquarium, and I touched the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

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March 2009. 25 years old. UBC Campus, Vancouver, BC.  I am attending UBC for my MFA in Creative Writing and I am so overwhelmed. But it’s good. I am student-poor. I splurge on a coffee I cannot afford, and I smile. The sun is shining. The mountains are outside the window. I write poetry. I am loved. All is well.

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March 2010. 26 yrs old. Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC. It is one of our first picnics of the season, sitting on the bench and sipping local craft ale and homemade wine with friends. They take my picture, as I am always the one behind the camera. I hate it, but appreciate it now, years later.

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March 2011. 27 yrs old + 6 months pregnant. Lac La Plonge, SK. I am pregnant with my daughter, Aerie. I am newly married. I am terrified, but content. We are living downstairs in my parents house on the Rez, and while I feel like I should be ‘doing more,’ I am often reminded that I am making a human. And that’s enough.

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March 2012. 28 years old + 8 month old daughter. Saskatchewan. I have a daughter. I am often in the backseat, just watching her as she watched me. I did that. I made that. She made me.

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March 2013. 29 yrs old +  20 month old daughter. Somewhere on the way to Charleston, SC. My mom, my not-yet-two-year-old child and myself are on a road trip to Charleston again. This is my third visit. Mom and I had always planned to travel coast to coast together.

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March 2014. Dirty-Thirty. Saskatoon, SK. We drink too much, eat too fast, and laugh too loudly. No longer married, and adjusting to that single mom life, my friends and family come out to celebrate and I am given shots and stories, and I remember again – I am loved.

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March 2015. 31 years old. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. I am guest-lecturing a class. This is insane. I am in my second year in my PhD program and I’m still wondering why anyone would trust me to teach anyone anything. I have also discovered the joys of makeup, which is nice.

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March 2016. 32. Regina, SK. I was asked to model in NDN Supermaidens by JT Arcand, and I am so freaking honoured. Surrounded by inspiring, Indigenous women, being as extra as I want to be – this is a good feeling. My friends and I travel to Regina to see the opening show, and I side-eye myself on a massive poster. I recognize myself in her, and I grin. Supermaiden, indeed.

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March 2017. 33 yrs old + 5 yrs old. Saskatoon, SK. We go out for macarons and hot chocolate, a big girl date, as she calls it. We sit and chat about kindergarten, university, and our favourite dessert. She holds my hand and leans against me.

“I love you,” she says quietly.

“I love you too,” I tell her, kissing the top of her head.

“Can you buy me another macaron then?” She smiles at me, her eyes crinkling up like her dad’s do, and I burst out laughing.

Yep, that’s my kid.

Blessed.

 – tenille  campbell 

Yellowknife known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (money place)

I daydream a lot about the North.

Perhaps it is because of all the stories my dad has told me about when he worked up there in his twenties. My dad still has a beautiful hand-made parka which he bought when he was up North. It has got to be at least 40 years old. From what I can remember, he worked on a ship, spending time in Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River, and many other places in the territories. Even though my dad denies it, I’m pretty sure that I’ve got some half-siblings somewhere up North (good thing my dad doesn’t do the internet and to my aunties out there who read this – shhhh). It was a time in his youth when he had money, no wife, and their was lots of work up in the territories during the 60s. For example, the mining industry near Yellowknife was thriving.

It looks as though someone took their finger and dug it into the earth and drew that river.

It could be that I am drawn to the North because of the stories my friend Elaine shared with me during our time at the University of Victoria. She’s from Fort McPherson. She told me about the caribou, geese, and life on the Peel River. And for a short while, my son and her nephew were pen pals. Adorable. We need to start that up again.

Images of life up there were almost entirely conceivable after watching Ice Lake Rebels, Arctic Air and Ice Road Truckers. Ha. Joking. No, it was Shawna, Caroline, and Shayla’s images from their home communities which drew me to take my family to Yellowknife for Spring Break. I know – even Shawna’s mom thought we were a bit strange spending our Spring Break up North. But with friends and family living up there and the chance to show my West Coast babies a REAL winter, we did it. And all of us southerners fell in love with the North. We fell hard. Honestly, how could you not? So much sunshine and no need to worry about slathering the kids with sunscreen because you are layered upon layer with clothing to stay warm. No heat stroke. It was wonderful.

-10C is better for my family than 30C.

We got to stay on a houseboat with a couple of those Ice Lake Rebels, Stephan and Allyce, at Vee Lake. What’s up with all these reality shows? We drove on ice roads. We went snowmobiling. We made snow forts and demolished snow forts, we saw the Aurora Borealis while we felt our hands and feet freezing. My sons adopted a new uncle.  We got snowed in, learned a bit about kite skiing and we learned our most valuable lesson – you must remember to plug in your vehicle when it is -30C overnight. Whoops. Wait, the valuable lesson I took from staying on their houseboat was how much we waste water and electricity in our homes on the grid. My kids loved not having to wash their hands after every time they used the compost toilet with the pee and poo hole. Don’t worry, I was there reminding them about the hand sanitizer.

Houseboat at Vee Lake.

Isn’t that snow so pretty?

This kid isn’t tired of me taking his photos all the time, yet.

He loves having a mom as a photographer.

I googled how to take photos of Northern Lights and this was my first image. I was so excited that I forgot to lower my ISO and adjust my shutter speed.

We woke up around 1am to see the Aurora Borealis and let me tell you it was freeeezing cold. I couldn’t stop clicking my shutter release because the lights were moving quickly. It was beautiful.

Meet Dora the dog.

Afterwards, we stayed with my husband’s cousin and his lovely family. They invited us into their home and we are will be forever grateful for their hospitality. I gave them the option to throw us out if we were out of hand but they actually kept us around. At their home, we got to watch the cousins bond with each other which was a memorable experience for all. I also earned my aunty pin: sent kid out into freezing temperature with rubber boots and those silly stretchy mittens (she had me convinced that all her other gear was wet and she’d be okay), woke toddler up from afternoon nap by walking into her room and banging open the door and abruptly turning on the lights, forgot to change toddlers poopy bum, listened to the kids talk non stop about poo, took lots of pictures, bruised up my knees crawling after baby in the kid tunnels at the ice castle and tried to earn trust from the sweet & spicy niece who wouldn’t have anything to do with me until I came home with a beaded pink necklace. Then she told me we were best friends. I knew the pink beads would work. Our family took us to see the Northern Heritage Centre where the kids ran through and spent most of the visit trying on homemade “Northern style” clothing. I went shopping for some Northern wear for myself at Weaver & Devore and Just Furs. Let me just mention here that I can still smell the smoked moose hide and feel the soft seal skin on my skin. My husband and I went on a date to the Salvation Army Thrift Store where I saw an old man wearing beautiful beaded moccasins with galoshes as he spoke to his wife in their language. I found a stylish mustard coloured sweater vest and my husband bought some Stephen King books. We then went for a walk though the mall which was a good representation of the changes in the North. Afterwards we walked holding mittened hands to do some t-shirt shopping at the family owned Erasmus Apparel. Best date yet because honestly we don’t get many (dates, that is). Our last couple of days were spent going to Aurora Village where we did touristy things like being instructed on how to roast a marshmallow by an Australian tour guide, drank hot chocolate in a teepee, tobogganed down a man made hill, and went for a lovely dog sled ride while listening to my kids complain about the dogs farting.

Our cousins and Brody’s wall of drawings.

Those moccasins with all that moose hair tufting!

Look there is a moose and you can even see the drool.

Astum, Astum!

My husband never gets tired of me asking him to pose for another photo.

This snowcastle was impressive. To see more photos you can read Caroline’s blog post from last year’s Snowking’s festival. They change the design every year.

We loved every moment about our trip up North. It went by so quickly that Shawna and I had the good intentions of collaborating on something but the only thing we collaborated on was attending a Booty exercise class (yassss did we ever burn it while looking like monkeys) and then talking about parenting and photography over a cup of hot cocoa with a peppermint tea bag. Shawna and I hadn’t seen each other since we finished our diplomas in photography at Western Academy in Victoria, BC. Back then she was fresh out of high school (perhaps not that fresh) and I was already pregnant with my second son. Over the years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow as a photographer but also as a young woman and now mother. All these connections are so important for the growth of my young family and for me, as an artist, friend, mother and aunty.

Look – it’s the talented and lovely Shawna McLeod.

These are a few more stories about the North, that I can add to my daydreams for years to come. While my children can share their own stories about that time we went to Yellowknife for Spring Break.

We miss you.

*In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Sǫ̀mbak’è (Sawm-ba Kay) (money place)

-Amanda Laliberte

Rez Baby in the Big City

Toronto, why you gotta do this me way?

It was my first “official” visit to Toronto. My first time staying in these urban lands, not just passing through to different reserves and communities. And it had been amazing, so how did I end up here – suffering from that over indulgence of alcohol and greasy foods, sitting on a black suitcase as it rolled down the street in Chinatown, with me on it, too sore to even put my foot down as a brake…?

I got a story for you.

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I fell in love in Toronto, for a quick minute.

I fell in love with being surrounded by people of culture. People whose language and stories swelled around us, and for once, I felt like an outsider but also an insider, safe in the confines of dragon statues and Chinese writings while staying in a hotel in Chinatown. With peddlers selling jade statues on the sidewalk, crowds around them as they hawked their wares. With watching the crowds of high school teens jostling for position on the sidewalk, loudly laughing, fearless and invincible.

I fell in love with latte’s served in tiny, impossibly white cups and homemade muffins next to a record shop that sold Polaroid film. With lazy mornings spent sipping coffee, earphones on with a Tribe Called Red, as I people watched and let the sunshine warm me through the panes of glass.

I fell in love with a restaurant that feasted with me on dim sum after I emerged from the back alleys of Chinatown, photographing dragon graffiti. With drinking Tsingtao out the bottle, convincing myself that I must really like seafood, as I accidently ordered a dish with lobster, muscles, and eel. Another drink, please.

I fell in love with a man who read the lines I had written convincingly and charmingly, as he made me believe that the White Buffalo I had wrote about was, in fact, him. And after the stage lights went down and the applause ended, I had to realize that my love was as false as the story I wrote, and he wasn’t my White Buffalo … but he would be a great short story.

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I was in Toronto for the Weesageechak Begins to Dance 29 Arts Festival, put on by Native Earth Performing Arts. Andrea and I had written an Indigenous musical, throwing humour, song and dancing into one hella-funny play (I may be biased) and we were selected for a stage reading.

The actors selected to work with us were amazing and intimidating. Intimidating as in anyone that gets up and wants to perform in front of a crowd – that’s terrifying. Raw and open, not anything I could ever be. I’m thankful for them, though. Their abilities showed us what our story could be, and where we needed to work. They laughed with us, gently criticized the work when it needed, and I was thankful Andrea was there, the cooler head of us, as I react emotionally. Who knew. But really though, it was a productive learning experience, listening to them speak, seeing how accent affects intent, how indigenous language doesn’t always translate so clearly, and trying to explain Cree emphasis when you’re a Dene and a Metis. Ha.

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I sipped a lot of latte’s. The first night, I met up with my good friend, Roseanne. We sat in a downtown Starbucks, chatting loudly as people pushed by us and jostled for space. There was more people in that little shop then I have ever seen in all of the Starbucks of Saskatoon.

She and I though, we just get one another. In between chatting about her work and mine, Indian love poems and “moose lips” made for kissing, we laughed and clapped our hands, the loudest ones around. After a 30 minute cuppa that turned into two hours, she drove me to my friends’ house, but not before a mini-impromptu photo session somewhere downtown, in between coffee shops and parking lots.

I watched the skyline of Toronto being bathed in the golden light of sunset and laughed, frustrated. The skyline blocked out all that natural light from hitting us – so how do the Toronto photographers do this?

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I adventured. I walked the streets of Kensington Market and tried to decide if this was my haven, or getting too commercial. Instead, I got distracted by vintage goods, tattoo shops and a little shop called Powwow Café.

Challenge accepted.

We were seated in the tiny diner, and I chose the Original Indian Taco, while chatting up with the waitress. Turns out the cook, his Grandma was Anishnaabe, and he had learned from her. I was ready to judge the bannock – me who had eaten Indian tacos coast-to-coast, powwow-to-powwow. Eeeee boy.

And then I could not shut up, moaning out loud with every bite. Because damn. By the end of the meal, which I couldn’t even finish it was so big, I was ready to propose to him. Because bae could cook. Gotta lock that shit up.

Sidenote: It was also at this cafe that I met a reader of our blog, Angela (Hi, Angela!). She is a friend of Caroline’s from way out on the West Coast, and just so happened to be feasting there with her aunt. We started gabbing and she asked, after she caught my name, “are you tea and bannock?” Yasssssssss. I love the connections and kinships that this blog is making, so if you ever see one of us in real life, out and about, say hello. We wanna meet you!

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Friday night came quickly. We were hustled into the theatre, lights were lowered and when our play was read out loud, I listened to the crowd. Who laughed and when, what jokes fell flat and who gasped at what. I smiled to myself, not even seeing just the stage and actors, but the potential of what this play could do. I made notes to myself – must learn to sing, must learn how not to be tone-deaf, must learn how to write music. Ha. I watched our characters come alive and saw a few women, besides myself, fall in love with our main man, and I saw the power of our lead female as she sang, and the crowd hushed, listening to the lyrics and message that Andrea had wrote for us.

It’s a good moment when you see your work breathe.

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The night ended with drinks and stories. I met Deneh’Cho Thompson and his dramaturge Lindsay Lachance, and noticed my own Dene accent getting thick and strong, like northern tea, the longer we talked. His play, “The Girl who was raised by Wolverine,” wrecked me, and seeing the directorial work of Lindsay made me dream outside my own parameters of creativity, again.

I flirted with my faux-White Buffalo and met storytellers from Australia. I shared a toast with a witty director and shared gossip with the cast from my own play reading. I met strong, powerful and creative women and my heart beat a little faster when they mentioned, “collaboration, we need to do something together.”

Yassssss.

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And then, it was Saturday morning. And there I was. Sick, achy. Both bemoaning Friday night and giggling about the pick up lines heard and used.

“I’ll teach you Dene.. nezuuuu…”

“You make me feel… traditional…” 

“Maybe you can teach me how to make bannock too…” 

Whaaawhaaaa. My next play is just writing itself.

Before I left the city, my Anishnaabe cousins and I stopped at two different art shows, to meet instagram friends and amazing Indigenous artists, Chief Lady Bird and Auralast.

There is nothing so awkward as introducing yourself by your instagram name:

“Hi, I’m Tenille. I’m a fan of your instagram.”

Awkward nod but friendly smile.

“Ummm … I’m sweetmoonphoto, and teaandbannock…”

BIG SMILES AND HUGS HELLO.

We chatted about art and photography, business and inspiration. More hugs and selfies. A few goods were bought (support indigenous artists!) and bannock was feasted upon.

It’s always good meeting those you admire.

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So, Toronto and me, well, it’s like a Tinder hookup, I think. A good time while it’s happening, but full of missteps and awkward moments when you think about it later, giggling with your friends.

Too honest? Ha.

Toronto and me, we were like a bannock made healthy with whole wheat flour. A good idea at the time, but you’ll have regrets later.

Eeeeee.

Either way, I learned my lesson. Keep to the markets and coffeeshops, and you good, Tenille. Stay away from beautiful men offering you stories and potential lines for future books.

I put on my glasses, and then my sunglasses, threw on my hoodie, and sipped Starbucks as me and my cousins drove out to the rez, back to Walpole Island for a visit.

But that’s another story.

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 – tenille campbell

HOME

Takwakin (Autumn or Fall) is the time of year that my family and I usually make our annual visit to Saskatchewan. However, this year we decided to stay home on the coast. Taking my boys back to where I come from is always a time that I look forward to. I want them to see, smell and hear the sounds of the places that form my earliest memories. I want them to feel the warm sun on their faces as they gaze at the endless prairie sky. I want my boys to remember where their ancestors came from. To see the place of the stories of the rougarou and the Virgin Mary. I want my boys to play in the same leaf filled ditches that my sisters, cousins and I did. To smell the freshly cut wheat, barley and canola. To taste fresh lake fish caught by my grandfather. I want my boys to know those connections. I want us to feel those experiences in our bones, to remember the changes of the season.

For a long time I lived a life where I was torn between my home in Saskatchewan and my home on the coast. I struggled with how to teach our children about where our ancestors came from when we live so far away. Over the years we have even discussed the idea of moving closer to our ancestral territories. We exchange romantic ideas on learning Cree, harvesting from the land, getting a horse or two, maybe some chickens and driving off into the sunset. Then we would wake from that dream and look around at the life that we have built for ourselves on the west coast. We love it here and will probably never move back to Saskatchewan. And that is okay.

More than half of my life has been spent on the west coast. Where we live now on Cormorant Island, traditional territories of the Kwakwaka’wakw, is where my children call home. My youngest has no memory of living anywhere else. Community members have welcomed me, this lost halfbreed from Saskatchewan, and my family into their lives. We are forming friendships here that will last lifetimes. We laugh, we cry and we laugh again. Our stories weave together into a new narrative. It is this connection that makes me feel at home. All these years later, I have finally learned that home doesn’t need to be tied to a specific space and place. Home can change, like the seasons. So, I guess that I must not be lost anymore. I’ve always been home.

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The waters east of Alert Bay. (BC)

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The waters of Northern Saskatchewan. (SK)

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Alert Bay playground. (BC)

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My eldest son takes a break while we visit my cousin on his farm. (SK)

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My youngest looking at all the eulachon inside the smokehouse. (BC)

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My eldest walking into the barn as my grandfather walks out of the barn. (SK)

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My boys and their friends playing in our backyard. (BC)

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My son and his cousin playing around the same slough I played around with my cousins. (SK)

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Ziplock bag, eagle feather, tarp and a black bear. (BC)

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Truck, chairs, velvet paintings and a moose antler rack. (SK)

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The next generation getting to know each other. (BC)

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My father locking the gates after paying our respects to our ancestors at the Green Lake cemetery. (SK)

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Gukwdzi (Big House) in Alert Bay. (BC)

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Visiting Wanuskewin Heritage Park that sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River. (SK)

-Amanda Laliberte

Storm Chasing

Highway 16, northern BCStorm chasing on Highway 16:
It’s like dancing, hide and seek, and flirting all at once.

First you chase the storm…

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…and then the storm chases you.
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I would have reached out and touched her, she was so beautiful…

This storm of ours, of mine.

She must have heard me… this spirit of creation,

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as suddenly there she was, reaching back.

Was that hello, or goodbye?

Before I could ask, she was gone.

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