I am flying high above the trees, looking down on the white-washed pebble beach of the southern coast of Akamiski Island. I can see every indention of the coast, the thin ribbon of beach, the green forests, swamps, the dark blue oblong lakes and the thin lines of rivers and creeks. I can see the lighter green colours of the low-growing grasslands and the treeless tundra and the brown streaks of the tidal plains of clay that stretch out far from shore. At every point, I think about the many times I visited this island with my family over the years. From high in the sky I find the point where our camp is located on the southern shore. Quickly, I fly to the tundra-covered north end of the island to search for the creeks and rivers where we camped in the spring to hunt geese.
I fly to the west and follow the opening of the Attawapiskat River leading inland. The smaller creeks and channels merge together the further I fly over the wide band of the dark coloured river. I can imagine the freighter canoes moving across the water to James Bay. From up here it does not seem far but it is a half-hour trip by fast-moving freighter canoe to the bay. In a few seconds on my flight I can plainly see the faint signs of roads, an airport strip and the square blocks of the sewage lagoon in Attawapiskat.
Then I fly north to see the rivers and creeks where my mother and her family lived before moving to Attawapiskat. I go further north and inland to places I have never seen from on high. I look down at remote lakes and rivers I have only heard of in stories and in second-hand accounts from elders, trappers and traditional people.
As strange as this journey sounds, the whole time I am sitting in the comfort of my home in front of my computer. I am visiting and travelling the world through a new service provided by the Google search engine, called Google Earth. A friend of mine, Don, recently told me to try this new software program. I was sceptical at first. I had used Google maps before and found them informative but dull. Google Earth is far more user-friendly as it allows you to view the Earth through satellite images. In remote and isolated areas, the images are faint but in highly populated cities or areas of famous landmarks the satellite photographs are detailed right down to vehicles on the street. The program gives you the sensation of flying like a bird. It zooms in and out from the globe as if you’re flying a super-fast jet. You can download the program for free at earth.google.com.
What fun. I zoomed in on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and easily found the structure in the sprawling city. It brought back memories of my trip there with my brother Joseph and my friend Mike. At the push of a button, I flew over Europe and into southern Spain and saw the city of Malaga from 30,000 feet. I could easily see the sand beaches of the city and the rocky coast where the three of us started our trip that year. In another instant, I flew over the Mediterranean to Rome and reminisced on our side trip to see historic sites such as the Forum, the Colliseum and St. Peter’s Basilica.
I also discovered that people from around the world were submitting place markers to use on the Google Earth program. People provide this information through the Google Earth Community forum where people share their interests.
I found one person who had taken a great amount of time and effort to collect information on the young American soldiers who had died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had created place markers of where these men and women came from in the United States and around the world, along with additional information and even their photographs. I was shocked to find the software labouring slowly through the information to light up the whole country of America in markers across the entire country. There didn’t seem to be a place in America that hadn’t lost a young man or woman to the wars in the Middle East. I was saddened and shocked to find so many names and to see the country houses, inner city apartments and suburban homes where these people lived. It was a humbling experience. Google Earth brought that war home to me.
I felt tired when I finally got up from my computer. After all, I had flown around the world several times to zoom in on places in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. I even flew back home to James Bay. I suggest you get your wings on and hit up earth.google.com. Happy flying.