Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417
As the Tonnerres had increased, their settlement had been added to, until the clearing at the foot of the town hill was a chaos of lean-tos, wooden packing cases, warped lumber, discarded car tires, ramshackle chicken coops, tangled strands of barbed wire and rusty tin cans. The Tonnerres were French half breeds, and among themselves they spoke a patois that was neither Cree nor French. Their English was broken and full of obscenities. They did not belong among the Cree of the Galloping Mountain reservation, further north, and they did not belong among the Scots-Irish and Ukrainians of Manawaka, either. They were, as my Grandmother MacLeod would have put it, neither flesh, fowl, nor good salt herring.
As Vanessa notes, Piquette's family and relatives live in poverty. More importantly, they are "half breeds" or of mixed ethnicity, as we would say today, and don't fit into either the native Cree culture or the various European-based cultures of their region of Canada. This problem of finding identity will be an important theme: Piquette has no sense of really belonging anywhere, and joining the European community through marriage does not work out well for her.
It seemed to me that Piquette must be in some way a daughter of the forest, a kind of junior prophetess of the wilds, who might impart to me, if I took the right approach, some of the secrets which she undoubtedly knew—where the whippoorwill made her nest, how the coyote reared her young, or whatever it was that it said in Hiawatha.
Vanessa tries to romanticize Piquette as a kind of noble savage, projecting her own fantasies onto her and idealizing her as a child of nature. This is a sharp contrast to the reality of Piquette's background. It is a much more appealing picture than living in a sordid shack amid adults collecting relief money from the government and herself only attending school sporadically.
This beautiful piece of descriptive prose depicts the loons as like phantoms or ghosts, perhaps symbolizing Piquette, who is also like a phantom in her society.At night the lake was like black glass with a streak of amber which was the path of the moon. All around, the spruce trees grew tall and close-set, branches blackly sharp against the sky, which was lighted by a cold flickering of stars. Then the loons began their calling. They rose like phantom birds from the nests on the shore, and flew out onto the dark surface of the water.