This is absolutely great, and I love the way Jenny wrote the guest post!
(PS: although it is the fourth book, it works as a prequel for the first book, Ruby Moon).
Harvest Moon (By the Light of the Moon book #4) by Jenny Knipfer released in November in the historical fiction, Native American fiction, Christian historical fiction, clean romance genre.
In the wilds of 19th century Ontario, Maang-ikwe, a young Ojibwe woman, falls into a forbidden love, breaks her father’s honor, and surrenders her trust to someone who betrays it. The abuse she suffers divides her from her tribe and causes her to give up what she holds most dear.
Niin-mawin must come to grips with his culture being ripped away from him. Brought up in a “white man’s” school, he suffers through an enforced “civilized” education and separation from his family. When a man he respects reveals a secret about Niin-mawin’s past, he embarks on a search for the person he hopes can mend the part of his heart that’s always been missing.
Both Maang-ikwe and Niin-mawin wonder how a harvest of pain and sorrow will impact their lives. Will they find the blessings amongst the hardships, or will they allow the results of division and abuse to taint their hearts forever?
Fans of historical fiction, Native American fiction, Christian historical fiction, clean romance, and literary fiction will be moved by this deep, heartfelt novel.
“He is bundled in tight?” I ask nimaamaa.
“He is snug.”
She fiddles with the tikinaagan strapped to my back. Niin-mawin, my son, is bundled into the cradle with furs and wool.
I have boots and snowshoes on my feet, a warm, fur coat covering my body, and waabooz-lined, wool mittens on my hands. I’ve been itching to get outside.
Papa Baptiste is beside me with his pair of snowshoes, which were Imbaabaa’s. The curved basswood frames are meshed with thin strips of leather oiled with bear grease. Snowshoeing is the only way to walk in deep snowpack. I go along with him to check his trap lines.
My stepfather smiles at me underneath his thick, graying mustache and beard. “You ready?”
“Oui.” I nod and smile back.
We plod side by side, heading up the snowbank and onto the dense pack of snow measuring mid-thigh.
The air rests around us, quiet as a sanctuary. The only sounds I hear are the plop of our snowshoes and the puff of our breath. My eyes roam the expanse of blue over the distant treetops as we head towards the woods. The sky wears the same color of blue the wood squill flowers of spring wear.
We’ve passed the ring of the village and our wigwams, lodges, and homes and now enter the trees. The snow clings to the branches of the pine and spruce like a fur coat of white ermine. We follow a path signified by the swath of cleared underbrush Gerard worked at last autumn. Our pace slows.
Niin-mawin hasn’t fussed or uttered a peep yet.
But I feel the need to check on him.
“You see him. He is sleeping?” I ask Gerard.
He stops and steps closer to me. “Oui, blissfully at peace.” His eyes soften and the wrinkles deepen near his temples. “He sure is a handsome fella.”
He reaches out towards Niin-mawin but stops short of touching him. He turns and picks up his large feet and plods ahead without another word.
I follow. I try to step where he has. We don’t talk, but I wonder what Gerard really thinks of what happened to me.
Does he blame me?
He does not act like it, but he’s not said.
I wish I had never seen that red-haired man. I wish I not asked him for help. Most of all, I wish I hadn’t trusted him.
It has taught me to keep to myself. I think of the new fallen snow and the pine needles under us as he took what wasn’t his, what should have been Ignacio’s.
In the pines.
I have not been back to the grove Imbaabaa planted, which became my meeting place with Ignacio. I most likely never will. That man took more than my body; he stole my soul. My heart lived there in the white pine grove, and now I don’t know who I am anymore.
I am a mother, but also not. Niin-mawin is over four moons old. I have a few more with him, then he must be Gibba’s son. Suddenly, I have a strong urge to hold him in my arms and not on my back.
I signal and cry out to Gerard for his help. “I am stopping. I will feed Niin-mawin now.”
He plods over and assists me in getting the cradle off. Niin-mawin stirs and opens his eyes.
“My line starts just yonder.” Gerard points off to the left. “Here, you sit.” He clears a spot on a boulder for me. “I’ll be back soon.”
I nod. “We will be fine.”
When he is far enough away, I open my coat and slide my breast out of a slit in my hide dress.
Niin-mawin latches on and sucks greedily. I find my thoughts leading to prayer.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . .
A question crashes into my prayer. Was it God’s will for this to happen to me?
I don’t how a God of love would want that. It hurts my heart, and I wish I could talk to Ignacio about it.
My throat feels thick and coated like I’ve drunk slippery elm tea. I swallow down the feeling, but it only becomes worse until I cry. I nurse my son and rock back and forth on my stone perch, silently sobbing. Snot drips from my nose and turns crispy in the cold air. I wipe it away with my sleeve and try to calm myself.
It is the first time I have cried since Niin-mawin was born. I have tried to forget the vision of that man on top of me, how he held my arms down, and . . .
“Arrrg!” My voice is loud, and it scares my son.
Niin-mawin stops his suckling and stares at me with wide, brown eyes flecked with green. Then he starts to cry too.
“Shhh, Maamaa is sorry. Shhh.”
I rock him back and forth until we both have spent our tears. I place him against my shoulder and pat his back. He belches out a burp. I kiss his pink cheek, fit him once more into the cradle, loop my arms through, and wrap a leather strap around my waist.
I stand and prepare to go find Gerard, but I see him coming towards me holding a waagosh and waabooz—a fox and a hare—in the air.
The hunter and the hunted caught together.
A hard part of my heart still wishes the red-haired man had gotten caught. He was not. He slipped away from the account of his crime because I hid it for him until it was too late.
But who cares about a little Anishinaabe woman?
Even if I had said what he’d done, who knows if he would have been punished? Maybe he has punished himself. I remember his tears against my neck and his sorrowful eyes.
“We must forgive others, and God will forgive us.” I remember Ignacio told me.
Another part of the prayer Ignacio taught me floats in my mind.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
How do I forgive this man? The question beats at my breast.
I feel the weight of my son on my shoulders. He is a welcome burden, and I love him.
Maybe this is the start of forgiveness—my love for my son.
Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling.
Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions.
Her By the Light of the Moon series earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite, a book review and award contest company. Their praise: “Ruby Moon is entertaining, fast-paced, and features characters that are real. Blue Moon continues a well-written and highly engaging saga of family ties, betrayals, and heartaches. Silver Moon is a highly recommended read for fans of historical wartime fiction, powerful emotive drama, and excellent atmospheric writing. Harvest Moon is probably one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I have come away deep in thought, feeling somewhat like I’ve had a mystical experience and one I will never forget.”
She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.
Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set. She is currently writing a new historical fiction series entitled, Sheltering Trees. The first title in that series, In a Grove of Maples,—inspired by the lives of her grandparents in the late 1890’s—is slated for fall of 2021.
Historical Aspects of Harvest Moon
I set Harvest Moon during a changing time—the 1860’s through the 80’s—for native populations in Canada and the US and highlighted the historical aspects of reservation life, enforced education, religious missions, and traditional parts of the Ojibwe (pronounced: Oh-jib-way) culture like ricing, medicine, and music.
Reservation Life and Enforced Education:
In Ontario before The Indian Act, reservations were mainly set up on a treaty basis, allowing some freedoms of First Nation Peoples (how Canada refers to native, Métis, or Inuit persons) but were prone to defraudment and removal of titles and rights.
Both my main characters, Maang-ikwe, “Loon Woman”, and Niin-mawin, “She Cries for Him”, must learn from white teachers instead of their own tribal leaders and teachers. Maang-ikwe attends a Jesuit mission school located on the reservation and is able to stay with her family, but in 1876 Canada set into law The Indian Act.
Niin-mawin, who attends school after this date is removed physically and geographically from his family and must learn to survive boarding school life. Historically many of the First Nation children were neglected or ill-treated at such facilities, as my character experiences.
The Indian Act, which is defined on The Canadian Encyclopedia as “a number of colonial laws that aimed to eliminate First Nations culture in favor of assimilation into Euro-Canadian society.” Part of implementing this law was removing native children from their homes, where they would be taught the traditions of their people, and establishing them in boarding schools to teach them “white” ways and eradicate their culture.
These circumstances became a sad and difficult part of the characters’ stories in Harvest Moon, but not one without hope.
Excerpt from Harvest Moon:
I held that image of my parents in my mind as the red-coated man loaded me into a wagon with a group of twenty other boys. Most had tears wetting their cheeks as I did. Two other wagons filled with children followed ours.
The ride took us several days. We were watched like hawks, so we did not run away. Several boys attempted to but were beaten badly as a result. Then the white guards and black-robed men hobbled us together two by two. They gave us bread and water when we stopped to camp. My belly rumbled most of the way.
We arrived at the biggest building I’d ever seen, built on a plain with no trees, with one big house stacked on top of another. We were told classes would be held in the bottom of the building, and we would sleep on top.
I huddled next to Agaasaakwad-ajijaak—Small Crane—when night came. We lay back-to-back on a grass mat, both scared and homesick.”
Many missionary practices of the past unfortunately cut against First Nation culture. Early teachers often tried to replace one belief system with another instead of using what people already understood to help them grasp a new concept of God.
It was historically accurate that the Jesuits were the main missionaries at that time period and around the location of the Ojibwe bands, and I used such evidence in the setting and storyline of Harvest Moon.
Excerpt from Harvest Moon:
Late fall 1852
Jesuit Mission School Red Rock Reservation
“Hold still, child.”
“I do not like this cloth. It itches.” Maang-ikwezens, “Loon Girl”, spoke in Ojibwe and scratched over the top of the printed, brown cotton at her collarbone.
“You are blessed to have such things to wear,” Father Marcius scolded her in French.
Maang-ikwezens deciphered most of what he meant.
“Come, sit.” He pointed to a bench that held three other girls. Maang-ikwezens plopped down next to a little girl her age, who was in the mikinaak—turtle—clan. She had on an identical dress. They looked at each other with shared sympathy and understanding.
Father Marcius marched to the front of the schoolroom. His black robes billowed after him, along with a distinct smell of onions. He turned and stood in front of the pine chair and table that served as a teacher’s desk. He tapped his long fingers on the wood as if playing a drum.
“Now, children, these will be your assigned spots.”
He motioned for the interpreter to relay his message. A young man who appeared to be Métis stood off to the side and translated in Ojibwe to the room full of children. They were a group of around twenty-five. One side of the room held three rows of boys’ benches, and the same was reserved for the girls’ area, although there were fewer of them. The girls were not to participate in all of the lessons. Only the boys would have a complete education in reading, writing, arithmetic, and history.
“You must sit here every day. In order for us to relate more clearly, you will be given a French name.” The Jesuit priest waited for his instruction to register with the children before he moved on to the next set of requirements.
Some rumblings were shared among the group.
Father Marcius rapped his knuckles on the desk.
“Quiet!” he shouted. A stormy look darkened his languid face.
The children obeyed, and the priest tempered his voice.
“After today, you will not be allowed to speak your language in the
classroom. Instruction and questions will be in French. Now, most of you know a little, and soon you will catch on nicely. Is that understood?”
Maang-ikwezens stared at him, eyes wide and unblinking. She looked quickly at the other children. They did the same, as if they were row upon row of little owls. Her heart started to beat harder, and she felt the heat rising up her neck and into her ears.
I will never stop speaking the language of The People.
She looked down defiantly at her clothing. She would tear it off when she returned home and put on her doeskin dress once more.
“Now, I will start here,” he stood next to Maang-ikwezens, “and go around. William will record your given name and your new French name.” He looked over the children, as if waiting for more protests, but only stoic faces met his gaze.
“What is your name?” the man called William asked her in Ojibwe.
His voice was not unkind. Maang-ikwezens told him and in return he christened her.
“You will be called Marie.” He looked her in the eye, firmly but with softened features. “It is a good name, a pretty name just like its bearer.” A slow thin smile followed his endowment.
She didn’t waver and replied back, “Oui. Marie.”
Inside, however, Maang-ikwezens rebelled against this new name and language. It had not been long ago that she had been given her own name. She’d waited for something more than ikwezens—girl—and now it was being taken from her.
I am not Marie. I am Maang-ikwezens, she told herself.
Let them call her what they wanted. She knew who she was, and no one could take that from her.
Painting an accurate picture of how First Nation Peoples lived at the time required the inclusion of daily activities like making meals, fishing, gathering rice, making weapons, hunting, singing and playing music, and herbal medicine. My characters in Harvest Moon take part in all of these traditional ways of life. Maang-ikwe is also trained to be a Medawin, medicine woman.
Herbal medicine has always interested me greatly. I found it a pleasure to research and apply some of the knowledge I’ve already gained to Harvest Moon.
Excerpt from Harvest Moon
“You must listen carefully and do as I say.” Wiineta’s voice pecked out her words like a crow cracking corn on a post.
Wiineta reminded Maang-ikwezens of the black bird. The old woman was smart and wily and cackled like the “caw” of a crow when she laughed, which wasn’t often. The few hairs on her chin resembled the fine feathers which tufted out underneath a crow’s beak, but her hair shone white, not black.
“You hear?” The old woman sharpened her words.
Maang-ikwezens nodded her head solemnly and looked at the cross- hatched, wrinkled skin on her teacher’s face.
Wiineta took in a deep breath. “Plants heal, but they also hurt.” She softened a little as she looked at Maang-ikwezens. “You have much to learn. You are so young yet.”
Wiineta looked at her hands.
Maang-ikwe looked too. Her teacher’s hands were like etched maps of a life quickly fading. She knew her teacher was the oldest woman in the tribe.
Winetta grabbed her student’s chin with lightning speed for one so aged and studied her pupil.
Maang-ikwzens tried not to be frightened and did not waver.
“Good. Good. Something more than dandelion fluff rests between your ears,” Winetta concluded. “My wisdom will not be wasted.”
She dropped her wrinkled hand and pointed to an array of herbs.
“Now, you tell me which of these to use for belly sickness. There are other herbs which work too, but this one is the best. Sometimes you can ginigawin—mix—them.” She made a churning motion with her arm.
Maang-ikwezens looked at the row of pouches. Each one lay open and spilled forth a small portion of their contents upon the large, flattened tree stump Wiineta used as a workbench.
“Ah, I know what the growing plant looks like.” Maang-ikwezen’s finger hovered over one pouch but then moved towards another in indecision. She puffed out her cheeks and twitched her nose in thought.
“You must know what the dried plant looks like and after it is ground too.” Wiineta offered a clue. “Take a sniff.”
Maang-ikwezens lowered her head and obeyed. One had a distinctive spicy smell, but bitter too. “This one?”
Wiineta smiled. “It is just so. The wild ginger. Minochige—well done.”
Maang-ikwezens felt pleased that she had chosen correctly. She wanted to make her father proud, if he could still see her…
An important part of any culture is its language, and I couldn’t write a book without including some Ojibwe words. I think it gives an authentic feel to the story. My best teaching tool for learning Ojibwe was The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary . Because Ojibwe is incredibly hard to learn without hearing it spoken, this site, by The University of Minnesota, has Ojibwe people speaking the words. It thrilled me to no end to be able to understand and include this beautiful language in Harvest Moon.
I hope readers find not only an entertaining read in Harvest Moon but a fascinating glimpse into the past of Ontario’s First Nation Ojibwe and come away with a deeper understanding of the people and culture.
Connect with Jenny:
The Coffee Pot Book Club