Tracks and trails, how they’re used and what they indicate, are an important symbol of the journey of the Anishinabe people. Clearly the book has been named after this symbol, and we see the concept returned to again and again throughout. Fleur’s tracks look like those of a bear, indicating her connection to the spirit world, and Pauline’s tracks show that she wears her shoes on the wrong feet, in an offering to God (and as a sign of her cultural and spiritual confusion). In general, footsteps reveal some symbolic meaning about the nature of who they belong to. For Nanapush, Eli, and Fleur, hunting requires following an animal’s tracks until it can be killed. Pauline follows in Bernadette’s “tracks,” learning how to prepare the dying.
All of these are examples of the way the characters travel through their lives, looking for clues as to how to live. At times in the book, pathways are trackless, showing that the place being traveled to has not been visited before. Other times, when human and creatures fail to leave tracks, it could be out of foolishness, growing fatigued and forgetting to provide themselves a way back, or because they are able to hide evidence of their journeys, possibly because they are spirits or as a way of preserving themselves. A trackless world, as when Fleur travels to the land of the dead, is a world unmarred by the effect of the imposing white population surrounding the reservation. At the end of the book, it is said that Fleur is able to leave no tracks because she has performed a ritual in taking Napoleon’s tongue that allows her this skill. Leaving no tracks, in this case, is a symbol of the advantages Fleur has in staying closely tied to the old ways.
Tracks/Trails Quotes in Tracks
I am a man so I don’t know exactly what happened when the bear came into the birth house, but they talk among themselves, the women, and sometimes they forget I’m listening. So I know that when Fleur saw the bear in the house she was filled with such fear and power that she raised herself on the mound of blankets and gave birth. Then Pauline took down the gun and shot point-blank, filling the bear’s heart. She says so anyway. But she says that the lead only gave the bear strength, and I’ll support that. For I heard the gun go off and then saw the creature whirl and roar from the house. It barreled past me, crashed through the brush into the woods, and was not seen after. It left no trail either, so it could have been a spirit bear. I don’t know.
In the morning, before they washed in Matchimanito, they smelled like animals, wild and heady, and sometimes in the dusk their fingers left tracks like snails, glistening and wet. They made my head hurt. A heaviness spread between my legs and ached. The tips of my breasts chafed and wore themselves to points and a yawning eagerness gripped me.