I am going on a much needed vacation, but wanted to leave something for all of my wonderful readers. I will return in a couple of weeks. Until then, enjoy this story.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together. All things connect.
MAKA INA (MOTHER EARTH)
I have to get back to the ranch. Grandmother is probably worried sick. Two weeks ago–it doesn’t seem that long–mom and grandmother sent me here to Bald Peak. “I have watched you,” grandmother said, “for many days. You’re here. You’re there. You can’t sit still. You don’t sleep well.”
When I looked at her, startled, she nodded. “Yes, I awakened a number of nights when I heard something disturbing the horses. I watched from the window until you returned.”
“I don’t know what it is , grandmother. These dreams, I can’t recall except to feel there’s something I have to do.” I glanced away from her black eyes, staring out towards the mountains that rose up from the back of our pasture and towered above the small patch of woods.
Mom walked into the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down. She waited quietly to see if grandmother had anything to say. While the quiet stretched on, we all sipped our coffee.
This was how I’d grown up. My friends thought we were weird. Whenever their parents were quiet they were either mad or ignoring the kids. Only Angie, my Quaker friend, understood the concept of waiting for the spirit to speak.
Finally mom spoke. “The ancestor whose name you carry was very traditional. As a young person she spent many days in the mountains, fasting and praying, looking for her spirit help.”
Downing the last dregs of coffee, I studied the grounds at the bottom of the cup. My heart pounded from excitement or fear or maybe a bit of both. “ I ‘ll be ready to leave in the morning.”
The next morning as I finished cinching up Star Dancer’s saddle, grandmother handed me her eagle prayer feather. “It is good you are following the path of our ancestors, but there is a sadness in me. Last night I dreamed.”
“What did you dream, Grandmother?”
“You called to me. I could see you and hear you, yet when I spoke to you, you did not see me nor did you hear my voice. I wanted to reach out and let you know I was there, but something was between us. I couldn’t touch you.” Grandmother shook her head as if to shake the dream from her mind. “Remember, little one, no matter where you are, I am with you.”
Putting my arms around her thin shoulders, I was poignantly aware of grandmother’s eighty-five years. “I will remember.”
Mom hugged me. Holding my shoulders, she stared into my eyes. “We are proud of you. Your father, I am sure, smiles from the Other Side. Even though he was white, he understood the ways of our people and honored them.”
I nodded, unable to speak past the lump in my throat. Turning from them, I swung up into the saddle.
Ten days into the fast, my prayers were answered. I didn’t understand the vision, but then I didn’t expect to. Like the stories of our people, there were layers of understandings which could take years to realize. On the eleventh day, I rested and ate. On that night the quakes began.
Today is the fifth day from the start of the quakes and the first day that the only thing shaking is my hands. I am scribbling this all down in my dairy. Coming from an oral tradition, I wonder why I have such a compulsion to write. Grandmother said writing is just another canoe to carry important things forward into the future.
Star Dancer is saddled up. As soon as full daylight comes, I’ll douse this campfire and head home. I pray mom and grandmother are alright.
This is the second night I have been forced to make camp. Large sections of the trail have vanished beneath rock slides; chasms have opened up where once there was solid ground. Huge trees resemble a handful of toothpicks tossed down by some giant. .
I guess we were lucky to escape the chain of worldwide natural catastrophes for as long as we did. For the past year, seems like every time we turned on the news, there was another earthquake or volcano or tidal wave wiping out entire cities.
I almost wish Star Dancer and I had not made it home. It has taken all day to dig mom and grandmother from the ruins of the house. They must have been singing as they crossed over to the Other Side. Their hands still held their drums.
Tomorrow I will bury them beneath the arms of the old cedar. Grandmother told me Grandmother Cedar is over a thousand years old, according to the history handed down from her great-grandmother. How it managed to stay rooted amid all of this devastation is beyond my understanding. But then how the old cedar managed to evade the logger’s chainsaws that clear-cut so much of this area has always seemed a mystery and a miracle to me, too.
It is finished. I pray I did the ceremony right. Every time I faltered, I heard grandmother, “When you do ceremony with a good heart, the spirits can forgive mistakes.” They must because my Spirit Helper stayed with me from just before dawn when I began digging the graves until I placed the last shovelful of dirt on the mound above mom. Later this summer, I’ll ask one of our medicine people to come and make things right.
Lying here, staring up at that sky full of stars, I hear mom and grandmother singing their songs. It’s been there all day, at the edge of my hearing. Tonight, with a coyote’s song echoing from the hills every now and then, their drumming and their voices sound clearer.
The radio is smashed beyond use. Mom and grandmother’s songs have left. Even the wind has deserted this place.
Far Runner, grandmother’s Indian pony, returned early this morning. Except for a few scratches, she’s fine. With some tugging and sweating I cleared enough of the tack shop rubble to get to another saddle and some saddlebags. With enough salvageable supplies to last a couple of weeks, I’ll head out to the Rez. It’s only twenty miles, but who knows what condition the roads are in. Mom’s cousin Annie will want to know what’s happened.
Today, for the first time that I can ever recall, I found myself wishing we had some neighbors closer than the Rez. Everything I think seems to lead to thoughts of mom or grandmother. Like the neighbor thing: soon as I thought it’d be nice to have nearer ones, I remembered grandmother saying, “I’m glad the folks nearest us is our own people. I sure dread the day this land gets crowded and white folks are sitting on our doorstep. “ She’d shaken her head at her self. “ I try not to feel so. Meetin’ your father helped me to see white folks in a different way. But, them boardin’ school teachers poundin’ on us Indian children for speakin’ our own language…” Her voice had trailed off.
They’re gone! I can’t believe everyone on the Rez is gone. Granted it is–was a small reservation, but everyone, dead! Their bodies look like they have lain out in the summer sun for months. My Spirit Helper led me to Cousin Annie. If I hadn’t known her so well, I would not have recognized her body.
I don’t get it. Oh, there seems to be logical explanations for everyone who is dead–trees and houses falling down; cars crumpled together, obviously thrown out of control by the quake; explosions from ruptured propane tanks; fires. But how can a whole place be wiped out like this?
Was this then the meaning behind the raging fires in my vision? In part of the vision, there was an emptiness on the land and fires everywhere. Was that great emptiness this loss of family and friends?
I buried Cousin Annie. The rest of them, I prayed for and left where they lay. I sang for Cousin Annie then I sang for the rest of the Rez. I can’t do any more. Perhaps their spirits will still be able to find rest.
My heart is so heavy I want to lay down with Cousin Annie, but my Spirit Helper is nipping at me, refusing to let me even stop here for the night. The full moon casts a shimmering, magical light over the devastated land. As I mount up to leave, beauty and sorrow envelope me as fog envelopes the marshlands.
Been moving steadily since I left the Rez. Have yet to encounter another living two-legged though I have spotted a hawk, a pair of eagles and a wolf. The wolf must have come down from Canada.
I feel so tired yet each time I consider lying down to let my soul wander away, my Spirit Helper nips me as a sheepdog might nip its’ charges to force them to keep moving. I’d think I was dreaming such attacks except for the red marks on the back of my legs and sometimes on my arms. Grandmother never warned me that spirit helpers could be so downright annoying.
Today I crossed what was left of Snoqualamie Pass on the remnants of I-90. I left Far Runner’s tack lying next to the remains of a farm house. She continues to follow as closely as if she were still tied to us. I don’t blame her. If it weren’t for my Spirit Helper, the aloneness would probably immobilize me. Towns, suburbs, houses out in the middle of farmland shaken into rubble. Roadways crumpled like discarded paper balls. Not a living two-legged in sight. Why was I spared?
I’ll head for Seattle. Surely out of all of those thousands, there will be living people there.
If anyone had told me last summer that it would take five days to make one day’s mileage from the summit of the Pass to Seattle, I would have laughed. Star Dancer and I have been known to easily make twice that distance in a day’s ride.
Last summer seems a century away. Craters, mud slides, rock avalanches, patches of forest still smoldering from fires. Now this. A huge wave must have come in and slapped Seattle like some monstrous hand, carelessly sweeping large parts of it out to sea. Is anyone alive besides me?
Scavenging has become a way of life and ignoring dead bodies, a habit. At last I know with certainty that it was not metaphorical fires of which my vision spoke. It was this. Seattle’s skyline is bright not with neon but with orange-red-blue flames shooting two to three stories high from busted gas lines. Safe up here on this hill looking down on the city from beneath a surviving magnolia and several short-needled pines, I feel a profound sense of loneliness.
Today would have been grandmother’s eighty-sixth birthday. Taking out my hand drum I couldn’t decide whether to sing sorrow or celebration. Surely, mom and grandmother are better off not seeing this. I sang both.
In some ways I dread continuing this journey. I don’t know exactly where I am going. Just a generally southern direction. I dread the full understanding of my vision that I fear awaits me further on this sojourn. Yet there is a part of me that can’t forget the memory of hope I felt during my vision. There was that terrible sorrow binding my heart as I first came back into myself up there on Bald Peak , my face awash with my tears; but, there was also a lifting of my heart, a sense of wonder and a –joy–for lack of a better word. I must go on. Even if I would stop, Spirit Helper would not allow it. To what tomorrow is she guiding me?
Seattle was a graveyard. Portland, or what was left of it, wasn’t any better. Fact is, this is the best I’ve seen since leaving Bald Peak. Southern Oregon has always been a beautiful place, except of course, for the highways and cities. Well, it doesn’t seem like human ugliness is going to be a problem for long.
I passed a Fred Meyers. Grass and dandelions have already pushed up through the asphalt of the parking lot. Part of the outside walls have tumbled down, not really noteworthy except for the amount of moss covering the bricks left standing and the sapling already twelve or more feet high and easily several inches in diameter growing on the inside of what had once been the bakery.
Brush and saplings seem to be sprouting up overnight, growing at an amazing pace. It’s like Mother Earth is in a hurry to reclaim her body. Farmlands have become semi-wilderness. I wonder what’s happened to the livestock and domestic animals? Come to think of it: I haven’t seen many animal corpses. Mostly dogs with their people or animals trapped in man-made structures.
Using the binoculars I scavenged from REI in Seattle, over the past few days I’ve spotted several horses, a couple of domestic cats near the rubble of an apartment complex, cougar sign, a glimpse of a black bear and some raccoons sleeping in a cedar tree. Funny, I don’t feel quite so alone now.
Hello world! This is the day of my birth nineteen years ago. I feel like I’m thirty! The weather is a bit warmer than usual for this time of year, but then maybe it’s just one of those years. The earth seems to have settled back down. Since Bald Peak, I have not encountered any more natural disasters.
Of course, I don’t know what’s happening anywhere else. None of the radios I’ve found work. As for humans, forget it. All the ones I’ve met look like they’ve been dead fifteen or twenty years. Bones in clothes or at best, mummified skin and rotted rags. Cities overrun by trees and brush; grass and weed shattered sidewalks. I don’t get this. It feels like that old sci-fi show the “Twilight Zone”. If it wasn’t for this diary and my vision on Bald Peak, I would think I was crazy and all of this happened years instead of months ago.
Crescent City, California looks nothing like it did when mom brought me here for my fifteenth birthday. Back then we camped among the redwoods for two weeks. We stopped at the Safeway I’m sitting here looking at now.
Had to pull blackberry vines off the front so I could enter. Lined up on the shelves, canned food sported discolored labels. Some crumbled away as I touched them, like really old paper.
Found an intact mirror in what used to be an employee’s lounge. Now, I know. I don’t understand. But I know. Took the picture of mom I snapped on her thirty-second birthday from my wallet. It felt old, fragile. Holding it next to my face, I stared in the mirror. Everyone used to tell me I was the spitting image of mom. With crow’s feet around my eyes and that grey streak like mom had running down the middle of my head, I can clearly see mom in my face.
In a crazy way, it’s beginning to make sense. Mom used to always kid me about wearing clothes and shoes out overnight. Maybe that’s partly the reason it never occurred to me before now how often I’ve had to replace the man-made materials I’m wearing while the natural cotton and leather items are still okay.
Manmade–that seems to be the key.
I loved the redwoods from the moment I first saw them with mom. Grandmother said my great-great grandmother had some California Indian–Klamath–in her and that’s why I felt so at home among these giants.
I continue to age quickly. Star Dancer and Far Runner have matured to the five-year olds that they are. From all appearances, it is only humankind and their constructions that age rapidly in this new world. Even the trees and vines that are taking over the cities, though they grow very fast, they don’t seem old.
I’ve made my last camp here on this bluff overlooking the steel blue Pacific foaming against the black grained sands below. Redwoods tower above and around me, embracing me. The mild weather continues. I enjoy the seals barking from the island that stands out a bit from the shore. Seagulls glide and argue. Their raucous voices harmonize well with the ocean. Deer slip through the early evening shadows, barely cracking a twig. The birds keep the days from being silent.
My Spirit Helper has led me here to this place in my vision.
I don’t know if there are people anywhere any longer, but it’s nice to know that the wild ones and at least some of the domestic four-leggeds have survived. A semi-feral orange tabby followed me from the old camp near the remains of a ranger station to this camp. When I catch fish, I throw the heads back away from the fire. I sit quietly when she darts out and snatches them. I know it’s a she since I’ve seen a couple of half-grown kittens with her. When she gets the food far enough away, they come out and help her eat it.
Last night I returned to camp late. South of me is an area that has returned to lush grassland. Star Dancer and Far Runner run free in that grassland now. I had to let them go. The sunset of my life is upon me.
I carefully wrap my diary in oiled leather and stash it within a hole in Grandmother Redwood. Settled with my back against the rough bark of the ancient Redwood, I pick up my hand drum, the one Grandmother helped me make. As I stroke it, I wonder if anyone else is alive, and if someone, someday, might find my words.
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