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2 Important Truths About This Season

solstice

Every year I celebrate Winter #Solstice quietly; contemplating what this time of year means to me. One of the things I have learned from Winter Solstice is that sunrise will always come, if we hang on. If we keep putting one foot in front of the other; if we refuse to give up, we will see that glorious sunrise. I learned from my biological mother and my grandmother to “never quit”.
One friend of mine years ago commented that I was much like a bulldozer–I would go around, over, under, or through any obstacle in my path. Sometimes, tenacity is the only thing between failure and success.

The second important truth I have learned about this season is—

gifts

Growing up in the midst of poverty, I watched my grandmother literally share her last piece of bread with another. My mother regularly went down to the train yard and gathered up produce from broken crates. She brought it back to our neighborhood and shared it with everyone.
On the other hand, I have lived among those who had more than they needed; those who hoarded material things until they had to create more storage, yet they were unwilling to part with a single item to someone who had nothing. Others who had plenty sometimes grudgingly parted with a pittance to those in need.

giving-freely

Here is a story of a person who gave freely when she had so very little to give.

old dog

THE GIFT

By Aya Walksfar

Sixty-eight-year old Marybelle Brown pushed the rattling grocery cart filled with plastic bags of aluminum cans through the square next to the #Seattle Aquarium. That summer vendors had hawked sparkling necklaces and handmade toys and flamboyant scarves. Now it lay beneath the full moon, deserted except for a few pigeons huddled on a low wall near the water. Moving slowly so she wouldn’t disturb their rest, she made her way over and leaned against the cold concrete. She’d always loved Puget Sound. The gentle lap of the waves soothed her.

After a few minutes, she turned her cart and headed across the empty space. In the center stood a twelve-foot tall #Christmas tree. Red and green lights twinkled amid the plastic ornaments and glittering tinsel. Marybelle gazed up at it, at the star blazing white on the top. At last, she sighed in contentment and moved on.

fuzzy xmas tree

Today had been a wonderful Christmas Eve. She’d found three partially eaten cheeseburgers in one of McDonald’s trashcans. They were stashed in the ragged canvas shoulder bag along with French fries from a dumpster and two, whole pieces of cod from Ivar’s trash. A smile sat lightly on her cracked and chapped lips. Tonight she would feast! She patted the side of the shoulder bag and felt the bottle of Starbucks mocha and the bottle of Arrowhead water that a kind man had given to her with a smile and a Merry Christmas. Yes, tonight she would feast.

She bent her head back and gazed upward. Stars flung across the black heavens. Some people likened the stars to diamonds on black velvet, but she knew better. The stars were all the souls who had gone ahead, smiling down on those they’d left behind. Someday when it was time for her to leave this bent and painful body, she’d fly up there and be with them. Her momma and granny would be waiting. She wondered if the critters she had nursed would be there. Of course, they would! Her granny had told her that the souls of animals always went to the Bright Place because they lived as God intended.

She shuffled along. Time to get to her spot under the viaduct. Thick blackberry bushes hid the hole she’d dug out up against where the concrete met the earth. It had taken her a long time to make a roomy depression in that hard ground with a broken shovel. Hidden at the far back of the hole were all of her most precious belongings, safe from discovery by others, safe from the rain.

She crossed the quiet street and the cart jarred over the trolley tracks. Where cars parked during the day was mostly deserted now and filled with deeper shadows. The fat round concrete pillars that held up the overhead roadway too often hid bad things. She veered away, cornering her eye so she could keep watch while she passed.

As Marybelle came abreast of one spot of darkness a darker shadow moved within it. Her heart leaped into her throat. Her chest constricted with panic and squeezed the breath from her lungs. There! Who’s there? Her feet froze as her mind shouted, “Run!”

Just as her feet started to move, a whimper floated out of that darkness. The loneliness in that small sound dragged at her heart. “Leave, Marybelle. You can’t help whoever it is.”

In spite of herself, her hands left the cart and her feet shuffled toward the darkness. Her heart galloped like a crazed horse. “ Oh, Lord, I feel like my heart’s gonna bust.”

As she drew closer, a stray beam of moonlight shone against the pillar. Crumpled at the base of that cylinder of concrete lay a black dog. It lifted forlorn eyes to her face. The very tip of its tail tapped the ground twice then stopped like that was all the energy the poor thing had.

In her mind the years fell away and she once again saw her momma open the door of their tiny apartment. “Oh, Marybelle, you can’t help every critter you see,” her momma’s gentle hands tending to Marybelle’s latest rescue belied her words. Momma and granny had always tried to save the animals she dragged home–starved and beaten and broken.

She edged closer and the dog cringed, trying to melt into the ground. She knew the feeling. Carefully, she lowered herself to her achy knees. Never looking directly at the dog, she held out a hand. “It’s alright. I know just how you feel.” The dog’s body relaxed and it stretched its black nose toward her hand. “That’s it, little one. Come on over to Marybelle.”

She slid her shoulder bag to the ground then dug around until her hand touched the wrapping of one of the half-eaten burgers. Eyes still averted, she held a small bite on the palm of her outstretched hand. The dog sniffed the air and gave an anxious whine. “I know. It’s scary, but honestly, this is for you.”

The cold seeped through the three pairs of thin pants and chilled her arthritic knees. Still, she knelt there, hand out in offering. The dog stretched its neck toward the food. It crept one step, two steps. Now Marybelle could see the ribs jutting out under the patchy hide.

“Poor thing,” she crooned.

The dog trembled as it came close enough to snatch the food. It took the rest of the burger for the poor thing to creep close enough for Marybelle to put her arms around it. The dog was big, bigger than her German Shepherd had been. She felt the resistance of its stiff body, but kept humming and stroking one hand down its thin side. At last, the tension drained from it and it nestled against her chest.

After a while, she gave its sharp nose a kiss. “Gotta git up, little girl. My knees don’t like this kneeling.” She pulled a ragged wool scarf from around her neck and made the dog a soft collar and leash.

At her hideaway, Marybelle laid out the sleeping bag that a young, white girl had given her that past fall. She never carried this precious gift for fear of it being taken from her. But every night since early fall she’d blessed that child, and wished her well as she fell asleep. The dog immediately curled up on one side, the shivers wracking its body subsiding.

She sat next to the dog and lit the stub of a candle she’d found and saved for a special occasion. This surely was a most special occasion. “We’re safe here, Dog. With all the blackberry bushes around us and being way up under here, no one wants to crawl this far back.” She draped the two blankets she had scrounged from a Goodwill donation box around her shoulders and over Dog’s back.

From her handbag, she took the food and set it on the sleeping bag in front of them. She filled her dented quart pot with the bottled water and set it in front of Dog. She raised her head and drank deeply as Marybelle opened the bottle of Starbucks Mocha Coffee drink. She tapped the bottle against the pot rim. “Here’s to our friendship, Dog.”

Carefully, she divided the hamburgers, the fries, the fish: half for her, half for dog. Dog quickly ate her half, but sat politely, not begging for Marybelle’s food. She took all but one piece of the fish and laid it in front of the gray muzzle. “Merry Christmas, Dog.”

Dog cocked her head and fixed her clouded eyes on the old woman. “Go on, Dog. An old woman like me don’t need so much food. Probably would make me sick to eat all of that. This piece of fish’ll do me just fine.”

Feast over she stuffed the trash in the paper bag and set it to one side. She lay down and Dog cuddled against her chest. With the blankets spread over the two of them and the sleeping bag zipped she draped a sleep heavy arm over the old dog’s side. “This has been a lovely Christmas Eve, Dog. Thank you.”

Singing woke Marybelle. Beautiful singing that called to her. She opened her eyes and got to her feet. Dog leaned her head against Marybelle’s leg. A bridge lay before them. Dog looked up with cataract whitened eyes and whined. She took a step toward the bridge and twisted her gray muzzle over her shoulder as if to say, “Come on.”

The bridge shone like a golden light lit it from within. Marybelle shivered. Fear rose up and wrapped chains around her legs. Dog padded back to her side. She pushed her cold black nose against the palm of Marybelle’s hand and gazed up at her. “Oh, Dog, I know you wanna go that way, but I…I can’t.”

Dog sat next to Marybelle’s leg and sighed. She rubbed the old dog’s grizzled fur and knelt in front of her. Staring into the dog’s dimmed eyes, she cradled the gray muzzle between her knarled and arthritis twisted hands. “I know you want to go that way. And…and it’s probably a good place, Dog. But, I…” she inhaled a deep breath and let it ease from her. “I know it’s a good place, Dog. I can feel it; like I know you can, too. But, I don’t deserve to go there.”

Dog flicked out a warm wet tongue and licked the tears that traced the lines of Marybelle’s weathered face. She pressed her face against Dog’s then kissed her muzzle and stood up. She took a half step away from Dog.

Courage gathered like a tattered garment, she looked into Dog’s eyes. “I can’t go there, Dog. I haven’t been a good person. There’s things…” she glanced away and swallowed the lump in her throat. When she looked back, she blinked away the tears. “There’s things I’ve done; things I’ve said that were wrong. I’ve…I’ve hurt people. Over there,” she raised a thin arm and waved toward the shining bridge. “Over there is for good people, people like you, Dog. Go on. You deserve to be there.” She turned and moved away from the dog.

She’d only gone a few steps before she felt the cold nose against her dangling hand. She squatted next to the dog. “Oh, Dog.” She buried her face in the brittle black fur. When she lifted her face, she hugged the dog and stood. “Looks like you aren’t going to go, if I don’t.” Heart pounding, she gave a slight nod as if confirming her own decision. “I’ll go with you, Dog, because you deserve to be over there.”

Dog pressed tight against her leg as they walked onto the glowing bridge. The golden light enveloped them, warmed them.

Halfway across the bridge Marybelle stopped and gazed over the railing. Below, a broad, placid river flowed. As they drew nearer to the far side, a beautiful meadow ablaze with blue and yellow and orange flowers rolled out as far as she could see. Her eyes rounded.

When they reached the end of the bridge, a melodic voice spoke. “I see you’ve helped her to Cross, Dog. I knew you could. Well done.”

Marybelle raised her eyes and gazed into the milk chocolate face and dark chocolate eyes. “Momma?”

The woman spread her arms and Marybelle ran into them.

The End

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PHOTO CREDITS: Old dog–Anne Lowe    Christmas tree–Anna Langova  (all-free-download.com)

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#Halloween Month! A Month of Scary!

evil-stalks-the-night
#October is #Halloween Month, All-Hallows Month! I will celebrate by making it A Month Of Scary!

October 1: I will discuss the meaning of Halloween on my blog and post Chapter 1 of Artemis’ Warriors, Book 1, The Vampire War. In addition, this will be one of the FEW times that my email friends will receive more than one notification per week from me. On October 1, I will send the first two chapters of my upcoming thriller–Attack!

October 8: Five Books that scared me. On this day, I will share five books that truly disturbed me. Not all horror is paranormal.

Oct 15: Five Scary Things that Made Me Write. Many things motivate an author. On this day, I will share five of those occurrences.

Oct 22: Five Scary Things I Wrote About. Though I do not write horror books, there are several subjects that are tackled in my novels that are truly scary.

Oct 29: A Scary/Paranormal Short Story. Then, there are those incidents that no one can explain…. It’s not always wise to walk around alone, after dark!

Great October Reads:
Dead Men and Cats, a novella
blackCatCover1
On October 1, 35 copies of Dead Men and Cats will be given away! Stay tuned to my BLOG for the latest on how to grab your #FREE #Ebook!

Looking forward to seeing you! Oooooooo!

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MAKA INA (MOTHER EARTH)

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.

–Chief Seattle

MAKA INA (MOTHER EARTH)

June 25

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.

June 27

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.

June 30

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.

June 31

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.

July 1

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.

July 5

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.

July 18

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.

August 1

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.

August 6

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?

August 12

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.

September 5

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?

September 9

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.

September 15

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.

October 2

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.

November 1

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.

December 30

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.

January 3

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.

The End

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