Saturday, October 2, 2010

* Prologue – “Do you not recognize me?”

Másaw, the Keeper of this story, his face, dark-red, creased heavily by time and perhaps by some great sadness, drew back on an ornate, feathered pipe that had been in his possession for longer than even he could recall - allowing the pungent smoke to drift lazily about him while he surveyed those who had gathered at his fire to hear the tale he had promised to tell. His hair was coarse and thick, jet-black with no hint of gray, braided into a ponytail, intertwined by leather strips that may have been bison or caribou, draped over his shoulder and down across a vest of brightly colored porcupine quill. His left hand, twisted by arthritis, was pushed firmly into his lap, but his right, which held the pipe to his lips, was still strong and firm - with memories of gripping the manes of wild ponies, of letting loose arrows to kill his enemies, of tenderly caressing the cheeks of those he had loved and somehow lost. Black marks were etched across the back of this hand - their significance known only to him and one other.
Slipping the pipe from his mouth he momentarily studied the carving along its red-soapstone stem before tapping the spent tobacco from the head, replacing it with a pinch of leaves from his pouch and relighting it with a smoldering twig from the fire. Only then did he, Másaw, begin the story that had taken a lifetime to commit to memory.
‘Trickster Coyote…’, (his storyteller voice, deep and melodic, blended easily with the wind-ruffled leaves above and the cracking of the fire whose brightness pulled him from the darkness), ‘in any of his many guises, may or may not let the revelation of truth come our way….
‘The formation of this planet; the manifestation and separating waltz of the continents; the construction and destruction of the first lands, or worlds; and the eventual creation by beaver or beetle or muskrat, or perhaps tectonic movement, of that which would one day be named America has been told and retold with the certainty of the spider hole woven into the center of any well-made blanket but likewise with the agreed upon uncertainty of which direction the wind blows above the valiant warrior's lodge.
‘Vagueness also leaves wandering paw-prints along the dry creek-bed of man’s first appearance in this ancient landscape. Some, who imagine they know the truth, believe that tribesmen crossed the broad but temporary land-bridge of Beringa from Asia to America's northwest; but they are unclear as to when or why and, indeed, are unable to account for evidence of mankind and civilization scattered far across the continent which long predates their theory. Ask Trickster Coyote and he may well tell you that account of Emergence. Or he may suggest the story of Raven, who found our forefathers in a clamshell on the beach at Naikun - where they entered a world peopled by beasts and birds; by creatures of great power. At other times he may whisper the details of Sky-woman's descent to Earth or lick his lips slyly (letting his tongue slap loudly back into his mouth) before allowing that man was placed on the prairies, in the woodlands, and on the edge of the blue pond by the Creator - as a child of the varied and beautiful land that is his Mother and as a brother of the animals that are his equal in every way.’
Másaw puffed attentively as those before him nodded their heads in wonder. For many minutes he was silent - the story that had taken millennia to evolve, even now in no hurry to be told. And then the words came once more…
‘Many facets of truth resonate within the echoing howls of Coyote's tales - though some aspects, by his own mischievous design, are distractions and contradictions; that we be forced to follow his gaze toward the hope of the new moon and to find the song within our own hearts before we may possess any real understanding of this noble land and the paths its people have taken.
‘So, my friends, come close and listen well if you do, indeed, desire to know some of that which is true. With words and thoughts garnered from rock, tree, song and wampum; diary, manuscript and memory; I shall convey one family’s journey through history - encouraging, where possible, those who lived in the midst of events past to tell their own as best they know how; but so too permitting the gusting wisps of smoke and legend, of countless thousands of intermingling sagas (of what may have really occurred) to move between the passages; and perhaps to reveal what came before - before this land and before our people existed - to recognize that which even the Trickster would only ever dare to cunningly allude.
‘As the great oak looms overhead and the muted sounds of the woodland soften the darkness about us, allow my words to ignite your thoughts and imagination, to draw them through the fire's flame and into the far reaching depths of time to where those who came before us first set foot on the land which is our mother - to the place where the legend of America and our family begins…’

* 35,000 BC – “Fourth Morning of the Seventh Moon”

‘There were no stars; only the darkness and an arctic chill that had intensified since the first thin, blood-red stripes of sunrise began to shimmer on the ocean's horizon around us.
‘The morning was, as I remember, insipidly dim and cold - flurrying falls of flakes, then sleet, followed by blizzarding snow, enveloped our small flotilla of makeshift rafts and reed canoes within a suffocating grip. We had been faring well on the many weeks of the crossing - holding our course to the east, a little to the north - but on this day we were tossed by mounting swells, our minds closed to the direction we should be heading, instead attempting to maintain a closeness to each other’s craft within the escalating churn and crash of breaking waves; the whipping, numbing bite of wind and spray; the creaking, shattering menace of jagged, iridescent-blue ice that tumbled and lurched through the waters about us.
‘The men, my father included, sat rigidly upright, eyelids squeezed tight shut - frozen shut, the elders would later insist - their fur-covered upper bodies encrusted with ice; tormented and thrashed by the full brunt of the weather as they pulled crude wooden paddles through the surge.
‘The women huddled beneath hides of mammoth, slathered in warming fat, exposing their faces only momentarily, now and then, to cry out in shrill, piercing voices as a beacon to our brothers and sisters hidden by the increasing deluge.
‘I, also, crouched under the heavy skins at my father's side, gripping firmly to the warmth and flexing-sinewy-strength of his legs - not afraid because of it.
‘And in that bitter, turbulent darkness, with the new day attempting to dawn, the promise of our future echoed through my mind and we somehow pushed on toward our Family’s place of Emergence into the New World… the Fourth World.'

- First Light
Son of Great White Bear