Deep Hum Productions
Copyright © 2016 by Connie Powell Walck Tyler
Deep Hum Productions (www.deephum.com)
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, Deep Hum Productions, 2322 8th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
Published in the United States of America.
Cover art by Katie W. Stewart, Magic Owl Design ()
and Connie Pwll Walck Tyler
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet
is dedicated to my ancestors,
the tall, wise oak trees
who spoke to me when I was a child,
and to the wolf who lived back of a gas station in Alaska,
who dances in my dreams.
My thanks go to Kenneth and Bridget Tyler, Lissa Dirrum, Holly Coats-Bash, Dan Ross, Allysson MacDonald, and Paul Dinas, Book Editor, for their willingness to read and suggest changes to the manuscript;
to Tony Zaatari of Media Masters for all the help with the recording and mixing of the music;
to Katie W. Stewart for her patience and willingness in creating the cover art;
to InterPlay founders, Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter, for giving me a place to dance and sing my new ideas and dreams; and all the InterPlayers who have given me support through the years;
to Katie Winton-Henry for singing for me and encouraging me.
In memoriam, thanks go to Dr. Scott Coulter whose help with the music when I first started this musical novel changed my life forever;
and my father, Henry Z. Walck, who read and tried to promote the first permutation many, many years ago.
Water of Life Reprise
Open your heart!
Open your heart to the Dance of Life.
Open your eyes!
See the world in the Dance of Life.
Beat your feet
To the beat of your heart!
Dance the Dance of Life!
Laughter and dance!
Joy and life for us all.
Sing your tears,
Sing your fears,
Defy oppression through the years,
Dance the Dance of Life!
Open your heart!
Open your heart to the Dance of Life.
Open your eyes!
Dance the Dance of Life!
Prologue: The Hunters and the Cat
Dark of Hunter’s Moon
It was midnight when the hunters tramped out of the forest and down the driveway to the Bidewell house, sitting shadowed and silent in the lee of the hill.
“Hey, Amundsen,” one of the men called out. “How old’s your granddaughter?”
Amundsen kept walking, silent and stony-faced, his old 30-30 swinging at his side.
The deputy answered for him. “Nine. And the missing boy’s the same age.”
“Old enough to get into some mischief,” the man muttered. The men beside him nodded.
The young man walking at the front of the group stopped abruptly, causing a startled halt in the line. “What’s that?” he yelled pointing at something standing out near the edge of the cliff.
The group spread out around him peering at the tall dark thing – something tree-like, and yet not a tree – inky black against the moonless midnight sky.
The deputy frowned. “Weird.” Shaking his head he turned, leading them across the meadow toward the cliff path that wound down to the beach.
A small gray cat slipped out from back of the dark house and followed them across the trampled grasses to where the object stood facing west over the ocean, watching as the men circled the tall wooden thing.
“What is it?” they muttered.
“A sculpture of something.”
“Or a woman?”
Amundsen’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the tree woman.
“Evil,” he whispered.
But they all heard, exchanging uneasy glances.
The little cat sat, tail curled around his toes, head cocked to one side looking at them. Dickerson’s eyes widened. “Hey, look at the way that cat’s looking at us!”
They all jumped as a shot rang out. The cat leapt in the air as a bullet hit the ground next to it, tearing across the yard to the house as two more shots followed before it managed to duck under the porch without being hit.
Amundsen lowered his gun.
“Jees,” muttered one of the hunters.
The deputy took a deep breath. “Amundsen…” He shook his head. “I don’t think you needed to do that. It was just a cat.”
Full Ripe Corn Moon]
[[(Three moons earlier in the city of Bayomar
on the west coast of the country called Uhs…)]]
Giselle looked up from gathering her things to see a small blue-gray cat peering at her from the hood of the car. “Where…” She pushed her dark hair back from her face. The cat sat on its haunches, intense green eyes staring at her.
He wasn’t very old – not a baby, but not full grown either – and he had the same kind of impertinent stare as some of the teenagers she’d volunteered with a few years ago when she was in college.
He leaned down and licked a shoulder.
No collar. Was he abandoned? He was too in your face to be feral.
She gathered her things and opened the door quietly, trying not to startle the cat as she scrunched her legs out of the car seat, her arms full, her chambray skirt twisting under her making it hard to stand.
One of her sandals fell off. She rolled her eyes as she poked her bare toes back into the sandal (while trying to avoid stepping in an oil streak), stood up, and shook out her skirt. Her nose wrinkled as she took in the reek of accumulated exhaust fumes.
The cat was unfazed, moving to the edge of the hood and giving a demanding, “Meow!”
She turned in a circle searching the dark, dank garage for her sister’s car. Monica wasn’t home yet, but her husband’s car was here so he’d already be up in their apartment. They owned the old building and lived on the top floor.
The cat jumped down next to her and flicked his tail.
She walked towards the garage entrance.
He stepped along beside her.
Once outside she took a deep breath of the cleaner air. Southwest winds. No fumes from the refineries today.
As they passed the garbage bin, the cat stopped to sniff the belongings of the old woman who lived in the little cave created between the bin and the garage. The woman’d been evicted from the public housing apartment she’d lived in for thirty years when the building was sold to a private corporation.
The cat looked up and gave a small “mew.”
Giselle nodded, and continued up the steps to the front door, the cat marching at her side.
A newspaper lay on the top step waiting for some other tenant to pick it up. The cat stopped and looked at the newspaper, then up at her. “Ten Story Garment Factory in Kanidu Collapses Killing Hundreds,” screamed the headline. Giselle sighed. Last week the explosion of the refinery in Port Blas had destroyed everything for blocks around it. A list of other major industrial “accidents” passed through her thoughts, and she shook her head. The cat flicked his tail.
She opened the door, and head and tail high, the cat stepped past her into the lobby – the visiting dignitary. Giselle rolled her eyes, laughing. She would have to take him to a vet and see if he had been chipped.
Her apartment was on the first floor and she could already hear her dogs whimpering, anticipating her arrival home. The cat marched up to the apartment door and sat while she fumbled with her keys.
Maybe she should pick him up. She put her things down on the floor and reached for him. He side-stepped away and meowed loudly.
The dogs abruptly stopped their whimpering, listening. She opened the door a crack. The cat stuck its nose in and pushed it wider, strolling in past the two sitting, tail thumping dogs, and the potted ferns that lined the entranceway. Giselle shook her head, grinning.
The dogs followed the cat as he surveyed the apartment, sticking his nose into the ferns, batting the strands of spider plant that swept downward from hanging pots in the windows, peeking into the bedroom and kitchen, and finally settling in for a wash on the old trunk Giselle used as a coffee table. Giselle dumped her things on the round osk table in the dining alcove, kicked off her sandals, and settled too, sitting on the couch with her feet up on the trunk, next to the cat.
It wasn’t long before Monica knocked twice, and then, before Giselle could respond, used her key to walk into Giselle’s apartment. She was a trim, carefully dressed woman in her late twenties with the same straight dark hair as Giselle cut short in a no-nonsense style.
When she saw the cat sitting on the trunk giving himself a bath, she freaked. “You can’t keep that cat, Giselle. Take it to the pound.” She waved her arms in the air. “You don’t have to give a free ride to every stray animal that comes along.” She paused waiting for a response from Giselle who just shrugged. “Take it to the pound,” she repeated. “You can’t keep it. I’m your landlord. I forbid it.”
Giselle didn’t answer. It always seemed easier just to let her sister rave than to try to argue. The words, ‘you’re not the boss of me,’ popped into her head, just as they had when as children, after their mother died, Monica really was the boss. She smiled, thinking the childish phrase again. You’re not. You’re the boss of me.
“What are you laughing at?” Monica’s voice hit a higher pitch. “It’s not a laughing matter. What will Tony think if you keep living like this? You act like you’re living on a farm instead of in an apartment in a city! You can hardly walk in here with all these stupid plants.”
Giselle shook her head. Tony was a teacher friend of theirs, but she wasn’t interested in him and Monica knew it. It was Monica who had plans for Tony, not Giselle.
Then she remembered the newspaper.
“Monica.” She sat up and looked at her sister, the smile gone. “Did you see another garment factory collapsed in Kanidu?”
“Oh, for heavens sake, Giselle. You get too emotionally involved in these things. It’s a million miles away from here and there’s nothing you can do about it.” She pointed at the cat. “That cat is here. You need to do something about the cat instead of worrying about people on the other side of the world.”
Giselle sat back again, folding her arms across her chest, and staring up at the ceiling. “Well, maybe you need to think about whose clothes they’re making.”
Monica had the grace to look a little ashamed. “I try to buy fair trade clothes. It’s just hard to find them.” She looked away and muttered. “I don’t like shopping at Goodwill.”
Giselle smoothed down her skirt, took a deep breath and sat up, “Monica, I have to finish my summer school report cards. Rod’s home. I saw his car. Don’t you have report cards to finish, too?”
Monica threw her arms up in the air, yelling, “Get rid of that cat,” as she left, slamming the door and heading upstairs to her lawyer husband.
Giselle leaned back on the couch again and looked at the little gray cat perched on the trunk in front of her. He flicked his tail, then curved it gently around a small wooden statue that sat in the place of honor on the trunk – a little Chinese carving of a woman who seemed to be emerging from a tree, with one foot stepping out into the world. It was one of the few possessions Giselle’s great-grandmother had brought with her from China when she came to this country as a very young GI bride. Giselle didn’t know anything about her, but she loved the little wooden woman.
Monica hated it.
Why? thought Giselle, for the hundredth time. Why does she hate it?.
She took the statue in her hands. The wood was so warm and smooth, her face so serene and calming, and there was something so promising about the foot stepping out. I’d like to know more about her. She smiled at the cat whose tail flicked slowly back and forth, back and forth…
The plants became a smoky green aura pushing everything else into the background and she closed her eyes listening sleepily to the swish and thump of the dog tails. A fragment of a melody slipped through her thoughts and then a deep voice whispered in her head…
Not a thought. A voice!
Her eyes popped open. “Where did that come from?” The cat licked a paw and then turned his head to look at her.
She closed her eyes again. This time the voice was singing to the same fragment of melody.
Breath, murmuring in the wind-whipped grasses.
She peered at the cat. “Is that coming from me or from you?
He just flicked his tail, back and forth, back and forth…
Whispering breath in the wind-whipped grasses,
Breath flowing in the waves of the sea…
She smiled. What is this song? I can’t remember…
Breath, singing through the voice of the wind.
Then, spoken, not sung and with more urgency…Time. The time is here. Leave.
Time for what? she thought.
Time to leave.
She sat up straight and stared at the cat, who suddenly showed great interest in a paper clip, batting it with a paw.
Giselle sat back again. Leave? she thought. Leave and go where?
North, whispered the voice.
“North,” Giselle exclaimed out loud. She laughed and shook her head. “This is idiocy.” She hopped up. “I have to finish my report cards.” Two more days and summer school would be over, then a month off before jumping back into the frenetic activity of the school year. She looked at the cat.
Leave? Go North? “Like that would be possible,” she muttered as she turned toward the dining room table and the summer school grades…
But she did have a month off. Maybe she should take a vacation – by herself. Yes. A vacation without big sister hanging over her all the time! And she could go north, too. She could head north along the coast…
It was a ridiculous idea. She pulled her papers out of the basket and set to work.
That Friday evening, after the last day of summer school, the seventeen teachers at Rockland School and their spouses had a gathering at a seafood restaurant across the city next to the bay. The district summer classes had been consolidated at Rockland, the inner city school where Giselle taught – the first time Giselle and Monica had taught at the same site.
The dining room was a cozy dark place with a fire in a large fireplace on one side of the room to fight off the chill of the summer fog, a strange comfortable contrast to the serious talk of the destruction of good education by charter schools and the use of rote learning to pass multiple choice tests.
Giselle sat and listened. They all seemed to agree about the problem of corporate owned charter schools and the teaching of rote answers to the tests, but when one teacher expressed distress at the disappearance of art and music in the schools, Giselle was amazed that some of the others disparaged their importance. One even suggested that artists and musicians were purveyors of drugs. From there the group moved into a strident discussion about the War on Drugs.
She sat forward in her seat. It was time to get involved.
“But…,” she said several times trying to get a word in edgewise. Each time someone spoke right over top of her voice as if she didn’t exist.
Annoyed, she raised her voice. “The War on Drugs isn’t really about drugs. It’s about racism. It started as a counter to the Civil Rights movement. It’s really all about throwing people in jail – people of color. Just like the charter schools, it brings in big money by privatizing the prisons. Actually lots more money than charter schools. One Earth Together says…,” but before she could finish, Monica interrupted, “Don’t be silly, Giselle. Everyone knows One Earth Together is full of conspiracy theories.” They all turned away from her, and the conversation went on without her.
Her principal, Samuel, an older African American who was sitting next to her, patted her hand, but said nothing.
When she finished eating, Giselle left the table and moved over to a footstool next to the fire. One Earth Together was a wonderful organization pulling together the concerns of many different organizations interested in social change. Their e-newsletter was one of the best sources of accurate information around and Monica knew it.
Monica often said things like that when they were in public – things that made her feel like a little kid, and then everyone else acted like she was a child. Monica’d done it all her life, or at least ever since their mother died. She couldn’t remember what Monica had been like before that.
She felt a familiar lump in her chest. It seemed funny that it never got easier. And then dad made it worse, saying over and over again that Monica had to take care of me, that I was like our mother – ‘imaginative’, ‘flighty’, ‘unable to cope with life’. It’s not true, she thought. It wasn’t true about Mom, either. Imaginative, yes. But there’s nothing wrong with being imaginative…
She felt herself sinking into a dark red tunnel inside herself. The people around her – even her fellow teachers and her sister – seemed like robots, all movement on the outside and no thought on the inside, like she was the only one alive…
Listen, the words sang through the red fog. Listen,
Breath, warmed by the life-giving sun,
That song again! What is it? Under the logs of the fire she watched a forest alive with dark crevices, bright grottoes, and wiggling creatures made of newspaper ash. A forest, inviting her to… she didn’t know what. I’ll just get up and walk out the door, and leave them all behind. Maybe I’ll go ‘north’.
She grinned, laughing at her childish drama. I could stamp my foot and yell, too.
Suddenly Monica was leaning over her hissing, “What are you doing over here humming to yourself? We’ve been calling you.”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“That’s because you were being weird again. Get up. We’re leaving.”
Giselle rolled her eyes, but dutifully got up. By the time she’d gathered her things and made her way out the door, most of the others were half way down the block to their cars.
Samuel and his wife stood a little way down the sidewalk waiting for her.
As she turned to follow them a haunting voice – a beautiful, rich chanting voice – came from somewhere behind her. She turned around, searching the dark, nearly deserted sidewalk for the singer.
In a pool of light on the next corner she saw a shadowy figure.
She moved closer, listening, mesmerized by the minor soaring tones. Not English. Maybe not even words.
A tall black woman dressed in swirling colorful skirts and shawls stood looking out toward the sea, her arms reaching to the sky, her head thrown back as she sang.
As Giselle moved quietly toward the corner, the woman turned and looked directly at her. The woman was beautiful, with flowing dreadlocks and eyes almost too large for her mahogany face.
You will become, she sang, her voice rich and deep.
Like the moon and the stars and the sun,
You will become.
You will emerge,
Step out in the world.
You will go.
You will learn.
You will return.
She nodded her head at Giselle, then, lifting her head to the stars, spun away and returned to her chant.
Monica grabbed Giselle’s arm. “What’s wrong with you, Giselle? Come on.”
Giselle shook Monica’s hand away and reluctantly followed. Samuel and his wife stepped in beside her and Samuel asked, “What did she say to you?”
Giselle just shook her head. “I don’t know. Her voice was so beautiful.”
They nodded and said goodbye as they crossed the street to their car.
Giselle stepped quickly after Monica, smiling a quick “good evening” to a homeless man sitting on the curb as she passed him. Monica, waiting impatiently, rolled her eyes.
Giselle spent Saturday trying to bring order to the chaos in her apartment after the daily rush of summer school. At the top of her closet she saw the little bit of camping equipment she had bought for a trip with Rod and Monica the summer before – a sleeping bag, a small, one person tent, a little solar stove.
Maybe she could go camping.
The cat sat on up on her bed and looked at her. “Monica thinks I’m weird,” she told the cat. “You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand why Monica and the others weren’t entranced by that woman’s singing.” She stood still for a moment thinking of the haunting, wild notes of the woman’s song. “And what did she mean, ‘I would become, I would emerge… I would go, but I would return?’ What did she mean?” She looked back at the cat, who blinked at her. “You know, if anyone around here is weird, it’s you.”
She pulled the camping equipment down and stacked it on the bed. “No chip, no collar. Where did you come from? What do you want?” In her head she heard, not the woman’s chant, but that earlier little haunting melody.
Breath, flowing in the waves of the sea….
So familiar, she thought.
Saturday night folk dancing at the little local park had always felt like a kind of ritual to Giselle – a communion – although she’d certainly never said anything about that to Monica, who couldn’t understand why Giselle would want to folk dance at all. Monica’s big fear was that Giselle would hook up with one of those strange folk-dancing men.
This Saturday night the dancing seemed more than just that feeling of fullness and connection. It was more intense, as if she was entering into a ritual for some kind of new beginning. They were dancing one of her favorite dances while the setting sun spread silky pastels over their heads. The people who lived in the park sat at the edges watching, their grocery carts, filled with their belongings, behind them. Sometimes they joined the dancers.
The dance was a slow, rhythmic circling, each dancer moving with the same steps, but not touching, separate from each other, followed by a unison clapping. Tonight every one clapped together. No one missed a beat. They joined hands briefly, thrusting their hands up and stepping together into the center.
Something electric ran around the circle.
Letting go, they lifted their arms again in a burst to the sky that threw them back to the beginning.
There was a high pitched cry above them and Giselle looked up. A red-tailed hawk circled overhead as if he were a part of the dance, spiraling downward as the dancers circled again, moving as one, but not touching until the unison clap like a drum beat that called them together, joining them as they reached upwards to the fiery sky and the hawk.
Again the song whispered:
Breath, singing through the voice of the wind,
Dance with me. Dance with me…
The dance moved on, leaving Giselle rooted in the middle, her eyes on the hawk gliding above her. He swooped down close enough for her to see his eyes peering into her own.
Go north, she heard, and the whisper was like thunder in her heart. Light headed, she crouched, touching the earth. Her fingers tingled and she felt something flowing, filling her. Her own voice drummed thunder in her head: Go north, it shouted. Go north.
“I will,” she cried, leaping back into the dance.
When she got home she loaded the camping equipment into the trunk of the car, along with all the dog and cat food in the apartment, a cardboard box full of nonperishable food, and a duffle bag full of clothes and toiletries. She wrote a note to put in Monica’s mailbox just before she left:
I’m going camping. I’ve got the dogs and the cat, and I haven’t left any perishables in the refrigerator. I gave the plants a good watering so they should be fine for a week or so, so you don’t have to worry about anything. I have my cell phone. If there are any emergencies just leave me a message.
Sleep didn’t come easily. She was both excited and terrified about going off somewhere on her own. Monica would be really angry. But I don’t care, she thought. Time to grow up!
In the morning she slipped out of the apartment building into that quiet that always marked an early Sunday morning in the city. As she walked past the garbage bin, she saw the old woman tucked into the little space between the bin and the wall of the garage, fast asleep. She smiled and slipped ten dollars under the edge of the quilt Monica had given the old lady in December. Monica was not all bad. She let the woman stay, and she gave her money and food. No, Monica wasn’t bad – just too controlling.
She laughed. Monica was a helicopter sister!
Heading north on the freeway, past the columns of gray smoke hovering over the bleak neighborhoods surrounding the oil refineries and the stark square buildings of the maximum security prison surrounded by fencing topped with spirals of razor wire, she finally reached the exit for the coastal highway. She breathed a sigh of relief at leaving the freeway and began to relax.
The coast road was beautiful, but dangerous if taken at too high a speed. Giselle loved slowing down, then accelerating slightly into the curves, feeling the tires grip the road. It felt like she was an extension of the car, like she could feel the road through the steering wheel, through “the seat of her pants” like a very slow race car driver. The cat rode behind Giselle’s neck between the top of the seat and the headrest, purring, the vibrations massaging her shoulders. She felt she was breathing in the coastal cliffs, the beaches, the occasional small towns with tiny harbors full of fishing boats, and breathing out all the distresses of the school year, of her life, of her problems with Monica. And maybe of the world, she thought. This frightening world we’re living in. She shook her head. Hard to escape the world.
Monica did call her cell as soon as she found the note, but Giselle didn’t answer. Let her leave messages. I’ll call her back later. After all, I’m not supposed to talk on the phone while driving, she grinned.
She stopped often, exploring the beaches and hiking trails along the way, and loving every moment, except when occasionally she saw a sign:
Once someone had added, “Rising seas – climate change!” in red spray paint.
The first two times she stopped, she saw a hawk circling above her – a red-tailed hawk like the one she’d seen while folk dancing. When she saw another hawk the third time she stopped, she wondered…
Once, as the hawk flew down closer, she looked at the little cat and saw he was watching it, too, and then the melody came whispering into her head:
Breath, flowing in the waves of the sea,
Dance with me…
She smiled. Yes, let’s dance! But still, she wondered…
In the early evening she pulled into a state beachside park, setting up her little tent in one of the numbered campsites. She called Monica back, but was vague about where she was and got off the phone quickly, after reassuring Monica that she was just fine, and yes, she was alone, not with some strange man. But if I was with some man Monica didn’t know, it would be my own business, she thought as she tucked the phone away. A strident “Kee-eeeee-arr” pierced the air. Another red tailed hawk soared above her head, circled and flew away – north.
The next two days followed the same pattern. The mornings were chill and a good time to explore the park trails with the dogs – some winding between tall coastal redwoods, others crossing open grassy meadows – before setting off again up the coast. The cat always ran alongside the dogs for a bit before demanding to be carried balanced precariously on Giselle’s shoulder. They were on the road again by ten or eleven in the morning.
Once they were caught in stop-and-go traffic passing an ugly logging camp – a muddy mess of wide redwood stumps and huge logging trucks pulling out into the road. She felt an ache in her chest. A deep vibration wailing through her body. “The trees crying”, she whispered to the animals.
But most of the trip was lovely. She did note how low the water was in the rivers they crossed, deep cracked mud showing between the high water line and the slow muddy flow, and the meadow grasses were all yellow, but they always were in the summer. They stopped and explored several times each day and each time they stopped, a hawk circled and called above them, and the elusive melody whispered in her head.
Last Quarter, Ripe Corn Moon
On the third day the road moved inland a little, meandering through a forested area and past some small steep hills separating the road from the ocean. About noon she came around the curve of a hill to see a meadow that swept down toward the sea. She pulled over to a wide spot on the verge on the left side of the road, and sat with her window open gazing at the water while she ate crackers and cheese. She smiled as she noticed a hawk circling over the meadow. She turned to the dogs, “There’s our hawk.”
Suddenly the cat hopped from where he had been lying behind her neck to the edge of the window and then out into the meadow. Giselle dropped her crackers and jumped out of the car to rush after him. The dogs leapt out the open door after her and they pushed through the tough yellow grasses afraid they’d never find him again as he led them on a stumbling run down toward the sea. He swerved to the left around the ocean side of the wooded hill they’d just driven past and straight to a little gray weathered house, hidden from the road by the hill. Jumping up on the porch, he turned and sat looking at her, giving his fur a little lick.
Giselle stopped and leaned over, hands on knees, panting while the dogs danced around the house in delight. The cat scrubbed a paw. Walking slowly up to the house, she scooped him up and nervously backed away afraid someone might come out the door and demand to know what she was doing there.
Directly in front of her next to a driveway that swerved north through the meadow and then curved toward the road, was a sign on a wooden post:
For Sale or Rent
She turned back to look at the little house. It was sturdy and pretty with a porch running around at least two sides so that it sheltered the front door and the side of the house facing the ocean. Climbing up on the porch, she peeked in the windows at the neat little front room. On the ocean side a bank of windows looked in on a long bright kitchen with a stove and refrigerator, lots of counters and cupboards. The porch continued around to the back where a door, with a small swinging flap for pets at its base, led out of the kitchen and down some steps.
Spinning in a circle looking at the land and sea around her, she breathed deeply. The air smelled so clean.
The meadow continued on the other side of the driveway down to a cliff overhanging a small beach. To the south, it narrowed as the hill moved out toward the sea. Here, just a little south and west of the house, was a huge coastal live oak tree spreading its gnarled branches wide and tall over the grasses.
There was a presence about it – something emanating, something reaching…
Waves of things of forms I am, it murmured.
Her eyes widened. Turning quickly away from the tree, she walked to the edge of the meadow to look down at the little beach and the sea.
The tree’s presence behind her felt like something warm on her back. Not a bad feeling. Just scary, like when you meet someone you know is going to be important to you. I feel, she thought… I feel… This tree… She looked back at it.
Waves of things of forms I am,
Exist in dreams within me….
She looked down at the cat. He wiggled out of her arms, jumping to the ground, and then turned to wind between her legs. Shaking her head she turned back to the house, keeping the tree a shadow in her peripheral vision.
Waves of things…, it whispered.
The dogs ran delighted circles around them, darting at intervals out into the meadow.
Of forms I am…
She shook her head again as if to shake the song out of her thoughts and took a deep breath. The cat stood a moment on his hind feet leaning his front paws against her leg and she reached down to pet him.
“Could I rent this house? Could I stay here?” Monica’d be upset if I moved away from her, but it’d be a good thing for both of us. The thought wasn’t a new one. “I do love Monica,” she whispered. “I do, but…”
She’d have to have a job. She had some money she could use for a deposit, but she’d have to have a job.
She moved slowly back toward the house, thinking. The smaller print on the For Rent sign read:
[Country Acres Real Estate
1322 Main Street, Arundel]
She scooped up the cat, called the dogs and walked up the driveway to the road and then turned toward the car. “Jee-sus,” she muttered, “I left the car door open, the keys in the car.” She got in and checked her GPS. Putting the car in gear, she drove silently just a little farther north.
The road turned inland and crossed a river before heading into the small coastal farming community of Arundel. The highway took her through the middle of town past a row of stores, the real estate office, an older gas station, and a little farther along, a small elementary school. She turned around and headed back to the school, pulling into a parking place under some trees shadowing the parking lot. There was one other car in the lot.
She wasn’t exactly dressed in job interview clothes, but she was clean. This will be the test. If there’s a job, then I’ll move. If not… then this is just a silly fantasy. Rolling the windows down so they could get out if they wanted, she told the animals to stay near the car.
The school was built along the same model as so many rural schools – two long buildings of back to back classrooms with doors to each room coming directly off the sidewalk, joined by a slightly taller building Giselle assumed was the “multipurpose room” – the cafeteria, gym, assembly room all in one. At the end of the first building was a door marked “Office”. The door was unlocked.
No one was sitting at the two desks behind the long high counter, but a door behind them was open. A friendly middle-aged woman with short gray hair, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, came through the door to ask Giselle if she could be of help.
Giselle smiled. “I’m Giselle Raphael. I’m an elementary teacher from Bayomar, but I’d like to move up here. I wondered if you had any job openings.”
The woman leaned on the counter and looked searchingly at Giselle. “I might,” she said. “One of my fourth grade teachers just informed me yesterday that she met someone on vacation and is moving away.”
She came around the counter reaching out a hand. “I’m Nicki Nichols. I’m the principal. Come into my office and let’s talk.”
“Uh… I’d like, too, but I have dogs and a cat out by my car. I can’t leave them for very long.”
The principal grinned. “Well, let’s talk outside at the picnic tables. You’ll have to tell me how you came to be job searching with dogs and a cat – a cat? – in your car.” She held the door for Giselle and pointed out the tables near the cafeteria. Giselle got the animals and joined her.
Nicki petted the wiggling dogs and the gray cat. “A cat?” she repeated, laughing.
“The cat just came… I mean, he stays pretty close.” Giselle stumbled a little over her words. “This is a sudden decision. I mean applying for this job, but I think it’s a good one.” She looked hopefully at Ms. Nichols. “I was traveling up the coast camping. I saw this house for rent just outside of town and I really wanted to live there.” She took a deep breath. “I love teaching. I don’t want to stop. I just want to be here.”
Giselle listed her educational background and gave her Samuel’s name and phone number. Ms. Nichols told her about the community. “The school serves Arundel and the outlying farms with two classrooms at each grade level. The older children travel to Robertsville for middle school and high school. Arundel’s a nice little town with a few stores and in Robertsville there’s a shopping mall with all the modern conveniences.” She leaned back and smiled. “Are you interested?”
Giselle nodded. She wouldn’t have to stay here forever if it didn’t work out. Besides it just felt like… The cat jumped into her lap and looked up at her.
“See,” laughed Ms. Nichols, “the cat wants you to take the job!”
More than you know, thought Giselle. “Yes, I want to apply.”
They returned to the office and Giselle filled out the forms and made arrangements for transcripts and her credential to be sent. Ms. Nichols would call Samuel for a recommendation.
The principal walked her to the office door. “We should know the answer in a day or two, since I’ve already interviewed you.” She gave Giselle a searching look. “It’s very odd you showing up like this just when we need you…
“But good,” she smiled. “It’s good.”
Giselle laughed and shrugged.
As she headed back into town she shook her head. “It was like the job was just waiting,” she told the dogs.
The real estate office was located in a little white house next to the row of stores. The owner, Mr. Humphries, was a jovial older man. “I’d be delighted to show you the Bidewell house,” he exclaimed when she told him what she wanted. “It’s a wonderful little house, lovely views. Comes with a little land – a little meadow and beach. Very nice.” He handed her a sheet of paper with a picture of the house, a description of its physical qualifications, and the very reasonable rent and sale price.
“The rent seems pretty low,” Giselle pointed out. “Is there something wrong with the house?”
“Oh, no, nothing wrong,” he reassured her. “It’s just been on the market a long time. It’s a little isolated for most folks. The old folks kept it up very nicely. The wife – the husband passed – the wife pays someone to come in every so often to clean and check things out. And you don’t have to worry about the rising seas,” he added. “The cliff is high and the house is set pretty far back from the edge if the cliff does erode.” Giselle hadn’t thought about rising seas. A little shiver went down her spine and she sighed.
“If we were a little farther south,” Mr. Humphries went on. “You know, closer to the city – it would have sold in a snap.”
“What about local people?”
“Oh, well, they mostly have their own places, and…,” he hesitated.
“What?” asked Giselle. “And what?”
He laughed. “Well, local people don’t want to live there because of the rumors about some of the hilltops over there.” He shrugged. “People have a funny thing about the hills – the forest and the hills. Ghosts or something. They never define it, just hint at it. Things whispering in the redwood trees, or something. It’s ridiculous of course. No one has ever said anything about the house, though. No ghosts in the house.”
Or singing, thought Giselle.
The house was delightful. She’d have to wait to hear about the job, but she really wanted to live here. She glanced out the kitchen window at the oak tree.
Waves of things, it whispered.
Humphries smiled with delight. “I’ll be glad to rent this house and maybe you’ll want to buy it later. Mrs. Bidewell needs the money. I think you’ll get that job. We have a hard time coming up with enough teachers.”
As they drove back to town Humphries told her more about the community. Yes, they had a nice little library – thank heavens it hadn’t been closed down like some – and most folks really liked Ms. Nichols, the principal. “Some of the people in the community have lived here forever and tend to be a little provincial.” Humphries shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat. “But there are some folks who’ve moved in from other places – or been out in the world and come back – like Ms. Nichols – whose attitudes are a little more modern, if you know what I mean.”
Giselle didn’t really ‘know what he meant’, but thought about the rumors of ghosts in the woods. Maybe he was talking about that kind of thinking. “I really liked her. Does she live here in town?” asked Giselle.
“No. She lives in Robertsville. A little more privacy I think.”
“Privacy? For her family, you mean? I mean… Is she married?”
“Well…” He hesitated. “No, she’s not married. Ah… she just lives with a…” He paused. “Well, she has a housemate. Robertsville’s just a little farther from the families of her students, and a larger community. That’s all.”
Housemate, thought Giselle. Partner, perhaps? Maybe that’s how the community is ‘provincial’. “Did you grow up here?” she asked.
“Oh, no,” he exclaimed. “My wife did, though. That’s why we moved up here. I took over her father’s real estate agency. Don’t make a lot of money, but I have a small pension from my old job and it doesn’t take a lot to live up here.” He paused looking thoughtful. “Hopefully I’ll still have a pension from my old job. The way things are going today…”
She let him off at the door of the agency with promises to call him as soon as she heard about the job and drove off to find the nearest campground – a small county park on a river.
Oh, my god, she thought, what am I doing? This feels right, but scary. She wished she had someone to talk to, but she wasn’t going to tell Monica until it was a done deal. “Oh!” she exclaimed out loud. Ms. Nichols was going to call Samuel. She pulled to the side of the road and found his number on her phone. He answered on the second ring.
“Hi, Giselle. I hear you’re leaving us.”
“Wow. She called you already?”
“Ms. Nichols called an hour or so ago. Does your sister know?”
“Not yet. I’m not going to tell her until I know I have the job.”
Samuel laughed. “A wise decision.” He paused. “Actually, Giselle, I think this is a good move – moving away from Monica. You’re an excellent teacher and I’ll have a hard time filling your shoes, although not as hard as Ms. Nichols has. At least we have plenty of applicants. But I do think it’s a good thing for you.”
Giselle sighed. “I haven’t gotten the job yet.”
“But you will get it. Trust me.”
After the phone call Giselle continued on to the campground by the river. It was a lovely little green brushy spot, with a small sandy beach where the river made a wide curve under overhanging cottonwood trees and you could swim at your own risk. The river was low – to be expected after three years of drought, but there was still enough water here to swim. It wasn’t very far from the house. My house, she thought.
Swimming out to the middle of the river, she floated in the dappled light where the sun filtered down through the trees and willfully pushed the future out of her head. Just floating, she thought. Just floating.
She spent the night in the campground, and much of the next day swimming and exploring. Ms. Nichols called her in the afternoon to tell her the teaching job was hers, contingent on the receipt of her transcripts and credential.
As soon as she was off the phone Giselle rushed to the real estate office to rent the house. She signed the lease and Mr. Humphries informed her she could move as soon as she wanted.
When she returned to the city, Monica was loud and disbelieving, but Giselle gathered her things, rented a truck for her few possessions, and moved. There would have to be a reconciliation with Monica at some point, she knew, but for now she just needed to leave with as little talk as possible. Leave, and go to my house, she thought. My house on the ocean.
Moon of Ripening Fruit]
Tata Sundancer circled high in the sunlit sky, gliding over the sea below and then beating his way back up the air currents to the top of the cliffs. He swooped low over the golden meadow, tipping his wings to the ancient oak tree, and then climbed the air currents up the hillside behind, turning higher and higher in the sky until he could see the wiry young man in jeans and open work shirt seated beside the sacred spring. Landing next to him, he called, “She’s come, Yameno Wolfwind,” and then took off back into the sky, heading again for the meadow.
Yameno bowed to the little waterfall, renewing his vow to protect the spring as his people had protected it for centuries. He stood, pushing his long black hair away from his face. Singing a low song, he transformed into his Tla Twei – a huge gray wolf – and trotted across the top of the hillside to a place where he, too, could watch the meadow, his silvery fur a shadow under the trees.
Stillness crept over the hillside, muffling the background hum of insects and birds, sung to the deep faint beat of the sea pulsing beyond the meadow.
The Wolfwind, sitting on his haunches between two pines, nodded to the Sundancer flying high above him, and then lay down, feeling the spongy needles under his pads. He nosed a weed away from his face, and peered at the meadow below, watching the figures at the edge of the cliff, his ears perked forward, intent.
The woman, and the small gray cat standing beside her, turned and watched the hawk rise out of sight. The sea wind swirled her cotton skirt around her legs. The wolf’s body was tight, unmoving, as he sat watching and waiting.
The beating of the surf on the rocks, the wind swishing through the meadow grass echoed a thrumming in Giselle’s chest as she watched the circling hawk. She would do yoga here at the edge of the cliff every day. Surya Namaskara, the sun salutation. What a perfect place to do it – at sunset, watching the sun go down over the sea! She stretched her arms wide and threw her head back, feeling the pull on her spine reach down the backs of her legs and lift her heels from the ground. My house, my meadow, my beach, my place! This is my place!
Breath, the song came whispering:
Anima of the earth,
Murmuring in the wind-whipped grasses,
Lift my feet and keep me dancing.
And my song! With a quick release of her breath, she straightened, reaching for the sky, and then contracted in, touching the ground, curling into herself in a deep bow to the earth and the sea and the sky.
Flowing in the waves of the sea,
Creep into my soul and conquer me.
The two dogs, who had been racing across the field, came back and ran in wide circles around Giselle and the cat. Caught up in their joy, she ran after them and soon led them around and around, beating a path in the meadow grasses. She tossed her head and laughed and the dogs wiggled and leapt and added small yaps to the whistling wind. Faster and faster they circled, until her breath gave out and she fell smiling on the ground.
Singing through the voice of the wind,
Dance with me, sing with me,
Take my hand,
Enter me as a lover,
Make me one with you.
A small breeze caressed her as she lay still, gazing at the sky. The dogs pounced on her, full of licks and rubs, shoving their cold noses into her neck. She held them both close and warm, one under each arm. The cat climbed up on her chest between the dogs and rubbed his head under her neck. “Do you hear the music, animals?” she whispered. “Do you hear it?”
Warmed by the life-giving sun,
Burn, burn within me, until I am consumed.
The sun reached the edge of the sea and the jagged rocks pointed from their foam washed bases to the fire-lit sky. The wolf’s gaze was drawn from the woman to where the hawk winged a swooping dance across the sinking sun.
Even the dogs were quiet as the pink and orange light consumed the day. The cat rubbed against the woman and she sat up, pulling him into her arms, hugging him tightly, and running her fingers through his fur.
Then the light was gone and the sea turned dark.
The Wolfwind watched the woman return to the house set against the hillside. He lay there for a while after she disappeared under the cover of the porch, and then slipped away, a silver shadow in the dark forest. Loping tirelessly through the woods to the edge of town where the forest met the cat woman’s backyard, he crouched behind a tree and made a small yapping noise. The door opened noiselessly and Luhanada, walked swiftly to the edge of the woods. She smiled and pushed a strand of red hair shot with gray back behind her ear, as she watched the Wolfwind take human form. “She came,” Yameno said, joyfully hugging the woman.
“Yes, Tata told me,” she replied.
“Did he tell you of the song that came from the earth? Could he hear it from the sky?”
“Yes, and I could hear it here.”
Yameno nodded thoughtfully. “Ninas Twei sent for her. Ninas Twei is calling her – calling us all,” he added.
“You’ll be able to create the totem?” she asked, anxiously.
“Yes, soon. I’m beginning to understand it,” he nodded. “Beginning,” he added, smiling. They hugged again before he took wolf form, melting back into the trees.
A large yellow cat came and twined himself around her ankles, rubbing back and forth. She leaned down and picked him up before walking silently back to the house and settling herself in a chair, the cat in her lap, the other cats sleeping or bathing on the sofa and in other cozy spots around her. The music had started. Twei – both music and dance in the language of Yameno’s people, the Tuwillians. “Well, cat,” she whispered. “Now we gather. First this young woman, then the children.”
Giselle lit a fire in the small stone fireplace. Tonight was a new beginning. Not just a move to a new town and a new job and her wonderful new house. There’s something else, she thought. She looked into the fire. Today, in the meadow by the cliff, a hawk circled and the earth sang. I heard it. She looked at the little cat. Didn’t I?
The morning sun fell across the old oak bed awakening Giselle and the two dogs lying curled one on each side of her. As she rolled over to look at the time, a small gray head popped out from under the covers. The cat climbed precariously up her side to her shoulder and then leaned his head down and rubbed it under her chin. She hugged his whole soft body close to her and let his strong tail run through her hands as he arched and walked away across the bed.
Yameno Wolfwind, welcoming the morning scent of pine surrounding him, lay under the same tree as the day before watching the little house. Tata glided in the swift air currents above the cliff. Both watched as Giselle opened the door and the cat walked out, turned toward the hill and stretched, pulling all his rippling body back and back, fixing his eyes on that particular spot in the pines where the Wolfwind sat. Yameno grinned back, his red tongue hanging from the side of his muzzle. The hawk called and the cat padded down the porch steps and sat looking up at the swooping bird.
Giselle, still in her pajamas, followed the cat and looked up at the hawk, watching until he disappeared around the wooded hillside. She laughed and shook her head. It was less than two weeks since she first saw this house and here she was living in it! “I’m here,” she whispered, moving in a circle, her arms outstretched, stopping as she faced the oak tree’s ancient, commanding presence out in the middle of the wild grasses. Now it was… not her tree. You couldn’t own a tree. It felt more like it owned her. Looking out to sea, she felt the warmth of the sunshine sliding down her back. The world seemed friendly, welcoming, as if the air, the atmosphere was caressing her. Even the soil in the garden was just sitting there waiting for her to dig her fingers in, wiggling in anticipation!
She laughed and ran back into the house eager to buy garden tools and other housekeeping supplies. A little later she appeared on the porch fully dressed, leaping down the three steps to the ground. Soon her car was leaving a cloud of dust as she climbed the dirt road to the highway.
As soon as she left, Yameno trotted down the hill to the house, waiting a moment at the edge of the woods to make sure the car was out of sight. The dogs ran out the doggy door, barking, and then crouched to greet him as he took human form. They sniffed him and then rubbed closer, wagging their tails and murmuring little whines. He scratched their ears and allowed them to escort him to the house.
The gray cat sat at the top of the porch stairs and he sat on the steps a moment and scratched his ears. “You’ve done well, little friend.” The cat purred and rubbed against him.
He stood up and went to the window on the left of the door and looked in at the living room. Boxes of books were stacked against one wall, waiting to be shelved on boards and bricks. Across from them, an old trunk sat in front of a comfortable, but shabby looking sofa. There were plants in every window. The dogs and cat followed him, rubbing and begging for pats and cuddles, as he walked around the porch to the kitchen windows, shading his eyes as he peered in past the plants at the oak table and wooden chairs. He laughed at them, gave them all a little hug, then slipped off the porch and strode up the hill.
When Giselle returned from town a little later, he was sitting with his back against a boulder at the top of the hill reading a book. He glanced down as her car pulled in, shifting his position so that he could see the house without moving his head too much from the book, and returned to his reading.
Giselle went happily to work in her garden. The work was hard, but the chill breeze from the sea made the warm sun on her back welcome. She was able to pull most of the large brush out by hand loosening the soil, and then sort through the dirt with her hands for the offending weeds and grasses.
“I know why the sand box is always the most popular part of the play yard,” she informed the dogs. “It feels like the dirt wants your hands in it. Sensual dirt, flowing through your fingers, rubbing against you, loving every minute of your digging in it.” Once she turned up a fat wiggling earthworm. She jumped, letting him fall back to the earth and laughed. “I’m sorry. I do like you, worm. Eat and enjoy! And I hope you have a large family.” The worm wiggled off into the dirt.
Giselle stood up and stretched taking a deep breath. The mingled odors of fresh-turned soil, the thick unkempt greenery in back of the house, and the salty sea air seemed as heady as ether. She stretched, taking in the wide circle of her world.
The oak tree in the meadow stopped her.
Waves of things of forms I am…
She took a deep breath and walked over to it. It feels so important, this tree. I want to touch it. I want to climb inside and be this tree. She reached out to its warm trunk. The ridges made a rough bark, and yet each one was individually smooth. She sat between its roots and leaned her head back against the trunk, turning her cheek to feel the rough-smoothness. Everything seemed so silent – waiting. She heard the sea gulls out by the cliff and the smaller woods birds in the forest on the hill behind her.
The man on the hill saw her smile. He watched the cat walk over and sit quietly by her side. The afternoon seemed to take a deep still breath…
Sinking into the soil and twining into the twisted oak, no longer existing apart, no longer separate from the rest of the universe, she was the soil, the air, the tree…
Waves of things of forms I am,
exist in dreams within me.
Flow through the sap of trees to come
and leaves to come.
Falling, decaying, the soil I am,
a nutrient for things living.
Eating the earth,
the water and sun,
fruit I become,
feeding the unrooted beings
ever I’m giving.
And then I am free!
I stretch my wings
and fling myself into the air.
My joy is beyond any earthly care.
The snap of the jaws of the four-legged one
is only a moment of pain,
for I am living again
with a different name.
And when this life’s done
the worms I become,
and pass to the earth
to gain my rebirth.
The sun shifted just enough to fall across her face, pushing away the shade of the oak.
Warmed by the life-giving sun….
She turned her head to look into the twisting branches of the old tree and the two songs seemed to weave together…
Live in the windwhipped grasses…
Waves of things of forms I am…
Exist in dreams within me…
Flowing through the waves of the sea…
Flow through the sap of trees to come
and leaves to come.
Earth and tree,
Sun and sea.
The song faded out to a whisper, like the sea breeze in the leaves above her:
Earth and sea,
Sun and tree,
All one. All one. All one.
She reached a hand out and rubbed her fingers along a ridge of bark and dug them into a crevice feeling the smooth roundness of years of growing. A warmth tingled from the tree through her fingers and she felt a reluctance to sever the contact. Even after she pulled herself away she felt a strength emanating from it, reaching out like an electrical current from the tips of its branches to the tips of her fingers. She picked up the cat, pulling him tight to her chest. “I think this is what I’m looking for, but I could get lost. I felt lost, like I was gone and the tree – don’t let me get lost, kitty.” Giving the tree a last caress, she ran across the field and returned to her garden. She dug in the dirt, feeling a little shaky. “I like the tree,” she whispered. She looked down at the dirt, grinning, “and I like you, earth.”
The Wolfwind ran south through the forest and then west to the beach. He grinned at brother sea breeze as it ruffled his fur, his nostrils dilated to draw in the thick sea smell. He loped swiftly along the hard packed sand until he came to a driftwood log, wide at one end with a long, thick fork at the other. Becoming two-legged, he went down on one knee beside it and ran his fingers along its water-smoothed surface.
Tata flew down the beach, landed first on the log, and then flew off onto the beach becoming an older black man, tall and craggy in jeans and black t-shirt.
Yameno nodded at him and pulled a small knife from his jeans pocket to carve at the hard wood. Tata watched silently as Yameno, the wind whipping his hair into his eyes, sliced a hard piece off and examined it. Yameno sat back and looked at him. “She’s the tree.”
Tata crouched down beside him, his brown hands caressing the driftwood. “Yes, and the earth. The earth sang to her.”
“Earth and tree. I can feel it in the wood.” Yameno leaned over and rubbed his hand along the water-smoothed log. “And I am wolf and wind and water.”
Tata smiled and touched his shoulder. He turned his black eyes on the sea and gazed out to the horizon and beyond. Standing up, he brushed the sand off his legs and turned back to Yameno. “I feel… it feels like there’s some urgency to this. They called her.”
A week after Giselle moved in, the dogs barked loudly as the local deputy sheriff drove his car down her driveway and knocked on the door. She had been surprised and a little alarmed to see the officer, a slim fiftyish man with short sandy-brown hair, standing very straight in his khaki uniform and looking a little disapprovingly at her.
“I heard you were living out here all by yourself. Just dropped by to let you know a few things about the county and law enforcement.”
“Why, thank you. I’m not quite alone. I have two dogs and a cat,” exclaimed Giselle.
He rested one hand on his belt holster, stuck the thumb of the other into his belt, and turned toward the hill behind her house. “I know you just rented this house, but you might reconsider living way out here on your own.”
Giselle’s brows narrowed. “It’s really not very far from town.”
“Arundel isn’t incorporated. There’re no police in town. The county sheriffs take care of it all and there’s only one deputy at a time covering this north territory. That’s two hundred square miles, I’m talking about.” He waved his arm around indicating the size of the territory. “You have some kind of trouble and call it in, I might be on the other side of the county. If you’re in trouble and can’t call it in, we’d never know. Not unless we get one of them surveillance drones.”
Giselle’s eyes widened and she shuttered. Surveillance drone? “Do you think I’ll have any trouble? Do people usually have trouble out here?”
“No – no.” He turned again toward the hill. “No, not much trouble over here, but I never had a young woman living alone out the country to worry about before.”
Giselle smiled. “Well, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. I have dogs, and frankly I haven’t seen anyone out in this area at all. You’re the first person who’s come down my driveway since I moved in here.” The deputy shrugged his shoulders, muttered something about just letting her know the situation and walked off toward his car. Giselle called out a thank you to him and closed her door.
She felt very safe at her house. Her only human contact was when she went to town. She did keep up with friends, and the sometimes heart wrenching state of the world via email and the internet, following especially the news from One Earth Together knowing that OET consolidated news from many other concerned non-profits, but at home, except for the animals, she was alone. She’d driven up and down the streets of Arundel looking at the mostly older houses, well kept with pretty gardens. She’d seen all the stores and a couple of churches, one very traditional looking little white church that contrasted sharply with another very bleak looking church down the street made of gray concrete blocks with a big banner that read, “REPENT AND BE SAVED.” There was one small coffee shop in town and she’d been there for lunch once, and out on the highway there was a restaurant with a bar that didn’t look like a place where she’d be too comfortable.
As far as people were concerned, she’d already become friendly with Hazel Fraya who was the librarian in the one room library – a delightful woman with a mass of red hair beginning to gray pulled back in an unruly braid, who “kept house”, as she secretly confided, for seven plump cats.
She was only on a “Hello, how are you?” basis with the older black man who could be found gardening in one or another of the yards she passed walking from her parking space to the little library or the local stores. He was the only person of color she’d seen in town so far, which seemed a little odd. His eyes, sharp like a hawk’s shining from his craggy dark face, always seemed to catch in hers.
The storekeepers had been friendly enough. There was a hardware store, a variety store, a combination drug and grocery store, and some smaller businesses. In the weeks before school started Giselle visited all of them. She knew once school started she’d meet some local teachers, but meanwhile, rushing to get the things she needed to settle in before school opened gave her an opportunity to meet some of the local people.
Back at home hiking through the woods or down the beach Giselle felt totally alone and free to do as she pleased. Free from anyone human at least! Ghosts? Well… she thought of the song that came to her out on the cliff and her experience with the tree. More like spirits.
One day, however, she returned from a trip down the beach to discover a small bouquet of wildflowers sitting on her porch in front of the door. There was no note. She turned full circle looking up at the hills, down the drive and out at the meadow and the tree. No one. Her stomach gave a little twist, but, she thought, anyone could have left the flowers as a welcome, even a child. The deputy had just made her apprehensive.
Every evening she went out to the meadow by the edge of the cliff to do her yoga exercises and watch the sun set. She felt like the sun, and the sea and the earth and the air, too, were holding her, cradling her in their arms. As she repeated her ritual bows twelve times to the fiery sky, it felt like her body melted into the earth and the air, floating in the pink of the ragged clouds, clinging to the sinking sun, rolling in the curves of the waves as they beat their constant rhythm on the beach, riding them like a roller coaster.
The gray kitten sat silently at the edge of the cliff, watching the gulls slide down the air currents whipped over the open sea.
Yameno watched her from his hillside lookout. He studied the contours of her figure, her waist above the small curve of her stomach, the muscular sturdiness of her legs. He came often to watch her bow down to the sun, to capture the feel of her arms outstretched to the sky to translate to the driftwood, to see the swirl of her skirt, and the straightness of her whips of hair in the sea wind. Tata had helped drag the log up the hill to Yameno’s home, smiling as he watched Yameno caress the wood, and helping as he turned it this way and that to see the natural curves and crevices. The woman’s totem was begun. “And the children?” Tata had asked. Yameno grinned, pointing to a carving of a squirrel sitting between the ears of a coyote.
That evening Tata also talked to Luhanada about the children, taking a hot gulp of the tea she’d just poured for him. “We need the children to complete the circle.”
“They’ll come soon,” she’d replied pouring her own tea, carefully stirring half a teaspoon of honey into its dark amber depths. “The teacher will help bring them.”
Moon When Acorns Fall]
On the first day of school the sun rose bright and warm, and the streets of Arundel sparkled with its dancing light and the boisterous laughs of nervous children. Giselle’s students filed into the room, looking around at the bulletin boards and posters before choosing desks and settling down.
In the middle of attendance, the door opened tentatively, just wide enough for a small girl to edge her way around it and stand bewildered next to the wall, staring at Giselle. The child’s eyes were an intense, dark blue – the color of the ocean on a clear bright day. Giselle’d known an old man once who’d sometimes look at a child and say, “That child’s a very old soul.” At the time Giselle had been vaguely amused, but this little girl did seem to her to be ‘a very old soul.’ She pointed out an empty desk and the girl slid quietly into the chair.
“What’s your name?” she asked smiling. The child whispered something in such a small voice Giselle couldn’t hear it. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” Giselle moved closer to the girl.
“My name is Enid Amundsen.” She was barely audible. There were smirks and smothered giggles from some of the children. Giselle looked quickly in their direction and they were quiet. She smiled reassuringly and continued with attendance.
One child was still missing. She was passing out paper, pencils, and crayons when the door was thrown wide and a tall boy with a full head of dark curls pushed his way in, making all of them jump as he let the door slam behind him. She looked over at him and smiled. “You must be Jesús McCrae.”
He shoved his hands into his back pockets and shrugged, staring past Giselle at the wall behind her. She pointed to the empty seat next to Enid. “We’re writing a paragraph and drawing pictures of what we like best about school.”
He gave her a quick, incredulous look, and turned his eyes back to the wall behind her as he pushed his way to his desk. Nothing, she thought. There’s nothing he likes about school.
While they were writing and drawing she called students up to a corner table to check reading and math skills. Between groups she walked around the classroom. Coming up behind Enid and Jesús she bent over to get a closer look at Jesús’ picture. It was the school – not any school, but an accurate picture of Arundel Elementary with a crack down the center exploding with fire. Desks were plunging through the air, and dark smoke mixed with flames reached out long tongues toward a woman flying topsy-turvy through the smoke. The woman had such individuated features – older with short permed hair, a grim look on her face – Giselle felt sure she was a particular person.
She picked up the drawing and held it up to see it in a better light. “This is quite a drawing, Jesús. Who’s the woman?”
Jesús stiffened, but didn’t look at her, or answer. She stood there for a moment looking at him. Finally she said, “We’ll talk about this later. Meanwhile, write your paragraph.”
Before lunch she collected papers from each desk group. Jesús hadn’t written his paragraph, but there were several drawings on his desk. One was a caricature of her and at the top it was titled, “Witch.” Well, I guess he can write one-word descriptions, she thought. The next drawing was of the sea. He had sketched it in pencil, shading it like a charcoal drawing. The water was tossing and angry. “Can I hang this picture on the wall?” she asked him. “You draw very well.” He shrugged. Then she held the “Witch” picture in front of his face. He turned his head away from the picture and Giselle. “But this one’s mine,” she continued. “Too bad you labeled it. I’d have hung it, too. It’s good.” No response. This time it was Giselle who shrugged. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the disturbing picture of the school.
The bell rang for the noon recess and the children filed out, their lunch bags or money in their hands. Giselle waited until the room was empty and then looked again at Jesús’ drawings. There was a power in his pictures, as if he had somehow caught the edge of something alive and throbbing. She could almost see the waves rolling, could almost hear the drumming of the surf in the picture of the sea. When she looked closer she saw there were faces in the sea – very subtle, but definitely there. How could a child do that? It was hard for her to pull her eyes away from the picture and she was late for her first day in the teacher’s lunchroom.
She felt nervous and awkward as she entered the room, unattached to her brain as if there was cotton in her head. The room was small, just big enough to hold a large table. Around it sat most of the members of the faculty. She had been introduced to them at the short faculty meeting the day before, but none of them had come up to her and introduced themselves as she prepared her classroom – and there was the woman from the picture of the school exploding!
The conversation stopped. She felt their eyes examining her until she was fully inspected. Ms. Nichols, sitting at the end of the long table, rose to meet her, and drawing her forward, named the other teachers, including Rowena Dickerson, the woman in Jesús’ picture. Giselle slid into an empty chair and promptly forgot most of the rest of their names.
“Hey, I thought I saw Jesús McCrae come in late and go into your room, Giselle,” said one younger male teacher waving a sandwich in her direction. He turned to Nicki. “Did you put Jesús McCrae in her class?”
“Yes, Harding,” answered the principal, “that I did.”
“Do you think that was a very nice thing to do to a new teacher?” Harding persisted.
“Giselle can handle him,” replied the principal.
Giselle nodded in agreement. “Jesús and I will do just fine.”
“Oh, you don’t know,” exclaimed Rowena. “I had him last year. He had to be suspended from school four times!”
“Maybe that’s why he misbehaves. So he won’t have to come to school,” suggested Giselle with a grin as she pulled the lid off her yogurt. There was a brief silence. Giselle noted a few raised eyebrows. Rowena Dickerson was glaring at her. Oh, oh, she thought, I didn’t quite mean it to come out like that….
“Oh, he’s terrible,” Rowena spit out vehemently. “He ought to be sent to Juvenile Hall, or something. He sits there with his arms crossed and doesn’t answer you.” She shook her head over the neat, half of a chicken sandwich on white bread she held clasped in both hands halfway to her mouth.
“And his parents aren’t any better. His father’s part of that McCrae clan of dirt-farming trouble makers that goes way back around here. Quit school and joined the army, and when he came back, he’d married a Mexican. Brought her back here – here to Arundel! She’s the only one of her kind here.”
She looked up at Giselle. “There are plenty of them in Robertsville, but thank God not here.” Giselle eyes got wide for a moment, shocked at the overt bigotry. No wonder Nicki lived in Robertsville.
Another teacher added, “Billy McCrae’s one of those motorcycle types – has a beard and long hair and everything.”
Giselle reached in her bag for some crackers. “Well, it’s obvious Jesús’ quite a handful, but he’s certainly an incredible artist.”
“Huh?” Rowena replied.
“Jesús,” said Giselle. “He does beautiful art work, doesn’t he?”
“I didn’t know he did any work,” replied the teacher.
“He may not do much,” replied Giselle. “He wouldn’t write a paragraph for me this morning, but he did several really excellent pictures.”
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t let him draw when he hadn’t done his school work.” The older teacher folded her sandwich bag carefully, keeping her eyes on her hands and avoided looking at Giselle again.
Harding grinned at Giselle. “I’ll bet he really gave you a rough time this morning.”
“Oh, nothing I couldn’t handle!” laughed Giselle.
Ms. Nichols grinned. “This isn’t Giselle’s first year of teaching. She’s been teaching inner city kids.”
Harding shrugged and concentrated on his sandwich.
“You should’ve seen my class!” exclaimed another teacher drawing the attention away, much to Giselle’s relief.
When Giselle returned to her classroom after lunch she found three boys struggling outside the door. One was Jesús McCrae. Catching Jesús’ arm, she said, “Boys, stop this and get in the classroom.” Jesús pulled away from her defiantly.
“Jesús, go in.” He shrugged his shoulders and went into the room, followed by the other boys and Giselle, who closed the door behind her. “Sit down.”
The other boys sat, but Jesús stood in the middle of the room, glaring at the wall. Giselle ignored him. “Am I right in guessing it was you two against Jesús?”
One boy was quick to take the lead saying he’d come to Joey’s rescue because Jesús hit him. Joey blushed and looked at the floor. Jesús stared at the wall. Finally Joey admitted he’d called Jesús a “dirty spic.”
Giselle took a deep breath. “Do you know what that means?”
“It’s a nasty word for someone who’s Mexican.” The boy tucked his chin into his chest staring at the floor.
She gave them a lecture on ethnic slurs as a form of poison, and sent Joey and his friend out of the room, then turned to Jesús. “It feels really bad when someone calls you a name like that.”
He turned his head as far away from her as he could.
She picked up his caricature of her off the desk. “It hurts me when you call me names, too.” Jesús’ eyes flicked wide for a moment before shuttering down again. “But it’s not an excuse for hitting someone. I don’t hit you when you call me names and you may not hit any of the other students, for any reason.”
She took a deep breath. “I hear last year you were suspended from school four times. What did you do while you were suspended?”
“Went fishing,” he muttered. He was still staring at the wall, but his lips lifted in a tiny smirk.
“Did you have fun?” she smiled.
Jesús gave her a startled glance before turning away again. “I caught a lot of fish.”
“Well, Jesús, I just want to tell you that I don’t care how much trouble you get into, you’re not going to get suspended from school this year. You can spend every afternoon in detention if you choose, and that will be less time for fishing. You can save your fishing for after school and weekends.” His eyes met hers for a moment and then looked quickly away.
The bell rang and the rest of the children came babbling, pushing, and shoving into the classroom. Last was Enid who crept along the wall to her desk. Jesús walked over to his desk and as he passed her he suddenly pounded his fist down on her desk right in front of her face. Enid jumped and looked at him in terror. Her eyes began to fill with tears. “Oh, shit,” he muttered. He glanced up at Giselle and their eyes met for a moment.
He lowered his head and sat down. Oh, shit, indeed, thought Giselle, moving over behind Enid to rest a hand reassuringly on her shoulder.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. Jesús accomplished nothing, but he didn’t cause any disturbances, seemingly off in a world of his own. He went to detention without a word.
After school there was a long, tedious faculty meeting and Giselle found herself staring out of the open window at the aspens that rustled gently in the wind, a whispered song. When the meeting ended she was anxious to leave, but she did take time to ask Nicki if she knew anything about Enid Amundsen.
“Yes, I do.” Nicki propped herself on a table top and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Her mother, Emma, was very young and unmarried when Enid was born. She killed herself when Enid was two. Enid lives with her grandfather, Gunther Amundsen. He’s very… difficult. He tried to keep Enid from coming to school, but of course he didn’t get away with that.” She grimaced. “I hear he hardly ever comes into town any more,” she continued, “although he used to be quite friendly. But when his wife died – that was a couple of years before Emma got pregnant with Enid – he withdrew. I understand Enid does all right in her school work as long as her shyness doesn’t interfere, but she won’t read out loud in a group or give reports. She reads and writes quite well.”
Nicki stood, thrusting her hands in the pockets of her gray slacks and giving Giselle a brief smile, then strode off toward the office.
Giselle walked slowly to the parking lot pushing unlock on the remote as she walked. The car door was burning hot to the touch from the warm late summer sun.
Later, when Giselle went down to the river at the county park to swim she was alarmed to see a new sign at the entrance:
[Due to budget cuts,
THIS PARK WILL CLOSE
It went on to list the names of county supervisors to contact to protest the closure.
“Oh, no, not this park, too,” she whispered. She’d read on One Earth Together about park closures all over the country. Often the land was being sold to private corporations. She took a deep breath and continued down the drive to the river. “I’m not going to think about that right now. I’m not.”
The river, edged by the tall slender cottonwoods, wound slowly around the nearly empty beach. It was even lower in its banks than the last time she’d come, but still deep enough to swim. She swam laps back and forth in front of the beach with bursts of joy, feeling her energy, dissipated after her first day of class, return as if it were flowing from the river into her muscles. Floating on her back with her hands clasped behind her head, she felt herself a part of the river itself and she dove underneath the water with an inexplicable yearning to stay under forever.
A willow tree extended from the top of the steep bank on the far side and hung over her, filled with the songs of little birds high in its branches. A scrub jay sat on a limb hanging so low she could almost reach out her hand and slip her fingers down his feathery back. Something blue fluttered above her on the steep bank next to the willow and the jay flew away.
A man sat cross-legged, leaning against the tree, an open book in his hands. His long black hair was shoved back from his dark eyes. His jeans were patched and faded and his old blue shirt hung open to the breeze, but he didn’t have that brittle thin look of the malnourished or drug consumed poor that often made her want to pull them into her arms like a small child. She felt a warmth in her cheeks as she realized she did want to touch the brown hardness of his chest. He looked up from the book and for one short second she thought perhaps he was looking back at her, but then he stood and walked away from the edge of the bank, swinging the book in one hand, and disappeared into the forest, leaving her with a strange empty feeling.
She swam a couple more laps, glancing every once in a while up at the bank. For a moment or two a huge shaggy gray dog sat where the man had been, but then he, too, slipped off into the underbrush. With a sigh, Giselle swam for the beach and home.
After almost a week of school Giselle decided to talk to Enid’s grandfather about her shyness. Since his land was just a little north of her place she thought she would stop by on her way home. She turned off the highway and up the long drive to the small house.
The place was shabby. Peelings of old white paint crawled down the walls and the windows were so encased by dirt that it was hard to believe that anyone could see in or out of them. Behind the house, and in sharp contrast, was a sturdy, well-kept barn. As she climbed out of the car, a tall, grim man stepped out of the barn and stood staring at her, hands fisted at his waist. A dog ran over to Giselle, wagging its tail, and she petted it as she stepped forward. “Hello, Mr. Amundsen,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m Enid’s teacher, Giselle Raphael. I live close by. I thought maybe we could talk.”
“I’m busy,” he said, ignoring her hand and turning back to the barn.
Following him and talking at his back, she said, “Perhaps I could return this evening. I just live down the road on the other side of the bridge. It would be no trouble.”
He turned and faced her, his hands again braced at his waist. “What do you want?”
“Could we sit down somewhere?” The man just stared at her. She began again. “Enid seems to have some problems with shyness. She won’t read aloud or participate in most of the class activities. It’s very difficult for her and she’s missing a great deal. I thought perhaps we could work together…”
The man leaned forward. “Listen, teacher. The law says Enid has to go to school, but that’s it. Now leave.”
“Mr. Amundsen, Enid’s growing up. She’ll have to face a world full of real people and be able to survive in it. She hardly survives in a world of children right now.”
Giselle’s eyes met the washed out blue of the man’s eyes. He leaned forward and his right hand, rolled into a fist, beat the air in front of her. Giselle stepped back, alarmed. “Enid won’t need to go out into any world,” he roared at her. “She won’t need to face any people. She’s my punishment and she’ll stay with me. She’s my reminder. She’s a child of sin.” He pulled himself up straight mumbling, “I’ve got work to do,” and turned toward the barn.
Giselle was so astounded by his outbreak that it took her a moment to recover. Moving quickly, she stepped in front of him and looked straight into his icy eyes. “Enid needs help, and if you think she’s a punishment for you…”
She backed up a step, managing to stop herself before the words “you need help, too” slipped out.
The man didn’t answer. His muscles tensed and he leaned toward her. Giselle stepped back again. My God! He’s going to hit me!
Suddenly he spun away from her, slamming his fist into the barn door, sending it flying back against the wall. Then he stomped away into the dark recesses of the barn.
Giselle’s stomach gave a lurch and she walked weakly back to her car. When she pulled into her own driveway she felt exhausted. With dragging feet she walked out to the cliff to do some yoga.
Yameno, watching from his vantage point on the hillside noticed the droop of her shoulders and leaned forward when she finally gave up her exercises and sat down with a plop at the edge of the cliff. She sank her head into her arms folded across her knees, and cried until, tears finally gone, she pulled herself up and walked slowly back to her house. He sat for a while looking out to sea, then lifted his head and howled a small song before turning towards home.
Giselle heard the song and wondered – was that a dog up on the hillside? It sounded like the howling wolf video she’d seen online, but there wouldn’t be any wolves around here. She looked at her own dogs. They seemed interested, but not afraid. She shrugged her shoulders and went into the kitchen to fix some dinner.
Gunther Amundsen dug the shiny points of the hay hooks into the bale of alfalfa, and bending his knees, heaved the bale into the back of his old green pickup truck. “Interfering teacher,” he muttered, raising his arms on either side and driving the hay hooks into another bale with a thock. “So she’s shy.” Up flew the bale thunking on the floor of the truck. “Good. She’ll stay with me.” Again the thock of the hay hooks in the hay and the thunk of the bale on the truck floor. “Safe from…” Thock. The points slid between the stems of the alfalfa to find purchase. Thunk, and then sudden silence. The man froze in place. She lives down the road, he thought. On the other side of the bridge? Near the forest. Had the dog barked? No. One of them. She’s one of them.
Giselle found out more about Enid Thursday afternoon when she visited the little library to return some books. As she was about to leave, it occurred to her that an avid reader like Enid might come to the little library. Maybe the cat loving librarian could give her some information.
“By the way,” she said, as she waited for Hazel to process her books. “One of my students loves to read and I was wondering if she ever comes to the library? I can’t believe she has enough books at home to keep her occupied.”
“Who’s that?” The woman leaned back in her chair, eyes alert, pushing wisps of curly red hair back into her braid.
“Her name is Enid Amundsen. A shy little girl…”
“Enid.” Hazel leaned forward nodding. “Yes. I know Enid very well. She’s my grandniece. My sister Mary was her grandmother.” A sad, faraway look came over the older woman’s face. “Things have been hard. Life… well… life would have been a lot different for Enid, and Enid’s mother, too, if my sister hadn’t died.”
Giselle pulled a chair close to the desk. “Are you willing to talk about it? Enid is such a special child, and she needs help.”
The librarian looked keenly at Giselle and nodded her head. “Yes, she is indeed a special child.”
Giselle took a deep breath, “I went out to Enid’s house…”
“Oh, my!” exclaimed the librarian.
“And managed to talk to her grandfather,” Giselle continued, “but it wasn’t very successful.”
“I can imagine,” Hazel said dryly. She straightened some books on her desk. “Enid comes in here once every couple of weeks. When she first reached school age, he didn’t send her to school. I told the authorities and the only reason he sends her to school now is because otherwise they’d take her away from him. There were social workers involved and they insisted she be allowed to see me, but I’m only allowed to see her here at the library.”
“You’d think they’d want her to spend some time with you, since you’re her great-aunt and she has no other female influence in her life.”
Hazel looked away. “Well, there was some controversy as to whether or not I was a suitable influence.”
“What? That seems surprising!”
The librarian stared out the window at the back of the library. “One of the local ministers is somewhat opposed to me.”
“But you’re a librarian!” Giselle sat back in her chair and stared at the woman. “You’re an intelligent, educated woman.”
“Well,” the older woman rolled a pencil back and forth on the desktop. “There were other factors. Not fair ones,” she said looking directly at Giselle, “but nevertheless the minister was able to influence the court.” Giselle waited for Hazel to tell her more about the ‘other factors’, but instead, she smiled at Giselle and asked what happened on her visit to Enid’s grandfather.
Giselle sat forward leaning her elbows on the desk. “He said Enid was his punishment and she’d stay with him forever. Sounds like he plans to lock her up as soon as she’s old enough to run away.”
“His punishment.” Hazel looked away sadly. “Only he has the wrong idea of what he did wrong.” Giselle raised her eyebrows, but the woman only smiled sadly and shook her head.
“When did your sister die?”
“My sister died several years before Enid was born. My brother-in-law never really coped with her death.” Hazel sighed. “There were unusual… Enid’s mother, Emma, really needed him during that time and he wasn’t capable of giving her the affection she needed. He wouldn’t let me near her. He… distrusted me.” She looked down at her desk and straightened some books, remembering. He kept Emma from the forest.
She turned back to Giselle, “Emma turned to the boys at school for affection and the result was Enid. That, on top of my sister’s death, was too much for Gunther, and his fury was more than Emma could bear. She killed herself.” No one knew who Enid’s father was, and Jarvis – the Reverend Tarrant – had kept Hazel from getting the child away from Gunther. Nothing had ever been as hard as standing by helpless, watching the children – her niece and now her grandniece – suffer. “You know, Giselle, what people wrapped up in their own emotional needs – and fears – can inflict on others, and on themselves, is a very frightening thing.”
As she was talking, the door opened. The older black man Giselle sometimes saw gardening came in and the librarian’s worried face relaxed as she watched him walk over to the desk. He spoke pleasantly with her and said, “Hello, how are you?” to Giselle as he placed a pile of books in the book return basket.
“Have you met Dan Burroughs?” Hazel asked.
“Not really,” Giselle smiled up at him.
“This is Ms. Raphael,” Hazel added.
“Giselle – Giselle Raphael,” Giselle said quickly, and they both smiled at her.
“Good to meet you. You’re the new school teacher, I believe.”
“We were discussing Enid,” Hazel explained. “She’s in Giselle’s class.”
Dan nodded. “I won’t interrupt your conversation then,” he added and walked over to the history section of the library.
“He’s working on ancient Mayan societies right now,” the librarian smiled at Giselle shuffling some papers. “Ms. Raphael – Giselle – I do what I can to let Enid know she has a caring relative when she’s in here, but beyond that I can’t go… yet, but the time will soon come when we’ll both be able to help her, I hope.” She pushed the pencil around on her desk. “Please keep me informed on everything you can about her. I… I…” She looked up at Giselle. “I’ve felt quite helpless about her in the past, but now maybe some things will change.”
Boy, thought Giselle, I hope she’s not expecting me to make those changes. I sure didn’t make any progress with Mr. Amundsen.The librarian leaned over and patted her arm. “Don’t worry, dear. Things are happening.”
Dan Burroughs looked over at Hazel from the stacks. Their eyes met. Hazel smiled and looked back at Giselle giving her arm another pat.
Giselle watched them puzzled. They seemed almost conspiratorial, but she liked them. “Well, I’d better get going,” she murmured, and saying some awkward goodbyes, she left the library.
Hazel watched as Giselle put her books in her car and crossed the street to the little variety store. “She seems caring and concerned, and she seems to trust you,” Dan said, handing her his books so she could process them.
The librarian nodded. “Yes.”
Giselle had found the things she needed at the variety store and was standing by the cash register, when she saw Dan Burroughs leave the library and walk slowly down the library steps. The middle-aged woman who ran the store looked disapprovingly across the street and shook her head. “That man spends entirely too much time in that library. Uppity.”
Giselle looked up at her startled. She’d read books using that word, but she’d never heard someone actually say it!
“One of these days someone’s going to show him his proper place.”
“Oh,” said Giselle allowing an edge of disapproval to enter her voice, “and where’s that?”
“Not in the library, and that’s for sure.”
“Well,” responded Giselle, “I don’t know where else he’d find the books he’s so obviously fond of – except the library. Seems like a good place to me.”
“Oh, yes, books. He’s fond of books… and that’s not the only thing in the library he’s fond of,” the woman nodded her head knowingly.
Oh, thought Giselle. That’s the reason why the authorities won’t let Hazel see Enid except at the library. Racism. She stood for a moment looking at the woman, her mouth a grim line. “Well, it seems to me Mr. Burroughs’ friendships are not my business, or anyone else’s.” She picked up her things and left. When she reached home that evening she was still mulling over the incident at the variety store. It left an unpleasant taste in her mouth. She’d been reading about the rise of overt racism on the OET website – politicians making clearly racist statements, Police shooting unarmed black men, but… All the ugliness isn’t in the city, she thought, as she reached out to put her key in the front door.
She jerked her hand back. Something was on the door knob. A painting on a piece of bark hung from the knob on a braided vine. When she took it to the edge of the porch to look at it in better light, she saw it was her oak tree. Very simple, very beautiful, definitely her tree, and not some random other tree. She looked out at the hills and the meadow, but of course, there was no one around.
When she set the painting down on the old trunk in front of the sofa, the little gray cat jumped up, tipping his head to one side as if evaluating the painting. Giselle laughed and leaned forward almost nose to nose with the cat. “What do you know about this?” The cat just stared unblinking back at her. More than he’s telling, I’ll bet! she thought, grinning and shaking her head.
That night Luhanada and Tata crouched in the dark around the fire pit at Yameno’s den and listened to the owls hooting in the night. They contemplated the trip to the library. “The linking’s begun,” said Luhanada.
“Yes,” said Tata, “but the boy will be harder.”
“He comes to the forest,” said Yameno. “We’ll find a way.”
“And how’s the tree coming?”
“It’s growing.” Yameno gestured to where the driftwood log stood at the edge of the clearing, carved lines beginning to show shape. “Soon.”
Not long past sunrise on Saturday morning Enid slipped out of bed, dressed silently, grabbed an apple and some cheese, and crept out of the house like a little mouse always watching behind her for the cat. In one hand she clutched a book. Stumbling down a path through the forest, she headed for the river. Her nervousness was more a matter of habit than need. She often slipped off into the woods by herself to play, and her grandfather never gave chase – a dichotomy he couldn’t explain to himself. He had forbidden Enid’s mother from going into the woods and she died. Emma and Enid were damned if they went into the forest, and because they were Mary’s children, damned if they didn’t.
Enid was headed for a favorite spot, a hidden crevice behind a rock next to the river where she could sit comfortably and read her book. She spent the morning cuddled there, intermittently reading and napping, and munching on her apple and cheese. The sun was high in the sky when she heard someone coming toward the river through the brush. Pulling herself closer into her crevice, she peeked around the corner of the rock and saw Jesús McCrae settle himself down with his fishing pole on a rock almost directly in front of her. Awkwardly bent forward and afraid to move, she watched him for several minutes. When her tightened muscles couldn’t hold out any longer she moved one foot just a tiny bit to get into a more comfortable position. The foot touched a small round stone which, like a wheel, pulled her foot and leg further out of its hiding place, and then clattered on down the side of the rock.
Jesús whirled at the sound and Enid tightened herself against the back of her hiding place. “Shit,” he mumbled. “How long have you been there?” He leaned in toward her, glaring.
She scrambled to her feet, glaring back.
He moved back a little. “It’s okay,” he muttered. “What are you reading?”
She held the book out – the story of a wild cougar. He grinned as he lifted his arms and pawed the air in front of her like a menacing cat. “I’m a wild cougar and I’m going to eat you up. Grrr…”
She jumped away from the boy, slipping and tripping over branches and stones until she lost balance and started sliding down the bank. He grabbed her arm just before she slipped out of his reach into the cold river and hauled her back up the bank.
“I wasn’t going to hurt you.” He shook his head, annoyed. “Go ahead and read.”
Enid kept her eyes on him as he moved toward his fishing pole. She was angry. This was her special place.
The boy ignored her, leaning back against a rock.
She kept staring.
“Stop looking at me,” he spat at her. “Read.”
She sat down and opened her book. Some minutes passed before the exhaustion of holding her muscles tense became too much and she began to relax, moving ever so slightly into a more comfortable position. It was a lot longer, though, before she really began to read.
Except for the running of his reel and the plink as the fly hit the water, they were silent. Enid could hear the low burbling of the river, the chirping of the birds, and finally, a low rustling in the bushes behind her. She looked back toward the sound. Two small ground squirrels, particular friends of hers, were rooting round the trunks of the bushes. She kept chicken feed in her pockets and on some quiet afternoons one of the little rodents had even eaten the feed out of her hand. They looked at her expectantly, creeping to the edge of the bushes to peer out at her and then running back to touch noses under the brush.
She glanced at Jesús. He was preoccupied with his fishing. Slipping her hand into her pocket, she crawled over to deposit a small heap of feed next to the bushes, sitting back on her heels near the pile to wait for her little friends.
From the corner of his eye Jesús saw the quiet movement and turned his head to watch. Chirping quietly to each other and their friend, the little squirrels moved to the food and with quick jerky movements began to stuff their cheeks. Jesús watched without moving until the squirrels had gathered the entire pile and moved off with happy little scurries toward their home.
Enid turned back, her eyes widening when she saw him watching.
He smiled. “Do you come here a lot? I’ve never been to this place before. Is this your special place?” She looked away from him. “Do you always bring food for them? That’s so cool that they come so close to you. Did you bring me some food, too?” he teased.
She glared at him.
“Did you bring yourself some lunch?” Jesús put his fishing pole down on the rock beside him and looked around. There was no evidence of a lunch. “Were you supposed to go home for lunch?”
She shook her head looking away. “If I went home he might not let me go out again.”
“Who wouldn’t? Your father?”
“I haven’t got a father,” she mumbled.
Bit by bit Jesús got her story out of her. Yes, she was allowed to sneak out to the woods every Saturday and she had eaten an apple and cheese, but she couldn’t make a lunch. He might wake up and stop her. He wouldn’t hit her, but his eyes got cold and his body rigid when she did something he didn’t like. She always returned in time to help fix dinner – a very silent dinner – and he never said anything. “He knows I come here, but he doesn’t like it.”
Jesús looked away across the river. His parents never hit him, but he’d heard about kids getting hit. He knew when his parents were disappointed with him, even when they didn’t say anything. He’d feel bad, but he wasn’t afraid of them. They were disappointed at him a lot when it came to school…
He looked back at her. “Are you hungry now?”
Enid shrugged her shoulders.
“I have a sandwich. Want half of my sandwich?” Jesús pulled himself up to a crouching position to reach for his jacket and pulled a sandwich out of the pocket.
She looked away and shook her head.
He held a half sandwich out in front of her. “Eat half of the sandwich and I’ll eat half.”
Enid looked longingly at the sandwich, but muttered, “There are other things I can eat.”
“What other things?”
“Plants.” She pointed to some scraggly greens growing by the edge of the river a little ways from them. “Over there’s some miner’s lettuce.”
Jesús looked doubtfully at the greens. “How do you know they aren’t poisonous?”
Enid picked up a pebble, rolling it with her palms. “I read about them in a book.”
He leaned forward. “A book about plants you can eat − plants you could find just growing here in the woods? Do you know of any others around here?” He moved around trying to look right into her face. She inched away.
“There’s manzanita berries up on the hillside over there,” she pointed toward the coast.
“Manzanita, huh,” Jesús looked thoughtfully up at the hillside. “Could you bring the book here tomorrow?”
She shook her head. “We pray on Sundays.”
“All day Sunday?” Jesús couldn’t believe it. “We go to church, but then I can do whatever I want.”
Enid’s voice dropped. “He says this forest is evil. We live in an evil forest and we need to pray against the evil.”
“A lot of people think the forest is evil, but I like it. It doesn’t feel evil to me.”
“Me, either.” She looked down and began rolling the pebble again. “It’s hard to pray against the forest. The forest feels like a friend.”
“Did you know some people want to cut down the forest for logs?”
Enid’s eyes flew wide. “Cut down the forest?”
She looked out at the trees growing down the hillsides toward the river. Her eyes got wet with tears. Jesús looked at her, blinking his own eyes, and then leaned down to pick up a larger rock, tossing it up and catching it. “Do you just pray on Sundays? Don’t you do anything else?”
“Sometimes we sing hymns, and eat, of course.” Her face brightened. “I like to sing. My grandfather does, too.” She looked across the river. “But he reads the Bible for a long time. Sometimes…” She hesitated looking questioningly at the boy, who smiled encouragingly. “Sometimes, I make up stories in my head.”
He nodded. “Me, too. In church sometimes, and in school a lot.” He looked at her and grinned, and she smiled shyly back.
Jesús thought for a moment. “Could you bring that book about the plants here next Saturday? With a book like that we could live out here forever, and you’d never have to go home to your grandfather and I’d never have to go to school.” He tossed the rock higher and higher until, finally, he missed it again and it bounced onto the edge of the bank, and then rolled down into the river. “Well, anyway,” he shrugged his shoulders. “We could have something to eat on Saturdays. You could pick plants for a salad or something, and I could catch some fish and we could cook them.” He began to talk excitedly about what they would do the next Saturday. He shoved the sandwich at Enid. “Eat that half-sandwich. Now,” he said firmly. Enid was happy to follow his orders. Jesús wasn’t so hungry he missed it, and didn’t seem hungry enough to really want to catch a fish, because it wasn’t long before he had put his fishing gear away and suggested they go for a walk.
Enid shoved her book in the big pocket of her jacket and followed him down the river. He led her through thickets and over rocks pulling her roughly up over the ones too big for her to climb by herself. He pointed out particularly good fishing holes and talked about the fish he’d caught in them. She was very sorry when the sun slipped below the trees and she knew she’d have to go home. The boy let her go with a shrug and pulled her back only to remind her to get the book and meet him at the same spot about ten o’clock the next Saturday morning.
When Monday came Enid waited for the boy to give some recognition of their Saturday meeting, but he acted as if it had never happened.
Giselle had had only occasional phone conversations with Monica, since moving up the coast. Now that the first week of school was past, the house in good shape, and her fall garden planted and ready to grow, it was time to soothe the strained relationship. Sunday night she called Monica and Rod and invited them to visit the next weekend.
It was hard to sleep that night – her mind was obsessed with both planning the visit and worrying about it. When Monday morning came, she was glad to get involved in her school work and push the weekend into the background.
She set up contracts with each of the children finishing certain sections of the required texts and workbooks (complete with multiple choice tests as practice for the state tests). But Jesús, who would never, she was sure, do any work in any workbook, especially a math workbook, was to design and draw the blueprints for a house and then make a scale model of it. He would have to keep a journal of everything he did and why. She would trick him into becoming interested in math and writing while enjoying himself with his art. She was delighted to see him set to work immediately, reading the children’s books on architecture she’d gotten for him from the library. He clearly didn’t have any problem reading the books. “My house is going to be some place in the redwoods,” he told her, “and it’s going to be so much like the forest you can’t even see it.”
“That’s the way houses should be,” agreed Giselle.
“It’s going to be totally energy efficient. My dad says this earth is going to die if we don’t do something about energy. That’s what I’m going to do when I grow up. I’m going to stop global warming.”
Giselle smiled at him. That was the most he’d ever said to her at one time. “But you know, Jesús, you can’t do that without a good education.” He looked away from her and shrugged.
Knowing Enid would finish her work way ahead of time, Giselle gave her a journal and suggested she write a book on whatever she wanted to write about. Enid ran a finger over the little unicorn on the front of the journal, and looked up at her and smiled. Giselle smiled back. There was something different about Enid this morning – her head a little higher, her back a little straighter – and a smile.
Late Friday afternoon, in search of wild flowers to decorate her house for her guests the next day, Giselle ventured into the wilderness behind her home. The sea wind, pushing through the trees, whispered gentle songs to the birds whose quiet twitterings made the silence seem even deeper. Something hidden in the deep crevices at the bottom of her spirit expand like helium in a balloon pushing upward until it gained the upper hand. Oh, joy, she thought. Oh, jubilation.
Ecstasy and joy, echoed the trees. An ether – a flow of life-joy. Ecstasy!
Exhilaration, she returned. Oh! Life elation.
Rejoice! they whispered. Rejoice!
Come wind, set limbs to dancing,
Wind song, on our soul harps prancing.
Come feet, set life a dancing.
Come voice, let your song go chanting.
Come earth, set your heart beat thrumming.
Come sea, set your surf to drumming.
Oh, sing heart. Sing to earth’s warm silence.
Dance heart, to this sun heat, to this wind dance.
Oh, earth joy!
Dance heart, the trees whispered. Dance heart.
Giselle ran. Her wild flowers gripped in her hand sent their seeds flying to the wind as she ran down the hillside out into the meadow, out to the edge of the sea.
Yameno, crouching behind the trees she had just run through, laughed and sang a low note to the wind, and the wind ran caressing fingers through his thick ruff in return.
Giselle stopped her downward rush for a moment to listen. It was the wind, she thought. Just the wind singing a peculiar note in the redwoods.
That evening, as she bent low in homage to the sea and sun, she thought of her sister and Rod coming the next day. Would they feel it – this joy?
Enid hardly slept Friday night thinking about meeting Jesús the next day. At last a faint light began to grow in the east and she quietly pulled on her clothes, tucked the book on edible plants and a reading book in one pocket of her jacket, slipped into the barn to fill the other pocket with chicken feed, and ran off into the woods. It was past sunrise when she reached the little niche in the rocks by the river and settled herself in her cubbyhole. The warmth of the sun and her lack of sleep relaxed her, and she fell asleep.
When Jesús arrived at the river, his rod thrust over his shoulder and his creel hanging by his side, he looked down at the little girl curled up in a ball, fast asleep. The books were clutched in her arms and wisps of hair slid down her cheek. He stood for a minute and watched her. Part of him wanted to wake her up by frightening her and part wanted to be soft – perhaps let her sleep a while longer or wake her up gently.
Finally he leaned down close to her, saying in a deep gruff voice, “Gotcha!”
Enid jumped and flattened herself against the rock in back of her.
He grinned and shrugged. “Sorry.”
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and handed him the book on edible plants. He took it, sitting down on a rock to look through it.
Enid knew where there was some manzanita on the nearby hillside, so they took the carefully washed out juice can Jesús had brought to cook with to hold the berries and headed up the hill.
They found the patch of manzanita, but it was late in the year and the berries were few and far between. “This is taking too long,” complained Jesús. Enid just kept looking for the little berries and tossing them in the can.
He handed her the can. “I think I should go back and start fishing. You stay here and when the can’s full, bring it back.” He ran in leaps and hops down the hillside.
Soon the hill was silent except for the shushing of the wind. Enid moved quietly between the bushes. As she moved around one bush she found two quail noisily pecking at the ground. Crouching, she slipped her hand into the pocket where she kept her chicken feed and spread feed like a fan on the ground in front of her. One of the quail clucked and backed away, but the other stood its ground, turning its head to stare at Enid with a little beady eye. It popped one of the little seeds in its mouth. The other watched carefully for a moment and then joined the feast.
There was a sound in back of Enid so small she felt rather than heard it. She turned her head toward it. Standing behind another bush was a man with long black hair. She jumped up, sending the quail in a half walking, half flying scurry into the bushes.
“I’m sorry,” said the man. “I didn’t mean to frighten you. It’s very rare for quail to be so willing to stay close to a human being. They’re timid. You have a special gift, Chachuli.”
He smiled and moved out from behind the bush. “Why are you picking the manzanita berries?”
She didn’t answer.
“I’ve come to pick some, too, but I see there’re not too many left. Pretty soon they’ll all be gone and we’ll have to rely on something else for the winter.” He began to pick berries and drop them into a basket he held on his arm.
As soon as he turned away from her, Enid grabbed the can and ran down the hillside, her hand covering the top to keep the berries from bouncing out. She arrived at the river out of breath and wild-eyed. Jesús looked at her in astonishment. “What’s wrong?”
She sat down on a rock. “A man is picking berries, too,” she gasped.
“Did he hurt you?” Jesús stepped toward her.
“No.” She pushed the hair out of her eyes. “I was feeding some quail and he watched and called me a name – Chachuli, I think. What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know. It sounds weird – Indian or something. Hey! I know who it was!” Jesús exclaimed. “There’s an Indian that lives in the hills someplace – alone – and people don’t like him. Haven’t you heard about him?”
She shook her head.
“Well, that doesn’t mean anything. You’re a hermit, too, like him. Why did you run away from him? He lives off the land. He’d know all the plants we’ve been looking for. He’d know what’s good in fall and everything.”
Enid glared at him.
“Never mind. We’ll probably see him another time when I’m with you and you won’t have to be afraid.” He pulled a line from the stream. “See my fish.”
“Oh, poor thing. Do we have to eat him?”
“My dad says he’d rather eat a fish that’s had a good life living free, than some piece of steak from a cow that lived in a feed lot. Have you ever seen one of those feed lots?” He wrinkled his face in disgust. “Hundreds of cows standing there with their feet in a bunch of mucky mud and cow poop. At least a fish gets to live in a clean stream until we eat it.”
Enid looked at the fish where Jesús had fastened it so that it hung just barely submerged and still alive in the river. She put her hand down against the fish and it stopped splashing as if calmed.
Yameno had followed the girl down the hill. He crouched behind a tree and watched the children and nodded. The girl’s shy, but so much like her grandmother, he grinned, carrying chicken feed in her pockets. He slipped away, loping off toward the bridge and his perch above Giselle’s house.
Jesús put his rod down. “Come on. Let’s get some wood and build a fire. We can make it in that scooped out place in the rock. It looks like a giant thumb print.”
Enid crouched over the place where the fish hung in the water, preoccupied, not listening to the boy. “Jesús,” she whispered. “We should… we should thank the fish and the manzanita for providing food for us.”
He crouched beside her looking at the fish. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “And the forest.”
She nodded her head. “We could make it sacred. The fire, the manzanita, and other things too.”
“And water,” exclaimed Jesús. “The fish came from water. And all these rocks. They feel, you know, holy or something.” They glanced at each other and away again.
“Well, let’s get the stuff.” Jesús got up and began to gather twigs, dried leaves, and dead wood for their fire. Enid ran back up the hillside and broke off a branch of the manzanita bush, its bark still deeply red, with green leaves clustered thickly on it. They laid the manzanita branch along the east side of the fire. Jesús found a flat slab of rock perfect to cook the fish on. He placed it to the north of the fire. Enid took the can with manzanita berries in it and filled it with water, placing it opposite the branch. Taking the fish from the water she placed it on the flat rock. Jesús knelt beside her as she placed her hands on the fish. “Thank you, fish,” she whispered. “Thank you, trees, and plants, and water, and fire, and earth.”
Jesús lit a match and the fire caught quickly in the dry leaves. He put the tin can half full of berries, and half full of water, in the middle next to the biggest log, with the fire burning all around it and took out his knife, split and cleaned the fish, placing it on the rock in the midst of the fire. Enid placed some of the berries on top of the split fish. It took a long time for the water to boil and the fish to cook on their little fire, and the children had to take turns running back into the woods to find more dead wood. By the time their meal was ready, it was late and getting chilly.
They crouched around the fire eating their food with their fingers, yelping as the hot fish burned their tongues. The berries proved a fine addition to the fish, giving them flavor like a sweet sauce. Soon the sun was slipping behind the hills and Enid knew she’d have to leave. “Let’s put the manzanita branch on the fire,” Jesús suggested.
“It won’t burn,” replied Enid. “That red in the bark is some kind of chemical that protects it from burning. But we should put it in.”
“Put some more dry leaves in so the fire is burning all around it.”
They piled dry leaves on the fire until it blazed up and then placed the green and deep red branch in the middle of the flames. The fire singed the edges of the leaves giving off a sweet smoke, like incense, but the branch didn’t burn. “Wow,” they whispered, as they pulled the still red branch from the fire.
“Let’s float it down the river to the ocean,” said Enid, walking over to the stream and holding the branch close to her face so she could inhale the sweet odor from the burned leaves. She broke off two of the leaves, and giving one to Jesús, thrust the other in her jeans pocket. “Thank you,” she whispered, and tossed the branch out into the water. The gentle current caught it and pulled it slowly toward the ocean. They stood in silence long after it had turned the curve in the river and disappeared.
“Do you ever go down to the beach?” asked Jesús. Enid nodded her head. “I bet there’re things down there we could eat for dinner. We could go clamming! Let’s meet here and walk to the beach next Saturday, okay? And bring that book.” Enid smiled and ran off through the increasing shadows of the forest toward home.
Jesús carefully hid the flat rock under some bushes, poured water on the fire with the juice can until he was sure every spark was out, and then packed up his things and strode off through the woods.
Giselle woke up early that same Saturday morning. She had decided to make bread for Sunday morning breakfast with Monica and Rod, and a picnic Sunday noon. When the dough was ready for kneading, she turned it out onto the floured bin table and began to work it in rhythm with the low rumble of the sea she could hear through the open windows. She pushed into it, and pulled it back toward her, folding the sides into the whole. Like life, she thought, pulls out into individuality and then folds back into the whole, all in rhythm like the rhythm of the sea. Making bread, gardening, even correcting papers, you fall into that rhythm.
She looked out the window, watching birds, hardly more than dots in the sky, dipping down into the ocean. If Monica was here we’d be talking, she thought. We’d miss the rhythm.
When the bread had finished baking and she’d put it up on a shelf to cool, she decided to take her book down to the beach. The noontime sun was shining brightly and the white breakers crashing against the rocks at either end of the little beach were subdued. She spread her blanket and stretched out with her book. The warmth of the sun massaged her back, the tension went out of her legs and arms, and the raucous calls of the gulls, the incessant rushing of the waves became a lullaby.
The Wolfwind, who had been watching from his usual place on the hillside, loped through the meadow to the edge of the cliff. Making a tunnel in the tall grasses, he laid his head on his front paws, his eyes thin slits in the bright sunlight as he peered down at her, his breath whispering out over the beach…
Sun-warm sand cradles her,
The sound of the sea rocking her.
The wind slipping cool caresses across face, body,
Touch as gentle as silk.
Her body fluid, flexible, bends so far back her hands hold her feet,
And they dream-dance in the air.
She goes rolling on the air currents,
through the wind, her gentle lover,
In her and all around her,
the drumming of the waves,
pushing insistently into her,
filling her with a shattering light
in the dark cavern of her dream.
Holding her bound tight, close on a single deep note,
and then slipping ever so gently, caressingly away,
leaving her in the warm cradle of the sand.
She lay without moving, feeling the warmth of the sun. Sometimes when I lie like this, so still and empty, I could stay forever. It’d be nice to be a rock.
The dogs, bored with sleeping in the sun, began to play on the beach, kicking up sand. The growling yaps roused Giselle. She lay there protecting her head from the flying sand. It was three o’clock, but she felt so peaceful and relaxed, happy with the sea and the sand, the birds and the dogs… and the gentle wind.
She didn’t want to return to the house. She wished she had never invited Monica and Rod to visit. Monica was always so full of “shoulds” and “should nots”. Sighing, she picked up her blanket and book, and calling to the dogs, climbed the rugged path to the meadow and her home.
Yameno slipped away, bounding up the hillside under the trees toward his own home. Just as she reached her house, Giselle heard a short exultant howl from the top of the hill. She stopped and scanned the hillside. The dog again, she thought, if it’s a dog.
At four o’clock Monica’s shiny new car pulled into the dirt drive and descended cautiously to the house. Rod and Monica greeted her, commenting about the scenery and the charm of the little house, stepping back awkwardly from the jumping, wiggling dogs. She settled them in folding chairs on the porch to watch the sea and drink cold drinks while she prepared dinner.
“Giselle, did you ever find out why this house was empty for so long?” asked Monica. “It’s a nice enough house and with a great view.”
“Ghosts,” she laughed. “Not in the house, but in the forest around here. And not really ghosts – just some mysterious feeling. I’ve meant to ask some other people about it now that school’s started, but I haven’t gotten around to it. The real estate agent didn’t take it very seriously.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Rod. “But maybe there’s something real behind the rumors. Maybe some shenanigans going on people want to keep hidden. When I was working for the D.A. we often heard about pot growers in the mountains keeping people from nosing about on their property by spreading rumors. Have you ever seen anything strange in the forest?”
“Nothing unpleasant,” answered Giselle. But, she thought, I think I’ve felt a presence. You couldn’t ask for nicer ghosts.
Rod’s eyes narrowed. “Nothing unpleasant?” he asked. Giselle averted her eyes and said nothing.
“Ugh!” Monica shivered. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I don’t know how you can live here all alone, Giselle.” Giselle rolled her eyes.
After dinner they made their way down the winding path to the beach carrying blankets, wine and marshmallows. The sun lit its fire across the sky and the breaking waves were crested with red and orange instead of their usual white. They sat in awe on their blankets, silent and serious long after the sun had gone down, finally rousing themselves to search the beach for driftwood to start a small fire.
When they were all comfortably settled around the fire with wine in hand, they began to talk about the sunset. “It’s funny,” said Monica, “how a sunset can isolate you from everyone else. I’m not sure it’s a good thing the way it makes you draw away from other people.”
“Maybe we’re not drawing away, but pulling into something else, a greater whole,” answered Giselle. She drew slow spirals in the sand with her index finger. “Usually at sunset I perform a kind of ritual to the sun. I feel like I’m an extension of the earth instead of just standing on it. It’s a kind of expansion…” She struggled with the words. “A becoming the whole… the whole… well, everything.”
“A ritual to the sun?” Monica raised her eyebrows.
“I go up to a flat place at the edge of the meadow and do my Yoga exercises, ending with Surya Namaskara, the salutation to the sun. It gives me a feeling of being a part of the sunset, like I’m giving something back to that beauty.”
“Oh, the yoga thing, again.” exclaimed Monica. “Exercise is one thing, but this…” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Yes,” interrupted Rod, nodding his head at Monica, “the thing that bothers me – you moved to this place, and you’re more involved in the sun and these animals of yours than in people. You’re just hiding from people – avoiding people.”
She shook her head slowly. “No, Rod, I think I’m bringing people back again.”
She paused, peering out at the dark ocean. “I don’t know why I said that. I haven’t really thought that before, but it seems to me humans have isolated themselves from the – whatever it is – the life-force? From other living things? It’s the separation – the false separation that has caused so much destruction, our inability to see how we’re destroying the earth with our excessive consumption, our greed. Somehow I’m turning back. Something is turning me.”
“But Giselle,” Rod interrupted. “I understand your concern about the earth, but how can you change humanity way up here?”
“I don’t know, but I have to do it. When I do the Surya Namaskara, the bow to the sun, it’s a kind of worship, or…”
“Now it’s sun worship,” Monica muttered under her breath.
“Or maybe more of a lovemaking,” Giselle continued in a low voice still staring at the sea. “It’s like a love dance – an immersion in the sun and the sea. In fact,” she went on turning to her sister, “my whole life is full of rituals. They give me strength and energy, and joy. Sometimes I’m so full of joy I can’t…” She looked at their bewildered faces. “Oh, I don’t know.”
Rod shook his head. “I think this isolation’s getting to you. You’re beginning to personify everything, that’s all.”
“No,” Giselle leaned forward urgently. “No, it’s there. The life is there, and it’s alive and pulsating and thinking. I know it’s there.” Spirits, she thought. Spirits in everything.
Monica and Rod exchanged looks and Giselle stared at the sand she was sifting through her hands. “I feel like I’ve found something and I have to keep contact. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s there, and it’s important.”
Monica just rolled her eyes, but Rod looked concerned. “You’re so far away from everything, Giselle.”
“Well,” Giselle spoke quietly. “It all depends on what you consider everything.” She thought about the afternoon on the beach. When you’ve made love to the wind…
The chilly air began to creep up their backs and the dying fire refused to fight it. They drowned the fire in sand and sea water, gathered their blankets and wine, and climbed back to the house.
Sunday morning, Giselle got up early and went for a walk along the cliff before fixing breakfast. Her guests came yawning down the stairs at ten o’clock, exclaiming at the pungent smells of pine and salt air. After breakfast they gathered a picnic lunch, and led by the ecstatic pups, headed south along the cliff to the next little cove. The sun sparkled on sea-washed offshore rocks making them black and shiny as jet. The surf was subdued and the ocean a deep lapis edged with white.
Giselle took a path down to an enclosed beach curving between two points of rock where they spent a couple of lazy hours running, climbing, and talking about non-threatening subjects while they ate. Monica and Rod had a long drive back to the city ahead of them, so after lunch they gathered up the picnic things and headed back to the house taking the beach route, climbing the protruding rock guardians north of the cove, their sneakers wet with spray and slippery, the dogs hopping sure-footedly back and forth between them. They halted for a moment on the rocky point, looking up and down the empty beaches before and behind them, and then pushed on to the beach that stretched past Giselle’s house.
As they walked along the water’s edge, Rod stopped abruptly.
“Hey, who’s that?” he asked, pointing to a slender dark-haired man standing at the top of the cliff where Giselle usually did her Yoga. The man ducked back away from the cliff.
“Who was that man, Giselle?” Monica asked.
“I don’t know. He looked like someone I saw at the river once.” Her breath caught as she remembered how drawn she was to that man. “But that’s a ways from here, over on the other side of the hill. I’ve never seen anyone around here.” But someone’s leaving gifts on my porch, she thought, uneasily. I’m not telling you about that. “Anyway,” she continued, “I’m sure I’ll see more people around here as time goes on. After all, this is a nice beach and the hills make a great place to climb. I’m not worried about it.”
She started walking again and the others followed. By the time they’d climbed the winding path the man was nowhere to be seen, although Rod pointed out a big dog sitting up on the hillside. “Maybe that’s his dog,” he suggested.
“That dog looks ferocious,” exclaimed Monica.
“Looks like a wolf,” added Rod.
Giselle laughed. “Come on. It’s been a long time since there were any wolves around here.”
“Well, maybe it’s a coyote,” he suggested. “I’ve heard the coyotes are multiplying.”
“It’s too big and too fluffy to be a coyote.” Giselle peered up at the dog. So that’s the dog I’ve heard howling sometimes. It really does look like a wolf. Must be part husky or something.
“I don’t know.” Rod moved the conversation back to the man. “There was something odd about the way he was watching us. Maybe he has something to do with your ghosts.”
Giselle just smiled. “You’d better get going or you’re going to be driving all night,” she urged them. As they gathered their things Rod mumbled about how much better he’d feel leaving her if he knew who that man was, but finally, full of gracious, but distant, “Thank yous,” they climbed into their car and drove away.
When Giselle returned to the house she made a cup of tea and sat down on the front porch steps. Something was tied on the underside of the railing. Her heart beat fast as she unwound a necklace of seashells and acorns, strung on a braided vine, and wrapped around a rolled piece of paper. Unrolling the paper she found a quote in dark green calligraphy framed in vines with little birds peeking between the leaves:
As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.
Henry David Thoreau, from .
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “Just what I needed to tell Monica.”
Who left this? Was it that man she saw at the river? Had he stood on the cliff and watched her on the beach before? She went down the steps, clutching the rolled paper and necklace in one hand, and looked far around her up the hill. Turning she looked north through the fields, and south along the cliff, but there was no sign of anyone. She felt awkward, rubbing her fingers down the outer seams of her jeans sensing every thread and the texture of the weave. She dug her bare toes into the dirt and turned her head this way and that trying to find the hidden eyes. She’d been so glad when Monica and Rod left, but…
Crouched behind a tree high up on the hill, Yameno watched Giselle’s nervous search. He saw the necklace clutched to her chest in her left hand. When she finally turned and went inside, he loped off through the trees to the cat lady’s house. She looked at his exultant face, questioning. “Yes, Wolfwind?”
He laughed and shook his head, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table.
“And?” she asked again.
“She had visitors from the city. They saw me.”
“If they frighten her we could lose her. What about the tree?”
“It’s finished and waiting.”
Luhanada sighed, looking out the window over her sink. “Let’s hope we can go soon.” The wait for the Tree Woman had been very long. It was hard to wait any longer – it felt so urgent.
She turned to the stove and put the kettle on the burner. “Do you want some tea?”
“Yes, please.” He propped his elbows on the table and leaned his head into his cupped hands. “I’ve been leaving her gifts. A picture of her tree. A necklace.”
Luhanada raised her eyebrows. “Well, as long as she accepts them…” she hesitated, twisting her fingers in the curly ends of her braid.
“And doesn’t get frightened,” he added. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have, but…”
“You’re falling in love with her.” The cat woman sighed again. It had to work this time. It felt like she’d been waiting all her life. She pulled a chair up to the table to wait for the kettle.
“And the good news,” Yameno smiled. “The children were in the forest yesterday.”
“Yes. Enid reminded me of her grandmother. She carries chicken feed in her pockets and feeds the quail.”
Luhanada nodded. When they were growing up, Enid’s grandmother, Mary, had dozens of strange looking birdhouses all around the yard and at the edge of the woods. Mary’d read carefully to find what to feed each different kind of bird. The birds never came right up to her to eat, but sat on perches close by and sang to her. Luhanada had to keep a good eye on her cats to make them understand they were not to mess with Mary’s birds.
The kettle whistled and she hopped up to get their tea. “The children together! That’s a good sign.”
Giselle went into her house and for the first time locked the door behind her. She tried to think of school, but her mind kept slipping back to the man. How often had he been watching her? Could someone who made such exquisite art work really be dangerous? Someone who wanted to scare her away, like a pot grower, wouldn’t give her a quote from Thoreau. When she’d seen him at the river, she’d wanted to know him. Was it such a bad thing if he felt the same way? But he could be someone with a real emotional problem and still be enamored of Thoreau. She needed to find out who he was.
She didn’t sleep very well that night. Hot and uncomfortable, jumping at every sound, she twisted and turned, shoving at the dogs lying tight and close on either side of her.
At midnight she heard the howling again, and it was longer and more beautiful, but still eerie. She shivered and squeezed the little gray cat, but the cat just reached a paw up and patted her reassuringly on the nose. None of the animals are frightened, she noted. Strange the dogs didn’t bark and the cat didn’t bristle when the big dog howled.
The next morning she was groggy and foggy headed. As soon as school was out she made a list of things she could buy in the little hardware store with the talkative owner and headed for town. Waiting until the one other customer was gone, she asked the owner to help her find the items on her list. As they walked past the shelves she said, “By the way, someone was out by my beach yesterday – not that I object to people coming on my property – but no one’s ever come out there before. I just wondered who he was.”
“Oh? What’d he look like?” Mr. Coffman stopped, frowning.
“He was lean, with long dark hair – wore blue jeans and a blue shirt. I couldn’t see him very well from that distance.”
“Must be that darned Indian kid.” Mr. Coffman looked angry. He pulled a box of nails off a shelf. “These twelve penny nails should be the right size.”
“This guy wasn’t a kid. He was a grown man.”
“That Yameno Wellkeeper’s a grown man. I just still think of him as the kid we did so much for who turned around and threw it all away. Do you want one of these foam paint brushes, or one with bristles?”
She picked up a thick bristled brush. “This one looks about right.”
The man glanced at her list. “Wellkeeper lives somewhere up in those hills behind your place, although why anyone’d want to live there, I don’t know.” He plunked the nails down on the counter hard and went around it to the cash register, carrying the rest of her items.
“Why wouldn’t someone want to be in those hills?”
He looked down and fumbled around with the nails. “It’s just strange up there, that’s all.”
“Why?” Giselle placed her hands on the counter and leaned forward. “What happens up there?”
“I don’t know. Just things.” He rang up the nails and the brush. “That Wellkeeper probably likes it. He probably makes it worse. Encourages it.”
“The things that happen up there. That’s what,” he said in an exasperated voice, punching the tax and the total. “Anyway, we’ve tried and tried to get someone to spook him out of there. He hasn’t got any right to live up there like that, not owning the land and not paying any rent. He probably don’t even live in a house. If he’s living on your land you can get him kicked off. The state troopers would do something about it, if the owner of the property he’s living on would complain.”
“You mean he’s living like a hermit up there all by himself?” asked Giselle.
“Yeah. That’s it. He’s a hermit, and we should’ve known before we gave a five thousand dollar scholarship to an Indian that he’d waste it.” He grabbed the cloth bag she handed him and stuffed her things in it.
“Oh, who gave him a scholarship? And where to? College?” asked Giselle.
Mr. Coffman leaned on the counter. “He grew up here in town. Went to our schools, and the teachers thought he was pretty smart and should go to college, but his family – well, you know these Indians – they didn’t have money for college – even a state college. So the townspeople got together and put in five thousand dollars for him to go to college, and I think he worked, too, while he was there.”
Well, yeah! thought Giselle.
“He finished college and we all felt pretty darned proud we’d put him through, because he was in some special honor society and got awards and things.” Mr. Coffman glared. “He was going to go on and get more schooling and become a scientist. By the time he got to graduate school they were giving money to Indians to go to school, just because they were Indians, and anyway, he done so well in school lot’s of people were offering him money to go. Then in the middle of a school year his great-aunt died and for no darn reason at all, he quit school and picked up his things and walked off into the forest up there, and he hasn’t been out since except sometimes he goes over to Robertsville and gets odd jobs and earns a little money, then disappears into the forest again.”
Mr. Coffman turned back to the cash register and ripped the receipt off. “We paid good money to send him to school and he could’a been a famous scientist.”
“It was good of you to put him in a position where he had the freedom to choose the way of life that was best for him,” said Giselle.
Mr. Coffman looked at her with exasperation. “He’s mighty strange. And, young lady, if I didn’t know you were a respectable school teacher, I’d think you was mighty strange too, living out there all alone the way you do, and as old as you are and not married.” He stuffed the receipt into her bag. “You better watch out for that Yameno Wellkeeper. You can’t tell what a weirdo like that might do to a young woman living out there all alone like you do – and right by those woods, too. Here.” He thrust the bag at her. “I’ve got work to do, and I don’t need to stand around talking all day.”
Suddenly he turned toward the back of the store. “Tom, you better be working,” he yelled at a dark haired, dark eyed teenaged boy standing just inside the doorway to the storage room.
The boy was listening, thought Giselle.
Coffman turned back toward her. “My grandson, Tom,” he muttered. Giselle paid her bill, and he stamped off toward the storage room.
As Giselle walked to her car she thought, Sometimes I feel like I haven’t just moved two hundred miles from the city, but hundreds of years backwards in time as well. And then this man, Yameno… living in the hills all alone like a hermit. Mr. Coffman didn’t indicate anything like drugs and if he could’ve, he would’ve! So much for Rod’s pot farm idea. Now what? She sat in the car for a moment before driving off, thinking about the situation. Should I look for him? For his home? She shivered. Maybe he doesn’t want to be found. But, damn it, if he’s watching me and leaving little gifts, I have a right to look for him. And I will. Tomorrow right after school!
Tata found Yameno on the hillside back of Giselle’s house. They moved back into the trees before changing into human form. Tata crouched down and picked up a stick to doodle with in the pine needles. “Luha told me you thought Giselle saw you the other day. She did.” He tossed the stick away and reached for a bigger one. “I was gardening next to the Dickerson’s today, and Coffman came to tell him Giselle was in the hardware store asking about a stranger she saw out by her house.”
Yameno grimaced and crouched down beside him. “Coffman and Dickerson. I’m never really happy when they’re reminded I’m up here.”
“Coffman told her about you and was telling Dickerson maybe they could convince her to file a complaint against you, although he did say she was ‘weird’, so she might have seemed sympathetic to you.”
Yameno laughed and reached for a stick to do his own doodling. “‘Weird’, huh? I guess we’re all ‘weird’.” He stood up, dropping his stick. “The tree’s finished. If she finds it now, it’ll be all right.” He leaned over and gave Tata a quick embrace. Tata nodded, and changing, flew off toward town.
Finding Yameno Wellkeeper’s home proved difficult. Giselle and the dogs searched the hill back of her house the next day after school, finding a blackberry thicket, but nothing that could be the man’s home. The dogs had run up the hillside behind the thicket barking and then wagging their tails with happy little yips. She’d frowned, wondering what could be up there they would consider a friend, but they quickly skidded back down, jumping and running around her as she picked some blackberries, popping them into the little bag she’d carried a few crackers in for a snack.
The second day of searching was just as disappointing until just as the sun was dipping behind the hill, she ran out of water in the bottle she carried for herself and the dogs. “Water,” she exclaimed to the dogs. “He has to have water. He’ll be next to a stream or the river!” She laughed as she ran down to the highway, crossing it to a trail to the river where they hiked downstream and then followed a small branching creek until it disappeared into a marshy nothing.
Returning to the river, she sank, hot and exhausted, on the bank. The woods were quiet and beginning to darken around her. The water looked cool and tempting. Taking one last look around, she scrambled out of her clothes, and stepped into the cool water. She was surprised when the dogs didn’t join her, instead scrambling up the hillside their tails wagging behind them just as they had the day before at the berry patch, but she was too tired to care.
The river caressed her as she swam leisurely up and down the shallow pool formed by the curve in the river. When she swam into one of the few spots where the sun still shone on the water, she lingered feeling the fondling currents lap at her breasts and slip their tingling fingers round her waist and down her hips. She did back bends in the clear water dipping under until she felt the sand brush her breasts and then circling back to the surface. As the last of the light slipped away, she dressed and walked wetly back down the river until she reached the highway bridge. Calling the dogs close to her, she went back down the road to her house. She was tired and chilled. Making herself a cup of vegetable bouillon and taking a long hot bath, she fell exhausted into bed.
Yameno watched her return from his usual spot on the hillside before heading home.
The next day after school Giselle was too tired to hike and settled down under the oak tree with some papers to correct. The blue-gray cat curled up in her lap and batted at her papers while the dogs went on adventures across the meadow and came back to lie panting in the shade of the tree. Birds twittered and insects buzzed, and the sun shone in flickers through the evergreen leaves:
wrapped in a ball,
hot, too hot,
faster than earth,
faster than night,
run with the speed of light.
hit the earth,
pierce the earth,
tear through the air,
with warmth and light.
Giselle smiled. Ghosts.
Lying flat on the ground, her eyes met the bright eye of a tiny yellow wild flower. She reached out and touched the five-petalled blossom, gently turning its head toward her. “Five-petalled,” she whispered. “Pythagoras’s pentagram. Can you tell me where I can find the man, Wellkeeper?” The flower dropped a petal onto her finger – a petal the shape of an eye without a pupil, silky, almost metallic in its yellowness, a piece of the sun. The breeze caught it and it fluttered away leaving the flower imperfect:
I am without words,
I cry from my beauty,
a gift from the sun,
the ocean and earth.
I cry of my life joy,
I sing to the butterflies,
And know of my death
from the moment of birth.
Cry I! Cry I!
I shout with no words
from the earth and the sky!
Carry my pledge before I die.
a sign of perfection,
a sacrifice of one fifth
is to lose the whole.
Not a gift, but a message,
Earth honor the pledge of my soul!
Cry I! Cry I!
I shout with no words
from the earth and the sky!
Carry my pledge before I die.
The wandering breeze caught the little flower ripping three more petals from the central hub, but the last remained:
Seek for the answer
At the edge of the sea.
Follow the waters
and climb to the sky.
Find there the man,
the wolf, and the tree.
Carry my pledge
as I fly free.
The last petal was suddenly torn away and carried upward with the breeze. Giselle sat up watching it go, a sadness tightening her chest. She repeated the last words of the song:
Seek for the answer
At the edge of the sea.
Follow the waters
and climb to the sky.
She called the dogs, and they ran south along the ocean cliffs, passing the little beach where she and her friends had eaten their picnic lunch, and continuing down the edge of the cliffs another half mile. Here the meadow widened and the hill retreated. On the other side of the meadow, some low trees and bushes grew in a line down to the coast. The cliff seemed to dip there as if a stream had cut through its rocky shoulders.
“Follow the waters,” she whispered to herself, and she began to run toward the dip. A stream in a steeply cut ravine flowed almost directly east and west as far as she could see back into the underbrush. She turned east and walked along the edge of the ravine.
Soon the ravine got shallower and a ledge led down to the stream where it was easier to walk along the drought dry edges of the bed. The plant smell was thick and heady, and the stream flowed in a pleasant bubbly half-roar over the rocks. It was not very deep – perhaps a foot at the deepest points – but in the winter rainy season – if the rains came this year – it would thicken into a rushing mini-river.
She stopped suddenly as she nearly stepped into a second stream creeping out of the underbrush on the left into the main stream. This stream, though not as wide as the first, was deeper under its covering of brush. The main stream was much smaller beyond this point. Ahead the land lay flat, but to the north were hills. “Climb to the sky,” she whispered, and searched for a way through the thick brambles all around the fork in the two streams. Pulling off her shoes and rolling up her pants, she ducked under the brush where the stream poured through, and waded into the green tunnel.
The banks of this stream were high, the plants thick and overhanging. She enjoyed the cool wade under the trees as it wound its way around the east side of the hill. When the brush moved back from the bank forming a little clearing, Giselle climbed up and sat on the edge in a shaft of late sunlight. The water glinted with reflected energy, sparking from the ripples where the water bugs wet their toes, flashing the familiar rhythm:
From deep in the earth,
Flowing with sweetness
To bring the rebirth.
Follow the water,
Climb to the sky
Carry my pledge before I die.
Pushed by the insistent song, Giselle continued up the stream. The underbrush still grew thickly on each side as the stream bed slowly climbed, the water rushing at her down small rock faces. She stayed close to the edge, holding onto the bank and the bushes, followed by the sure-footed dogs. Turning a corner, she saw the hills close in above her and become one hill. The stream seemed to disappear.
Climbing quickly, she found the source of the stream. Tumbling out of a tiny crevice in the rock face of the hillside, it formed a four-foot waterfall pouring into a little round pool, before it flowed down the streambed. She cupped her hands under the waterfall and took a drink. The water was clean and cool. Closing her eyes, she breathed in the sweetness of the air stirring about the little waterfall. Sacred, she thought, and placed her hands together giving a little self-conscious bow.
A path led around a curve up the hillside to the right of the small cataract. Pulling on her shoes she plunged up the path trying to grab the dogs as they leapt out of the brush-walled path into an elliptical clearing, but it was too late. They ran laughing and yipping around the clearing and then suddenly disappeared into a little dark building that was so much the color of the ground around it Giselle had not seen it.
His house, she thought. The dogs went into his house! They popped back out, running over to her, their tails wagging wildly. She waited, but the man didn’t appear.
All sorts of strange painted and carved creatures peered back at her from where they hung from the trees and stood as if planted in the ground. There were pieces of bark stretched between small tree branches, containing paintings in deep browns and purples of wild-eyed creatures – not grotesque, but beautiful and natural in their wildness. From the ground emerged hand carved totems, modern renditions of the traditional echoing the wild beauty of the painted bark. Interspersed between the paintings and the totems were wind chimes, made from smooth small pieces of driftwood and shells, and delicate mobiles hung with acorns and other strange seedpods hung on braided vines, just like her necklace.
A tall totem grabbed Giselle’s attention. She thought it was a tree, but then she saw the wood had been subtly shaped into a woman, her arms and fingers branched and stretched upward, as if pulled by a magnet. The toes of one foot diverged into spidery roots downward into the base. The other reached out, as if about to step down to the ground. “Like my Chinese statue,” she whispered, “but different. Mine steps out of the tree. This one is the tree.” It was carved out of one piece of driftwood, gray with age and worn. The artist had followed the shape of the wood; the skirt and hair were exaggerations of the worn lines already drawn in the wood by time and the action of the sea. The face, somehow familiar, was lined with strength. The arms, thrust at the sky, and the head thrown back, gave the figure a sureness and determination that made Giselle shiver.
She walked over and touched the wooden folds of the statue, surprised at how warm and smooth they felt…
Deep in the heart of the wooden woman vibration surged through her fingertips, into her own body. The periphery of her vision closed in, a tunnel, the world around her slowly slipping away. At the edge, soft whisperings and the low whooshing accompaniment of the wind.
Warm, warm is the earth,
giving its fullness
to reach for the sun.
My roots mingling in her
bring me my life blood
and when I die
it’s earth they become.
But my heart-wood goes sailing
in wintry seas,
tossed by the harsh waves
and rocked by the tides,
rubbed on the warm sands
until I am smooth,
warmed by the sun
until I am dried.
Then comes the man
who takes of my shape,
carving me gently
gives me new form.
Made of his soul-sight,
the earth, sun, and water,
the wind is my brother,
my sister, the dawn.
Suddenly the song became more insistent:
I am the fullness, I am the secret.
You are the answer, the bearer of life.
I am the singer, I am the weeper.
You are the leader, the edge of the knife.
Giselle jumped back from the totem and shook herself into awareness. “Me?” she whispered. “Is it speaking to me?” She forced her eyes away from the beautiful, frightening woman. Trembling, she turned her back and walked over to the little brown dwelling at the edge of the clearing.
It looked like a tent built of wood. The peak of the roof was about four feet above the ground extending in a point at each end of the roof. A ditch on either side of the roof carried rainwater away. The west end was open, and steps descended down to a hard packed dirt floor dug out under the roof. She climbed down and stood at the bottom of the steps looking in. The cozy little room was filled with the paraphernalia of living carefully arranged so that everything seemed to have its place. The roof sloped to the ground on either side of its peak about two feet outside the edge of the excavation, creating a shelf of hard packed dirt under the slope of the roof. She noticed some jars of colored powders and some books sandwiched between the clay figures of a quail and a burrowing owl. Other small figures peeked out from between cooking utensils and folded clothes.
The far end of the room also had a dirt shelf backed by a wide board, painted with wild flowers in faded colors, leaning against the sides of the roof, leaving an open triangular window between it and the peak. A fire pit lined with rocks was in the left hand corner where the smoke could go out the open end of the house. A Navaho rug lined the floor, and in one corner there was a stack of old, but clean, quilts. Hanging from the sloping roof was a fishing rod. In the shadows of the roof she could just barely make out dried, smoked fish hanging like laundry from a string stretched the length of the pole.
She wanted to look at everything, to touch the clay figures, but she climbed out quickly, afraid to be caught inside.
Across the clearing from the path to the spring another path headed north, and she took it hoping it would lead to a path home. It curved northwest and climbed a small hill above the waterfall where a meadow washed by the late afternoon sun was partially cleared into a small garden full of vegetables and herbs. Some corn stood tall and ripe in one corner, and acorn squash and pumpkins ripened on their sinuous vines inching out into the uncleared grasses.
The path meandered through the meadow and turned toward the sea, branching. The west path led down to the meadow south of her house; the north headed up the hill behind her house. She took the westerly path and cut across the meadow, arriving home as the sun sank into the sea. Too tired for yoga, she went straight to the kitchen.
It wasn’t until she returned to the porch, plate in hand, to eat sitting on the top step, that she saw another bark painting leaning against the post by the steps. This one was of a blackberry thicket, set on a hillside in a sunset lit forest. Hanging over the top of the painting was a sprig of blackberry cane with two or three blackberries on it. Her hands shook as she gingerly lifted the sprig, watching for thorns, and felt the soft juicy berries in her hand.
He must have seen her at the blackberry thicket. She remembered the dogs running up the hillside wagging their tails. If it was him, they think of him as a friend.
“So, do you trust the judgment of the dogs?” she whispered. “Are they really able to tell if someone has evil intentions?” Had he stuck around and watched her from some hiding place while she picked the berries? What about yesterday at the river? Her face grew warm. She looked down at the painting. Cutting across the lower corner, almost invisible under the brambles, was a silvery river, glinting with the sunset colors flickering through the trees.
The little gray kitty was sitting on the step beside her and his tail flicked ever so slightly, his head turned just a little bit to one side. “You’re laughing at me,” she exclaimed, poking a finger at his nose. “You think it’s funny.”
She peered up at the hillside. “I don’t know what to think.”
Finishing her dinner quickly, she grabbed a book and went to bed, forcing herself to keep involved in the plot so her mind wouldn’t wander. Soon her exhausted body took over and sent her to sleep.
Yameno stood on the path next to his garden looking up at the bright stars hanging close above his head and out at the sea glittering in the moonlight beyond Giselle’s meadow. He clasped his arms around his shoulders, a little chilled in the cool night. She’d been frightened of the totem, the tree woman. Would she accept it? She created it, he thought. She danced the earth’s song and dreamed the oak tree’s dream. It seems so right. But she’s afraid. Gunther was afraid, and Mary died.
He shivered, turned, and descended to his home. He built a small fire in the fire pit, and curled up in his quilts, watching until the last piece of wood turned black and flickered out.
The next morning Giselle awoke with the image of the tree woman in her mind. Seeking an escape among people, she arrived at school early and thrust herself into conversations in the coffee room about which she knew nothing. Finally, feeling hot and silly, she rushed to her room and fussed at papers and bulletin boards until class started.
After school she wandered through the variety store, but couldn’t bear the suspicion in the eyes of the unfriendly clerk, who, ever since she had defended Dan Burroughs, had followed her up and down the aisles every time she came in. She bought some barrettes she didn’t want for her hair and walked down the street staring in the windows of stores. Turning up a side street, she saw Dan Burroughs in one of the yards raking fall leaves. Walking causally in that direction she called out a “Hello.”
“Hello,” he replied, turning toward her and leaning on his rake. “How are you today?”
“Fine, and how are you?” His eyes were so intense.
“I’m just fine.” He paused and cocked his head a little to one side. “I hear you’re living in the Bidewell house? How do you like it up there? Some people say interesting things about those woods up behind that house.” There was just a hint of laughter in his eyes.
“What do they say? People keep hinting around at things, but I’ve yet to hear anything definite about the forest.”
“Oh, they feel strange in the forest.” He smiled. It was a reassuring smile, comfortable and inclusive. “I don’t think there’s anything definite to say. How about you? Have you felt anything strange?” He looked closely at her.
“Not anything I don’t like,” she replied. Could she ask him about Yameno? Would he know him? That didn’t feel comfortable.
He smiled at her. “You don’t feel anything you don’t like, huh? Me, either,” he chuckled. “I fish there all the time. The best fishing in town ‘cause no one else goes there much.” He nodded his head thoughtfully, and then turned his piercing eyes back on hers. “Don’t let people scare you with their stories of ‘ghosts’ in the woods.”
He remembered what had been frightening when he’d first come to Arundel many years ago. Mr. Fraya, Hazel’s father and the expert in local mythology he’d written to about a college project, didn’t know he was black. He’d felt compelled to write him for an interview, but he hadn’t understood why, and when he stepped off the bus in Robertsville he’d been terrified Mr. Fraya would tell him to get right back on the bus. He certainly hadn’t had any thoughts about ghosts – spirits, really. And once I did understand? It was scary, but the people in town were – are! – a lot scarier.
He smiled again and turned back to his raking. “Nice talking to you.”
Giselle nodded as she continued down the street mulling over the conversation. I think he knows something about… well, whatever that is, but how do you ask about something like that? What do you say? ‘Do trees talk to you?’ She was so caught up in her thoughts she didn’t see Rowena Dickerson, Jesús’ third grade teacher, kneeling in a flower bed in her own yard.
“Giselle, Giselle,” she called out, standing up and waving her hand.
Giselle looked up. “Oh, hello, Rowena. How are you this afternoon?” She walked over next to the older woman.
“Glad to be out of that stuffy classroom and working in the yard. Say, dear,” she looked down at her gloved hands as she smacked them together trying to remove the dirt. “I saw you talking to Dan Burroughs down the street there.”
“Yes,” replied Giselle, warily. “He seems a very interesting man.”
The woman gave her a strange look. “Well, dear, around here you’d do better if you didn’t get too friendly with his kind. It’s a mistake around here.” She frowned, nodding her head knowingly.
Giselle’s eyes narrowed and she frowned back. “I need to get home,” she said coldly, turning her back and walking down the street and around the block to her car.
Instead of going home, she drove to the little park by the river and spent some time swimming, blushing a little at the memory of her swim a couple of days before. The water refreshed and relaxed her. She stared up at the trees and wondered how much longer she would be able to continue her swimming before it got too cold and dark at the river. Then she remembered. In November they’ll close the park for good. What will become of it then? Will they sell the land?
As she drove down the long dirt driveway to her house, she saw something on the horizon that hadn’t been there before. Something tall and tree-like was silhouetted black against the sunset, right at the edge of the meadow by the cliff where she did her Yoga exercises. She stopped the car, and hardly acknowledging the dogs and cat dashing out the doggy door to greet her, ran across the meadow.
The wooden woman she’d seen at Yameno’s clearing stood planted firmly in the dirt, facing out toward the ocean and the setting sun.
Giselle’s heart pounded against her lungs and she sank to the ground in front of the prepossessing totem. The sea crashed its eternal rhythm and the wind blew strong across the meadow, rattling the dry grass to the beat of the surf. Sea gulls swooped in the wind, calling the sinking sun in a high pitched minor key. She felt fluid…
Formless, liquid, part of the soil and the air, moving toward the woman, flowing in, taking the form of the woman, her arms stretched and strong to the sky. Filled with joy, strangely alive, trembling. Shadows floating, The spirit of the grass, the lord of the sea, the lithe and dancing wind, singing together in wild and glorious chorus:
Seas crashing, like thunder rolling,
like drums beating,
a call to the brethren, a cry to the wary,
the time has come!
The earth woman, tree woman, sea woman,
Wind whipped, proud she faces the sun.
Wind howling, grass bending, pines whipping
bringing the night,
singing the night.
The tree and the woman are One.
Giselle sat there, unmoving, drugged with the wonder of it, until the night fell so deeply she could no longer see more than a dark outline of the woman. Slowly she retreated back to herself and walked back to the house.
What’s happening to me? Is this something wrong? It feels inevitable, unavoidable… right. She sighed and pulled her arms tight around her chest turning to stare one last time at the Earth Woman. She was beautiful standing there, a dark silhouette against the starry sky.
As she reached to open the door, she heard the dog howling up on the hillside. It didn’t sound lonely or melancholy – more triumphant. The dogs stood looking expectantly toward the hillside wagging their tails. If it had really been a wolf certainly the dogs would be scared – not excited – wouldn’t they?
Yameno slipped off through the woods. Luhanada was sitting in her car at the side of the road. He sat wagging his tail for a moment before he changed and walked over to her, smiling as he leaned in the window. The woman sighed and patted his hand. “Always running through the forest in your gray fur, and everyone just thinks you’re a big gray dog.”
Yameno squeezed her hand. “Your time will come soon, Luha. Giselle has accepted the totem. She became the woman.”
“I heard the music. And the children?”
He smiled. “Tomorrow.”
But the children didn’t fall into place so easily.
Saturday was a hot fall day, and the flies and mosquitoes buzzed at Enid as she sat waiting alone at the little place by the river. Noon came and went. She read her book and jumped at every sound. As the sun sank behind the trees, the tears she’d tried so hard to hold back finally came bursting out, and she lay on the ground and sobbed. Jesús wasn’t coming.
Yameno, who’d hidden in the underbrush watching her earlier in the day, came back to check on her, creeping under the low branches of buckthorn and laying his head on his paws. She was crying so hard she didn’t hear his quiet sympathetic whimpers. He wiggled backwards out of his hiding place and bounded quickly toward town.
Luha was playing with her cats in the wild garden in back of her house. She waved a leaf at a kitten with her right hand, while her left scratched the head of a venerable old fat cat with only one eye, who sat regally on her lap. Suddenly Yameno stood in front of her. She started, but only smiled when she saw the young man.
Yameno returned her smile as he crouched beside her, rolling the kitten on its back and tickling its tummy. “You’re needed, Moonmother. Chachuli is crying. Jesús didn’t come today. I searched, but he’s not in the forest.”
The woman stood up. “Where is she?”
“In the place by the river where they meet. I don’t think she’ll stay there long. It’s getting late.”
“I’ll go right now.”
When the tears had subsided, Enid went and washed her face in the river. The sun had been down a long time and it was nearly dark. She ran toward home. As she came down the path toward her house she heard a peculiar noise and froze where she stood. A huge cat moved out on the path in front of her, and sat twitching its long tail.
“A cougar,” whispered Enid. “It’s really a cougar.”
The night wrapped its arms around Enid and the cougar. The cat’s eyes glowed in the dusk as she began to purr – a deep rumbling noise, warm and soft, like velvet. She lay down across the path and Enid’s fear slipped away. Slipping down to the ground, she put her arms around the large animal and sobbed. The cougar carefully licked all the tears from her face with a rough tongue and the child stopped crying, lying quietly snuggled against her warm body. The cat gave her one last lick and with a queenly “Merrowl,” stood up and walked off into the woods.
Linked, thought Luha. We’re linked now. She felt a tremendous surge of love and possessiveness… and fear.
Enid picked herself up, and slipped as quietly as she could up the path, into the house, and up the stairs to her room, her head held high. Inside she felt warm and strong. She lay awake for a long time, smiling.
Gunther had been watching for Enid’s return. When the sun had set and the twilight gone from the sky, he checked the house to make sure he hadn’t missed her, and then, suddenly apprehensive, rushed down the path she usually took to the forest. About fifty feet down the path he ducked out of the way of a branch and around a curve, and stopped short. Down the hill and up on the other side, in a place where the faint starlight lit the path, a cougar and the child lay sprawled, darker figures in the dark woods.
Gunther stiffened and his body trembled. “The she-devil,” he whispered.
While he watched, the cougar stood and walked away, and the child, too, stood and continued along the path. He turned before Enid could see him and ran awkwardly back across the yard to the barn, bouncing off the open door as he plunged into its dark recesses. He grabbed an old rifle from the tack room and ran back into the woods, the rifle clutched across his chest, the knuckles of his right hand white where he gripped the stock.
“You killed my Mary,” he sobbed, but it was dark and the cougar was gone. “You think I did it, but it was you. Not me. Not me.”
He stood frozen, remembering. He’d thought it was a game Mary and Hazel’s family played with them as children – a game learned from the Tuwillians. They each had an animal – a character from the Tuwillian stories. Mary was the tree swallow. Hazel was a cougar. They’d told him he was a badger.
But then before his eyes Mary became the swallow flying up in the air with wings of iridescent blue and black. She was beautiful. I was frightened, he thought. It was wrong. “It was wrong,” he yelled out loud, as the memory flashed before his eyes – his shaking fingers grabbing at the swallow’s wing. The fluttering – the uneven swishing of the one wing fluttering, pulling against him, and then the bird falling, falling, becoming Mary just as she landed, her head striking the rock with a crack that seemed to vibrate on and on. The feathers everywhere.
The cougar’s paw prints had been all around Mary’s body. The townspeople believed the cat had killed her and they’d scoured the woods looking for it. Gunther never said a word about the game which wasn’t a game. The cougar did kill her, he thought. “Not me,” he whispered. “Not me. It was the evil they were doing. It was Hazel.”
After Mary’s death he’d taken all her bird feeders and burned them, and Emma – his beautiful daughter Emma – had screamed and screamed. Now she was dead, too. But it wasn’t his fault. It was Hazel’s. She was a devil in cougar form. She was coming for Enid and he had to stop her. They’d searched for the cougar before. If they searched again, maybe they’d find it this time.
Walking as fast as he could in the dark, he headed back to his barn. Sliding his rifle back of the seat of his pickup, he headed for Al’s Cafe – Al’s and its telephone. He would call the deputy sheriff and the men in the bar would overhear. The word that the cougar was back would spread quickly.
The sun was low in the sky when Giselle awoke from a long afternoon nap under the oak tree. She had dithered all day about whether or not she should try to find Yameno and ask him about the statue… and maybe the music. She looked up into the leaves of the oak, flashing light and dark in the fading light. “Now or never,” she whispered.
Grabbing a jacket to guard against the chilly September evening, she called the dogs, and started off across the meadow to Yameno’s home.
She climbed the hill, laughing and playing with the yapping dogs, anxious to give the man plenty of warning she was coming, but like before, his clearing was deserted.
She checked down by the stream, stopping for a moment to dip her cupped hands under the waterfall and sip some of the sweet, cool water. The splash and gurgle of the water was calming and she felt the tension leave her shoulders and neck, almost as if the very air around the waterfall was massaging her, calming her. She bowed to the god of that place before slipping back up the path to the clearing.
A life-sized sculpture of a red-tailed hawk riding a cougar sat next to the path. Instinctively she caressed the hawk and the cougar feeling the warmth of the wood beneath her hand. “A hawk,” she murmured. “I knew he was part of this. It’s strange, a hawk riding a cougar.” Walking back to the center of the clearing, she sat down to wait, her back against the tree opposite Yameno’s little house. The dogs rushed off, playing and chasing among the bushes for a while, and then returned panting, to lie by her side in the deepening twilight.
Giselle looked at the magical mobiles hanging from the trees, the wind chimes clinking musically in her ears. The wind brushed through the trees with a soft whishing. In the distance she could hear an owl. Across from her, hanging beside the little house, was a painting of a wolf, his dark, shaggy fur forming a cloud around his head. A huge wolf pack filled the background, receding infinitely into the distance.
The painted wolf’s gentle eyes met hers. Deep, deep in the back of her mind she heard the sound of howling, like that of the lone wolf seeking his pack – announcing his presence…
I am the wild, the guardian, earth traveler,
My soul singing touches the moon and the sun.
I am the herald, the seeker, the messenger.
I bear the song for those seeking the One.
I am the hunter, the knower, the lover.
My voice like a spear pierces deep in the night.
I am the lone, the many, the mirror.
My call is like lightning, jagged and bright.
And then the pack answered:
We are the pack, the tribe, earth travelers,
touching the moon and the sun.
We are the commune, the lovers and sharers,
joining to serve the One.
I am the wild, the guardian, earth traveler, the lone wolf answered. I bear the song for those seeking the One.
We are the seekers, they replied:
Voices like arrows,
pierce through the night.
We are the singers, the callers,
the wild ones,
Calling the lightning,
jagged and bright.
I am the hunter, the knower, the lover, sang the wolf. My call is the lightning, jagged and bright.
The howling song stopped, leaving a deep haunting silence. The dogs crept closer and the young one whined. Giselle sat still, wrapped in the night and the song. It was impossible to keep her eyes open. When she awoke a little later, she groped for her dream. Slowly, a picture of running wolves, brown and gray as the earth and the sky, slipped into her mind. She felt herself in the middle of them riding them like the wind to the soul of the earth where something called to her with the voice of the sun.
She shivered as the night air enfolded her and looked around the clearing, but there was no sign of Yameno. Calling quietly to the dogs, she worked her way down the hillside to her home and endless papers that needed correcting.
The cougar ran through the forest and out into the moonlight shining on the meadow by Giselle’s house. There she bowed regally to the Earth Woman Tree Woman, and then sat on the edge of the cliff, singing a piercing song.
Giselle sitting alone on her sofa, her feet propped on the old trunk, heard the song. She slipped out into the night to watch silently as the great cat sang to the sea and the skies.
I am I, I am now,
I am the protector!
I am the law!
Nameless One called for light!
I am the light of understanding.
Nameless One called for light!
I am the light of justice.
Nameless One called for light!
I am the light of wisdom.
I am the light of Love!
I am I, I am now.
I am the protector.
I am the law!
Slashing down the skies, the red-tailed hawk dove at the cat, swooping upward at the last moment, just narrowly missing the cougar’s head. The cat batted playfully at the bird and he led the cat in a merry teasing dance around the meadow, swinging low over her head and then high, high again out of the reach of her soft paws. Finally the cat lay down next to the Tree Woman and rolled over on her side. The bird landed beside her. They sat very still looking at each other and it seemed to Giselle they were laughing.
They both turned to look at her as she walked slowly toward them, stopping only a few feet from them. The hawk flew up into the sky, circling higher and higher over the meadow. She watched as he banked his wings and swooped back again for another ride on the wind. He circled, and then circled again, each circle bringing him closer to Giselle. The rush of his wings above her became louder than the roar of the sea, and he descended to perch on the head of the statue. Silhouetted against the moonlit sky, he commanded her attention. Suddenly his scream pierced the night!
Look at me!
I am the wild wings of the earth
and the violent sea.
Look at me!
I am the eyes of the sun, piercing,
I am the key.
Look at me!
I am the claws of the skies,
bearing the welcome!
Look at me!
I am the voice of life,
the song of the One.
With a last wordless screech, he launched himself on the rising wind and circled far over the sea. The cougar sprang up, and the hawk dove down from the sky, landing on the big cat’s shoulder as she walked off into the night.
Giselle stayed out in the moonlight until the sound of a siren somewhere north on the road aroused her and she went inside. It was late and she was just pulling her big t-shirt on over pajama bottoms in preparation for bed, when a car pulled into her driveway. She pulled her bathrobe around her and went to the door where the deputy sheriff stood knocking, a rifle hanging loosely in his right hand.
“Is something wrong, deputy?” she asked.
“Don’t mean to alarm you ma’am, but Mr. Amundsen up the road…” He gestured north with his rifle. “Amundsen saw a cougar near his house tonight and we’ve been trying to track it down. You wouldn’t have seen it by any chance?”
Boy, did I, thought Giselle, but I don’t think I want you and your gun after this cougar.
She studied the man. He seemed very uneasy tonight. It didn’t make sense. Why would a deputy sheriff be chasing a cougar? “Isn’t this cougar territory?”
He shifted his feet, ignoring her question. “I didn’t think you’d have seen it, but I wanted to warn you. Keep your pets in. We’ll probably chase this one down in a couple of days. Then you won’t have to worry.”
“I’m not worried.” Giselle leaned against the door. “I don’t understand why you want to chase it down. Has it done any damage?”
“Not yet.” He scratched behind his neck with his left hand.
“In Bayomar we have cougars in the hills behind the city and they’re protected,” Giselle pointed out.
“You haven’t been around here long enough to know about… We don’t want any cougars here. This place,” he gestured to the hills, “This place is wild enough as it is.”
Giselle stepped outside, catching hold of one of the porch posts. She looked up at the hills. There was something funny about the way he talked about it – funny and uncomfortable. “But where else should a cougar be other than a wild area? It doesn’t seem right to hunt it in its own habitat. Why this area rather than some other area?”
The man shuffled his feet impatiently, shaking his head. “Oh, lady, if you see the cougar, or its tracks, just call us, please.” He moved quickly to his car and drove away.
I don’t like it, thought Giselle. There’s nothing evil about that cougar – or the hawk, but there’s something very wrong about that deputy chasing it. And Mr. Amundsen was the one who got him started. She shook her head and went upstairs.
Giselle spent most of the next day sleeping, first lingering in bed, then shifting her position to her favorite place under the old oak tree, and finally in deep meditation in lotus position facing the sea, her back against the Earth Woman Tree Woman. A small yellow butterfly flitted around her head and landed a long moment on her hand.
‘lights on my hand as I sit,
still as a flower.
She hardly breathed, seeking the essence of the bright feathery touch on her hand. Then felt something behind her – a hint of movement which disturbed neither the butterfly, or her mind. The butterfly flew gently upward and over her left shoulder. She followed with her eyes until it landed on the hand of the man leaning lightly on the shoulder of the Tree Woman. In his left hand he held a wolf formed of clay. “I am Yameno Wellkeeper, the Wolfwind,” he said, as he handed the wolf down to her. As she reached to hold it, the circle was complete – the man to the tree, the tree to the woman, the woman to the wolf, and the wolf to the man…
Sinking into the Earth Woman Tree Woman, becoming the woman, becoming alive, herself and the woman, made of the earth and the tree, the sun and the ocean, supple as the willow and strong as the oak. Man and wolf blurred, floating together, one and wild and freeborn.
Wolfwind reaches, caressing breezes tangling her branches, stroking her body, singing through the leaves of her hair, earth and tree feeding the wolf, bending to the wind. Joining, becoming all things. Wolf and tree, earth and air and water.
Wolf howls, sings to the sea, and she – woman, earth and tree – leaps to his back, her roots circling his ribs, her branches his ruff, as they run, racing the wind along the cliffs. Within her a wild confusion – herself and another, many and All…
I am the earth, the growing, the first born,
anchored no longer.
I am the highest form, called the lowest,
anchored no longer.
I trap the sun spirit. I am the transformer,
I am the earth, source of all life,
anchored no longer.
Hair flying, tail flying, they climbed the forested hills and called to the day-moon. They cantered through the high meadows, flying down on the wind to the sea to gallop along the wet beach as the sun sank into the foam, taking the light, leaving the night, the moon shining on wet sand, glinting on the wave swept rocks.
Cold, white light when the earth becomes still, and slowly a tree is a tree, and a wolf is a wolf, and the circle is broken…
He left the clay wolf in her hand, turned and walked back toward the hills. Giselle looked at the moon. She could see the Hare in the Moon, that incarnation of Buddha who had deliberately thrown himself in the fire to keep another from breaking a law she’d read about in a children’s book. The fire burned cold like the moon and did not consume him.
She moved back into lotus position, her back against the Earth Woman Tree Woman and sat unmoving for a long time, frightened, elated, unable to think and not to think. She caressed the warm clay of the wolf and leaned back into the smooth wood of the Earth Woman. Finally the cold drove her indoors.
When Jesús arrived in class Monday morning, he refused to look at Enid, who never took her eyes off him. Finally he whispered, “Stop staring at me. What’s your problem?”
She looked at him with big serious eyes. “Why didn’t you come Saturday?”
He looked away from her. “It was too hot. I went to Robertsville.”
She turned her head away and went back to her work. He returned to his plans for the house, fiddling around for a while looking through the architecture magazines Giselle had gotten for him, and then asking to be excused to go to the bathroom. He didn’t come back.
Giselle was thoroughly annoyed. It was the first time he had ditched school this year. She called Ms. Nichols on the intercom and Nicki went to his home immediately, finding his mother working in the field behind the house. Dorotea McCrae pushed her hat back wiping the sweat from her forehead, before leading Nicki back to the house. He wasn’t there. His fishing pole was gone and the kitchen showed evidence he’d made a sandwich.
She shook her head. “Mi hijo, he is too much like his father. La escuela… school goes so much better this year. He likes this teacher, but now… We will talk to him,” she assured Nicki.
Back at school the teacher’s lunchroom was full of talk of the cougar. Giselle was disgusted at the amount of hatred and fear she saw aimed at the animal.
“It was out near your place, wasn’t it Giselle?” Nicki asked, as she unwrapped her sandwich.
“I guess it wasn’t too far away. It was Mr. Amundsen, Enid’s grandfather, who saw it,” she replied.
Instantly all the eyes in the room turned toward her. “Mr. Amundsen!” murmured several voices.
Mr. Harding lifted his eyebrows. “Where do you live?”
Giselle carefully unwrapped her carrots before she answered. “You know the Bidewell house next to the cliffs south of the Amundsen’s, and on the other side of the river?”
“You live there?” he exclaimed. “Didn’t anyone tell you about that place?”
She dipped her carrot into a little bowl of peanut butter. “Well, no one’s been able to tell me anything about that place that makes me not want to live there. I like it.”
“Well, let me tell you a few things about that place!” He leaned forward, waving his soda in the air, stopping himself as some soda spurted out the top of the can. “Especially the forest behind that house and the next hill south – nobody here will go into that part of the forest except, you know, the strange ones.”
“Harding, don’t be ridiculous,” interrupted Ms. Nichols, halting her sandwich in midair. “Giselle, every small town has its local tales, and that wood happens to be the local scare tale for this area. Nothing’s ever happened there. People have been saying there’s a strange feeling in the woods for so long that anyone who goes in there knows before he goes in he’s going to feel a strange feeling, so naturally he does. Just a bunch of nonsense.”
“I don’t think so, Nicki,” countered Harding.
“Me, either,” interjected another teacher. “How about Mr. Amundsen’s wife? She died in those woods, and there was a cougar here then, too.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes.” Nicki scowled and threw the crust of her sandwich down on her plate.
“Well,” Mr. Harding added, “I don’t think there’s anything supernatural going on, but I think the rumor has been fostered for a purpose, and the cougar might be there for a purpose, too. Maybe to scare people off from a pot farm. You know that Indian, Wellkeeper, lives up there somewhere, and I’m sure he’s up to no good.”
“Yameno Wellkeeper!” exclaimed Ms. Nichols, glaring at him. “Harding, you’re too young to remember Yameno when he was a child going to school here, but I had him in class. I have a great deal of faith in him. Everyone did then, and I still do. I would never, ever suspect him of any kind of wrong doing.”
“Then what’s he doing up there?” argued Harding.
“I haven’t the slightest idea, but he isn’t hurting anybody, so I wish people would just leave him alone.” Nicki pushed her chair back and glared at Harding.
“But someone mentioned the cougar and Mrs. Amundsen’s death,” interjected Giselle. “What’s that all about?”
“Oh, that,” Nicki answered, gathering her lunch leavings into a paper sack. “Mrs. Amundsen apparently fell in the forest. She hit her head. There was a cougar seen wandering in the forest at that time, too, but there was no indication that the cougar had anything to do with her fall.”
“There were tracks near her body!” Rowena protested.
“But nothing to indicate that the cougar had anything to do with her death! Maybe she saw the cougar, was surprised, and fell, but she wasn’t attacked by the cougar. There were no marks on her body that would indicate that. You all know that’s true.” Ms. Nichols threw the sack into the garbage with a resounding clunk.
“But listen, Nicki,” Mr. Harding leaned forward in his chair. “I know they said there were no marks, but how did a cougar ever get in the forest? And now there’s another one. I just think something funny’s going on.”
“The population of cougars is growing all over the state,” Nicki responded indignantly. “They were endangered and now they’re not. We should be happy to see them coming back.” She shook her head and stomped out the door, throwing, “I’ve got to go check the playground,” back over her shoulder.
“Yeah, right,” muttered Harding. “The weirdos stick together. Believe me, if this job wasn’t so convenient, I wouldn’t stay working here.”
“Well,” added Rowena, “If they sell the park for logging, like they’re talking about, that would take care of the forest.”
“Logging!” exclaimed Giselle.
Rowena just shrugged her shoulders and smiled, and no one else seemed to know anything about it.
Giselle was glad to get back to class and away from all the crazy talk. The talk of logging really alarmed her.
Still, she knew the cougar wasn’t just an ordinary cougar…
When Jesús reached his fishing spot, he didn’t see Yameno Wellkeeper sitting quietly beside a rock until he’d settled into his fishing. He nearly fell in the river when Yameno spoke to him. “Well, here you are today when you should be in school, and on Saturday, when you should’ve been here, you weren’t.”
When Jesús’ heart stopped racing, he asked, “You’re that Indian, Yameno, aren’t you?” Yameno just nodded. “How did you know I was supposed to be here Saturday?”
“I saw a little girl crying.”
Jesús rolled his eyes and turned elaborately back to his fishing. “She would be dumb enough to cry about the whole thing.”
“Did you think she wouldn’t?”
Jesús shrugged his shoulders and looked away, dragging his fishing line slowly through the water, pretending to be intent on the fish. Finally he turned to Yameno, who sat waiting patiently. “We’ve been trying to live off the land, like you do.”
“I know,” Yameno nodded.
“How do you know? Hey,” the boy looked at him suspiciously. “Have you been watching us, or something?”
“Or something,” agreed Yameno, but said no more.
“People in town think you’re strange. Maybe they’re right.”
Yameno smiled. “They don’t say very nice things about you either. Are they right?”
Jesús looked at him, as if weighing the statement in his mind, then shrugged.
Yameno stood up.
Jesús reeled in his fishing line. “Where are you going?”
“To my home.”
“Do you really live in the woods? Can I go with you? Can I see your home?”
Yameno nodded his head, and turned off up the river toward a place where he could ford it. “Come along.” Jesús rushed to put his fishing gear away, and followed him up the river. When they reached Yameno’s clearing, Jesús stood at the edge, awed. As he walked slowly around the clearing, peering at the bark paintings and touching the wood and clay sculptures, he found a carving of a sitting coyote with a small squirrel crouched between his ears. He caressed it. “You sure put strange creatures together. I’d think a coyote’d eat a squirrel.”
“They’re Kumni and Chachuli,” replied Yameno. “They belong together. Coyote, like humans, is creative and inventive, but if he’s cut off from the voice of the lifeforce, his creativity is destructive. In my nation’s mythology – and also in Norse mythology – the squirrel runs up and down the tree of life carrying messages from the gods to humanity.”
“Chachuli? Is that the name you called Enid? She said you called her something like that.”
“Perhaps,” Yameno walked over to the cougar and the hawk. “When you see Enid, tell her about this cougar.”
“Oh, yeah, she was reading a book about a cougar.” Jesús reached down and caressed the little squirrel. “I’ve never done any wood carving.”
Yameno smiled. “I have some small pieces of driftwood. Would you like to learn how to carve them?” Jesús nodded eagerly and they spent the afternoon together each working on a carving.
As the sun began to reach toward the horizon, Yameno got up. “You should leave now, so you get home before dark. I’ll walk with you to the road.”
“Can I come again tomorrow?” Jesús asked, as he gathered his tools and scraps.
“Yes.” Yameno nodded his head slowly, “but after school. You have a good teacher. There’s no reason to ditch.” He picked up Jesús’ carving, stroking it a little before he placed it on a shelf inside his hut.
“I know.” Jesús followed behind him. “I only did it because Enid looked so… I don’t know.” He hung his head.
“You felt guilty.” He raised his eyebrows. “Right?”
Not waiting for an answer he turned and started down the path.
Not long after Yameno had left him at the road, a large red-tailed hawk came swooping past Jesús and landed on a fence post. It sat there a moment, preening its feathers. As Jesús stood on the road, astonished that the big bird should come so close, it fluttered its feathers and turned its unblinking eyes on him. Finally, it shrieked, spreading its huge wings. Lifting into the air with a mighty thrust, it flew in a circle over Jesús’ head, then headed out over the ocean to ride the wild air currents. Jesús continued home not knowing what to think of the strange encounter.
The next day in school, during morning free time, Giselle was startled out of her reveries when she saw Jesús and Enid, heads together, whispering eagerly in the corner where the children hung their coats and kept their belongings. Jesús had just returned from the office where he’d been lectured and given detention for ditching, but Giselle saw no trace of either contrition or anger.
“And one of the sculptures he’d made was a cougar with a hawk on its back. He told me to tell you about that one,” Jesús told Enid.
“A cougar? He told you to tell me about a cougar?” exclaimed Enid. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment. “Jesús, on Saturday… Didn’t you hear about the cougar?” She dropped her eyes. The experience with the cougar had been so important she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell anyone – even Jesús.
“Yeah, I heard about the cougar. Did you see it? I thought your grandfather saw it.”
She shrugged and started to walk away. “What?” Jesús grabbed her and turned her toward him. “Why won’t you tell me what happened?”
Giselle, seeing the discussion had become physical, was about to interfere when Enid put a hand on top of Jesús’ hand where he held her arm and pulled his hand away. Still holding his hand she began to whisper earnestly. “On Saturday when I went home after you didn’t come… it was nearly dark, and I was feeling very sad…”
“You were crying. The Indian told me.”
“Well, I wasn’t crying then. I was just going home and there was this large noise, an animal noise, and this huge cat was standing in the path. A cougar!”
“What did you do?”
“It started purring and lay down across the path. It was… it was meant for me, and… and…” The rest was so personal, so private, she didn’t want to tell.
Jesús shook her hand. “And what?”
“I lay down next to it and it… it licked my face.”
His eyes narrowed. “Are you sure it wasn’t a big dog?”
“It was a cougar!” Enid roared her answer, and tears spurted into her eyes. She let go of his hand and turned to stomp away.
He grabbed her shoulder. “Wait. I’m sorry. I believe you.”
“I knew I shouldn’t tell you. I knew it.” Enid started toward the reading corner, but turned just in time to see a wide eyed Giselle looking at her. She ducked her head, grabbed a book, and scrunched herself way back in the corner where a bunch of pillows lay haphazardly on the small rug.
Giselle shook her head trying to decide whether to interfere or not. She decided to leave them alone now, but keep an eye on them, hoping some day she had the good fortune to find out what it was all about.
By the time lunch recess came around, Enid had calmed down and was willing to talk to Jesús again. Slipping away to a hiding place inside a large, brightly painted, concrete pipe at the far end of the yard, they sat facing each other with their feet stretched up the curved walls. “I think Yameno – the Indian – must’ve had something to do with your cougar,” Jesús suggested. “Otherwise, why’d he tell me to tell you about the cougar sculpture?”
Enid nodded thoughtfully. “I want to go there with you. I want to see that sculpture and talk to that man.”
Jesús flipped a twig in the air. “You had a chance to talk to him before, but you didn’t.”
“Well, this time I will.” Her head was high and determined, and there was no sign of the timidity he was used to.
“Boy, you’ve changed!” he exclaimed.
She looked at him, her face straight and solemn. “It’s the cougar,” she said. “The cougar was for me.” The bell rang and the children walked silently toward the classroom. Without even thinking Jesús held the little girl’s hand.
When they returned to the room, Giselle didn’t notice their newly obvious friendship. She was too distracted with thoughts of the lunchroom conversation. “The Reverend Tarrant’s holding a town meeting tonight on the whole subject,” Rowena Dickerson was saying as Giselle walked into the lunchroom. “He says the cougar is evil. He says we need to kill the cougar.”
“What a bunch of nonsense!” Nicki shook her head. “He’ll get a mob of people up there with guns, and someone’ll get killed.”
“Well, maybe, Nicki,” intervened Harding, “but on the other hand, it might flush out whatever’s going on up there.”
“With a mob of idiots that think a cougar is a reincarnation of the devil? I doubt it.” She packed up her lunch and left.
Harding waited until the door was closed and leaned forward conspiratorially, rolling his eyes. “Well, none of us are surprised by her reaction, are we?”
Giselle sat down and opened her lunch. “Where’s this meeting going to be held?”
“You should go and find out about it,” Rowena urged. “Your house is right out there near where they saw the cougar.”
“Well, I might go to the meeting, but…”
Rowena interrupted Giselle. “I know you don’t believe in any of this, but if you went to the meeting and found out about what’s gone on before. If you knew about poor Mary Amundsen, you’d think twice about having a house up in those woods.”
“My house isn’t in the woods. It’s by the beach.”
“Well, all the same. It’s near the forest. You said you go walking in those woods. And besides, you’re kind of different yourself. I saw you talking to Dan Burroughs.” Rowena nodded her head firmly at Giselle.
“What has Dan Burroughs got to do with this?” Giselle said incredulously.
“Plenty. He talks to that Hazel Fraya all the time in the library. They’re friends,” said Harding.
“Well, I know she’s Mrs. Amundsen’s sister, but that doesn’t mean she had something to do with the cougar,” exclaimed Giselle. But… she thought. But maybe… maybe Hazel and Dan did have something to do with the weird stuff – the songs, the cougar and the hawk playing together. There was something about the way they acted… But, not something bad. I don’t think it’s bad, and I don’t think she caused her sister’s death!
“Gunther thought Hazel had something to do with it,” Rowena stated firmly. “And the Reverend Tarrant has always thought she was right in the middle of it – whatever it is – and he grew up with her.”
Giselle shook her head. “Well, where is this meeting going to be held? I’d better go find out what it’s all about.”
“At the Church of Those Born Again in Jesus at seven-thirty tonight.”
Oh, yeah, she thought, I remember that church. ‘Repent and Be Saved.’ “All right, I’ll be there.” She ate her lunch in silence, while the conversation milled about her. Nothing more was said about the cougar or the “ghosts”. She thought of Nicki’s exasperation. Only she thinks the cougar is just an ordinary cougar.
Giselle pulled up across the street from the church a little early that evening and watched as people got out of their cars speaking to each other as they headed in the door. Although she recognized some of them, the only person she knew was Mr. Coffman. She’d thought Rowena Dickerson would be here, but it was mostly men. She considered going home, but took a deep breath and walked quietly into the church.
It was impeccably clean, but except for a few very severe looking banners – “Except ye repent ye all shall perish, Luke 13:3”; “The Penalty of Sin is Eternal Torment” (no Bible reference she noticed); and one that made Giselle shiver: “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing, Eph.5:24,” – the church seemed bare. The altar, a table with an altar cloth across it and a brass cross in the center, sat at the front of the chancel with a pulpit to the right and a smaller lectionary to the left. A step ran the length of the chancel. On the far right was a small upright piano.
She hesitated at the back a minute or two before choosing a seat halfway down a row of folding chairs against the side wall. From her seat she could see not just the front of the church, but the audience as well. She noted a young man wearing a Yarmulke and a woman wearing a clerical collar sitting together in the fourth row.
A middle aged gray haired man, neatly dressed in slacks and a dress shirt, came down the center aisle and stood on the first step of the chancel facing the people. He raised his right hand to get the audience’s attention.
“Folks! Let’s settle and get down to business.” He waited a moment smiling nervously with his mouth, but not his eyes, while there was a last minute settling into seats. He leaned forward onto the tips of his toes and back to his heels, before continuing. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Reverend Jarvis Tarrant. We’re having this town meeting here tonight to discuss a very serious matter.” He paced along the step toward the right side of the church, away from Giselle, and then quickly turned back to face his audience. “A cougar has been sighted, yes, but not just an ordinary cougar. A manifestation of evil.”
Stepping forward off the step and up the center aisle, he added, “This is not the first time this cougar has come to Arundel.”
He looked over his audience, pausing briefly and nodding at the two in the fourth row, pausing again when he saw Giselle – Giselle wondered if it was because he didn’t know who she was, or because he did – and then turned back to the front. “This is not the first time it’s come to that place – those woods.” He waved an arm in the direction of the western hills.
He paused and smiled. “Hopefully some day in the future the forest will be logged and the wood put to good use…,” (Giselle shuddered) “but that’s a ways off. We have a problem – a problem that has to be taken care of now, not in the future.”
He mounted the steps again. Facing his audience, he spit out the words. “The cougar is here again. It’s here and it’s time to get rid of it before we have another tragedy like the one that befell Mary Amundsen.”
The lady sitting next to Giselle leaned over to her husband and whispered, “Some tragedy. She brought it on herself, if you ask me, messing around in those woods.”
“It’s time,” continued the preacher, “to organize a posse and kill that cougar.”
A group of young men in the back cheered.
In the fourth row, the young man with the yarmulke stood up. He held up his hands for silence. Leaning both hands on the chair in front of him, he said, “Reverend Tarrant, if I may interrupt for a moment.”
“Certainly, Rabbi Levinson.” Reverend Tarrant stood on the step facing the Rabbi with his hands grasped behind his back.
“Reverend Yates and I are here from the Robertsville Interfaith Council. Many of us on the council have congregants from Arundel. We’re both fairly new to the area and we don’t know any of the background about this cougar, or why people think it’s a manifestation of evil. Could you tell us more about this Mary Amundsen?”
“Yes,” Reverend Tarrant nodded. “We’ll start with Mary Amundsen, and then go back over the other sightings of the cougar.”
He rocked on his feet for a moment. “Twelve years ago Mary Amundsen was apparently walking out in the woods back of her house – and let me interject here,” he said, looking directly at Rabbi Levinson, “that lots of people have had uncomfortable feelings in that woods.” He continued, “Her husband, Gunther, went out looking for her and found her dead. She’d fallen and hit her head on a rock. A cougar had been seen nearby and the police found cougar paw prints near her body.”
“But, Reverend Tarrant,” interrupted Reverend Yates, jumping to her feet. “A cougar could have killed her without being a manifestation of evil. Also she could have just seen the cougar, been startled and fallen. Cougars don’t often attack adult human beings.”
“Well, yes,” responded Reverend Tarrant. “They have attacked humans, but not often. That’s true.”
“And it can’t be the same cougar,” Reverend Yates added. “Cougars don’t live that long.”
“Ah, yes, but this isn’t a normal cougar. Around here we have a history of unnatural cougar trouble that goes right back to the Indians.” He gestured toward a gray haired lady. “I’ve asked Muriel Chase, Dr. Chase’s wife and our unofficial town historian, to talk to us about that very thing. She’s going to give us a run down of all the cougar sightings that’ve been recorded over the years.”
As she stood he pointed to the right. “Bring your notes up to the lectionary, Mrs. Chase.”
Muriel Chase, a slight, twinkly little woman with long gray hair twisted haphazardly on top of her head and a sweet smile, moved up to the podium. “Let’s see,” she said, adjusting her glasses on her nose. “We’ll begin with the local Native Uhseans, the Tuwillian people. The information comes from a fascinating book about their mythology, written by a woman who actually spent time a hundred years ago interviewing and talking with a lot of natives who lived right here.”
“Mrs. Chase,” the Reverend interrupted. “I’d like to add here…” He hesitated. “We have to be careful when reading material about the Indians. Some people seem to idolize them, but they were heathens – godless. We need to read between the lines.”
“Oh.” Mrs. Chase’s eyes opened wide at Tarrant. She cleared her throat and opened her notebook, licking her forefinger as she peered down through her glasses and turned the pages. Finally she found the correct page and smiled at the audience again. “Here it is: ‘The cougar was seen as a vastly important part of the local pantheon.’”
The Reverend moved up the step and touched Mrs. Chase’s elbow. “May I interrupt again, Mrs. Chase?”
“Yes… yes, sure…” She blinked her eyes and backed away.
The Reverend turned and frowned at the audience. “A pantheon is a group of gods believed in by heathens – false gods, of course.” He turned back to the little woman. “Please go on.”
Giselle noticed Mrs. Chase’s eyes narrowing as she looked at Reverend Tarrant. “Thank you.” She nodded her head several times and returned to her reading. “‘Luhanada was considered to be the judge and the lawgiver.’ The cougar, that is. Luhanada is the Tuwillian name for cougar.”
Again the Reverend interrupted, holding up a hand in the traditional stop position and shaking his head apologetically. “I must add there is, of course, only one law giver and judge, and He certainly is not a cougar.”
She frowned at him, then shrugged her shoulders. “This is mythology, Reverend.”
Giselle almost laughed. This woman probably was not one of his parishioners.
“Ah,” he interjected with a raised finger and a smile on his shaking head, “but the Indians believed it to be true. It was a false god.”
Mrs. Chase stood looking at him blinking her eyes for a moment. “Or a metaphor.” She looked back at her notes. “But, here comes the part of local significance.” She turned back to the audience and smiled sweetly again, lifting the book:
To the Indians of the Tuwillia River there was an even greater importance, since a cougar had frequently been sighted by the young men and women of the village when they made their dreamfast at the age of fifteen. This cougar had seemed to them to be almost human. In fact, it is clear that the ceremonies of the secret society of the village almost certainly involved this cougar in some way. But when I questioned Chief Yanada about this, who, as I have already said, was a very important member of the secret society, he would only smile in that charming way of his…’”
“You can see as well as I can,” Reverand Tarrant interrupted, “the author of this book – a woman,” he smiled, and shook his head knowingly, “was being, as she put it herself, ‘charmed’ by this heathen.”
Mrs. Chase raised her eyebrows and looked at the Reverend. She carefully closed her book. “So,” she turned toward her audience, “A cougar has been sighted several times under strange circumstances, way back before the Europeans came to this community.”
“And of course,” added the Reverend, “I think all of you know where the Indians lived. They lived right next to the river where it backs up on the forest, the very part of the forest we’re talking about!”
Rabbi Levinson stood up. “Mrs. Chase, this is very interesting. Thank you for sharing this information, but can you tell me – at that time weren’t cougars a natural part of the environment around here? They were part of the original habitat, were they not?”
“Oh,” she responded, “I suppose they were, but you understand, this cougar was supposed to act differently – human.”
“Yes, I understand that,” he said, as he sat down.
“Now,” Mrs. Chase smiled, and then looked hesitantly at Reverend Tarrant in case he wished to interrupt again, “that takes care of the earliest written records about cougars in our area. Let’s see,” she peered through the bottom halves of her bifocals at the notebook as she flipped through the pages, again pausing every so often to lick her index finger. “Here it is. Let’s see. About forty years ago… Let’s see, yes. Well, actually thirty-nine years ago there was a cougar sighting by one Albert Swenson. He was out hunting in the forest and this is what he told the newspaper reporter.”
Mrs. Chase’s voice changed as she read the article and Giselle smiled at how well the little woman was able to assume the character of the hunter:
I saw this big red-tail hawk sitting up on the limb of a tree, and I was going to take a shot at it, and I had my gun up and was just about to pull the trigger when this huge cat comes leaping out at me and knocks the gun out of my hand, and then turns around and knocks me right over. The hawk flew up in the air, then came over our heads and flew off back of me, and the cougar took off in the same direction. Well, I thought I’d bag me a cougar, and I grabbed my gun and ran after it, but instead of the cougar, the next thing I saw was Hazel Fraya sitting on a log. And you know what she said? She said she never saw the cougar.
“Yes! Yes!” The Reverend banged his fist down on the podium for emphasis, startling poor Mrs. Chase. “She said she never saw the cougar, but of course, none of us believe that. Nobody did then either, because I remember the incident.” His eyes almost flamed! “We were both in high school at the time, and that Dan Burroughs had just come to town and was working with her father, and Hazel was spending a lot of time sitting out on the steps talking to him.” He cast his eyes from one end of the audience to the other. “And you know what else? Her parents didn’t say one word to her. They didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with her being so friendly with him. I believe they not only did not disapprove of her friendship with Dan Burroughs, but were a part of this whole thing. Way back then,” he thumped his fist again. “I think that whole family was involved in this.”
There was an angry murmur of sound in the audience. Giselle noted the reactions of Mrs. Chase, who was looking at the Reverend with a bewildered expression, and the rabbi and minister from Robertsville, who were frowning. Mrs. Chase doesn’t quite buy this stuff, thought Giselle. And oh, thought Giselle, the minister who kept Enid from visiting Hazel! I’ll bet this Tarrant’s the one. He has some kind of serious problem with Hazel. Is it about racism? Does racism really explain all of this?
“No,” continued the Reverend, “we certainly didn’t believe her, but we didn’t realize then just exactly what was involved. We just thought she was in the forest up to no good with that Dan Burroughs.” He shook his right index finger wildly. “As far as the cougar was concerned, everyone thought it was just a dangerous animal that needed to be eliminated. The men all went hunting it, but they couldn’t find it.”
He began to pace back and forth on the step. “It wasn’t until later that we began to really understand what was going on here. That was when Mary Amundsen was killed.”
He turned to where the rabbi and minister sat in the audience, “Yes, Rabbi Levinson and…” he hesitated, his voice almost a sneer, “Reverend Yates, this you will find very interesting. Please, Mrs. Chase, tell us what Gunther Amundsen said to the police officer when he reported his wife’s death.”
“All right.” She turned toward the rabbi and minister. “Gunther was apparently quite excited and frightened when he talked to the police officers about his wife’s death. He kept repeating – and I quote from the officers’ written report – ‘I thought it was evil, but they were all involved in it.’ But when the police asked him later, he wouldn’t talk about it.”
“And that,” added the Reverend, “is when he withdrew – stopped going to church, stopped talking to anyone. He knows something, but he’s too afraid to talk.” He looked directly at Reverend Yates. “I think they were involved in devil worship.”
Reverend Yates who’d looked questioning, if not skeptical, before this, was now slowly nodding her head. “I see you nodding your head,” said Reverend Tarrant. “Now you’re beginning to believe.”
“Well,” replied Reverend Yates, sitting forward in her seat. “I would want to look farther into the matter, but, yes, I do begin to be more suspicious when someone mentions more than one person involved, and being afraid. But not of a cougar. I don’t believe a cougar…”
Rabbi Levinson stood up. “Yes, not a cougar. Reverend Tarrant, before you go off cougar hunting, I really think it would be a good idea to call in some experts. In our Robertsville Interfaith Council we actually have a Catholic priest, Father Keegan Gilchrist, who has done some studies on Satanism and similar cults. He wanted to come to this meeting, but had to go out of town.”
“No,” yelled someone in the back. “Let’s kill the damn thing. We don’t need no help from no Catholics.”
“Or Jews either,” yelled someone else. “Yeah, yeah,” echoed a lot of voices.
Reverend Tarrant smiled uncomfortably. “Ah, Rabbi Levinson, suppose you go ahead and contact your expert. We’ll go ahead and kill that cougar, if we can, but those woods will still be evil. And when your expert gets here, why, he can exorcise the woods. How’s that?”
“Not okay, really,” responded the rabbi, sitting back down and crossing his arms. “Taking a mob of people out into the forest armed with rifles is asking for trouble. People will be killing each other instead of the cougar.”
“Yes,” agreed Reverend Yates, “And if it is a manifestation of evil, you won’t be able to kill it with a rifle.”
“Oh, well, neither of you have been around here very long,” Reverend Tarrant responded in a voice that began to sound impatient. “We’re perfectly capable of handling a hunt safely.”
“Yeah,” roared the young men at the back of the room.
Reverend Tarrant smiled again. “You just call your exorcist or whatever he is out here. I think that would be just fine, and he can exorcise Hazel Fraya, and that Dan Burroughs and the like, but we’ll take care of the cougar.”
The two religious leaders shook their heads. “We’re not talking about exorcism – he’s not an exorcist. He studies Satanists and other cults. But I will call, Keegan… Father Gilchrist,” Rabbi Levinson added.
Suddenly, Mr. Coffman from the hardware store stood up. “I vote we get planning this hunt. We should do it Saturday.” He turned around in a circle looking at all the members of the audience. “Are we all agreed, men?” There was a cacophony of foot stamping and applause. Giselle noticed the startled look on Mrs. Chase’ face.
“Then Saturday it is,” Tarrant shouted out over the din. “Coffman, why don’t you organize the details? Where to meet and so forth.”
Coffman nodded his head in agreement and walked to the front of the church.
This is crazy, thought Giselle. I can’t stand listening to this anymore. Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, she stood up and made her way quietly toward the door. She noticed the two religious leaders from Robertsville and Mrs. Chase doing the same. One group of people turned their heads toward her as she passed. A middle-aged man leaned over to another man sitting in front of him and she heard him whisper, “Look, there’s that teacher who bought that old Bidewell house out there by the beach in front of the forest. I wonder why she’s leaving now. You’d think she’d want to stay and find out what’s going on.” She grimaced and rushed out the door.
Outside Mrs. Chase, the rabbi, and the minister were talking. “I’m glad you told us about this meeting, Muriel,” Reverend Yates was saying. “This is alarming.”
The rabbi turned to the minister, “But surely you don’t believe there are Satanists involved in this, Clare?”
The minister shrugged. “I don’t know, Micah. A few years back there were rumors of horrible things happening. Not here, but…”
Mrs. Chase reached out to Giselle. “I think you’re the new teacher. I’m Muriel Chase, and this is Reverend Clare Yates.” She gestured toward the woman and then the man, “and Rabbi Micah Levinson. I attend Clare’s church, Robertsville Methodist.”
Micah Levinson smiled at her. “What do you think of all this?”
Giselle shook her head. “I don’t think it has anything to do with evil.” She turned to look at Clare. “Or Satanists either. Have you ever met Hazel Fraya and Dan Burroughs?”
Muriel nodded and smiled. “Yes, they’re very nice people. I don’t for one minute think they’re Satanists.”
“Well, probably not,” Clare conceded. “I just think Father Gilchrist should check it all out. That’s all.”
Giselle excused herself and headed for her car.
The next day at lunch the room was a-buzz with discussion of the meeting. Rowena Dickerson’s husband had gone and was excitedly making plans to join the hunt on Saturday. Giselle couldn’t stand it and left.
On the way to the office to check her box for messages, she ran into Ms. Nichols. “Nicki,” she asked. “I wanted to ask you – well, I guess I’m concerned. I went to that meeting last night about the cougar, and the Reverend Tarrant…”
“Oh, that Jarvis Tarrant.” Nicki shook her head in disgust. “The thing that’s so maddening about him is he should be an intelligent man! You know, Giselle, I don’t think he’s all bad. He and I are about the same age. I grew up in Robertsville, so I didn’t know him as a child, but when I first started teaching here I was only about twenty-two years old. He had just gotten back from some Bible college in the east and was ready to start this little church he runs. He was an idealist of sorts, really. At least, he was enthusiastic about his church.”
“When did he change?”
“Well, twelve or thirteen years ago, when Mary Amundsen died, he got real excited and was talking about the devil. Actually, though, he’s always been a little crazy where Hazel Fraya is concerned.”
“And she’s so nice,” exclaimed Giselle. “She’s been so helpful to me in the library. She seems like an intelligent and genuinely good person.”
“To me, too,” Nicki nodded her head. “But Jarvis has always been upset about her and especially about her friendship with Dan Burroughs. And…” Nicki lifted her index finger and shook it significantly, “Jarvis has never gotten married. I kind of think he had a thing for her once, and Dan Burroughs came along…”
“But she never married Dan?” Giselle interrupted.
“No, I’ve never understood that – or maybe I do. They’d have to leave and go to a city or something if they got married, because people here would make life intolerable for them. Well, they do anyway. But why haven’t they left? Why does Dan Burroughs stick around a place where people are so crude and nasty to him? He’s an intelligent, educated man. Why is he working in Arundel as a gardener, when he could be working in a city some place at almost any job he chose?” Nicki shrugged her shoulders.
“Tarrant said he came here to work for Hazel’s father.”
“That’s right. He came here when he was about twenty for his summer vacations. He was going to college down in Greenville. Hazel was just finishing high school. He came and worked with Hazel’s father, who had a small farm. Jarvis said he didn’t think her dad really needed help. It seems to me I remember something about doing research, too.”
“Well, maybe her dad was just helping Dan out.”
“Maybe, I don’t know.” Nicki shoved one hand in the pocket of her gray slacks, and ran the fingers of her other hand through her hair.
“You know, Giselle, the only thing I do really know about this whole thing, is that if they felt they could organize a hunt for Hazel and Dan, they would. They’re afraid of this cougar, but they’re really afraid of Hazel and Dan… and Yameno Wellkeeper, too.”
“They’re different. People are afraid of people who are different.”
“Yes,” Nicki nodded. “Yes. Very scary.” She looked out the window.
Scary for her, too, if she’s lesbian, thought Giselle.
She felt agitated and upset all afternoon. What can I do? Maybe go to the library and talk to Hazel Fraya – warn her about the hunt, if she doesn’t already know. She looked out over the heads of her students who were deep in silent reading. Maybe the librarian would tell her what it was all about. Maybe. But why would the woman trust her?
When she walked into the library that afternoon, she found Dan Burroughs there sitting in a chair beside Hazel’s desk. Both looked up at her warily as she came in the door, and Dan stood. “Hi,” said Giselle awkwardly.
“Can I help you, dear,” said the librarian.
“No, I mean… Well, I just came here because…” She pushed her hair away from her face and walked over to the desk. “This is probably none of my business,” she started again, “but people are worked up about a cougar and – this sounds so strange…”
Hazel interrupted. “It is strange. We understand.”
“I just wanted to warn you.”
“To warn us?”
“Yes, they – they’re going to hunt for the cougar on Saturday.”
Hazel and Dan shot an alarmed look at each other.
“You didn’t know?” continued Giselle. “They’re forming a posse to hunt for this poor cougar, and somehow they connect it with you.”
Dan sank back in the chair. “We knew Amundsen saw the cougar, but we didn’t know about the hunt.”
Hazel gestured at the other chair for Giselle. “Tell us, dear.”
Giselle told them everything and they listened intently. She paused after telling them the stories of the newspaper clipping and of Mary Amundsen’s death, but they didn’t comment. After she finished, Hazel leaned over and put her hand on Giselle’s arm. “Thank you, Giselle. Thank you.”
Giselle waited a moment. She wanted to talk about the cougar and the hawk, about her experiences with the Earth Woman Tree Woman, but Hazel and Dan didn’t say anything, and she didn’t either. Instead she went home and sat for a long time leaning against the wooden woman.
That night Luha and Tata, climbed the path to Yameno’s.
Holding hands and leaning into each other, they sat quietly next to the little waterfall while Yameno sang:
Water of life,
Water of the soul of earth,
wash me in your love.
Dipping their hands into the pool they drank of the sacred waters feeling the spirit of the earth pour over them, the silence of the night thrumming like a drumbeat, a heartbeat.
Come, come, whispered the night.
Hammer your feet
to the beat of the drum.
“Did you hear?” whispered the cat woman.
Come, come, answer the call
of the earth and the sun.
“Ninas Twei is calling us,” Yameno added.
Tata nodded. “Hunt or no hunt, we have to go as soon as we can all gather”
“Saturday,” added Luha.
Dark Hunter’s Moon]
Jesús continued to visit Yameno after school while the town planned the cougar hunt. By the end of the week he had fashioned his own rough version of a squirrel. On Saturday he carried it with him to his meeting with Enid at their spot by the river.
“Look.” He shoved the squirrel eagerly at the little girl. “This is the squirrel I carved with Yameno. Do you like it? Do you think it looks like a squirrel?”
Enid rubbed her hands down the ridges of the rough carved wood and smiled. “It’s really nice. It looks like my little squirrels under the bush.”
“Take it. I mean…” Jesús shrugged his shoulders and looked off to one side. “If you’d like it, you could have it. It’s not that great or anything.”
“Oh, yes,” she smiled broadly. “I really like it.” She brushed the wooden fur with her hand.
“Well, come on. Let’s go to the man’s house. You said you wanted to see his cougar statue.” They ran off through the forest toward Yameno’s clearing.
All that Saturday morning Giselle felt restless as she tried to settle down to her school work, her eyes constantly drawn to the Earth Woman Tree Woman. Later this afternoon the forest would be full of hunters, tramping around with their guns, hoping to find the cougar at dusk when it might be hunting for food. She thought the cat wouldn’t be found. She’d heard it sing. She knew it was something more than a real cougar, but still, no good could come out of all those men out there with guns.
She went to sit by the wooden woman, the dogs and the cat beside her. Suddenly she felt overwhelmed by some urgency, some need.
The cat patted her arm and she looked down at him.
Go. Go now, whispered the voice in her head. Go!
Giselle took off at a run, the dogs flying at her heels. She slowed, panting, as she climbed up the hill and walked down the ridge to the little meadow and Yameno’s garden. As she came down the path to the clearing, she heard low voices and a child’s laugh. She almost turned back, but the dogs ran on into the clearing and she followed, stopping short in surprise when she saw Jesús and Enid sitting cross-legged on the ground beside Yameno as he poured tea into small carved cups in front of them.
The children jumped up startled, exclaiming, “Ms. Raphael!”
Yameno paused for a moment, looking up at her, and smiled, and a warm shy joy spread through her. His eyes filled with sweet laughter as he stood and bowed slightly, holding out his hand in welcome. “Please join us, Ms. Raphael.”
Giselle walked over and sat with them in the circle around the teapot. Yameno slipped into his little house and returned with another carved cup. As he handed it to Giselle, she saw that it was an oak tree, earth-rooted at its base, twining around the cup, and up the handle.
“Look,” Enid said, thrusting her cup at Giselle. “Mine’s a squirrel and Jesús’s is a coyote.”
Giselle admired the cups, adding, “But what are you children doing here?”
The once shy child began chattering like the squirrel on her cup. The story of meeting Jesús in the forest and the friendship they had formed with each other, and with Yameno, just spilled out of her. Jesús, too, loosened under the influence of the smiling adults and urged Enid to show Giselle the squirrel he had carved. Giselle took the carving in her hands and looked carefully at the workmanship. “You do very fine work, Jesús. Someday you’ll be a famous artist or architect.” She returned the carving.
Enid’s eyes opened wide and she turned to Yameno. “I forgot about the cougar. You told Jesús to tell me about the cougar.” She stood up, looking around until she saw the carved figure emerging from the woods at the other side of the clearing.
Yameno looked at her, his face as serious as hers, but with a small smile lingering on the edges. “Her name is Luhanada.”
“It was real, wasn’t it?” Enid walked over to the sculpture, running her fingers over the cougar’s head. “There really was a cougar, wasn’t there, and she was for me, wasn’t she?”
“Yes. She was for you.”
“Did you know there’s a hunting party looking for that cougar?” interjected Giselle.
“Yes,” Yameno nodded.
Giselle leaned forward. “Perhaps we shouldn’t be here at all. Perhaps you shouldn’t be here.” She wanted to say, they might hunt you instead of the cougar.
He shrugged his shoulders. “But we have to be here.”
We have to be here? She looked at him, but didn’t ask the question.
Enid returned. “Why do you call me Chachuli? What does it mean?”
“It’s the Tuwillian name for squirrel, or tree runner.”
“Like the squirrel on my cup.”
Yameno nodded. “Now, my name, Yameno, is also a Tuwillian name.” He raised his cup to her. “I’m the Wolfwind.”
Giselle reached out her hand to look closer at the wolf cup. Her eyes met Yameno’s. She looked away, feeling her face warm as she released the cup and Yameno placed it carefully in front of him.
Jesús picked up his cup. “You told me coyote was like humans, creative and inventive.”
“Yes – although sometimes he gets man in a lot of trouble!” replied Yameno. “Kumni is his Tuwillian name.”
“And the Earth Woman Tree Woman?” Giselle asked.
“You created her, although there’s plenty of mythological precedence for tree women – and for earth goddesses, too. But not in Tuwillian mythology.”
Giselle became very still. I created her?
She felt a power like thunder surging through her. What am I?
Yameno laughed – a quiet, joyful, expectant laugh.
One of the dogs sat up with a sharp bark. “Someone’s coming,” exclaimed Enid, jumping up, and the others hurried to their feet.
“It’s all right. They’re expected.” Yameno moved to greet Hazel Fraya and Dan Burroughs as they stepped into the clearing. Giselle looked intently at their faces. The cougar and the hawk, she thought. Of course.
Hazel flashed a smile at the children, and then walked over to Giselle, taking her hand.
“Come and sit,” offered Yameno, gesturing toward the circle where he and Giselle and the children had just been sitting, but Enid backed away, moving instinctively to the carving of the cougar for protection.
Hazel smiled. “Do you look to the cougar – to Luhanada for protection?” Enid tipped her head to the side and looked at her aunt.
Yameno interrupted. “Come back to the circle, Chachuli.” She nodded and returned to the circle, sitting between her aunt and Jesús. Yameno went into his hut and returned with two more carved cups and a carved pitcher. He handed Enid a cup. “Chachuli, will you give this to your aunt.” It was a cougar, its tail curved to form the handle.
Enid looked from the cup to her aunt. Luha smiled and nodded as she took the cup from the child’s hands.
Yameno handed a cup carved like a hawk in flight, with its head thrust up in a silent shriek, to Dan. “Do you children know Dan, Tata?”
Jesús looked at Dan. “The hawk.”
Tata smiled, his eyes bright and piercing.
“I don’t understand,” whispered Giselle.
Dan nodded, reaching out to touch her hand. “We don’t any of us really understand, but we’ve done this many times before and it’s good – it’s right.”
“The shape changing?” Giselle asked.
“Yes. We become our Tla Twei, our ‘one dance/song’ in Tuwillian.”
“And the Tla Twein travel to Ninas Twei, the place where all life dances,” added Hazel.
But I still don’t…, thought Giselle.
Yameno took Enid’s cup, pouring the tea on the ground and washing it out with water from the pitcher. He did the same with Jesús’ cup and then put both cups back in front of them, turning to Giselle. “I promise you, this has to do with good, not evil; life, not death.”
He held the carved pitcher high over his head, and Giselle felt exultant as she saw it was a carving of the Earth Woman, Tree Woman riding the back of the wolf. Yameno leaned down to pour the liquid from it into their cups.
“Water from the sacred spring,” he intoned. “Water is the most magical thing on earth. My people have been the protectors of this spring for hundreds of years. Now I am the last Tuwillian here in Arundel.”
“The last Tuwillian!” exclaimed Giselle. “Coffman said your great-aunt died. That’s why you quit school and came back.”
He nodded. “She was the last of our people here. Someone had to come back and protect the spring.” He sat back and took his cup in both hands, the head of the wolf rising above his fingers, its mouth open as if to sing. Each of them followed suit, holding their cups before them.
Water of life, he sang, Purify me… and they all repeated:
Water of life,
Water of the soul of earth,
wash me in your love.
Hazel raised her cup, “To the journey.”
Dan responded, “To Ninas Twei.”
As Giselle drank from the cup, she heard the wolves singing, encircling, coming close, and closer. As they sang, a pale blue mist wove its way around the circle in undulating waves, winding about them, catching each of them in its wispy caress. She felt Yameno’s hand on hers, pulling her to him. As she moved, she became the Earth Woman Tree Woman, and he, the Wolfwind.
“The journey,” she whispered, and as she jumped onto the back of the waiting wolf, she felt a pull like a cord drawing her gently, insistently, linking her to the life force, an umbilical to the mother. They raced away through the mists, the cougar ahead of them, the hawk clinging to her back, her mouth open in a haunting caterwaul, pierced by the hawk’s harsh cry. Behind them ran the coyote, the little squirrel riding between his ears.
The Journey to Ninas Twei
As they raced through a thickness darker than night, warmer than light, the air vibrated like a taut bow string, singing of many feet thundering, drawn to the One, to the source. On either side of her came the music of the wolves, the cougar, the hawk, singing their songs:
I am the wild, guardian earth traveler, sang the wolf, followed by the cougar’s high pitched chant, I am I!
High flyer! skirled the hawk.
We are the lone, the many, the mirror, came the howling chorus of the pack. We bear the songs for those seeking the Dance!
Suddenly the song surged within her, and her voice sang out into the whirling mists, mingling with theirs.
I am the fullness. I am the secret, she called.
My soul singing touches the moon and the sun, joined the wolf.
I am justice. I am wisdom, sang the cougar.
For I am the wild wings of the earth, cried the hawk.
I am the answer, she whispered. The bearer of life.
We bear the songs for those seeking the One.
Their voices reached a peak of intensity, shattering the mists, throwing points of glittering light against the whirling blue walls around them, and then there was silence like an explosion.
Quietly, slipping into the silence like a rabbit into a forbidden garden, the children joined the song:
I am the writer of poetry, sang the little squirrel.
Voice of the universe,
Fluid as the world of dream.
I see the whole in every part,
I see the things that aren’t seen.
And then the coyote’s brassier voice:
I am the echo of creation.
I see the earth in her splendor.
My hands draw the dreams of the universe,
The human heart at its core,
So the joy of humanity can soar.
So the joy of humanity can soar.
Then all around them hundreds of voices joined together as one:
Seas crashing, like thunder rolling, like drums beating,
a call to the brethren, a cry to the wary,
The time has come!
Come! Come! Hammer your feet to the beat of the drum.
Come! Come! Lift up your voices to answer the One.
Come! Come! Answer the call of the earth and the sun!
Suddenly they were swept onto the rim of a swirling vortex and they slid, round and down, pulled ever toward the center, chanting with rolling thundering drums:
Come! Come! Come!
They fell into the heart and the heat, and were the heart and the heat and all things, and the Earth Woman Tree Woman, who was all things and one thing, felt an elation, an ecstasy…
The drum stopped and there was a sudden sharp pain. Unbearable pain.
She cried out, “What is it? What is the pain?”
“Danger,” cried the others. “Danger.”
The pain came again, and it was cold like a knife of ice piercing the heart.
The voices cried out again, “Danger. Danger.”
Out of the darkness a voice called in anguish, “The pain!”
Then the drums began to beat again, a weak fearful beat.
Life, they whispered. Life, life. Live, live. Come, come…
The drums strengthened. The mists whirled them around and around and down and down into the center and the song began again:
Come, come! Hammer your feet to the beat of the drum.
Come, come! Lift up your voice to answer the One.
Come, come! Answer the call of the earth and the sun!
The voices waxed stronger, the mists began to lighten, and as the world around them stopped spinning, they could see towering walls of rock, and far above them, stars, clear and bright almost as the moon. They were standing in the midst of a vast bowl, a valley of stone surrounded by jagged mountain peaks.
Carved in the rock cliffs were steps, circling higher and higher on the mountainsides, twisting in and among each other in impossible spirals. As they watched, the steps filled, as if from nowhere, with a multitude of color and movement, leaving some profoundly empty places here and there. The music slowed and slowed. “Where are we?” whispered Earth Woman Tree Woman, feeling her roots cling to the rock beneath her feet.
Yameno answered, “We’re at Ninas Twei and this is Din Tsin Twei, the place of the Dance of Life.”
The little coyote leaned against Earth Woman Tree Woman’s trunk, and she felt Chachuli’s little squirrel paws climb onto a low hanging branch.
The music stopped.
All movement stopped.
The huge amphitheatre dropped suddenly into silence – deep, hypnotic silence.
The stars pulsed with a rhythmic brightness that was almost sound, like a deep, deep drum beat and the Tree Woman felt far within her something welling, something rising to the surface. It crept upward into her consciousness and as it flowed to the surface, all of the spirals drew breath as if they were one creature and chanted:
We are the One and the many.
We are the life force,
We are the center,
We are the all,
The nameless and the named.
We are the whole, greater than the parts.
Then the chanting divided, and the spirals began to move. Enid jumped up into the Tree Woman’s branches, climbing high to get a good view.
One spiral, full of quivering greens like light on silk, spotted with reds and blues and yellows, glimmering with purples and pinks, sang:
We are the kingdom Plantae.
A second spiral, the brown of velvet flickering in candlelight, shot through with the blues and reds of feathers, the shimmering of silvery scales, and the grays and whites of fur, with large polished areas of lacquered black, returned:
We are the kingdom Animalia.
The spirals danced, parading their beauty in front, above, and around the Tla Twein.
Monera, sang one, Fungi, sang another, and the one flickered with unrecognizable light and dark, while the other’s browns and greens and yellows began to take shape and divide. Myxomycophyta, called the green, silken flowing of the slime molds, and Eumycophyta, answered the others and began to divide again.
“Look, mushrooms,” whispered Kumni, jumping up against the Tree Woman to nose Chachuli’s fore leg.
Suddenly a different spiral started to flicker and wind its way in front of them. Protista, they chanted and then they divided and called their names to each other.
They began a graceful dreamy dance, some moving with the swooshing motions of their flagella, and others flowing their shapes out and in and around, in a constant rhythmic pulse. Then the flickering green of the Plantae swirled forward again, and the Tracheophyta twined themselves like vines through the pebbled greens and browns and reds of the Chlorophyta, the Phaeophyta, the Rhodophyta, and the Bryophyta, singing sweetly of the beauty of their colors and scents, and their love of the sun, and the earth, and the waters that feed them.
“Look,” whispered Chachuli, “Flowers – so many flowers – and so many colors. Like paint dripped on oil and swirled and whirled together.”
The flowers whispered back, Angiospermae.
“I’m overwhelmed,” the Tree Woman murmured. “I’m speechless.”
Luhanada twitched her ears forward and nodded her head. “This isn’t the first time for me, but its beauty and wonder has never lessened.” She shivered, remembering the last time, when they had not made it as far as Ninas Twei. “We’re here,” she whispered to herself, blocking Gunther’s hysterical screams about evil and the devil from her memory. “This time we made it. We’re here.”
“Look,” cried Kumni. “Look at the animals!” and they watched the swirl of Animalia in all its awesome variety.
Parazoa, cried a small group, fantastically shaped.
“Can they be animals?” asked Chachuli.
“They’re the sponges,” answered Yameno. “The line between animals and plants is sometimes smudged.”
Metazoa, cried the rest. Cnidaria, came a treble song of sea anemones, corals, and jelly fish in bright pastels. Next came twining worms, like ribbons and hair, long and short, round and flat, dancing in undulating waves of luminescent beauty, and their chant was like the whispering of wind through the grass.
Their song slipped off into the edges of the spiral as the sudden trumpeting of the mollusks sang out. Amphineura, boomed the chitons in a deep bass and the others responded in harmonic quaverings.
They, too, faded into the distance as a high pitched whining flew in, circling above their heads as it reached its ear piercing crescendo. Anthropoda, they buzzed. Above their heads they saw a cloud of bright colors, and lacquered blacks and browns: The Chelicerata, with their spiders and scorpions, and the deep voiced, ancient horse shoe crab, and the Mandibulata, with its Crustacea, and centipedes and millipedes, and the thousands and thousands of insects. “Oh!” whispered Chachuli. “Oh! Oh!” Her little squirrel eyes were round and bright as she stared open mouthed at the multitudinous cloud.
Again the spirals swirled, and out came the Echinodermata. “Are these the plants again?” asked Kumni.
“No,” murmured Tata. “They’re animals, just like us – we’re still seeing the Metazoa.” He stood with his taloned feet curled around the top of a stone wall behind the other Tla Twein. If only we could have gotten Gunther this far, he thought. He couldn’t have thought this was evil.
“Oh, a starfish!” cried out Chachuli. Tata spread his red tail and the chanting continued:
“That’s us,” Tata explained and the swirling creatures divided again.
Urochordata, called one group. Cephalochordata, called another, and then, Vertebrata.
“That’s us, too,” Kumni called out. “We have back bones. We’re vertebrates.” Tree Woman smiled and dropped her branched hand on his furry coyote shoulder.
Agnatha, called some fish. Chondrichthyes, answered the sharks. Amphibia, rumbled the salamanders, toads and frogs. Reptilia, hissed the snakes and the lizards, and, Aves, aves, aves, whistled and twittered the multicolored birds of the air.
Last of all came the parade of the larger animals. Mammalia, they cried in unison. Monotremata, intoned the three egg bearing species, as they moved ponderously up the spiral.
“A duck-billed platypus! I’ve always wanted to see one,” exclaimed Tree Woman.
A kangaroo hopped by singing, Marsupialia, Macropodidae, Megaleia rufa, followed by the shrill songs of many other furry creatures singing, Marsupialia, Tarsipes spenserae, and Marsupialia, Phascolarctos cinereus.
And they came and came – the Insectivora, the Chiroptera, the Edentata, the Rodentia, the Lagomorpha, and the giant whales and playful dolphins of the Cetaceans. The Proboscidea lumbered by, singing their names in their trumpeting voices, followed by the gentle sea cows and manatees of the Sirenian order. The horse of the Perissodactyl galloped and shook his mane at the children while the Artiodactyls calmly chewed their cuds.
“Oh, my,” exclaimed Enid, as the large Felidae of the Carnivore order proclaimed their names.
I am Felis yagouaroudi… And I am Felis rufa, they called. And I, roared the largest of all, I am Leo leo, its voice booming through the universe.
The spiral wound on, and as the next order came on the heels of the roaring lion, Giselle noticed that one of the vacant spots was here.
Primates, sang out the lemurs and monkeys and apes, but their voices were thin as if some essential harmony were missing.
We’re the ones, thought Giselle. We’re missing. Among all this vast multitude of living things, this endless listing of names, this communing of the life force, there is no representative of Homo sapiens.
The Hunt: Missing Children
At seven o’clock that night, Coffman’s grandson, Tom, went looking in the forest for his granddad and the rest of the hunters to tell them the little Amundsen girl was missing. The deputy sheriff was gathering people to look for her, afraid she’d been attacked by the cougar. “Mom’s calling everyone. The deputy says we should all meet back by the road where you parked your pickups.”
The hunters headed back to their trucks as more cars and trucks rumbled down the highway, filling the cleared space at the edge of the road. Men climbed out, their rifles in hand, ready to search for the child, the cougar, and anything else strange to be found in the forest. The deputy’s black and white pulled in with them, and they all gathered around.
“Amundsen says she goes out in the woods to play every Saturday, but she’s always back by dark,” said the deputy.
“What’s a little girl like that doing playing in these woods, that’s what I’d like to know?” one man asked, shifting his rifle back and forth between his hands. “Didn’t his daughter die out in the forest?”
“No,” said the deputy, “that was his wife. His daughter killed herself.”
“Anyway,” Coffman added, “he shouldn’t of let the girl go out there every Saturday. He’s crazy.” The deputy thought so, too. He remembered when Amundsen’d found his wife dead in the forest. He’d thought the man was insane. At first Gunther had yelled all this stuff about the devil and evil and the cougar – mostly he’d yelled about the cougar – and there’d been cougar prints on the ground all around the woman, but the body hadn’t been touched. There were no bite marks or bruises, except where her head hit the rock, and a bruise on her arm. The other strange thing had been the way Gunther had reacted to the feathers. There’d been feathers on the ground near her – just ordinary feathers – and Gunther had mumbled about pulling the feathers out of her wings. But the cougar prints were there, and the whole thing’d been odd.
He surveyed the crowd. “Looks like almost all the town’s here, but where’s Dan Burroughs? I stopped by his house on the way here. I thought he’d be a help, since he knows the forest so well. His car was there, but he wasn’t.”
Harding frowned. “He comes into the forest often enough to fish – he says.” He turned to Tom. “Your mom might not have called him.”
Coffman interrupted. “There’s no way she’d know his number.” He spit on the ground.
“Maybe he’s with Hazel Fraya,” smirked Dickerson. Some of the men laughed and some frowned.
“Maybe they’re already in the forest,” muttered Coffman.
“Maybe they’re looking for the child,” suggested Dr. Chase, the historian’s husband.
“Hah!” exclaimed Dickerson. “You must not of been at the meeting last Monday night, or you’d know those two have something to do with the bad stuff happening here. They’re devil worshipers!”
Dr. Chase frowned at him. Muriel had told him about the meeting and they’d both agreed the devil worship thing was crazy. When Tom’s mother called this evening to tell them about the missing child, he’d headed for the search and Muriel’d called Reverend Clare asking Clare and some of the others from the Robertsville Interfaith Council to join them on the hunt to help defuse any trouble.
Dickerson waved his old rifle over his head. “But we’ll fix ‘em. You know what I got? I got a 400 grain mold for this rifle and I cast up some silver bullets last night. I got ‘em right here. Melted down some of my wife’s silverware she got from her grandmother. That devil’s not going to get away from me.”
“Well, good, Dickerson,” Reverend Tarrant slapped him on the back. “We don’t know just what it’ll take, but sometimes these old folk tales have some truth to them.”
Dr. Chase frowned. “Hazel Fraya’s the little girl’s aunt. She probably is looking for her.”
Reverend Tarrant shook his head, as he pulled his rifle up close to his chest. “Who would have told them? Not Amundsen. There’s no love lost between them.”
“And my daughter wouldn’t dare call her, not if she knows what’s good for her,” muttered Coffman.
Tom looked at the ground and pushed some leaves around with his his foot.
“Well,” the deputy cleared his throat. “Let’s figure out where to begin.”
While he was pulling out a map and spreading it across the hood of his car, Gunther Amundsen walked out of the forest, his old 30/30 in his hand, and stood silently, not meeting anyone’s eyes. It was Harding who finally spoke. “Don’t worry, Amundsen,” he said. “We’ll find your grandkid.”
Amundsen scowled. If it’s not too late. If Hazel and Dan hadn’t already taken her to that place with the fog and the drumming, losing her body to some animal.
The deputy nodded at him. “You have any idea where in the forest she hung out?” he asked, pointing to the map with his flashlight. The man shook his head.
Just then an old pickup drove up and a bearded man jumped out, his eyes scanning the crowd warily until he found the deputy. Harding’s eyes narrowed.
The man walked quickly to the deputy. “What, McCrae?” the deputy asked curtly.
“I just heard the girl’s missing. My son’s missing, too. He went fishing in the woods and hasn’t come home.”
“Is that unusual?” The deputy glared at McCrae.
McCrae bristled. “He’s usually home by dark.”
The deputy sighed and turned to the crowd. “So we’re looking for two children.” He raised his voice. “Listen up, everyone. The McCrae kid is missing, too.”
Harding stepped over next to them, pointedly ignoring Billy McCrae. “They know each other,” he told the deputy. “They’re both in the same class with that new teacher, Giselle Raphael.”
The deputy nodded his head. “I’ve met her. She lives through the forest over on the coast.”
“Hey, Amundsen,” Harding called out. “Listen to this.” Gunther Amundsen walked over, his face locked in its stony frown. “Do you know Jesús McCrae?” Harding asked. “He’s in Enid’s class and he’s no good.”
“Hey,” yelled McCrae, but Harding ignored him.
“One day I saw them together out on the playground, and they were sneaking around inside the cement pipe out there, and when they came out they were holding hands. I’d have done something about it, but that teacher of theirs, Ms. Raphael, protects that Jesús, and Ms. Nichols…” He drew out the “Ms.” and sneered. “Ms. Nichols backs her up, so I didn’t say anything. But it struck me at the time he had your girl under some kind of control. He’s a mean one, that Jesús, and your girl is scared as a rabbit of anyone. I’ll bet they’ve been meeting in these woods. I’ll bet he makes her meet him, and he’s done something to her now. That’s what I bet.”
McCrae pushed his long brown hair away from his forehead. “I know my kid’s had trouble at school, but he’s not like that. He wouldn’t hurt the girl. Underneath he’s a good kid. A thinking kid – more than a lot of the others, but he just don’t fit in school.”
“Oh, shut up, McCrae. We know what kind you are.” Coffman pushed between McCrae and Harding. “There’s something going on here all right. Both these kids are in that Ms. Raphael’s class. She came into the store one day asking questions about that Indian, Wellkeeper. He was messing around her property. And Harding here says she protects that Jesús. I’ll bet she knows more about this than she’s telling.”
“The Indian?” interjected McCrae. “He’s a nice man. He’s been giving my son art lessons.” Coffman, Harding, and the deputy turned and stared at McCrae.
“Your son has been messing around with Wellkeeper?” laughed Harding. “Well, well!”
“My wife saw that teacher talking to Dan Burroughs,” added Dickerson.
“Well, folks,” Reverend Tarrant stepped in, his lips smiling, but his eyes and his body were tense. “I’ve heard about this Ms. Raphael. Now, I think she’s like the little girl, an innocent being pulled into the whole deal.”
“Yeah,” mused Harding. “I tried to warn her, but she just couldn’t believe this stuff. I think you’re right.” He stared out into the woods. “Anyway, we’re beginning to figure out who’s involved in this. Wellkeeper, of course. We’ve always known he was up to something up here, and Dan Burroughs…”
“…with his goddamn eyes that look straight at you, instead of down where they belong,” interjected Coffman.
“…and if Burroughs is involved, ten to one Hazel Fraya is, too.”
“Someone should go check Hazel’s house, see if she’s home. You go, Tom,” said Coffman waving his grandson toward his pickup.
“And that Jesús. My wife had him in school last year and said he wasn’t human. I’m not surprised he’s in it,” added Dickerson.
“That poor little girl. What do you think they’re doing to her?” murmured one of the other hunters.
“Well, my theory,” answered Harding, “is it’s some kind of Satanism cult. God only knows what they’re doing to that child.”
Satanism, thought the deputy. Well maybe that would explain it. He’d thought maybe drugs before, but there wasn’t any evidence anywhere. “That Ms. Raphael lives just through the forest here, over on the coast not too far from your place, Amundsen.” He nodded at the older man, who just glared back. Turning back to the map, he traced a route with his finger. “We should follow the river through the forest, and then check in with her and see if she knows anything.”
“Dickerson, you wait here for Tom,” snapped Coffman, “and then drive around and meet us.” Nodding at the deputy he headed for the forest.
Ninas Twei: Singing Swan
The Earth Woman Tree Woman watched as the spirals of the Tsin Twei settled onto the stone steps of the mountainside until the only movement was a slight shimmering across the surface of the crowd. Finally the life forms seemed to fade away, leaving a mist, and then, empty tiers – a vast empty bowl.
Behind them a white swan stepped out from where he stood at the side of the rocky valley, his diamond shaped black beak and black webbed feet setting off the pure white of his feathers. “Welcome back,” he said, with a slow bow of his head to Luhanada, Tata, and Yameno, his shiny eyes glittering in the upper point of his beak. “At last, after many years, you’ve returned. I’ve feared for your well being. Yameno, you were just a child the last time I saw you and now you’re a grown man.”
Yameno nodded and Luha added, “And Tata and I were teenagers.”
“Your sister’s not here or your parents – or your grandfather, Yameno. Well, perhaps there’ll be time to hear why it’s been so long.” He nodded at the Earth Woman Tree Woman and the two children. “I see you’ve brought others with you.”
Luha sat on her haunches, curling her tail around her front paws. “Our new companions are the Earth Woman Tree Woman, Kumni, and my grandniece, Chachuli,” she said, nodding at each of them. “This is our good friend, Singing Swan.”
Singing Swan bowed. “Earth Woman Tree Woman. This Tla Twei does not come from the stories of our people. It’s very interesting.”
He turned to the children. “Ah, Chachuli the squirrel, messenger to the gods.” His eyes twinkled. “And Coyote who represents both what is good and unique about Homo sapiens, and the source of all our troubles! These two are well linked.”
Luha laughed. “We’re glad to be here, but sad to lose those who traveled with us before, and to find ourselves still excluded from the Dance – the Tsin Twei.”
“Yes,” exclaimed Giselle, her leaves rustling as she moved. “Why aren’t Homo sapiens a part of this Tsin Twei?”
“Come to my home and we will discuss this and other things,” said Singing Swan, turning and walking down a winding path that led behind one of the rocky hills that walled Din Tsin Twei. They followed him down the steep path and before long the stone gave way to dirt, the hills fell away, and they found themselves at the edge of a grassy marsh. In the distance they could see the silver shimmer of a river.
Singing Swan led them down a narrow pathway, between the high grasses and tulles etched in silhouette against the starry night. The tulles got higher and higher, twining together above their heads to form a high arched tunnel that smelled sweet, like fresh mown hay. The tunnel widened into a large oval room, the grasses woven and braided together to form a vaulted ceiling. The floor was carpeted with rushes, and at one end of the room were some soft cushiony mounds made of straw and feathers. In between the soft mounds was a fallen tree that had been split in half, perhaps by lightning. The split side faced upward, like a table.
“Please, have a seat,” Singing Swan indicated the mounded hay. Tree Woman grinned as Yameno, Kumni, and Chachuli each jumped on one, and circled twice, making a little nest before settling in. Luha reclined on hers wrapping her tail in front of her, while Tata perched on the edge of his. She sat down, wiggling to shape it to fit.
Singing Swan carefully set out pottery bowls and a basket full of nuts, lifting them in his beak. His mouth closed over the handle of a pitcher, carefully pouring juice in each bowl. Then he climbed into his own nest and looked at the Tree Woman. “You asked why Homo sapiens is not a part of the Tsin Twei.”
“There was a time when Homo sapiens was a part of this dance, when every living species was a part of the Tsin Twei.”
“What happened?” Kumni asked.
“Man hasn’t always been as different from other animals as he is now. When he first evolved into Homo habilis from Australopithecus, he was still very much a part of Tsin Twei, the dance of the species you just watched. He had become a hunter as well as a seed gatherer, but many species are hunters of flesh, and we all depend on each other for food. Tsin Twei helps us to understand and accept that.”
“Please,” Chachuli said in a low apologetic voice. “I don’t – I mean the dance was beautiful, and I kind of understand, but I don’t really know what the dance – this Tsin… what it is?”
“Ah,” smiled Singing Swan. “That’s a good question little Chachuli.” He rubbed his beak musingly under his wing. “First you need to know who the dancers are. Each one is the grandsoul of a particular species – which should be all the souls of the members of that species living today joined together into one grandsoul – and they usually are. Some species do have individual members who don’t remember how to become a part of the grandsoul, but there’re still enough members of the species to have a grandsoul. Tsin Twei is where all the grandsouls of all the species join together in one dance for the continuance of life – the Dance of Life. In the Tsin Twei they become aware of each other, and of each other’s needs. It’s this awareness of each other that makes life work.”
Kumni sat up on his nest and curled his tail tightly around his feet. “But the humans have forgotten how to become a grandsoul?”
“Well… yes,” answered Singing Swan. “As Homo habilis developed tools and became more able to alter their environment, and Homo erectus built huts, clothed themselves in skins, and built fires, and were able to conquer problems – like how to live with the changes in weather through the ice ages – more and more individuals dropped away from the grandsoul. Finally – not until three or four thousand years ago – too many individuals dropped out, and suddenly there were not enough who remembered how to become a grandsoul. It’s not a coincidence this is about the time some people began to exploit the labor of others. If you’re going to enslave someone it’s not convenient to be able to understand their needs, their pain, as we would if we were joined in a grandsoul. Greed overcame compassion.” He shook his head. “It was the first time since the evolution of Homo sapiens there was a hole in Tsin Twei.”
“But there were other holes in the dance,” exclaimed Giselle. “I saw them.”
“Are they when animals go extinct?” asked Chachuli.
“Oh, no – well, yes, but not in just the ordinary way. Many species have become extinct. Why Homo habilis and Homo erectus are both extinct and they were once a part of Tsin Twei, but their place was gradually taken by Homo sapiens as they evolved, and that’s happened to many species. The spaces are where that hasn’t taken place. Species like the passenger pigeon who became extinct abruptly because of Homo sapiens.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember them,” Kumni nodded. “They were the ones that people hunted to sell for meat, and the hunters killed all of them.”
“Yes, and many millions of years ago there were spaces when many of the dinosaurs disappeared, but those spaces have been filled in.”
“Why did they die off so suddenly?” asked Chachuli.
Singing Swan ruffled his feathers. “My species wasn’t here then. I don’t know.”
“Are you the grandsoul of a species?” asked the Tree Woman, tucking her woody legs up under her chin and folding her arm branches around her knees.
Singing Swan looked at her. “I’m a human being… like you,” he replied.
“You’re a human being!” exclaimed Kumni. “But you look like a swan!”
“And you look like a coyote.”
Yameno laughed. “Singing Swan came here in the same way the rest of us did, only a long time ago.”
“And you stayed here forever?” Chachuli stood up, alarmed. “Are we going to stay here forever, too?”
“No, no.” Luha curled her tail around little squirrel, who sat down again, uneasily. “We’ll return. Singing Swan died on earth and came here.”
“How did you die?” asked Kumni.
Singing Swan preened his wing feathers for a moment before speaking. “It was when the white men discovered gold in our country. Other white men had come before and enslaved us, and brought terrible diseases, and my people were already greatly diminished. We wanted only to keep living in our village next to the sacred river and near the sacred spring as we always had, but they wanted the land we lived on. They spread rumors about us. They said we were attacking them, even though we weren’t.”
He sighed. “One night they came very late with torches and guns. I ran to the dance ground in the middle of our village and danced to Mother Turtle.” He looked at the others. “We were powerless. I didn’t know what else to do.” The feathers on his back stood up as he opened his wings and danced a little on the floor in front of them singing:
This is our place, our earth,
our sacred waters.
This is our place,
Given to us by you, Great Mother Turtle.
“And then words came to me. Words for my people.” He began to dance more fiercely.
This is our place, our earth.
Go from it.
This is our place, our earth,
Our sacred waters.
Hide from those who would steal it.
Hide from those who would steal our place, our earth,
Who would destroy our sacred waters.
Hide from those who would steal our lives
Given to us by Great Mother Turtle, who lives in the river.
This is our place, our earth,
Our sacred waters.
Great Mother will come again.
We will live again in this place, our earth,
This is our place.
“As I danced, I transformed into the trumpeter swan, the Tla Twei I had always used when we visited Ninas Twei. The white men saw and were frightened. I sang, and I flew up in the air on my mighty wings. They shot me.”
He sat down again, lowering his head and closing his eyes. Finally he looked up. “They burned our village to the ground, but all of my people managed to escape into the forest while the white men were watching me. I was the only one who died. I died as a swan, so I came here.”
They were all silent, thinking of the little village. “You were very brave,” whispered Chachuli.
Singing Swan shook his head. “I couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
The Tree Woman nodded her head slowly, her branches whispering a chant for the little village as they rubbed together. “You had come before you died – to Ninas Twei, I mean. How do living people get here? How did we get here?”
“Well…” Singing Swan wiggled himself into a more comfortable position on his mound of grasses. “For my people, it first started about 300 years ago in our small village near the Tuwillian River.”
“Oh, Yameno’s people who used to live where we live!” Chachuli exclaimed, her tail bouncing with interest.
“Yes,” nodded Singing Swan. “At that time we thought there was something about those particular woods and the sacred spring that enabled people to visit Ninas Twei, even though Homo sapiens as a species can’t form a grandsoul. Many people of my village visited as their Tla Twei.”
“And when they died did they all come here?” asked Giselle.
“No, only a few of us have come here – those of us who died as our Tla Twei.” He looked around at all of them. “Those of us who come here, dead or alive, do have a purpose. We come to help find some way for Homo sapiens to rejoin Tsin Twei.”
“Our Tla Twei – as a coyote, but why a coyote? What is Tla Twei?” asked Kumni.
“The shapes we all wear except for the Earth Woman Tree Woman come from the stories of my nation. Over the years other people have worn your forms, but I have always worn mine.”
“At the meeting at the church,” Giselle asked, “they talked about a cougar being seen many years ago by the people of your village. But Hazel couldn’t be…”
Luha’s whiskers twitched. “No, I took this form after my grandmother died and left me her totem – a small wooden cougar. It was used by a Tuwillian woman and given to my grandmother when the woman died.”
“So Reverend Tarrant was right when he said he thought your family had all been involved in this.”
“Yes, Jarvis guessed that correctly.” She looked down at her paws and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Poor Jarvis. When we were children we were friends.”
Tata added, “Luha’s family – I mean really Hazel’s family – learned about the woods and Ninas Twei from the Tuwillians, so it was natural for them to take on the forms of the Tuwillian pantheon, just as the Tuwillians had. And for me, too.”
“Yes,” said Singing Swan. “But there are others here from other places in the world who come in the Tla Twein of their own mythology…”
A deep thunderous rumble interrupted him and all their heads popped up, listening.
The earth began to shake, moving faster and faster until the woven tules waved frantically above their heads.
“It hurts!” Chachuli cried out.
The Tree Woman was tossed off the edge of her cushion to the floor. Tata flew up in the air while the others clung to their nests with their claws. The pottery pitcher bounced on the split log and fell to the floor with a crash.
Chachuli ran to her aunt’s side and burrowed under her fur. “It hurts,” she moaned. “It hurts.”
Just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
“What is it?” whispered Giselle. “What is it?”
The Hunt: The Forest Good or Evil?
As soon as Reverend Clare got off the phone with Muriel Chase, who was asking her to bring members of the Interfaith group to join the search for the little girl, she called Father Keegan and Rabbi Micah. Now she was waiting for them to pick her up so they could join the search together.
She shook her head, trying to understand. Muriel had been sure that Hazel Fraya and Dan Burroughs would never hurt the child, so what was going on? After the meeting at the church in Arundel she and Micah had met with Keegan Gilchrist, the Catholic priest who had studied Satanism, to tell him about the meeting. “The demographics are wrong,” he’d said. “I’ve never heard of a Satanist group that crosses cultures – a white woman, a black man, and a Native Uhsean? Not too likely. Mostly people who call themselves Satanists are white men rebelling against the church they were brought up in, and they aren’t really doing evil. The ones who do atrocities are usually teenaged boys. And a cougar as a devil? Probably just a cougar.” He’d smiled. “You know real evil is caused by our own personal ‘demons’ – the things in our childhood, in our culture that cause us to pull in so we can’t see the needs and hurts of others.”
Later that same day Clare had found time in her busy schedule to ride up to the part of the forest Reverend Tarrant had said was evil. She’d gotten out of her car and walked around a little bit, and then gone down by the river. The woods had felt cool and pleasant and she’d felt tuned in to the vast silences of the forest as if in the presence of Spirit.
Tarrant had mentioned this forest might be logged. She thought about the logging sites she’d seen, muddy with caterpillar tracks running through where the trees had been. Ugly. That would be true evil. Could this whole thing be a ruse to get the woods for logging? But now a child’s missing, she thought.
A car horn beeped. She pulled on her jacket and locked the door behind her as she headed for the car and the hunt for the child.
The three religious leaders discussed the missing child, and the idea that the forest might be evil, in the car on the way to the hunt. Clare pointed out she’d felt close to Spirit in the forest and thought it would be very wrong to allow logging there. The others agreed. Keegan added, “There have been places where I’ve felt some kind of palpable evil. Sometimes in some of our most revered…” He paused. “Money, greed. Jesus spoke of it. It seems to be destroying…”
“Well, the logging certainly would be greed,” added Micah, “but until we find both children, we really can’t make any decisions about what’s going on.”
The deputy sheriff and the hunters tramped through the forest toward Giselle’s place, stopping halfway when they discovered Jesús and Enid’s meeting place by the river.
“Look, someone’s had a fire here,” said Reverend Tarrant, panning his flashlight over the depression in the rocks.
The men spread out around the area looking for clues. Harding poked back into the little crevice where Enid had waited for Jesús. “Hey, I found a pencil here. I think it has a name on it.” He focused his flashlight on the top of the pencil, awkwardly balancing his gun and the pencil in one hand, and the flashlight in the other. “Enid Amundsen. This is the girl’s pencil!”
Amundsen stalked over to Harding and took the pencil out of his hand. “One of the pencils Hazel gave her.” His eyes smoldered as he stared at it. Suddenly he whirled around and threw it forcefully into the river.
“Well,” said Harding, looking warily at Amundsen and taking a step backward. “At least we know she was here.”
“Here’s a fish hook, too,” added Coffman, stooping with difficulty to pick it up. “Hey, Amundsen, would your girl be fishing?”
Amundsen shook his head.
“So that adds Jesús into it,” said Harding. “It looks like they were both here, and they had a fire too.”
“But not today,” said the deputy. “This fire was from a week or so ago at least. And the pencil’s clearly Enid’s, but the fishhook could be anyone’s. Besides they could have dropped those things at separate times.”
“But I’ll bet they didn’t,” muttered Harding.
Ninas Twei: Pain!
“What was that pain?” cried the Tree Woman, pulling herself to her feet from where she lay on Singing Swan’s floor.
Singing Swan leaned down to pick up the pieces of the pitcher with his beak. “I don’t know, but Ninas Twei is in danger! This happened earlier – maybe just as you were coming – but not as bad as this!”
“Yes, we felt it in the vortex. Has it happened before?” Tata asked.
“No, but there have been times when I’ve felt… something.”
“Something?” Luha prodded.
“Yes.” He poked at his nest with his beak and finally fluttered back up onto it. “I don’t know how to explain it – a vague uneasiness that was on the edge of pain. But this was like an earthquake and there was pain, too.”
Luha’s tail flicked back and forth, back and forth. “If this place is destroyed, what will happen to the world?”
“I don’t know,” he shook his head.
Tata stretched out his wings, the light flickering over his feathers. “I think we’re the ones who need to find out what’s happening.”
Luha nodded, adding, “Maybe that’s why we felt compelled – drawn to come here now, today.”
“But where is it coming from? Is it someplace we can go?” Kumni asked.
Chachuli scampered off her nest and emphatically pointed her nose back toward the entrance to the room. “It was back that way. I felt it. It was in that direction.”
Luha stood and faced the entrance, her tail lashing back and forth. “How do you know, Chachuli?”
“I just know.” Her little eyes flashed.
Luha nodded. “Our messenger.” She turned toward the rest of them. “That’s back toward Din Tsin Twei. Let’s go and investigate at least.”
“Wait,” Kumni demanded. “I want to go, but how long have we been here? What about Chachuli’s grandfather?”
“My grandfather will be upset, but it doesn’t matter.” Chachuli stood up on her hind legs, her nose lifted quivering in the air. “This is more important. I feel… I feel… I can’t explain, but we have to follow the pain.”
Luha flicked her tail. “Chaculi’s grandfather knows where she is. He’s very frightened, but he knows.”
“It’s too bad we can’t go back keeping others from knowing we’ve gone,” Tata added, ruffling his feathers. “Especially with that cougar hunt going on, but we need to pursue this pain. We’re the only ones who can.”
“Please, let’s go now!” pressed the little squirrel, running back and forth beween her aunt and the entrance.
Singing Swan led the way up the steep path from the marsh back to the mountain bowl with Chachuli close on his heels. At Din Tsin Twei, she took over the lead, crossing the middle of the vast empty space. She was headed for a large crack in the rock, wide at the bottom and narrowing, as it led up the rock, to a thin line.
“This wasn’t here before,” exclaimed Singing Swan, as he looked into the deep crevice. “I can see a lighter spot like an opening at the end. I’ve never been able to get to the other side of the amphitheatre. When I try to fly over, it just gets higher.”
The little squirrel started to go through the tunnel created by the open crevice. “Wait, Chachuli, wait.” Giselle, grabbed the squirrel.
“Can we all fit through there?” Yameno crouched before the opening, his ears laid back on his head.
“We can try,” Luha replied.
“But I need to stay here,” Singing Swan said regretfully, “to protect Din Tsin Twei.”
The Tree Woman let go of Chachuli who darted into the crevice, her fluffy tail straight behind her. The base was wide, but the roof was low. Kumni was able to follow her with only a little uncomfortable crouching through places where the ceiling dipped lower. Luha crawled through after him with Tata gripping her neck, wings outspread and curved down over her back, head tucked low behind hers. Giselle found her form was flexible; like a human she could crawl, and her branches, seeking the light, stretched ahead of her down the tunnel. Yameno followed, creeping on his stomach.
The squirrel stood silhouetted in the opening at the other end then scampered back to the others to offer encouragement. “On the other side there’s a forest – like our forest. It’s beautiful.”
As they clambered, not without a little squeezing and grunting, out of the tunnel, they found themselves in a small clearing between a dark, rustling forest, and the steep stone cliffs that rose on this side of Din Tsin Twei. Above their heads the stars twinkled large and clear.
Yameno lowered his nose and sniffed along the edge of the forest. “There are several old paths here,” he said, raising his head to look into the dark under the trees, his tail wagging encouragement.
“Which one do you think we should follow?” asked Tata. “Chachuli, do you still feel the direction of the pain?”
“Yes.” She scurried directly to the faint beginning of one of the paths, and stopped to sit back on her haunches and sniff the air. “It’s down here.”
The path was old and overgrown, the night dark under the trees where the starlight made only tentative inroads into the shadows, but before long they came to a wide, deep meadow. “What a beautiful place,” whispered Chachuli.
Giselle looked around her at the meadow, enclosed by yellow-leafed aspens, looking as if hung with drops of silver in the starlight. She heard a gentle susurrus as the light breeze played the leaves like a wind chime, and then continued on to rustle the meadow grasses, sprinkled with the night-closed blossoms of autumn wild flowers. A large upended oak tree sat at the far side of the meadow, its roots a darkness protruding into the night, and its lightning scarred trunk extending up and away from the travelers, resting in the branches of another tree at the far edge of the meadow. At the upper end of the tree, where some of the limbs dragged the ground, and some reached as high toward the star filled sky as many of the surrounding upright trees, the light seemed to gleam off of something that stretched between the branches.
“Look.” The coyote pointed his nose at a faint separation of the grasses. “The path goes on here out into the meadow.”
“Toward that tree,” added Tata.
“It must have been huge when it stood,” Yameno pointed out. “That’s not a fresh fall. The wild flowers are growing around the roots as if it’s been that way many, many years.”
Luha sat and moved her tail slowly through the grasses, sending off a faint, sweet perfume as it gently knocked the closed blossoms of the wild gentians. “Something at the other end is… something different.”
“It looks like a huge spider web,” Kumni added.
“Yes.” Yameno’s tail drooped behind him. “But the shape, somehow…”
“I’ll check it out.” Tata leaped forward, moving his wings in large undulations as he pushed himself into the air over the meadow. He circled high over the tree, and then lower and lower, finally landing in front of the unknown webbing. He walked back and forth, turning his head from one side to another. The rest watched anxiously at the top of the meadow until with slow powerful wing beats, he flew back to them.
“What is it?” Chachuli asked eagerly.
“A loom?” Giselle peered at the tree.
“Yes, but…” He stopped and shrugged, his shoulders lifting his wings up and back down again. “You need to come see it,” and he turned and flapped off toward the tree again.
The cougar loped down the path after him, followed by the coyote, the squirrel hanging onto his ruff. The wolf and the Tree Woman came more slowly after, Giselle walking instead of riding, and stepping carefully to avoid crushing the fragile grasses. As they approached the upended roots, they could see the others standing at the other end of the tree looking bemused. “The tree isn’t dead,” Yameno pointed out. “It’s fall, so the leaves on it are dying, but some are still green.”
“Yes, and a lot of the roots are still firmly in the ground,” Giselle added. “Come on. Let’s go see the loom,” and she half-ran to where the others stood, with the wolf loping beside her.
It was indeed a loom made of the many huge limbs reaching fifty feet into the air above them. Stretching between the thick limbs, the meadow grasses grew and reached, weaving themselves, and the wild flowers that grew in their midst, in and out, in and out, between the still growing branches of the tree and each other. There was no shuttle, no hand working the loom, and yet the grasses twined and braided themselves through the woof and the warp of each other. The flowers, their colors twinkling in the bright starlight, studded the weaving like jewels.
“It’s… It’s…,” whispered Chachuli.
“Beautiful and strange and wonderful,” Luha whispered back.
The Tla Twein stood looking at the be-woven oak tree in awed silence. The weaving stretched on different planes from one limb to another and the starlight flickered over it, bringing out a pattern here, a shape there. A face, thought Tree Woman. I saw a face. It glimmered high on one side. She moved in closer. Many faces! A child… She saw:
Small girl swinging on a wood and rope swing hung from the high branches of a towering old willow tree, singing wordlessly in a high clear baby voice, long straight blonde hair flying behind her. A happy song. A smiling happy child…
Older now, arguing with perturbed, amused parents, who allow some and forbid some, a teenaged girl with short straight hair that flops on her neck as she nods her head to make her point…
College – some ecstatic joys, some heartfelt tears. Working, marrying, having children, and grandchildren. Growing old. Dying.
Tears slid down the Tree Woman’s cheeks. “What’s wrong?” Luha caught the Tree Woman’s hand in her mouth.
Giselle started, turning to look down at Luha. “There was a woman – a child and then a woman. Her whole life is there.”
The others gathered around her and peered into the weaving. “I can’t see anything,” said Yameno, “except how beautiful the flowers and grasses are all woven together.”
“And patterns – I can see patterns,” Kumni interrupted.
“Yes,” added Giselle excitedly, “and people’s lives add into the patterns. See!” she pointed. “My woman’s life’s here where the pattern’s light and simple. I wonder…” She walked over to where the pattern was difficult and uneasy. “Oh, no!” she cried out, as she watched a tiny girl go flying across the floor after the man backhanded her. The child huddled whimpering in the corner, but didn’t cry.
And she didn’t cry at thirteen when her stepfather hurled her out of the house and told her never to come back. Or when, on the filthy streets of a large, impersonal city, she took her first dope with her first john.
The tears came later when the young community organizer said, “Yes, you can sleep here. Yes, there is food here. Yes, we can find you a job.” And much later again, as the girl, now a woman, a social worker helping abused children, held a small, beaten boy in her arms, and whispered, “It’s all right now. You’re safe now. We won’t ever let it happen again.”
“A more complex pattern,” whispered the Tree Woman, “but still a good part of the whole thing.” She turned to look at her companions. “People’s whole lives are in this tapestry. There are so many faces, I think there must be billions of lives.”
Chachuli examined the tapestry. “Do you think everyone’s lives are in it? Are our lives in it?” Giselle’s eyes widened and she turned back to the woven tree. It was huge. How would you find yourself in such a giant weaving?
“Yes,” came a rumbling voice, “of course your lives are in the tapestry. All lives – even the torn ones – are in the tapestry.”
Everyone turned, startled, to face the owner of the strange voice. A turtle large enough for a small child to ride on, the markings on its shell dark lines in the starlight, made its ponderous way around the end of the Weaving Tree toward the travelers.
“Who are you?” exclaimed Kumni.
“I’d ask you the same thing,” responded the turtle, “if I didn’t already know.” She stopped in front of them, allowed her shell to rest on the ground, and stared at them. Chachuli giggled. The turtle stretched her neck toward her. “Well, my little Chachuli, do you find me amusing?”
“Well…” The little squirrel sat up on her haunches. “You’re looking at us, and we’re looking at you. We’d introduce ourselves, but you said you already know who we are. But we don’t know who you are, so you should tell us.”
“So,” the turtle lifted her head up into the air. “Chachuli, the youngest of us, dares to speak of manners to the oldest one of all.”
“Or Ratatosk.” Luha gave a small laugh.
“Yes, perhaps it should be the Norse Ratatosk. But then, perhaps you are not Luhanada. Are you either Bygul or Trjegul, Freyja’s blue cats?”
Luha laughed. “I’m not blue.”
The turtle nodded her head on her long neck. “Now we have this Earth Woman Tree Woman who isn’t Tuwillian. We need to think beyond our nation to include the whole world. Yes, Chachuli can also be Ratatosk, messenger God of the Norse people.”
Luha flicked her tail. “Are you Tuwillia, the turtle?”
The old turtle nodded.
“Are you one of the Tla Twein of the Tuwillians?” asked Kumni.
“I took the Tla Twei of Tuwillia the Turtle, the ruler of water, the form chosen by the Nameless One when she created the earth, and the sacred spring. But I came here many years ago, before even Singing Swan.”
“Singing Swan doesn’t know you’re here,” added Tata. “How do you know about him? He said he couldn’t get to the other side of the mountains. Can you go there?”
“I knew when he came. I watch the people of my nation in the tapestry,” rumbled the old turtle. “But I don’t try to find them. It’s too hard to walk that far. I guard the tree and protect the tapestry.”
Giselle stepped forward anxiously. “What is the tapestry?”
“Perhaps you can guess, Madame Earth Woman Tree Woman,” Tuwillia nodded her head knowingly. “It’s the tree of human life. In its branches is the weaving of the lives of all humans together that should make a grandsoul. It is this weaving into a grandsoul that allows a species to join the dance, the Tsin Twei. But you can see, the tree of Homo sapiens has fallen. At the edges of the weaving are rents that spread.”
The travelers looked at the edges, and saw the torn places. Giselle looked closely:
A small black child, wearing only a loin cloth, running happily down a path in a garden is suddenly kicked aside by a large white man, who then pulls him up by the hair and drags him out of the garden.
“You don’t belong in here. Get out.”
The boy is shoved out into the dry yellow dirt.
The child grows. The land his ancestors lived on sustainably for centuries has been devastated. The trees have been cut, the water polluted. His baby sister is stillborn. His younger brother, stomach extended with malnutrition, lies still on the cot, large eyes pleading for food. His mother fades away to nothing with a cancer brought about by the polluted water. He has barely enough to eat, and watches hungrily as the white children play in their large gardens, get in and out of their large cars. He carries their heavy suitcases with bent head and shuttered eyes that burn beneath their lids with coals of hate, as the white children leave to attend their foreign schools, and there is no school for him.
And when the revolution comes he swings a large machete.
“Oh,” cried Giselle. “Poor child – poor children.”
“The torn children,” muttered Tuwillia. “Their lives are torn asunder, and they turn and tear the lives of others.”
“All of their lives were torn – not just the black child,” whispered the Tree Woman.
“Yes. Racism, oppression, and hatred tear the lives of all who touch it. On the weaving we can trace the rips back and back. But compassion and love can mend the tears. Look here.” She followed a thread from the boy down to his granddaughter as she joins a group of African women planting native trees where they had been destroyed by the oppressors. The leader of the group tells how the fig tree, revered by their people, provides not only fruit, but water, because its roots dig deep into the rock providing a path for the water to come to the surface. She urges the women to listen to the wisdom of their ancestors.
“I remember reading about this leader on OET – the One Earth Together site,” Giselle smiled. She saw that the threads woven by the women were weaving themselves back into the past, pulling the torn sides together, creating colorful new patterns as they repaired the rips.
“I saw one whose life should have been destroyed, but she repaired her own life by becoming a counselor for children like herself.”
“Ah, where one of the community organizers works.” Tuwillia nodded her head knowingly on her long neck. “The torn lives need help or they tear away at the rest of the fabric. Where many of the community organizers work the lives are badly torn, but often they do mend them. That’s why the pattern is so complex.”
“Look at the rents here,” exclaimed Giselle, pointing to a particularly blighted part of the weaving that grew larger and larger as she looked at it.
“War,” muttered Tuwillia. “War ravages thousands of lives. It destroys the lives of people who live where the war is fought – innocent men, women and children, not to speak of the land, and the animals and plants that live on the land.”
“‘Collateral damage’,” muttered Tata.
“It destroys the lives of the soldiers who fight it. It destroys the lives of the people in the far off lands who are sending the soldiers to fight the wars, even though often they don’t see the lines of connection. But see, here, on the weaving how the rips travel long distances and cause more rents over here where the weaving looks strong?”
Giselle peered at the weaving. “It’s undermined with rips and destruction. It will fall apart! How can we stop that?” Her eyes traveled over the weaving. “And look at this! This is the source of the rips that lead to the war. Greed, and the oppression that comes from greed. Can you see that? Large corporations making money off of weapons, or worming their way into the armed forces as providers of services, and siphoning off huge amounts of money.” She pointed to a particularly large, almost colorless, pattern that was surrounded by rips. How is it held in place? she wondered. It seems suspended, unconnected.
She moved in to look closer. Suddenly, she could see clear ropey strands that extended from it out to other almost invisible colorless patches all over the weaving. “What’s this strange pattern?” she murmured, but she couldn’t penetrate past the pattern, as if some screen wavered in front of it blocking her view. She felt a deep chill. Something here was very wrong.
Yameno peered at the pattern. “How come Giselle can see these lives – these people – and we can’t?”
“Because she’s the tree,” rumbled Tuwillia. “She’s the earth and the tree. She can see the lives of people. She can mend the torn ones, and you, too, will have to learn to mend the torn ones, if we’re ever going to rejoin the Tsin Twei. The fabric rips more every day all over the world.” She moved ponderously over to another side of the weaving. “See how the weaving doesn’t connect from place to place where it has been rent almost from one end to the other?”
Giselle looked closely. There were the colorless ropes again, not connecting, but separating, strangling the others.
“Not only is it destroying the fabric of Homo sapiens,” added the turtle, “but it’s destroying the Tsin Twei and the earth. I felt Ninas Twei shake with pain tonight and the center of the pain was here.”
“We felt it, too,” exclaimed Chachuli. “It opened the tunnel in the mountains that rim Din Tsin Twei. That’s how we got here.”
“Singing Swan hasn’t been able to find a way over to this side of the cliffs before this,” added Luha.
Tuwillia nodded. “The trees are protected from discovery.”
“The trees… There’s more than one tree like this one?” Yameno lifted his muzzle as he looked around at the other trees.
“Each species has a tree with roots deep in the soil of Ninas Twei,” she said solemnly, pointing her head toward the earth beneath their feet. “But not right here. They have their own special places.”
Tata looked at the dry roots of the tree. “When did our tree fall over?”
“The tree fell when Homo sapiens left Tsin Twei, when some people began destroying each other’s lives on such a huge scale that we could no longer form a grandsoul. It perpetuates itself. The destroyed becomes a destroyer. The child who is hurt lashes out at other children, at his own children.”
“Compassion,” whispered Giselle. “They lost the ability to be compassionate.”
“But lots of people do understand other people’s pain,” Yameno insisted his tail sweeping back and forth. “Not everybody is – well – unconnected.”
“That’s true,” answered Tuwillia. “Just look at the weaving. You can see lots of connections. Look at this one.”
The Tree Woman focused where Tuwillia pointed. The fabric was beautiful here – a myriad of interconnected spirals of wildflowers reaching out to touch upon other spirals and then into the center to gather strength. The center of one was a service group in a small town where the people helped feed members of their community in need. “And here.” Tuwillia pointed to another spiral – a group in a large city that came together to dance, sing, and tell their stories. Paths from this spiral radiated out all over the weaving to other cities and small towns, even other countries, where there were groups doing the same thing.
“Oh!” exclaimed Giselle. “These folks use the Internet to stay connected with other people all over the world!” The spirals from both the service group and the dancing community connected to other spirals in their own communities where there were schools, religious congregations, hospitals, community centers, and jazz clubs. One had an interfaith group of teenagers painting the walls in an apartment in a tenement building a bright clean color to brighten the lives of the refugee family that lived there. In return the refugee family – part of another spiral that had its center at a temple far away – showed the young workers the precious few things they’d brought from their homeland: a shrine portraying their own much revered ancestors, a fancy comb that had been a grandmother’s.
That same youth group touched other spirals, which were their churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, and all of them connected to a food bank, which connected to a mental health advocacy committee, a homeless shelter, and a political protest group. Woven between and in and out of these various spirals, were smaller spirals of folk dancers and soccer players, quilters, and neighbors drinking coffee together.
Giselle smiled. “Just people,” she said, “doing their thing! And look here! Here’s a radio station creating community by spreading important information. See the spirals moving outward, some going around the world through the Internet. Here’s another one spreading hate. See how the rips move out from it.” She looked closer. One of those clear strands connected here and the pattern was losing its color. She tried to follow the clear strand and found a place where the strand was blocked by a very complex – maybe even chaotic – pattern of color. Here a bank had tried to foreclose on a house belonging to an elderly woman. A mass of people from many different groups – churches, synagogues, mosques and temples; schools; labor unions; political action groups – had come together to stop it. Some had signed a petition on the Internet, others were lawyers and activists making phone calls, but overlaying it all were the people who marched in front of the house, camped out in the front yard, and stood up to the police who came to enforce the eviction. Some were tear-gassed, some were clubbed and dragged away, and still they stood strong. “And they won,” she whispered. “The woman didn’t lose her home!”
“Here’s one of my favorites.” Tuwillia pointed with her head.
Giselle laughed. “Making connections beyond humanity!”
“What is it?” asked Chachuli.
“A group of people on a small boat interfering with an artic oil expedition – one of those groups out to save the oceans.”
“Yes,” said Tuwillia, “saving the whales and other endangered species is just as important as saving people.” She moved over to another place on the weaving. “Look here. The spiral this group connects to is huge, and getting larger all the time, reaching out to people and animals all over the world.”
Giselle followed the pattern as it wove itself in and out of spirals all over the fabric. “It’s OET – One Earth Together. They bring all kinds of groups together.” She looked up at Tuwillia. “They’re all so different, and yet there’s the same kind of joy and earnestness in all of them.”
“You will find that joy anywhere people are reaching out to each other, and the rest of the world,” Tuwillia agreed. “Of course, sometimes people are reaching toward each other, but hate the rest of the world.” She pointed to a place where the weaving stood all by itself and was not connected to the rest at all. It was a church group not too different from the others she had seen, but the faces were cold and stern. “And here,” pointed Tuwillia. “And here.” Tree Woman saw a white supremacist group in Uhs, a fundamentalist Muslim group in Pakistan, a group of Israeli settlers on the West Bank, a Hindu fundamentalist group in India. Even though their clothes, and their skin and hair coloring, were very different, the expressions on their faces were the same. Fearful. Angry. She looked closer. In each case there was a colorless strand worming its way through it. “And the joy isn’t there either,” added Tuwillia. “It can’t exist with hate.”
The bright light of the stars dimmed for a moment fading the weaving to black and white. Giselle blinked and looked around her, but the light was back, and the colors.
“What about the pain we felt?” asked Yameno. “Is that part of the weaving?”
Tuwillia patted the ground with her right front foot. “I felt it in the earth below the tree – in the roots of the tree.”
Tata looked toward the upended roots of the tree. “Perhaps when the tree fell over, the roots were damaged.”
“But if the tree has fallen over and the roots are damaged – we couldn’t put it back,” cried Chachuli. “Will we ever be able to rejoin Tsin Twei?”
The Hunters and the Cat, Reprise
Clare, Micah, and Keegan drove up to the clearing at the side of the road where the hunters had gathered earlier just as Tom arrived from checking on Hazel Fraya.
“Well, was she home?” Dickerson yelled at Tom.
“No, I checked up at Amundsen’s, too, and the people waiting there for Enid said she hadn’t shown up yet, and Hazel hadn’t been there at all.”
“So that cinches it,” exclaimed Dickerson. “Hazel’s involved in this whole thing. How could she do it to her own niece?”
“Do what?” Keegan interrupted.
“Well,” sputtered Dickerson, “whatever she’s doing to her. Who are you, anyway?”
Micah stepped forward. “This is Father Gilchrist. He’s an authority on Satanism.”
“Oh, all right!” said Dickerson. “Well, you’re just the man we need, ‘cause for sure, there’s some kind of Satanism going on here.”
“And what makes you think so?” asked the priest.
“Where’s my Grandfather?” interrupted Tom.
“Oh, yeah, we need to go join the others up at that teacher’s house. You come too, Father. Then you can talk with Reverend Tarrant. He knows all about it. Come on Tom.” Tom left his truck parked with the others and jumped into Dickerson’s car. Clare, Micah, and Keegan got back in their car and followed them up the road to Giselle’s. When they arrived the hunters had just reached Giselle’s place and discovered she wasn’t there.
“Was Hazel at her house?” demanded Coffman, before Tom had a chance to get out of the car.
“No one’s at Hazel’s and her car’s still there,” Tom answered.
“The teacher’s not here either,” added the deputy, “and there’s her car.” He pointed to where it stood in the driveway. “Just a cat,” he said, swinging his flashlight to pick up the gray kitty sitting on the porch.
“Where’s that Wellkeeper live?” asked Harding. “I’ll bet if we could find it, we’d find them.”
“Good idea, Harding.” Reverend Tarrant patted Harding’s shoulder and walked toward Clare, Keegan, and Micah. “So, Rabbi Levinson, you’ve come to join us… and Reverend Yates,” he added. “Reverend Yates, I hope you aren’t intending to come with us. This is no place for a woman.”
Clare raised her eyebrows. “Well, I’m sure you think the pulpit is no place for a woman either, but I’m there.”
Micah laughed, interrupting before the discussion went any farther. “Reverend Tarrant, I’d like to introduce you to Father Keegan Gilchrist. He’s an authority on Satanism.”
Reverend Tarrant nodded and shook Keegan’s hand. “So I understand you haven’t found the child yet. Have you seen the cougar?” Keegan asked.
“No, we haven’t found anything very helpful, but there are some people we haven’t found that’s been helpful. The children’s teacher lives in this house, and as the Deputy here was just pointing out, her car is here – so where is she this time of night? We haven’t found Hazel Fraya or Dan Burroughs, and both their cars are at their houses, so where are they? Interesting, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps.” Keegan tucked his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels, looking around him.
“Hey, what’s that?” yelled another man, pointing toward the tall dark shadow of the Earth Woman Tree Woman – tree-like, and yet clearly not a tree – standing black against the starry sky, near the edge of the cliff.
The men turned to stare. “We should check it out,” muttered the deputy, and they all followed him across the meadow. The small cat padded across the trampled grasses behind them. The men circled to the front of the woman where it faced out over the ocean, muttering, “What is it?” “A carving of a tree…” “Or a woman.”
“Looks like both,” added the deputy.
Amundsen’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the tree woman. “The devil,” he whispered. “The devil is here.”
Keegan frowned as he looked at the man.
“That Giselle’s a lot weirder than I thought she was,” Harding added.
The little gray kitty sat watching them, his head cocked to one side. “Look at that cat!” exclaimed Dickerson.
“Oh, Dickerson, you’re getting a little spooked. It’s just a cat.”
“No, it’s not. Look at the way it’s looking at us.” He started toward the cat, but the kitten became frightened and turned to run. Suddenly a shot rang out and the cat leapt into the air as a bullet hit the ground next to him. He tore across the yard as two more shots followed, but managed to duck behind the house without being hit.
Amundsen lowered his gun. The group froze, wide-eyed.
“I don’t think you needed to do that, Amundsen,” said the deputy. “It was just a cat,” but Amundsen didn’t seem to hear. Father Gilchrist thrusting one hand behind him, and stroking his chin with the other, looked closely at him, frowning.
Ninas Twei: The Fall!
Tree Woman looked back to where the roots of the fallen tree thrust themselves out of the earth that encrusted the trunk. “Are they permanently damaged?” she asked, looking at Tata. He flew back to the bottom of the tree, scratching in the soil with his talons. The others followed.
“It looks like it’s still growing, but I wonder if there’re enough roots left in the soil to sustain it. Even if we were able to right the tree, Chachuli,” he said, turning and smiling at the little squirrel, “the old roots have dried out. Once they’re dried out they can’t be brought to life again. But new roots can grow.”
“Can a tree survive with most of its roots out of the ground?” Giselle asked.
“For a while, but unless the remaining roots are strong and well connected to the earth, it will eventually die.” He turned to Tuwillia. “Has the tree been growing? Have the branches been sprouting?”
“Yes. Every spring the branches grow higher and there’s more weaving.” The turtle paused and stretched her neck toward the other end of the tree. “But as the years go on it seems more and more disconnected.”
Tata nodded. “The root system is not sufficient.”
“What are we going to do?” Chachuli cried out.
Tata looked thoughtful. “Well, maybe there needs to be more weaving to support it as it grows so big.”
“Not more weaving, but more connected weaving,” added Luha.
“But it goes both ways,” added Tata. “The weaving helps the roots, but the roots also need to be strong to support the weaving.”
Giselle crouched down by the roots and stuck a branched hand into the hole Tata had made with his talon. She felt a thick, moist root, and encircled it, extending down, down. She seemed to flow in and out of the roots, the myriad thin root hairs caressing her, drawing nutrients, minerals, and water from her. The earth, she thought, I am the earth. Dirt and rock. The roots of the tree drill into me letting the water flow through for the tree and all the others, plants and animals, who need it. Then she became the root, strong and firm, but dry –almost brittle. Why were the roots so dry?
I am the tree, she thought, and I am dying. But even as she thought of death, she could feel herself flowing and dividing, and dividing again, and drawing the moisture and the minerals from the soil – from herself and from the trees of the other species! She was reaching and growing toward the others whose roots were firmly dug into this soil, this earth.
I can become the tree. Joy welled up, like the water in the roots of the tree. I can be the tree! And I can be the earth that feeds it. She flowed and divided and felt the myriad tiny hairs sucking and sucking at the soil, touching the apes, the hawks, the songbirds. Mingling, becoming the squirrels, tiny mice, a sea otter. A jelly fish. Such an alien feeling. A worm. Growing rooted. Rooted in the earth and in the life of the earth. Losing, losing the self into the soil, the air…
Then… touching something else – something hard, impenetrable. Alien.
Suddenly there was pain and a ripping sensation. Her roots were torn from the soil with a terrible wrenching. Chachuli cried out and Kumni wrapped his front paws around her, pulling her close to his chest. Tata and Luha grasped at each other, and the Tree Woman wrapped her limbs around the Wolfwind’s neck. Tuwillia withdrew within her shell. The ground shook and heaved, bouncing them around, against each other and away again as they screamed with fear. The children clung to each other, and tried to cling to a rock across from the tree as the ground tried to shake them free of it.
The pain subsided and they all lay panting on the ground. The children leaned back against the rock. Tuwillia stuck her head tentatively out of her shell.
Suddenly the shaking came again, greater than before. They cried and grabbed at each other as a crevice opened at the base of the rock. With frightened shrieks, the children fell into the abyss.
Tla Twein Forever
After finding the sculpture at the edge of the cliff, the hunters continued their search for the children and the missing adults. The men, and Clare Yates, poured up the hillside back of Giselle’s house, and just as the morning light was beginning to creep into the sky, they found the path Yameno always took from his hiding place on the hill behind Giselle’s house to his home. “Now I think we’re getting somewhere,” mumbled Harding. “You know, I really think Giselle is an innocent victim – hypnotized or something.”
“Maybe so,” countered Reverend Tarrant. “A young woman living out here alone could easily get caught up in something.”
“What do you think, Father Gilchrist?” asked Harding. “Don’t you think she could have been hypnotized?”
“Perhaps – if there is indeed something evil going on,” he replied, picking up a large branch to use as a walking stick.
“Now Hazel’s another matter,” added Coffman. “She’s always been strange. Look at all those cats she has.”
“Yes,” agreed Tarrant bitterly. “Hazel has always been strange, even when we were children.”
Dickerson called out to Amundsen who was walking grimly ahead of the others, who were giving him a wide berth. “What do you think Amundsen? She’s your sister-in-law.”
Amundsen looked out into the dawn. “She’s evil.” The words seemed to spit from his mouth, and everyone took another step away from him.
“Don’t talk to him, Dickerson,” whispered Coffman. “He might do something crazy.”
“Yes, indeed, he might,” muttered Micah to Keegan, whose only response was a slow nod of his head.
They came upon Wellkeeper’s vegetable garden first. Amundsen stopped abruptly and stared at the garden. The others flowed around him. “So this is how he managed to live up here,” muttered Coffman. Tarrant found the path down to his hut and the others followed as he lead the way down, half turning and holding up one hand, his other hand gesturing for silence as he reached the edge of the clearing.
The four missing adults were sitting with bowed heads, holding hands, but Giselle and Dan each had an empty hand extended as if holding the invisible hands of two missing people. Six cups sat on the ground, one in front of each of them and two where the missing people would be.
“Wow, look at all that strange stuff hanging around on the trees and things,” said Dickerson, in a stage whisper.
Yameno’s head came up, and the travelers all dropped hands looking disorientedly toward the hunters, and then around the clearing.
“The children,” whispered Hazel, her fearful eyes meeting Dan’s.
Yameno stood up, taking a step toward the hunters. Coffman raised his gun. “Just hold it where you are.”
“Hey, what’s that they’re drinking?” exclaimed Harding. “Some kind of drug?”
Giselle stood up. “What’s going on?”
“That’s what we want to hear from you, young lady,” replied the deputy. “Where are the children? What have you done with Enid, and that kid, Jesús?”
Oh, my god, the children, thought Giselle. Where are the children? They fell and they didn’t return with us! And these people. How can we go back for the children with them here? Her thoughts raced. Look at all those guns. They won’t believe us if we try to tell about Ninas Twei or the Tree. “No. It’s important. You’ve got to let us continue. We need to help the children.”
“So, you did have something to do with the children,” exclaimed Harding. “What’ve you done with them?”
“My son,” cried McCrae, pushing his way into the clearing. “Where’s my son?”
What can we say? Giselle thought. I don’t know what to say. Oh, no! There’s Enid’s grandfather, and he looks – something – he’s going to…
Amundsen had been standing at the edge of the clearing staring at Hazel and Dan. He raised his gun. “It’s her,” he muttered. “She’s evil and I’m going to kill her.”
“Wait, Amundsen,” cried the deputy, grabbing his arm.
Hazel and Dan jumped up. Oh, god, thought Giselle. He’ll kill them.
Suddenly Hazel and Dan were not there. Instead, a cougar was rushing down the path out of the clearing, a hawk, wings stroking cumbrously, above her head. Amundsen shoved the deputy out of the way, knocking him to the ground, and raised his gun. Two shots rang out in rapid succession and two screams rent the air.
“No,” cried Giselle, “No!”
“What happened?” whispered Harding.
“It was the cougar,” said Coffman. “He killed the cougar and a hawk.”
Jarvis Tarrant froze. Hazel was dead. The bodies were a cougar and a hawk, but it was Hazel – Hazel and Dan. Numbness crept through him – his fingers, his toes. Cold, then a sick churning in his stomach. Amundsen had pulled the trigger, but he, Jarvis, had killed Hazel because he’d brought these people here.
When we were children she was beautiful, and wild, and different from all the rest of them even then, and I loved her. I loved her. Tears filled his eyes. “I didn’t know,” he whispered, shaking his head, still staring at the dead cougar. “I didn’t know I loved her.”
She wore pants rolled to her knees – my mother hated that! Girls weren’t supposed to wear pants. And those thick braids of hers! They danced when she ran. He smiled thinking about the curls that would slip out around her face and ears.
And she loved cats even then. They were constantly on her shoulders, or in her pockets. She was wild – a tomboy – but she was the gentlest person I’ve ever known.
I remember that day on the beach… One grain of sand. She held one grain of sand between her fingers, holding it up to the sun, squinting and peering at it when it was so small, she couldn’t have seen it. She chanted that poem over and over so much I can still remember it. “To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” William Blake. I read it in high school years later. But by then I hated her – and the poem.
“Why?” he murmured to himself. “Why?”
His parents had always distrusted her family. When they drove past her house his mother always had something to say. “Those Fraya’s ruin the town. The forest is growing right into their yard and they do nothing to stop it! And they spend all their time and their money, too, on books, and not on the right book, either.” She’d tremble all over with anger and smooth her skirt down over her knees over and over again. “Jarvis,” she would shake a finger at him. “Jarvis, you just stay away from that wild girl of theirs. You stay away from her.”
She knew! She knew and I didn’t know it myself. Did she feed the hate? Love turns to hate easily, he thought. He’d been confused. He wanted to agree with his mother, but he liked Hazel. He’d liked Hazel until… until Dan Burroughs came to town.
Hazel stopped doing things with the rest of the gang – no, that wasn’t true. We stopped doing things with her because she always brought Dan with her. It was one thing letting weird Hazel trail along, but no one was going to have a nigger hanging around with them. Hazel had a choice – and she chose Dan.
I felt so ugly and strange inside, and I hated her. I hated her, thought Jarvis. He looked over at the bodies of the cougar and the hawk. And now they’re dead – transformed in some unknown way to a cougar and a hawk. He saw it happen. They were dead.
The deputy stepped over to Amundsen, taking the gun from his hands. Amundsen let go willingly, turned, and walked off down the mountainside. No one went after him.
Giselle ran to the cougar and the hawk, sobbing as she crouched and stroked the dead animals. Yameno joined her, trying to find some sign of life in the bird and the cat, with no success. “He killed them,” whispered Giselle. “He killed them.’
Yameno stood up and looked after Gunther. “He should be stopped.”
“Shut up.” muttered the deputy without much conviction, as he pushed in next to the cougar, placing his hand on the still warm body. Clare moved instinctively to put her arm around Giselle while Coffman, Dickerson, and the other townspeople stood bemused, focused on the dead animals. The deputy stood up slowly. “Well,” he said, “It looks like you got what you came for. You got the cougar.” No one spoke as he moved away from the animals, but there was a visible relaxing of bodies in the crowd – just a cougar and a hawk. “About the hawk, though,” he continued. “It’s illegal to kill hawks, so Amundsen’s going to have to deal with the Fish and Game on that one.”
Yameno turned and looked steadily at the deputy. “Is that what you believe? That he killed a cougar and a hawk?”
“Shut up!” the deputy glared at Wellkeeper. “Just shut up!”
“No!” Giselle grabbed the deputy’s arm. “They weren’t a cougar and a hawk. He killed Hazel and Dan! You saw it. You know! He killed Hazel and Dan.”
Clare gently pulled Giselle back from the deputy, who, turning a rigid back, carefully surveyed the crowd. He looked quickly away from Father Gilchrist’s piercing gaze, noted the anguished look on Reverend Tarrant’s face as he continued to stare at the cougar, and the relief on the faces of the rest of the crowd. He dropped his eyes. “He killed a cougar and a hawk. That’s what you came for, now let’s go.”
“Hey, wait a minute.” Tom slipped his cell phone into his back pocket as he strode forward from where he’d stood toward the back of the crowd. “What about the girl? Where’s the girl?”
“And my son,” added McCrae, reaching out to grab the deputy’s arm. The deputy pushed his hand away, glaring at him.
“Yeah,” added Coffman. “What were these people doing here? Was it Satanism? Aren’t we going to arrest them?”
“Yeah,” echoed Dickerson. “Are those drugs in those cups? Aren’t you going to investigate?”
Yameno leaned across the bodies of the cougar and the hawk and touched Giselle on the arm. “They died as a cougar and a hawk,” he whispered. “That means they’re there with Singing Swan and Tuwillia.”
“Yes,” whispered Giselle. “They’ll look for the children.” But still they’re dead. He killed them. Clare’s eyes narrowed as she listened. The children? The hawk and the cougar were dead, but somehow Wellkeeper and Giselle thought they were alive somewhere looking for the children? Where were the children?
They were interrupted by the deputy, who took Wellkeeper by the arm and pulled him away from Giselle. “All right, you two are under arrest. Just get away from each other and no more talking. Reverend Yates, you take the woman, please, and Reverend Tarrant, you take Wellkeeper.”
“No one has to take us,” said Yameno quietly. “We’ll go with you.”
“All right, but you just stand over there by Reverend Tarrant while I get this all straightened out.”
Dickerson started to wander over by the place in the clearing where the travelers had sat drinking their spring water. “Hey, Dickerson,” yelled the deputy. “Stay away from that stuff. That’s evidence.”
Giselle looked at Yameno. “Should we tell the truth?” she said in a low voice.
Yameno shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what else we can do.”
“Who would believe us?” answered Giselle. “But yes. What else can we do, but tell the truth.”
The sun rose unseen on the eastern side of the hills as the strange procession wound its way down the mountainside to Giselle’s house. The deputy led the way, followed by Jarvis Tarrant and Wellkeeper, side by side wherever the path would allow. After them came Giselle, followed by Clare. The hunters, except for Tom who stayed to guard the clearing, came behind carrying the bodies of the cougar and the hawk hanging from a long tree branch across the shoulders of two of the men. Keegan and Micah came last. The deputy would take the prisoners into the county jail in Robertsville, and then return with the proper equipment to gather the “evidence”.
Giselle looked out toward the Earth Woman Tree Woman, standing at the edge of the cliff, and tried to remember the magic, but could feel nothing but a cold fear at the pit of her stomach. What was her sister going to say? What would people say when they heard the truth? Would anyone believe it? For sure she’d lose her job. Ninas Twei and the Weaving Tree floated farther and farther away in her mind, like a good book she had once read. All she could feel was the cold frightening reality of now.
Micah looked over at Keegan, but the older man seemed deep in thought. What did we see? Was it G-d, or something evil? All these people are pretending they didn’t see it – but I know I did. And Keegan saw it, too, he thought. The teacher spoke to Wellkeeper about telling the truth and said no one would believe them. Dear G-d, help me know what to do? I feel certain I’ll believe them.
Jarvis Tarrant moved up next to Yameno again after a narrow place in the path. Why? he thought. Why do I feel this need to be close to this man? He seems so calm. He doesn’t feel “evil”. He felt the weight of his gun pulling down on his right arm. What if I had shot the cougar? What if I had shot Hazel?
That damn Amundsen, thought the deputy. If he hadn’t shot them this craziness wouldn’t have happened. I wonder how many of those men saw it? No one besides the kidnappers said anything. If nobody else says anything we’ll be all right. We’ll just pretend Hazel and Dan never were a part of this thing.
Dickerson, walking toward the end of the line, broke the silence. “Well, what do you think of that, Coffman? Amundsen killed a devil and he didn’t even need my silver bullet. It was Hazel, you know. Did you see it? She was a devil all these years, and we didn’t even know it. Remember when we were kids and she used to play with us? She was probably a devil even then. I’ll bet being devils runs in her family. Wait ‘til my wife hears about all this.”
Well, that will take care of it, thought the deputy. Those who saw it will think that Hazel and Dan were devils. That won’t be taken seriously in court. So, the only bodies are of a cougar and a hawk, and that’s that. We need to find the children, but a search of the woods should do that.
Waves of pain filled the vortex as Luha tumbled through it. Gray – whirling swirls of dark and dirty gray, and so much pain.
No sound. Time – stretched.
She floated, aware, unaware, feeling, unfeeling, floating.
Is this forever? Did I fail? And Dan – Tata? She tried to look, but all she saw was the swirling dark gray.
Alone. No arms, no legs, no paws – nothing. Nothing but gray.
She remembered everything: Gunther lifting the gun. Changing. Running. Tata flying down the path ahead of her. Tata screeching and falling. Her cougar voice screaming. And then darkness. Where was he? Where was she? Shouldn’t they be like Singing Swan and Tuwillia? Shouldn’t they be at Ninas Twei if they died as their Tla Twei?
Did Ninas Twei die, too? All that pain. All that pain at the dance.
She sank into despair, and time stretched some more.
He could hear her calling, but it was so far away, and her voice seemed to be fading farther and farther from him as he tumbled through the darkness and the pain of the vortex.
He stretched his wings, finding balance. The pain seemed to slip away, and the darkness grew lighter.
Perhaps she lived. Maybe that was why her voice was so distant. Maybe she was alive! He stretched his wings, gliding in ever widening circles. The vortex pulled him. Energy popped around him like fireworks and matter swirled in beautiful spirals of pale color. He thought he heard one last “Tata,” – a whisper, maybe only a thought, and her voice disappeared.
People, Places, Organizations, and Terminology
TERMS RELATING TO THE DANCE OF LIFE:
Tsin Twei – The Dance of Life, where all of earth’s species, except one, dance and sing together to ensure the continuance of life on earth.
Din Tsin Twei – the mountain valley in Ninas Twei where the Tsin Twei takes place.
Ninas Twei – the mystical world of the Tsin Twei.
Tla Twei – the mystical, but corporal form humans must transform to before going to Ninas Twei. Plural is Tla Twein.
Totem – an object that helps a human get in touch with their Tla Twei. A picture, a carving, stuffed animals, etc.
Grandsoul – the souls of the members of a species living today joined together into one grandsoul allowing empathetic understanding between the members of that species.
PLACES AND PEOPLES:
Uhs – (pronounced “ŭs”) Nation where story takes place.
Uhsians – (pronounced ŭs-ē-ăn) The people of Uhs.
Bayomar – A large city which sprawls around a crescent shaped bay on the western coast of Uhs.
Arundel – Small unincorporated community 200 miles north of Bayomar on the coast road.
Robertsville – Larger community, county seat, inland from Arundel on the Interstate Highway.
Tuwillia River – River near Arundel named after the local Indian word for turtle.
Tuwillian Indians – Indians who used to have a village on the river near Arundel.
CHARACTERS: (Tla Twei, if applicable is in parenthesis)
Giselle’s family and friends, before leaving Bayomar:
Giselle Raphael – Teacher. (Earth Woman Tree Woman).
Monica – Giselle’s sister.
Rod – Monica’s husband, a lawyer.
Samuel – Giselle’s principal in Bayomar.
Mysterious homeless woman – Sings to Giselle.
People of Arundel and Robertsville:
Gabriela “Nicki” Nichols – Principal of the small elementary school in Arundel.
Yameno (Wolfwind in Tuwillian) Wellkeeper – keeper of the sacred spring. (Wolf)
Hazel Fraya – Local librarian. (Luhanada Moonmother, cougar in Tuwillian)
Greta Fraya – Hazel’s grandmother. (also cougar)
Dan Burroughs – Local gardener and scholar. (Tata Sundancer, Red-tailed Hawk in Tuwillian)
Enid Amundsen – A student in Giselle’s class and Hazel’s niece. (Chachuli Treerunner, squirrel in Tuwillian) (also called Ratatosk, Norse squirrel messenger to the gods)
Jesús McCrae – A student in Giselle’s class. (Kumni MakerMan, coyote in Tuwillian)
Gunther Amundsen – Enid’s grandfather.
Mary Amundsen – Hazel’s sister, Gunther’s wife, Enid’s grandmother. (Tree swallow)
Emma Amundsen – Enid’s mother.
Bidewells – Former owners of Giselle’s house.
Humphries – Real estate agent.
Rev. Jarvis Tarrant – Minister at Church of Those Born Again in Jesus
Muriel Chase – Historian, wife of Mark Chase.
Mark Chase – Retired doctor, Muriel’s husband.
Rabbi Micah Levinson – Rabbi from Robertsville Interfaith Peace Council.
Reverend Clare Yates – Methodist minister from Robertsville Interfaith Peace Council.
Father Keegan Gilchrist – Catholic priest from Robertsville Interfaith Council, specialist in the study of Satanism.
Coffman – Owner of local hardware store.
Tom – Coffman’s grandson.
Tom’s mother – unnamed
Harding – Male teacher at Arundel Elementary School.
Rowena Dickerson – Teacher at Arundel Elementary School.
Dickerson – Rowena Dickerson’s husband.
Billy McCrae – Jesus’ father.
Dorotea McCrae – Billy’s wife, Jesus’ mother.
Deputy Sheriff – County Sheriff. No name.
Yameno’s great aunt – last of the Tuwillians in Arundel until Yameno comes back. Unnamed.
Singing Swan – A Tuwillian who died many years ago. (Trumpeter Swan)
Tuwillia – A Tuwillian who died many, many, many years ago. (Turtle)
One Earth Together (OET) – A social and ecological justice group with members all over world.
Ninas Twei and the Tla Twein
Note: When I use the term “mythical” I do not in any way mean to denigrate the deities of any religion. Mythical does not mean “nonexistent,” only that these characters are used to tell the stories of a particular religion or tradition, and usually are more than human.
– the mystical, but corporal form humans must transform to before going to Ninas Twei. It can be a mythical character found in some tradition or one created by the human. In many traditions, such as the Tuwillian tradition, the mythical creatures take the form of animals. They are not real animals, but the tradition’s perception of that animal and its powers. Often their names reflect this. In this book the hawk is named Tata Sundancer; the cougar, Luhanada Moonmother. Those humans who choose an animal without associating it with a mythical tradition, give that animal mystical characteristics themselves, making their animal Tla Twei a mythical creature, rather than the “real” animal. Plural is TLA TWEIN.
When a human’sTla Twei is that of a goddess or god, they have not become the actual goddess, but their own perception of that goddess. They become imbued with the perceived powers of the goddess. This is much like the spiritual practice of Charya Nritya, “a mental process of seeing oneself as having the appearance, ornaments, inner qualities, and awareness of the deity one is envisioning” practiced by the Newar Buddhist priests of Nepal. http://www.dancemandal.com/dance-mandal-offerings/
– an object that helps a human get in touch with their Tla Twei. A picture, a carving, stuffed animals, etc.
– the souls of the members of a species living today joined together into one grandsoul allowing empathetic understanding between the members of that species. The grandsoul is not one member of the species, but most of the members of an entire species in a kind of mind meld. Some may drop out of the grandsoul, but if too many leave, their grandsoul disintegrates. If most humans open themselves to each other empathetically, they can form a grandsoul, even if some do not join.
Members of the nonhuman species don’t need a Tla Twei to go to Ninas Twei because they are a part of the grandsoul for their species, and therefore part of the Tsin Twei automatically, instantly. They could take a Tla Twei if they wished, but they have no need to. The humans don’t need to take their Tla Twei after they’ve become a grandsoul, but their grandsoul is very tenuous. Using a Tla Twei enhances their ability to be empathetic and will help them stay a grandsoul.
is like a grand-grandsoul! In this dance all species have an empathetic understanding of the needs of the other species. It makes possible the grand compromise of life.
– if a traveler to Ninas Twei dies in her Tla Twei she finds herself at Ninas Twei in his or her Tla Twei form, a protector of the Tsin Twei.
Connie Pwll Walck Tyler, activist, teacher, writer, and composer, has a BA and MA in English but received her most important education working in the Civil Rights and Peace movements in the sixties. She taught public school for twenty-one years working with children, pre-school through high school, from every different background imaginable. She earned an MA/MDiv in Theology and the Arts from the Pacific School of Religion where she did her field education in homeless shelters.
Recent published works:
Dancing the Deep Hum, one woman’s ideas on how to live in a dancing, singing universe, memoir/self-help.
Humming on the High Wire, poetry.
Recent Musical Performances:
Keke’s Song, first place winner in the MTAC Composers Today State Contest, performed in Oakland, CA at the MTAC convention.
Brigid, Fiery Arrow and Now the Dove Flies, performed in San Francisco at Fresh Voices.
A Deep Hum, seven songs of creation, under the direction of Arlene Sagan of the Berkeley Community Chorus.
Cats and Fools, two suites for piano.
In Praise of Animals, seven poems about animals, set for voice and piano.
On YouTube: Disposable People in a Throwaway World, sung by Pauli Amornkul.
Tyler lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.
More information about Tyler’s works, and the Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet can be found at the Deep Hum Productions website:
Quartet Overview The Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet is a near future fantasy with a progressive political bent, a diverse set of characters, and links to recordings of many original songs. Ninas Twei is the mystical place where all of Earth’s species dance and sing together to ensure the continuance of life on Earth – all, that is, except Homo sapiens. Greed and the lust for power has barred them from the dance. Giselle, an activist school teacher, finds herself called to a small rural community to join a group of people who, becoming their Tla Twein (mythical animals or gods), are able to travel to Ninas Twei. Gathering an increasingly diverse group of people from the city, the country, and the world, the Tla Twein engage in a life and death struggle to heal the rift in the natural order and defeat the forces of greed. Giselle, the Earth Woman Tree Woman, joins with the Wolfwind, and together they become all things – earth, air, and water; flora and fauna – a compassionate force for the well-being of the earth. Book One: Journey to Ninas Twei A stray cat struts into Giselle’s apartment bringing an elusive melody? A majestic homeless woman sings her a prophesy and a red-tailed hawk silently urges her to travel north from the city to a rural farming community on the north coast, where she finds an ocean-side house next to a hilly forest, and a new job. Three people in Arundel have been waiting for Giselle, believing that she, and two children, Enid and Jésus, are missing pieces in their attempt to bring humans back to the dance of life. Yameno, 30, the last member of the Tuwillian nation living in Arundel, is guardian of the sacred spring. His nation has a tradition of transforming into their Tla Twein and traveling to Ninas Twei to watch and guard the dance. Yameno’s Tla Twei is a large grey wolf. Dan, 50, a black gardener and scholar, is the hawk. Hazel, 47, a librarian, becomes the cougar. With subtle, often musical encounters, Giselle and the children are drawn into the group. Yameno, carves a sculpture of Giselle’s Tla Twei, the Earth Woman Tree Woman and transform to their Tla Twein and join, becoming all things – wolf and tree, earth, water, and air. But Enid’s grandfather, Gunther, who learned the secrets of the Tla Twein when married to Hazel’s sister, blames Hazel and the others for his wife’s death. When he stumbles on an encounter between Enid and the cougar he knows is Hazel, he arouses the town and a cougar hunt is planned. Ninas Twei is in imminent danger. Hunt or no hunt, the Tla Twein must travel there. On the day of the cougar hunt they meet in a forest clearing where, singing their songs, they transform to their Tla Twein, journeying to Ninas Twei through a vortex splashed with color – and sometimes pierced by tremors and sharp pain. In Arundel Jésus and Enid are reported missing and the townspeople’s hunt for the cougar turns to one for the children. In Ninas Twei they watch the incredible dance of life and find the Weaving Tree where Giselle can trace people’s stories and see the relationship between the problems on earth and the absence of humans from the dance. The source of the tremors and pain is somewhere beneath this tree and it is dying. Suddenly the ground shakes and a gapping crevice opens up swallowing the screaming children. The others are tossed back to earth in their human form just as the hunters come down the path into the clearing. Obsessed with anger, Gunther raises his gun accusing Hazel of being “the devil”. Hazel and Dan have only a moment to transform to their Tla Twein as he shoots. Hazel and Dan disappear, leaving behind the bodies of a cougar and a hawk. The children are missing. Giselle and Yameno are accused of kidnapping them. They walk back down the hill back of Giselle’s house in the custody of the sheriff. Hazel and Dan call to each other, their voices growing fainter and fainter as they float away from each other in a gray empty place.