The Woman

I  awoke looking at the sky, framed by the ring of giant trees, the cold brought bumps to my skin. The mist was thick, it made everything wet. But the wood was still dry enough for a fire. I sat close to it, until I could feel the warmth. I ate some of the dried wolf meat before I began hiking again. I followed the sound of the creek, which I could see now and again through the mist. Looking down at the creek-bed, I could see the fallen logs pointing into the creek-bed and the ferns growing near the wettest spots.

The sun was still low when it broke through the mist, and it was good to feel the warmth against my skin. Soon I came to an opening where the giant trees gave way to bushes and shrubs. In that spot I could see out for a long distance, and what I saw was all whiteness below me, it was like the soft white down of a birds feather. The salty sweet rotting smell was strong. I hoped that somewhere underneath that white mist lay the endless waters I was searching for, nothing else could smell like that. Then a sinking feeling came to me. What if there was no village, what if it was just the endless waters and nothing else.

I waited there, warming myself in the sunlight and watching as the mist slowly cleared. Bit by bit I began to see hints of a deep green colored water and at its edges was a foamy white color. I could see waves passing through the water in a rhythm, like a beating heart. I waited there, watching the water below and how the sunlight sparkled on the water. When the sun was straight up, all the mist cleared from the water. I could see clearly the water as it stretched endlessly in all directions. I remembered the maps that led me here, so I took them out and compared what I saw with the drawings on the map.

Then I looked back toward the creek which I was still following. I traced it with my eyes, imagining how it might travel through the trees. In the distance I spotted a place that could be the mouth of a river. I looked carefully and could see the color of the water was browner near that spot as it flowed into the endless waters. Above the mouth of the river was a large open green plateau and there on that plateau I could see what looked like small piles of wood. They could only have been fashioned by people… but these were not like the houses that the ghost people used to live in. I hoped that these were shelters made of branches and bark. I hoped that this was a village where the people my father spoke of still lived.

I watched closely for signs of people but it was too far away to see clearly. I  sat and watched the hawks soar on the air above me, waiting for a sign of people below. I saw no smoke, no movement… only the gulls flying endlessly around. They were just  like the gulls on the big water.

I kept looking at the huts and was almost certain they were huts with rounded tops. Their uneven textures showed that they were things crafted with the hands of people. Not like the manufactured things of the ghost people. The huts called out for people to crawl into them and protect themselves from the wind; for children to be running back and forth playing games; for hunters to be returning with their meat and skins; for a large feast in the center with lots of talking, laughing and singing, for a dance with twirling and flipping, for glowing night fires and a song mixing with silence; and for bodies to be touching inside their warmth and comfort. But… I could no signs of life.

I waited and watched until my thoughts wandered. I thought back to the place of the giant women. I sat down and drew a picture of what I saw there, the giant woman standing over me.

the Giant

I wondered how real my imaginings and my father’s story might have been.  Maybe all the people had been killed and eaten and their bones left in the fire-pits in that village by the big waters. Maybe those giant women had eaten them all.

Then I remembered something my father once told me.

It was the ghost people who created those creatures who live in the lower lands. There were those among them who were master storytellers. They wrote the stories of  new kinds of creatures that had never been seen before. They knew how to bring together different parts of other people and even some animals and plants. But all the connections were done on the inside, before the creature even came into being. They wrote the story of the creature they wanted, before they brought it to life. If they wanted a person who was taller and stronger they could write those things into that person. If they wanted a creature who could live in the water but look and talk like a person they could write the story of that creature.

I  asked him if he had ever seen one of these creatures.

Yes, I have. And I imagine there are others who are still alive. I don’t know if there are any ghost people who are still living. But these creatures were made stronger and able to live in places were we ancient people can not live. I have seen at least one of these new kinds of people and I know that someday you will too.

I sat there thinking about his words from so long ago… and I made a connection in my thoughts. I stood up and started to pace back and forth and look all around me. My thoughts had made me worried. I knew now….  I had seen one of those creatures… and it was….sawat. I wondered if  sawat was also one of the giant women from my father’s story. I worried that somehow sawat was planning on killing me and eating me.

But after I thought more, I felt that couldn’t be what she wanted from me. Why would she have waited so long, she would have eaten me long ago if she was planning on it. I began to calm down a bit, but I was still nervous about seeing sawat again, and wondered if she was out there watching me. I imagined that she was just lonely like myself and was seeking some kind of companionship. Maybe she was like me… the last of her kind as far as she knew. As a child I had always thought of her as a protector, but I was beginning to see much greater mystery in her actions.

I stayed there on the hillside where I could look down at the village below. As the shadows became long, I kept looking for any kind of movement below. I saw only the many dots of birds floating through the air and the reflections of sunlight bouncing off the water. I built my fire in this spot and kept watching. I watched as the sun appeared to sink into the water.

Then as I looked down at the village in the dark. I was certain, that for a moment, I saw smoke rising from one of the huts. My heart jumped and I felt half fear and half joy. The smoke soon disappeared behind the creeping white mist. I watched as the mist slowly moved toward me. Soon it enveloped me, but was illuminated by the moonlight. I covered myself in warm skins. I lay awake dreaming of sawat as one of the giant women. I imagined being her pet, with her leading me around where ever she went. My eyes met her navel and the trail of black hair leading from it to the much thicker patch below. This was my view when she looked down at me. I slept next to her with my arms wrapped around her legs. My face pressed against her stomach, sometimes feeling the softness of skin sometimes the coarse hair. She laid a heavy leg over my chest and dozed off to sleep.
I still have a longing to be close to a woman’s body. Sitting here on the mountaintop, waiting and remembering, even now I think about a woman putting her arms around me. I wish I could have that feeling one more time before I die. Back then, I didn’t know if I would ever experience that feeling. The closest I had come to that feeling was laying next to my mother or my sister…but it was never the same kind of feeling. It was not the kind of feeling that made my penis stand up and long to be touched.  Now I long for a different kind of feeling, not one that feels full of passion, but one that feels gentle and soothing. More like the kind of feeling I had with my mother.
I drifted to sleep pleasantly that night with my thoughts of sawat and feeling her skin against mine.  I dreamed of sleeping with my family under a single large deerskin as we used to do during the deep snows. Our skin touching and keeping us warm. I liked the feel of my mother’s soft skin best, especially her breasts which she sometimes let me hold with my  hands, until I became older. In my dream my mother changed into sawat… there was a power in her body but a gentleness also. It felt like life, laying there next to mother/sawat, touching her skin and feeling the power flowing from her into me. Sawat put her arm around the entire family and we all felt protected in her arms. I wanted to linger there… in that dream.

The morning was shrouded in a thick mist and a breeze was blowing, the mist blew past me as though I was on a boat moving through it. Without lighting a fire I rolled up my belongings and began walking toward the creek. As I walked down the mountain, the creek became larger and larger. The morning was still fresh when the land began to flatten out and the creek became slow and wide. The giant tall trees had given way to wide-spreading oak trees with crooked, out-reaching limbs. I could see they were full of green acorns. The banks of the creek (which was now a river, was thick with willows. I knew this tree from the mountains. I peeled off a piece of the bark and began to chew it. The bitter taste was familiar, it helped to ease some of the pains of my travels.

Under the shroud of mist, I entered a grove of oaks with large limbs, like the arms of shielding giants. Their branches covered with heavy lichen and moss. I felt as though I was entering a sacred space. A place of connection where the spirits of the earth showed themselves and spoke to those who passed by. Directly in front of me, through the mist I saw several large roundish shapes rising up from the earth. I crouched low, and moved slowly toward the shapes. As I came closer I could see that they were large huts. They were completely covered in dried up leaves and broken branches. It must have been years and years since anyone had lived in these huts.

I  paused in this place and listened for the ghosts of those who had once lived here. I sat down and remembered another story my father used to tell.

We are the ancient people, we are a dying people. Soon the land will belong to the animals again. Our time here was short but their time is long. When you are  older and you walk this land you will see many signs of our people, who were once so many. We had so many stories. The stories shaped us and moved us, but now they are mostly forgotten. The stories will disappear just as we will disappear. Only hints will be left, because there is a larger story which is bigger than our own small stories. Only the larger story will continue to be told.

There was a time when we lived close to the animals and saw them as just another part of our family. Our lives were not separated and special, we lived and died the same as they lived and died. That was very long ago, but now… once again we live with the animals as our family. We live and die as they live and die. Their stories are our stories once again.

Out there somewhere, on the edge of the endless waters there lives a village full of people who sometimes become animals themselves. They can switch back and forth. In that village, the children became fewer and fewer until there was only one small boy…all the rest were old ones. The food was easy there…fish in the river… deer that had little fear, roots, berries and acorns when the time was right. So as the village became filled with old ones…they could still feed themselves. But the boy…he was a lonely one.

Sometimes the boy would go on long walks…always hoping he would find another child he could play with. One day he spotted a small boy walking along the path toward him. He was about the same age, but his skin was darker  from the sun and he wore only two flaps of skin hanging from his waist. His bow and his arrows were beautifully fashioned. The darker boy greeted the village boy as though he knew he was coming. He motioned for the village boy to follow him…and he did.

He showed the village boy a path to cliffs which looked down on the endless waters. They both stood on the edge of the cliff looking down at the water…but the water did not stand still like it does in a lake. They water was in constant motion. Waves crashed onto the rocks below, shooting white water up high into the air. The two boys sat on the edge of the cliff with the feet hanging over and they began to talk.

The darker boy said that he had no family and no village, he roamed the land on his own, taking care of himself. He had no memory of a mother or a father. He remembers only himself wandering in the land. He didn’t remember how he learned the things that he knew.

The village boy told him about his village and his mother and father and how his village had no young people left. He said the darker boy should come join his village. The darker boy just looked off into the distance without answering.

When they were done talking the village boy walked back toward his village and the darker boy followed him. They did not speak the entire way.

But when they arrived at the village it was empty. The acorn mortars were left out with acorn in them and the jerky was left drying on the rack. They waited there until the sun went down but no one returned. They waited all the next day but no one returned, They waited as the moons became bigger and smaller…still no one returned.

But all the time that they waited they played games with each other, and hunted together and talked about their dreams for the future. There was a sadness that hung over the village boy, but it was like the sadness that hung over the darker boy. They shared this sadness of having no family.

The two boys made this village their own home. As they grew older, it was as though they were still boys with how they played together and talked about their dreams of the future. They lived together in the same hut, like a man and woman live together. They felt each others skin and pressed their penises against each other. As they got older they held each other in their arms and thought back about their many years together.

They darker boy died first and when he died the village boy was left alone. It was only then, that he began to look at the animals that came into the village more closely. He began to listen to them and speak to them. The jays, the thrushes, the raccoons, the deer, the mice, the wolves, the bear and even the snakes, he learned to speak to all of them. It was only then that he realized, that all the old people of the village had been with him all along. They had become the deer, the mice and the birds.

There was a lot about this story, and many of my father’s stories that did not match real life. But I had no need for questions. I knew even then, that some stories are not meant to feed you, they are meant to help you dream and long and wonder. They are repeated from things that we may have seen and heard and felt, but are always changing a little. These stories are attached to the deep river of feelings which runs powerfully through all of us. They are more like a song than a map.

I sat down in the ghost village for awhile thinking about my father’s story. I tried to match what I saw and felt there with his story. There was peace in that place; children talking and women with arms around their men. Much life had passed through that place. There was a calm acceptance of death there, much like in my own village. Death came to us gently,  not like the agony and struggle of the village by the big waters.

I wanted to linger there,  I wandered from one hut to the next. In each I felt a sense of who had lived there. The ghosts there drew me and made me feel at ease. I found the hut which I thought belonged to the two boys and I sat inside for awhile. There was still one large bed inside. As I sat inside, a deer walked up to the door and looked inside at me. I imagined it was the village boy greeting me, in his way.

I spent some time washing myself in the river. My parents had taught me to prepare for events that might bring change to my life. I didn’t know what I would see in the village by the cliffs but I wanted my skin and hair to be clean. I cleaned my deerskin coverings and tried my best to dry them before putting them on.

I followed the river down through the mist. It flatten out completely and the willows became so thick I could not walk near the river. Instead I walked above the river on the plateau looking down at the river. I realized that this was the green plateau I had seen from above, on the previous day. The wind blew the mist across my face as I looked for the water. There was a faint roaring sound in the distance, like the sound of a waterfall. The smell of salt and the sweet rotting smell was stronger than ever. Mixed in with those smells, I thought I smelled the faint scent of a fire burning.

I stood on the plateau for a long time looking into the mist toward the sound of the roaring water. The sun began to shine yellow through the mist. It opened up in  large patches and then closed again, as the mist rode the wind across the plateau. I waited there, watching as the huts I saw from above appeared before me and then disappeared. Soon the mist cleared completely and I could see the huts clearly. They were newer than the ones by the river, but not well taken care of. Wind had blown the pieces of protective bark from the roofs of most of them. They were wrapped in a light colored translucent skin and many of the wrapping were loosely blowing in the wind. Lichen grew green, white, yellow and red in thick patches all over them. They were a different shape than those by the river, these huts were wider and taller. They looked like they were designed for a large families. They were the shape of a tall, and very wide tree stump with a pointed cone for a hat. One was a different shape, much larger and rounded all over. They stood there jutting out of the earth, making the statement; this is a village where life happens, and stories are told.

There was one hut which caught my attention. It’s bark was fresh and its skin wrapping intact. I noticed a faint trace of smoke flowing out of the peak of the roof. I stood motionless again, ready to run at any moment. I just stood there, frozen as the sun moved across the sky, the wind made me shiver, the gulls and the hawks soared overhead, the ground squirrels stood on their hind legs to look, the deer grazed calmly in the distance, and the roaring sound never stopped. I stood, waiting to see someone walk out of the hut; but finally I walked toward it myself.

As I approached, I heard the light crackling of a fire and the breaking of twigs. I found the opening and pulled it back. In front of me sat a woman, sitting cross-legged tending to a fire. She looked up at me with no surprise in her eyes. Her long wavy hair was white with the years, and it hung uncombed. She was completely uncovered and did not attempt to cover herself. Her skin was light, and showed some wrinkling from the years. Her breasts hung down like small pointed cones. She was well-fed with a slightly protruding belly and some thickness to her arms and legs. The hair between her legs stood out as dark black and thick. Her face welcomed me inside her hut.

The Woman by the Fire

It was warm inside, protected from the wind. But dark, with only the light which penetrated the skins which wrapped the exterior of her hut. and the light of the fire. The smoke of her small fire escaped through  a hole in the pointed top of the hut. She motioned for me to sit, and I  sat across from her, looking down at the fire. I was afraid to look into her eyes. For a long time there was only silence between us. When I sneaked a peak at her, she sat staring at me, unwavering. I could only think of how I held myself and what she thought of me. I knew she was  trying to read me; how I held myself, the skins I wore and the smells I brought with me. She was passing judgement on me, and I desperately wanted to pass.

I have been expecting you.

Her voice sounded good to my ears, calm, soft and caressing, like my mother’s. But I wondered how she could be expecting me and what else she knew about my travels. Then… I wondered if she was hallucinating.

It is time to open your bundle.
….I will make a place here by the fire for you.

She motioned with her hand to sit down next to her. I stood up, grabbed my bundle and sat next her. I untied it and unrolled it in front of her. She looked at each item carefully. First she picked up my knife, testing its sharpness against a stick, then she looked over my fire-kit, then my arrows, then the dried wolf meat I still carried, she picked up and carefully touched everything I possessed. She picked up the pictures I carried with me of the naked hairless people caressing each other. She looked at me with a knowing smile and then threw them into the fire.

I was surprised, but didn’t say anything. I just watched them burn.

It is a different time now. We are no longer afraid of what we are.

.The last things she looked at, were my carved figures. They were the animals my sister and I played with as children. We pretended to speak the voices of each one. There was the deer, the crow, the snake, the raccoon, the wolf, and the bear. The woman seemed very interested in these toys, caressing each one as though it was alive.

I pretended as a child too. It felt like death to lose that feeling. It took me years to realize that feeling remains with us, it just takes on different shapes.

After setting down the figures she was finished looking at my bundle. Then she spoke to me.

The life flows through you… your dark skin glows….your face is eager to see ahead…you remind me of my husband who built this hut… He was a dreamer, he liked to look off, in the distance, just thinking… It was a lot of work to get him to build this hut. So much talking and reminding.

I am looking for the endless waters

I looked at her face as I spoke. Her eyes had a tinge of the blue sky in them. Her skin still had a hint of youthfulness but it had the looseness and texture of a woman past her bleeding age. Her white hair was thick on her head but the darkness of her pubic hair drew my eyes toward it. She grew a bit of white hair on her lip and on her chin. With a slight smile on her face, she stared at me directly. Her gaze seemed to penetrate me and expose my thoughts to her. I had to avert my eyes toward the fire again, I could not return that gaze of her’s.

If you listen you can hear the sound of the endless waters…. That is not what we call it though. We call her “yoshi”. We say she is where all things begin and all things end. For a time they reach up out of the water onto land. They fight their battles, and in the end return back into the water.

It sounds like the clouds thundering.

You may stay here with me now. Tomorrow I will show you yoshi.

We sat silently next to each other, very close together. She put her arm around me.

I still remember that feeling in this moment, so many years removed from it. I felt completed in a way I hadn’t for so long. I guess, since I grew out of childhood. The moon is overhead and the night is deep. It is the time of night when bears are the fiercest. Of all the things I have seen pass by me in my life, it is that feeling of someone’s arm around me that is the hardest to leave behind. 

The small fire began to burn low. The woman stood up and walked to the edge of the hut where a pile of dried branches lay. She moved well and showed her strength as she broke the branches into smaller pieces over her leg. She handed the wood to me and I knew she meant for me to tend the fire. I placed the wood in a way I knew well, adding the smaller sticks first and keeping the larger ones aside for later. It burned nearly smokeless and much warmer. I felt too warm under my deer hide cover. The woman sat back down with her legs wide apart and her hands holding her knees.

You should uncover yourself. I have food here, and enough  wood for the night.

I stood up to take off my deer-hide and felt aware of the woman’s gaze at my body. Then I sat down like her, cross-legged with my legs apart and my hands on my knees. I sat beside her and she moved until her knee touched mine. She caressed my arm and the inside of my thigh a bit. Her touch brought up such a feeling inside me, that my penis began to stand up. She looked down at my penis and said.

That is what we call a man’s soft horn. It gives away your feelings. In our time, we no longer have shame about the truth. 

Your muscles are very long…… Your skin glows, like it is wet with water. I have forgotten what a young person’s skin is like.

Her words felt comfortable, like she was welcoming me. And I puffed up a bit, feeling pride in my body.

I have nearly forgotten what a woman looks like, but it is so good to see again….I thought I might never see again… what a woman looks like.

There was a long silence as we sat gazing at each other, drinking in the sight of another human. Studying the texture and the shapes of our bodies. I remember observing how her hair grew in patterns, thick in some places but very thin in most other places, similar but different than my own. Her muscles still bulged and stretched but they sagged on her upper arms when they were at rest.

Then I noticed a shift in the woman’s face and sensed a shift in her mood. It seemed as though she was preparing to say something. Her face hardened and she began looking straight ahead and not at me. I began to feel uneasy again,.I thought she was re-assessing me, I wondered if I was still welcome there in her hut.

Here in our village we have a game, when we receive a visit from a traveler. The entire village gathers together and the four mothers bring a gift with them…they offer it to the traveler…..that gift is a song. After listening to the four songs, the traveler then must tell  a story of their own. After hearing this story the four mothers decide whether the traveler can stay as a guest or whether that person must go.

I am only one mother now…. the last one. So I will offer you only one song.

It is a story about the girl who was left behind.

But before I begin the story there are always things to remember:

If I am still,
I can witness the birth and the death of the world.
It is everchanging but it never changes.
It is the change which makes it constant.
I am safe if I remember this.
I find myself acting without thought.
Moving as though I know already.
If I must think about trust, then trust is lost.
I move carefully but naturally.
“This is me.”
I know the times of disconnection.
When I feel mechanical and fake.
I just go through the motions without feeling.
Forget the plans,
Forget the outrage,
Forget the conversations with myself.
There is something that lies below, and above it all.
It is simple and plain.
I can see it if I am not distracted by the intricate designs.
I feel my worries melt away when I am in its presence.

It is said these songs came to us from the thoughts of the ancient ones, but I did not see it happen. I have only heard these things from the mothers who heard it from other old ones.

She lived there where the river bends and the trees hold out their limbs to comfort and the fish are thick in the water. One night she went to sleep with her family and her village around her, but when she awoke with the sun, no one was there. She looked in all the huts but there was not a sign of anyone, just their belongings, left behind.

She thought,

“Oh they have just left to gather the tree nuts and I have overslept. So I will just wait for them to return”.

So she waited and waited until the shadows were long. Still no one returned. She built a fire and waited throughout the night, she could not sleep. Still, no one returned. So the next day she went to look for them. She looked in the places where they went to gather tree nuts, she went to the places they went to hunt deer, She looked for days and days but there was no sign of her tribe. Finally she went to the place where they talk to the sky. She sat there on the grassy hillside where she could see out all around her. Her village would come to this place at night and look up at the flood of stars as they flowed past. Sometimes they would watch the moon as it traveled through the night. Or during they day they would go to that place and look out over yoshi, admiring her body. Sometimes they might see a whale out in the deep waters.

As she sat in this place, she felt something moving behind her. She sensed, it was her village standing behind her, she could even feel the presence of her mother and father. But when she turned around, she saw a large pack of wolves. She jumped and turned to run but then stopped, knowing she could not outrun them or fight them, so instead she stood still and decided to offer herself to them. She was so lonely without her family that she didn’t care, she stood and faced the wolves. When she looked into their eyes she did not see their hunger, instead, she saw the eyes of her friends. Her mother and father were there and so were her friends that she knew so well.

The wolves began to speak to the woman, begging her to join them. She walked toward the wolves and touched the two who were her mother and father. She laid down next to them and they lay alongside her. She acted as a wolf does, walking on her hands and rubbing faces with the other wolves, but still she remained a person with so much skin and so little fur. The wolves turned to leave and she ran with them but she could not keep up and they looked back as they left her behind, saying we will return, with their eyes.

The woman returned to the empty village and slept alone in her family’s hut, dreaming about the pack of wolves, thinking of the wolves and singing of the wolves. She sat by the fire at night singing the song the wolves sing and sometimes in the distance she heard them calling back. Sometimes she would go to the place where they talk to the sky, hoping to see the wolf pack. She would sing the song of wolves but they never came to see her.

One day she found a piece of wood that was shaped like a wolf’s face. She picked it up and turned it in her hands. She carried this wood with her where ever she went, rubbing it with her hands. At night she began carving it and each day it looked more and more like a wolf. Then she began to carve out the inside, so her face would fit into it like a mask. At night she would put it over her face as she would sing out like a wolf and the wolves in the distance would call back.

She waited for one night when the moon was big and the sky was clear. She walked up to the place where they talk to the sky. She built a fire and watched the moon move through the sky. Then she put on her wolf mask and began to sing her wolf song. Soon the wolves were singing back to her in the distance, they moved closer and closer until she could see the wolf pack in the nearby shadows, their eyes reflecting back the light of the fire. She waited by the fire as it slowly died out. She spoke to them and they spoke to her, with their faces and their bodies. When the fire was burnt down to glowing embers, the two wolves whom she recognized as her mother and father, walked up close to her so that she could touch them. As she reached out to touch, she saw her hand had become a paw. She rubbed them with her mask and could feel their fur, her mask had become part of her. When the wolf pack turned to run, this time she ran with them.

She has lived with them ever since that time.

Sometimes, if you are lucky you will see a lone dark wolf wandering away from her pack toward you. She is dark, like those that lived near the river bend, they were as dark as the black earth near her home. Her family and friends have all become shadows, only she lives on. The wolf-woman, she is caught between longing to be a human again and wanting to stay a wolf. It is said she has always lived here and always will live because she is caught between the two worlds.

The woman sat silently after telling her story. She watched the fire as it burnt down to glowing embers. She stood up and picked up some more sticks breaking them over her leg and handing them to me again. As I placed more sticks on the fire, the woman walked to the other side of the hut and bent over to take the lid off of a small pot. She then squatted over the pot and peed into it. She wiped herself with a small piece of leather and then placed the lid back on the pot. I could smell a slight waft of urine from the other side of the hut. It reminded me of the days when my family was still alive, living in our small hut with the heavy snows outside. Our family had a pot like that one, we would pee into it the same way. When it was full, father would walk out into the snow, empty it and clean it.

The woman sat by the fire next to me and put her hand on my thigh. I knew it was time for my story. My heart raced a little and my voice quavered as I spoke.

Our people found a home in the loneliest place, it was an unwanted place, far away from everyone else. There were no comforts or chaos. But it was a beautiful place. It was a place where they could hide for the rest of their days. They did not plan to have children. They only wanted to live out the rest of their days living their art. It was a place where they could build an honorable end to their days.

This is what I have always been told. I only know of my mother, my father and my sister. I have only felt their skin against mine and heard their voices speaking to me. Everything else is just a story made from shadows and light, floating on a mist.

When my sister and I were young we would play together. Sometimes we would wander off far from our house playing on the paths and the rocks. As we played one day we heard a growl nearby and saw, very close to us, a large bear. By accident we had walked up right next to her. She was a large mother bear with two babies nearby. We did not run or shout, we only stood looking. She stood tall on her hind legs and bellowed. We both thought of the stories we were told of mother bear and how angry she could be. We ran without a thought of were to go. We stopped only when we were on a rocky point and looking down a cliff. When we looked behind us, at first we saw nothing, than we saw some fur moving toward us. But it did not move like a bear on four legs, she moved like a human on two. When she came out of the trees we saw a face with white flesh and orange hair which stuck out in all directions. The fur was a bear skin wrapped around her body. And the face of a bear mask hung around her neck. As she walked closer we could see a kind face which was odd but still like a person. Her smell drifted toward us and we felt at ease. It was not the smell of a bear, it was more like the smell of a person. She walked back into the trees… and we walked home.

As we walked home, we could not decide if the mother bear had become the orange-haired woman, or if there never was a bear and it was only the woman all along. Or maybe there was a bear and the orange-haired woman had come to protect us and calm the mother bear, that is what her face seemed to say. When we told mother and father of this thing that happened to us, they both agreed that it would make a good picture. Sister and I both drew many pictures of the mother bear and the orange-haired woman. Sometimes we drew pictures of the two as one, and sometimes we drew them separately.

We started to call the bear/woman sawat, because that was the name of a creature that was sometimes seen but never touched, who lived in the deep forest long ago.

After that first visit from sawat, she was never far away. But she rarely let herself be seen. We could hear her movement in the brush or her footsteps on leaves. If the wind was right we could smell her body. But she never showed her face to us again. Mother said that sawat had adopted our family, she wanted to be part of our family, but that was impossible, so instead she watched over us and tried to protect us.

I showed the woman the picture I had drawn of sawat watching over my family. She made no comment. I had expected her to say something.

The woman stood and walked to another corner of her hut. She picked up a second pot, made from a thin silver material. It sloshed and made the sound of stones in water as she walked toward the fire. She also picked up a small rack standing next to the fire. Then she placed the pot on top of the rack above the flames. The rack held the pot at just the right distance above the flames. Inside the pot I saw what looked to me like oddly shaped stones. They were mostly black but with white bumps, and had bits of moss growing off of them. As the water in the pot began to boil, the stones opened up to reveal a brown meat inside.

The woman picked one out of the pot and opened it further with her fingers. Then she put the shell to her mouth and picked the shell clean with her tongue. She motioned for me to do the same thing. I picked one out of the pot but the heat made me quickly drop it. I tried again but more carefully, I picked it up and held it to my nose. It smelt fishy but not unpleasant. Then I awkwardly open it and pulled out the meat with my  mouth. The woman smiled, watching my clumsiness. The texture was like chewing fat but the flavor was oily; it reminded me of mushrooms.

They taste of yoshi. …they grow on the rocks at the edge of the water… tomorrow I will show you how to gather them.

I wondered if my story was enough to earn me a place in the woman’s hut. It seemed like it had, but still there were many things I wondered about. I wondered how long she would let me stay. I wondered if she was the only person living here in this large village. And if she was, what happened to all the others. I wondered how this village came to be. But I knew these answers would take time.

The woman rinsed out the cooking pot and filled it with clean water. She put it back on the fire and began to add dried leaves which she crumbled over the top of the water. I recognized the smell and the shape of the leaves, as mint. I made tea in the same way with dried mint leaves. But these mint leaves had a slightly different smell.

Open your roll over here next to mine.

I picked up my roll and moved it to a soft spot in the floor near the fire. This part of the floor was filled with sand and covered with several warm skins, including a bear skin. She sat next to me, looking again at the contents of my roll.  She picked up my arrows and inspected them carefully. She seemed impressed at how well they were made. She put her hand on my back and said,

I had almost forgotten, the longing for touch and what it feels like… The touch of another’s skin is what we live for. 

Do you remember your pictures that I burnt in the fire?

I did of course.

They were putting on a show. It was not for themselves. It was not real. They pretended to moan, thrust and open their legs. The real thing is very different, it is the spirit of the animal which lives inside us all, it moves us, we do not move it. That was their ceremony…in its own way it was the same as the ceremonies of our village. They were trying to shape the animal spirits which lived inside of them.

They lived in the shadow of fear and it showed in their ceremony. Their fear came from the animal which lives, dies, kills and give births without waiting for the words. It still lives inside of us….and we still fear it….for good reasons. 

This was the first time I felt like she was playing the teacher and I was the student. It wasn’t until much later that I needed to break out of it.

She took my hand and placed it on her breast and I understood what she meant by “touch is what we live for”. As she held my hand against her breast, I felt life flowing into me. She let me hold it and savor that feeling for awhile.

Then she reached back into my roll and picked up my carving in the shape of a wolf. She held it in her hands rubbing it softly.

I can tell this has been handled a lot. It is a well-loved toy. It makes me think of the woman who was left behind.

Then she picked up my whistle. Putting it to her lips she blew into it as she rested her fingers on the holes. I was surprised by her sounds and wondered how she could play it so easily. It took me many years to play with a nice sound. Her sound was sweet and mournful at the same time. I  felt delicious , her lips touching where my lips had touched. She handed it back to me. Then I held it to my mouth, feeling her wetness, I began to play. My song was the song of the howling wolf. The wolf who also seemed to be longing to be close to others. I saw a tear roll down her cheek as she listened.

She picked up my book of drawings again, this time she opened it and looked inside. She spent some time looking at each page before turning to the next. When she lingered on a page the I would tell her something about it.

I draw pictures when there is something important to remember.

…..this one is my family.

……there is mother with her tender face.

…….father, looking out over the land. He was always looking for what would happen next.

…..sister was a happy one and always talking.

Mother drew pictures,…… I watched her, ……always learning from her. She drew pictures in the dirt with a stick and carved designs into the wood of our house. She made pots and always put a design on them. Sometimes she would take a black stick from the fire and draw on a stone. I sat next to her and drew beside her on the stone.

When I see these pictures I remember some small thing that my family did or some small thing that happened to me.

The woman looked into my eyes as I spoke. I felt her looking inside, trying to see that thing inside me.

….mother sitting behind sister, next to the fire in the morning…combing out her hair and tying it in a braid. … the way sister would look when she was done….a soft gleam in her eyes.

The woman set down my book and stood up. She went over to the fire to tend to the tea, stirring it a bit and then pouring it into two small containers. I recognized these as clay cups, made in the way my mother used to make cups. They were blackened by the hardening of a fire. She handed a cup to me and then sat down next to me on the soft bearskin, so close she was touching her legs against mine.

You may stay here with me in my village. And sleep with me here in my hut…but if I tell you to leave…you will go.

I nodded in agreement. We sat there next to each other, drinking tea. The smell of the mint brought me memories of my family; the lazy feeling after a sweat, sitting together and talking about our day and all the things we wondered about. I felt content again, to be there with the woman, sipping her tea and  feeling her legs pressing against mine.

That night I slept next to her, though I kept waking, listening to her breath, feeling her warmth, thinking about her story and wondering what we would do together in the morning. Sometime during the night she laid her hand on my bare chest. I imagined a kind of light flowing from her hand into my body. I drunk in the feeling of her touch, trying to savor it as much as I could. Then she moved her hand across my chest with a rubbing motion and I could tell she was at least half awake. Throughout the night we both drifted in and out of sleep, the excitement of our meeting filled my thoughts.

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