May 3

[Darkling Light]

 So the call has come to me in this auspicious season. I, Darkling Light, in repose for ions, still stand as the manifestation of Divine Duality. Conjoined to Immortality, I am an amalgamation, born from a spawn of stars, kin to every breath and pulse of Creation.

Just days ago the Winter Wait flickered out and I find myself standing in the midst of Moondog’s village. All of the Death Clans have made it in with their Dreaming Twins and favored Bards. Many others have come to welcome us back. It sizzles like sheet lightning, launched already into the preparatory ecstasy for the harvest moon still many months away. Every lunation now anticipatory, the Mother of the Night will end Her long mystical journey in the fall and we will be ready with a colossal homecoming in Her behalf. This is the longest cycle we observe except perhaps the cycle of our own unique lives. And before She comes home every issue that stands as a challenge to the perfection of rebirth for our people must be put to rest.

[Moondog]

A talking circle is forming; Gobetween and I are making our way over to it. I hated these things when I was a young apprentice, old men talking about old ways and another winter filled with trouble and good works, gone by. Clearly many an understudy has made himself scarce, over-eating after months of famine and charming his way into any embrace that will hold him.

I no longer sit in the elder’s circle of Death Clan Greihound. Nudged by them into the outer edge of tribal reality, I now straddle the transilient border regions of oversight and obscurity. It is the cosmic realm of transcended absurdity.

Longbow has saved Gobetween and me a place amidst a crowded gallery of dreamers, Twilight Women and their Bards. Longbow and Gobetween are the Dreaming Twins of Clan Greihound; she is their Twilight Woman and I the Clown that snatched her from the twinkling stars. She is my immortal lover. The Old Ones are already passing the talking stick and we squeeze into our place as quietly as two overjoyed votaries could.

I can only gasp how the brevity of this occasion always seems, occurring for a mere glimpse of days each spring. Death Clans have starved, prayed and scarified for our people for six relentlessly difficult months. Now, having come down off the mountain they are transitioning back into something that bares a fleeting resemblance to an everyday life. It is a private, insular moment exchanging both the horror and mystical wonder of the winter they shared, the secret goings on that only a miniscule few have in common with each other. The people fear us as savage magic makers when in fact we are nothing more than extravagantly frugal, devoted old fools. We will be left along the side of the trail as mankind streams into the deceptive brightness of technology. It was over when the first of human kind placed that first seed in the ground with deliberation and forethought. We stand at the end of a cycle, too cumbersome with amassed wisdom to be carried into the new world. But the tune to which that new world dances is only one round and it will cycle back to its ancestors with whom Gobetween and I and the rest stand.

I can hear the spirit handler of Clan Lynx speaking. The high country remoteness of their domain was inundated with snow. The ice spirits tested them fiercely, hiding firewood beneath a paralyzing white blanket. Fingers and toes were lost but no lives. The Lynx appear skeletal from starvation. The stories are similar for all of the Death Clans. We were there; we know the truth of their words. Longbow leans toward my ear and whispers.

[Longbow]

Painted-Like-A-Plume, the dreamer for Clan Wolf, told me that they were stranded in the west tributary of the gorge. They were on a spirit hunt for his apprentice, Fetches-The-Wind. Their medicine man, Old-Man-Boulder, nearly lost both of his feet keeping them alive. Those wizard women of your Oak Clan are still doctoring him.

I wonder if these young ones don’t have a secret pact to abandon Death Clan ways once we’re all dead. I fear it. Who will take care of winter for our people if they do? Gobetween fell from the sky for the old way and some of these young bucks can’t wait to extinguish the fire. She has come at the end of it, starry-eyed and hungry, not realizing that what she witnesses is the death rattle of a world already lost.

I see the three young Greihound squeezing into the gallery and I am pleased. That Bearberry boy, Sun Dog, is doing well among us. Sings-In-Trees, replete with the unwavering loyalty of his mother’s blood would be in fine fettle too had the winter not ravished his resolve with injury during the solstice dance. But the Poplar boy, Moon Shadow struggles. His mother’s blood is gentle and introspective; a hard harmony to sustain when mixed with that of a Greihound father.

But the other Death Clans are left far more grave with few young initiates at all. Some can find youth only in men my age and older. It’s a bad sign and they know it. More than one has few, if any apprentices to replace the old men and no stand-byes.

[Moondog]

We sit here as though it matters; the old men’s words feel reminiscent already. They sustain it as it was once sustained a century or millennia ago but they know in their hearts the old way is dying before our eyes. It feels like a terminal disease, an incurable contagion concealed by the spirit of comfort planted in our midst.

The talking stick has been handed to the Eagle. Their lament for the Salmon people is palpable. All of the old clans in the northern village are on the brink, their young being absorbed into the farming community. First they corralled the Boar and Ram and many of our ancient teachers. Now they take so many salmon from the run that fewer and fewer are reaching the Old Granite Range for their annual death spasm and rebirth. The same community hunts bear and eagle with impudence. They do not know the prayers. The forest is being ransacked and yet they don’t hear the tree songs or the spirits that sing them. Great mountain stones are being moved to the meadows. Our grandfathers weep inconsolably. The hearts of a handful flutter in panic at what unfolds before them. And somehow we must go on if for no other reason now than to make the final prayers that will float in the Infinite Present until someone in some distant age catches one. We know that they will. The proof sits pressed against me in this moment.

[Gobetween]

I am thrilled and half-sick witnessing this. Ancient, old men are speaking of ceremonies already lost to change. Hunting rituals, intense and difficult reaches into tribal dilemmas, spirit hunts, scarifying, are vanishing from human memory. The birth of modern civilization is well underway and the old world, the fodder that fuels it, is summarily dismissed as legend. I wince at the pain felt by these old ones; they tear up as though they were giving a eulogy. When old clans are gone the damage to our people will be irreparable and these, the most ancient wisdom keepers among us know it. I think about the old women that I have met, their alacritous grasp slipping from this dying way of life. They weep secretly with the same knowledge, and yet they persist. Once they cried in delight when they cradled the newborn. Their embrace of them has now turned desperate with the tragic knowing. We should be celebrating the blessings of the Winter Wait, but the mood cast by a fleeting world weighs heavily upon us. I am so glad to see the young Greihound rubbing shoulders with the Ancient Ones.

[Sun Dog]

Look at Thorn Arrow sitting with the Old Ones. Has he seen even twenty-five snows? He is being groomed as a spirit handler for Clan Greihound. I will end up clan dreamer, Moon Shadow will probably be an astronomer and Sings-in-Trees an artist. But, if we can find no apprentices once the Old Ones leave the thing will be done. The last of us will one day be found dead in the Greihound cave with no one left to close the circle. We should be exploring Clan Female instead we sit amidst the dying emissaries of the mystery. We spent the winter wide-eyed with amazement as we watched the old men cast spells to appease the wrath of winter. They seemed quaint in their power until we came off the mountain and learned that our people endured the Winter Wait strong and happy. We saw the spirit handlers read the stars and toss the bones and we thought that they were merely storytellers entertaining children on long, snowy nights. We were wrong; our people were blessed on the receiving end of the incalculable sacrifice. We thought we were tokens recruited by Burnt Knife to create the illusion that Clan Greihound still wielded its old medicine; we were wrong. We have been seduced by real power. It lives and breathes as we do. It may well be lost but by its immortal nature it will be found again. Just look at Gobetween, Moondog’s phantom and my shadowy teacher. Some whisper that she hails from the world of the Unborn.

[Sings-in-Trees]

I don’t believe it. No one can snatch a human life from the stars anymore than they can mold one out of clay. I don’t know where she came from but she is flesh. Some say she is another Oak Clan misfit like Moondog but more and more clans seem to place her within their own nexus. The Roebuck and the Antelope claim her as one of their own. That’s understandable considering her undeniable connection to Snow Rose and Darkling Light. She is already braided into many of the tree clans’ stories. Some say Moondog found her among the Wild Women of the Forest. But the Wild Women are so obscure that most believe they are only a thing of legend anyway. Gobetween like Moondog is a living myth; no one seems to know for sure where Moondog found her and those that do keep the answer close to their chests. It doesn’t really matter though. I like her. She’s good at what she does and she indulges all three of us like an old bitch that dotes on her last litter of pups. Already I want to make a song about her.

[Moon Shadow]

I like her too. Because of her I don’t miss my mother so much. Gobetween helps me cope with the hunger and the cold, always able to carry me to some sense of greater purpose. I am grateful she is with us, no matter where she came from. And have you noticed how the old men watch her? Some approve; others grumble that she will make the three of us soft. But Burnt Knife doesn’t and that’s good enough for me.

Look, Clan Owl has the talking stick. Here comes the gloom and doom. I wish I understood what they expect us to do. I don’t know how to stop what’s coming, do you? If I did I would be the youngest elder ever known. I can barely comprehend the voyages of five planets. How am I supposed to grasp the journey of an entire people?

The Owl Clan has passed it on to the Raven. Their prophecies are more grim and obscure than those of Clan Owl. Our life is a talking stick. I wish they’d give us something on which to hold. Instead they hand us incomprehensible chimera.

Finally, Clan Badger has it. They love to grumble about deep, dark secrets. The deepest secret I have is that I’m starving. Look over there. The women have put up another feast. As our bellies turn themselves inside out old Badgers are lecturing us about the dangers of too much comfort. Comfort? My bones are sticking out, my teeth are loose, and I limp like an elder.

They’re done. Let’s eat.

[Gobetween]

Were I any happier I think I would explode. My sisters, their twins, and their lovers move toward the feast with Moondog, Darkling Light, and me. Together we are like a rouge wave thought by some to be up to no good.

We stand to the side listening to the blessing and watch as mothers with young children make their way to the food. Oak, Birch, and Holly women are scurrying about serving elders. All the poor, starving young bucks have to wait out the protocol. Hopefully we can make it into line before they do. There won’t be anything left if we don’t. Fortunately the clan elders are keeping sharp eyes on their apprentices, laying on grouchy reprimands as needed. It is tough on these hopefuls trying to replace youthful confidence with the strictness of orthodoxy. Summer hasn’t come any too soon for them.

After we eat, Moondog, Darkling Light and I are going to head for the river.




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