May 20

[Darkling Light]

Soon foredawn will shake his sleepy head and day will be upon us. All the words have been spoken and the prayers made. It is the hour when ancestral spirits come in to sit with us, the matinal moment that brings sacred songs alive. The young ones are called too and find their place in the circle. Those who have brought instruments pull them out and a wonderful collection of flutes, whistles, drums and rattles emerge. A song has started and the other musicians pick up the melody, followed by voices. Young men listen intently; many songs unknown by them and in their behalf round after round continues so that they can learn them. The first blush of morning is visible around us and the twilight songs change to those that welcome the morning. Today we will throw the bones. We call it that even though some will divine with sticks and stones and other wondrous secret keepers.

The sun has risen and the songs conclude. We stretch our weary bones and stand, some more easily than others do. Unrealized by me the young men have rustled up the semblance of breakfast under the trees of their personal Shadowland. It was a particularly sensitive thing to do especially since so many Old Ones have come to sit in the circle. A group of us, younger and less fallen, stand aside while the elders are served. No sooner have we settled out in the sun to eat the young men scurry off to the talking circle, stoking the fire, hauling more wood, and generally putting it back into pristine order. Carefully they pull out a pile of embers and feed them with deliciously fragrant herbs. The smoke travels throughout the camp securing the readiness for the next round. Eight of us must prepare too and we ask Burnt Knife and Star Stalker to help. As we move off I notice an impressive group of old women has come in. The Twilight Women are pitching in with the young ones to attend to their needs.


Even with our intimate connections to the inviolate farcists Twilight Women become part of the supporting ritual structure. Many Old Ones have now arrived and its imperative that their needs be met first. Male dreamers are lending their help to the boys, now officially overwhelmed. There is a flow to it and each of them moves to the rhythm of the dance.

Elders completely amaze me. They safeguard so much wisdom that the collective knowledge is immeasurable. They are not here to interfere and yet they scrutinize every nuance. Should some misstep occur they quietly consult together. Elders create a single unit of oversight; no one has the last word. Each is completely confident in what she or he safeguards and yet the streams of knowledge flow harmoniously together.

Somewhere deep in the quiet of the surrounding forest eight individuals offer prayers for an entire people. Some of the old women are making their way into the trees to join them, as are a few more old men. What I wouldn’t give to be there. I sit and try to reconcile the importance of what I am doing with witnessing the history taking place in the shadowy depths. Just as I make some fragile peace with this an old woman takes my arm explaining that she needs my help to join them. Even as it pleases me I feel a twinge of guilt for questioning the sacred design. I should know better by now and am bothered that I don’t. Our progress through the trees is slow and I am glad she knows where we are going. I don’t. Guess she has done this before. I speculate about her age and think that perhaps this is the third such event she has witnessed. After awhile we can hear the prayers off in the distance. They sound like whispers.

The elders outnumber the players now and have encapsulated them in a protective ring of power. At its center sits Darkling Light and Moondog. With them I see Burning Grass, Old-Man-Beard-Lichen, Rosebay, Leaps-in-Light, Hides-in-Holes, and Fire Fox. They are among the dearest people on Earth to me and yet I am here, seemingly by chance, to observe. And remarkably a number of other bards are here as well. I don’t know them but can easily see that they are bedizened in unmistakable garb.

The prayers are focused on the need to embrace the responsibility of what each of the players face for their people. I would find it a terrifying commitment to have to make. The most innocent mistake made by one or all of a mere eight individuals could set off a tidal wave of unknown consequence that would ripple through the lives of five thousand people for nearly two decades. And yet the eight are peaceful and through this deliberate prayerful process they are systematically shedding any personal shortcomings that might thwart the intent. I hear words such as fear and doubt, weakness being released, given back to the Earth to be dealt with by the greatest power of all. Their prayer sounds like a soliloquy of the human spirit, sung by the solifidians who know it in their souls. I notice that the only scrutinizing eyes are those of the bards. The Old Ones silently recite the prayers with their eyes closed. It has gone on for hours and elders are drawing from deep pools of strength to remain on their feet. I struggle to stay a detached witness; overwhelmed by the devotion of spirit that is a privilege to experience.

The prayers are subsiding. With a subtle, almost indiscernible signal from Burnt Knife one of the bards draws a reedgrass flute from his vest, conveying the prayers to all the distant villages and out into the cosmos. Another enters the ring and expertly builds a small fire. One by one our elders offer various herbs to the quiet flames while Burnt Knife seals in the medicine. I am surprised by how many people have shown up.

Moondog takes my hand as I wrap my arm in the frail one of the elder I escorted. Everyone able-bodied has assumed assisting the Old Ones and we make our way back through the trees to the talking circle. We are now down to the business at hand.

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