May 19


People are already settling in. I see the talking stick lying on the ground next to Burnt Knife’s feet. Talking circles have a life of their own and Burnt Knife is a savvy rector. He’ll wait until the energy concenters before he picks up that stick. The trinities seem to be grouping up, Bards, Dreamers, and Twilight Women, still talking among themselves. A surprisingly large group of old Death Clan elders have shown up. They, Burnt Knife and Star Stalker are forming something of an oversight gallery, but wouldn’t say as much. Bird Chant, Shadow Glass and Thorn Arrow are among them. Thorn Arrow looks so young to be sitting in that group, Alpha or not. It’s hard on the younger ones. They no doubt feel left out, just so many hands and feet hauling food, water and firewood. I think the toughest part of a clan system is for young men to accept their place, a place that must basically feel nowhere, outside of the circle. Young girls are never treated that way, on the inside track the moment they are born. Males have to earn it. By now I have watched many initiations and trust me, they are brutal, believed essential because males have no natural rights of passage. Puberty for girls is an anticipated celebration, for boys it is feared, taken from their mothers and isolated with fierce older men. After some prescribed number of months each neophyte faces the first in a series of tattooing or scarifying initiations with more to follow as years go on. Most surprising of all is that it pleases them in the end. What can I say, it’s men’s medicine.

I have been standing here by our lodge watching all of this. The interplay between factions is consuming. And I am still enthralled by what they wear, the subtle differences between the badges and tokens that distinguish one clan from another. Even the Bards wear distinct colors, amber and orange stripes dyed into their buckskins.

Moondog and Longbow have saved me a place between them. They both look at me, giving me the sign that Burnt Knife is about ready to pick up the talking stick. I am still not sure how they know these things. I am most often inclined to miscalculate. Suddenly I realize that Burnt Knife won’t pick it up until I get over there. As I squeeze into the circle the din subsides and the talking stick is now in Burnt Knife’s good hand. He immediately passes it off to Old-Man-Boulder, the Lynx medicine man. I see his feet have healed up nicely. Each of the other Death Clan elders will introduce himself formally as the stick makes its way around the circle.

I am Old-Man-Boulder, Clan Lynx, kin to the Alder women. This is a good thing we are about to do here. A good thing. There are young men standing with us. It is the sign we have sought in our prayers. Without them the old way is already gone and we are nothing more than memories. Tomorrow we will know which trail to take with our people.

I am Black Feather, Clan Raven, kin to the Maple women. I am here to speak for my village. Sadness prevails there; it is as thick as cold honey. Our medicine men can’t run it off. I carry this burden to the last moonset. My village waits for my assurance that the medicine we make here is good.

I am Long-in-the-Tooth, Clan Badger, kin to the Holly women, uncle to Thorn Arrow. My blood runs strong and deep in the Old Granite Range. My village was the first and I fear it will be the first to leave for good. It is liaison between summer and winter, the keeper of history and smooth transitions. I am here to insure that no stone gets left unturned.

I am River Runner, Clan Eagle, kin to the Hazelnut women and their Salmon people. We have trouble. The farming community is seducing our young ones with the spirit of convenience. We must stop the deluge of loss. I sit with you tonight making prayers for good things for my village and a new path for the old way.

I am Cloud Song, Alpha Male of Clan Wolf, kin to the Poplar women and Moon Shadow’s uncle. I am here to pray with the magic makers. The lives of thousands now rest in the hands of eight. Clan Wolf supports them.

I am Sees-Through-Darkness, spirit handler for Clan Owl, kin to the Willow women. I bring their water medicine and their guardianship of the moon. The propensity of Owl Clan medicine will determine in the end if the bone throwers understand what they are seeing.


Longbow looks past Gobetween at me with briefly arched eyebrows as if to say, I hope you are ready for this. The old women that picked the eight of us aren’t even here. They sent these old predators to indagate our every move. I suddenly feel as a vulnerable as the young ones who can at least make themselves scarce and avoid the scrutiny of intolerant eyes. I see that Death Clan elders are struggling to their feet, loosening the drawstrings of their medicine bags, approaching the fire. Their prayers will be long, offered for an open road lined by ancestors, offered for good medicine and clarity. They are making prayers for us too that we reach the place of peaceful confidence in spite of the pressure that they apply. The old men pray for Darkling Light, the Twilight Women and their Dreaming Twins. Lastly they speak of the young ones and the hope that they represent to old men who know they will likely leave soon. Their words wash over me and I feel better.

[Darkling Light]

It is forbidden to openly speculate about what will transpire tomorrow even though the holy antagonists can consult privately with the elders present. In all actuality we almost pretend nothing is to take place, that we are only visiting by chance. The charade insures that spirits don’t notice anything special in which they might be tempted to meddle. But other things are spoken of freely; individual concerns about particular groups or issues that have an impact on the community as a whole. Spirits could care less about these things beyond the satisfaction of knowing that they caused them. Some say that talking about troubles is regarded as complimentary to troublemakers. In doing so they are distracted from the real reason we sit here tonight.

The young men have put on a cloak of exemplary behavior as far I as I can determine. But by first light it will tell on them. And that will be nothing compared to the realization that no sleep will be had until late tomorrow night and only in shifts. The fire is fickle and demanding. By then we will have a pretty good idea if they are woven from stout fiber. If they stay Moondog will have them make camps for more than fifty other clans and societies.

But he can be inspiring as well because he always works right along side of everyone else. He will haul his share of wood and rocks, lash shade houses and lodges together, and dig firepits. But concealed in his persuasion is the insistence that if a crippled, middle aged man can do it, so too can boys who are less than half his age. Fortunately, young men have an insatiable appetite to stand out, to compete, to be acknowledged. Moondog will no doubt exploit that even as he acknowledges each of them personally and doles out accolades with an even hand.


As elders speak with an authority never challenged, something else is taking place as well. It is subtle, almost indiscernible. Concern after concern is elucidated in detail. Cloud Song speaks of the dwindling deer herd. Burnt Knife makes prayers for the Weaving Women who lost six sons to a fishing accident. They speak of illness, injury, and bewitchment. Sees-Through-Darkness prays about unprecedented death and the spirit of starvation that stands in the shadows waiting. What the prayers demonstrate is the inherent trust placed in those who will preside over the eight days of ceremonies that will commence in the fall. These awesome old men are actually relinquishing the hardships into the hands of practitioners whose remedy will not be questioned. The old men won’t stand over them saying, do it this way or that way. Even the wisdom keepers of our people will not question whatever is divined tomorrow. It represents the exquisite nuance of solidarity among medicine people that transcends distinction, notability or eminence. The wise ones know they stand too close and the only spirit relevant now is the spirit of objectivity.

Its incredible to see how the younger ones sit in the silence of shadows absorbing the salient urgency in what they witness. They know in their bones that although it will come around again it might not return in the cycle of their own lives. The spirits of  post-pubescent Immortals with all their cavalier portraiture are born out of deep wells. The elders present recognize this as an answer to arduous prayers. Consequently their treatment of the gifts of youth will be exponentially tougher than that which might result from the behavior of those less aware. The young people here will not be coddled, not even for a moment. That’s what mothers were for. The scrutiny of them will be absolute and the threat of being returned to their maternal beginnings ever present. I feel for them, it is my nature to do so. Perhaps that is why I have been positioned here.

The talking stick has been handed to the dreamers and Moondog whispers the revelations to me.


Painted-Like-A-Plume is referring to a dream that Clan Lynx had. It revealed the theft of their hunting medicine as the catalyst to their clan’s demise.

You were there when Clan Greihound saw the four-legged carrying turtles with shiny shells that burned the villages and slaughtered what they thought was a wild pack up in the gorge. Longbow is telling that story.

Pierced Wind, the dreamer for Clan Owl is making prayers about the black wave they see moving towards us from an unknown foreign place.

Clan Badger’s man Snow Blanket can’t take his heart away from the dark presage emanating from the farming village echoed by the Eagle dreamer Blue Willow. They both hold grievous concerns for the loss of prayers no longer offered in exchange for their relatives’ lives; the same concerns expressed by the Bear and Salmon Clans.

The Wolf dreamer, Talking Tree prays again for the Stag Clan. His prayer speaks to a vision about the loss of wild landscapes to the rapacious appetites of those who dig relentless into our Mother’s heart.

Black Star is deeply troubled. He has seen the river road so laden with carrion Clan Raven can’t make sufficient prayers.


The stories are portentous and I know from history that they are the truth of it; as do they knowing that there exists no lies in the pure reality of the dreamtime. Visions can allude to many things, events can be offset, and revelations can spawn compensatory action. Then there are the voices of finality. These Ancient Ones know that all that is left to them is to send their prayers to the Unborn. And those prayers are as tangible as the signatures left on cave walls. But the old men sense that the loss of language will render the Unborn incapable of reading the signs. They don’t pretend to understand it even as each of us must remains detached from the horrendous weight of knowing.

Burnt Knife looks back into the shadows. At once the young Oak men jump up and bring food and water to the circle. Star Stalker bears down on them without uttering a word. The Greihound apprentices tend to the fire under Burnt Knife’s stupefying gaze. These children, so prone to sneer, windlass their attitudes as though their life depends on it. What they don’t yet realize is that the life of their people depends on it. The summer that they have chosen will illuminate that very path.

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