September 8


With only a week of waiting left all of the camps are alive with storytellers. When the evening meal is done and the sun has set, firemen build up the blazes around which everyone gathers to listen to the Old Ones’ tales. As I scan the circumference of the Great Circle I wonder how many fires are going; surely a hundred or more. Women are snuggled up to children and lovers. Wild adolescents settle in, sitting in groups of whispering young men admiring gaggles of giggly, beautiful girls.

Elders move toward the fires appearing as dark silhouettes of limping, lumbering, humpback beasts wielding staffs and stone axes. Their necklaces and medicine bags clink and rattle to the rhythm of their tedious gate. Children of all ages fall silent watching the shadows of the ancient spirits approaching. Then they release quiet sighs of relief when the firelight illuminates the soft, old, cavernous faces of the elders they know. The Old Ones, with some effort and a whole lot of help, settle in too and the talking stick is handed to the storyteller of the night. The same thing is happening in all of the camps and our camp as well. The talking stick is given to Moondog; he has a story to tell.


It is difficult to imagine the first migrations of our people; so utterly ancient had been their journeys. They left no mark on the land, only a few points and their bones mingled with those of the creatures they hunted.

Then the great ice wall was the gatekeeper and this country was the western reach of what was vaster than could be known. So long as the water was imprisoned in ice the channels remained dry and hunters could follow the animals all the way to the ocean. These creatures were wondrous; we know it from their bones. Cats the size of bison had roamed our home as well as others stupendous in size. How astounding this frontier had to have been then.

The ice came and went and the great hunters persisted. The remains of their prey tell us that our world had been in continuous change. Former inhabitants had been replaced by herds of deer and wooly monsters that had to equal ten or bison in size. Their bones and teeth speak of the forest that had replaced the grasslands and men designed points specialized to meet the new game. Those were the men who left us clues in the old caves in which Death Clans continue to pray. Among the bones they showed us their red ochre and medicine trinkets.

Glaciers sealed off the land more finally than the last and we can’t know how long it was entombed. Hunters followed new game after the ice receded and left a few more treasures. Simple points had been replaced by magnificent, narrow, polished blades and many others. The images left on cave walls speak of their devotion to the Earth, depicting warriors in paint and feathers, armed with bows, arrows, and spear throwers. They dreamed with potent erections of epic hunts and sacred ceremonies.

Spirit ice advanced again and after it retreated, the people from whom we descend came to this place. They are the Ancient Ones who handed us the old way we stand on the brink of losing. The grasslands were replaced by forests again and in them lived the creatures we learned to emulate. They no longer lived in herds with countless numbers but became denizens of the woods to survive extinction. Our weapons grew to accommodate greater distances and fewer choices of prey. Our ancestors met the challenge with longbows, barbed points, more paint, finer plumes, prodigious sacrifices and deeper prayers.

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Responses to “September 8”

  1. Angela Cheetham Wilkinson September 8th, 2013 - 7:14 pm

    Well there you go then Ms Verda Smedley – bringing those campfire elder tales to life, making them real for us today – sharpening the points of your words as the lost peoples honed their weapons for their ever more elusive prey.
    I wanted to be there, hear the boys wishing for the girls that, no doubt, would be theirs soon enough. Then, as the giggling stops and the pain sharpens for the elders as they stoop to be seated, I would listen to the rasp and wheeze of those old voices.
    I would move quietly from one fire to another until my heart was full of the jigsaw puzzle of pieces from one hundred stories.

    39 – a triumph for me.

    • Thank you, Angela. I spent decades listening to native storytellers. They were masters, probably because they came from generations of an oral tradition. And while I am challenged to ever equal their genius, these stories are my way to honor their memory and express my deepest gratitude to them for having shared their stories with me. What I am describing in 39 I experienced many times. Chapter 39 and the stories that follow, while being uniquely UK in historic content, are based on atmospheric memories of events I lived, sitting around a fire with the Old Timers, watching the giggly kids, the fire, the attrition of age still determined to pass on the stories, listening, drinking cowboy coffee, laughing, all those exquisite things. And we too would move from camp to camp listening to different stories or different versions of the same stories. I am relieved that I captured a taste of that.