July 8

[Sun Dog]

The Bearberry women came in today, among them my grandmother. She is hard to describe, a fierce dark spirit handler who has been ravaged by old age. And while her smile is wide and sincere, her eyes are black and intense, suggesting that ancient savagery is alive and well. My grandmother openly despises the farming community and the technological retreats they have brought to which she often refers to as pliable laziness. She still hunts and gathers her own food and continues to wear uncut skins with an unsurpassed air of dignity. In spite of her affliction has walked a great distance to be here with the help of nothing more than two stout walking sticks and that old white-haired blind man who can see perfectly well in the dark. I secretly call him Howler. He is one of those spirits that can see death approaching and wails incessantly. It is said that in a bad winter when many tend to leave, Howler and spirits like him can drive a village stark staring mad with their insufferable howling. My grandmother and he are a rare sight, two wizened, wrinkled, sun-browned Old Ones who clandestinely roam the primordial forest at night, guided only by the threads of energy traveled by animals. And no one looks directly at her walking sticks. Ancient symbols are carved into their length, symbols no one alive can now read. Some say the symbols move around and realign so they can tell stories of forgotten memories.

I may have been born to the Bearberry but my grandmother raised me to be the Greihound dreamer for whom I was born, often consulting with Burnt Knife who visited frequently. In the summer he would come and stay with us, playing games with me during the day. But once I was put to bed Burnt Knife and my grandmother would talk in near whispers long into the night about my propensity and its place within Clan Greihound. And that place wasn’t with Moondog, a man, a dreamer, about which I knew nothing more than the whispered suspicions that he had sired me in the Greihound’s Great Rite. If that was true Burnt Knife wouldn’t have me apprenticed to my father. So after much shifting of positions I was apprenticed to Longbow.

Glitter Star showed up today too. She is Star Stalker’s sister and he is the astronomer for the Greihound. They are elderly twins. But unlike my grandmother, both are conspicuously vivacious and flamboyant. Glitter Star is midwife to both Clan Oak and Clan Greihound. She is a spirit handler and legendary gossip.

Glitter Star is never without her own troupe of clowns. Burning Grass is with her and so are Old Man Beard Lichen and Rosebay, all of whom will play enormous roles in the fall ritual for which we are preparing. She also came with Quiet Fire. I never liked him much, another one who is constantly wailing inconsolably about something and when he isn’t he is either rude or frenetic. Nevertheless, Quiet Fire is a master carver and can apparently animate anything that he creates. My grandmother has several of these objects. As a child I found them terrifying, always staring, always moving around; they still unnerve me.  It is also said that he is an astute shifter of shapes who has the inexplicable ability to sprout foliage in his old buckskins and simply disappear in the understory.

Longbow arrived today too with his mother’s Pine Clan. He is awesome. Longbow has cultivated a life to which no one seemed to pay the least attention. For decades he had been nothing more than a stand-by for the Greihound, hauling wood and water, hunting, cooking, and doing whatever the Greihound didn’t want to do. The Pine Clan women had been furious with the Greihound and Burnt Knife in particular for having never placed Longbow in some reverential position. But Longbow just didn’t care. Behind the scenes while everyone ignored him he had learned it all. Burnt Knife could have moved him into any position and did precisely that, making Longbow elder dreamer after throwing Moondog to the clowns like a worthless old bone. I ended up apprenticed to Longbow and Gobetween, the Greihound’s dreaming twins. With one great sweep of Burnt Knife’s hand the Pine Clan women and my grandmother were sufficiently pleased.

I have spotted Longbow and two men heading this way. One of them is Barking Beauty, another one of those loud, fanatical creatures; a shapeshifting tree spirit and notorious lecher.  The other one is White Goat, reputed to be a water spirit. In spite of his pointed green teeth and utter lack of hunting skills, I like White Goat a great deal and it is a rare treat to see him. Water spirits tend to haunt only the creeks and marshy meadows of the most remote wild places, moving only at night along the streams that they protect. White Goat is a superb musician and can play the waterways by which he travels. He is sought out by both clan artists and clowns; a friend of my grandmother who I met as a child when she would take me into the distant mountains. Anyone who can make a few sinew strings sound like dancing water is a magic maker.

Camp is quiet and as I look around I can plainly see that the women, young and old, can’t take their eyes off of White Goat. Admittedly he is handsome enough to make the rest of us look plain. The women often whisper among themselves, believing that Longbow and White Goat are brothers. Both are uncharacteristically tall, lean like the rest of us but stronger, fair skinned with light brown hair and eyes. And there are other things, subtle things. They are gentler and more peaceful than most; masters of experiential myth. If I didn’t look like Moondog I would want to look like them. Longbow treats me well; he always speaks softly and smiles.

I am fifteen and I live my life amidst spiritual predators, some of the most astounding individuals our people have ever known: Longbow, Gobetween, Moondog, and Darkling Light. Their interconnectedness is the stuff of legends. When Gobetween isn’t sleeping with Moondog and Darkling Light she is sleeping with Moondog and Longbow. The Crones’ gossip about them veritably sizzles; they tell the sort of stories that are whispered well away from the ears of the young ones. I don’t know that any of the stories are true but it takes only the words of old women to make them so. I wonder what will happen when Darkling Light returns. It will drive the Crones wild. Those same old women will coax me with trinkets and treats for even a hint of the intrigue they think might go on between this iconic foursome, as though I would ever be privilege to their secrets.

The Crones call Longbow, The-Tiger-Turned-Greihound. When Gobetween and Moondog were the dreaming twins of my clan Longbow asked to dream with her. It is said that Moondog was angered and took off for a while. Then, Gobetween told me that together with Longbow they traveled a great distance to some unknown caves deep in the south country.  Longbow showed her is own ancestral beginnings, a saber tooth tiger skull amidst the bones of long extinct animals. The cave walls were carved with images of these animals along with the great hunters and spirit handlers from whom Longbow had ascended. I think he has some of the same hunger as Gobetween, to return to his ancestors. They are well matched. In my thoughts I call Longbow, Long Traveler. It suits him best of all.

Gobetween and Moondog have shown up and are greeting Longbow and White Goat. I like listening to the unspoken things that pass between them in a touch or a glance. I watch them from a distance and wonder if the Crones’ stories are true, stories about Gobetween melting the ice to quench the fire.  I well believe that. When Moondog, Gobetween and Longbow are together everyone holds their breath waiting for the lightning that could raze a forest. And to think at only fifteen snows I am surrounded by that seething fire. I should have been born a Gossip.

[Gobetween]

I can barely admit to myself much less anyone else that the mere presence of Longbow makes me weak in the knees. I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way After all we hold a formidable position in Clan Greihound and there is no room for infatuation more suited to silly young girls. It isn’t simply his rugged beauty or his enchanting smile, certainly sufficient enough for just about anyone. It is the indescribable melody and hypnotic cadence of his voice. Longbow speaks slowly with pauses, and those pauses are filled with notes that blaze trails to other worlds. And they are always conveyed with a smile. He travels the cosmology of the ancients, soaring from star to comet across the great Milky Mother that spans the night sky. And he smells positively divine, a mix of pungent herbs, well dressed skins, and smoky ritual secrets. I am perhaps better suited to the strange, volatile sensuality of Moondog but there is something to be said for a man like Longbow who never ceases to smolder. His appetites for everything from esotery to transcendence could ignite conflagration.  And it doesn’t matter where his place might be; he has stood every post. He can butcher a deer, spark a fire, read the stars, or paint a moonscape on a cave wall. He has traveled a hundred thousand years of history and yet sustains a perpetual state of breathless wonder. That is Longbow’s medicine, the wellspring of his exquisite smile. He once told me that the magic of the sacred clowns was the pinnacle last pursuit one should consider in life. Longbow would make a spectacularly beautiful clown.

[Moon Shadow]

Some of my friends sneer at me, ridicule me because I am nothing more than a Greihound stand-by who hauls water and pokes fire while the Greihound make magic. But I know the secret truth of it because I know Longbow. It is said that he was a stand-by for twenty-five snows. Now he is elder dreamer. One day I was sad about the place I had agreed to hold; it seemed so meaningless. And then Moondog told me a secret about Longbow. He said that Longbow was free from the entrapment of blood or appointment and had the privilege of bearing witness to all that we did. He had been spared from the dangers of detachment, a master of diversity. Longbow could sing from the depths of his being and read the stars day or night. He could doctor a wound or discharge propitiation from our flesh. Moondog confided that Longbow’s dreams were startling and profound.

His words surprised me. Then Star Stalker, who doesn’t seem to care about anyone, drew me aside one night and told me stories about the stars. And Shadow Glass, his apprentice, taught me how to follow sacred cycles by studying the horizon from the ledge of the Greihound cave. He made me realize that no matter where I stood it was a place of exponential beauty and significance. It had never occurred to me that those frightening old men had nothing left to do beyond investing in Sings-in-Trees, Sun Dog, and me. Every prayer, every song, every drumbeat was a lesson that in years to come would be given to the next nest of fledglings when we had grown to become seasoned warriors warming ourselves by the fire, sitting next to long gone relatives, and sailing through starlight. I think I will ask to be an astronomer.




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