Alpine Lady

Honoring the natural world through prose, poetry, music, sounds, photographs and musings.


Raven’s Journey ~ Chapter 17: First Contact

Campfire at Teepee Camp on  Kootenai Lake, BC

Campfire at Tipi Camp on Kootenai Lake, BC

Otter had ventured further downstream towards the river’s mouth when Raven finally spotted her. He landed upstream and watched as she chased salmon into the shallows and eventually bit, for her, a larger-than-usual fish. She struggled but managed to hold it tight in her jaws until its flopping slowed. Dragging the fish by the tail, she drug it ashore with considerable effort; however, a movement in the brush behind her caused her to stop and drop it.

Raven turned his attention to the area expecting to see a large brown bear emerge out of the thick brush to steal her catch, but instead, witnessed a man walking towards Otter and the salmon. This human was the first Raven had seen in eons. Startled, Raven hopped backwards straight into a log which irritated him and caused him to utter a raspy squawk. The noise stopped the man’s movements long enough for him to cast a long glance at Raven. Equally as shocking, a woman walked out of the bushes and stood beside the stranger. She, too, spotted Raven and focused her attention on him. He felt her deep-set, narrowly spaced, dark eyes gazing into his very soul. Oddly, he did not feel uncomfortable or frightened but sensed all was in order and to let the events transpire as they might.

Both humans dressed similarly, mostly in animal skins that reminded Raven of more classic periods of natural dress. They looked comfortable in light suede shirts and leather vests with many pockets sewn on the exterior surfaces. They also wore leggings and laced, oil-soaked boots that looked  waterproof. The man wore a black, broad-brimmed leather hat over his short, dark hair and a black bandana hung about his neck. Draped about his shoulder was a lightweight pack. It, too, had several pockets sewn on its leather surface.

The woman’s hair hung loose with steaks of gray amid the sun-bleached, auburn hues. Ceramic beads hung from leather strips woven into her hair and as she moved about they produced an almost watery, tinkling sound. A bright, turquoise bandana hung about her neck and a thick leather, scuffed-up cuff enclosed her left wrist. In her right hand, she carried a short spear with an ornately carved wooden shaft .

She continued to eye Raven and he was tempted to reveal his identity and see if they could communicate. He stood motionless as did Otter and the humans. Another moment went by before the woman relaxed her gaze and walked towards Otter who made no effort to defend her salmon catch or to move away. The human female leaned her spear against a boulder, then touched her fingers to her chin and gestured towards Otter as if offering thanks. The woman then reached down, picked up the salmon by the tail and moved towards the trunk of a fallen tree close by the river where she laid out the fish. Reaching into a leather sheath tied around her waist, she withdrew a knife with a carved wooden handle and polished steel blade. The man likewise extracted a wooden-handled knife from a side sheath and walked stealthily into the brush and began cutting stout willow wands, pulling off leaves and trimming off side limbs. He also collected dried pieces of drift wood and dead branches. Raven assumed they’d be used for making a cooking fire.

The man brought the freshly cut willow wands to the woman who was deftly cleaning the fish: removing the entrails, head and tail, cutting out the backbone and throwing them back into the river. The skin was left intact on the salmon’s flesh. She then began cutting the flesh into strips which she strung on the wands. All the while the beads about her head made a flowing, tinkling sound as she moved about.

Next, the man used his hands to dig a shallow pit in the gravel, moving the inner stones into a fire ring.  He reached into a side pocket of his trousers and withdrew plant materials, what appeared to be wood shavings and small slivers of wood which he placed on the finer gravels in the center of the ring. The the man gingerly piled small pieces of kindling and even larger pieces onto the tinder before reaching into one of the pockets on his vest and withdrawing a rod and striker. The stranger knelt down, hesitated a moment, then added some more dry tinder to the wood and stroked the man-made flint. Sparks spit out; the tinder began smoking. He bent down and blew into the smoldering plant materials which flared into flames and began consuming the smaller shavings before moving into the larger pieces.

In many ancient folk tales, usually through a series of arduous and magical adventures, Raven brought fire to the Human People. Now he watched the man lay down a good bed of dry materials and simply rasp a rod with a metal striker to produce a flame and fire. How easy! Raven made a chuckling sound in appreciation of the modern tools.

Raven, always aware of his surroundings, noticed the other fishing season activity about the river was unusually subdued: the gulls mostly resting and no bears were within sight although Raven wondered if cooking the fish might bring in the bears to investigate the tantalizing cooking odors. His own sense of smell was almost non-existent, but he knew humans liked food cooked over a fire or grill. For Raven, watching these humans prepare and cook the fish evoked memories of dining at potlatches and other gatherings where salmon was shared as part of the feast. In going through his memory bank of centuries, he recalled backyard barbecues, clam bakes, wedding celebrations and many a salmon fry where great quantities of food from the forest, seashore and ocean waters had been consumed. Either as a guest or as a scavenger, Raven appreciated good food.

The woman walked to the river and carefully washed her hands, wringing off the last drops before shaking her hands dry. Raven was curious what Otter was thinking about all this but Otter had disappeared.

Before the burning wood had turned to coals, a second woman stepped out of the brush and looked directly at Raven, requesting to speak in the tongue of the Mystery. Although surprised but also expecting the other woman traveler spoken of by the peoples Otter had visited, Raven acknowledged the contact with a deep, gurgling croak –– the shag of black feathers about his throat expanding.

The woman was an elder, a woman from beyond the borders…a woman of the Mystery. Her hair hung long, tied back with a slender thong of otter fur, a decoration worn by a woman of medicine. Her face was wrinkled and weathered. A twinkle in her eye bid familiarity.

The woman spoke directly to Raven, fixing him with her blue eyes which he felt he dare not turn away from. Don’t be nervous, Raven. We won’t be here long for we must continue to search for more of our own kind.  We wanted to stop and acknowledge your message to Spirit and to thank you for taking on the challenge of your own words. Now please excuse us while we prepare our meal.

The coals burned low to a perfect temperature for quickly cooking the fish. Raven watched the man position the fish-laden wands into the gravels of the fire pit area.

Raven felt good to be among those acknowledging and practicing the Mystery. There was sense of peace, a clarity of purpose and wanting to share more fully in the intent of what they were all doing…this came to Raven in pulses of insight, interspaced with memories which he was hoping to offer as comparisons in the process of acknowledging one another.

Now that he was actually in the presence of Humans, he wanted to pursue the deep curiosity he had about his sister and wondered if he could address the Grandmother and ask questions. She, aware of his thoughts, smiled and signaled they would like to eat first and then talk after. Raven stepped back and looked around again for Otter but saw nor felt any indication of her Being. Her absence troubled him.

(To be continued in Chapter 18: Raven’s Sister)


Leave a comment

Raven’s Journey ~ Chapter 16: The Elders of the Thirteen Moons

Moss-shrouded forest floor

Moss-shrouded forest floor

Even though the days were growing shorter, there was still plenty of daylight in the far north country where Raven lived for him to find Otter and ask a few questions. Of course, to save time he’d have to take the quickest route which flew him directly over the village he’d been avoiding. However, since spending time with Otter and particularly since journeying with Grandfather Whale, he was now intrigued and wanted a closer look at the village site that most revered him before the great tsunami destroyed it.

Raven’s reluctance to visit this section of coastline and witness the catastrophic annihilation brought about by Moon’s wrath was understandable. Memories returned as he flew landward. He remembered that he had been powerless to stop her retaliation for the destructive forces unleashed by humans that affected Gaia’s natural environment. He wondered why his life had been spared, for having talked with Otter, he knew he’d been partially responsible for Moon’s reaction.

Raven circled the totem pole and from the air, could barely make out the outline of the longhouse. The mosses and plants had easily overrun the house timbers but there was one lump in the center of the outline that drew him closer, much like the tantalizing spider’s web high up in the tree where the droplets of water had coalesced. He circled lower and lower, all the while wondering if he should be wasting his time doing this or leave and find otter.

Before he could decide, Raven was drawn earthward by a force as powerful as the ocean’s pull on the water drop he’d carried earlier. The moss-shrouded hummock in the center of the house acted like a magnet and the black bird of magic was unable to resist its draw. He clawed at the air in a frantic attempt to slow the decent but to no avail.

The impact of his landing knocked him senseless and totally oblivious to the changes occurring in the environment around him. The mosses disappeared as centuries retreated and the ancient village came alive. Smoke rose up from the nearby fire pit and filled the house with the pleasant scent of cedar although visibility was limited to just a few feet.

Raven, gasping for the air lost on impact, opened his eyes and noticed a stout, bent cedar box with painted red and black decorations carved into its sides in front of him. Bits of abalone shells had also been added to the carvings, causing them to glisten in the firelight. Looking past the box, he was shocked to see a series of blue-trimmed orbs glistening with abalone shell hanging suspended in the smoke about the central fire. Quickly Raven deduced that each orb represented a phase of the moon from the dark of the moon, waxing to a full moon and then back to the smallest waning crescent. He counted thirteen. One orb for each of the months of the year.

Raven also heard rain heavily pelting the planks on the roof and heard the hissing of drops falling through the smoke hole and onto the fire creating sizzling steam which added further smokey mists to the interior of the Northwest Coast plank house. Raven felt bewitched as he looked about the circle of moons.

Drawing out his magic, he looked up again as each phase manifested into an animal or plant. The smokey haze lessened and he could see each orb held aloft by a carved pole much like a totem pole with the abalone orb as the top piece. Below each orb was the carved and painted face of the plant or animal. Each represented a powerful spirit amongst the coastal peoples.

Raven drew back as each spirit pole moved and came forward, dropping a bundle into the box. He could see no arms or hands but through the shadows he could see the bundle fall and heard it strike the bottom. He wondered what the bundles contained and could vaguely make out some parts of animals and plants. Each totem returned to its former place after depositing its bundle into the box.

The mists and smoke grew thicker and Raven’s eyes started to smart and tear up. He shook his head and ruffled his feathers. The smoke was almost too much for him to bear but just as he had that thought, he found himself looking out at the orbs from their height and then realized he had taken on the attributes of the animal or plant he had previously looked up at. He began looking at himself from the perspective of the animal or plant throughout the year and feeling Moon’s influence within his cells as both male and female. He was immensely impressed with the diversity, the growth, the harvest cycles…spending time as each stage throughout the year of a salmon, eagle, devils club shrub, bear, deer, frog, orca, mushroom, otter, hummingbird, thunderbird, cedar tree and lastly, raven…thirteen totems, through a full thirteen moons as both male and female. Raven’s imagination swirled as he realized he could also have chosen other totem plants and animals. True to his Being, even in this altered state of consciousness, Raven was planning to come back and experience more.

Then Raven found himself as Moon and watched himself go through all the phases of thirteen moons constituting a year and then back through the millennia until the beginning of time. He saw Gaia’s formation and how the bounty spread upon her lands. Raven then realized the bundles he had seen the totems depositing in the box were the energies of all of creation, evolving through time to represent what existed before and what existed now spread upon her lands. He also realized that this matrix of creation would be constantly changing but these moons represented the elders –– the genotypes of forever, like pearls strung together making a forever year. They were the seed impulses of Gaia waiting to rise and walk in the beauty way.

The light surrounding Raven became dimmer as if the fogs had rolled in from the sea and further darkened the room. Raven began to feel an uneasiness that he’d not have time to find Otter and would have to remain in the dim, smokey longhouse overnight. His brain was reeling with so much information, it felt like it would explode and he greatly longed for some fresh air.

With that thought, Raven came fully aware and looked around. He found himself in daylight on the moss-covered hummock in a roosting position as if just resting. He stood up, stretched and shook. There was absolutely no sign of an impact on the moss nor did he feel a magnetic draw. “Kwak, kwak!” he noisily croaked in frustration.

There was still lots of daylight left; in fact, it seemed to Raven as if time had stood still while he was experiencing his visions in the cedar plank longhouse. He was too agitated to stay around the site much longer but before leaving to confer with Otter, he pecked at the moss-covered lump. Under a thick layer of moss, he found what he was searching for: his beak struck a piece of abalone shell. He removed the surrounding moss and discovered a fairly well-intact but fire-blackened corner of a cedar box, similar to the one in his vision. Raven briskly feathered the air and rose to find Otter.

(To be continued in Chapter 17: First Contact)