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)