Almost 3000 words: Spirit Walk

This is the beginning of an unfinished story I wrote a couple of years ago. I’d love to hear what you think.

My friend Ellie says I should write this so I guess I will.

I was born on the reservation in Montana on October 25, 1969. My father, Terrell Gray Wolf, was 17. My mother, Rosa Spotted Owl, was 15. They were just dumb kids and they never got married. Terrell died when I was five months old. He got beat up behind a bar by a bunch of drunken Anglos. He probably deserved it, he was always getting too drunk and picking fights. He had a bad temper. That’s what my uncle Henry Spotted Owl says. When I was three Rosa got tired of living so she drank some Drano. There were no more women in the family to take me so Spotted Owl and his woman Jewel Limpy took me.

I don’t remember these things. Spotted Owl told them to me. He says my father was big like I am now and my mother, his youngest sister, was very pretty. He says if she hadn’t started drinking maybe she would be alive now, but almost everyone drinks too much. Spotted Owl thinks alcohol is the Anglo way of killing off all the Indians the slow way. Sometimes I think he’s right.
He says he drank too when he was young but he stopped when he was 15. He went on a spirit walk then because old Jim Running Horse told him he should do it before the alcohol took his spirit away. Spotted Owl says while he was on his spirit walk Old Grandmother walked with him a while. She told him he would be a good medicine man. He thought this was crazy because she looked like a mouse and she was very funny, but he never knew mice could talk before, so he decided maybe she was right. He took her advice and it worked. He is a good medicine man. He has helped many of the People and even some Anglos.

I was in trouble a lot as I was growing up. Jewel Limpy got sick from diabetes when I was 10 and went away. I think she had a sister in Oklahoma so she went there. I missed her because she was nice to me. Spotted Owl missed her too but he never said much about it.
I had a bad temper like my father and I drank too much with my friends. I also liked to smoke weed, which was better than drinking because it didn’t make me angry. But weed cost too much and it was harder to get, so mostly I drank. I did OK in school but I had trouble with reading so I just listened hard but the teachers didn’t say all the things I needed to know.

When I was sixteen I got into a big fight at a party with some Anglo kids in Ashland. We were all drunk but the cops only arrested me. I stayed in jail for ten days because a girl said I tried to rape her and I beat up some of the boys. They beat me up, too, but that was different. It was true I wanted to sleep with the girl, but not that I tried to rape her. The Anglo cops didn’t believe me, though.
After a while the girl’s spirit felt bad so she admitted that she had lied about me trying to rape her. That was brave because she was in a lot of trouble with her parents. I was very glad she decided to tell the truth. I never saw her again. Her family went to live somewhere else. I hadn’t done anything wrong but get drunk and get into a fight. Lots of people did that, so the police let me go home.

Spotted Owl was mad at me for being stupid like my father and getting drunk and fighting and trying to sleep with girls. He told me I was dishonoring my ancestors. I knew he was right but I was mad at him for saying it. He said I should take my spirit walk but he thought I wasn’t strong or brave enough. That made me even madder so I did it. I wanted to prove that I was a man and not as weak as he thought I was.
I lost track of how long I walked but Spotted Owl told me later it was 12 days. At first I thought it was stupid to walk all over the prairie. I thought Spotted Owl was stupid, too. I was going to trick him and go to the highway and hitch a ride to the town and shack up there for a while.

But I got lost. I couldn’t find the highway or find my way back home. I got real hungry, too, but then that stopped and it didn’t matter if I was lost. After I walked a while I thought I would sit down under some trees and look inside the medicine bundle Spotted Owl gave me. I was curious.

I found two little stones, a black one and white one. There was also a wolf tooth. This made me happy because I was named for the wolf. There was also a handful of cracked corn and a little, blackish, dry, wrinkled disk. It was about as big as my thumbnail.
I knew what it was, even though I’d never seen it with my own eyes before. It was peyote. I remembered what Spotted Owl said. When I found the right place I should stop and wait there. So I stayed. I softened the corn in my mouth until I could chew it, and then I chewed the peyote button. It tasted terrible, but I knew it was right that it did. I just kept it in my mouth and chewed until I could swallow it.
It made my stomach feel sick for a while, but then that stopped. I drank a little water to take the bad taste out of my mouth and then I just waited. I got bored. I wondered if all those braves in the old days who took spirit walks got bored too, or if they had adventures. I thought they probably had adventures, but I wouldn’t because I wasn’t a real brave.

I was a little mad because I knew peyote was supposed to give you visions. I didn’t know what those were like, but I wasn’t getting any. It was a gyp.
The tree I was sitting under was nice. The shade felt blue. I slept a little because my legs got too heavy to walk more.
When I woke up the moon was in the sky. I drank a little more water, and then Rosa came and talked to me for a while. She was only a little older than me and real pretty. I didn’t recognize her, but I knew it was her because she didn’t have a throat or a belly. I could see the prairie and the stars through the holes where they’d been. It didn’t bother her any.

Rosa sat with me for a while. She told me I had an animal spirit. She knew this because since she was a spirit, she could see mine, and she told me I should think about that. I didn’t understand what she meant but I told her I would. That made her smile at me. We talked a little more about my animal spirit but mostly I didn’t understand. It was crazy talk to me because I was still thinking too much like an Anglo.
When we stopped talking about that she made me get up and follow her, so I did. She showed me where there were some camas plants and told me I could eat the bulbs if I could dig them up. So I found a sharp stick and dug them. I couldn’t cook them but that didn’t matter. They didn’t taste very good. Rosa said my belly would like them anyway. She was right.

After I ate some camas I asked her if she ever saw my father. She said no, but there was no hurry. I wanted to ask her why she’d drunk that Drano and left me, and if she was ever sorry she did that or if she missed me, but I couldn’t make those words. I knew then the answers didn’t matter. So I asked her how she knew about the camas. She giggled a little and said all the People knew about camas. I didn’t, until she showed me, but I was just a dumb teen-ager.
A while after that Rosa walked away into the tall grass. There were stars over her head. I was sad when she left but I knew she didn’t need to say good-bye to me. She could see me whenever she wanted to. That made me feel better.
I stood up and walked a while but then I got dizzy so I stopped and just sat down. It was a good camas place. There was lots of tall grass. I thought maybe I would die and be like Rosa, except I wouldn’t have holes in me, so I waited. I wondered if I would be a human spirit or an animal spirit. I hoped I would be a wolf, like my name. I wasn’t afraid though.

To give myself something to do I looked at the two stones Spotted Owl gave me. They were smooth and round. I thought they might be river stones from the Tongue. I put one in each hand and looked at them. After a while I could see that the white stone was me now, with my spirit strong and well. The black stone was me when I was angry or drunk. Both stones were beautiful, but the black one was heavy and dragged my hand down. The white one had no weight. It was like the stars.
I thought maybe it was better to be like the white stone, if I could. I felt dumb thinking I could be like a stone, but then I remembered that even though the stones were small and didn’t do anything, they were as old as the world. A long time ago they were mountains. They were very patient and never got angry.

Sometime after that Coyote came. He sat down pretty close to me but he didn’t talk. He just looked at me and I looked at him. Once in a while he scratched his fleas. He went away for a while, but he came back. He had something in his mouth. He dropped it in front of me and walked back into the grass. I didn’t see Coyote again after that.
It was a ferret he dropped. He was generous to give me this good ferret he caught so I could eat it. But I couldn’t eat the ferret. I didn’t have a knife to skin it or a way to make a fire to cook it. And it wasn’t dead. I was sorry for it, though. It was a nice ferret. It didn’t deserve to be caught by Coyote just so its death could be wasted on a stupid man who couldn’t even eat it.

I had a little water left so I put some in my palm for her. The ferret was very brave. She drank the water and asked if she could have some more. She was very polite. I gave her more. She said the places Coyote bit her hurt. So I used a little more of my water to clean them, and then I tore the blanket and wrapped her up in it. She went to sleep. I thought she would probably die.
She didn’t die though. After a while she woke up and told me her name was Ha’hahn’e. Coyote had eaten her four babies, but she understood he had to. It was the way of things. She had never been a mother before, so she was still learning the right way to hide them.

Ha’hahn’e asked me if I would make her hurts stop. I told her I didn’t think I could, but I would try. She said that was OK. But when I touched her fur, I could feel the places where she hurt. I could see brown fuzz in those places. It was ugly, and bad. It scared me a little.
But I told her I would try, so I did. I found out I could make the fuzz stick to my fingers. It didn’t hurt me. So I started taking it out of her. It wanted to stick to me but I knew I shouldn’t let it do that. I shook my fingers and it floated away. Ha’hahn’e was very quiet and only bared her teeth and snapped three times. She apologized, though. I told her I was sorry if I hurt her, but this was my first time being a healer. She told me she understood.

It took me a while to find all the brown fuzz. Some of it was very deep inside her. But I didn’t have anything else to do. I was too dizzy to walk anymore. I was afraid the wind would blow me away, but if I sat on the ground like a stone it couldn’t. So after a while the brown fuzz was all gone. Ha’hahn’e said she felt better. I was glad for her, but I was very tired then so I went to sleep.
When I woke up the moon had moved some. I thought Ha’hahn’e might be gone, but she wasn’t. She told me if I didn’t mind, she would stay with me. I said OK, she could stay. I liked her. She was my first animal friend.
I stayed at that place for a while, watching the sun rise and set a few times. I thought a lot about what Rosa told me. I had always liked animals. I guess that was because I had an animal spirit but I didn’t know before. Now I could see the brown fuzz and take it away so they could be well. So I thought maybe this was what I was meant to learn on my spirit walk.
I should be a medicine man for animals.
Also I learned I should not be like Rosa and make myself die. Life is very hard sometimes but it’s better than walking alone in the dark. Rosa told me she didn’t mind being a spirit, but sometimes she missed hugging people. I thought maybe I would miss that, too. It would be better to live until I was old. To be like the white stone, like the stars.
I thought I should walk back home. I didn’t know the way but I started walking even though I was dizzy and it was hard. My legs didn’t want to walk anymore. Ha’hahn’e rode on my shoulder. Sometimes she ran ahead of me and teased me. She made me laugh because she didn’t only run, she leapt and bounded and did funny somersaults.
When the sun rose I saw the town. I was surprised because I had been looking for it but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Now here it was, like always. I walked down the street and the people all looked at me and Ha’hahn’e. Some smiled and some only stared but no one stopped me or talked to me. Later I found out some of them thought I was drunk, because I was walking funny and I was only wearing that stupid loincloth. When I got to Spotted Owl’s house he was waiting for me on the porch. He said he had water and food for me.
I never told him about my mother Rosa or about Coyote. Spotted Owl didn’t mind if Ha’hahn’e stayed with us, but he asked me to tell her she should go outside like we did if she had to make water or pellets. I told her and she did that. She was a very cooperative ferret.
When school started I worked harder than I ever had before that. I had two more years to go and I wanted my grades to look good to the Anglos. I knew if I wanted to be an animal doctor I had to do that. So I had to stay after school for help most days.
I stopped drinking. It was the hardest thing, because it was in my mind, like a blackness. My old friends got mad at me because I wouldn’t party with them. I wanted to, because it would be easier and more fun than doing homework, but I was afraid my animal spirit would leave me.
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5 Responses to “Almost 3000 words: Spirit Walk”

  1. I felt like that kid was sitting right in front of me, talking to me that whole time. Good job!

  2. Thanks, Bubs! :o)

  3. Bill Stankus Says:

    There are reasons why we do things and context is also important.

    I enjoyed reading your words and would like to see more of the story – but I also was left with questions – mostly about the intention, purpose and why this was written.

    Was it for publishing purposes?
    Written for a certain age demographic?
    Was it done as an exercise?
    For a class?
    The goal is short story or novel?
    Something else?

    I say this because each reader will look at the story with different eyes when reacting to your question, of, "what you think".

  4. Thanks for the good observation, Bill. This was written as a self-imposed exercise, searching for voice and style, with the goal of perhaps publishing a finished story as a novel. The audience – adults.

  5. A very enjoyable read, Wren. Trying to get into the mindset of a different culture is usually difficult. From the limited contacts that I have had with Native Americans, I think your depiction is as close as any that I have read other than those written by a native.

    Keep up the good work.

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