Being in the world
This a story for Kyle. It’s a true story, meaning it really happened. But it is also story, for it’s my honest recall of what happened; and I know more than most, memory is faulty. So this is a true story, but it is not truth.
I’m sure you comprehend the distinction.
We were in the Rocky Mountains. A week spent at YMCA of the Rockies for a family reunion. It was not our first nor our most recent reunion there. For my four-year old younger sprout, it was a second trip, the first when he was still an infant at my breast.
If you’ve never been there, there are lodges, like motel rooms, dormitories, cottages, and a host of other facilities necessary for community in the wild; dining halls, cafeterias, shops, barns, facilities for sport and craft. A veritable city in the wilderness. Throughout, there are small houses where the staff reside during the summer.
Across from the lodge our family stayed in, there was a residence house with a dog pen in front. The dog pen was inhabited by a mixed breed wolf/german shepard. There were signs near the cage explaining the wolf-dog, asking you to leave it be. Instinct, too; provided a powerful ‘avoid’ trigger. During my week there, in a room looking out at that pen, except for the young couple who lived in the house, I never saw a single person get with a dozen yards of that pen. The very presence of the wolf-dog provided guard for folk who obviously didn’t welcome small talk in a place where such talk was mostly nurtured. On oddity.
One night, a pack of coyotes came, surrounded the cage of the wolf-dog, and began yowling. The wolf-dog howled. The clatter woke my younger sprout, who woke me. Mother’s of four-year-old share their night terrors. Typically, husband and elder sprout slept through it.
It was a long night; the coyotes finally abandoning their vigil about 3:00 a.m. We were scheduled to drive up the Trail Ridge Road to the continental divide to watch the sun rise, planning to set out around 5:00. The morning was rainy, clouds socked in the sky, and younger sprout and I were grumpy and exhausted. I nearly told my sweetie and elder sprout to go without younger sprout and I, but, sleepy as we were, we went, driving up through the sleepy village and a cloud toward the spine of our land. When we got to the tree line, we left the cloud below us. I remember the fresh-washed green of the alpine tundra to a horizon of rock peaked mountains floating in a sea of cloud, lit golden from underneath.
A pack of five to seven coyotes stalked out of the krumholz at the treeline, I imagined them returning from the village below after a figil outside the wolf-dog’s pen, but I’ve know reason to suggest it was the same pack. We drove slowly, and the pack ran along beside us, about 100 to 200 feet from the car, following us up toward the spine and the first touch of sun, we shared the road for a half-mile or more. They jumped and sang, seemed filled with joy. And younger sprout leaned toward the open window of the car, mouth hanging open. Finally, he turned, looked at me and said, “I’m a coyote.”
This is not something you want to hear from your 4-year old child if, like me, you’d spent a good part of the last decade reading and telling Native American folk tales.
We had our mountain sun rise. We saw Dall Sheep. It was wonderful. But the story doesn’t end yet.
We went down to what we were told is a traditional trading post, Charlie Eagle Plums. This was something we made a point of doing each trip there. Eagle Plume still lived, then. He drove around his store on a Lark. He would give each of the children that entered an eagle feather; we have a bouquet of them on our mantle. But this day, when we walked in, he didn’t call “Welcome,” as he usually did; instead he just stared at my younger son. He didn’t say a word. Then he drove into the next room, and took something out of the fetish case; a tall wooden tower about my height, filled with small drawers on each side like an apothacaries drawers, and brought it to my son.
“Here,” he said, “You need this.” So saying, Eagle Plume handed my son a small coyote fetish; hand carved out of a small piece of off-white, and buff-brown swirled rock.
To be fair, he then looked at my older child, studied him hard, and again, without saying a word, gave him a beaded amulet hanging from a peg behind the counter; a turtle.
This, too, is true, but that’s another story.