- 9/21/2007 2:42 AM ET
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, Rocky. I enjoyed it immensely. :)
|Leaping Bear stood before his father, dark sad eyes cast shamefully toward the ground under his soft hide boots. His father's voice was not harsh, but firm. "You should not say you are, what you are not. Those who once accepted you as a friend will do so again when you accept yourself."
He wanted to believe his father, but could not. Since his older brother, Shadow Stalker had won every hoop and spear game since spring, he had been feeling inferior. Everyone in camp liked Shadow Stalker now more than they had, recognizing his potential for becoming one of the best hunters and warriors. The subject of Shadow Stalker was on every tongue. Are you proud of your brother? You can learn much from your brother. Leaping Bear sighed heavily, he was tired of it.
He looked at his father with anger on his face. "What I am is no longer good enough. I do not want to walk in the shadow of my brother." Leaping Bear shivered. He had not meant his words to sound as angry as he felt.
His father planted his large hands on his son's shoulders and his dark eyes looked intently into those of his son. "You do not see within yourself what I see."
Leaping Bear folded his arms over his chest. "Others see what you do not. What they see is not good. No one likes me, and it is Shadow Stalker's fault."
His father shook his head, sending his long black hair spraying over his shoulders. "It is not so. Your brother has only done his best. Everyone still likes you. They do not like the words you speak or the things you sometimes do. You have lost your honor, not by doing less than your brother, but because you have said things that are not true. It will take time to restore your good name in the hearts of others."
He wanted to deny his father's words. He opened his mouth to say it was a lie, but his father held up his hands to stop him.
"I am not pleased with you, Leaping Bear. When the Day Star rises from its rest tomorrow, I am sending you away. For six days, you will journey to the north. On the sixth day, when the Day Star prepares to rest, you will make camp. You are to remain at that spot until you clearly see your true face and in what manner you will walk and serve your people."
The boy frowned. Part of his heart was glad to be going away. It would serve everyone right if I never come home, he thought. Six days north was a long journey. It would take him into the forest and perhaps into the mountains. His heart began to pound like many horses running. He had never been that far from camp alone and never for more than two days. Many things could happen in six days and nights to a boy who journeys alone. Suddenly, Leaping Bear did not want to go, but he said nothing. Shadow Stalker would not be afraid. He would be brave too.
Before the Day Star began to peak over the eastern horizon, his lonely and frightful journey to the north began. Not long upon the path, Leaping Bear heard rustling in the bushes slightly behind him. He anxiously looked over his shoulder feeling more than a little afraid. He saw nothing. As he continued to press ahead and the Day Star rose higher in the eastern sky, the brush continued to rustle along the path.
The boy tried to reassure himself by assuming a carefree and confident attitude in his manner of walk. He sang to himself as he stepped upon the path, hoping the creature that followed would loose interest and go away. The brush continued to rustle and he hoped with all his might there were no wolves, big cats or bears stalking him with the intent to have him for a late morning meal.
When the Day Star had completed half its journey and stood high over head, Leaping Bear stopped and spun about on his heels, facing the brush which seemed to follow. He planted his hands on his buckskin-clad waist and said in a demanding tone, "Come out and show yourself. If you intend to eat me, do it and be done."
He waited, but no creature came forth. Determined to gain control of his fear, he stepped into the thicket and began to look for signs of a large predator, finding nothing. Irritated, he pushed his long black hair behind his ears and stepped again upon the path. Relief washed over as he listened and heard nothing but the chittering of birds in the trees.
Feeling a little at ease, he began to enjoy the beauty of the thicket, no longer paying attention to the path before him. As he rounded a bend in the trail, Leaping Bear almost walked over the top of a skunk. He jumped with a start and stumbled to one the side, causing the animal to rapidly stamp its little feet. He held his breath.
The thicket was too dense to travel through and he could not turn back to find another way, so he took a slow step forward, hoping to step around the skunk without provoking it or making it feel threatened. As he carefully eased around the animal, it slowly raised its fluffy tail and began to turn its back toward Leaping Bear. "I do not mean to trespass, Little Brother," he said. "Please forgive me for disturbing you."
The skunk watched intently as the boy stepped quickly to put much distance between them. He looked over his shoulder often to make sure the skunk was not in pursuit. Finally satisfied, he put the skunk out of his mind and focused on his journey. That night when he closed his eyes to sleep, he dreamed about a skunk walking through his people's camp, and everyone retreated hastily. Leaping Bear felt very sad and alone. His people avoided the skunk in the same manner they avoided him.
The next morning while leaving camp, he stumbled over a thick vine of ivy and fell on his hands and knees. Even with his thick buckskin leggings, he scraped his knees on the rocky terrain edging the path. He bent down and picked up a rock and threw it into the thicket with all his might, "Everything is against me!" he yelled as the rock bounced off a tree. He bent down and picked up another, bouncing it in his scuffed palm. As he pulled his arm back to throw it, he got a strange feeling in his stomach.
Instead of throwing the rock, he looked at it and ran his fingers over its smooth surface. It was a dark hue of brown and flat, smaller than his palm. He spit on it and rubbed the saliva around with his thumb, revealing its true color of red. A small smile pressed his thin lips, "You are speaking to me," he said in wonder. "I cannot hear your words, so I will take you with me until I can." He slipped the rock into a fringed pouch hanging from his belt and left a small offering in its place. Taking up his journey, he pondered the rock and the dream concerning the skunk.
By the time the Day Star hung high over head, Leaping Bear had decided the skunk was not so bad. "I think skunks are not judged fairly," he said to himself. "Yesterday it let me pass and did not spray me. If I were a bad person, it would have sprayed me. Maybe my people do not judge me fairly either." He considered the idea and cast it aside. "I have been saying things that are not true, and I have been rude to Shadow Stalker and others when they talk to me about him." The confession did not make him feel any better. He took the rock out of the pouch and caressed it as he walked.
He considered many things that had happened since the spring. He thought about some of the things he had said, the lies he had told trying to impress people and make them think he was as good and sometimes better than his brother. He felt his face grow hot and was glad there was no one to see him blush with embarrassment. He thought about his rudeness toward his brother and other people, and he felt bad, wishing he could take everything back.
Late that afternoon he camped next to the river. After building a fire pit, he knelt on the bank and dunked the red rock into the water washing the dirt away. Holding it up toward the sinking Day Star, the rock glistened in the fading light. "I am listening, but I still cannot hear you," he said to the rock and placed it back in the pouch.
Along the bank was a thick and old growth of blackberry vines. Plump fruit hung heavy, bending the vines with their weight. Leaping Bear began picking them, thinking berries would make a nice meal. He broke a large bowl like leaf from a tall plant at the water's edge and filled it with the berries. When he thought he had enough to quiet his rumbling stomach he returned to his empty fire pit.
After building his fire, Leaping Bear sat near the flames and nibbled on his berries, savoring the sweet juice each offered. The Day Star had sunk behind the western horizon for another night of rest and in its place, the moon had risen full in the dark sky. Leaping Bear looked about his surroundings and tried to recognize the shadows falling upon the ground. Out of the brush, he saw a double white stripe waddling toward him.
Leaping Bear's first impulse was to run as he realized the skunk had followed him. He thought about his dream and decided to stay where he was. As the skunk waddled near, Leaping Bear put some berries in his palm and held them out to the skunk. "Greetings, Little Brother," he said. "Would you like to share my berries?"
The skunk stopped short of proffered berries and sniffed the air. Leaping Bear dumped the berries back into the leaf and gently shook it, laying it before the skunk. "It is well, Little Brother," he said in a soothing voice. "I am not afraid of you. I will not run away and I will not hurt you." As soon as he said it, the skunk waddled forward and ate the berries. When the last berry was gone, the skunk looked up at Leaping Bear expectantly.
The boy shrugged his shoulder, "I have no more." The skunk sniffed the leaf then disappeared into the brush. Leaping Bear's heart was happy when he lay down to sleep. He believed he had made a friend and hoped he would see him again.
The next morning, Leaping Bear went to the bank of the river to wash his face. As he knelt down and dipped his hands in the cool water, he noticed light bouncing off an object on the riverbed. He stretched his arm and fingers as far as he could, reaching for the object. It was just beyond his reach. He leaned forward a little more, and as his fingers touched the object; he lost his balance and fell in the water.
Grumbling, he grabbed the object and stood up. After climbing out of the water, he stomped to the cold fire pit. "If I keep falling down, my father will change my name to Falling Bear." His soft hide boots made a squishing noise with each step and his buckskin shirt and leggings sagged as water dripped from them and his long hair. Before sitting down, he looked at the object in his hand and rolled his eyes, "Another rock."
He rolled the jagged white stone around in his hands, looking at it with hard eyes. "Do you have something to say too?" He listened, but heard nothing. Irritated he put it in the pouch next to the red one on his belt. "You will have to talk louder," he folded the flap, closing the pouch.
Leaping squeezed water from his clothing and hair. Feeling discouraged, he began his journey. Each step he took made a squishy sound and his clothing was much heavier than they would have been dry. As he walked upon the path and the Day Star rose higher into the sky, a mist began to rise from his hide clothes.
Much of the morning passed with him feeling angry and uncomfortable. His journey was not progressing in the manner that he thought such a journey should. Most boys who went on vision quests found grand visions or dreams. "All I find is rocks." He massaged his palms where they were scraped. "Important people do not fall down and they do not fall in the river." He took the rocks from his pouch and caressed them as he walked.
That night, he made camp as usual and lay down. He looked at the pouch containing the two rocks. "I still cannot hear you. What must I do to hear the words you speak?" He waited and heard nothing. With a sigh, Leaping Bear placed the pouch on his chest and drifted off to sleep.
Throughout the night, he dreamed about two men. One wore a buckskin breechclout and had red paint on his face. He looked very angry. The weapons he carried and his manner of walk spoke of his aggressive nature. The man stepped into a clearing and found himself facing another man.
The second man wore full attire made of buckskin and no paint. His hair was white and his eyes were full of wisdom. He said to the first man with red paint on his face. "Bury your weapons and clothe your heart in joy. Wash your face in the river six times to cleanse away your anger. When you are done, return to your people a new man with a pure heart."
The man with the red paint on his face growled at the older man. "I have no reason to clothe my heart in joy. When I return to my people they will not respect me."
The old man with the white hair shook his head, "Anger does not serve you well. In your heart, you are a kind man. The way of the warrior is not your way. Your destiny lies upon a different path. While others make war, you will make peace and heal wounds which scar souls."
The man with the red paint did as he was told. When the paint was gone from his face, he no longer seemed angry. Instead, he wore a soft smile and when he walked away, his manner was that of a man at peace. As he stepped into the thicket, many animals followed and the yellow sunflowers growing tall bent their faces toward him. An eagle screeched over head, and as it soared on the breeze, a feather drifted from the sky and tangled itself in the young man's hair. It hung with the quill toward the sky and the tip toward the ground, a man of peace wears his feathers this way.
On the fourth morning, Leaping Bear stepped upon the path with a new feeling of hope in his heart. He believed the stones had spoken. He was determined to see his true face and the manner in which he was supposed to walk and serve his people. While upon his journey the forest unfolded around him, he began to pay attention to everything. He studied the trees, the flowers and the birds as he considered the dream.
A red bird caught his attention as it fluttered about and whistled loudly. It found seeds and insects to eat and carried them to a nest where another bird huddled with four new hatchlings. The adults had bright red crests on their heads, which rose to a point. The first was brighter in color, signifying it as the male. The other was the female and together they continued to whistle as the male fluttered back and forth between the nest and the ground.
Considering the birds, Leaping Bear continued upon the path. He tried to reason out how the activity of the bird applied to his own journey. If he had been born a girl, he could see his anger toward Shadow Stalker as unjustified. Girls' responsibilities to the people were different then those of boys. Suddenly another thought struck him. In the dream, the man with red paint on his face was angry too. When he learned his responsibility to his people was different than what he thought it was, he seemed to be in perfect harmony with the universe.
"If I can figure out what my responsibilities are, maybe I will no longer be angry either," Leaping Bear said to himself. He had never been as skilled with weapons and tools used in hunting as his brother. Perhaps it was not his destiny to be a hunter or a warrior. Of all the lies he had spoken, perhaps the greatest was the lie he spoke within his heart. Accepting such a thought was difficult, but Leaping Bear tried. It seemed the warriors and hunters were esteemed higher than most, but perhaps that was a lie too. Maybe it just seemed so because Leaping Bear thought they were more important.
The pair of birds seemed to have different responsibilities, but that did not mean the male was more important than the female. "Perhaps I am as important as my brother," he whispered. "Maybe how others see me is not what matters. Perhaps what matters is how I see myself." Leaping Bear considered these things through the rest of the day and that night when lying down to sleep.
On the fifth morning, the boy rose early and continued his journey. The path began to rise as it carried him to higher ground. His dark eyes were wide as he absorbed the beauty of the earth. In the direction of the four winds, pines and cedar rose toward the blue sky where soft clouds lilted over head. The Day Star was bright upon his face, the ground soft under his feet and all around him were the colors of the rainbow. The chittering of birds, the breeze rustling the leaves, which danced upon the trees and the water that bubbled down the winding stream, was a song, which celebrated life and the joy of simplistic beauty.
For the first time Leaping Bear could remember, he felt at peace. The dance of bees and other insects, and the grace of the hummingbirds seemed new to him even though he had seen the same every day he had lived. The eyes, which saw them today, were those of wonder. Considering all he had learned since the day he had left the camp of his people, he came to believe he could learn something from everything, no matter how insignificant the object or animal seemed to be.
As Leaping Bear followed the path up the mountain, he took time to touch trees and flowers. He looked at the animals in ways he never had before. He thought he could learn much from their behavior, if he could understand why they behaved as they did. As the Day Star journeyed across the sky and began to descend in the west, he sat on the ground with his back against a tall birch tree.
He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of nature. He noted the breeze on his skin and the fragrance of wild flowers. He could hear the buzz of a bug and the gurgling of the stream. He emptied his mind of all thought and allowed the sound of the earth to rush in. As he sat there, thinking of nothing a single thought raced through his mind. With the setting of the Day Star and the rising of the moon, all that was is no more.
His dark eye flew open. "If all that was is no more, then what I was is no more. All that I have done matters not." He did not know how that could be, but his heart said it was true. "That means as each day is new, so am I." Leaping Bear smiled and looked up at the birch tree. "Thank you, Brother Tree," he said. He felt silly, but he wrapped his arms around its narrow trunk and hugged it. "I will never forget your words." That night when he laid down to sleep, he did so with anticipation of the new day to come.
It was now the sixth day, the last day of his journey away from his people. It marked the day he would begin to seek his true face and the manner in which he would walk and serve his people. As he made his way further up the mountain, Leaping Bear caressed the stones he had found. He held one in each hand and considered the dream with the old man and the man whose heart had been clothed in joy.
In his mind, Leaping Bear placed the man with his new joy next to his people's greatest warrior and hunter. He considered the responsibilities of one and then the other. They were both important and he believed they were respected equally. "My way is not that of a hunter or a warrior," he said to the wind. "I do not know what my way is though. How will I know?" he asked the sky. "What skill do I have besides falling down?" he asked the rocks.
He heard nothing but the beautiful song of several mockingbirds. Even though his mind was heavy with unanswered questions, Leaping Bear's heart was lighter than it had been in a very long time. Absently he began to softly sing as he strolled up the mountain. Taking his time, he made up songs about the animals, insects, birds and trees. They were songs that told of their lives and how they lived them.
As he walked, he noticed a feather on the ground. It was small and black with a spot of white near the quill. Leaping Bear ran his fingers over the fine hairs then placed it in his pouch. He continued upon the path and every so often, he found another small feather. He recognized each as belonging to the mockingbird. Gently he put each in his pouch.
When the Day Star began to touch the western horizon, Leaping Bear stopped and made camp. He took out the feathers he had collected and counted them, there were twelve. He then took out the rocks and considered them and his dreams concerning the skunk and the two men. He searched his heart and found there was no more anger toward his brother. "If I could find my true face and the manner in which to walk and serve my people, I could go home," he said.
Instead of putting the feathers and stones in the pouch, he put them inside his shirt. As he sat under the full moon, he softly sang some of the songs he had made up during the day. Crickets began to chirp and frogs began to croak; their accompaniment with his voice seemed harmonious. He continued to sing, and a mockingbird began to sing too. He listened to the melody and tears filled his eyes. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. Leaping Bear knew in what manner to walk and serve his people. He also saw clearly his true face and it was joyous.
The next morning, he put the rocks and feathers back in his pouch and began his journey home. His step was light and quick. He could not wait to return home to tell his father he had discovered that which he had sent him to find. For the next six days, he made up songs and sang them with his heart.
On the twelfth day, Leaping Bear returned to his people. With great joy, he greeted each person he passed. When he approached his father's lodge, he saw the man sitting outside with his brother, Shadow Stalker. They were examining a long bow and talking. When Leaping Bear approached, they looked up at him with doubt on their faces.
Leaping Bear sat across from his brother. "I am happy you are my brother, Shadow Stalker," he said. "I have said many things about you that are not true, and I have not treated you well. I hope you can forgive me."
Shadow Stalker looked at his younger brother with wide eyes, "Are you sick?"
Leaping Bear laughed, "No, Brother. My heart and my thoughts were sick, but now they are well. I know now my anger was wrong. I was angry because I was jealous."
Shadow Stalker still looked doubtful. "Twelve days you have been gone. It is not very long. A person does not walk away and return a few days later a new person."
Leaping Bear smiled, "A person is new when he awakes in the morning, just as the Day Star brings with it a new day. What I was and what I did are no more, just as yesterday is no more. When the Day Star rises, it brings with it the opportunity for us to shine as brightly as it does."
His father narrowed his eyes toward the younger boy, "Tell me, Leaping Bear, have you seen your true face and the manner in which you should walk and serve your people?"
Leaping Bear nodded his head enthusiastically. "Yes, Father. The way of the hunter and the warrior is not my way. My path is to sing songs which will teach our people about the Mother and our brothers and sisters who fly upon the wind, the four legged and those who swim in the water. I will teach them what they need to know to survive, and how to become new with the rising of the Day Star. My face is that of joy and peace. I will walk in the manner of understanding and serve our people in song."
After that day, Leaping Bear shined as bright as the Day Star. People no longer retreated from him and his good name was restored because his words were true and his actions were that of kindness. He served his people well in understanding and in song. He became recognized as one of the most important men among his people, even greater than the greatest hunter and the mightiest warrior, but Leaping Bear never thought he was greater than any other.
Throughout his life, Leaping Bear never forgot his journey to the north and honored his animal brothers daily through his songs and actions. But the one he honored the most was the little black and white brother who had followed him that first day. It had been the skunk that had helped him understand that through right action and patience, even the most tarnished reputation could be mended.
Copyright 2001 Rocky Bellew. All Rights Reserved.
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