By HHA Member Tom Helmer
This is the first of four chronological stories based on locations in Tomaquag Valley
Brook Paws was nine when he found that he could be useful, and even welcomed in his Clan, by doing what he loved to do. Always fascinated by water, he grew adept at catching crayfish, tasty, but below a man’s dignity to “hunt”. At first, when he was a little one, he would prowl along the bed of the shallow trickle brooks, because he too was small.
While he remained small in height, he grew in wisdom and courage, and now found himself alone in the big brook where the tomaquag made their dams and lodges.
But “The Wisdom of a Hunter comes with the Moons” was an old saying that applied to the men with their arrows, stalking the lush grassland under the canopy of scattered trees, as well as grubby little boys, without pants, wading in the rivulets of summer, hunting for frogs, salamanders, snakes, big bugs, and crayfish. On his own, Brook Paws learned to hunt crayfish by starting from down stream, to let the overturned rock mud clear away in the current, exposing all. He didn’t notice his discovery was observed by a silent watcher.
Like the other young boys learning the basic skills of hunting, he was interested in catching anything that moved. From this he learned that some of the things that moved, like bees, skunks, porcupines, raccoons, hawks, owls and fox could effectively, and painfully, defend themselves. Through all of time, every education costs something.
He even saw his friend get a finger eaten trying to catch a forbidden turtle. His father had no sympathy for Short Hand for disobeying the Tribal Rules. The Turtle was the symbol of Nooh-kas-ah-kee, (Mother Earth), and was respected by all. It was his father who renamed him, even as the stub was bleeding and his boy had not yet captured all of his escaping tears.
The other boys of the tribe abandoned him to his wet world, preferring to hone the manly hunting skills of the forest. They began bringing home squirrel & rabbit to the seasonal encampments. They were acclaimed! Some were even accepted by the grown men to join their hunting bands.
Brook Paws, with his children’s crayfish and frogs, even the occasional brook or pond fish he caught with his bare hands, slowly became invisible, even as the food he brought to their fires was steady, day by day by ‘the whole year round’ every day. Even in Winter Camp, he would chop through swamp ice to bring home his unappreciated catch, now with vital cattail roots & arrow roots which were the starchy winter staples of The People.
By his sixteenth year, Brook Paws always walked alone. His former friend, Short Hand, now delighted in mocking him, calling him “Walking Woman” for his solitary habits and the simple fare he contributed daily, good weather or bad. With all of Short Hand’s harsh words, The People slowly began to think Brook Paws was strange. Not bad, but strange.
Short Hand had immersed himself in the warrior skills of hunting the land for food, and hunting the woods for people from neighboring clans of his Tribe, and especially interlopers from enemy Tribes. He was a good sentry. Feeling he had to compensate for his deformed left hand, he grew aggressive, and would pummel another boy who caught his attention by arguing with him, or who seemed an easy target for his bullying tactics. He loved to fight.
He tried it on Brook Paws once, and the spineless “walking woman” surprised him by shoving a bristle finned sunfish in his mid-taunt mouth, then snapped the tail back out, imbedding the spiny fins inside his cheeks.
Initially, Short Hand was disappointed that he did not have an audience to join in the laughter of him abusing the loner. Totally taken by surprise that anyone would stand up to him, now he was grateful that the encounter took place with no one to see that it took him nearly a minute to twist the still flapping trash out of his bleeding, shredded mouth. And later on that day he was grateful that Brook Paws just walked away in thoughtful silence, never even mentioning his humiliating defeat to any of The People.
The truth of the matter was Brook Paws was thoroughly frightened by the sudden arrival of the aggressive Short Hand, and had no idea how he came up with the wits to stuff a fish in the warrior’s big, wide open, laughing mouth. There was no thinking involved, it happened too fast to plan! He was tingling in excitement, but also felt weak at the same time. He tried not to sit down, and swayed a bit as he walked to the Disappearing Brook, which always calmed him. It was wonderful and strange to see the entire stream swallowed up beneath the stones.
Once there, he lay amid the jumble of moss covered rocks and leaping frogs, listening to the water tumbling and gurgling unseen within the echo chambers of the earth. It was as if the water was trying to talk to him, but he could not understand what it was saying.
Earlier, the watcher had seen Short Hand break away from his band of boys and head for Tomaquag Brook. Knowing the habitual paths Brook Paws traveled, and expecting trouble, he “silent as the wind” followed Short Hand to his ambush of the smaller boy. Pleased with the young man’s reception, now he trailed Brook Paws to Disappearing Brook, and placed another thought in his mind. This time it did not adhere. The young man was addled now, but one new day, in another moon, he might retain it. This boy was the one he needed.
Short Hand developed an enormous swelling in his left cheek. He did not know of the clinical word “infection”, but he did know he had to eat gruel and old man mush for several weeks. Talking was difficult, so for a far too short period, The People were spared his shameless boasting and bullying threats.
He never directly confronted Brook Paws again, but his hatred buried itself in his heart deeper than the blue gill’s spines had done in his cheek, which developed a line of prominent pale white dots. No one spoke to Short Hand about this manifestation, and he was unaware that he had been marked by the Manitou for some unknown purpose.
The Chief, alarmed by such an aggressive young warrior, certain to challenge him in time, consulted with Wind Walker, who privately did his ritual for consulting with the appropriate Manitous. The reply, delivered to Wind Walker in a trance, was itself a riddle:
“Step by step Short Hand is off on his own hidden trail. He leads to where The People have great fear. The Sachem must not follow his path.”
The Chief was not pleased by this, and wondered if the Medicine Man made this up just to give the Chief orders and restrict his authority. It was as if Wind Walker could hear the doubt within the Chief and lashed out “Obey or Not what the “Manitou Of What Awaits” has provided as His answer. Give great care to how you reply to His Gift for you, my Sachem.”
By his nineteenth year, Brook Paws could understand the soft language of Disappearing Brook as it threaded it’s way beneath the mossy jumble. At least it seemed like he did. The Waters, the hidden waters of Disappearing Brook, the tomaquag ponds, the big river and the Great Sea, told him of what awaited The People walking on the land of Nooh-kas-ah-kee; He became aware of the times when rain would be scarce, and of the times when great rains would lash The People and scour away their fishing weirs. The waters said they were all interwoven, even the waters in the sky, and they all knew, like The People all knew of their Chief’s decisions.
One day in the summer encampment, Brook Paws warned of a great storm coming in four days which would bring strong wind, triple strength light and sound arrows, and water that would flood the brook. Short Hand laughed heartily at the prediction, then closed his mouth until he checked Brook Paws hands. They were empty, so again he laughed and pointed.
But all talk stopped when Wind Walker raised his bony old finger at the rash young man who dared to foresee the future, and gestured for Brook Paws to exit the area immediately. The frail Shaman stumped along behind him, leaning heavily on his walking stick, loaded with jangling amulets. Those within who saw and heard were silent until Wind Walker exited, then rapidly talked among themselves about what it all meant, both Brook Paws outspoken warning and Wind Walker’s immediate response.
Wind Walker led silent Brook Paws to his personal bark home apart from the cluster of Summer Camp shelters. He made the young man wait while he entered to mix several of his potions. He emerged with a cob stoppered drinking gourd and a deerskin pouch of pemmican. The Pauwau lead Brook Paws through the area of the Vast Snake, the Rabbit, the Bear, and the Talking Spring under it’s fitted stone “turtle shell” dome. Then they walked on to a low, flagstone roofed enclosure with a small window to the North. It was big enough for Brook Paws to lie down within.
Wind Walker motioned the young man to crawl into the Vision Chamber head first. Then he handed him the drinking gourd and the pemmican pouch. He was to stay inside the Chamber until his courage or his reason fled from him and he kicked out the stone, soon to cover over the chamber entrance. Or, he could signal to the Medicine Man that his Vision Quest was complete by placing the gourd or pouch outside the window. Or, he just might die in the dark cell.
Before Brook Paws could reply, Wind Walker snapped: “You do NOT speak! You flee in fear, you go insane, you get no Vision, you HAVE a Vision or you die. But IN SILENCE!”
“Put the gourd or pouch out the window, and I will be here to release you in honor, vision or no vision, or I will drag your body, condemned to death by the Manitous whom you have offended. Or I will instruct Short Hand to lead a band to hunt you down as a coward or crazy one who is a danger to The People. But be IN SILENCE until we return together to my home. There you tell me what you saw, and I will tell you what I have seen.” (But after the event, he didn’t share his vivid Medicine Man’s Dreams. He would need time to unweave the Manitou’s voice.)
With that, the shrunken old man somehow dragged a heavy flagstone across the entrance and sealed him in. He picked out a particular amulet and shook it over the chamber, threw a pinch of some kind of medicine on the roof rocks, then limped back to his home to fast, meditate and be open to whatever dreams by night or visions by day awaited him.
The People went about the next three days cautiously. No one gave any credence to young Brook Paws, however, anytime Wind Walker inserted himself in their lives it was usually both a welcome time and a nervous time until whatever befell them happened, or not. When dawn of the fourth day broke clear and sunny, Short Hand was his boisterous self, laughing and being chummy with the grown warriors in the band that accepted him.
Wind Walker stayed near his home, adding many new “tie down” thongs lashed to newly pounded stakes. He drank little, although he had water, but he ate nothing. With the arrival of dawn, high sun & dusk, he would stump over and silently look at the Vision Chamber window from a distance, then check the sealed entrance. Each time everything was as he left it. The Pauwau knew there was one day’s water in the gourd, and one day’s pemmican in the pouch, if Brook Paws was eating and drinking normally. He could stretch the water for two or three days with discipline, and make the food last for five, but if nothing changed in seven days he would probably, but not certainly, be dead.
The vicious Summer squall hit in mid afternoon of the fourth day. The gray/green sky was eerie. The wind rose up as a rampaging bear, then grew even stronger & louder! It transformed into a legendary event from long ago, “The Black Cloud”, which then and now tore entire trees up into the skies, trees that never returned to the ground! The rain and wind flattened most of the homes and damaged the rest. The People gratefully emerged in the odd pink light of sunset to a scene of devastation. Fires were rekindled, and all The People sheltered in the upright damaged homes and softly talked about the legendary Black Cloud’s return, surely a frightful omen.
No one spoke aloud of the warning given by Brook Paws, but all remembered in silence.
The Medicine Man’s solitary bark home was undamaged, protected by his additional tie downs. He squished his lonely way along the soggy trail to the Vision Chamber, and still there was no change. He made inquiry of the surrounding omens and all portents were of peace. Allowing himself a brief smile, he splashed back home to continue on with his fast.
In the evening of the fifth day, the gourd and pouch were outside the window. Wind Walker tried to remove the entrance flagstone, but without eating for five days, he lacked the strength. He instructed Brook Paws to shove with his feet while he pulled from outside, but to maintain his silence, or all would be wasted. With a splashy thud, the stone tumbled over, and Brook Paws emerged, blinking in the setting sunlight. His eyes were accustomed to the interior darkness, and for a while he saw the world as an overexposed photograph, blindingly white.
Neither man minded the mess, and they shared the Shaman’s walking stick as if it was a natural thing, instead of a blasphemous intrusion. After a hasty soup, Wind Walker asked him to tell what he saw.
“I saw nothing. I dreamt nothing. I heard nothing. Nothing happened, and so I left.”
“Surely you heard the flash and thunder of the storm arrows? And the rain? And the legend of Black Cloud returned to devastate the woods! Surely you heard and saw these things?”
“I only noticed my gourd filling daily by a trickle from Hidden Waters, drop by single drop.”
“Ah, this you did note. So, Brook Paws, something DID happen! Were you ever afraid?”
“Only that I might accidentally speak. And one other time, when you asked me to push out the rock, I was afraid it might land on you and hurt you, my Noosh. (Father) Oh, and when I first crawled into the chamber I remember thinking ‘I am The Turtle now’. I was safe within my shell, looking out across… I was looking out across everything! It was beautiful, to see what ever I wanted to see. Maybe that is why I never saw or heard the terrible storm that came here. Truly, I never saw or heard all this destruction.”
Hearing that change in the young man’s perception, Wind Walker decided then to not even hint about his interlocking dreams concerning Brook Paws. He needed time to ponder and seek understanding. The young man had been invited to see the world through the eyes of “Nooh-kas-ah-kee”, the Earth Mother. He said no more, and abruptly dismissed Brook Paws from his home. Busy Pauwau’s were forever thinking of their entire family, the whole Clan.
Three months later The People gathered before dawn at the Sunrise Barrow.
Wind Walker had calculated that this day was the indicated time for the last great effort to harvest what food was still readily available from their fields and the forest before Winter’s grasp.
These times were both fraught with anxiety and celebration for The People. There were celebrations for every new moon, but the celebrations that arose at Sunrise Barrow were based on the four yearly passages of the sun. At the two times of Solstice and the two times of Equinox, Wind Walker would search the sky and land for omens sent to him from “Manitou Of What Awaits”. From interpreting these portents, Wind Walker would announce to The People what they could expect in the upcoming Seasonal Camps.
The barrow pointed like a broad spear to the place where the sun would arise directly over the Equinox Rock on the ridge across the narrow valley. There were a series of shallow stair bands stretching across it that Wind Walker, and what ever other person he would rarely invite to share in the honor, would ascend. At the Apex, Wind Walker would celebrate the sun’s decree to Feast today and speak of the prophetic events of tomorrow. It did not matter if it was clear or raining, the Ceremonial Day was fixed by Wind Walker.
On clear days the Sun confirmed it’s allegiance to the Pauwau. On cloudy or rainy days, The People still believed, while Wind Walker took the dawn’s weather into account as yet another omen from “What Awaits”.
Depending on the Season & weather, the Medicine Man conducted the ceremony dressed appropriately. Special paint, a yellow root dye mixed with ocher clay was in the paint pot rock at the barrow side. Inevitably, Wind Walker applied this paint himself, to his face and hands at least, to his bare chest and back on warm days, although the previous Medicine Man had an assistant cover him in the mystic patterns. Once adorned, he would utter the specific chants while ascending the stair bands, confirming with “What Awaits” the future for The People during the next 3 moons. This prophetic proclamation always publicly tested a Pauwau’s skill.
Brook Paws had no further contact with Wind Walker since his unsuccessful Summer stay in the Vision Chamber. Nothing changed in how he was treated by Short Hand. As he had not predicted the arrival of the Black Cloud, his announcement was dismissed as a guess. He himself had no further visions or messages from the hidden waters, and also dismissed them as a curiosity. His main concern was his own inability to attract a mate, and he seemed destined to live alone forever, a strange man, apart, on the fringes of The People.
He was thinking these sad thoughts, and tried to change things by standing next to Rising Moon, near the barrow. Short Hand immediately saw her smile at being given some attention for a change, and went over and angrily shoved Brook Paw away from the maiden. He had no interest in Rising Moon, she was homely, and screeched when she laughed. He just didn’t want Brook Paw to have any happiness.
But once again, he underestimated his timid opponent, who with a snort, charged full tilt into the bully, and knocked the bigger man sprawling and wheezing on his backside, five feet up on the Barrow. Brook Paws himself also tumbled onto the upraised cairn of rocks.
The Pauwau didn’t need to hear the noise go from uproar to dead silence to know his sanctuary had been violated. The outburst occurred ten feet away from him, while he was looking directly at the two men. Slowly, he sorted through his amulets, and came out with the black stone, fringed with the black belly fur of a skunk. He raised the amulet above his head, and reached out with his boney hand, and poked Short Hand on the left cheek, once for each of his omen dots. Then silently, he flung his hand contemptuously away.
Short Hand withered before everyone’s eyes, so pale his cheek marks seemed to glow. He turned, and ran downhill in shame through The People, who parted silently to let him pass.
Returning the amulet to his staff, he again pointed with his finger, this time at trembling Brook Paws. He motioned for him to come up higher and stand beside him, then spoke loud to the gathered Tribe.
“For many years I have watched Brook Paws in secret. I have seen he has been favored by the Manitou, even as he has sank in the eyes of The People. Now that one, rebuffed and marked by the Manitou, is outcast. This one has been especially chosen by the Manitou to warn the People of the Black Cloud. But, YOU DID NOT LISTEN! He only passed through it in peace, unaware of any evil. He only had his one need provided to him by the Manitou. One other prophecy they gave him, in secret. They gave him a new Noosh (Father), which he knew without knowing! Today, I give you my son and heir. His name is “Provider.”
Come, my son, there is yet time. Come and paint my back in a pattern that suits your mind.”
The People remembered Provider as a steady source of food they needed, but un-credited. In the many years he was the Medicine Man, they repaid their debt. All the maidens now noticed him, but his choice was Rising Moon, sent to him as a smiling omen on the dawn of his rebirth. True to her name, she filled the deep, empty darkness of his life with her radiant light.