By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
(copyright 1999 all rights reserved)
Salmon-Boy paddled steadily keeping the coastline near, but he stayed just far enough out to sea to avoid the turbulence caused by waves breaking against seal-covered beaches and surging against rocky shoals. He followed the rugged coastline North toward the cold waters, seeking a place that matched his dreams. The great red wood of the Sequoia grew thick on the mountain sides, right down to the water line. Osprey hunted from their high limbs in long swoops to grab large fish in their sharp talons.
Near a suitably isolated cliff, he beached his canoe on the dry white sand above the high tide mark. He climbed to a rock ledge on a nearby cliff. There, he followed the instructions the village Shaman had laid out for him a few days earlier.
The old man said, "Eat and drink nothing. Sit in one place and do not move. Observe everything that happens to you and remain awake until the sun rises three times."
On the first night, gray fog rolled in, bringing a chilling dampness, difficult to escape from in his single seal skin. He fidgeted often to relieve the cramping in his legs from sitting for so many hours in one position on cold hard rock. The night was very dark; his only companion was the crashing waves, which, as the night progressed, became a steady pulsating roar. He kept drifting into dreams that were memories of recent events.
"Salmon-Boy, you get up! It is time for you to go." Salmon-Boy's mother, remaining cuddled against her husband, and pushed him with her foot.
He lay on the floor of their lodge at his parents' feet. He slept, warm and comfortable, under several skins. Their lodge was dimly lit by the orange glow of the few coals left in the fire around which the family comfortably slept. The sound of the ocean mixed with the deep breathing of his family.
He got up, stretched and yawned, careful not to bang his head against the low ceiling of their round house.
With obvious pride his mother said to her husband, "It seems only a few years ago, when our son was a skinny boy running and playing around our lodge." Continuing, she sighed, "Soon he will marry your good friend's daughter. She'll make a good wife for our boy who becomes a man soon."
"Perhaps when I return from vision quest, the people will build Otter-Woman's lodge?" He kept his head down, not wanting to show too much enthusiasm for what he longed for, and pretended to sleepily pull on his seal skin leggings.
"If they do, she'll be staying there by herself for a few years or some other young buck will be her man. This one has only just become useful to his parents and he has some years to help them before they will welcome a daughter in-law," his father said, then wanting to change the subject before anyone became disrespectful, he added, "It's barely the season of blooming flowers. The morning is crisp but it will soon warm when the fog goes back into the mountains."
Salmon-Boy responded to his father's carefully disguised concern for his warmth by throwing over his shoulders the smoke filled skin he slept on. He threw the skin over his shoulders with the flourish he had seen the older men gracefully execute, but still having some of the awkward boy in him he banged his head on the low ceiling.
He jolted awake as his head fell forward. Roaring waves and the stiff skin around his shoulders reminded him of his teacher's words, "... remain awake!"
He breathed the thick salt air deep into his lungs and shook his head vigorously to drive away the drowsiness. There was no moon and the fog had obscured the stars making the night almost black. Settling himself again, Salmon-Boy remained observant, but in the darkness, he found himself quickly drifting into dreams again.
He knelt before his parents and embraced them. They reached out surrounding him with their arms. He kissed the forehead of his youngest brother who, at three years old, still snuggled comfortably between his parents.
"The Great Spirit is all around my son." His father said.
His mother added, "It's no disgrace to come back early. You will have many opportunities for vision quest."
Salmon-Boy replied, "Otter-Woman needs a man. I cannot be one for her until I complete this quest."
"You need a vision to guide your life into manhood, not for a woman. People change their minds. You could come back and find some other buck lying with that girl. People die too. We all die, some day."
"Thank-you father, I will go with a renewed spirit." He turned and quickly left through the low lodge door, the stiff skin snapping behind him.
Jolted awake once again, he rubbed his face fiercely and dug his nails into his scalp. He got up, stretched his back and rubbed his legs. Sitting down again with determination, he pulled the skin tightly around him. In this way he struggled with sleep all night.
Sunrise brought a translucence to the fog and a stillness only broken by the rhythm of crashing waves. The fog gradually dissipated as the sun warmed the air. Seals arrived and departed from the rocks below. Whales rolled by spouting. Seagulls hovered nearby, occasionally joining him on the cliff. The whole day passed in this way. He was exhausted from the previous night's effort to stay awake. His legs were stiff from sitting and he was impatient listening to his belly grumble.
The sun set behind a fiery bank of fog. Salmon-Boy carefully observed the transition from day back to night. He dreaded its return, but the darkness gradually settled around him. Fighting sleep during the day was less difficult with so many things to look at, but on these dark nights there was little difference between eyes closed and open.
Turning, his heart leapt to see Otter-Woman running up to him, her feet bare and a seal skin robe around her. She flung it open to press her body against his. Under the robe she wore nothing. He smiled to hold her warm naked body against his.
They embraced and then she scolded him, "You were going to leave without saying good-bye!"
Salmon-Boy lowered his head shyly and replied, "I didn't want to disturb your family."
She looked into his eyes and said, "I woke early and listened for your foot steps. If you had come in, I would have let you lie with me, and touch me." She pulled his head down to hers and kissed him eagerly.
Groaning with pleasure, he had second thoughts about remaining so focused on his journey, but he shook them off, saying, "You are such a woman! I look forward to many nights with you in my arms and pressing my body into yours, but I'm leaving today on vision quest; I cannot do this with you now. The people will not build us a lodge until I become a man. We'll be man and woman when I return."
Otter-Woman's voice had grown husky with passion, "My body wants you, Salmon-Boy. Don't stay away too long!"
They kissed one more time. Then reluctantly, he turned and pushed the canoe into the waves. Once he cleared the breakers he looked back for Otter-Woman who flung her robe open for him once more. Their eyes met, and losing himself for a moment in her black eyes, he forgot about the approaching waves. Salmon-Boy felt his boat rising, and turned his head abruptly to face an approaching swell.
He jerked awake, confused to find himself sitting on the rock ledge and not in his canoe struggling with the force of a wave. Pulling the skin tightly around him he resigned himself to a second night of resisting drowsiness.
There were moments when sleep crept up on him though, and felt like a heavy stone on his head. Sometimes he found himself falling forward, he would shake his head violently to keep awake.
On the third night a power filled him, driving away the hunger, cold, aching stiffness and sleep. He found himself stand effortlessly without an intention of his own and walk to the edge of the cliff. He looked down and saw the tide was in, covering the tidal pools below with a swirling foam that glowed in the dark and surged and fell over the rocks. Without a thought, he sprang off the cliff to the ocean below, diving like a seagull after a fish. He reveled in the exhilaration of the long descent. He saw the water rise, then fall, then rise again to meet him as he penetrated the rough sea, and he instantly become a large fish that streaked powerfully through water without fear of drowning.
He swam with many other sea creatures and found they were on a journey. He traveled with them to the rich Arctic waters of the far north. Salmon-Boy remained with them for a season, learning from the sea people what it was like to be one of them. He fed and spawned as they did. When the waters cooled and the bears were fat from eating his people he returned south with the remaining fish. On the journey back, he noticed creatures on the surface splashing about. They resembled starfish but were much larger and moved with rapid and jerky motions.
He thought, what creature is this that moves so inharmoniously in the ocean, as though it doesn't belong here?
He saw these creatures clumsily flail about on the surface for some time. The water became white and frothy around them . After a while, they began to tire and became still. They floated languidly bobbing about with the movement of the waves. This seemed to be a more pleasing motion than the chaotic kicking of all limbs.
Eventually sharks came to clean up these incongruous things. Sharks, he learned, are housekeepers of the ocean. He saw how they remove anything that isn't in harmony with the surging motion of the ocean.
At first they tentatively explored the strange creatures by swimming around them and brushing against them. Once they were comfortable with this sea flotsam, they played with them in complete abandon. A red cloud spread out from them like ink from a squid. When the sharks and smaller fish had finished removing these creatures, the red cloud dissipated and the surface was left as before, clear, the waves rolling by unobstructedly.
Salmon-Boy returned to his body with a start and a gasp of breath. He found he had fallen forward, his face was pressed against the cold rock ledge and grit was imbedded in his cheek. He didn't know how long he had been journeying with the fish people, whether it had been months or only moments, but he knew this was the vision he had come for and it was now time to return.
He had many questions to ask the old medicine man. At dawn he scaled down the cliff, retrieved his canoe and pushed it into the waves with one leg while kneeling in it with the other. He was weak from lack of food, water and sleep, but he was filled with a strange power and he was excited to talk to the old man about this experience.
When the sun reached its midday position, he rounded the last rocky ridge jutting out into the ocean. He expected to see his village and the familiar columns of smoke rising above it, but there was no smoke. On every rising wave he strained to see why.
When he got to the breakers, he slowed his paddling and waited for the right wave that he would skillfully ride to the beach. Looking back he saw a large wave coming. He began to lightly paddle to position himself correctly. As he felt the wave pulling him back and lifting the rear of his canoe, he paddled with deep, long strokes using what little strength he had left. Once the wave held his boat, he stopped paddling and leaned forward with his head down. He closed his eyes and enjoyed for a moment the exhilaration of riding the wave into the beach. It brought to his mind vivid memories of sliding with his friends and brothers down a snow covered slope on a skin.
He was pulled from this memory as he was abruptly pushed forward by the canoe's bottom coming to rest on the beach. The wave splashed forward and drained away. Salmon-Boy leapt out and dragged his boat high up the beach. A silence had replaced the familiar sound of children playing, dogs barking and men and women working. There were no other canoes. The smell of fire pits and drying fish was unmistakably absent from the air. He cautiously crawled to the top of the sand dune, hoping to see his village of round wooden huts, fire pits, children and dogs playing, adults working, cleaning, smoking and drying fish, carrying and breaking up firewood, but he was afraid he might see the remnants of battle. Instead he saw only the meandering river they lived near, and more sand dunes.
There was no village. Only a great deal of drift wood and boulders where there hadn't been any before.
Had he forgotten where the village was? Looking about at the cliffs, river, and bay he replied to his own question, No, the river is the same. The cliffs are the same and the bay is the same.
Suddenly taking hold of himself, he crouched down and scanned the cliffs for a hidden enemy. His people must have fled suddenly to avoid attack. He saw no signs of enemy. He crept on his belly to a nearby hill to look out in all directions.
Returning to the beach, he carefully examined the sand for foot prints. There was no sign of flight, struggle, or pursuit. There was no sign of enemy, nor his people. He felt silly because it would be difficult for his village to leave with no trace of ever being there.
He sat down, confused. How did my people leave so suddenly and without leaving a sign of their direction? There isn't even a sign a village was ever here. He sat for hours thinking through his situation. He had many questions and no answers. Darkness would soon come again, so he decided to camp where the village had been until he found out where his people were. He was confident someone would return to let him know where they had gone.
He set about making camp. As tired as he was, his stomach alerted him to his most immediate need. Finding a suitable stick, Salmon-Boy sharpened it into a spear by scraping it on a nearby rock and he hardened the tip with fire. He crouched motionless on a rock ledge just above the river and waited for fish to pass. By now, he was shaking from lack of food, but it wasn't long before he was roasting a large salmon over the fire. He watched the juices broil out of the fish and fall, hissing into the flames and remembered becoming a fish the night before.
Looking into the fish's clouded eye, he said, "Fish brother . I should have let you go, to tell your friends to look for my people and if they find them to please come back and let me know where they are."
Dusk was approaching. He used his canoe for a break from the wind blowing relentlessly in from the ocean. He rolled into his single skin and curled up near the fire. It barely kept the cold wind out, but he was too full and exhausted to care. He listened to the crackling of the fire, the rhythmic crashing of waves, and gazed past his feet to the rose colored sunset. Sleep came quickly, without warning.
He awoke lying on the familiar wood chips and bark floor of his family's round house. The feel of the floor beneath him and his warm skins were so comforting and familiar that he initially forgot about discovering the village gone the day before.
In moments, he remembered and shot up. "You're here! Where have you been?"
"Hum, what? My son seems confused," Salmon-Boy's father replied in his deep voice and rolled over. "We've gone nowhere. It was you who was gone for days on vision quest."
The incongruity of going to sleep alone the night before with no village and then waking up the next morning with his village around him as though nothing had changed was startling. He just sat in shock and bewilderment. He looked at everything as though he were seeing it for the first time. The dimly lit lodge was illuminated by a few narrow beams of early morning sun-light entering through the skin that covered its entrance. Blue smoke lingered lazily in the air just over their heads. A few orange embers glowed on blackened wood in the fire pit. His family lay under skins around it, some of their faces were turned up to his, questioning. Dogs barked outside and the ever present roar of the ocean was behind it all. The musty scent of their lodge hung heavily in his nose as if it hadn't been present with him all his life.
"Wife, our son acts strangely from his vision quest!" his father said at last.
"Husband! He hasn't eaten or slept in three days. I remember how silly you were when you returned," Salmon-Boy's mother chided her husband.
"I wasn't silly!" he replied defensively.
"Oh no? You thought you were sea people. You swam in your sleep all night," she giggled behind the back of her hand.
Salmon-Boy shrugged off his confusion and leapt out of bed to kneel before his parents. They sat up and all three embraced, careful again not to crush his little brother.
"It's good you're back. We'll prepare for your dance tonight," his father said proudly.
Salmon-Boy's mother was speechless with obvious relief that he had returned safely, and she touched his brown face and buried her head in his long black hair.
With tears stinging his eyes and a great deal of confusion, he rose abruptly and left their lodge. He called back to his parents, "I go to see the medicine man," before the door flap dropped behind him.
Once outside, he felt the fine sand between his toes and smelled the smoking fish mixed with sea air. He looked about to see his village of small round houses unchanged from a few days before. He walked quickly around lodges and passed smoldering communal fires until he stood before Otter-Woman's lodge. There, he paused for a moment, hoping this wasn't just a dream. He scratched on the skin that was their door, noting its weathered roughness beneath his finger tips. Soon Otter-Woman poked her sleepy face through the flap and smiled.
"Salmon-Boy, you're back!" She jumped up to embrace him. They held each other closely for some time, as though it had been years since they last touched.
He filled his lungs with the familiar smoky scent of her hair and said, "It's good to hold your body against mine again." He quivered with excitement.
"It's good for me too!" She hugged him tightly then added, "Do you think they'll build us a lodge now that you've returned from vision quest?"
"My little flower, we are so young. I am only fifteen winters and you are fourteen. Our parents want us to help provide for their lodges for a few more winters."
"Don't you want to keep a lodge with me?"
"Oh yes, more than anything, but I don't think they'll let us. Not yet."
Smiling, Otter-Woman said, "I over heard mother telling father he should build us a lodge even if your father won't help. She doesn't want me to bring children and a man into our already crowded lodge."
"My father wants me to help provide for his lodge. Mother has spoken to him also but he resists."
"I have been a woman now for two winters. I want my own lodge and I want my man there." She grabbed him by his robe and pulled him to her. "I look forward to your dance tonight."
With the reminder of his dance he recalled how much he wanted to speak to the village medicine man and he said, "I am a man now and I want to keep a lodge with my woman." Smiling, he picked her up and turned around with her then he said. "But, first I must see the medicine man." He put her down and walked backwards a few paces, keeping his eyes on her, noting every detail of her appearance. She stood on one bare foot in the sand the other cocked at a right angle, one hand rested on her hip. She wore only her loin covering on this cool foggy morning. Her long black hair falling loosely about her bare breasts, her dark nipples were erect and her dark skin was all goose flesh. He then turned and walked swiftly away, saying over his shoulder, "I go to see the shaman."
Otter-Woman called out to him, "Dance well, I'll be watching."
Salmon-Boy grabbed a lance stuck in the sand beside his lodge door and went to the river to catch a fish, a gift for the medicine man. As he speared a fat salmon, he thought of the fish he had caught the night before and the absence of the village. Returning the spear to its place, he took a piece of twine made from twisted grasses hanging on the wall of the lodge and fed it through the gills and out of the mouth of the still struggling fish, then walked to the medicine lodge with the fish slung over his shoulder.
He stood before the door of the medicine lodge. On either side of the door stood brightly colored totems with fierce expressions. He scratched on the door flap and tied the fish to a peg beside it. He stood there patiently waiting for some time before he heard the old man's rasp from with-in. "Hum! What?"
"Old man, it is Salmon-Boy. I have returned from vision quest."
"Hum, a boy becomes a man? Come!"
Bending low to enter through the small door, he found the medicine man seated on several robes. He was facing the yellow flames of a small fire burning in the center of his lodge. The old man sat close to the fire pit with his back to the west, a robe draped easily over his left shoulder.
He keenly regarded Salmon-Boy as he entered and sat just inside the door on a skin. The old man picked up a pipe that lay before him. He rotated it left to right at the level of his heart and mumbled prayers barely audible to Salmon-Boy. "A boy has left and a man has returned. Great Spirit, thank-you for giving birth to this man."
He reached into the fire and withdrew a burning twig. Putting the flame to the bowl he drew its warm smoke into his lungs. The sweet smoke billowed through his blackened teeth and aged and cracked lips four times. He paused for a moment then rotated the pipe again and passed it to Salmon-Boy.
He reverently accepted the sacred pipe for the first time. He rotated the pipe as he had seen the old medicine man do and prayed, "Great Spirit, a boy has gone and a man returns. Thank-you for these visions that will guide my manhood."
Drawing the thick, hot smoke into this lungs for the first time caused him great pain. He used all his will power not to cough and look like a foolish boy. His following puffs were more brief. He rotated the pipe from left to right, then returned it to the left of the fire back to the medicine man's waiting hands. The old man picked up a small stick and stirred and poked at the contents of the bowl, then he re-lit it with the same flaming stick. In this manner, they passed the pipe several times in silence.
When the pipe load was exhausted, the old man gently tamped the contents into his leathery palm and dropped the ash into the fire. He pulled the pipe apart and carefully cleaned the bowl and stem. When the pipe had been tucked into its pouch, the old man gazed across the fire upon the young man before him.
After a long time, he inhaled then spoke in his deep voice, "A man returns from vision quest. He speaks to the medicine people of his village. He tells them of his vision quest."
It was now time for Salmon-Boy to relate the details of the events of the last four days. When he spoke of having been sea people, the old man grunted and looked pleased. When he spoke of returning and finding the village gone, the medicine man simply looked at him with a gentleness he had never seen come from this rough old man.
It was a long and uninterrupted story, and when he finished, he sat for some time, waiting for a response. The shaman sat unmoving and gazing down into the fire, until the small fire was only hot, red coals. Finally he spoke. "You have had many dreams and visions of flying like a bird. It is good that you join your people in their vision of being sea people," he paused for a few moments then he said, "Go and prepare to dance your vision quest for the people."
Before leaving, Salmon-Boy asked, "Old man, what was the meaning of finding the village gone? The cove, beach and river were the same but there was no sign of the village, no sign that it had ever been there? There was only large driftwood and gravel and boulders where there wasn't any before."
The medicine man met Salmon-Boy's questioning eyes and said with the smooth flowing voice of compassion, "I cannot give you the answers to your questions. It would have no meaning to you. You must find out for yourself. In this way, the vision quest never comes to an end."
With a painful and confused expression he replied, "If you don't tell me how am I supposed to find out?"
Opening his arms up to the sky the old shaman said, "Sometimes knowledge comes into us like a great river. When you became fish people you had the experience of being a fish for a whole season and yet the vision may have only been a few moments. At other times knowledge comes into us very slowly, like a bank of snow being melted by the sun. It's that gradual trickle of water that soaks deep into the soil and nurtures a forest for a whole year." With a waive of his hand as though he was pushing away a fly, he continued, "The summer down-pour flashes out of the sky and runs quickly to the ocean. It has value too, but its benefit doesn't soak deep into the soil. It gives you a memorable experience that you will remember for the remainder of your days."
He gazed long into Salmon-Boy's eyes. The fire snapped and crackled then he looked down and Salmon-Boy knew it was time for him to leave. Rising to his feet, he walked around the fire, behind the old man and out to the bright sun.
Salmon-Boy returned to his lodge to find his father had spent the morning fishing with the other men. They returned with several baskets of fish to be roasted for the feast following his dance. He found his father sitting proudly by the baskets while his mother and sisters busily cleaned them for the feast. He sat beside his father, who chose not to look immediately at him to keep from showing the thinly hidden pride bursting in his chest.
They sat in silence listening to the rhythmic crashing of the waves, the periodic call of seagulls circling over head, hoping to snatch scraps and the regular scraping sound of the fish being descaled. The salt air blew through their hair and the sun warmed their skin.
It was mid-afternoon, Salmon-Boy's father stood and, still without looking at his son, he said, "Come, we must prepare for your dance."
They went to the ceremonial long house where they dressed him in a cape of white feathers sewn to look like fish scales and a mask made of redwood carved in the shape of a fish's head and brightly painted. Bands of white shell were tied to his ankles and wrists in such a way as to rattle when he danced.
The medicine man instructed other dancers in their contribution to Salmon-Boy's dance. By late afternoon the preparations were ready. A conch shell was blown, announcing the ceremony. The people came and sat in a large circle around the ceremonial fire. Drummers began a steady beat. The young women of the village wore white capes and danced in rhythm to the beating drums, they turned and swayed in unison as they danced toward the large fire like a school of fish swimming. They chanted with hips swaying, "A boy has left and a man has returned. He joins his family in their vision. A boy has left and a man has returned. He joins his family in their vision..."
Salmon-Boy stayed back out of sight as the sun set in a gentle violet. When the young women approached the fire they parted, moving around the perimeter of the seated people. They formed a semicircle and kept dancing and swaying in place to the steady beat of the drums. Each young woman carried symbols of the food of the tribe. They left an opening to the east.
Salmon-Boy entered through the opening and danced his vision quest before his people. He danced around the women swaying and chanting. His people were happy to see him swimming with the schools of fish traveling to the cold waters to spawn. Clowns then jumped into the circle throwing their arms and legs around like the awkward starfish-like people . They turned somersaults and had everyone laughing hysterically. Then two men dressed as sharks dashed in and grabbed the clowns one at a time and dragged them off. The sharks joyfully pretended to eat the starfish and the people laughed and giggled. When he came to telling of the village being gone, there were only silent eyes looking upon him.
When he had finished his dance the people all joined in to the chant, "A boy has left and a man has returned. He joins his family in their vision. A boy has left and a man has returned. He joins his family in their vision..."
Salmon-Boy then returned to the long house, marching in step with the drum beat, the women followed him. The dancers removed their ceremonial clothing and joined their families around the fire. His mother and sisters brought the baskets of fish. Sticks had been run through their mouths to their tails. The people took the fish and roasted them over the fire until their skins blackened and sizzled. His mother sat by the warm fire holding his young brother to her breast and chewing fish and giving the young boy the tenderest parts to nibble. Occasionally he still nursed.
Dancing, chanting and story telling went on into the night. The people ate their fill and had greasy smiles. Away from the light of the fire, Salmon-Boy and Otter-Woman held each other close joining their robes. Holding Otter-Woman's head against his chest Salmon-Boy said, "Come lie with me tonight in the meadow."
Otter-Woman ran her hands up and down his broad back and happily said, "I am your woman; you are my man."
They walked in silence with their arms around each other, occasionally passing other young couples disappearing into the night. The moon had already set making it a dark night with only the stars lighting their way. They walked through the tall grass by the river; their legs became damp with dew. Salmon-Boy laid his robe down over the grass which yielded under its weight. Otter-Woman stepped onto the robe and drew him close to her. They embraced and knelt before each other. Salmon-Boy took her robe and wrapped it around himself then opened his arms for her to nestle against his bare chest. She curled up in his lap and rested her head on his arm. He pulled the robe around them to keep them warm.
Salmon-Boy's hand gently caressed her face. He memorized every detail of her soft skin and the shape of her broad jaw and high cheek bones. His index finger glided gently down her shapely nose and rested on her soft full lips. He traced the outline of those lips he had grown to love, then his fingers continued down the side of her neck and came to rest on the soft buckskin covering her round young breasts. Her breath quickened and her nipples grew erect under his gentle touch.
Otter-Woman sighed. "Oh Salmon-Boy, I like the way you touch me."
Her hand rested on his so that his fingers would linger on her anxious nipples. Her other hand touched his face with a gentle love. He closed his eyes to let the thrill rise within him. They made a gentle love and after they had called out their love for each other to the dark night, Otter-Woman's head came to rest on his chest. He held her naked body against his and pulled the robe, that had carelessly fallen away, over their bodies. They fell asleep nestling into each other.
Bright sun and the crashing waves woke Salmon-Boy from his pleasant sleep. He reached out to touch Otter-Woman but found only dry sand slipping through his fingers. He opened his eyes and realized he was not in the tall grass by the river. He sat up abruptly and saw that he was on the abandoned beach he lay down on what seemed like two nights ago. There was no sign of his village or his people. Like a jagged knife tearing into his chest, this painful confusion was too much for him to bear. Salmon-Boy stood up and cried out in anger and pain. His cry echoed off the bare nearby cliffs.
Helpless and confused he fell to his knees and gazed into the remnants of the fire before him. A few coals still smoldered. He looked at the uneaten portion of the fish dangling from his spear stuck in the sand and noticed it still looked moist. He realized that no more than one night could have passed and searching the clouded eyes of the fish, he remembered some of the strange stories he had heard people tell of vision quest. Strange animals talking to people and giving them gifts of power, white buffaloes and golden seals and boys turning into fish.
Salmon-Boy spoke to it with deep yearning, "Fish brother, help me to understand this strangeness. Help me to find my people and to stay with them."
He spent the day attending to his immediate survival needs. He constructed a shelter, made hunting and fishing gear, thinking, always thinking, about the two worlds he found himself in. He lay down well after dark with a full belly of the remainder of the roasted salmon. In his newly built driftwood lean-to, he fell quickly asleep.
He found himself waking almost immediately again in the round house with his brothers and sisters snoring. Salmon-Boy mumbled to himself, "Great Spirit, this is very strange!"
"What is strange about waking up in the lodge of your family? Have you and Otter-Woman spent so much time together that it seems strange now to be here with us?" his father replied with a yawn.
Salmon-Boy's mother put her hand on his chest and said, "Husband, it is time for them to keep a lodge together, before a little one comes and they have no place but here to raise it."
"No! He will help his father as I helped mine. As his son will help him."
Putting her hand over his and looking into his eyes, she said, "It is time, husband, that our son, and his woman who have spent most of their child lives playing together, now becoming man and woman, should be husband and wife." She smiled and placed her head on his chest and continued, "Your son will help you from his lodge. Your good friend's daughter will not let her husband ignore his father's need."
Salmon-Boy said nothing but found his heart quickening with joy. Later, he spent the morning sitting outside their lodge being as helpful as he could to his father. His brothers, uncles and cousins all sat together repairing the family's fishing gear. They braided rope, tied sinew to hooks and mended nets.
Otter-Woman's father approached with the traditional gift of fish. Salmon-Boy's father turned to the younger men and said, "It is time for you to gather fish. We will need three baskets of our friends."
Salmon-Boy and his brothers got up and left immediately to string nets across the river for this large catch.
Otter-Woman's father handed Salmon-Boy's father the fish which had been stuffed with herbs and wrapped in a broad green leaf of seaweed then steamed. He greeted him by saying, "It is good to find you well."
Accepting the fish with both hands, he replied, "Yes, I am well. Please sit with me, my friend, and accept food. I see the Great Spirit still keeps strength in your arms and light in your eyes."
Salmon-Boy's mother saw the arrival of the guest and honored him with a bowl of warm fish broth, then quietly returned to her work of pounding tubers.
"Thank-you, my friend, the Great Spirit has blessed me and my family with good health." Tipping the bowl to his lips he slurped long and loudly, then he continued, "We have known for a long time that your son and my daughter would be mate. It is time you built them a lodge. I have built Salmon-Boy a boat and my wife has made baskets and many other household things. My daughter has been a woman now for two winters. Your son is now a man, let us make them husband and wife." He put the bowl to his lips and sipped again on the warm, salty broth.
Salmon-Boy's father respectfully paused before he replied, to give proper weight to his guest's words. He opened the bundle of fish to eat some of it and to show pleasure with the gift. He handed the fish bundle back to his guest to share in the gift, and glanced at his wife, who flashed him a glance and a smile, before he replied, "Yes, it is true, we have known Salmon-Boy and Otter-Woman would live together since they were small children. He has gathered robes, one for each member of your family. I'll build a lodge for them."
"Let us begin today," Otter-Woman's father replied with a healthy slap to his friends back.
Salmon-Boy's father sent word to his brothers and sons to come immediately, leaving Salmon-Boy to fish by himself. The two fathers gathered their sons, brothers, uncles and cousins, and set to work gathering logs and clearing a place for Otter-Woman's lodge. Becasue they had so many helping, it took them only a few hours of dragging redwood logs down from the mountains, cutting them and hoisting them into place, and lashing them together firmly. During this time Salmon-Boy and Otter-Woman were kept busy preparing for the feast. When the lodge was finished a feast was given. After the feast, they were led to the new lodge, and they found it filled with gifts of needed things and beautiful things.
Standing before their lodge their village people chanted, "A man and a woman live together and have many children. The people continue. A man and a woman live together and have many children. The people continue...
Salmon-Boy continued to find himself waking up in a different setting immediately after lying down to sleep. He alternated between waking up on the deserted beach by himself or next to his wife in their new lodge.
One day he sought out the medicine man, to ask him about this persistent confusion, "...But I want to know which is the dream world! Is this the dream world or is the other place I go?"
The old man leaned over the fire and pulled out a flaming twig, touched it to his pipe, then he took a long leisurely draw of the remaining smoke and exhaled pensively. Before replying, he carefully disassembled the pipe, cleaned it, reassembled it and put it away. Speaking to the fire, he replied, "Salmon-Boy, why do you care which one is the dream world?" Then he looked up quickly into his eyes.
Looking down at his ash stained hands, then looking up again, Salmon-Boy said, "I want to know which world is real."
Chuckling, the old man said, "That's easy. They're both real. What does it matter which one you find yourself in?"
Getting impatient he became a little disrespectful and said, "Old man, you don't understand. I feel like I'm adrift at sea with no sight of shore. If I knew in which place I'm dreaming and which place I'm awake, I would have sight of land and know in which direction to row."
"Your confusion is good. Who is to say you haven't been dreaming all along, and you are only just now awaking. You want me to define reality? I cannot do that. I can only say, my reality is wherever I am at any given moment. You are part of this moment of reality for me. It doesn't matter whether I happen to be dreaming, dead or awake. You may be a ghost or a dream person that, perhaps, my mind has created. It doesn't matter. You are still part of my reality now."
Salmon-Boy was beside himself with anguish over this one point. "When I wake up and find everyone in the village gone and only myself on this beach, which is it, a dream or reality?" He was gritting his teeth.
The old man smiled and shook his head. "Salmon-Boy, I am tired of trying to explain this to you. First you dream you are awake and find many of us here and call that reality. Then you dream you are awake and find all of us gone and you say that is reality. That is your reality at that moment. We at least share this wakeful moment together. You are stubbornly adhering to your independence. We are a village of people, we depend on each other. You keep wanting to separate yourself from us. This is not good. For a people to survive they must all work together, share a common reality. Go home to your wife. Feel how real she is to you. Remember, reality is where you find yourself."
The old man turned back to the fire. Salmon-Boy knew he was excused. He found he was gripping wood chips in his fists and he let them fall from his hands as he got up and walked back to his lodge. With frustration, he drove his spear into the sand, and noticed with great detail how real the experience was. He noted the gritty sound of the spear piercing the sand; the knock as the shaft fell against his lodge; his moccasins swishing through the sand; the crisp sound and rough feel of the skin covering the door as he pulled it back. He felt the stretch in his lower leg and the bunching of muscle fiber around his knee, to compensate for the weight of his torso leaning forward, as he stooped to enter his lodge. He saw the yellow glow and felt the warmth on his face of the fire illuminating its interior, and he felt the glow in his heart to see his young wife, with her long black hair draped over one shoulder, as she sat with her younger sister making shell jewelry. He gazed unexpressively at her smiling face turned up to him. Otter-Woman's sister stood up and left immediately, without a word. He noticed with great detail the padding of her feet across the wood chip floor, and again, the scraping sound of the skins being pulled back quickly as she slipped outside, and the swishing sound of her feet running home. He sat across from Otter-Woman and touched her arm with a light touch, feeling the small hair on her arm, and the edge of her robe halfway down her forearm.
Otter-Woman looked at him and said, "My husband is hungry? I will give you food." She moved to get a stone from the fire to heat soup she left in one of her cooking baskets.
He held her arm and felt the weight of her body pulling against his.
She looked back to him and let go of the fire stick and smiled behind her hand. "Perhaps my husband wants something else from me." Lowering her hand from her face she smiled shyly and knelt beside him.
Otter-Woman's smiling face beamed up at his. Salmon-Boy's solemn face broke into a gentle smile. He lay down near the fire and pulled Otter-Woman gently down to him. He noted the tinkle of her shell jewelry as she moved and her small warm body nestled into his. He pulled a skin over both of them. He felt its stiffness and the short hairs in his grasp. He simply held her, gently caressing her back until he fell asleep.
He awoke moments later alone in the lodge he had built in the fashion of his people. He was growing to accept this strange movement between worlds. When he slept there, he would awake here. When he slept here he would awake with Otter-Woman in his arms.
Salmon-Boy had built the lodge on the desolate beach soon after he realized he would be returning there everyday. He had seen them built so many times and he had helped to build their round lodges often. Now, he built his own, by himself. Had his family been there, they would have worked together to make it secure against the strong cold winds that blow in from the ocean.
He hunted or fished daily. He missed having help with these tasks. It wasn't so much that he needed help, but he missed the company of his friends and family. He gathered wood and water and prepared food the way he had seen his mother and sisters so often do. He sat outside his lodge and made the things needed for a longer stay. He carved wooden bowls and wove the tight baskets he had seen his mother make for cooking. He made a bow and arrows and nets and hooks.
When he had trouble remembering how some tasks were performed, he would visit the person especially good at it the next time he awoke in the village. He often found himself learning from the village women to make such things as cooking baskets and utensils. The women found it very curious that a man would have such interest but they didn't refuse his requests.
He often set out on long journeys up and down the coast and inland hoping to find a sign of the direction his people had taken. The only thing he saw was a strange accumulation of large driftwood and rocks along the river quite far inland. The marsh had been destroyed as if a flood had washed it away.
Salmon-Boy spent his lonely nights walking along the beach, making and mending his gear, beating his ceremonial drum and chanting the songs he had learned over the years.
He often reflected on his vision quest. His thoughts centered around the experience of becoming a fish, how real and strange it was to experience the totality of a season as a fish in only moments of a vision. The strange disappearance of his village and people haunted him. He reassured himself by saying, "I must still be on this vision quest." Even though the days had stretched into a full 28 day cycle of the moon. But, there were times when his patience wore thin and he grumbled, "When is this vision quest going to come to an end? I want to go home to my people now."
After going to sleep that night on his lonely beach, he immediately awoke in his village the same as every night. His people were working, mending their houses, fishing, cleaning fish, cooking and gathering firewood. He said hello to uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, his friends, his mother and father were there, they smiled laughed and worked with him.
While he was mending a canoe with one of his cousins, the old medicine man walked up to him and said, "The vision quest never ends," then he abruptly turned and walked away.
Salmon-Boy was startled by this apparent reply to the question he voiced to himself the day before in the other world.
Moons passed and he still found himself alternating between the abandoned village and the inhabited one. On the desolate beach he had reconstructed much of the village on his own. The voices in his dreams had come into his head. He spoke to them while he worked and waited for the return of his people. On a cool, foggy late summer morning, he was securing the redwood bark shingling on one of several round houses he had built that summer. He spoke to the voices, saying, "Uncle, I wish this vision quest would come to an end."
"The vision quest never ends," said a man's voice from behind.
He was startled by the stark contrast of the first real human voice he had heard in this place in three moons and how familiar that exact phrase was. He jerked his head around to see who had spoken and reflexively brought his hand to the hilt of his knife that hung on his belt. A short, stout man with streaks of gray in his free-flowing hair stood behind him. He had a broad chest and a big belly that protruded from a skin wrapped around his shoulders against that cold and wet morning. He wore many shell and stone necklaces.
Keeping his hand on his obsidian knife, Salmon-Boy turned fully and stood back. Looking at the old man with the foolish courage of youth and somewhat embarrassed for being caught talking to himself, he asked, "Who are you?"
"Great Spirit! What luck! Today I meet a young man who is not only an accomplished craftsman, but also a fierce warrior who talks freely with the spirit world." His eyes were big to show how impressed he was, then his face softened into a broad smile to show he was also making a jest and added, "and who is so self absorbed he doesn't hear a stiff old man clumsily approaching." He opened his arms to show he bore no weapons and continued, "They call me Beaver-Tail, because I am as tough as the tail and as tenacious as the glue." He referred to a common glue that was extracted from the tail of a beaver. "I am an uncle from a village two days canoe south. We have seen or heard nothing from your village in several moons. I chose to travel here to see what may have come of our relatives in the north."
"My people have left on a journey and taken the village with them," Salmon-Boy replied guardedly.
Beaver-Tail looked at him closely and replied, "I see, and single handed you are about to rebuild your village. What do your people call you? He-who-does-everything-by-himself?"
"They call me Salmon-Boy."
Beaver-Tail laughed, "Ha! How descriptive. You who are as tall as a grizzly they call 'boy'." Looking about he went on, "Well, may I stay for a few days or is this village too busy and full for an uncle's visit?"
Turning back to his work on the lodge, he rudely replied, "Take your pick of lodges."
"With such hospitality, I might stay for a long time."
Salmon-Boy jerked his head around to see Beaver-Tail wandering off to examine the vacant lodges and shook his head.
That evening Salmon-Boy sat quietly in his lodge heating fish soup when he heard scratching on his lodge door. He knew it had to be Beaver-Tail and spoke the familiar greeting, "Come in peace."
Beaver-Tail entered and sat opposite him on a skin. "Greetings, my young friend. And, how do you find yourself this fine evening?"
"I am well." Regretting his earlier rudeness, he offered the old man one of the finely woven cooking baskets with hot soup in it and said, "Please join me."
Beaver-Tail accepted the basket with both hands and slurped loudly, then put it down and spoke the customary acceptance of food, "Your woman cooks well."
"There is no woman!" Salmon-Boy replied sharply.
Looking about the lodge and seeing many things a woman would have for cooking, Beaver-Tail replied, "Where is your woman?"
"My woman is with my people."
"And where might that be?" Beaver-Tail had a glint in his eyes and a slight smile.
"I do not know. I returned three moons ago from vision quest and found no one here nor any sign of them having ever been here." He surprised himself with his direct reply to a man he didn't know.
"Hmm, I noticed a great deal of driftwood and large boulders I didn't see the last time I was here. Is this new since your people left?"
"And there has been no sign from them since?" Beaver-Tail continued.
"Today I heard you ask when the vision quest would end. Why did you speak these words?"
Salmon-Boy told him what took place during his vision quest and what he saw when he returned and how he goes to sleep and moves back and forth between worlds with and without his people.
He finished his long report by saying, "So, how will I know what is real? Which world is a dream world?"
Beaver-Tail smiled gently and replied, "The dream world is just as real as the physical. Reality is where you find yourself."
Salmon-Boy was startled by Beaver-Tail using the exact words his old village medicine man used. The moons spent alternating between worlds flashed before him and understanding began to dawn in his heart. He looked down into the flames of the small fire between them and said with sad resignation, "My people have gone off to their dreams."
"Yes, my young nephew. The ocean rose up and swallowed your people and their village. They now live in the dream world in a dream village."
Salmon-Boy looked completely defeated by these words and gazed listlessly into the flames.
"My friend, don't have such a long face. You are very fortunate. You live in two worlds. One you share with your people and your wife. Few can claim such a blessing."
Salmon-Boy heard his words but could not reply. He only stared into the flames for a long time. Beaver-Tail finished his soup then left quietly to leave him to embrace the loss of his people from this world. When he lay down to sleep, the fire had died down to coals that cast a yellow-gold glow on his lodge and he felt the chill creeping in.
Moments later he opened his eyes. The coals cast the same yellow glow but this time the silhouette of Otter-Woman lay before him. He drew himself up to her, burying his nose in her fine black hair, and inhaled its smoky scent. He put his arm around her and held her breast in his cupped hand. She stirred, purred, snuggled closer to him and put her hand over his. He lay there enjoying the warmth of her body against his, her warm breast in his hand and the tickle of her hair against his face.
He could see the glow of dawn through the cracks in the lodge flap. Otter-Woman stirred from her sleep, stretched like she was an otter (which is why they called her Otter-Woman), then she got up and pulled a skin over her shoulders and left the lodge. She returned a short time later with an arm load of wood. When she knelt nearby to stir the fire and add fresh wood, he reached out to pull her back into bed.
"Salmon-Boy! I must tend the fire or we will be cold."
When she leaned forward to blow on the coals, he caressed the roundness of her buttocks.
The fire burst into flame and she laughed. "The other women tell me I'm lucky my man wants me so much. They tell me you will soon get old and lose interest." Shaking her head and smiling, she said, "I don't think so." She squirmed back under the skins and snuggled into his arms.
He was too full of appreciating her warmth, companionship and beauty to reply.
They were awakened sometime later by a scratching at the lodge door skin and the voice of Salmon-Boy's younger brother, "The medicine chief calls Salmon-Boy from the arms of his young bride to the medicine lodge." They heard him giggle, then the sound of his feet running away. They stirred and separated from the wetness that glued them together.
He threw a skin over his shoulders and walked solemnly over to the medicine lodge taking a quick dip in the river first. Crouching to enter, he looked up sullenly into the dim light and saw sitting next to his old medicine chief was Beaver-Tail with a big smile on his face. He sat across from the two shaman, dumbfounded.
"My good friend Beaver-Tail tells me you have a new name." He paused and glanced with an expressionless face at Beaver-Tail. "Two-Worlds. We will have a naming ceremony today. Go prepare yourself."
May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,
Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)
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