Early on an August morning in 1492, three sailing ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, left port under the command of a man named Christopher Columbus with the intent of finding a new trade route to the Far East. At the exact moment they set sail, a child was born in the soft grass of a high meadow in a landmass that would become America.
His mother, cupping him in her gentle hands, lifted him aloft and thanked the Great Spirit for the gift. She reached for the bark vessel containing water drawn from the nearby stream and washed his tiny body. “My baby—my son. Feel the tender breeze. Hear the soft murmur of the brook. Your name shall be Wawate Ca—Gentle One.” She then swaddled the baby in the supple rabbit pelt prepared for him, and with a soft melodic voice, began shaping his future. Her song was from the heart, for she was a gentle spirit with a belief that all life was precious.
It was a time when men envied the natural abilities possessed by each of the wild animals, and man came to believe he could transfer each skill to his own person through the killing of the animal. A coyote promised stealth; a fox possessed cunning; the cougar offered strength. Every animal, from the smallest to the largest, offered something that the human wanted. The result was that no animal was safe from the danger of being killed. Children were taught from a young age that the death of any animal would bring them power from that creature. Many animals were hunted strictly for that reason and no other.
By the time Wawate Ca turned five, his mother’s influence was deeply engrained, instilling a strong dislike for killing. He became the subject of ridicule, avoided by those of his age. However, by the time he turned thirteen, he had shown ability beyond all others to unravel nature’s riddles, and as he grew, so did his stature among his people as a man with extraordinary insight. They said it was because he could talk to the animals, but none really believed it.
Truth was . . . he could.
* * *
When Wawate Ca was only nine years old, a special thing happened to him as the result of a meeting held by the wild creatures. The decay in morality among men and man’s cruelty toward all life forces outside their own had the animals living in fear as they lost family member after family member. To the animals, the path was clear. Unless they took action, there could be neither peace nor a future for their children.
On a day that broke with crystalline skies, the animals gathered near a small lake hidden within the heavily wooded hills. Present was a representative from every animal family inhabiting the region.
The hawk, Red Tail, had called for the conclave. As Historian and Teller, he knew things beyond memory and was the most respected individual in all the families. With that respect, came a special responsibility to the others.
“Welcome,” he began. “I called this council to discuss our options for securing a future for our children. There isn’t a single family that hasn’t lost loved ones. I think the time has come for us to take action. We need agreement on what that action should be.”
Strike, the female cougar, stepped forward. “As much as I would enjoy fighting back, there are just too many of them. I’m afraid it would make matters worse.”
Whisper, the white-tailed deer, spoke from her spot at the rear of the group. “Could we fight them at night? I know they cannot see well in the dark. It would give us a huge advantage.”
“You’re crazy!” The otter named Slip made herself heard. “We can’t possibly win a fight with these killers. Our only chance is to move to another place where they cannot follow.”
“And where would that be?” Red Tail posed the question.
“We could move toward the setting sun,” Slip replied.
“And how many of us would survive the move? How long would it be before we would be, once again, overrun?” The Historian looked from face to face. “Our only chance is to fight from the inside . . . we need to do what hasn’t been done since ancient times. We need to create an ally within the humans. Our only chance is to pass the Wild Ways.”
A murmur spread throughout the gathering, and a palpable fear rippled through them.
Red Tail continued, “Many of you have encountered the young boy, Wawate Ca. He has a gentle heart and carries a true love for Mother Earth. Those of you who have not seen him have heard of him.
“He is as different from his people as light is different from dark. Listen to my words. Realize the power we possess. Then we can decide our future.”
The knowledge had been passed to Red Tail and stretched back to the beginning of time itself, handed from one generation of Teller to the next. With this special knowledge, he talked to those present, revealing hidden things passed through the generations and known only to him.
What became clear was the danger that if Wawate Ca was not of pure heart, much evil could come from the giving of a thing they knew was the most precious possession they had. It was known as the Wild Ways, and knowledge of it was what enabled all the animals to share their thoughts with one another. They knew the rarity of a human that could accept the responsibility without thought of personal gain, and that knowledge made them afraid. Nevertheless, of all the humans they had contact with, he was accepted as the last best hope for their future and that of their children.
A discussion followed lasting well into the night, and at the conclusion of that meeting, they all agreed that Wawate Ca, a mere nine-year-old at the time, would be the first since the ancients to receive the Wild Ways. He would be given the ability to share thoughts with all creatures, learning things unknown to humans.
Few events happened in the world that were not witnessed by at least one member of the animal kingdom, thus Wawate Ca was to receive insight to many things. Natural cures for illnesses would be given to him, and he would have power over all animal families through the knowledge he would receive. The giving would be undertaken according to strict rules established over the centuries.
The decision to grant the gift, coupled with their choice of Wawate Ca as the recipient, produced results beyond their wildest dreams. Under their guidance, his influence among his people became greater and greater; his heart remained uncorrupted, and the animals flourished. The mindset of his people began to change. His wisdom, through knowledge freely given by the families, resulted in a new respect for animal life and a spiritual connection to the earth and all her bounty.
The teachings of Wawate Ca, the enlightened one, spread like fire in the wind, touching other bands, then other tribes, and eventually, all humans living in nature’s bounty. They developed within their hearts a belief that all things were sacred, a life force given to all by the Great Spirit, and shameless killing became a thing of the past.
Wawate Ca was a very old man, rumored to be over one hundred years, when he died. His passing was peaceful, surrounded by those who loved him. His adopted family, countless in number, stretched the entire width of the plains to the mountains in the west and beyond. His children inhabited the trees that reached to the heavens, the skies through which they flew, the earth upon which they trod, and the dens and burrows they called home. His life had been a balance between the tribal wars of his people and the natural ebb and flow of the forces of nature. It was his spiritual connection to Mother Earth and all living things that made him special. Every family, in every forest, and on every plain, would keep his memory alive for the next four centuries. They would not—could not—forget the passing of the Wild Ways and the peace that followed.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish