The Season of Melting Snow finally arrived and my people made a temporary camp on the headwaters of the Sogwobipa River to hunt buffalo. It had been a long, cold Season of Howling Wind, which caused food to be short. I walked a long way from camp in search of roots and healing herbs with Wind Chaser, my half-dog, half-wolf companion.
Spotting the broad leaves of an onion plant, I squatted down under an enormous cottonwood tree. While digging some up with a pointed stick, an uneasy feeling came over me. I scanned the terrain and listened intently.
The snort of a horse caused a stab of fear to go through me. I crouched in the tall grass and motioned to Wind Chaser. He crawled over with his ears cocked, sensitive to every sound. I breathed slowly, becoming one with the grass and Mother Earth so my presence wouldn’t be detected.
A Piegan brave rode into view and I stifled a gasp. His tribe was my people’s worst enemy! Red and white lines zigzagged down both sides of his face and he carried a bow, quiver of arrows and a tomahawk. The face paint and many feathers in his hair showed he was a war chief; the red handprint on his horse meant he’d killed someone in hand-to-hand combat.
Five more warriors drew alongside him. I waited in tense silence, hardly daring to breathe. As the warriors conversed in their own tongue, my concern for my people grew. If they found me, they’d know my village was near and return with many warriors to destroy it and steal our women and horses.
When I was young, a Piegan war party attacked our village and caught my tribe unprepared. Mother grabbed me and ran toward the woods, yelling for my brother to follow. Instead Gray Eagle snatched up his small bow and raced after Father who led the defense. Mother dropped me, ran after him and seized him by the arm. She pulled him to where I stood crying and hid us both the woods. Many were killed and the wailing and loud keening cries of mourners could be heard for many Suns afterwards.
Now Wind Chaser sensed my anxiety and began to growl. I placed a hand on his thick-furred back to silence him. The leader of the war party looked directly at where I crouched and my heart raced.
Wind Chaser leapt at the chief’s steed and the startled animal reared up. I took advantage of the moment of confusion to quietly back away and slip into the forest. Once I was out of sight, I raced toward my village, weaving my way through the tall cedar and hemlock trees. I leapt over fallen branches and tore through bushes that barred my way, ignoring the scratches to my face, arms and legs. My leather pouch slowed me down, but the food and herbs were too valuable to leave behind. Wind Chaser reappeared and ran alongside me with his tail held high. His powerful legs allowed him to move in easy loping strides and his reddish-brown coat glistened in the sunlight.
I ran until I couldn’t push myself any more then slowed my pace. I’d gone further than I’d realized in my search for the wild onion. Once rested, I sprinted off again.
When I finally reached the encampment in the river valley, the sight of our peaceful tepees filled me with relief. Our band of three hundred people, five hundred horses, and many dogs were camped at Three-forks, a place where three rivers come together. A scout was posted on a hill near the village and I went directly to him. As I drew closer, I recognized Chased-by-Bear, a war chief of great courage.
He came down the hill to meet me with a concerned expression on his proud face. “What’s wrong, Red Willow?”
“There’s a Piegan war party nearby!”
“Chief Gray Eagle is at the river. Go tell him while I round up some scouts to follow the Piegan.”
I hurried through the village and down to the river where Gray Eagle speared fish with Kicking Horse. They stood in muddy water among the tall bulrushes. I dropped my bag and sprinted toward them, calling Gray Eagle’s name. Both men turned and lowered their spears. Kicking Horse came swiftly to shore and I went into his arms.
“What happened?” he demanded, his usually cheerful, open face clouded with concern. He was a young warrior with a beak-shaped nose, high cheekbones and swarthy complexion. Although the water was cool, he wore only a breechcloth and his long black hair hung loose around his shoulders.
I told him about the Piegan war party and felt his body tense as his arms tightened around me.
“Did they see you?” Gray Eagle asked, joining us onshore with an air of confidence.
I moved from Kicking Horse’s arms and turned to my lean, broad-shouldered brother. “No, I hid from them.”
“Where did you see them?”
“On the animal trail near the cedar forest. I’ll lead you there.”
“No, it’s not a maiden’s place. I know the trail well. We’ll follow them and see where they’re headed.”
“Let me come along!”
“This isn’t a game, Red Willow.”
“I know. You’ve let me come along to steal horses.”
Kicking Horse watched me with an annoying smile on his face, his arms crossed over his chest.
“This is different,” said Gray Eagle. “The safety of our band is at stake.”
“I won’t slow you down. I can run like the wind and move without making noise.”
“I am responsible for our people now. I can’t risk bringing along a maiden. Come, Kicking Horse, let’s go.” He ran up the embankment.
“I should have followed them myself!” I called after him with disappointment. Kicking Horse started to follow and I clasped his arm. “Wait! Convince him to let me come along.”
“Grey Eagle’s right. You are a woman now and the sister of the chief. You need to be an example for our people of how a maiden should behave.”
“I don’t want to be a maiden! It’s not exciting.”
“There might be fighting. I don’t think you want that type of excitement.” He raced to catch up with Gray Eagle. I stood there, frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to go.
Last Season of Melting Snow, before Gray Eagle became chief, he would have let me go. When we were children, he let me accompany him and Kicking Horse on nearly all their adventures. He taught me how to throw a knife, shoot a bow and ride a horse.
A few moons ago my parents died, leaving us for the Land of Coyote. Since then I had taken on all the duties of gathering and preparing food. I was sixteen summers, old enough to marry and make a tepee of my own. I was sure Kicking Horse would have already asked for me if I wasn’t still in mourning.
Resigned to staying behind, I washed the onions and cattail shoots in the river, then walked back to our campsite. I fed pine needles to the smoldering coals. As they caught fire the smell of burning pine rose.
Grandfather came over and crouched near me as I put the onions and cattail shoots in a buffalo paunch that hung over the fire on a three-legged, wood frame. He had wrinkled, leathery skin and long, white hair. His clear eyes were filled with wisdom; he always seemed to know everything before I told him. He took out a pipe, put kinnikinnick and willow bark in it and began to smoke. I wanted to talk to him, but out of respect for his age and wisdom I waited for him to speak first.
As I stared into the flames, my thoughts turned to when I was seven summers.
IT WAS A time when Gray Eagle was taught and guided by Grandfather so that he could become Head Chief some day. Father was currently Head Chief. Although it was not an inherited position, the people often picked the Head Chief’s son if he showed courage, wisdom, and it was thought that he could guide the tribe.
Gray Eagle was going on his first Vision Quest to find his song, as all boys of the people must do to become warriors.
I adored my brother and wanted to be like him, so I listened with rapt attention whenever he told me of his conversations with Grandfather. I was in awe of Grandfather, but frightened of his power. I could feel it around him and the sacred things he kept for our tribe. Grandfather was always quiet and contemplative; he never played with me as Father and Gray Eagle did. When Gray Eagle proudly told me it was time for his first Vision Quest, something stirred deep within me. I wanted to find my song and know why I was so different from the other girls who were content to play with dolls and work alongside their mothers. I had a deep yearning inside to know the mysteries of life.
Even though I was a little girl, I decided to go on a Vision Quest, too. Secretly I loaded my pony with supplies and left camp. I was drawn to the Sacred Mountains, which were many Suns and Sleeps from my village. There I fasted and prayed, seeking a vision. On the third day a blue light appeared before me. When it drew closer I saw it was a tall, strong-looking warrior, finely dressed in ceremonial clothes. I was nervous but his smile was gentle and reassuring. He told me his name was Oapiche, meaning big man, and he was my Spirit Guide. When I needed him, I was to enter the inner silence where he would be waiting for me. He showed me a vision of a grown maiden who was full of wisdom and power and told me I would become this great medicine woman. He told me he would help me in this quest and guide me on my spiritual journey.
Intense joy opened my heart. I felt as if Oapiche was an old friend. He told me to sing Hu-nai-yiee when I was afraid or needed guidance. I sang this sacred sound and divine love and peace filled me.
I must have fallen asleep for the next thing I remember was being awakened by someone saying my name. I opened my eyes and saw Grandfather. He drew me into his arms and held me close. “A man came to me, Grandfather!” I exclaimed. “He told I am to become a medicine woman.”
His concerned look broke into serene, knowing smile. “Then we will start your training.” He handed me to Father. I threw my arms around his neck and tears filled my eyes.
“You are safe now, little papoose, there’s no reason to cry,” Father said, standing up with me in his arms.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to our people.”
“You’ve journeyed far. We’ve been tracking you for many Suns. I feared a bear or mountain lion would find my little papoose before I did.”
“I’m not a papoose anymore.”
“That’s true. I see you have grown to be a big girl.” He set me on his warhorse and gave me pemmican. I started to eat it when the sound of Grandfather’s chanting drew my attention. He stood in the center of the circle with his arms raised up to Father Sky, singing thanks to Tam Apo, Our Father, for protecting his grandchild on her Vision Quest. He laid down a pipe in the circle as a gift. I was amazed that he would give something of such great value.
“YOU’RE THINKING OF the past,” Grandfather said, bringing me back from my inner memories.
I smiled. “I was remembering my first Vision Quest.”
He nodded. “You have always been strong-willed. You’ll need that strength for this next quest. You must leave tomorrow despite having seen the Piegan war party.”
“I know. I hear the call of Spirit like the beating of drums. It’s growing louder in my dreams.”
“Your path is special; soon the people will need you.” He lifted up a buckskin pouch and handed it to me. “I have a gift for you.”
I felt its power as soon as the pouch touched my hand. I opened it and found an ancient wooden flute inside. The end was carved into the shape of a bird’s head painted red and yellow. It had been my Grandmother’s flute. I remembered the uplifting songs she played on it.
I looked at Grandfather and saw sadness in his eyes and knew he was also thinking of her. She had gone to the Land of Coyote and we couldn’t speak of her for it would disturb her spirit. She was a wise, warm-hearted woman who told me many stories when I was young.
“This has special powers. When you play it, listen to its sound and it will speak to you and guide you.” He looked up at the sky. Following his gaze, I saw an eagle flying high overhead. We watched the eagle for a long time as it soared over the mountains, flying on invisible air currents.
“The eagle is strong medicine and a good omen for your quest. Your thoughts and visions should rise high as the eagle.” Grandfather turned from the eagle and looked at me with clear, focused eyes. “We, the two-legged, share life with the wings of the air, the four-legged and all green plants. The sky is our father, the earth our mother and all living things their children.” He gave me a warm smile and deep lines appeared at the corners of his eyes. “Try playing the flute.”
I put it to my lips and played a few notes as the sun sank behind the mountains. “Listen to its sound with your heart; it will lead you home to Tam Apo,” said Grandfather.
Grandfather and I ate, then I went into the tepee, which faced the direction of the rising sun so it would always greet us when we awoke. The tepee seemed dark after being outside. It smelled of leather, dried roots and sage. I stirred the center fire to get it going again and added more branches. Reflecting on my conversation with Grandfather, I gazed at the inner wall of the tepee. Painted designs of dreams and hunting exploits from the men of our family decorated it.
Gray Eagle and Kicking Horse came into the tepee and crouched by the fire after Grandfather and I were already in our pine-bough sleeping couches. I sat up and Wind Chaser, who was curled up beside me, raised his head.
“Did you find their trail?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Gray Eagle. The fire lit his face so I could see his concerned expression. “We followed them at a distance until they entered Kootenai territory. We will decide at council tomorrow whether to continue searching for buffalo or move to Shoshoni land for the Season of Melting Snow. It may be too dangerous to go to the Sacred Land of Boiling Water.”
“I must leave on a Vision Quest tomorrow. How will I know where to find you?”
“You’ll have to follow our trail.”
“You shouldn’t let her go,” said Kicking Horse.
“It’s not for me to interfere with her Vision Quest.”
“But the Piegan warriors are headed for the Sacred Mountains and that is where she always goes for her Vision Quests.”
“Grandfather said I should go despite danger from the Piegan,” I quickly interjected before Kicking Horse could convince my brother I shouldn’t go.
“Your grandfather is a great man but he has grown old and lives in the world of visions and spirits now,” said Kicking Horse. “He’s no longer aware of this world, otherwise he would not allow his granddaughter to go on a Vision Quest with Piegan warriors in our territory.”
“Only the world of Spirit is truly real,” said Grandfather from his sleeping couch. “My vision is clear; not only do I know what’s happening here but I see into the future and that’s why I know Red Willow must go on this quest.”
It upset me that Grandfather wasn’t asleep as Kicking Horse assumed; I didn’t want him hurt by Kicking Horse’s words.
“Red Willow,” Grandfather continued in a voice that carried force and power, “must follow her own path. The spirits talk to her for a special purpose. She will never be content to live as other women do. An older man of more experience might understand this.”
“I didn’t mean to be disrespectful,” said Kicking Horse. “I’m just concerned for her safety. If she must go on this quest at least let me go along.”
“A maiden does not travel alone with a warrior unless she shares his lodge. You don’t think things through clearly.”
Kicking Horse’s jaw tightened and I knew he wanted to speak out. “I’d better go,” he said. His eyes met mine with a tense, worried look, before he left the tepee.
“I can’t remain in our tepee forever,” I said to Grandfather. “Most maidens my age already share a lodge with a brave. How long do you intend for me to be in mourning?”
“I don’t see Kicking Horse in your future. I’ll pick a brave for you when your time of mourning is up.”
“I love Kicking Horse! I won’t marry another man.”
“It’s not for a maiden to decide who she is to marry.”
I knew better than to argue with Grandfather. He would only become more set against my marrying Kicking Horse if I became rebellious. I lay back down, frustrated and worried. Marriages built alliances between families. A warrior would know he had a brother-through-marriage who would hunt and fight beside him. Fathers betrothed their daughters to warriors, sometimes when they were quite young, to ensure a secure future for them. Father hadn’t betrothed me because Grandfather told him I had a special destiny. Now I worried that Grandfather wouldn’t let me marry Kicking Horse, but would marry me to someone else. Grandfather was the wisest man in the band and he could see things in the future on a deeper level than most. Maybe he saw something I couldn’t see. I curled up on my sleeping robe, sick at heart.
Early the next morning, Mother’s sister, Talking Goose, entered the tepee as I packed supplies into a buckskin bag. “So it’s true that you go off on another Vision Quest!”
I stiffened, knowing she didn’t approve. A loud silence filled the tepee and I knew she wanted to speak her mind, but was respectful of Grandfather’s presence as an elder and shaman.
“Your thoughts are like rain pelting against the side of the tepee,” Grandfather sighed. “You might as well say them aloud.”
“Red Willow shouldn’t follow the path of a warrior. She should follow woman’s medicine, the path of healing and nurturing. Her training should be left to the women of the tribe. Her behavior is causing the women to gossip about her.”
“You’re wise in wanting her to follow the way of women and yet you do not see everything,” said Grandfather. “Red Willow must follow her heart and go on this quest as part of her training to become a medicine woman. It doesn’t matter what the women of the village think. When she fulfills her destiny, they’ll understand and be sorry for their harsh words.”
My aunt wrung her hands in distress. “I wouldn’t say anything because you’re known for your wisdom, but the Piegan are on the warpath. It’s too dangerous for her to go off on a quest!”
“Trust more in my guidance, Talking Goose. I wouldn’t send my granddaughter into the world if I saw only darkness and danger.”
I hugged her, then left the tepee and I saddled Good Thunder, my brown and white pinto horse. Good Thunder, a small-headed, strong-bodied stallion, had been one of my father’s warhorses. Wind Chaser stood beside Good Thunder, eager to be off on a new adventure.
Father was a great chief and warrior so we had more horses than most other families of our tribe. Not only had father and Gray Eagle broken wild horses and bred them, but they also stole many horses from Crow and Piegan bands. It was a great test of courage and wit to steal horses, a rite of passage that all young boys were taught.
I was ready to set out on my quest, but hesitated a moment, looking for Kicking Horse who usually came to see me off. I wanted to speak to him after what Grandfather said last night. Disappointed I mounted up and rode out of camp.
Kicking Horse waited for me just outside the horse corrals. “I thought we could ride a short distance together.”
I smiled. “I was hoping to see you before I left.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go on this quest. It’s far too dangerous.”
“Now you sound like Talking Goose! You and Gray Eagle have taught me to survive on my own. Come on, let’s race.” Before he could reply, I pressed my knees into Good Thunder’s sides and the horse broke into a gallop. He was trained to be guided by the knees so that my father would have his hands free to shoot a bow and arrow.
I could hear the sound of Kicking Horse’s stallion as he thundered after us. Kicking Horse loved the freedom and speed horses gave and got his name as a child because he had the spirit of an unbroken stallion. He rode up beside Good Thunder and lifted me off the galloping animal’s back and onto his horse, nestling me in front of him. He slowed his stallion to a walk. “I’m not Talking Goose who is afraid of the dark. I’ve never interfered with your quests. I’ve helped teach you how to ride and hunt, but this time I’m worried. I have a strong feeling that you’ll run into danger on this quest. You’re already weakened from the long hard Season of Howling Wind. If you fast and go without sleep for the usual four Suns and Sleeps, you will be even weaker and not able to defend yourself. It frustrates me that your Grandfather will not end your time of mourning and let us marry so I can accompany you. He’s not blind; he must know how we feel about each other. Everyone else in the tribe does.”
“Vision Quests are gone on alone. My spirit guide leads me and I have Good Thunder and Wind Chaser to protect me. “
“You have grown into a beautiful woman. If the Piegan warriors find you, they will want you for a slave and for their sleeping couches.”
“They won’t find me.”
“Grandfather is wrong, Red Willow. I do understand the importance of your training and your desire to be a medicine woman.”
“I know you understand. I don’t know why Grandfather said he didn’t see you in my future.”
His eyes widened in alarm. “Did he say that?”
I nodded. “Yes, after you left the tepee.”
“Will you be my wife even if your Grandfather doesn’t agree to it?”
I could hardly breathe from being held so close and with all the feelings he sent racing through me. “We belong together. Grandfather is very wise; he’ll see this.”
“What if he doesn’t?” Kicking Horse’s expression was intense, his emotions raw. His horse stopped and was munching grass.
I slid my arm around Kicking Horse. “He loves me and wants me to be happy. He won’t deny our marriage when he realizes how I feel.”
“I can’t wait much longer for you to be my wife.”
His breathing was ragged and his voice thick. “When you return, I will ask Gray Eagle and Grandfather to end your time of mourning so we can marry.”
“I will think of you often when we’re apart.” My body tingled in every place where it touched his strong, vibrant body.
Kicking Horse called to Good Thunder. When the animal drew near, he placed me upon the stallion’s back. He smiled almost apologetically. “You are a chief’s sister. We shouldn’t be alone. I’ll see you when you return.” He turned his horse and galloped toward camp. I stared after him, remembering every word and touch. He finally asked me to be his wife and when I returned he would officially ask for me. A smile spread across my face and my joy was so great I could not contain it.
I urged Good Thunder forward and felt as if I was flying as he raced across the plain. I crouched low, clinging to his back, feeling him vibrate as his hooves thundered along the ground. His mane streamed and mingled with my hair and his body became an extension of my own, giving me power and strength. Our spirits merged as our bodies flowed together.
Wind Chaser ran swiftly alongside the horse, enjoying our race with the wind. The air was crisp and the sun felt warm and good on my skin. It was the season of the year when plants began to grow again after the long, cold winter and animals are plentiful.
I was in high spirits and excited about going on this quest. I sensed something special about it that would change my life forever. I felt Oapiche’s inner presence, protecting and guiding me.
Toward evening, black clouds rolled across the sky. I saw the coming storm as an omen of danger since it came at the beginning of my journey. I reined in Good Thunder and stared into the black clouds as they twisted and curled. A sense of sorrow and deep pain came over me. I realized the emotions I felt were not mine, but those of the Neme, the Shoshoni people. In that moment I pierced the veil between the physical and spirit worlds, and experienced an overwhelming feeling of suffering and loss. I had no understanding or knowledge of what caused this great pain, but I knew I made contact with the future of the Neme.
The sky lit up with irregular flashes of lightning, then thunder boomed around me. I shivered and nudged Good Thunder forward with my knees, looking for a place to camp for the night. Wind Chaser reappeared and stayed close as if he too sensed impending danger.
I camped in a wooded area and made a lean-to by tying a leather skin between two trees. I sat on my furs with Wind Chaser curled beside me. Clouds moved across the setting sun, leaving us in darkness.
When the storm broke, it was fierce and wild. I walked out to meet it, enthralled by the force of the wind that plucked and snatched at my clothing and the driving rain that pelted my skin. The thunder rumbled through my whole being and I listened with my heart. I watched the lightning with reverence. Although the storm’s raw power filled me with a sense of awe, I could not escape a sense of doom and foreboding for the Neme.
The next few days were uneventful as I traveled closer to the Sacred Mountains, a range of especially high peaks in the Shining Mountains. All my life I had lived in the shadow of the Shining Mountains. Their rugged beauty was as much a part of my life as the sky, earth, wind and rain.
I traveled through dense forests and rugged mountain passes for eight Suns and Sleeps, using land formations to guide me when the sun was out and stars when it was dark. I felt power in the mountains and it grew stronger as I rode higher. Eventually I stopped at Sunrise Peak. I had an inner knowingness that this was the place of my Vision Quest, so I camped by a stream. That evening I fasted to purify myself and sang to Tam Apo, giving thanks and asking for clarity in my quest. The night sky was clear and I identified the star formations by name. I slept under two furs for it was cool in the mountains.
Just before sunrise I arose and got out my pipe. I walked to the edge of the mountain with Wind Chaser following me. I held the pipe up to Father Sky, Mother Earth, and then to the four directions of the earth, ending facing east. As I stood there holding out the sacred pipe in prayer to Tam Apo, the sun rose, splashing red and purple colors across the land. I felt a sense of deep inner peace and harmony with all life. Inwardly a soft humming sound filled me with joy and knowledge that Oapiche was near.
After the colors in the sky faded, I went to the stream and bathed, then combed out my hair with a pinecone. I let my hair flow freely down my shoulders, painted the center part with red and painted red on my cheeks as a sign of peace. Once this was done I put on a light-colored, fringed leather dress and knee-high moccasins. I spent many hours during the Season of Howling Wind sewing on quills and beads made of bones and shells to make it beautiful. Each design represented something sacred to me. Last I tied on my beaded belt and medicine bag of sacred objects. I dressed in my best clothes to show my devotion to Tam Apo.
I returned to Good Thunder and I stroked his mane, explaining that I would be gone for a few suns on a Vision Quest. I untied him so he would be free to graze on the mountain grass or run from any mountain lions or wolves that might be roaming the area. I had no concern about Good Thunder running away for we were brothers in spirit. After hiding all my supplies, weapons and shield under some bushes by the river, I walked up the mountain, carrying only my flute and leather water pouch. Wind Chaser followed beside me.
Near the top of the mountain, I was drawn to a place that overlooked the valley. When I reached it, I found a hawk feather and a shiver went through me. Hawk feathers are powerful medicine. Finding it confirmed that this is the right place for my quest, a sign that I would have clear spiritual vision. I looked up at the sky, wondering if a hawk lived nearby.
After picking up the hawk feather, I braided it into my hair. I felt a sense of anticipation that something of great significance would be revealed to me on this quest. I wanted to know what path I was to follow in this life and how to best serve my people.
I drew a circle with a stick and sat in the center of it, planning to remain here for the next four Suns and Sleeps. Once Wind Chaser saw I was not going any further, he disappeared into the woods. I prayed to Tam Apo to give me a vision and began to sing my song: Hu-nai-yiee. Gradually I felt my consciousness expand until I was one with all life. I became a deer running swiftly through the forest and an eagle flying high in the sky.
My upliftment faded as the hours passed. My legs grew numb and my back hurt. Insects buzzed around and some bit me. I moved beyond awareness of the discomfort as best I could. The morning sun warmed me. At first I was happy for its company, but toward afternoon I was hot and my exposed skin began to burn. I felt faint and dizzy, then I began seeing sunspots and feeling sick.
The sun finally moved to the other side of the mountain. The wind began to blow as evening came on, giving me some relief, but now it was growing cold and I was tired. The hours passed as I fought off the terrible need to sleep. Nauseated, head pounding, and weak from hunger, I despaired of being strong enough to endure this quest and felt unworthiness creeping in.
The moon rose and an owl flew by. The owl helped me refocus and move beyond my physical pain and negative feelings.
Toward dawn I fainted and found myself hovering over my body. Oapiche was nearby surrounded by a shining blue light. He gestured to me to follow him and we walked together to the edge of the mountain. “The people of all Nations are the children of Tam Apo. All are here to learn and will live on as Soul when they leave this world. All are your brothers, no matter what their Nation. A major cycle is coming to an end and you’ll see many changes in your life. The only way to survive these changes is to pray daily and look for Spirit’s guidance. Listen to Spirit speak in the laughter of a child, in the wail of the wind, in the piercing cry of a hawk. Look for its light when you see a fawn, a sunrise, or a fragile mountain flower.”
The vision faded and I pondered his words, wondering if I had misunderstood. The people of my tribe were my brothers, but not the Piegan or the Crow. They were our enemies. What could this great cycle change that he referred to be? His words stirred up many new thoughts. My mind finally quieted and I began to listen to the wind blowing through the trees. It called me to awaken and go further than I had ever gone before, to defy the limitations of my physical body and return home to Tam Apo.
The heat grew intense and I became extremely thirsty. I drank a little water, conserving it because I had only brought a small water pouch with me. Flies kept biting me and I longed to get up and move around.
In the late afternoon, a tall Kootenai warrior appeared. I had to face the sun to look at him and the light surrounded him so intensely that I wasn’t sure if he was really there or if it was another vision. He had black war paint on his forehead and yellow lines on his cheeks and arms. He wore feathered earrings, a bear-claw necklace, leather breechcloth and leggings, and a conch shell breastplate. He stood so still and his vibrations were so in harmony with his surroundings that I decided he was another vision. I closed my eyes for a moment. When I opened them again, he was gone. Where he stood lay another hawk feather. The wind blew the feather into my circle and I picked it up. The feather was in perfect condition as was the first hawk feather. My senses were awakened at this powerful sign of finding another feather. What was spirit trying to tell me? Was this Kootenai warrior somehow connected with my spiritual journey?
I braided the hawk feather into my hair with the other one, aware that I was in Kootenai territory. We were not friendly with the Kootenai, but they were not our enemies either, for they did not invade our territory or steal our horses. They stayed mainly to themselves.
The next Sleep and Sun blended together in a blur as I slipped in and out of awareness. I did not sleep, yet I was not fully conscious of the physical world. Wind Chaser appeared from time to time to see if I was still there. Occasionally he would enter the sacred circle and sit beside me, his spirit touching mine.
On the third night, Oapiche came again and took me into the spirit world. I found myself in a shimmering white body beside Oapiche outside the entrance to a cave. He led me through the cave to an opening that held many ancient objects. I felt power radiating from them. He told me in thought impressions to find my personal talisman, which would give me strong medicine. I examined a pipe and reverently touched a painted shield with feathers on it, then reached out to clasp a small sculpture. The inner vision faded and I found myself back in my body. I continued to pray in hope that my Spirit Guide would return and take me back to the cave. He didn’t reappear. I was left wondering at the meaning of the vision. I also wondered, did this cave exist in the physical world?
The sun rose over the mountain and I watched the red and purple colors lighting up the sky. It is a good sign. I had one day and night left of my Vision Quest before returning to my people. I felt clearheaded and well despite the fact that I had not slept or eaten in several Suns and Sleeps.
I lifted the flute and began to play, discovering how to put notes together to make a song. The wind caressed my cheek and I felt blessed as my spirits lifted.
I heard the high-pitched scream of a red-tailed hawk and looked up. It flew above the mountain, easily riding on invisible air currents. Its sharp cry pierced my being, awakening me to greater awareness. I renewed my trust in Oapiche, knowing he was guiding me and I had the ability to listen to his guidance. I knew my vision would gradually start revealing its meaning and someday I’d go back to the cave to get my talisman, whether it was in the physical world or spirit world. I watched the hawk a long time as it circled overhead. It swooped down low as if it was flying directly for me, then it flew upward and disappeared from view. Another hawk feather fluttered down and landed beside me. I trembled as I picked it up and braided it into my hair. Finding three hawk feathers is powerful medicine. I felt greatly blessed and my heart opened. A vibrating hum like the buzzing of bees filled and pulsed through me.
When the morning sun was high in the sky, the Kootenai warrior appeared again. I knew he was not a vision this time; his presence and energy were strong. His face was painted as it had been before with his hair braided. I felt a sense of danger and controlled power about him. He approached me softly on moccasin-covered feet, moving with a natural grace. He stopped when he was just outside my circle.
I stared up at him, a little unnerved, but with no intention of moving out of the circle until my Vision Quest was completed.
“There’s a Piegan war party coming up the trail,” he said in Neme, speaking my tongue clearly but with a less guttural sound than my people speak it. I was surprised that he knew my language. I lowered my head, not answering because one does not speak during a Vision Quest. I wasn’t concerned about any possible dangers.
“They’re at the pass and will be here before the sun has warmed the land.”
I sat completely still, hoping that if I ignored him he would go away. My energy was attuned to the mountain; the Piegan warriors would pass by me as if I were invisible to them.
“No blood should be shed on the Sacred Mountains. The Piegan warriors do not understand this. They’ll kill you if they find you.”
“Tam Apo, watches over me,” I finally replied, annoyed that he did not understand the protection and had interrupted my quest. “I can’t talk to you until my quest is completed.”
“They’re following the mountain goat trail. It’ll lead them directly to you.”
I didn’t reply. He stepped into my circle. I gasped, about to protest, when he grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. I was so surprised I didn’t fight him as he hauled me to the edge of the mountain. Below I saw six Piegan warriors on horseback, coming up the trail in single file. I recognized them as the ones I had seen near my village. The sight of them brought me abruptly out of the world of visions. Fear replaced the inner warmth and love that had been mine only moments before.
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