WHITE WOLF'S RANCH
NORTHERN CHEYENNE RESERVATION
July 22, Sunday
The towering oak beside the house offered relief from the midday sun. Within its shade, all facing east, Winter Hawk stood with his brother on his left, mother on his right, father next to her, then his mysterious cousin.
As always for such occasions, White Wolf looked magnificent. Traditional ceremonial clothing transformed him from an exceptional father into an imposing and powerful medicine man. Fringed deer hide shirt beaded across the chest, back, and sleeves. Fully beaded blue moccasins with the white Cheyenne flag. Buckskin pants, long braids criss-crossed with half-inch strips of red trade cloth, and a black silk scarf folded into a headband, ties fluttering in the summer breeze.
The sight never failed to swell Winter Hawk's psyche with awe and pride that part of him issued from that great man's loins.
He, too, was dressed in traditional clothing, though with far less ornamentation. Furthermore, his recent growth spurt had created a huge gap between his buckskin pants and moccasins, which were cramping his toes. In the fall after the deer hunt, he'd help tan a hide from which his mother would make new ones, his current garb then packed away until his brother grew into them.
As the son of a medicine man he was privileged to attend and assist at numerous ceremonies, this being one of them. The prayer cloth's purpose was to cleanse Littlewolf by wiping away evil spirits that had gotten a hold of him, inside and out.
Which, judging by the looks of him, was apparently a lot.
Several feet in front of White Wolf an earth-filled abalone shell held glowing coals from the woodstove that Winter Hawk placed there earlier. A stack of five neatly folded cloths of as many colors rested beside it, their unfurled dimensions a yard-square.
His father opened the ceremony with a prayer. Then Winter Hawk along with the others went through the graceful motions of blessing their mind, body, and spirit with the Earth Mother, from which they'd been created.
His father turned to Littlewolf and said in Tsetsehestaestse, "Now we all pray to Maheo. We call upon him, his spirit helpers, and badger from the Sacred Mountain, to remove the evil spirits that have befallen you. We pray that you will heal and live a long life serving Maheo as well as your Tsetsehestaestse brothers and sisters."
Following the prayer, they sang five sacred songs, their lyrics functioning as prayers that invited the Creator and his spirit helpers to attend.
While the words of the Badger song issued effortlessly from Winter Hawk, his cousin faltered. Every few moments he stopped, gasping for air, sometimes coughing.
He looked sicker than anyone he'd ever seen. Except perhaps someone very old.
Really old, and ready to die.
He continued to sing, now into the Grandfather song, hoping Littlewolf would be alright. His father hadn't said much about him. In fact, he couldn't remember his cousin being mentioned by name until about a week ago, when he learned he was coming. All Winter Hawk's other relatives—various aunts, uncles, and a multitude of cousins—lived nearby, most on the reservation, no one farther than Billings.
His father told him Littlewolf's father died when he was fifteen.
The same age he turned six months before.
At the thought of losing his father—or mother or any of his siblings—his throat closed, choking off part of the Grandmother song. He resumed singing, earning a concerned glance from his mother beside him.
But even if such a tragedy were to befall him, one of his many relatives would take him in. As his parents had with some of his other cousins, or anyone else on the reservation, when the need arose. Even those who suffered in poverty had family. They helped one another, however they could.
As he sang the Buffalo song he recalled Littlewolf's mother didn't want him, either. She was Diné and lived in New Mexico. For some reason, she threw both Littlewolf and his father out. Then he lived with their grandfather, Eaglefeathers, who died seven years after that, a few months before Winter Hawk was born.
Littlewolf was in college by the time his grandfather crossed over, but regardless of age, how could he survive, all by himself like that?
Buffalo song complete, they sang the Spirit Calling song. No doubt Littlewolf's spirit was lost and wandering around out there and needed to be called back.
When its last verse ended, he stepped forward and picked up the sweet grass braid lying beside the abalone shell. He broke off a section and placed it on the glowing coals.
Aromatic smoke lilted skyward, its vanilla-like fragrance blessing the air while his father prepared the cloths. He unfolded each one, let it fall open, then held them by one corner, until all were free. Winter Hawk added more sweet grass to the coals as needed until each was blessed.
The color of the sun. Kind to all creation, providing light and warmth to all living things.
The "blood we wear." Reminder to honor his ancestors with every action, every day, and be proud of his heritage as a red man.
Wisdom, as shown in the white hair of the elders, earned through many winters.
We the people of the Morning Star, as long as Maheo is in the blue sky we will walk on earth.
Victory. Defeating the enemy, in whatever form it presents itself. Why his father wore a black cloth wrapped around his head for protection from evil spirits released from those who came for help.
White Wolf knotted the cloths together, then shook them as one. Primary colors sailed the summer breeze as the layers rippled together. Next, he blessed them through the sacred smoke in the four cardinal directions, plus one to honor Maheo, each motion accented by the deerskin fringe on his sleeves.
Then he turned to Littlewolf and methodically engulfed him in a kaleidoscope of color, each sweep starting at his feet and moving upward. First, his left side, leg, arm, and shoulder in front; then in back.
Next, his back; then his right side, leg, arm, and shoulder in back followed by in front. Upward across his chest, over the heart, face, and head. The knot swiped the sides, back and front of his head, resting briefly on top, until the rainbow of colors fluttered back down in front.
The cloths snapped with one final shake, then Star held open a bag where he deposited them by holding the knot. Fabric contained, Winter Hawk and Risingsun followed him to their aging Ford Explorer.
The vehicle bumped across three miles of an ancient dirt road, originally a footpath worn by his ancestor's feet, to Eaglefeathers Butte. They rode in reverent silence so as not to disturb the spirits, ceremony not yet complete.
The road ended.
Winter Hawk got out and removed two five-gallon plastic buckets from the backseat. He kept one and handed the other to his brother, then the trio walked the last hundred yards to where the headwaters of Eaglefeathers Spring gushed from beneath the looming rock formation.
White Wolf left a tobacco offering at the base of a young tree, removed the prayer cloths from the bag, untied the knot, then retied them over one of the branches.
Freed colors caught the breeze, captured bad spirits seeking freedom, only to be escorted into the earth by good spirits that resided by the spring.
Sobered by the dark spirits left behind, his father offered a short prayer of gratitude. After that, Winter Hawk and Risingsun picked up their respective buckets and collected fresh water for the next day's sweat.
He and his brother returned to the car, both short of breath from their heavy loads, their father waiting in the driver's seat. Water placed in back with the hatch closed, White Wolf turned the key and drove back to finalize the ceremony.
Back at the house, Littlewolf was sitting in a lawn chair beneath the tree, Star coaxing him to drink a big glass of water. At their approach, his cousin got up and everyone resumed their places in line.
White Wolf offered a lengthy prayer of gratitude and petitioned Maheo to bless and heal Littlewolf, that his afflictions depart with the evil spirits, and his health and vigor return.
Once again they blessed themselves with the Earth Mother and the ceremony was complete.
Littlewolf turned to White Wolf, bowed his head, and shook his hand.
"Néá eše," he said, then did the same with Star.
Winter Hawk was next. Their eyes connected with an unexpected sense of familiarity, his handshake electric, teasing his natural curiosity.
Who is this prodigal cousin about whom I know so little? There's something different about him, something I can't figure out, yet I feel I know him.
Littlewolf moved on to shake Risingsun's hand, then Star collected Littlewolf's drained glass and headed back to the house, White Wolf and his brother right behind.
His cousin's eyes shifted his way, connecting again with his own. Winter Hawk stepped over to see if he needed anything, motioning for him to go ahead and sit back in the lawn chair.
"Thank you again—Néá eše—for...helping today," Littlewolf said. "It is a great honor...for you to work with...a medicine man like...your father. I will always...remember...the time I spent with...our grandfather, Eaglefeathers."
"I've heard much about Eaglefeathers. I'm sorry I did not know him. I was born a few months after he crossed over."
Littlewolf smiled. "I remember...that your mother...was expecting a child...back then. So that...was you."
He smiled back. "Yes. I guess it was."
"Eaglefeathers is always...with us in spirit. He was here...today. Watching. He is very...proud of you."
The hair on Winter Hawk's arms stood up.
How could he speak such a thing with unwavering conviction?
Humbled as well as startled by the compliment, he didn't know how to respond, so switched to more practical matters.
"Do you need anything, brother? More water or something to eat?"
"No, thank you. I'll just rest here...a while longer."
"Okay. If you're still here, I'll check back when I water the horses."
Winter Hawk waved, then returned to the house where his mother was fixing the evening meal. He gazed upon her a moment, unable to imagine her not being there someday, then hurried downstairs to his room, wiping his eyes.
He'd always been a serious, obedient son who took his responsibilities seriously. For that reason he was likely to be the one from among his siblings to follow in his father's footsteps.
Somehow his cousin's comment confirmed that.
Parental discipline came in the form of cautionary tales. Stories of how someone once resisted their destiny, then paid heavily for his disobedience. It made perfect sense to learn from others' mistakes. That was what listening to the elders was all about.
They talked about Eaglefeathers from time to time, saying he died of a broken heart, but never mentioned who broke it.
He couldn't imagine hurting any of his loved ones like that. How could anyone who'd done such a thing ever hold up his head before Maheo?
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