Bear Ceremony 2 – Moving Onwards

Masks off now, the class members were clumped together, high from their experience.

“Oh man, I forgot to say anything about the importance of the cycles of the Salmon…”

“Ariel, it was cool that you received a message from the Mountain as you were BEING the Mountain.”

“Yeah, I’m still pretty overwhelmed by that. I need to talk to the elders about it… Could you feel Ursula there? It was like she as Bear was growling at me.  I knew if I didn’t speak what I had received that she would rake me with her claws.”

“Did you hear how the long gone Natives connected with both Ariel and Owen?”

“That was cool when you stamped your feet, Gabe. The antlers on your mask seemed to be glowing and I got shivers down my spine.”

“Funny that I got so grounded when I usually feel so fluttery,” said Mariposa. “I feel like I could do anything right now. Only thing is that I didn’t get any specific message as to what that should be.”

“Maybe your grounding was your message – as a gift – and the rest will come when you stay or return to that state….”

“You guys did a great job,” said Charley coming up. “And the masks added a magical touch.”

“It was so powerful feeling the Salmon come alive in me just by putting on the mask…. “

Marsha stood quietly listening to the excited buzz.  She could find no words for her experience. It had been deep, no doubt about that, but…..

 

Molly brought a plate of salmon, scalloped potatoes and a big piece of chocolate cake to Ursula who sat quietly in the corner, the Bear mask by her side, looking rather dazed at the noise and chatter around her. “Here’s some food to bring you back. First drink this glass of water. It was the biggest glass I could find.” Not getting more than a glance from Ursula, Molly remembered another tact to take. “What’s your name?”

“Umm…. Ursa…. Ursula…. Ursula Goodwin-Brown.” Ursula’s voice got stronger.

“Good. What color are the candles on your dining room table?”

Ursula laughed. “Red! Thanks for remembering to ask me those questions.”

“You’re welcome. I suddenly thought of the time I got interrupted by a sequence snafu when I was deep in process being Gaia at our ceremonial weekend out by the River that time. I was so feeling her pain and anguish about the clearcuts, it was at least twenty-four hours before I could shake off the daze you were just exhibiting. Everyone had to do a whole ‘nother cleansing ceremony just for me. We figured out some important techniques after that, didn’t we? Don’t forget to mention them to your class when you go back over all this.”

“Salmon for the Bear part of me,” Ursula said gratefully, reaching finally for the plate of food and then feeling the protein hit her system. “Potatoes and cheese for my humanness. Chocolate,” she said as she gobbled it, “for celebration. They did a good job didn’t they?”

“I’ll say!”

“Look at them over there chattering away. I should go be social – talk to them.”

“Not quite yet. You’re still a little in that other world. Let me rub your feet.”

After a bit, Ursula gave a deep sigh. “I think I’m back in my own body now. Enough at least to carry on.”

“Okay,” Molly agreed, “I think you’re good to go. Onward into the fray!”  Molly didn’t realize how prophetic she was being.

 

“Guess we got our go-ahead,” said Jazz to Gideon Terranova standing by the sparkling Christmas Tree circled by the potluck of gifts waiting to be picked through and claimed. They had put two Tantra tapes in the pile and wondered who would gravitate to them.

 

“Charley, we need to talk,” said Michael. “I gotta get some perspective on all this.  Not right now, but…”

“Anytime, Mr. Di’Angeli. Anytime.”

 

“Ariel! It’s so good to have you here.” Pia moved emphatically, her long green skirt swishing. “What a powerful message. Come talk with Owen about what you both were getting.”

“I hope I didn’t… upset… anything.”

“On the contrary,” said Molly who had also made a beeline for her once Ursula was back on her feet. “I think you may have livened things up considerably. It goes hand in hand with what we’ve been getting all fall. We need to be stepping it up somehow. We just can’t quite get a handle on how or what we’re supposed to do. Let’s get some food and go sit with Owen.”

“Things can be pretty touchy with Native Americans in general and specifically those few who relate to this area. We’re always hesitant to step on any toes,” cautioned Molly.

“And as anyone who has worked with Traditionals can tell you, they can be offended if we seem to be taking over in any way or stealing from their practices.” Pia was emphatic. “We’ve stolen so much else that is theirs as it is.”

“Not all Indians feel so protective,” said Owen.

“You’d think they would like us to be more in tune with the land and its beings – like we’re finally finding ‘religion,’” ventured Ariel.

“I wouldn’t presume to do a Sun Dance outside of the existing native peoples’ contexts, but all shamanic traditions use smudging of some sort,” Cindy spoke up. “My own Celtic and Germanic traditions call the directions, as do the Andeans. The word ‘shaman’ is actually a Siberian word… And then there are Michael Harner’s teachings about what shamanic traditions have in common, what he calls ‘core shamanism.’ I feel so clearly that this is a time for integration of the many variations of the themes. That the New Age is not about hanging on to old turfs.”

“It’s kind of like the question of how we treat scotch broom, holly and ivy, and other so-called invasive plants. Not even foxglove is native,” Owen chimed in. “Do we uproot them – and each other – out of here? Don’t we all have something to give to the NOW?”

“That’s right. We are hardly native to this place!”

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown….” Ariel sang a line of the Christmas carol. “It’s always confused me that those two plants are traditionally sacred to the pagans in the British Isles – especially during Yule.”

“Nitrogenous Scotch broom, like alder, gives health, i.e. nitrogen, to the soil. Do we give health – fertilizer – to this place or do we just detract from it?”

“Yes and no, of course. We’ve definitely taken over the ecosystem.”

“I’d say we are a mixed blessing.”

“Like stone soup.”

“Yet we haven’t had much luck connecting with those who used to live here – those people who used to be on our River and Mountain.”

“And we have to be extremely sensitive….”

“But Pia, aren’t you planning to put together a ceremony honoring the salmon?” asked Jay.

“Who told you that?” Pia responded sharply.

Taken aback, Jay stammered a bit. Had he done something as wrong as Pia’s tone implied? “Uh, Mom mentioned it in class.”

“Fuck!” Pia exploded. “Can’t I tell her anything without her blabbing it all over?” Pia turned and stalked away.

A stunned silence came over the group left at the table.

“Uh oh,” said Owen.

“Should I not have mentioned it?” moaned Jay. “I didn’t know it was an issue. Mom just said….”

“Of course, dear. Guess you didn’t know this was a sensitive subject,” Molly reassured Jay. “Pia has a thing about stepping on the Native people’s toes. Ursula tends towards pushing the melting pot concept a bit more. Plus they often have different boundaries about what to speak out about on any given subject.”

“I forgot that Pia and Ursula have a history of misunderstandings like this,” said Jay.

“They’ll work it out. At least they always have before….” Owen sighed.

“You mean, we’ll help them work it out!” said Molly.

“Well, yes. I guess I do.”

 

“Ursula!” Pia went straight to the person she considered the culprit in this affair to speak her mind, barging into a cluster continuing to process the details of the evening’s ceremony. “What the hell do you think you’re doing telling people about my Salmon ceremony idea?!”

Ursula remembered to take a deep breath before she turned towards Pia. “I did not realize that you were keeping that quiet. I know you are concerned about stepping on Native people’s toes. But I will thank you not to make a loud issue about it in such a sacred time and place, especially when I’m just coming out of anchoring.”

“I told you that in strict confidence. I DO NOT feel ready to have it be public information and I’ll thank you not to spread the word prematurely. I’m still working it out for myself. You are always rushing in to SHARE. Like you need to be in on it all. To be the first to announce things. Sorry, students,” she said the word sarcastically, “but your teacher is kind of a know-it-all sometimes.”

“Pia,” Ursula said warningly.

“You knew damn well I wanted to wait until we had some sort of sanction from existing tribal peoples and that it would take time to find them and….”

“I’m very sorry I’ve upset you but I assumed that networking the idea was a valid way to make the connections to find such people who could give us some sort of license. Not that I think we need license, by the way.”

“I know you don’t and that bugs me too. You just want to step in there and co-opt all the old ways and…”

“I’m truly sorry, Pia. I did not get it that this was not to be shared yet. It’s such a wonderful story of how you got the guidance. In fact, it does seem like we got a kind of a go-ahead tonight. That should make you feel better.”

“That’s still up for discussion. I don’t think it’s all that clear…. I think we should be carefully considering…. And anyway it certainly isn’t a matter for common gossip.”  She spit out the word.

“I know you and I have different senses of where the line is on gossip and networking. And that I tend to have a looser definition than you do. You know it’s my belief we get further when things are shared. And I don’t see how we can be a psychically connected ‘tribe’ if we keep secrets from each other.”

“Tribe! Goddamn it, Ursula. Even using that word is stealing from the native peoples. We don’t have a clue what tribe means – we’re just wannabes! Wannabe Indians and wannabe medicine people.”

“Isn’t that what bugs you, Pia? You have this leading and you want to follow it. Gaia spoke to you, for heavens’ sake. But you’re afraid of not being genuine enough. Nobody owns all this stuff. We all have it in our background in one way or another – past life or ancestrally. We need to re-member it. We need to own it.  And practice it. If we don’t talk about it how are we going to make any progress and learn from each other?”

“You told what wasn’t yours to tell.”

“I’m truly sorry about that. I didn’t realize. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I’m not always sure anymore where and when and with whom it’s ok to share what. It’s gotten to be too much to track. I didn’t think this was such a personal thing…. I don’t remember you specifically saying not to mention it. Really I’m sorry.”

“Humph!” muttered Pia as she stormed off.

“Oh damn!” Ursula spoke shakily into the circle of open mouths around her. “That’s not what I want to be dealing with right now. As you can see, it’s not all sweetness and light in River City. Misunderstandings. Miscommunications. Different perspectives. We’re not immune, obviously, to conflict despite all our high talk sometimes. We’re definitely a work in progress… Stay tuned.”

 

 

 

Winter Solstice Bear Ritual

Molly rushed to get to the Community Center in time to help with the set up of the Solstice ritual, a little late for her role of backup for Ursula. She had been talking to the paper buyer about the lousy recycle market situation. When she walked in the door, the room was already well into the process of being transformed. Owen and Jay were standing on tables hanging the dark fabric to divide the large room into two sections. She could see people in the kitchen setting up serving tables, Marsha Quince looking very much in charge. Someone had moved the Women’s Club Christmas tree under the East windows.

“We need one more piece of fabric to really partition it off,” said Ursula bustling up. “Did you bring any new stuff?”

“The Goddess must have been whispering to me,” said Molly. “A big green one came in today and I had a feeling it would come in handy. Let me just unload these muffins in the kitchen and I’ll dig it out. I brought the extra lights you asked for too.“

“Where do you guys want the lights?” asked Mariposa flitting up behind her.

“We talked about the inside of the bear’s den being dark, so string them up along this entrance area. People can leave their give-aways under the tree here. We moved it from the other corner to have the festive feeling out here and not in the cave. Come see it,” she said turning back to Molly. “Can you help Pia and I sort out how the altar inside should look? We have different ideas and are pretty irritated with each other. She’s always so sure she’s right and I’m too scattered to focus very well. I’m not even sure why she’s helping, the folks from the class need to learn this….”

“OK, how ‘bout if you ground first,” suggested Molly reaching out to give her a hug.

“Oh, yeah right! I guess I am sort of out of my body. I still tend to do that when there’s so much going on, don’t I? I feel a particular responsibility to Bear with this one and the students that are looking to me…. It’s all making me cranky. It’s too much….” Ursula was close to tears.

“BREATHE,” commanded Molly firmly looking Ursula in the eye, belly to belly. Then more gently, “Breathe.”

They stood quietly together for a minute amidst the bustle, going deeper with each breath and imagining their cords going down into the earth from their second chakras.

“Aahh. Much better,” they both said at once.

“I love how we can do that for each other,” said Ursula. “My cord was brown today, of course. What color was yours?”

“Silver with little sparkles in it. Like Christmas lights,” she smiled. “Would you like me to do the altar with Pia? Then you could go sit quietly with your Bear mask for a while to get ready for the anchoring.”

“Actually, I think I’ll walk down to the beach to watch the sun go down. That always seems an important part of Solstice to me. It’s like if I don’t watch it go down it might decide not to come back up.”

“Oooh, radical move, Ursula! Good letting go! I could learn this from you,” Molly admired the shift Ursula was making.

“Well, I know if I don’t go I will be no good at anchoring and mess up the energy all around…”

 

By the time Charley walked in, others were arriving too. The place was dimly lit and mysterious. He’d been held up at the Conservancy Trust working some bugs out of the mailing list. It was great to have so many people helping with ritual these days. He could sit out a few out prep-wise. In fact, two young women he didn’t even know greeted him quietly. Ursula’s new ritual class was already proving fruitful. The taller one took his plate of deviled eggs into the kitchen. The other smudged him with cedar and sage, brushing the fragrant smoke with what looked like Ursula’s hawk feathers.

As always, the smudge instantly calmed and grounded him into a trancelike state. He felt a little buzz of anticipation as Owen, recognizable behind an Eagle mask they’d made together in the Men’s Medicine Circle, pulled aside a gauzy curtain and gestured him into what felt like a dark cave. A couple of parachutes were draped low from the ceiling representing Air, while a small fire cast a glow from the fireplace in the South. He could dimly see chairs and pillows in a circle on the wooden floor, many with people already in them. Candles twinkled on an altar at the west end. He couldn’t see what else nestled there, probably shells and a dish of ocean water for the West. He had a flash of the year they’d done a ritual around Sedna, the Kwakiutl seal goddess who was especially meaningful to the surfer part of him, with a handmade kayak filled with Christmas lights in the center. Tonight the room smelled of the cedar branches that had been placed around the outside of the circle. Earth.

All the elements were there. He always liked to check. Not that any would be forgotten. Maybe it was more like “checking in.” Calling his personal circle. Soon their individual hearts would intertwine like a Celtic knot to bring Spirit, the fifth sacred thing, into the Center. Would they remember to make that explicit as they called in the directions? “Stop it,” he chided himself gently. “They’ll do just fine and all the old hands are here to hold the space and provide the deep energy.” Always there was something new to surprise them and neither the “audience” nor the “celebrants” ever knew quite how it would appear as the distinctions between them blurred.

He found one of the pillowed floor seats with a comfy back and realized he had settled in between Gideon Terranova and Michael. Finch Terranova was on the other side of his dad. It was so great to have more men involved these days, especially young ones. For a long time Owen and he had been the only ones – or the only consistent ones anyway. It quickly became obvious that Michael was kind of fidgety. Charley patted the knees on either side of him in silent greeting, leaving a calming hand on Michael’s for a heartbeat or two until he felt the younger man take a deep calming breath. Charley knew Michael was not very into what he called spiritual fol-de-rol but was present for Uri’s sake.

A dark shape suddenly loomed followed by others. The Ritual was about to begin. Draped and masked figures took their places, two in each of the Directions, while two more stood slightly to the left of the altar. The silence deepened. Another figure in a mask – a bear mask – appeared and sat on the floor on the right side of the altar. On the bearskin that he hadn’t noticed before. Gordy’s bearskin. Ursula…. He settled in another degree into a meditative place and breathing deeply himself, sent grounding energy to his wife as one more figure holding a candle came into the Center with arms outstretched.

 

 

Ursula sat silent and still by the altar. It was good she couldn’t leap up to coach or nudge her students as they made their way through calling in the directions and the elements. She’d insisted they get over the hump of wanting to read their parts. It was always tempting for those new to ritual to script things out. They wanted get it “right.” As if there was a “right.” For her the strong power came when it was done intuitively, when space was left for Spirit to inhabit, inspire and shape the words. Written out it stayed in the literary, planning part of the brain, not nearly as connected to the Creative Source. In her experience Spirit needed a lot of open space. That’s what the first clearing was about – to allow breath in so there was room for inspiration. In-spire. To Breathe. Fern had done a great job of grounding and centering the group. Soon Thea in tandem with Rhea would be telling something of Bear and the intention for the ritual. It was Ursula’s job simply to be, to anchor. She imagined the splash of leaving the boat and sent her claws down deep.

Firmly rooted, yet barely able to see out of the mask even if there had been enough light, she slipped into a dreamy state…. Soon she couldn’t remember what the intention was.… Could people could see her there in the mask?…. It didn’t matter…. She was holding the deep space…. leading them under…. welcoming them there. Being Bear. Her consciousness stretched as she put out her hand to the stuffed head of the real bearskin underneath her. She thanked this particular bear for the gift of its presence in their midst, and felt him in the Spirit world…. lumbering through the woods…. plucking a salmon out of the rushing stream…. Felt his pleasure at finding a stump full of bees…. his sleepiness as this deepest point of winter was reached, the longest night of the year…. Wanting to snuggle with his She-Bear, yet feeling that before relaxing there were some important messages to convey to these two-leggeds gathering here in this Spirit Cave…. Not from themselves necessarily… they were just setting the space…. Being the conduits…

“Is that what Bear does??” thought Ursula and with that thought tuned into the circle again. She should probably be listening while people around the circle spoke of their experiences, what they had dreamt, but somehow she knew that the deeper part of her was hearing them…. Had that been the intention? She didn’t need to take care of those dreams or figure out how to make them real…. They were being felt deep in Bear’s heart. All she needed to do was be Bear…. What do Spirit bears dream about? What will Bear ask of me this night? Or of us all?

 

Molly was enjoying being gathered up in sacred space. To her the feeling was almost tangible – a soft mossy bubble wrap that enveloped them all. She was glad her informal part of grounding Ursula was over early and she had plenty of time to sink into the familiar glow. She had thought about her health issue for a second in the beginning and then successfully pushed it out of her mind. “Let Bear’s healing energy take care of things tonight.” Now the talking stick was being passed around and people were sharing their experiences from the visualization.

Tuning in she realized the person speaking now had a familiar ring that slowly formed an image in her mind…. Ariel.

“…. As Uriel’s voice led us into the forest, I found myself imagining being at the base of a giant Sitka. I could feel hemlock and cedar nearby. A circle of Old Ones told me they are exhausted and need some respite from the caretaking of this place. They were grumpy and frail. They said we’ve put ugly structures on most of their sacred spots and only a few of their tree friends are still standing. They told me I must be part of the change – part of opening the door – part of taking over as a Guardian of the Mountain and this place….”

Her voice trailed off in uncertainty and there was an almost audible hum as everyone absorbed this news.

“I received a similar message.” The voice was Owen’s and Molly’s heart warmed. “I was inside a cave in the Mountain – really, under the Mountain. I couldn’t actually see anybody but I felt a huge, impatient presence. They told me they’ve been watching…. that we are doing a good job stewarding places with the Conservancy Trust…. some of us as individuals as well….” Owen hesitated, trying to speak what had probably not come to him exactly in words. “There is no time to lose, we must find the… meanders…. the paths…. get through the blackberry bushes…. We must see… recognize…. the Old Ones and let them go…. They want to be thanked…. We must step up to the…. the plate…. the table….”

A young man spoke simply after a space of a few heartbeats. “It was all like a dream. I saw myself walking tall and moving forward with my work at the day care center. There are children there who need to be nurtured and taught about Bear and the Mountain and the Old Ones…. This will heal them…. I can do that.”

“I am to study herbs,” said a young voice. Flicker maybe? “There are people here to teach me.”

“The community is ready for what I know…” said Jasmine Terranova.

After each there was the silence of witness. The “how” conversation would come later after the circle was closed and they shared food and chose gifts from the unwrapped offerings under the tree, emerging again into the sparkle of the Holiday season or perhaps even later as things rounded into the New Year.

 

Pia’s Morning 2

The Bay was peaceful, a slight drizzle making lovely little splashes on the water. The hills across the way were fogged in, hiding the crest above with the craggy tree they climbed to sometimes for ceremony. The tide was coming in, so the river was flowing backwards, the salt sweeping the fresh water upstream as it did twice every day. What a potent dynamic. She wasn’t exactly sure how far up its influence was felt, but she knew it flowed back and forth in front of the land upriver where they hung out in the summer and even further up, one was wise to take the tides into account when kayaking.

She took a deep breath of the all the watery influence, the clean rain and salty ocean mixing with the tang of the mud flats. The ocean’s sound was faint today on the other side of the dunes, though the buoy at the mouth clanged every few minutes. Waterfowl twittered out where the tide flowed.

The River. For a moment she could feel its current through her body like the flow and saltiness of her own monthly blood. She could also touch into the river of her growing up years in Michigan, as well as the river by her college campus and even the storied rivers of the earth…. the Tigris and Euphrates, the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Nile…. Arteries of the earth. Lifeblood of the Mother.

She pulled up the hood of her sweatshirt and, leaving her tennies by a log, walked along the shore. Acclimated. Attuned. A little ways north she turned to head across the inter-tidal area towards the edge of the woods. Not much of it flooded daily this time of year, but it still had a boggy quality to it. It was do-able in bare feet but she had to pick her way carefully to avoid the slightly prickly stems of silver weed and grasses, as well as a few broken bottles and other detritus of the summer visitor season. Picking the latter up and putting them into the plastic bag she carried in her backpack, she splashed through little pools, enjoying the squishy places, and climbed over silvered logs that had drifted ashore last winter and would no doubt be moved about in the return of the stormy season. Many of the logs had been journeying hither and yon in the same vicinity for years.

The shrine was tucked into the clutter of logs, salal, Nootka rose and huckleberry at the edge of the marshy area. To get in she had to duck under a low hanging branch, but other than that the way was clear. It would be a different story come spring. By April the logs would be scattered like matchsticks against the rise of the bank, a new configuration every year. Either Raven or Owen came out before the annual Mother’s Day re-dedication ceremony to make an opening again. Some years the way in was cleared from the north end and some years from the south, depending on what was moveable or could be climbed under.

The sand was still dry in the tiny clearing, the large overhanging Sitka sheltering it from the slight precipitation. She called a quiet welcome to the space, and kneeling, swept aside a million tiny crystals with her hand. There was the stone. Flat granite from the Mountain, carried here 15 years ago by her tribe. The Fibonacci spiral at its center seemed to wink up at her and as always her finger was drawn to trace its double curves. She poured a few drops from her water bottle as a libation and then settled, legs crossed, to breathe in the stillness of the place.

Well, almost still. A jay squawked insistently from overhead and a squirrel chittered, both announcing her presence to the woods further inland. It was quiet again for a moment and then a heron honked a greeting as it passed by out on the water. Was it the same who had sent her this way?

She certainly felt she was in the right place. The angst of her morning had been left behind. The River flowing by had put things back in perspective. She was prepared now to listen to its song. How wonderful if it had a message for her….

She thought of the native peoples of the place who had summered in this area. Perhaps camped in this very spot as they clammed and fished, enjoying the bounty of the season before the higher tides and wild winds of winter chased them upstream and inland to their more permanent long house villages. She loved to think of them squiggling their feet in the sand as she and the children of her time did around a campfire under the summer stars.

Another loud squawk reminded Pia of the year a crow kept noisily complaining to the small group present for the dedication. It had swooped in and out every few minutes and scolded them roundly each time. Towards the end of their communion someone had looked up and there above them was the half eaten carcass of a salmon dangling precariously from a branch no more than ten feet over their heads. It could have been disgusting. It could have fallen on their heads. Instead it made Pia feel they were an intimate part of the sacred round of eater and eaten and as such it was like a blessing. No wonder the poor crow had been so upset, its feast interrupted and, as far as the bird knew, in danger of being stolen by these larger intruding five fingered ones. They had apologized and, their ceremony over, had left soon after.

The memory of the fish now had Pia thinking of the salmon and the meager flow of them compared to the time of the Old Ones. A university student passing through a few years ago had spoken of his work for the return of the Columbian Condor, sighted by Lewis and Clark not far north of here and last seen towards the end of the 1800’s. A worthy endeavor, certainly. But as a local wildlife aficionado had pointed out later to Pia, the condor depended on huge numbers of salmon and the area was no longer rich enough in this resource to support that piece of the cycle. The salmon were still giving of their largesse, but the wiles of the white “civilized” branch of humankind had brought them dangerously close to extinction and ruined much of their healthy habitat. The hatchery fish were no match and lacked the nutrients and hardiness of the native ones.

Salmon. That amazing magical fish, creature of both River and Ocean. Spawned up towards the headwaters of every tributary, even the tiniest, they swam out to the ocean and then years later, made their way back to the very spot from which they had come. Such a dance of instinct and mystery. They were honored by the native peoples, the first fish of the season celebrated and every fish thanked. No one could imagine then that they could ever become so few.

Pia lowered her head as tears of sadness, then frustration, then of rage swelled and broke over her. Her own salt mixed with the salt of the sand, her own water spilled to mix with the water of the River. The Salmon. How had her people come to be so out of touch as to perpetrate and allow such damage?

Now is the time to make it right.”

Pia’s head snapped up. She looked around for the source of the voice but knew she was alone. “You are one who can change the story,” the voice came again. Images of the Native peoples flashed again in her head – the campfires, the laughter, the storytelling. Fish drying on sticks or passed around on cedar planks. Savored. Cherished. The story of Salmon Boy told again and again so the children could learn of nature’s cycles and the right ways to hunt and to honor the creatures that gifted themselves for the People’s sustenance.

You live in Nekelew – place of the Salmon. You must honor us here. You must restore the balance. Tell your people. Do not let another year go by or we will all be gone. We want to flow again. We can even thrive again. But you must fulfill your mission.” The voice was thundering now like the River itself at full flood over the falls upstream. “It was for this that you were born. It was for this that you made your way to this place.”

“Who are you?” asked Pia.

I am River. Mountain. Sea. Marsh. Field. Salmon. I am Gaia.”

Pia was on her knees now, hands clasped at her heart. “I honor you. I serve you.”

I know that, Daughter. You dedicated yourself to me and serve me and your people well. I ask you now to dedicate yourself to the part of me that is this River and its people, the Salmon. Kelew. And this place of Salmon. Ne-kelew.”

“What is it that I am to do?”

Pia waited quietly for an answer to her query but the potent energy had left the tiny clearing. Tears ran down her face at the chance to have had even that much contact. Part of her was non-plussed at not having a specific assignment but she knew enough about voices and oracles to know that she had been blessed with more clarity than most. She had only to state her willingness. The rest would unfold.

Still kneeling, she dug in her pack for her Swiss Army knife – the athame, ceremonial dagger, of her Wiccan influence. She cut a tiny slit in her middle finger and as a drop of blood welled, touched it to the center of the spiral on the Shrine rock. “I honor this place, Ne-kelew. And I honor the Kelew itself and the River of its flow. I open myself to guidance as to what I am to do.”

“No wonder I have been at loose ends lately,” she thought as, protecting her cut finger, she gently and lovingly pushed the sand back to cover the shrine rock allowing for its discovery by those who were meant to find it.

When she crawled back out, she realized the sun had appeared while she was under the sheltering Sitka. She blinked at its brightness and peeled off her sweatshirt, gasping a little when she realized the connection of its Nekelew High School message – Arlo’s alma mater. Yet another sign. It was a thoughtful walk back across to the beach. Everything was sparkling now rather than the silvery grey of her earlier trek. Both states were beautiful, but her heart was lighter now and her step inspired rather than driven. The time was 1:11.