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Stephen Geez

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Featured Book
Bogota Backscatter
by Frank Stephenson

Many of the same characters as appear in "An Unlikely Journey," but the scene is the violent nation of Colombia shortly after the devastating earthquake of January 1999..  
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By Stephen Geez
Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A tale of a modern native american woman.

She wondered, Who will decide who I am?

Four corners, she honored—North, South, East, and West—as The Spirits looked upon her and smiled.

She extinguished the smoldering sweetgrass, then donned her Native American regalia, locked the trailer Mother had left her, and hurried to the souvenir stand to sell authentic crafts and factory baubles while sharing her culture and tribal spiritualism with passing visitors. Some holding similar jobs felt exploited even as they cashed their pay- and profit-sharing checks, or like exploiters selling their heritage as sideshow curiosities, info-tainment by costumed actors on the point-of-purchase commercial stage. Cloud Watcher had remained on the reservation even in womanhood to be close to Mother, then to care for her as she declined, and now in honor of her family and the ancestors who walked these mountain passes long before other cultures brought change and change brought tourists for gaming and live-action shows.

“My great-grandfather’s protector was The Great Bear,” Cloud Watcher told two little girls.

“Oooo!” they said in unison, wrinkling freckled noses as they finger-twisted blond curls. “Wasn’t he scared?”

“Our people respected all life that shared these mountains, understanding that animals kill only for food and protection. The Great Bear lived close by, and he knew my grandfather would let no one harm his cubs, so he protected our family.”

“Do you really believe that?” asked a big-eyed boy joining the group.

Cloud Watcher nodded. “I know this, for I have seen it as a young girl. Even today, when I walk home, I might see a descendant of The Great Bear, and he will pause to look at me, but I am not afraid because we know who we are.”

Pleased parents ushered the children away, two tykes proudly sporting feathered talismans, one a beaded pair of moccasins, all clutching paper sacks stuffed with doodads, what-nots, and the obligatory dream catchers.

She stood and stretched, then locked her register and left the others to greet an influx of bussed-in seniors playing Injun-for-a-Day as prelude to an evening tugging on the stiff arms of nickel and dime slots. Walking up the road, she paused several times to scan the sky, amused to see a fish-shaped cloud easing toward a wispy white worm roiling in the rising drafts sweeping up the foothills. More twisty worms formed in the smoky mists, and the fish gorged itself until it expanded to a smiling round face before dissolving to ride off on the winds.

She reached the security fence, swiped her pass card, and walked up the long drive to the administration building, swiping again to enter the ornate lobby and check in with the receptionist. Several others waited ahead of her, but in a few short minutes she found herself in an office signing consent forms and submitting to a cheek swab to provide a sample for DNA analysis. Everyone treated her with respect, polite and friendly, but she felt sick to her stomach, so she hurried out without speaking.

She passed the food stands where she had intended to stop for lunch, hurrying down the road toward the souvenir shop. She paused out front, then stepped aside to allow two families to enter. Taking a deep breath, she looked skyward, noted a whole school of cloud-fish now circling new wisps, and decided to skip work for the afternoon.

A meandering stroll through brush alongside the roadway led to a path between two great pines, the familiar trail toward home, a twenty-minute walk at a steady pace. Sanctuary waited, a clearing with electric hook-up and septic field separated by trees from the nearest trailer. Only a few neighbors still lived up here, holding to their pasts rather than accepting a balconied box from a new stack just off the interstate exit ramp, hourly shuttle service included.

She stopped a few feet shy of her shiny silver trailer, the biggest cash-value item listed on her mother’s bequest, parked even now amid the barely visible outlines of the homestead where Great-Grandfather had grown to manhood, and where his own parents had lived out their days before housing codes declared homes from the past unsafe houses for the future.

Cloud Watcher wiped tears from her eyes, then cast her gaze to the ground, and she knew the results would show what she had always known but never spoke of: Great-Grandfather was the child of a hill-girl, a raven-haired European descendant run away from her own people when the baby’s father proved unwilling to abide by the rigid codes of commitment and conduct. She had found herself welcomed by the small but proud tribe of natives who shared their homes and bounty as her protectors, even as the Great Bear would protect all who have a right to live in these mountains. As her like-haired child was born, its mother died in birth, and the boy who would be Cloud Watcher’s great-grandfather lived as one of the tribe, accepted as family and respected by The Great Bear. He eventually moved on to make his way in the bigger world, living a full life. Then on his deathbed, he told his own granddaughter, recently widowed and raising the baby girl he called Cloud Watcher, to go home to his people, that both would be welcomed and loved. Then Cloud Watcher would always know her place in the world, and she would discover who she is.

But now Cloud Watcher’s claim to revenue sharing, casino profits, and a say in the affairs of her tribe’s business and legal interests all rested solely on her one-eighth blood status as a Native American recognized by the elders and defined by the U.S. government.

And modern medical technology would prove she was not.

She stepped to the center of the clearing and cast her gaze to the clouds, watching as they drifted away to reveal clear azure sky backing the faceless yellow sun. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth, a hint of breeze; and she listened for the laughter of children she grew up with, boys and girls embracing their people’s past while eagerly looking forward to the possibilities of their own futures; and she tasted her mother’s traditional foods lovingingly prepared as taught by the older women who had welcomed this lost girl and her child despite their urban ways; and she breathed the fragrances of hardwood-fire smoke and perfumed wild blossoms swaying along the creek-bottom banks; and she listened to redwing blackbirds swapping raucous stories across the clearing, the splash of creek rushing down a wash to her left even as the steady hum of traffic rushed up the roadway off to her right.

She fished her medicine bag from under her vest, then a tiny pipe dangling on its suede lanyard and a butane lighter from her pocket.

She opened her eyes and studied the trees, red-tailed squirrels pausing to watch, chipmunks creeping closer in anticipation of their friend sharing more seeds and nuts, a fat toad hopping into a patch of soothing sunshine to warm his weary soul. “It’s not what you believe,” came her mother’s voice, in Cloud Watcher’s mind surely, on the breeze if she allowed herself to believe. “Every generation does its best to explain the world, yet the children come along and find new ways to understand it more, but that never changes what we value.”

“But the old people,” Cloud Watcher said, her voice as a child again, “they believe silly things that make no sense. Why should I learn this?”

Her mother laughed, even as she had laughed when they spoke these words so long ago, now laughing again in the rustle of trees so long after she died. “A tourist once asked me if I truly believed I could dance and make it rain. I told her no, I would dance to show the world my appreciation for whatever it brings—and if the crops needed water, I would hope it brings us rain.”

“Then what am I to learn?”

“That our people believe we are but part of the world, not above it, and that we must give as we take, and that we must protect all manner of creatures who protect us even in ways we never know.”

Cloud Watcher glanced back at the trailer, and wondered if she might be required to move it off the reservation now, or if her people would decide no test is more important than protecting her even as she would protect them, if classifying the blood-line is more important than respecting a culture that long believed all men are family, as are the chipmunk and the wolf and the bear.

She placed a pinch of sweetgrass in the pipe and lit it, then turned slowly and passed the smoke first one way, then another . . .

Birds circled the clearing as toads hopped mischievously about, chipmunks joining squirrels for a chase, a pair of deer stepping out to watch, one lone wolf sniffing a warm place to lie. The Great Bear lumbered out from the trees behind the trailer, pausing to scratch his behind on the hitch before gazing at Cloud Watcher with a friendly snort.

Four corners, she honored—North, South, East, and West—as The Spirits looked upon her and smiled.

And she knew the truth: I will decide who I am.

       Web Site: Stephen Geez

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