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Excerpt from Wanders Far-An Unlikely Hero's Journey
Bear Fat was glad that Big Canoe asked a gifted spiritual leader to help with Wanders Far’s rite of passage. After days of hiking, they were happy to finally reach the Moose River and put their canoes in the familiar water. Combining rivers, ponds, lakes, and portages along herd paths and game trails, they spent the next five days following the long-established route traveled by their friends, enemies, and ancestors. Wanders Far paddled the small canoe by himself. Big Canoe set the pace from the stern of the larger boat, a slow, steady, constant, rhythmic pace and Follows Stars adjusted his cadence at the bow. Bear Fat thought about the future, relaxed, and daydreamed, riding in the middle of the canoe. For such a hard-working woman, riding in the canoe while others worked was a rare luxury. Periodically she switched places with the seer, who whittled figurines and wooden bowls whenever he rode in the middle. They didn’t talk much along the way. It was hard to talk in the canoe anyhow. Bear Fat liked to be able to see the face of the person she was talking to, rather than the back of a head.
At the end of the waterway, there was a fifteen-mile trek that led to their destination. The canoes were left hidden in the brush near the lake, and they set out on foot to their summer home.
About a week after they arrived, Follows Stars moved out of the camp at Copperas Pond, and he took Wanders Far with him. As he left, he told Big Canoe and Bear Fat that they would be near the top of the smaller mountain, just to the west of the giant mountain. Follows Stars needed time alone with Wanders Far, as enjoyable as it was to spend time at Copperas Pond.
Follows Stars found a perfect place for his encampment near the apex of the little mountain. It afforded wonderful views to the east and the west, and also of the great mountain just above. They built a tiny, squat hut, not even big enough to stand up in, but long enough to fit 2, six-foot long bunks made of saplings. When that was done, they set up a fire pit a short distance from the opening to the hut, and then built a fire in the pit. It was a long day, and they accomplished a lot. At dark, they went to bed, and found the hut comfortable.
The next morning, Follows Stars sat across the fire from Wanders Far. Change was underway. They sat silently, looking into each other’s eyes. They both knew it. Follows Stars began, “I have lots of questions for you, Wanders Far.”
The boy replied, “Yes, Grandfather, I know.”
Follows Stars was not a blood relative, but grandfather signified deference and respect. Wanders Far sat still and silent, patiently waiting for what came next.
Follows Stars nodded ever so slightly. Following a long pause, he slowly formed his first question. “Wanders Far, are you prepared to become a man and leave your boyhood behind you?”
“Yes, Grandfather, I am ready,” Wanders Far replied matter-of-factly.
“Do you know the path you will follow?”
“Yes, Grandfather, I know the path I will follow. I will remain Wanders Far. I would follow my passion for traveling between our people’s villages, carrying important messages. I believe that is the path the Great Spirit chose for me.”
“Is that the only path you will follow, Wanders Far? Does the Great Spirit have other plans for you as well?”
“No, Grandfather, it is not the only path I will follow. The Great Spirit also has other plans for me, I understand that. I only know a little bit about that path.”
Follows Stars let those words hang in the air between them for several moments. Then he asked, “Does the Great Spirit speak to you, Son?”
Wanders Far thought before answering slowly, “The Great Spirit does not speak to me in words. Sometimes I feel his spirit in my heart, and sometimes, I feel his power pass through me, through the air.”
Follows Stars recalled, “Just like when we were at the Great Roaring Waterfalls? His spirit passed through you there, didn’t it?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” Wanders Far confirmed.
“You told me I had a glorious spirit,” Follows Stars reminded. “I told you I was just about to say the same thing to you. Do you know I felt the power pass through me also that day?”
“Yes, I believe I did know that,” Wanders Far confirmed.
Follows Stars asked, “Why do you think we both felt the Spirit pass through us?”
“It was meant to bring us together, Grandfather.”
“Yes,” Follows Stars agreed, “I think so too. Why do you think the Great Spirit has crossed our paths?”
“I am meant to follow you. You are meant to lead me, or guide me, or teach me. Maybe there is more.”
Follows Stars nodded affirmation, then switched directions. “Do you have visions, Wanders Far? Do you see scenes in your head that you can’t fully explain or understand?”
“Yes, Grandfather. I have visions. Sometimes I think I understand them, other times, I think I am meant to contemplate. I think I am meant to understand other visions later.”
“How do the visions make you feel, Wanders Far?”
“Perhaps I feel honored to have these visions. I understand it might lead to great responsibility, or sacrifice. I am not afraid. I will follow the path I am destined to follow, Grandfather.”
“Do you see the future? Do you know what is going to happen before it happens, Son?”
“Sometimes I see the future, but not very often. Sometimes I visualize the future and it happens just like I picture it. Sometimes I just know what will happen, without a vision of it. However, a lot of things happen that I have no vision of.”
Follows Stars closed his eyes and pondered his next question. Was it too soon to ask? He decided it was time, and said, “Have you walked the earth before, Wanders Far?”
The boy nodded, and answered, “Yes, Grandfather, I believe I have. I believe I have walked the earth many times. I believe some of my visions are memories from when I have walked the earth before.”
“Are your memories pleasant, happy memories, or are they gruesome, horrible, miserable memories?”
“Both,” Wanders Far answered. A tear sprung from his eye and rolled down his stoic face.
“Mostly I experience the memories as a vision, without emotions attached. Some of the visions are glorious, and some are horrific.” He continued with a whisper that trailed off, “Sometimes I feel an emotion with the vision, but not very often.”
“You just had a vision from a past life, accompanied by an emotion of sadness, didn’t you, Wanders Far,” the seer suggested.
“Yes, Grandfather, I had a vision of death, of a man I loved deeply. Maybe he was my father. He wore a dark brown robe, had no hair on his head, except for a little above his ears. He had blue eyes, and very pale skin. Many of my visions have these pale skinned people. Anyway, the spirit of this man reminded me of your spirit, Grandfather.”
Follows Stars nodded. “Yes, I understand. I think it was me. I believe I have guided you in previous lives. I also believe one day you will guide me. Our paths cross often, Son. Is it your destiny to be a seer, Wanders Far?”
Wanders Far sat silent for a long time. Follows Stars waited for the answer to his question. It took over ten minutes before the boy voiced, “I cannot see whether it is my destiny to be a seer as well, but I see that I am a runner.”
“Is it your destiny to be a healer?”
Wanders Far answered similarly.
“Is it your destiny to be a leader?”
Wanders Far concluded, “I will follow the path I was meant to follow. I know I am a runner. I may have opportunities to serve as a seer, a healer, or a leader, but I cannot clearly see those paths now.”
Follows Stars asked softly, “Tell me about your dreams of flying.”
Wanders Far closed his eyes and told about his experience with the foul tempered eagle two years earlier. His voice grew louder. His words came faster. He expressed great joy at soaring above the earth, gliding gently over the lake, and the sight of land in the distance, and then the heart-pounding excitement of the eagle’s swift pursuit of the rabbit. Then Wanders Far talked about the spirit of the eagle.
Follows Stars was quiet for a minute, then he said, “When you speak of flying, far from the ground and far from the land, you sound happy and free. You say you will accept the destiny chosen for you, but it sounds like you would rather not be burdened.”
Wanders Far hung his head. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to admit that Follows Stars was right.
Follows Stars continued, “Soon you will have to choose. It will be tempting to turn your back on Spirit. I don’t know how you will choose.”
Abruptly, Wanders Far interrupted. It hurt him that his guide did not trust him, yet he also felt uncertainty. How could he deny it?
Follows Stars repeated, “Soon you will have to choose. Your choice will have great consequences. The Great Spirit has beckoned. A dark spirit also haunts you. It knows your weakness. You have crossed its path before. It was following you on the wings of the eagle. It never expected your spirit to join it in flight. It wasn’t ready for you then. It is ready for you now. You will face this spirit in other forms. I would like to warn you further, but this is all I know to tell you.”
They sat quietly together for over an hour. Then Follows Stars asked, “Is your family aware of the things you have told me today, Son?”
“No,” Wanders Far answered. “I haven’t told anyone about my visions, but my mother looks at me strangely. Sometimes lately, I can read her thoughts. She understands I have visions, but she can’t convert that understanding into words or questions. I think she knows I can read the thoughts of other people also. Not everybody—I don’t pick the people whose thoughts I can read. They just come to me. Some people whose thoughts I can read, I stay far away from. I mostly seem to be able to read people’s thoughts at a close distance. And my sister… I think Squash can see into my soul sometimes.”
“Can you read my thoughts, Wanders Far?” Follows Stars asked.
“No, I can read your spirit, but I can’t read your thoughts, Grandfather.”
Follows Stars questioned, “Do you have the power to control people or animals with your presence?”
Wanders Far thought long before answering. He seemed to recall times as an infant when his spirit flew with tiny birds. Whatever he wished them to do, they did, swimming about the sky performing entertaining acrobatics for his amusement. It was hard to know whether that was a memory, or a childish fantasy. Otherwise, Wanders Far told Follows Stars that his ability seemed to be limited to sensing, feeling, observing, and suggesting. It hadn’t occurred to him that his spirit could potentially control the action of others.
Follows Stars told Wanders Far that it probably was not possible, and if it were possible such power should be used very carefully. He ended their talk by repeating his warning about the dark spirit. “It knows your weakness.”
Though it was still morning, both men were exhausted from the conversation. “We have much work to do, Wanders Far, but I must rest first.” Follows Stars returned to the hut and lay down.
Wanders Far stood up to see him off. Then he spread his arms wide, tilted his head back, and stretched his fingers wide apart from each other, palms facing up. The mountain was right before him. The grass and trees were a bright, emerald green. The sky was baby blue. There were no clouds to be seen, and warm, comforting sunshine soaked through his skin. He was glad to be standing, and to feel his body awakening to the sensations of a new morning. It was time to stretch his legs.
An idea came to him. Why not climb the mountain? All the way to the top. Though he couldn’t think of any reason to do it, he couldn’t think of any reason not to either. It wasn’t far from where they were, and moments after the impulse came to him, Wanders Far was on his way. For a while the going was difficult, due to the dense growth of forest and the steep terrain. Eventually Wanders Far found a game trail that seemed to be going in the right direction.
The tall pines gave way to shorter, twisted trees. Then he came around a corner and caught a glimpse of a deer in a small clearing. Unlike any he had seen before, the deer was pure white, not the buckskin color of most deer. He was a magnificent looking specimen, maybe 2-years-old, a good size, probably just reaching his peak weight and strength. Wanders Far froze in his tracks and quietly observed for over an hour. The stag didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Wanders Far thought of the time when he and his grandmother froze in their tracks to watch a doe, five years earlier on the path to the waterfall at the foot of the mountain. The stag lifted his head from the grass he had been grazing on and turned to look in Wanders Far’s direction. The deer had pink antlers and blue eyes. He was standing above Wanders Far on the trail and the white coat contrasted brilliantly against the powder-blue sky behind him. Though it was only early spring, his antlers were already impressive, and Wanders Far wondered what they would look like by the end of the summer. The deer’s chest muscles were extraordinarily prominent for a deer, most likely from following the steep trail up and down the side of the mountain several times every day.
Then a jackrabbit caught sight or wind of Wanders Far and bounded off, creating a disturbance that set the white deer off. The great white stag crashed through the densely wooded trees on the opposite side of the clearing and Wanders Far could hear him for a couple of minutes, as the deer made his way back to a game trail. “It was a pleasure to meet you, friend,” Wanders Far muttered.
A short distance farther along, Wanders Far left the last of the trees behind him. He picked his way up across the bare, rocky top of the mountain, sometimes scrambling on all-fours as he climbed to the topmost point. Then he stood on the top, crossed his arms across his chest, and slowly soaked it in.
He couldn’t believe he had never made that climb before, after coming to visit the mountain every year of his life. Slowly he turned to enjoy a slightly different view in each direction. Again, he thought of his grandmother and the day they paddled around the figure-eight-shaped lake, with its two large islands. He held up his hand in front of his face and covered the lake with his left thumb, amazed at how small it looked from the top of the mountain. A couple of small, fluffy clouds floated beneath him, and Wanders Far was amazed to think he was looking at the top of a cloud. The cool spring air was colder still on the top of the mountain, but it was late morning, and the bright and brilliant sun warmed his bare skin in spite of the cool air. Wanders Far found a boulder and made himself comfortable. There was no reason to hurry back down the mountain.
Two hours later, Follows Stars joined Wanders Far on top of the mountain. Wanders Far watched as the seer surveyed the spectacular scene at his feet. It made Wanders Far happy to see the joy on the old man’s face. He sat down on the large boulder next to Wanders Far, and they sat in silence for over an hour.
Then Follows Stars said, “Just because you see a little, doesn’t mean you know it all, Wanders Far. In all my years, sometimes I think I have seen it all, but I haven’t ever seen anything so spectacular as this! You have a very special gift, Son, and you must be very careful about sharing your gift with others. Sometimes your gift will be a treasured thing. Other times it will feel like a curse. You see a little, you think you know the rest, only you don’t always. You will have to learn how to interpret your own visions, and always be careful not to draw too distant a conclusion. Although I have told you this, Wanders Far, you will make mistakes. Maybe some mistakes can be avoided. Will you remember this advice?”
Wanders Far nodded and told the seer that he would endeavor to remember.
Follows Stars gave an example. “I see some very sad times ahead for our people. A great sickness will come, and more than half of our people will die. Only I don’t know if it will come this year, or a hundred years, or even a thousand years from now. What should I tell our people?”
Wanders Far turned to face the old man, a look of concern on his face. “I don’t know. If the people knew, maybe they could do something to avoid the sickness. Maybe they could prepare. Or maybe they would panic. Maybe they would waste their lives worrying about something that might never happen. They might feel hopeless.” He turned away looking back out over the expansive view below. Then he hung his head and concluded, “You should not share that vision yet.”
After another long silence, Follows Stars asked, “Can you tell when a man’s heart is true? When he is lying to you? Can you tell good from evil? Are our people good or evil?”
Wanders Far’s eyebrows lowered and his chin hit his chest. Uncharacteristically he snapped, “Of course our people are good. Why would that be a question?”
They had a long discussion about their enemies, the necessity to defend their people from their enemies, the way their people attacked their enemies in retaliation and in provocation, the way they treated captives, and the way they treated casualties. Did their warriors’ terrifyingly brutal acts minimize casualties by deterring the enemies’ attacks on their people’s villages? Why raid enemy villages and steal their property rather than work to secure the same resources with hard work? If you could kill one person and save many people by doing so, would it be a good thing to do? Follows Stars determined from the conversation that Wanders Far had an adult’s understanding of how the world worked, the culture of their people, the political reality of life in their warrior society, and the danger of a world full of enemies.
A short break allowed for a change of direction. They sat cross-legged facing toward the east. Beyond the mountains there was a huge lake, not wide but very long, hundreds of miles long. Follows Stars had to squint to be sure it was a distant lake and not cloud cover. After a long look into the distance, Wanders Far closed his eyes and said, “That lake is to become important. People will fight to the death over that lake. Our people will meet a powerful new enemy there someday. We must be stronger before then. A new leader will unite us. I will carry his messages. His time has come. It is the will of the Great Spirit. Change is in the wind.” Wanders Far opened his eyes and concluded, “Our people will know hard times, but good times too. We can help.”
Wanders Far turned to face the old seer instead of the distant lake. “I want to tell you about something that happened today, Grandfather.” He told Follows Stars about the great white stag. The old man listened intently, both to the facts and details of the encounter, and for the impression the encounter made upon the boy. He asked, “What does it mean?”
“It is significant. We shall see what it means.” Follows Stars turned a little farther until they were sitting cross-legged, facing each other, knees touching. He reached forward for Wanders Far’s hands, putting them together, palm to palm, and engulfed the boy’s hands within his own. “Close your eyes, Son. Let us be silent.” For twenty minutes, two powerful old souls wandered freely together between and within the conscious and subconscious hearts and minds of the old man and the boy.
Follows Stars opened his eyes. In a deep voice, he said slowly, “It is time, Wanders Far. Are you ready?”
“Yes, Grandfather, I am ready.”
They made their way down from the summit of the mountain. Wanders Far gathered wood for the old man’s fire. Follows Stars brought the morning fire back from embers and prepared a light meal. It would be the last meal for the boy before his long fast. At dusk they ate in silence. After dinner, Follows Stars told Wanders Far what would happen next. “This is a time for you to be silent. Absolutely quiet. I will give you limited instructions. Focus inward. Be aware of what you think, how you feel, what you ‘see’ and what you experience. We will sit together here for several hours. Then you will sleep. At dawn you will climb back to the summit, alone. You must go in silence. You must not utter a sound. Even your feet on the ground must travel the path as quietly as possible. You will take a blanket, and a pouch of water. You will spend three days and three nights at the summit. On the morning of the fourth day, you will return here to my fire. We will join hands together again. Then we will share a meal, and after that we will talk.” The old man was quiet for a long time, just sitting quietly by the fire. Then he began to hum. Humming gave way to a chant. Periodically he tossed various aromatics into the fire. Some were subtle, some were extraordinarily pungent. Some smelled good and some smelled awful. Some popped, crackled, and made little explosions. Some caused profuse billowing smoke and some unnaturally changed the color of the flames. The old man’s chants became louder and deeper, rhythmic, and intense. He moved around the fire in circles, dancing around, turning and twisting his old body, swinging his arms around below the levels of his knees, bending over at the waist, almost as if he were a wild animal on all fours. Hours later when it was over, Follows Stars rubbed Wanders Far’s back, chest, face, and hair with a gloppy salve made from dried sage, mint leaves, and oil, and led him to his bunk in the hut.
At dawn, Follows Stars stirred cold black charcoal from the previous night’s fire into bear oil to form a thick black paste. He dipped his left hand in the mixture, then he pressed his hand over Wander’s Far’s right eye. Follows Star’s black thumbprint stood out on the middle of Wanders Far’s forehead, his fingers made parallel lines between his forehead and his right ear, and the palm of his handprint covered Wanders Far’s eye-socket. He stood back for a moment, like an artist surveying his handiwork. He nodded his head and grunted, pleased with himself.
Then Follows Stars handed Wanders Far his blanket, and a pouch of water, and pointed toward the summit of the mountain. He watched as the boy walked up the path, tiptoeing in silence. When he had disappeared from sight, Follows Stars returned to his bunk, still exhausted from the night before, and suffering from a powerful ache at the small of his back.