Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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Dakubetede – A Story in Progress

Synopsis: Doty and Coyote take a time-travel journey through the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon. They begin at McKee Bridge. Guided by Grandma, a local storyteller, they visit Jacksonville during the Rogue River War, spend the winter at an Old Time village where Buncom is now. They visit the lake where Big Snake lives, and the forest home of the Story People. After a little misadventure at the Bigfoot Trap, they enter the depths of Mythtime as they wander into the Enchanted Forest.

* * * * * *

There is an old fire ring at McKee Bridge along the Applegate River. It is circled by stone benches, and behind the benches is a rock wall built into the riverbank. When I sit here at night by the fire it is easy to imagine myself in an Old Time lodge. To me, the roof is an overhang of branches from nearby trees and the opening in front is a door that opens onto a beach of sand and pebbles.

The Old Ones call this river Dakube. They say the name means Pretty Place, and they stretch the name to include themselves: Dakubetede, People of the Pretty Place. Some linguists say this translation is shaky, but many folks like it and want to believe it is true. And so it is.

Each time I sit here by the fire, I see scenes from my childhood. Before Coyote and I became pals and began sauntering around the countryside, there was Tommy and his pooch Tippy, a smarter-than-average, one-eyed cocker spaniel. With family and friends, they visited McKee Bridge often and camped along the river. During the long summer days, Tommy and Tippy swam in the river and explored the woods, losing themselves in elaborate made-up adventures. At the end of each day, when purple twilight swirled the air with magic and mystery, everyone gathered in the stone lodge for stories. When the first stars shone through the trees, it was time to light the fire.

Grandma was the local storyteller. She wasn't Tommy's actual grandmother, but she felt like it. She lived nearby and was called Grandma by everyone because she was kind to children and their dogs, and she knew some great stories! She looked like one of the Old Ones. Her creased face was the landscape, her eyes dark as the river's deep pools, and her white hair was pure moonlight. She was folklore herself, and welcomed everyone who visited the river.

One night after a long evening of stories, Tommy was snug in his sleeping bag with Tippy curled and snoozing at his feet. The river Dakube lapped Tommy's dreams. Wild images were woven with the fabric of Grandma's stories. Time criss-crossed itself, and Coyote and I showed up. We walked out of Tommy's dreams and into the night. We followed Grandma along the river path. Her white hair was a torch fired with moonlight, and she led us into the mysterious world of the Dakubetede.

* * * * *

In the middle of the night, we stop to rest in a canyon daytime-bright with moonlight. Maples, golden in their autumn beauty, gather along the river. An image of the full moon rides the riffles.

"Where are we?" I ask.

"Downriver from where we were," says Grandma.

Grandma smiles. "We're outside of time."

"So we can go wherever we want?" I ask.

"Whenever," smirks Coyote.

"We'll tell our own story," says Grandma. "And we'll add it to all the others."

"Let's get going," whines Coyote. "Maybe there's food ahead."

"There's always some kind of food in a story," says Grandma.

"Food for thought won't fill my belly!"

"Are you so sure about that?"

As Coyote's eyes go distant, thinking this over, Grandma adds, "Look around you, Coyote. Dakube. This is a pretty place."

Grandma has the last word, and we follow the path downriver.

* * * * *

At sunrise, sometime in the past, Grandma and Coyote and I walk into Jacksonville. The blaze of the rising sun fires the colors of fall leaves and makes the red bricks of the old buildings glow. In this picture-postcard mining town, the romantic rewriting of the Wild West seeps through, just enough to imagine its future as an attraction for history buffs and tourists, and a haven for local artists. Picturesque, perhaps, in another century.

Dust kicked up by the morning breeze, rutted dirt streets and splintery sidewalks, trash blowing down back alleys, broken bottles littering the entrance to the Table Rock Saloon, the morning air sharp with the stench of cheap booze and privies, horses and mules, and everything they leave behind.... It's clearly another century.

On a street corner, a claptrap gathering of whiskey-eyed men howl over the bloody trickeries they're planning to "rid this valley of every stinkin' red-skinned savage!" Their hot talk, hammered with lynchings and shotgun blasts, disguises and deception, reeks of the mid 1800s. Rogue River War years! This journey-through-time kind of dream begins with a nightmare.

By sundown, the town is rattled into a frenzy. Dressed like Indians to confuse dumbfounded witnesses, the loud talkers gallop out of town, war-whooping and waving rifles and knives, on the lookout for "heathen Rogues!" Keeping to the shadows out of sight, a few native people quietly climb the hill behind town to their secret meeting place. And we follow them.

After the war-talk hubbub in town, this hill covered with oaks and pines and madrones is a peaceful place. In the shadow of one of the few fir trees around, we gather in moonlight. We are Dakubetede, Takelma, Shasta, Galice Creek, Tututni. I hear snippets of four languages, and English is the only one that sounds foreign.

"This hill," whispers Grandma, "will soon be a cemetery. One of the most famous anywhere. And here at the bottom, they'll bury paupered white folks and Indians and Chinese, those who have lost family and homeland, and have nothing left. Beyond an expanse of well-storied headstones and marble monuments will be a lonely reservation of wooden crosses and forgotten tales. Even now, there is a small corner where the lost ones quietly gather."

To Be Continued....