Thomas Doty – Storyteller
These stories were commissioned by Michael T. Ponder (Portland, OR). Thank you!
Native Woman is on a journey. Mile by mile she is discovering herself and her culture as she walks along the Rogue River and eventually over the mountains and east to the Woman's Cave, where she will receive her true native name. Here are a few of her stories....
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Finding the River
Near dusk, she walks the craggy trail through the Avenue of Giant Boulders. She yearns to take it all in, straining to see everything, trying to look everywhere at once. She glances into the darkness of caves and overhangs, side to side into each nook and cranny, her eyes following branching paths to their dead ends. Though each possibility tempts her to stray from her way, she is determined to find the river. Another step and another, carefully fitting her feet between rocks, careful not to stumble. The air cools and swirls around her as darkness settles in.
She walks onto the riverbank at moonrise. Riffles glow white. She slides into the water and surrenders to the sureness of the current. The river cradles her, makes her light. She dips her head and opens her eyes. In underwater moonlight she sees stones worn to smooth perfection. She floats through patterns that feel like childhood. She dives. She scoops up a favorite stone. She surfaces. In the water she is inside her skin, riding the river's lifeblood, flowing without effort to the deep pools downriver.
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Into the Night
She walks the trail from the river to Diamond Lake. In autumn twilight, leaves swirl through these woods and fall to the ground. She closes her eyes and sees Earth Woman drop her blouse, slip out of her skirt, let it fall to the forest floor, and slowly recline toward her bed, where her wintertime lover waits.
Fall is a lonely season, and this walk through the autumn woods reminds her that she is alone. She notices the river is sluggish after a dry summer. Riverbanks are strewn with dead leaves. She walks past stagnant pools in the rocks where the river flowed last spring. When she steps out of her thoughts, she is standing on the shore of Diamond Lake. It is nearly dark, and her loneliness settles into a quiet grief.
The Old Ones tell a story of this place. They say that an old man discovered that his daughter had grown to love the son of his enemy. The old man was horrified. In despair, and to prevent their marriage, he transformed the young lovers into mountains, Bailey and Thielsen. Diamond Lake, which lies between them, is a pool of their tears.
This evening weighs heavy and sad. She's had enough. She plunges in.
She is Earth Woman gone for a swim. She has tossed her clothes and plunged into the pool of her grief. In the cool water, naked of excess, and with the warmth of the day headed west, her skin grows tight over her bones, and she feels there is no room for anything inside her but herself.
She swims out into the lake and floats. Darkness settles onto the Cascades. Stars twinkle on until the sky looks full.
Floating on her back, she watches the harvest moon rise over the thrust of basalt that is Thielsen. She watches the red and orange moonrise ... beautiful. She gathers her feelings until she is full, then sends them into the night. With fewer stars in the moonlight, there is room for what she no longer wants. She feels lighter. It is easy to float.
Moonlight surrounds Thielsen, and from where she floats, it looks as though the mountain himself slips fingers of light across the lake, caressing the curvy slopes of Bailey. His touch is light and gentle, and she responds. A warm breeze brushes down Bailey's slopes and makes ripples in the lake. A breath held, and let go. She raises her head and watches the landscape of her body rise and fall in the ripples, rising out of grief and settling into the warm embrace of moonlight. She floats for longer than she remembers, and swims back to shore.
Bundling her blouse and skirt under her arm, she walks lightly into the night.
* * * * *
She Sits by the River and Writes in Her Journal
Where is he now? He wanders in and out of my life like characters in the stories he tells. He's here long enough for the dance, long enough to have memories that turn into dreams. Then he is gone, and I am alone. Yet I wander as well. We are both artists. Both worders. So much alike, dancing through this rich native landscape. We are characters in some Old Time story, wandering upriver and downriver through an eternity of Mythtime, through some scrap of Dreamtime. One of us is a ripple flowing with this river, the other a rock on the edge, and then we switch roles. Sometimes the ripple splashes the rock, sometimes the rock is tumbled away in a flood. Next moment, we become Animal People, and then Grass People, and then Star People. Sometimes I do not know if I am him, or I am me, or I am someone else. It is dangerous living inside one's own story, one's own creation. You are the only one there, and every character is a shadow of yourself. Thinking about myself, who am I now?
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Getting to Sleep
She and I have been driving for hours, bumping across the desert in my rig. This is a jeep-and-critter trail. Three ruts. Two for tires, and one in the middle for Coyote and his dusty friends.
Warm night. Windows down. Her hair flying.
We're looking for a smooth spot to sleep. And here it is. No sharp rocks to needle our backs, and a couple of gnarly junipers for company. In a few minutes, our sleeping bags are zipped together and laid out on the ground. We crawl inside and feel the heat from the day.
In the starlight, I watch Coyote. He trots down the middle rut toward some story over the next ridge. One last yip, and he's gone.
Coyote leaves nothing behind but his messes. The usual one on the road. And then there's the sky, the stars a mishmash from when he opened the bag and they flew out every which way. But that was long ago. Now the stars are elders and have stories to tell. Night is starting to make sense.
I turn toward her. Her breathing is a warm breeze. Stars make patterns in her eyes. She belongs here.
I whisper, "You know that story about Coyote scattering the stars?"
"Yeah, who doesn't? I'm tired. Let's get some sleep."
We snuggle in, holding each other's warmth, and I feel sleep coming close.
That's when I hear footsteps. Wis. Wis. Wis. Someone's walking light. Like a ghost! I grab my flashlight and we're both sitting up.
"I hear someone walking."
I shine the light. The trees startle me. They look like old people standing still. Nobody's walking.
I kill the light and we snuggle back in. Wis. Wis. Wis.
"Go to sleep!"
I'm awake, scanning the clearing. No one's there. I settle back and watch the stars in her eyes. Her eyelids flutter toward sleep. The long lashes. Wis. Wis. Wis.
Quietest place I've ever been. This smooth spot on the desert where eyelashes make walking sounds and stars tell stories. I listen for a while and sleep comes easily.