chores undone, words unspoken or gestures yet undemonstrated. And sometimes the spirit wandered off into the desert and never came at all. The Indian would not learn his name and he would wither away and die young, bereft of the taproot of his existence.
The searing Arizona sun climbed higher, slowly higher.
The Indian wondered if he was out of his time. Too early or too late. Perhaps the spirits have been chased away by the influx of new settlers from the mid-west and over-stimulated tourists from both coasts. But he did not really believe that. He knew they prevailed. He knew the spirits of his ancestors were everywhere up here. Always stirring the air, like a pot of boiling waters. They were here long before the white man came onto the land. They had lived long before a man was nailed to a cross. They live here now, today, in this place. Many of them. They light and go again, fading into the desert backdrop, the lightning, and the blowing sand. They are the spirits of this place—all the way down to the river. And they let it be known. Indeed, they let it be known.
In the southern Mazatzal Mountains where “Four Peaks” pokes through the clouds, just north of Apache Lake, and opposite the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona, a solitary Indian climbed a grassy slope to a flat ledge of dark boulders that overlooked the Rio Verde River and the valley of waving tabosa grass below. A spirit side-winded through the stems. The spirit was a snake of air. It writhed up the slope to the very spot where the young man stood. Just before it reached him, the Indian closed his eyes. Wind touched his straight black and silver hair and rustled it about his face and neck.
The Indian lay down among the rocks, his face turned to the sky. Only his eyes moved. It had been years since he came to this sacred place and put his back against these holy rocks. Today he came to ask for his name. This name would be given to him by a spirit, a sort of guardian spirit, who would leave a talisman. If the spirit were a bird, it would leave a feather, which the Indian would tuck into his boot. If it were a bear, it would leave a claw.
In the old days humans and animals were the same. They talked freely to each other and helped in times of battle and famine. Sometimes the spirit was a human, the ghost of someone who has passed on to a gentler place, more often it was a frustrated ghost with
by B.K. Smith
A boutique publisher of Arts & Letters & Ideas
Lipstick Mountains Press