Cherokee

Act 2: Danger, fear... by Steve Hart

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The sense of danger overwhelmed Timpoochee like a gathering darkness.

He quickly surveyed the trees, the moss, the shrubs around him; the rocks that yielded the great oaks, the silverbell and basswood around him.

His fear urged him to dash up the mountain, to the safety of the spruce and the hemlock.

But the water called him back. That clear, flowing stream, refreshing and life giving. The creatures within it, fish and frogs and salamanders.

In an eddy at the bank’s edge Timpoochee peered into the crystal reflection of the sun spirit dancing on the surface of the long man...

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Act 3: Something isn't right... by Steve Hart

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Timpochee’s image on the water surface moved as he moved, opened its mouth as he opened his.

With a start, another image appeared. That of his brother, Cornstalk, who had been fishing only a few hands upstream.

“Why are you watching me?” whispered Cornstalk. "Am I doing something wrong?”

“You don’t seem concerned the fish seem to be moving upstream faster than usual,” Timpoochee said.

“I didn’t notice,” answered Cornstalk. “But, then, I’m not as quick as Timpoochee.”

“Quiet,” said Timpochee. “This is no time for a fight. Something is not right here.”

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Act 5: Elaqua... by Steve Hart

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Timpoochee stepped up higher on the river bank to get a better view.

“What it is?,” asked Cornstalk.

“I can see a twisting shape behind the stone, like long grass in the water,” Timpoochee said.

Suddenly, he froze, as if he’d discovered tlvdatsi on a tree limb above him.

“Elaqua,” Timpoochee said calmly but alert. “Rattlesnake. I don’t know if it means us harm. We’ve done nothing to bring its wrath.”

The boys already knew, from stories of their elders, to avoid offending any of the creatures with great power. Elaqua was one of those creatures.

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Act 6: Sloppy fishing... by Steve Hart

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Still holding his net, Timpochee thought to himself: “If I don’t let go of my net Elaqua will attack. If I let go I will be a laughing stock.”

The snake moved closer.

“They are swift swimmers, Elaqua, even without fins or wings or arms or legs. If I don’t let go will be get fangs for sure, just like Round Lake only two days ago.”

Timpochee gave in, letting go of the net with Elaqua only a few hands away. He jumped up the bank and ran upstream a few steps where Cornstalk was still holding on to his net.

Timpoochee’s fish became entangled in his now free floating net. Elaqua ignored them. But not Tsiya, who swooped from the underbrush like an eagle, swatted away Elaqua, grabbed two fish and darted back into the woods.

“Very sloppy fishing, Timpoochee,” laughed Cornstalk. “That will make a great story around meal fire tonight."

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Act 9: Whiff of danger... by Steve Hart

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“Oh, my brother, said Cornstalk, chuckling. “Is this the same flavor, the same aroma which kept us tracking an injured bear for three days to find it was only a fox who stumbled into a den of dili?”

“I have apologized for the skunk fox,” said Timpoochee. “I’m sorry for taking us on that wild chase. But you must admit it was great fun.”

“Fun for you, perhaps,” snorted Cornstalk. “I returned with so many bug bites and bruises from following you through the forest I may never long for a hunt again.”

“Cornstalk, I am in earnest. Something is wrong here today,” Timpoochee insisted. “I think we should return to town.”

“I see nothing to warn us of any danger,” replied Cornstalk, casting his net back into the glimmering water. “You would like to make me feel foolish. Today it will not work. My catch is too good.”

Timpoochee scanned the river and woods for some clue that would help him solve the mystery his senses told him was all around.

“It is that aroma, Cornstalk.”

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Act 12: "Is it from the upper world?" by Steve Hart

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The dense forest gave way to a moist clearing of grass, small bushes and gentle ferns along the river.

The clearing was sloped gently toward Long Man and protected by a wall of tall pine trees which reached to the sky and shielded the community from all but the foulest weather.

The town itself formed a giant circle surrounding the tcokofa, or townhouse, a plaza and chungke yard. The plaza and tcokofa served as a gathering place, particularly for important community meetings.

It was to the tcokfa that Timpoochee and Cornstalk dashed directly - only to find their news had already preceded them.

People were scurrying about as if preparing for a celebration - or battle. The designated warriors were running from their houses armed with spears and arrows. Women and small children were hurrying from the cornfields, all arms filled with sweet white corn.

Timpoochee spotted his father, the leader who the people called, Yufala, maching toward the town’s river landing. He was decorated in the mantles beholding his station in the town - a breechcloth of bright blue like the thief-bird, a coat of fox fur and the ceremonial head dress of eagle feathers.

The town’s soldiers fell in line behind him as the boys came running to catch up.

“What is it, father?” Timpoochee shouted. “Is it from the upper world? Is it Utkena? Do we have to fight?”

Wiser from talks with others around Shaconage, Yufala suspected he knew exactly what it was and also knew his community would have to face it sooner or later.

“It is human made,” Yufala said. “It is a boat. It will be white men. From a different world.”

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Act 14: The color of blood, the sky, the sand... by Steve Hart

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The reddish-brown bulk of the vessel plowed the water as long oars stretched from its gunnels and propelled it forward.

Useless sails flapped loudly as the white men scrambled to furl them against the disagreeable wind. Long man was easily 30 canoes wide at the landing and the boat took up nearly half that distance across.

“That odor again,” Timpoochee murmured to himself, realizing how it violated the delightful domestic smells of the town.

It was much worse than fish after sitting in the sun. It smelled unclean, a little like decaying bread.

A brightly colored pennant flew from the top of the ship. It was the color of blood, the sky and the sand all at the same time and was crossed by lines of color from its corners.

The people gathered around the party of elders as the ship moved closer; women with small children at their breasts; older children stood bravely beside the adults.

Standing his ground beside Yufala, Timpoochee could not find Cornstalk anywhere in the crowd.

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Act 18: It's because of your birth... by Steve Hart

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It was not that Swift Deer treated Timpoochee badly. Cornstalk simply required more attention.

She had seen the boys differently, though, since the shaking earth.

“Timpoochee,” Swift Deer called out quietly. “How would you like to spend the rest of the day fishing instead of tending to Grandmother Ama? She is getting better and you’ve been working hard and have been very attentive. You deserve some time for play.”

“I would like that very much,” Timpoochee said.

He finished dressing Grandmother’s arms and scampered out the door and across the town common to the sand river bank. He was suddenly full of energy and self-confidence from the lessons he learned of the medicine.

“I truly am proud of you, my younger son,” Swift Deer said softly to herself. “Although I wish you had not come into life as you did. It’s because of your birth that I cannot be sure your life will be meaningful.”

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Act 19: He will not waiver... by Steve Hart

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Grandmother Ama stirred.

“Oh,” she grunted and rolled over on her side. “Is the young one gone?”

“I sent him to the river to fish,” Swift Deer replied. “Don’t move too quickly, Grandmother, you are still weak.”

“I will become like death itself it it will help the young one grow into manhood,” Grandmother spoke with a clear but still weakened voice. “I told you these days would show the difference in your sons.

“Timpoochee is the leader. He is the one whose spirit walks with the sky. Cornstalk is a coward, too easily led by others.”

“I wish I could be sure,” Swift Deer said, still watching Timpoochee scamper toward Long Man.

“You can be sure,” Grandmother’s voice lifted. “You will see. He will attend my wounds as long as he thinks I require it. He will not waiver.”

“It’s just that I see those bad sings in him as he grows older,” said Swift Deer. “His hair is the same black and his eyes are deep in his head, like the greatest leaders and warriors. But his skin is lighter and his nose is sharp, like the Yonega nose, not flat like Cornstalk’s.”

“You are grasping at straws, woman,” insisted Grandmother. “You will see that Cornstalk can not grow with the others. You will have to let him go on his own. Don’t be worried about Timpoochee’s birth. It will make him a great leader someday.”

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Act 20: He cannot lead the people... by Steve Hart

“But Cornstalk stands in line before Timpoochee,” Swift Deer turned and faced Grandmother Ama. “He is older. He will become Duweuwewanidatsi when Yufala can no longer stand.”

“I will tell you no more,” the old woman responded, her voice heavy and burdened. “Cornstalk’s mind is impure. He cannot lead the people.”

Swift Deer had to admit Timpoochee had the greater potential of the two boys. He is always curious, always asking questions and seeking to understand why the world is as it is. He was mild mannered, respectful of others in the town and always eager to help where he could.

She enjoyed watching him play on the water. On Long Man he was in his world, expertly piloting the canoe up and down the river, at home along its banks and with its animals.

In his youth he developed his skills as a fisherman, both with the net and with the bow. From the time he was a small boy he could shoot u-ga and other utusti with seemingly little effort.

One of his favorite games was to wait on the river bank for a school of u-ga to come along. He would wait and catch them with his arrows as they leaped above the water surface. He always returned to town with a good catch.

With his eyes he could follow them in the clear waters as they made their way upstream. He could tell when they were about to jump by the way the dipped. His marksmanship made him stand out among the other young boys.

But still there was the matter of his physical appearance. As he grew older it became more and more a topic of conversation among the older women.

But no one could really deny the heritage of Swift Deer and Yufala’s younger son. Swift Deer would not allow it.

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Act 21: Always a mystery... by Steve Hart

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“You don’t need to worry about your son’s acceptance,” Grandmother Ama spoke up again.

She seemed to always know what Swift Deer was thinking.

“You and your sons were accepted long ago into Anisahoni, our Blue Clan,” Grandmother said. “When Yufala made you his wife, the wife of a Wolf Clan leader, any thoughts vanished that you might not be of our people.”

Swift Deer was always a mystery to many of the town’s people.

The legend said she came from, was once a part of, the Anigusa people in the lower lands, a beloved woman in one of the towns along the Anigusa Long Man. She was said to have fled her town after her husband was killed by British soldiers on a scouting mission.

It was also said Cornstalk was the son of her Anigusa husband and Timpoochee the son of a white trader with whom Swift Deer lived for a while after fleeing her town and dead husband.

No one knew for sure.

All the town’s people really knew was that while still a young man Yufala ventured south on a very long hunting trip to the lowlands and that when he returned he was not alone. He returned with Swift Deer and her very young sons. Timpoochee still a baby.

“He left a boy,” the town’s people used to say. “But returned a man - with a family.”

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Act 22: "You are as a fish!" by Steve Hart

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The years of growing into adolescence were peaceful, enjoyable for Timpoochee and his people.

They lived their lives in relative isolation in the ancient mountains of Shaconage, connected to other only by a few well-known trails and, of course, other towns of Long Man.

It was a time of great discovery for Timpoochee and Cornstalk, even though the elder brother struggled in comparison to the other boys. He certainly seemed slower and dimmer than his younger brother.

Cornstalk was never able to quite grasp the intricate ceremonies and rituals of the Medicine, which taught the young ones the ways of Tsalagi but also helped the elders spot and nurture the future leaders.

Cornstalk never performed well and that worried Yufala.

When Isti Poldalgai, the teachers or diviners, “fasting men,” took youngsters for instruction Cornstalk seemed less willing to endure the fasts, less capable of maintaining the necessary concentration. This was never more evident than during Poskita, Green Corn.

In the woods, along a small creek which fed Long Man, the students dug up the red roots of gray willow, miko hoyanidja, pounded them into pulp and dumped them into boiling water over the fire.

The diviners blew into the mixture and sang a song over it. The students drank the mixture four times before highest sun and spend the afternoon purifying their bodies in cleasening and evacuation.

As sunset approached, diviners instructed the students in the simplest songs of the Medicine.

Cornstalk could not follow.

“You fool little child!,” the diviner scolded Cornstalk. “You are as a fish, knowing nothing but what is in front of you! Perhaps you belong in the creek, swimming helplessly into our traps and nets!”

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Act 23: What the old Tcki say... by Steve Hart

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Timpoochee always regretted his brother’s punishments but he could do nothing to help him learn even the simplest chants and songs of the Medicine.

And it always caused the two to argue. But mental acuities weren’t the only reason why the two fought and the fighting had only increased since the white man’s visit and the catastrophe.

It was physical, too.

Since the white men arrived, Timpoochee was struck with the notion his own skin color was much more like them than like his own people. His hair was the same deep black but he was suddenly aware his skin was different. He began to wonder endlessly about this. Had the make of life decreed such a difference?

This new awareness along with what seemed like increased attention from his mother and father since the earth-shaking he could not help but wonder if he was intended for something special. Leadership, maybe. But he also knew his elder brother stood in line ahead of him.

“I am only trying to help,” Timpoochee said.

“You care for nothing but yourself,” Cornstalk shot back.

“Why do you say these things?” Timpoochee implored. “Are you not anxious to learn? Do you not want to go with Yufala on a trading trip?

“Have you not heard what the old Tcki say?” shot back Cornstalk. “They say Yufala is not even my father, nor yours. They say he merely bought us in the south as the price for our mother.”

“What is this nonsense you are speaking?” Timpoochee was aghast.

“What I tell you is true. He is not our father. They say you are part white man’s blood.”

“Do they also say that accounts for your gullibility and lack of wit?”

Cornstalk lunged across the room at Timpoochee, hurling himself into Timpoochee’s stomach and out the narrow house door.

The two struggled, exchanging insults and fists, rolling over and over toward the town fire and to the approaching feet of Yufala.   

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Act 24: There is something else... by Steve Hart

“What is going on here?” demanded Yufala. “Why are my two sons fighting like wolves?”

The two said nothing but shuffled off in the direction of the river.

“Why do we fight, brother?” Timpoochee called out to Cornstalk as the two scurried away from Yufala.

“What I said is true, “ Cornstalk said, stopping and turning toward the younger one.

“You will see. I am right. It will make a difference.”

 

Timpoochee sat silently along the river bank, watching schools to fish dart back and forth but mostly upstream.

“My son,” Yufala’s voice thundered from immediately behind him. “It is time we talk.”

Timpoochee was so startled by his father’s appearance he nearly jumped into the river on top of a large turtle.

“It is time you make a trip with me, you and your brother,” Yufala said. “I have already spoken to Cornstalk.”

“Thank you, father!” Timpoochee shouted and leaped for joy. “I have been waiting for many years to to with you. I have dreamed of the land beyond our mountains and what lies at the feet of Long Man.”

For Tsalagi, the central river - Long Man - was seen to have his head in the mountains and his feet in a great ocean.

“I am prepared to go!” Timpoochee said loudly, bravely. “I felt this day was fast approaching and have kept preparations ready!”

“Not yet,” Yufala said. “There is something else.”

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Act 25: Just as much mastery... by Steve Hart

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“Osiyo,” Timpoochee interrupted the silence of the students’ council to ask a question of Yufala, who was leading the council.

“Why is it important to learn the Medicine? Why is it important to dwell on the lessons of the ancient time when our people face more important lessons we have to learn with the white man coming to us?”

Yufala cleared his throat. Big questions coming from his son. But before ulagu could answer a voice barked from the second row of the council.

“Always your questions concern Yonega, Timpoochee,” Raven Wing’s accusation shot through the discussion like an arrow through a clear winter sky.

“Yonega do not concern us except as a resource for trade,” Raven Wing shouted. “He is like any other creature. We must deal with him just as we deal with the other creatures.”

“That’s where you are wrong, Raven Wing,” Timpoochee calmly replied. “Yonega is - and will be - a very big part of our lives. For better or worse they will be part of our world. They have just as much mastery of the world as do we.”

“Ever since they came to our town you have been consumed by the Yonega,” Raven Wing shot back. “Maybe what the old women say is true.”

Raven Wing’s eyes widened. He clasped his hand over this mouth. Yufala winced but did not move. Timpoochee raised his head slowly and glared at Raven Wing with an icy, deathly stare. The rest of the council moved silently back.

“Raven Wing, your mind is sharp but your tongue is even sharper,” Timpoochee said calmly but severely. “You should be careful your head is not someday severed from your body by your tongue’s rampant voyages.”

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Act 26: Not a world of your own... by Steve Hart

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“That is enough!” ordered Yufala. “You both should be more concerned with the study of the Medicine and less with the differences between you. I will hear no more of this talk from either or you will both be banished from council.”

Silence consumed the tension-wracked room. After a moment Yufala continued, his eyes fixed on Raven Wing.

“Timpoochee’s question deserves a thoughtful answer,” he said. “Yonega is becoming a bigger part of our world with each passing moon."

He turned to face the rest of the assembly.

“Learning the Medicine is important for you as future leaders. You must know our history before you can understand - and learn how to live with - Yonega.”

“Osiyo,” Timpoochee interrupted again. “Should we not learn how to deal with the white man, know his ways, just as much as we should earn our own?”

“You and Yufala are not in a world of your own,” Cornstalk shouted out from the back of the council house. “Always you dominate these talks; and even though Raven Wing is simple he is right when he says you are too concerned with the affairs of Yonega.”

“I have already said that is enough!” bellowed Yufala. “If you are finally ready to enter into the discussion, Cornstalk, what would be your answer to Timpoochee’s question?”

“I...uh...don’t have an answer,” Cornstalk slinked further away from the council.

“I didn’t think so,” Yufala said, heaving a sigh. “Why do you never listen? Your mind wanders like a flood-swollen river; and all too often thinks only dark thoughts. Timpoochee listens and participates. That is far different from you, my elder son.

“The study of Medicine is important for you, too. It is the beginning of your life as a leader. You are fortunate to have been included at all.”

Cornstalk made no reply. The rest of the council sat in silence.

“The lessons of the Medicine and of our history tell us how to deal with Yonega,” Yufala continued quietly but forcefully. “It is through the lessons of Medicine we learn what moves Yonega to his sometimes violent actions. He is a difficult animal to understand. Our lessons tell us how we will meet him.”

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Act 27: We must learn to respect... by Steve Hart

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“Osiyo,” Timpoochee jumped into the discussion again, to grumbles from behind him.

“I know the Medicine should not be forsaken. I know it has sustained our people since we came into being.

“But the Medicine does not seem to be helping our Anigusa, Anistata or Anita cousins deal with Yonega in the flat lands. More and more Yonega trouble them with each passing moon. Will it be only time before they move against us in the same way?

Yufala rose to address the entire council.

“Perhaps in the impatience of your youth it does not seem the lessons of ancient time are help our cousins in the low lands,” he said. “Indeed, they may not be helping. Our Medicine comes from our land, our plants, our animals, all creatures. Without the knowledge to extract it we remain ignorant to the ways of Shaconage.

“The plants and animals have sustained us for thousands and thousands of seasons. We must learn to respect the other creatures and help them so they will, in turn, respect and help us.”

Yufala bent over to stir the fire. Its flames suddenly leaped ferociously into the air.

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Act 28: The creatures held councils... by Steve Hart

Photo by Chris Geirman on Unsplash

“In the old days, the Hilahiyu, all the creatures could talk,” Yufala began one of his stories of the Medicine. “They lived in harmony with the people of the time, our ancestors.

“Because all the creatures could talk to each other - the beasts, the birds, the fishes, the plants - the world was peaceful, full of love, respect and friendship.

“But as time passed the world grew so rapidly that settlements of people sprang up all over the land. The people began to squeeze the creatures out of their settlements.

“To make the creatures even more uncomfortable, the people learned how to make bows, knives, spears, blowguns and hooks and with them learned how to capture the creatures and use their meat and skins and leaves for their own purposes.

“People began to slaughter the larger animals and trample the smaller animals under foot without once thinking of the creatures.

“Because of the people’s carelessness and contempt the creatures decided to hold great councils and discuss what measures to talk for their common safety.

“The bears met first under Mulberry Mountain, Kuwahi. The old White Bear Chief presided.

“After each bear in the council had spoken and complained about how man had killed his friends and used their skins and flesh for their own purposes, the council decided to go to war against the people.

“Their discussion rambled around to what weapons should be used against man.

“‘The weapons they use against us,’ someone said. ‘Bows and arrows.'

“‘Of what are the bows and arrows made?’ another asked.

“The old White Bear Chief replied, ‘the bows are made of wood and the string is made of our own entrails.'

“Silence fell over the council.”

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Act 29: Cannot starve to win a battle... by Steve Hart

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Yufala resumed his story.

“It was decided a bow could be fashioned from a nearby tree of black locust,” he said of the bear council.

“One of the bears agreed to sacrifice himself for the good of the others so string for the bow could be fashioned from his entrails.

“After the bow and arrow were crafted, the sacrificial bear’s body used to make the string, the bears tried out their new weapons.

“They found they could not fire the bow because their long claws prevented the string from releasing. The council cut back the claws of one warrior bear and found he could shoot the arrow with ease.

“‘This is no good,’ pronounced the old White Bear Chief. ‘With trimmed claws we will be able to shoot the bow but we will not be able to to climb trees for food. One of us has already died to make the bow. We cannot all starve to win a battle. It will be better to trust the teeth and claws nature gave us rather than the weapons of people.’

“No one could think of a better argument so the council ended without the bear find a way to prevent the spread of people.”

Yufala broke from his story. But only for a moment.

“Had that not happened, my sons of the village, we might still be at war with the bear today. But as it is we don’t even have to ask permission before we kill a bear.”

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Act 30: Just like Old Hunter... by Steve Hart

Yufala stirred the fire and sat back down beside it. There was always a fire in the council house, even in the summer.

“The deer were the next to hold council,” he said. “Chief Little Deer presided and the council lasted from one full moon to the next.

“Finally the deer decided to send rheumatism to every hunter who killed a member of the deer clan unless the hunter first prayed for pardon.

“The deer council sent word of their decision to the nearest settlement of people, explaining how the prayer of pardon should be offered whenever it became necessary for one of their clan to be killed by a hunter.

“Even today,” said Yufala. “When a hunter has to shoot a deer the prayer of pardon is offered. Immediately, the spirit of Little Deer arrives to ask the spirit of the slain deer if the prayer of pardon was heard. If it was not, the spirit of Little Deer follows the trail of the hunter to his house and enters invisibly to inflict the offender with rheumatism, crippling him forever.”

“Just like Old Hunter,” Timpoochee shouted. “His bent and sore hands and legs come from his visit by Little Deer.”

“That is the legend,” Yufala replied. “It is said Old Hunter did not know the prayer to offer. He was inflicted shortly after he returned from a hunt. It happened when I was just a small boy, too young to remember.”

Timpoochee thought of the many times he’d listened to Old Hunter tell stories of the old days on the mountains and Long Man.

“Old Hunter is one of my favorite people,” he said to the others. “Despite the legacy of inattention and carelessness on the hunt, he still has many valuable lessons to teach if anyone had the patience to listen.

Through the dim light of the council house and out the narrow opening Timpoochee saw the dark, crinkled face of Old Hunter, beaten and molded by an eternity in the elements, bent over the placid, ruddy face of Grandmother Ama as he yelled into her bad ear instructions for weaving the basket. Even though his knotted hands wouldn’t allow him to work the reeds he new better than anyone how to make the best baskets. With his oversight and grandmother's still youthful fingers the pair made the finest baskets anyone had ever seen. 

Even in the council house, Old Hunter could be heard yelling his instructions into Grandmother Ama's ear. She nodded and smiled her acknowledgement. 

It seemed, in that moment, nothing would ever change. 

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