Fri May 24th, 2019
The Sagebrush Forest seemed to go on for miles and at the edge was a small valley. It had been carved out by the flood waters in spring. Raging torrents brought silt which settled into areas that added grasses with seeds from mountains plants and the cottonwood flourished. It created a cover of large leaves and beneath the shadow was this feeling inviting me to come in. I would come to know this place and the hidden traps that existed.
As I explored the many different trails that lay hidden, I met a timid, shy, nervous critter with big feet. This fellow had big ears as well, he could hear me approaching his well-covered home. He popped out of his door and ask if I had anything good to eat? I had a good look at his front teeth and I noticed he was eating sweet clover, milkweed, and grasses and that he had a twitching nose when he spoke.
“I am well designed for my environment, I was made this way by way of trial and error. I say, you are certainly odd in your manner of walking,” said Jack Rabbit. “Have you met the others in our community? I have heard you talking with Badger. Excuse my eavesdropping, but I couldn’t help myself from listening to his stories. They are certainly full of wonder and useful knowledge.”
“How long have you lived in the Sagebrush Forest, Mr. Jack Rabbit?” I asked, and he immediately replied.
“Please, call me Jack, I know Badger requires formal language. I however, wish to be your friend and will let you know if danger is near. You may speak to me in any manner you wish. What is comfortable for you. I must inform you that I absolutely am disgusted in eating meat in any manner.”
“So, you only eat plants and I understand your feelings.” I assured Jack that I would not offer any foods he didn’t like.
“Now can you tell me how you came to be a member of the Sagebrush Forest and are you the only jack rabbit?”
“Goodness, I assure you that there are many others of all shapes, color and are thrown in distant lands. There is even a mythological jackalope, so beware of his antlers,” explained Jack. “I however, chose to live secluded from others of my kind and find myself becoming a part of this little community. It is just that I have become set in my ways. I am very comfortable here and most of all, should issues arise my neighbors will warn me. Besides, we all are aware of dangers lurking about. I am the first one out and, given open space, have great speed.”
As Jack spoke I could see age creeping in and the sparkle of his eye became clouded.
“Don’t let looks fool you” said Jack. “I can still outrun Coyote and his band of misfits. See how my legs have developed and I can deliver a powerful rabbit punch. However, I choose to run and at top speed can almost fly. You Orra-ra-cheech are like my cousins the cottontails, who run and hide. Remember, when in peril seek a hidden spot and see them before they see you. Most of all do not make a sound,” explained Jack before he bounded off in search of sweet clover.
“Why is he in such a rush?” I asked Badger.
“He is overly cautious and believes that all predators are going to eat him. He is old and lean and is a tough cut, not tender at all. I suppose he is jittery because the world is full of danger. Don’t worry though for I and others in our community will protect you,” said Badger looking very much respected by all, even the predators.
Well, that would be tested in the coming days and during this time young Orra-ra-cheech’s legs would continue to grow stronger with each new day. Badger would introduce Orra-ra-cheech to all the birds and those that crawl along the ground and the predators who hide in plain sight. The top predator though, are the humans, who are not of this country. They have hunted people and they are recorded on the sandstone in Cow Canyon.
“One day, I will travel with you when you control your curiosity,” said Badger. “I know where the designs are and there are many of them, I watched those who witnessed the beheading from afar and they are the ones who left those images on the sandstone. Beware of these humans young Orra-ra-cheech,” said Badger.
Every day as I would walk a little further, I would discover how everyone knew me and greeted each visit as old friends. Every morning walk would take me further out eventually to the boundaries of the Sagebrush Forest. At times the valley would draw me to come closer. The mysteries of this place are taunting me, one day I will satisfy my curiosity. Suddenly, I heard a big commotion coming behind me and it is the birds of the Sagebrush Forest. They have alerted the community of my venture to the border. As I continued to look into the valley a hand slipped inside my hand. Badger stood there with me, both waiting for a sign or sounds from this valley which was carved out in spring of each year as the creek turned into a raging torrent. Throughout its life it would deposit topsoil and create a plain where the cottonwood could thrive. Beneath the broad expanse of its branches and leaves the trees protected the occupants.
“It is a floodplain,” said Badger, “no one who burrows into the ground lives there. Should they decide to do so it is at best temporary. We all know how the sleeping creek can turn into a monster devouring everything in its reach,” said Badger. He continued to the horrific scenes of destruction and grief.
“As you can see the plain drops off and the water forever continues to follow an easy path to the ocean.”
“Have you seen the ocean, Badger?” I asked.
“I have been told by Otter who travels well the water ways you know. That is a testimony of a true friend and bud,” Badger said, looking very seriously. “Let me make it very clear that the creek is a dangerous place to venture alone. The monster made an undercut in the bank and created large pools. In some places the River People have built their lodges and created marshes and life.”
“Have you talked with the River People and, where are they?” I asked.
“They have their wooden lodges up and down the river,” Badger was motioning with his hands as he spoke. On more than one occasion has Badger used sign to speak.
“I have visited with the River People and asked to see inside one of their homes. I was invited to the water’s edge where they told me to hold my breath. I did, and they took me under the surface of the water. I was amazed by the life in the water as they led me to the doorstep of their lodge. I popped up inside the main room with the family there to greet me. You know, there was enough room to stand and large enough for one family. The water does not enter, I would say it resembles my burrow and the door is the water. Badger continued talking about his experience. At the top center of the lodge, there was an opening woven by the strongest limbs which lets in just enough light. It is strong enough to prevent any predators from gaining entrance. Did you know their lodge is made with mud and parts of trees? It was quite roomy and comfortable in the seasons of change.”
“They told me once when Otter stole the fire from the People (Nuche) and brought it here. Otter took the ember that starts their fire and carried it in a shell. Grandpa knew this was not good and that the People would be looking for their fire ember. All one had to do was smell for smoke and sure enough the smoke drifted through the top of the lodge. The ember caught the wooden floor on fire and everyone dove into the water. The grand lodge became a large blaze and the People came for the fire. The smoke could be seen throughout the valley. Now the family was safe except for Otter who was put to hard labor and helped rebuild the lodge. The lives of the River People with generations upon generations have lived here since its creation by Earth Mother,” said Badger “They keep to themselves and are hardworking folk. Should you stand on the bank of the creek, they have spotted you well before you look into the water world. Remember Orra-ra-cheech that we breath air and cannot live under the water’s surface. It’s time to head back,” said Badger.
I resisted at first in leaving, because I thought I heard someone calling me. My curiosity would just grow with each day. Then one morning in the fall, when everyone prepares for winter, I decided to see for myself who was calling for me. I didn’t tell a soul what I was planning and the next day left early.
Indian Summer came after the first frost and quickly turned the leaves to gold. A beautiful fall day and my senses to explore overwhelmed me. Off to the floodplain in search of voices that call me even in the night. With a small breeze that caused the large cottonwood leaves to shimmer before floating down and covering the floor in a golden crunch. Have I been here before? It seems I have been. I know of a hidden spot that lays beneath the oldest cottonwood tree that stands by the bank. The spring and flash floods have cut out under the bank. There the bank hangs over the deep pool and the world of water.
“Stop calling my name,” I yelled to the birds following me. “Can’t you hear a spirit, or someone needs my help.” They persisted in calling to me to return or they were going to tell Badger. Nevertheless, I was drawn into the mysterious floodplain that becomes itself inviting to me. My imagination was casting all kinds of strange community members. I have never met them, only heard about them through Badger and the world of water. I found myself standing on the bank of the floodplain and saw how the floods carved the land. There was a sense of autumn renewal in the air and with each hour warmth. The enormous cottonwood trees in their true golden colors, were inviting me to explore. What would I find in the next blind corner and what kind of animals in the community and neighborhoods? I wondered if Badger’s stories were true or was I to find the reason why I was drawn here. This was new to me; the sounds and smell near the floodplain. I had to see the River People for myself and I had many questions.
An opening in the cottonwood trees was surreal, as there was another kind of community. Willows, cattails, bulrush, saplings and the great lodge. I sat there and breathed in a different kind of place. Smells that were new to me and the sounds of the world of water. There were birds of all sorts of sizes, colors and songs. There was a calmness and tranquility of many souls reaching out to me. I crawled to the edge and looked over the bank to see a deep pool. Within the clear water I could see the life of changing environments. So curious was I that I hunched over too far and slid into the pool. I held my breath as Badger had done when he went under. I saw the community of those who live there and was relieved from the land. My legs moved about with ease and felt as if I could walk. The water was warm, and I rolled over to see the surface. A golden leaf emerged as if it was suspended in air and I could see the blue of the sky past it. I felt at ease within myself and I could sense a peaceful oneness with everything around me. I closed my eyes to sleep and began to dream. Expelling the last of my air, I was ready to find another place. To become a part of the earth’s natural element, I am water. . . It would seem an eternity had past.
Suddenly, I was gasping for air and I heard Badger’s voice. There were other voices as well. I felt hands pushing on my chest and the concern of voices of those around me.
“Here, roll him on his side,” said Badger excitedly. “There, the water has come out and he is breathing again.” Soon, I opened my eyes to see Badger and two brothers that I have never seen or met. Badger said, “Let me introduce you to Moe and Moe, they are identical brothers. They felt a disturbance in the water and the vibrations from your struggles led them straight to you. The brothers saw you floating in the water and they thought that you had become a blue baby. Without haste they pushed you to the surface and launched you to the bank,” explained Badger. “I was told by the local birds of your intentions and I came quickly. Now I find you at the edge of death and have aged considerably in this short time.”
Badger was in motion and was always thinking of the next step. “Okay, Moe and Moe help me roll Orra-ra-cheech in the dry grass to dry him off,” instructed Badger. After which he said, “Thank you brothers for your quick action and saving young Orra-ra-cheech from traveling to the Spirit Word.” Badger would scold me all way back home. I would remember Badger telling me.
“Don’t tell grandmother any of this, you have learned a valuable lesson today,” patting me on the back as we walked. We arrived at the cabin late that afternoon and Badger stopped to tell me.
“You have survived with help from your spiritual guardian and I am afraid given your sense of adventure, that you will be tested again. Everyone here in the Sagebrush Forest will be keeping a close eye on you. Though you may think you are alone, we are all here watching you and we will always protect you,” said Badger. “Now, off you go!”