Only The Earth and Sky
A story of the past, the future, the Pipe, and a Prayer.
c 1999 Robert S. Worthington
Old John gazed out upon the early morning quiet, as he stood in the rough-hewn doorway of his cabin. Steam rose in a lazy spiral from the battered old coffee mug, held like an offering between his equally battered old hands. With intense razor eyes, he watched his silent prayer rise with the vapor and disperse into the sky, whispered, “All my Relations,” and continued his silent vigil, waiting for the Beast.
His cabin was perched on the north side of a gulch that, just below him, took a turn to the south, down to the valley where the crystal waters of his little spring-fed stream joined with Humbug Creek. This particular twist in the terrain afforded John a panorama of nearly all the valley and its surrounding mountains.
To the east, the crest of the ridge was backlit with the same red ember glow that was just now touching the tops of the highest peaks on the other side of the valley. The air was still; dawn’s colors fading from indigo to lavender to pale blue, with iridescent coral streaks of clouds hanging above Gunsight Peak, as the last traces of night fled across the unseen western horizon.
The Ponderosa and sugar pines along the canyon rim stood watch with him; dark sentinels against the pale dawn sky. A waning quarter moon hung suspended between the twin ancient incense cedars that rose from the canyon floor to tower above all else within his view. Somehow, these majestic old giants had survived fire, chain saw, and pestilence; wise elders standing in dignity among their relations.
Douglas fir mingled with the pines in the shade of the gulch, and closer to the creek, big-leaf maple and alder shared the moister ground with the cedars. The higher, south facing slopes were predominantly chaparral, mixed with live oak and a few big pines. The dense growth of manzanita and wild lilac, so resistant to two-leggeds, was safe haven for the other creatures that inhabited these hills.
In all that he could see, no trace of humanity was visible, and it was easy to imagine he was alone in this place. In reality, there were about thirty full-time residents in the valley, with a few more who came in the summer. The population had remained fairly consistent for over a hundred years, ever since the gold played out. During boom times, there had been over two thousand souls working that valley, and they had called it Humbug City, but without the lure of the yellow-metal-that-makes-white-man-crazy, this place was just too inaccessible for most people. Until now.
Few sounds broke the silence. John could make out the cautious footsteps of mama doe and her fawn heading down to the creek for a morning drink. A covey of quail followed suit, chuckling amongst themselves as they picked their way between moss-covered rocks to reach the same watering hole countless generations of their family had visited daily. The old man had watched them for nearly fifty years, and it was now, as it always had been.
After today, it would be no more. His heart broke again at the thought, and a lone drop of moisture navigated the chiseled pathways of his weathered cheek. As he listened to the early birds earnestly discussing their plans for the day, he wondered out loud, “Do they know?” They sounded as cheerful as ever, oblivious to all that stood outside their control.
“Maybe that’s the key, be bird-like and just fly away from it all.”
Squirrels chattered as they sprinted across slender branches, pausing to scold a placidly unconcerned old porcupine as it ambled down to join the gang at the creek. It had always been so.
These sounds belonged. They were the voices in the Song of Life, as were the rush of the night winds that would wash down the mountainside like surf on the shore, and the drone of a bumblebee on a sunny spring morning. Or the sky-rending lightning and thunder that would shake the very earth, and sometimes scorch it. He knew that voice well; he had felt its power and survived, and it had named him.
Coyote the trickster’s laugh in the night, the seldom heard but unmistakable rasp of Cougar’s growl, and Eagle’s lilting tremolo lyric to the Great Spirit; all were parts in an infinite and perfect harmony.
It had always been so. Soon it would not. Soon other sounds would intrude. Sounds that would shatter the air, drown out all others, and change their world forever.
Agitated by this unwanted awareness of what was to be, he stirred restlessly, a familiar bitterness rising within. He spat, trying to rid himself of the taste of anger, and uttered one word; “Bastards!”
All too well, John knew that sound. It was the voice of the Beast. He had fought the Beast, this and many times before. After seventy years, he still remembered why....
The unknown dark depths beckon, forbidden mystery reaches out, calling to me from the forest. I give in to the lure of the slender path that leads to that wonderful, silent place of my imagination. On three-year-old legs, I take my first tentative but willful steps down that path. Then, having broken through the invisible boundary my parents forbade me to cross, I run, alternately laughing in joy of discovery and holding my breath in anticipation of what lies beyond the next turn. I stop abruptly, as too soon the trail ends in a tiny clearing. A rope swing, suspended from an overhanging limb, marks its center, the bare, dusty soil beneath worn into a shallow depression by countless pairs of children’s feet.
I stand still, entranced by the shimmer of dust stirred by my own feet, as it dances in the sunlight that filters through the trees above. Something about the dust….for a moment I am touched by the ghost of a future memory.
I do not sit or even touch the swing. Instead, I look around for a continuation of the path, finding none.
“Is this all? The woods go on, why doesn’t the path?” With a child’s innocence, I know there must be more, but I find no way deeper into the densely growing woods that deny further passage to this young explorer.
“Johnny, where are you?” I hear my mother call, worry apparent in her voice, and I turn and run back down the trail, glancing back at what I’d found.
About a month later, the big machines had come, and in one day, turned that little patch of woods into bare, tortured earth. For what purpose, Johnny never knew. His family moved shortly thereafter, before any construction began. After all these years, Old John still remembered crying in grief and rage as the ‘dozers did their dirty work; the sound of their destruction so loud he could not hear his own screams.
Thus, he had come to know the Beast. Now, he faced it again; this snarling, ravenous monster that would consume the very earth itself, lay waste to all in its path, and leave as its excrement, a swath of concrete twelve lanes wide, straight through the heart of one of the last remaining wilderness areas on the West coast. Right through the center of this valley, up this canyon, obliterating his home and this place he held so dear. Straight through the center of his heart.
Consciously trying to break free of this dark mood, he walked out into the middle of his yard as the sun topped the ridge, casting diamonds among the dew-laden needles of the pines. As he had done at sunrise every morning for all these years, the one known to some as Lightning-Strikes offered a prayer to each of the Four Directions, and to Mother Earth and Father Sky. He gave thanks to the Great Spirit for all he’d been allowed to experience, for the gift of all he had known and loved. And knowing this was the last time he would ever greet the sunrise from this spot, John L. Hamilton gave thanks for having had the privilege of being here for so many years.
Still, his heart knew the bitter as well as the sweet, and he could not let go of a certain ambivalence.
“All my Relations,” he whispered.
After a moment, he retreated into the cabin to pour another mug of coffee. He took his cup back outside, and sat on the edge of his porch. The sun was not yet a hand’s breadth above the ridge, and already its warmth was penetrating the morning chill. It felt good right now, but this warm this soon meant the day would be a scorcher.
“Yeah, it could get pretty hot around here today,” he reflected, grimly. John shook his head, still trying to see some way, any way, to change the course of this day.
Truth was, he didn’t know what he was going to do when they came. He could go peacefully, or put up a fight. There weren’t any other options left that he could see, and the net result of either would be the same.
All the legal avenues had long since been exhausted. When the proposal had first been unveiled, the valley residents formed a grass-roots organization to oppose it, gaining notice and aid from various environmental groups. In the beginning, they felt strong and hopeful, with the power of public opinion and the righteousness of their Cause to feed their optimism, but all the injunctions and law suits and appeals to the EPA had amounted to no more than a three-ring circus. He and his neighbors weren’t the lion tamers, after all, but dancers to the other end of the whip.
As the skirmishes were fought and lost, outside financial support gradually faded away. Even the Sierra Club, their largest and most ardent supporter, gave it up as a lost cause. “We feel our funds can be utilized with greater effect elsewhere,” their earnest young representative had reluctantly explained. She was truly sorry, and you couldn’t blame them. No sense throwing good money after bad.
The Humbug Coalition, as the valley residents half-jokingly called themselves, exhausted their personal financial resources in one last desperate appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court.
The appeal was denied.
There had been petitions, demonstrations, and protest marches. Both Earth First! and Greenpeace helped, and some of their members had been arrested, along with John and his neighbors and a few other brave souls, when they had chained themselves together to block the path of the bulldozers. In the end, progress and the bottom line had prevailed, and the gluttonous Beast had been unleashed in the valley.
The last holdout, he stubbornly refused to sell his land to the state, and that had halted construction at his southern property line for several months. Finally, the court condemned his property and gave him until today to vacate. That sanctimonious asshole of a judge had reprimanded him; “John Lightning-Strikes Hamilton, it is the opinion of this court that your personal wishes do not outweigh the benefits this project would have for the vast majority of the public.”
(“All my Relations…”)
“We therefore find that the merits of the Cross-State Freeway Project do indeed justify the condemnation of your property. You are given thirty days henceforth to vacate said property. Failure to do so will subject you to arrest. Do I make myself clear to you, Mr. Hamilton?”
“About as clear as bullshit can be, your Honor.”
The judge’s face turned crimson, his jowls quivered as he half-rose from the bench. “You will spend those thirty days in jail if you continue to show disrespect for this court, sir!”
“My apologies, your Honor. No disrespect intended.” He could hardly keep a straight face, but somehow, he managed. “I was merely answering your question as honestly as I could, sir.”
“Enough, or I’ll hold you in contempt!” The judge gave him a look that would have him burnt at the stake, then slowly sat down. “Just be out of there in thirty days. Reimbursement for said property to be determined by fair market value, minus court costs.”
“Bang!” the gavel fell; say no more.
John refused to accept the check the state issued in payment for his land. The court clerk was incredulous, “They’re going to take your land anyway, sir, whether you take this check, or not.”
He found himself smiling at the young man’s concern. “It’s the principle of the thing, son.” The man’s expression told him the clerk thought he really was what he’d heard they called him; “The Fool on the Hill” With strains of the old Beatle’s tune in his head, and emotions that ran from sardonic humor to righteous wrath, he strode from the County Courthouse, broke and thirty days short of homelessness.
Now, John contemplated the home he had built with his own hands, so many years ago. Three small rooms, it had originally been one. The rafters were once his tipi poles, and nearly all the rest had either come from his land or the town dump. A few rolls of roofing, some pipe, nails, and an old wood stove had completed the picture for about three hundred and fifty dollars.
Originally, it had been a vacation home. When the economy plummeted, and personal freedom lost ground in the social turmoil of the first few years of the twenty-first century, he, his wife, and two sons had moved there, seeking refuge from the chaos. At that time, they had added two more rooms, a solar collector for electricity, and an on-demand water heater. He saw no need to change anything else. The hydraulic ram still pushed water up from the creek, and he still used the composting outhouse he’d built before the cabin. It had been a good home.
The boys had been nearly of age when they came here to live, and though they loved the place, were ready to follow their own Paths. They returned often, and had been there, chained on either side of him, when they had confronted the Beast.
They had all felt the presence of their mother’s spirit with them, there at the barricade. She was here with him, now. Ten years ago, John and his sons had scattered her ashes from atop old Craggy. He turned now, and as he did so often, felt her essence reflected from the mountain that rose steeply to the North, now bathed in the glow of the morning sun.
With a catch in his voice, he uttered, “All my Relations.”
After a long moment, his thoughts returned to his present dilemma. The rifle or the Peace Pipe were his only choices, the way he saw it. He hadn’t packed anything, nor made any preparations to leave. His garden stood in full summer’s growth, early vegetables nearly ready for harvest. All was as if he would go on living here indefinitely.
Well, his future certainly was indefinite, that much he knew. Somehow, he still hoped for some sort of sudden inspiration, a revelation that would show him a new and previously overlooked alternative. He had fasted and prayed with the Pipe, and spent hours in the sweat lodge, asking the Grandfathers to help him find clarity, asking the Great Spirit to guide his footsteps on the Good Red Road.
He had climbed to the top of old Craggy, and for three days and nights had sought a vision there. Some sign, something, anything.
No vision, no sign. The Grandfathers only repeated, “Nothing lasts forever, only the Earth and Sky remain.” Somehow, this just seemed too fatalistic for him to accept as an answer.
John refilled his mug, and once again resumed his sentinel’s post in the doorway. The sun was high enough so that now the eastern ridges and canyons were a mixture of light and shade. The warming air held the sweet scent of pine resin blended with the more astringent tang of the aptly named creosote bush.
“Soon now,” he thought, “we’ll be smelling diesel.” At that moment, a flash of reflected sunlight from across the valley caught his eye. Alert in an instant, the hawk-like intensity of his gaze focused on the trail of dust that was rising from the caravan of eight or so vehicles making their way down the High Road toward their appointed destination.
“State troopers,” he muttered out loud. For a moment, he wondered why they hadn’t just come in on the new freeway cut, instead of taking the old way over the mountain. Then, further down the valley, a similar dust cloud drifted where the Low Road crossed over Humbug Creek, and he understood.
“They’re coming in from every way possible. Must be expecting a fight. Jeez, people, it’s just me, one lone guy.” As his surprise turned to disgust, then anger, although his expression did not alter, his eyes held the look of frozen fire.
“We can go there, all right,” and for the first time that morning, he acknowledged the old .45-70 Sharps that leaned against the wall within reach of his left hand. Contemplating the gleaming, well-oiled antique, John wondered if he could actually shoot someone, even now, with nothing left to lose. He didn’t even hunt anymore. Hadn’t shot a critter in thirty years. A conscientious objector to the Viet Nam insanity all those many years ago, he still considered himself a pacifist.
He still loved to shoot. Targets, punching paper, as aficionados of the sport called it. It was his meditation, his zen.
Many people didn’t understand what they saw as a contradiction, that shooting for him was not an act of violence. The focus, the breathing, the Oneness of mind, body, gun, earth, air, and target helped him find that calm Center of his being. It really was no different than bowling or golf or baseball, or any contest where the accuracy of your shot depended on the synchronicity of your senses. John was damn good at it, too, having won first place in the National Silhouette Matches two of the three years he competed.
Ironic that after a lifetime as a Peaceful Warrior, he now contemplated a violent conclusion. His anger and frustration were such that even though the idea brought pain to his heart, he thought that, yes, he probably could kill.
“Is it not justifiable? The trees and the animals, our Mother Earth are being ruthlessly destroyed. Is it wrong to take up arms to defend the helpless ones that cannot fight for themselves?”
“All my Relations…”
He thought back to another time and place when he had faced similar odds. It had also been a Holy War, his first. And it had not been peaceful.
Johnny had come home from summer vacation the night before.
I awake from my dreams to the low, distant growl of heavy machinery. It is a sound that evokes unpleasant emotions, although I do not immediately remember why. As my foggy head clears, I realize the noise is coming from somewhere in the woods across the street.
I’m up in an instant, hopping on one foot and then the other, as I pull my pants on and head down the hall toward the sound of my mother’s presence in the kitchen.
“What’s that sound, Mom?” The alarm in my voice is almost tangible.
She is mixing something in a bowl, but stops at my question. She hesitates before responding, spoon suspended over the bowl, dripping. The sadness and compassion evident in her expression at this moment will make me realize, later, how much she understands now.
“I was afraid you’d hear that, Honey. They’re building new houses over there.”
Before she can say more, I run to my room, throw on the rest of my clothes, grab my BB gun, and head out the front door at a run. Mom is calling me back for some breakfast, but I ignore her, and run through the neighbor’s yard and up the hill, into the woods. Thirty, fifty yards, further, the sound gets louder, but I see nothing yet. A hundred yards, and abruptly, the forest ends.
I stop suddenly at the new edge of the woods. The land has been cut away, and I stand on the crumbling lip of a man-made cliff. What once had been an old growth deciduous forest of huge old oaks and chestnuts, maples and poplars is now a several hundred yard wide swath of barren, leveled earth that stretches as far as I can see in both directions. Fallen trees lie heaped in burn piles, each fifty to a hundred feet wide and twenty or thirty feet high; my old friend’s essences rising to the heavens in smoke and ash.
I stand there, tears streaming down my face, as I empty my BB gun at the distant, dust-churning bulldozers, their drivers as oblivious to my presence and the hail of BBs falling far short of their mark, as they are to their heinous crime I witness.
Thus it was, at age eleven, and well before the word, ecotage, entered our lexicon, Johnny enlisted the aid of a couple of friends and embarked on a Crusade. It lasted two years, resulted in several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of property damage and cost overruns for the developer, and was attributed to what the newspapers had called, “A gang of up to forty vandals.”
Surveyors had to resurvey countless times because their markers kept disappearing. Supplies were stolen, lumber piles caught fire, machinery failed to run. On a dark, moonless night, a bulldozer magically drove itself off the very same cliff from which Johnny had first viewed the carnage. The corpse of the Beast was consumed by diesel-fueled flames, the candle of their offering, that night.
Their most audacious act had been to bring down an entire two-story house in frame, by cutting the diagonals and corner posts, and then with the help of a few extra kids, they pulled it over with a rope. Crash! Roof on the ground, splintered framing scattered about, kids running, laughing into the darkness.
It had also been their last act, for after that, the subdivision was crawling with an army of security guards around the clock. In the end, almost two square miles of diverse forest habitat had been replaced by some two thousand houses of four different designs. Literally all the trees had been burnt, none of it was even made into lumber. The net result of their jihad had been to delay the inevitable by six months. John turned his attention to the south, where the land sloped down just before the gulch made its southeast turn, and he could see the dust cloud hovering like smoke along the border of his property.
“They’re gathering,” he realized, and any time now, he expected the sheriff would be coming up his hill. Knowing by the size of their force that they expected a confrontation, he considered his chances in the odds set so strongly against him. “Must be about a hundred cops,” he guessed, if as many vehicles came in on each of the other ways into the valley as did on the High Road. No helicopters; no place to land them, except out there on the freeway cut, but the SWAT team, complete with assault weapons, infra-red detectors and remote flyers, were no doubt on the scene.
All this, for an old man with a hundred and fifty year old antique rifle! Well, that was some rifle, set up for target shooting at ranges up to a thousand yards, with a heavy barrel, set triggers, and old-time peep sights that gave him such accuracy that he could literally drive nails with it at twenty-five yards, standing. His reputation was well-known on the target range, and he was sure he’d shared the firing line a time or two with some of those boys down there now. He supposed they had given that some consideration in deciding to overarm the hell out of themselves. He couldn’t help but find some grim satisfaction in that thought.
John wondered what else they might have. He didn’t keep up on the technology, but he was sure they had some fancy new toys in their arsenal. He knew all about the remote flyers from his work with the University, when they had attempted to use them in wildlife research; heat sensing micro-cameras built into computer controlled bird-like robots. The research department had shitcanned that idea, for the real wildlife could spot the fakes immediately, and were more timid around their robotic brethren than they were in the presence of humans. If he took to the hills, however, they might use them to track him. If so, they’d be a nuisance, but at least they were easy to identify. Not that he could spot them so quickly; they were good, after all, but the real birds could, and they would tell him.
The “bugs” were even easier to spot. Though small and nearly perfect replicas of dragonflies, they had to get close to be effective, and there was a tell-tale metallic sound to the buzz of their wings.
“They might even arm them with lasers and such by now,” he considered. About five years ago, there had been heated controversy over the questions of safety and conscience in the proposed use of weaponry under the control of artificial intelligence. That’s what these computerized remotes amounted to, and public opinion weighed heavily against it. He was sure that the government would find a way to sidestep that hurdle. After all, how many times had personal freedom and the right to privacy lost out to concerns of National security? The odds were they wouldn’t use them unless they couldn’t get him any other way, because the little bastards were god-awful expensive, and very fragile. He’d hate to have to waste ammunition on them, too.
He had maybe a hundred rounds for the Sharps, and about the same in balls, powder, and caps for the muzzle loader. The comparison of weaponry was ludicrous, “That’s a hundred more rounds than I need. I’m in great shape!”
John laughed out loud, and marveled that he could still find humor within this hopeless act.
No human alive knew the nooks and crannies of this convoluted landscape better than he, and there were many places to hide amongst the rocks and chaparral. He knew ways through that brush otherwise known only to the animals. Obviously he couldn’t stay here. If he tried to defend the cabin, he would be dead in minutes, the thin-walled dwelling shredded by thousands of rounds of automatic gunfire. If he was going to go, he’d better leave soon, because they’d be coming up Clear Creek Road to ’scope him from above.
John’s gaze turned to the high point of the ridge on the opposite side of the canyon, where the road cut through the western end of his land. This promontory looked down on the cabin and provided a vantage point over the surrounding area. Because of that view, he had set up his tipi there when he first came to this place. Later, he built the cabin on the other side of the canyon because it had a better southern exposure and was closer to the creek; a better place for a garden, and just as fine a view. Now, that point was his biggest strategical drawback.
“I should ditch out now.” Grab the Sharps and the day bag, which he always kept ready for spur-of-the-moment wanderings, and drop into the dry gulch next to the cabin. Up or down, John knew ways to go. Take the muzzle loader and stash it where he could retrieve it if he used up the .45-70 cartridges.
Jerky, dried fruits and nuts were already in the bag, along with binoculars and a canteen. He tucked five full boxes of .45-70 ammo in the outer flap, and he was ready.
Yet John remained reluctant to commit to this Path, for there would be no turning back. At best, he could hold out for a few weeks; a little guerilla warfare would hold them at bay for a while. Eventually, he’d either have to disappear altogether and abandon the valley to the Beast, or they’d lose their patience, bring in the really big guns, and blow him off the face of the Earth. He would be thought of by many as a crazy radical, a martyr by some, and in the end, the Beast would have its way. He remembered a time when the Beast did not have its way. A time when the Way of Peace won more than just the day.
Honokohau, on the North Kona coast on the island of Hawai’i, was the first place John ever lived in a tipi. In the keawe forest between the fish pond and the white sand beach, he and his girl friend found their lodge to be a comfortable home, indeed.
His friend, Clarence, was the caretaker of the property that encompassed the pond, the beach, and an area known to be the site of an old Hawai’ian village, and he lived in an open-sided, thatch-roofed beach house by the side of the pond. A frequently changing population of a half-dozen or more hippies and locals resided in Clarence’s laissez-faire mini commune, blessed in this tropic paradise by sea, sun, and Kona Gold. Life was good. Then, once more, the axe fell.
The Honokohau property was owned by the Brownwells, the richest and most influential family in Kona. In the tourist boom of the early seventies, the family decided the time was right to develop the property, tame its rugged wildness and wrap a resort around it.
I have been away for the day, surfing some excellent six foot waves at Banyan’s, south of town. I arrive back at Clarence’s, and as I enter his house, I see that he, ever fond of his beer, is drunker than I’ve ever seen him. A cluster of solemn faces surround him at the bar.
“Hey, How’sit, Brah. What’s happening?” I ask, as I pull up a stool and join the gang. “You okay, man?”
Clarence is wearing that smile that warns you everything he says will be sarcastic. “Hell, yes, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay? I’m just damn dandy. Fine as frog’s hair! His grin fades into a grimace. “Shit!”
He hands me one of his perfectly rolled joints, and says, “Take a hit first. You’re going to need it. Then I’ll tell you.”
I do as instructed, and Clarence begins. “It’s over, John. The party’s over. They’re kicking our asses out, and they’re gonna build a great big ass hotel here. Gimme that!”
“What? No way!”
I hand him the joint, and after inhaling nearly half of it in one giant toke, he coughs out, “We’ve got a month. I think we oughta have the biggest blowout party this island has ever seen. A month long party!”
Disregarding Clarence’s last words, I counter, “Hey, wait. They can’t do that. This place is special. It’s habitat for endangered species.”
“Yeah, us!” Clarence interjects, and laughter once again gives momentary respite from the gloom.
I take another toke, and go on, “And there’s the history. The locals say Kamehameha the First is buried out here somewhere. Isn’t that so, Kimo?” I turn and pass him the roach.
“Dat’s right, Brah. Da local people will nevah go fo’ dis one.” Kimo, the quintessential Hawai’ian, big, strong and gentle, is a soft-spoken man of few words, but when he speaks, you know it means something.
“I have family. Somebody will know what to do, eh? No huhu, we fix ’um. I’ll go see my auntie tomorrow. I bet she’ll know somebody who can help.”
Beneath the easygoing smile lives the heart of a warrior, and I know Kimo will make this his personal battle.
I grin, “I know some people through the newspaper, too. Let’s do it! We can save this place!”
And they did. Kimo’s auntie turned out to be the chairperson of the Island Historical Preservation Society, and she helped put them in touch with some sympathetic and influential people in the state government.
John was photographer for the local underground newspaper, and through his contacts, called on Friends of the Earth and the Audubon Society, to verify his claim of the presence of endangered birdlife at the pond. They came, there were, and a moratorium was declared.
The hippies of Honokohau had to move, anyway, but the Feds subsequently bought the land and created the Honokohau National Historical Preserve. The peaceful process had succeeded that time.
This time, it had not.
The Path of Peace, they bulldoze today. The Warpath, they bulldoze in a couple weeks, maybe. Big deal.
Now he saw them. Dust up on the ridge, the reflection of sunlight off of binoculars, or more likely, a rifle scope. He still could duck out the door and head up the gulch. At two hundred yards, the Sharps could pick off that son of a bitch with the scope, right now, too.
In the growing heat of the day, the imminent finality of following that Path chilled him to the very center of his being, and he shivered in the sunlight. “Would it serve a purpose, would it do some kind, any kind of good?” John asked himself, but got no answer.
“All my Relations.”
The tell-tale dust was rising just over the East ridge, where his access connected with the Low Road. That would be the sheriff. Now or never.
“Hoka hey, it’s a good day to die.” He could go out in a blaze of glory; typically dramatic to the very end, his wife would have said, bless her spirit.
What would it accomplish? Nothing.
What could he do if he lived? Nothing for this place. Maybe something somewhere else, some other Honokohau.
Just then, John Lightning-Strikes heard the familiar song, and looked up to see Eagle rising in the thermals, circling on outstretched wings. “Come fly with me. Rise above!” Eagle beckoned.
This time, he said it out loud, spreading his arms, as if to fly, “All my Relations!”
Over in the corner on a little table, behind the Medicine Wheel composed of rocks and feathers and special things, the Chanunpa, the sacred Pipe of Peace sat in its honored place. John picked up the bundle that held the Pipe and carefully unfolded the buckskin wrapping. From a carved wooden box, he removed a beaded Eagle feather and hung it from the long, slender stem. After removing the sage packing from the bowl, he filled it with a mixture of tobacco, red willow, and kinnikinnik, and joined stem and bowl together.
“All my Relations.”
He would not kill today. He would smoke with them, maybe get them to join him in a Prayer for this place. Maybe they’d even give him an extra day to pack his stuff.
Once more, he strode out into the daylight, and holding the Pipe out before him, went to greet his enemy.
Through his 24-power rifle scope, the sharpshooter on the ridge saw old Hamilton leave the shelter of his cabin. Heat waves rising from the warming earth made ripples of distortion in his high-powered lens, but he could make out some kind of weapon in the old crackpot’s hands.
“It’s a gun. Yes, he’s got a gun, and he’s pointing it at the sheriff’s car!” he blurted through his headset to the Command Center.
In response to their question, he replied, “Yes, I’ve got a clear shot.”
The order came, “Take him out!”
John felt the impact before he heard the shot, but he never felt his body hit the ground.
As the soul once known as Lightning-Strikes-Around-Him rose above the canyon, over the valley, high above Craggy Mountain, he finally understood what the Grandfathers meant when they said, “Nothing lasts forever, only the Earth and Sky remain.” His spirit serene, he drifted with the smoke of the Pipe that he somehow felt he still held in his ethereal hands.
The sheriff’s team gathered around the body that lay in the yard in front of the little cabin. Via headset, the sheriff spoke to the man on the ridge, “I thought you said he was armed. There’s no weapon, nothing at all. His hands are empty.”
The young sharpshooter blanched, turning cold in the warm summer air. “He held a gun, or… something. He had it pointed in your direction. I know he did!” he almost cried.
“Well, there’s nothing here now,” the sheriff growled. He shuddered inwardly at the unspoken thought, “What a mess the media will make of this!” Then, out loud, “Jesus Christ, what a screw-up!”
He barked out orders to his sergeant, “All right, Hendricks, get your men to search the area for, what, something? Get the coroner up here ASAP, and don’t screw up the scene.” The sheriff shook his head, and as he turned away, muttered to no one in particular, “It’s not like he was some psycho who deserved it. Plenty out there who do.” After a moment, he added, “He was probably right. Ah, hell, I liked the man!”
To the South, the bulldozers were already at work. The Beast had awakened, and was hungry.
The Earth spins as it revolves around the Sun, and the Circle of Time inexorably passes. What in human reckoning amounts to a millennium is less than a blink in the geological eye of time. The Earth changes slowly, while the workings of humankind grow, then wither like last summer’s flowers in autumn.
A young man stands on the edge of a canyon overlooking a beautiful valley. He has come here after wandering, searching for many turns of the season, and somehow, this feels like the place. Like home.
As the first rays of the morning sun break the line of the eastern ridge, he offers his Pipe in Prayer, a puff of smoke to each of the Four Directions, to Mother Earth and Father Sky, to the Great Mystery from which all came to be.
In the gulch below, a covey of quail pick their way between broken shards of moss-covered concrete that lie half-buried among the big cedars that grow down to the edge of the tiny creek. Also unheeding of his presence, a doe and her fawn greet a fat old porcupine as he ambles down to share the waters with his friends.
Watching, the young man smiles, then whispers, “All my Relations.”