TABLE OF CONTENTS
Impressions of the Eel River
by William Lemos
I heard the sound and bent an ear toward the River but didn’t say anything to the others, being too involved in the intricacies of getting a sharp image of moon craters in the scope’s eyepiece.
Later that night as I lay staring at the swiveling cosmos, an incredible thing happened. I heard the echo of the moon laugh come sweeping back upriver! A moon whisper that silenced the night song. The quiet hefted itself into place, rested a moment, and moved on.
In the wake of that silence an endless stream of images was superimposed on the night ceiling. What follows here is the result of that sudden silence, that mysterious wave on the water, those non-sounds, or moon whispers, that come when they are least expected.
The story is an old one. It is about opening up. Here is what the Moon told me:
The Witukomno’m once lived in this valley. Some of them haunt these hillsides and canyons as spirits. Tomorrow you will rise and see many things, and because of what I am going to tell you now, all things will be different. You will have heard the clear voice of the People.
The People lived here many, many moons. No one knows how many. No one knows how long ago Taikomol gave the great-great-grandmothers of the Witukomno’m first breath. Perhaps you will know tomorrow when Grandfather Sun heats the rocks.
In the rocks, sky, and water the muted colors will be awash in the glow of the spirit of the People. They will look like smoke seen through molten glass. Each rock is worth remembering; each breath of air pure; each drop of water precious. Each color will be subtler than it seems. Go deeply into the color, the shape, the etched patterns in the hues. Once inside, the Old Ones will talk with you.
Look at the rocks. The Witukomno’m spirit lives on inside many of these shapes. You will know when you have found one. The white quartz patterns will appear as weather lines in the ancient faces. They will speak to you of power, grace, and humility.
Repeat to the stones the songs you have sung in the sweat lodges. Sing and pray and open up to the Earth, the Sky, the River. Give yourself to the stones. Go inside the pattern. Connect with the Old Ones. Know what you do is right. Once you have done this, everything the stones harbor will be available for you to use. Use the knowledge to do the work of protecting this sacred place. Use it to heal the land and to replace what was so viciously taken from here.
The healing begins now.
Look up at the sky. A hidden freeze lurks a day away. Note it in the stringy white ice crystals streaming in from the west. The freeze will heal the scabs of sorrow and scar memory of times when the Witukomno’m were run down like rabid dogs and shot like vermin, and white horse people laughed and left them to bleed to death staring at the moon shadows inside the ageless rocks.
Look into the silk water. Without this flowing water there would be nothing. The spirits know this and sing in praise of Taikomol, ‘He Who Walks Alone,’ who laid out this snaking waterway. In its twisting, looping way from Shell Mountain to the Big Water its song is clear: ‘Keep the River flowing.’
Say the magic words now and sleep. And in your sleep envision the faces that live on forever in the lines upon the stones. Sleep well. Sing your songs. Upon awakening, go into the rocks.
I awoke in pale half-light to the drum of a woodpecker in an oak tree. Somehow I knew it was a pileated. Because of a bad habit of trying to label everything I hear or see, my mind began searching for its Latin name. I found pileatus, but Dryocopus was in town at the Buckhorn passed out on the bar.
Everyone was still asleep. I knew this without opening my eyes. The whirring sound that I knew as the River was there in the background, and I knew it was morning. I opened my eyes. A very old Indian woman’s face looked down at me. I must admit that as I lay there trying to sift out dream and illusion, it didn’t seem to make any sense. Perhaps this face was left over from the dream world.
The image vanished. I sat up and took in the view of the meadow, that same open field, fringed by oaks and Cerocarpus that I knew so well.
In the first soft light of the new day it looked strangely translucent and amorphous. Suddenly, I remembered what the Moon told me. Woodpecker names on rocks, overlaid with white lines, all formed an intangible labyrinth of confusion.
The Witukomno’m! The world spun, and I was back down looking up into the dome of oak branches above the circle where we slept.
‘The rocks are the Witukomno’m,’ I whispered aloud as tears welled up in my eyes. For years I’d been walking over and stepping on them. But now the voice was clear. Nothing would ever be the same. From that moment I knew this story would be told. Here on this obscure bend in the Middle Fork, where the outlet of Round Valley meets this Island of the Way it Once Was, a voice had spoken to me. The Witukomno’m spirit lives on. It moves the flowing River; it moves me; it moves this writing.
I got up and wandered into Roundhouse meadow. The pileated was drumming again but names did not matter now. I was listening to the rocks. They whispered, ‘Keep the River flowing free forever.’
© 2005 William Lemos