Roaming Chief and the Cosmic Journey

Tilton Collection Photo Lot 89-8

It must have been circa 1910 when the priest of the Pitahawirata Bear Ceremony chose Siriresaruku to serve as one of the four Leaders of the ritual.  And on the sixth day, the Morning Star rose.  And Siriresaruku handed a bear robe and claws and an eagle feather to another ritualist, and he spoke of how these should be worn when the man set forth to find the special cedar tree.  And Siriresaruku said, “Mother stands in the timber with our spirits, dreams for us, and sends the stories for us.”  And the Bear men found the tree.  And in the ceremony Siriresaruku sang two songs – songs about a man who long ago became lost in the fog, and he heard a woman singing in a cedar tree, and she became the tree, and the man dreamed of her, and he became a leader of the Bear Society.  And in the ceremony of the Bear Society, the man sang about the woman, the singing cedar tree who dreams for us.  Mother Cedar Tree who sends us the stories that we tell.  Many years later in 1998, the Pawnee Nation Education Department got in touch with me to pose an interesting question.  When Siriresaruku died in 1919, he was known by two names, one of which seemed incorrect.  “Roam Chief” versus “Roan Chief.”  Which was right?  I thought I knew the answer.  But now… I’m not so sure.  We can identify various names he held through his life.  Robert Bruce’s 1932 publication on the Pawnee Scouts included a photo of “Roam Chief” with this caption: “Known as ‘Koot tah-we-coots oo pah’ (literally hawk, red – commonly Red Hawk) on the last campaign of the Pawnee Scouts with the North brothers…”  Kútawikucuupahat means “tail-big-red,” referring to a red-tailed hawk.  This name appeared on an enlistment roster dated October 9, 1876 when Red Hawk was a young man.  Bruce added, “Roam Chief was over 7 feet in height…”  Red Hawk apparently changed his name while in the Pawnee Scouts – two undated letters in Roam Chief’s allotment file at the Pawnee Agency deny him a veteran’s pension.  These gave his name as “Lah-lah-we-ra-koo-lah-sah, now Roam Chief.”  This suggests that Lah-lah-we-ra-koo-lah-sah was the name he held when he was mustered out of service in 1877.  During the fifteen years that followed, all the Pawnees received Americanized names.  The various protocols that guided this process are not completely clear to me, but I have the impression that several Pawnee translators worked closely with American officials, and the final stages of this momentous change in Pawnee culture unfolded under the guidance of Helen Clarke, a Blackfeet woman who had charge of Pawnee allotment.  In the midst of allotment, during the 1892 Jerome Commission hearings, several Pawnees served as translators and an unknown person transcribed what they said.  Both this transcript and the list of Pawnee signatories to the 1892 Agreement included “Room Chief,” a likely error for “Roam Chief.”  It might have been in July 1893 that Helen Clarke allotted “Roam Chief,” age 41, born about 1851-1852.  He was married in those days to Eva Sitting Bull (Chaui) and Rebecca Richards (Pitahawirata).  These records imply that by 1892 he held a Pawnee name that could be translated as “Roam Chief,” but I have seen no transcription of this name in Pawnee.  In February 1902 he visited Washington DC with a Pawnee delegation, and De Lancey Gill took a photo of him, and the National Anthropological Archives attached the name “Ray-Tah-Cotz-Tay-Sah (Roaming Chief).”  The 1902 Pitahawirata Pawnee census and the 1903 Pawnee census both list “Roam Chief.”  And in 1904 George Dorsey and James R. Murie recruited him to join a delegation of Pawnees to attend the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.  According to Hannah Facknitz, one newspaper reported his name as “Roan Chief,” and a list of Pawnees attending the Exposition identified all the members of his family under the name “Roan Chief.”  Photos taken by Charles Carpenter at the Exposition likewise identified him as “Roan Chief, chief of the Pitahauerat and Pawnee.”  Dorsey and Murie’s 1906 The Pawnee Mythology included two stories told by “Roaming-Chief, hereditary chief of the Chaui.”  A February 25, 1907 “Affidavit As To Lawful Heirs” said that William Bishop and “Roam Chief” had the same great-grandfather.  An anonymous report about Pawneeland was published on March 28, 1907 in a Washington DC newspaper, together with a photo of “Roaming Chief, Six feet four inches tall.”  The archives of the Field Museum of Natural History contain a circa 1907 manuscript, a narrative “Told by Roaming-Chief (Chaui).”  The 1912 edition of a book by Frank Cooper about Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill published a photo captioned “Pawnee Bill and Roan Chief, Finest Specimen of Manhood Living.”  James R. Murie’s 1914 Pawnee Societies mentioned “Roaming-chief.”  And Murie’s Ceremonies of the Pawnee – edited by many hands – included mention of “Roaming Chief” with a photo of him captioned “Siriˑreˑsaruˑku They Are Making Him A Chief.”  Siriresaruku died in 1919.  People remembered him as Roan Chief; others said Roam Chief.  Martha Blaine noted in Some Things Are Not Forgotten (p. 251 endnote 4): “Garland Blaine said ‘Roan Chief.’  I have heard this as well as Roam Chief used.  His name translated from Pawnee as Roaming Chief.”  A 2013 obituary for Lucille Davis Long noted: “As a young child, she lived with her… step-grandfather, Roan Chief (as she always called him)…”  This chronology shows that he held various names during his lifetime, and one name was a source of confusion, difficult to explain.  The man known to us as Roam Chief / Roan Chief surely understood that people around him used both of these names.  But his Pawnee name was Siriresaruku, They Are Making Him A Leader.  A comparable situation occurred with another South Band man, Ruling His Sun / Ruling His Son.  He was asked about when he received his name, and he replied, “I do not know.  It is hard to tell but it was after I came here from Nebraska and they put me down for my allotment as Ruling His Sun.”  He did not seem to care whether Americans called him Ruling His Sun or Ruling His Son.  His Pawnee name was Pásaasiʾ, Osage.  We can guess that Siriresaruku felt the same way.  I have the suspicion that for whatever reason, he did not trouble himself to set people straight – maybe he even made use of both names.  “Roan Chief” might well have reminded him of his first name, Red Hawk.  It also remains possible that he held the name Roan Chief at some point.  If so, we would look for Asaapakspaharesaru or Ritkutareeʾusresaru; but to date, I have not found any version of that Pawnee name in any record.  For that matter, I have yet to find the name Roam Chief / Roaming Chief set down in Pawnee.  But we can assume that he did hold this name at circa 1890.  Whatever the name might have been, it got translated as Roam Chief and this was misheard on occasion as Roan Chief, and when he realized what was happening with his new American name, he apparently decided that both names worked just fine.  The name “Roam Chief” would most likely be written as Rakawariresaru or Rakaawarii Resaru.  Many variations are possible, with differing meanings, but the word “awarii” was surely an element in the name.  This term holds much meaning in both Pawnee dialects, referring to things in motion, to ritual movements.  Douglas Parks has pointed out that when kaawarii is used in a personal name, it refers to a person wandering under the heavens.  And among the Skidi, awarii served as the name for an annual spring ceremony, referring to the sentient energy that fills the world with motion and life-force.  And “resaru” arises from an equally fascinating cultural context.  It came to be typically translated as “chief,” but it refers to such ideas as “esteem” and “regal,” and it also obliquely invokes the celestial life-force as a creative divinity.  The philosophical context for “resaru” is that leaders of the earthly realm are supposed to emulate the divinities in the celestial universe; what happens in the heavens is to be echoed on earth.  To cultivate a disposition to benefit humankind, leaders should hold the meditative sense of these meanings at the center of their selfhood.  This traditional quality long ago guided Pawnee leadership.  A long ago understanding of resaru might loosely translate the term as “Regal Community Leader.”  But to reflect a wider circle of traditional meanings, we could speak of a more esoteric translation: “Sovereign With Divine Celestial Blessings.”  We can suggest that Rakawariresaru might best be translated as Ruler Roaming Under The Heavens.  In this case, both “ruler” and “awarii” connote movement in a straight line.  Along the way, the celestial realm resonates with the distant motions of stars and planets and the moon and the sun – sublime echoes flow down to all the living things that move across the earth, and we wish for mysterious heavenly powers to send us both dreams and stories.  Exploring the names held by Siriresaruku, we glimpse the occult ethic of leadership and selfhood that once shaped Pawneeland.  And through the 19th century, “Resaru” diminished in meaning, humbled from regal cosmic significance into the more mundane “Chief.”  And slowly Siriresaruku wandered in the world, the tall heir of a royal lineage of the South Band Pawnees.  Roaming across America, he sometimes posed for photos, and they called him the “Redskin Giant,” and they said he was six feet four inches… he was six feet eight inches… he was seven feet – they finally said he was over seven feet tall.  And in Pawneeland he bore his great names lightly under the heavens, and one day he related a story.  He told how the priest of a long ago ceremony spoke to the people, saying, “…our father stands before us clothed with power, sent down from the different gods in the heavens.”  And that priest of olden days told the people, “When we leave the lodge we shall go out as if born anew, then we shall pass around the north side of the village as children.  Then we shall pass around the south side as old men, and then we shall enter the lodge to show the people that we die again and are put under ground.”

Tilton Collection Photo Lot 89-8

Photo by Charles Carpenter, “Roan Chief,” 1904, National Anthropological Archives

Sitting Bull’s Earthlodge

It must have been in the early 1890s when photographer Thomas Croft visited Pawneeland.  Using glass plate negatives, he took two photos of an ákaaruʾ (earthlodge) built by the family of Sitting Bull.  One photo shows the exterior of the house.  Several hundred photos of Pawnees must have been taken during the 19th century, and perhaps twenty or so show earthlodges.  But I can’t think of any that peer into the interior of an ákaaruʾ.  So I was quite interested to recently find online a photo taken by Croft inside Sitting Bull’s earthlodge.  It is apparent that he set up his tripod at the inner end of the hiwata or íwatuuruʾ – the extended entryway.  So we must be looking at the uúkatat, “hanging at the west,” the west side of the earthlodge.  This is usually where a sacred bundle would hang over the altar.  In this photo, against the far wall we see a canopy structure.  And a dark shadowy object sits atop the frame of the canopy.  It is difficult to make out any details, but one spot of light might be a gourd rattle.  Perhaps this is a sacred bundle, a Cuʾuhreereepiiruʾ, Rains Wrapped Up.  Under the canopy we can make out what seems to be a bison skull resting on a pedestal.  These are very intriguing details.  But I am also interested in the itkatahaaruʾ, the “place of the fire.”  We can see that it is collared with an earthen rim.  This feature holds esoteric meaning, ancient symbolism (see my book The Enchanted Mirror: Ancient Pawneeland, p. 100-101).  Earthlodges constructed in more recent years have been built as exhibits, and these don’t have collared hearths.  But this feature connects Pawnee earthlodges to antiquity, to long-forgotten religious ideas about heaven and earth.  And it is no wonder that this hearth had a ring built around it, because Kiwikutiwitit (Sitting Bull) was a Chaui priest.  He was born about 1830.  He grew up at Marsh Town, a Chaui earthlodge city on the Flat River, and he studied to become a doctor, and he served in the Pawnee Scouts, defending Pawneeland against the implacable invasion of the Sioux empire.  After the Pawnees moved to Oklahoma, many people fell ill and Kiwikutiwitit doctored people in his tent.  He had two wives then, Stay kee lah wee rah and Chee sah hee rah sah.  And south of the Pawnee Agency they built an earthlodge.  It might have been around 1890 when Kiwikutiwitit took the name Tahirasawica’, He Arrives In The Lead.  In Echo Hawk family tradition Tahirasawica’ was known for treating broken bones.  In 1982 one of my uncles told me that after the reservation opened in 1893, a new American neighbor brought his son to Sitting Bull’s earthlodge.  The boy had a broken leg, seriously infected.  It needed amputation.  Sitting Bull told the farmer: “You must let me have this boy for four days, and perhaps I can help him.”  That youth stayed in the earthlodge shown in the attached photos.  And whatever life he lived ever after, when he walked around in his world he surely thought of how he left the ákaaruʾ of Sitting Bull with a mended leg.  I would guess that this story has endured in my family oral tradition because it tells an important story, reminding us that the Pawnees dealt honorably with their new American neighbors when they needed help.  And Tahirasawica’ was more than a doctor; he was also a priest.  He conducted the Chaui Pipe Dance, a ritual filled with dreams that happened long ago in an ancient realm.  There the priests of antiquity invented the Pipe Dance, and folk began to live in earthlodges.  And in the fall of 1898 Tahirasawica’ traveled to Washington DC and he shared with anthropologist Alice Fletcher the songs and rituals of the Pipe Dance.  And Fletcher came to Pawneeland in the fall of 1901, and she visited the earthlodge of Tahirasawica’: “I saw how he had propped up a part of the ruins of his lodge,” she wrote, “so that he might still keep the sacred objects in a primitive dwelling.”  He said to her, “I cannot live in a white man’s house of any kind.  The sacred articles committed to my care must be kept in an earth lodge, and in order that I may fulfill my duties toward them and my people, I must live there also, so that as I sit I can reach out my hand and lay it upon mother earth.”  And in those days long ago the Pipe Dance slowly drew to an end.  The ákaaruʾ of Tahirasawica’ slowly fell into ruin.  And about 1908, one day long ago the old man reached out his hand to touch the earth one final time.

Sitting Bull's Earth lodge Outside

The White Wood Magic

Cottonwood October 11, 2012

Eight months after I published a book called The Magic Children, I went on tour with it.  By “tour” I mean that a friend who owns a bookstore asked me to join a group of writers for a book fair, and I sat down at a table with several other authors and I sold a few books and I met a woman who had published a book on cottonwood trees.

Kathleen Cain

Kathleen Cain
May 15, 2011

Kathleen Cain grew up in the ancient Pawnee homeland.  One day in that realm her father revealed a secret of the cottonwood tree.  If you slice open a cottonwood twig at the right place you will find a pretty five-pointed star.  This star had surprised her.  When Kathleen grew up she couldn’t stop thinking about cottonwoods and she wrote a book called The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion.

I guess it wasn’t much of a book tour for me.  But Kathleen showed me that star inside the cottonwood and I enjoyed my book tour.  I promised I would look for the Pawnee word for cottonwood, and I would write down whatever I found on the topic and I would send it to her.

I didn’t know then that I would tell this story.  And I for sure didn’t know that it would be such a strange sad frightening story.

Once upon a time a man captured a small duck and took it home to show his wife.  They kept this little duck in their tipi until the woman told him to let it go, and so he turned it loose.  Not long later the woman gave birth.  As this baby girl grew up, the parents began to notice that she loved to spend her days swimming in ponds.  The mother said to the father, “See, our girl is like that duck you brought home!  I guess we should let her do as she chooses – and you’d better not complain about it.”  They named her Young Duck.

One day Young Duck dug a small hole on the west side of their tipi.  From some nearby ponds she brought flag root and peppermint, and she planted these in the hole.  That night this hole mysteriously filled with water.  Young Duck told her mother, “When I’m not doing anything, I think I’ll sit on this pool.  And every day you will wash my face with water from the pool.”

This magic water smelled fragrant, very sweet.  The mother washed her daughter’s face each day after that.  As the months went by, she noticed how Young Duck slowly grew into a pretty girl.

Cottonwood October 11, 2012

In her dreams Young Duck heard a voice.  Following the advice of this voice, Young Duck one day went to the ponds and found a hooked stick.  She took this stick with her the next time the other young women went to gather wood.  In the forest they came upon a dead cottonwood.  Young Duck said, “You girls go on.  I’ll stay here while you gather your wood.”  After the girls left, Young Duck lifted her stick, “Now pull down that dry limb!”  The hook in her hand stretched up and broke off the dead branch from the cottonwood.

When the other girls returned, they found Young Duck sitting with her wood pile neatly bound.  Each day she accompanied the young women to get wood.  And every day her mother would wash her face with water from the magic pool.  Pretty Young Duck slowly became very beautiful.

Cottonwood October 11, 2012

As noted by linguist Douglas Parks, a Skidi term for cottonwood is ráhaaktaakaaru or ráktaakaaru, meaning white wood.  This term refers to the fact that under the bark of this tree the flesh of the wood is very pale.  Versions of this Pawnee term appear in both the Skidi Pawnee dialect and the South Band Pawnee dialect.  The South Band Pawnees had another term for cottonwood: téhtu.  Among all the Pawnees, if a cottonwood tree is small in size, the term for it is pásaki, but a large one is called pásakucu.

Resources from this tree once provided firewood, construction material, wood implements, and horse-feed.  According to Parks, there is a Skidi word for a wooden bowl made from the root of a cottonwood tree: rákaraaraariksisu – the final portion of this term (rariksisu) signifies that the wood bowl is real or authentic.

Cottonwood bark

Several Pawnee words refer to the use of cottonwood as feed for horses during winter.  The Skidi word asaháktaakaaru literally means horse wood white, and it signifies the use of bark for feed.  In The Lost Universe Gene Weltfish described the preparation of “cottonwood tops and bark” for horse winter feed – axe-cuts were made to loosen the bark for horses to chew.  On cold snowy nights the Pawnees would prepare this feed and set it on a hide for their horses.  Bark prepared in this fashion is termed rákataatu or wood dung.  The South Band Pawnee terms for white horse wood and wood dung are very similar to Skidi: asaahaáktakaaru and rakataatu.

Everyone thought Young Duck looked very beautiful.  Young men found her quite fascinating.  One young gambler set up his hoop & stick playing field near Young Duck’s tipi.  Others demonstrated their mastery of the arts of archery.  A number of hopeful suitors took out their flutes in the late evening and competed for her admiration.

But Young Duck ignored them all.  Until… until one day on the eve of a ceremonial dance, Young Duck noticed a hawk sitting on the limb of a cottonwood tree.  “Yes,” she murmured softly.  “If you become a man you can court me.”

This hawk took note of Young Duck’s extraordinary beauty.  He flew to a holy place; a hidden underground house of spirit-animals.  Humbling himself, he appealed to them for help and they performed their magic upon him and he became a young man.

Magic Water

Young Duck knew him when he called upon her.  She fell in love with Hawk, and he fell in love with her, and she told her parents, “I will marry this young man, Hawk.”  So Hawk moved in with her and her parents.  Young Duck continued to sit upon her pool of water.  Her mother washed her face and her hair with the enchanted water.  And Young Duck would then wash her husband’s face and his hair.  They became a beautiful, happy couple.

And every day Young Duck gathered wood with her girlfriends.  She used her magic stick to take down branches from tall cottonwoods in the forest.  Hawk stood guard nearby upon a high hill, watching over the young women as they worked.

In this Skidi Pawnee tale, told by a woman named Bright Eyes over a century ago to James R. Murie, there is an association that seems random.  A woman who has the nature of a water bird performs magic upon cottonwood trees.  The Pawnees knew that cottonwood trees prefer to live along ponds and waterways.  Anthropologist Gene Weltfish described how the Skidi doctors once used cottonwood tree-trunks in constructing the ritual spaces for the annual autumn Doctor Dance, and in so doing, “The cottonwood symbolized the Beaver and the waters of the earth.”  James R. Murie told another researcher that cottonwood boards were used to make Pawnee cradleboards, and the associated symbolism referred to star deities and to sweet cleansing rainwater.

This does not mean that a simple equation can be drawn between cottonwoods and riparian symbolism.  Cottonwood trees once had many uses in the Pawnee world.  But cottonwood sticks were also significant in the traditional rituals and religious ideology of the Skidi.  These sticks had ceremonial use in building the altar for the Skidi Morning Star ceremony (along with box elder, willow, and elm).  As Gene Weltfish makes clear, these four kinds of sticks in the Morning Star ceremony signified the four quarters of the earth, the semicardinal directions.

These same branches held some unknown significance in another story told to James Murie by Woman Newly Made Chief, daughter of a Skidi doctor.  In her story two twins of ancient legend used this same set of sticks to cremate their dead father, who they had slain.  This tradition told of frightful events, and no one knows what the twins intended when they brought forth wood signifying the four quarters of the world and used it to cremate their dead father.

Stories can sometimes touch on our fears.  And sometimes our fears are mysterious and we do not understand them.  And sometimes very fearful and mysterious things happen in our lives; and sometimes those things enter the stories we tell.

Cottonwood October 11, 2012

One day when Young Duck got home with the limbs she had gathered from the cottonwoods, she noticed a strange old woman in the tipi.  This old woman watched as Young Duck’s mother washed her face and as Young Duck washed the face of her handsome husband, Hawk.

This old lady was a sorceress.  She envied Young Duck.  “I wish I could be Young Duck,” whispered the sorceress.  Deciding that she had to have what Young Duck had, she made a plan.  In the nearby forest this sorceress found a dogwood stick, and she sharpened it and she hid it in her clothes.

When Young Duck appeared with her friends, the sorceress watched from a thicket as the other girls went on their way to gather wood.  She watched as Young Duck brought forth her magic stick.  After Young Duck gathered a bundle and tied it neatly, the sorceress stepped forth.

“Hello, dearie,” cackled the old woman.  “You are so beautiful and good; I will sit with you.”  A moment later she took out her hidden dogwood stick and she swiftly jabbed it in Young Duck’s ear!  When the sorceress decided Young Duck was dead, she blew into Young Duck’s mouth.  Young Duck’s skin came off, but only from her waist up.

The old woman crawled into the empty skin.  When she stood, she looked like Young Duck.  She rolled the real Young Duck into the stream that ran beside the old cottonwood tree and the body floated away.

Now the sorceress yelled rudely for the other girls.  The young women all noticed how wild Young Duck’s eyes seemed.  And back at Young Duck’s tipi, the sorceress threw down her bundle of sticks and announced in a crotchety tone, “Mother, I’m tired and hungry!”  She ate heartily – even eating her husband’s food.

She lay down naked with Hawk.  She cackled, demanding he give her a good time.  She kept talking loudly, making vulgar remarks as if to distract him as he tried to pleasure her.  But Hawk noticed something very disturbing.  Young Duck’s legs were no longer smooth and pretty.  In fact, from the waist down, beautiful Young Duck had somehow become… well, very old and thin and decrepit.

Cottonwood forest

The next day the sorceress accompanied the young women to get firewood.  She talked loudly and she had a mean tone that had never before appeared in Young Duck’s gentle voice.  When they came to the first cottonwood, the sorceress sent on the other girls, just as Young Duck always did.  The sorceress took out Young Duck’s magic hooked stick.  “Okay!  Come now and stretch!”  But nothing happened.  “Hook that cottonwood limb,” she demanded.  But no, nothing happened.  She had to settle for cutting a few green willows.

Back at the tipi the sorceress threw down her rather sparse bundle of green wood and she complained to Young Duck’s mother, “I’m tired and I have a terrible headache.  I’m going to take it easy on my pool of magic water.”  But when she stepped over to the pool of water, she found it had dried up.  And the next day everyone noticed an odor.  The stolen skin was rotting.

The family sent for doctors.  But none could help.  The sorceress kept them at bay because she needed to protect her horrible secret.

Hawk had strong suspicions.  He thought of someone who could help.  When Hawk returned with this man, they both saw that Young Duck’s skin had a bruised look.  The man’s face was painted black.  He held a black gourd.

The sorceress cried out, “You black-eyed crow, I know you!  You are going to discover my secret!”  This man was a Crow Wizard.  He called for a bowl of water.  He sang and gestured with his gourd.  Tiny scenes appeared in the water and the Crow Wizard studied them and then he denounced the sorceress: “This crazy old woman has taken Young Duck’s skin and it is rotten!”

Hawk heard a far-off voice.  He didn’t linger to see what happened to the old sorceress.  A pretty song echoed in Hawk’s mind.  “Here now stands Young Duck!”  He came to a stream and listened.  Where was the singing?  The song made his heart ache for Young Duck.  He would find her!

He turned himself into a hawk and he flew up and down the stream.  For days he sought the voice.  He grew weary and hungry, but still he searched.  On the evening of the fourth day he paused upon a hilltop.  There was smoke in the valley below.  There stood a tipi.

Landing, he became a young man again.  He stepped inside.  There sat a man, a woman, and four young girls.  “I thought I heard my wife singing,” he said to them.  “Is Young Duck here?”  They said no.  There is no Young Duck here.  But he knew… he asked again.  And again.  Finally, the youngest girl pointed to a heap of things just beyond the firelight.

There Hawk saw two legs sticking out.  He recognized those pretty legs.  Young Duck!  He reached for her.  “No, husband,” spoke Young Duck.  “Do not uncover me!  For I am not the same pretty girl you married!”  But he uncovered her anyway.

Duck family

His beautiful wife had the upper body of an old woman.  “Dear husband,” cried Young Duck, “I will never go back to what I was.  I will never be your beautiful wife ever again!”  And she wept.  The family stood watching.  They were crying, too.  They loved Young Duck.  They were her duck family.  She had floated down the stream and they had rescued her and they loved her no matter what she looked like.

Hawk stared at the old woman with the young legs.  Yes; this was Young Duck.  He began to weep.  Young Duck thought he felt sorry for himself.  “See what I am now?  I can never be your beautiful wife, and you must let me go.  Carry me up into the sky and let me go.  And then you will marry again, Hawk.  You will find a pretty wife and you will both be happy.”

“No, Young Duck!” said Hawk.  “You are my wife and I will love you forever!”  Now she wept again, knowing he felt sad for her.  “Can’t you see?” she said to him, “I can never be happy, dear husband!  I can never go back to who I was when we first met and fell in love!  You must let me go.”

After a long night together Hawk at last understood the truth.  Young Duck was miserable.  She was old and thin and very frail.  Her skin hurt her.  The pain was terrible; her suffering was awful.  He had to let her go.

“We will take care of her until she is gone,” said the father.  The mother nodded, “You can leave her to us.”  But Hawk decided that he had to help Young Duck himself.  He carried his wife to the top of the hill.  There he turned again into a hawk.  He gathered up Young Duck upon his back.  “Now fly,” she whispered to him, “You are strong and I am withered.  I will be easy to carry.”

Hawk spread his wings and he leaped into the sky.  High above the earth, Hawk turned one last time, “I love you, Young Duck!”  And he let go of her.  He watched her fall.

Far below, Young Duck fell into a stream.  When Hawk flew down to the water’s edge, he found her there.  She had become a clam.  Her shell looked like old skin.  But inside the shell, the clam was smooth and young.

When you find yourself standing beside a stream, there might be a cottonwood tree nearby.  The bark will look rough and grey and wrinkled, as if very old.  But underneath this old bark the pale flesh of the cottonwood is forever young.

And standing there, if you happen to notice a hawk flying above… and if you peer into the stream at your feet… perhaps you will see what that hawk sees.  Young Duck will look old.  But somewhere inside her shell she will always be young and beautiful.

Cottonwood October 11, 2012