Chapter II: First Mother
From within, she felt arise a great feeling of peace. Then from behind the hanging roots of the ancient tree, emerged a beautiful woman. Her white long flowing hair grew down past her waist, her skin, shined red like the color of the clay in the deserts below. Her eyes held pools of glacial water, blue-green blue-grey, and a steady but soft focus on Sonora. The crow’s feet beside her eyes and wrinkles on her cheeks betrayed the smile surging up from her lungs and heart. She walked toward Sonora, when eventually the smile cracked and she reached out her arms and said,
Sonora was still, unable to process what was happening. Her mother wrapped her arms around her tightly as those pools that filled her eyes began streaming down her face.
“Listen…My daughter… find me, come…the tree”
As she spoke, the world trembled. The tree above and the earth beneath quaked revealing cracks where tiny pieces of soil fell through. The ground was crumbling from the roots above, they would be crushed.
Calmly, her mother put her hands gently on her cheeks and kissed her forehead. The kiss carried a powerful gift. Her mother’s kiss brought sharp, intense energy. It felt as if the skin where her lips had touched was being peeled back and melting into her eyes.
The energy pushed deeper into Sonora’s forehead, and she felt ages of information, memories, pouring into her mind’s eye. Sonora was pulled into the gravity of sudden flashing visions… of the stream by where she sat…
Of a giant crow who flew overhead east toward the moon as the daylight faded, disappearing into the tree tops and leaving only the whooshing sound of his flapping wings.
Then, a bull elk walked gracefully through hidden meadows at dusk toward ponds where a lone great blue heron hunted in celestial waters. Each step was measured, slow, his hind feet registering where the front feet had just left. Head low, antlers high, ears perched powerfully listening to all that surrounded. Flies buzzing quietly, licking the salt from the reddish woolly mane on his neck. His tongue reached down to the water’s edge and pulled in a drink, before he swallowed, stopped, listened, then drank once more. The wind pushed the water gently toward the rushes and horsetails reaching for air and light beside the elk’s hooves.
Next she saw an ancient tree high on mountain top, standing in endless skies. An unexpected break in the clouds , where sunlight peaked in to touch Sonora before sneaking off to hide from a coming rain. A woman, rested her back on the tree’s trunk with her mouth wide open, eyes and palms facing up toward the sky. A blue-green light emitted from the woman’s fingers and mouth, a double helix swirling up through the tree into the rain, merging with the sky and falling back to the earth and seeping into the soil and roots.
Then a brightly colored bird, rested in a nest floating on the sea, vivid feathers of orange and turquoise shone brightly under the winter solstice full moon and a spear-like beak. The winds churned the water and moved toward the mystical bird resting in her nest, but the waters moved by the wind stopped in their tracks, harmed by the feathered creature. She turned and stared with cold blue eyes piercingly into Sonora’s.
Finally, a sensation of warmth, she felt… the sun on her skin. And her mother’s hands on her cheeks…
“Listen…Wake up Sonora. Listen, wake up!”
“Wake up Sonnie!” Sonora jumped up as if trying to escape the falling earth from her dream. “Woah! What’s wrong?” Her brother Solstice asked.
“Where am I? What happened?” gasped Sonora.
“What? I just got back and saw you sitting here, sleeping or meditating or something.”
Sonora snapped back to reality. Humbled, she shivered and the gravity of the vision she just had sank in and she began to cry uncontrollably. A wave of so many emotions washed over her. She felt confused, scared, like there was nothing in the world that was right. Tears flooded and infiltrated the soils at her feet on their way to join the stream by her side.
Solstice stood, shocked, and didn’t know what to do. Feeling sorry for his younger sister, he sat beside her and put his hand on her back. Still confused, he looked worriedly at his sister. At first he hugged her tightly, then loosened his grip and held her. For a while, they sat together just like that. Sonora’s heart beat slowed and her sobbing, too. The sounds of the forest again became apparent. The trickling of the stream and the chirps of the chickadee settled into the two siblings.
Now that he could see Sonora had calmed down, Solstice stood up, looked back at his sister and offered her his hand. “Come on, we’ve got lots of ground to cover to catch up to Pai,” endearingly referring to their father. She took his hand and wiped her eyes and nose. He smiled at her tenderly.
“Wait, let me check the traps before we go, hopefully I’ve caught some us breakfast,” she said. She quickly disappeared behind the oak brush. She knew she had to tell her brother what had happened to her that morning in her vision, what she saw, but she couldn’t find any words. She decided she would wait to tell him until that night. She found her traps, yes! And a few minutes later came out carrying two rabbits. Sonora saw Solstice’s face light up, and she could tell he was hungry. She laughed, he was always hungry. Within minutes they ignited a fire, skinned and gutted the rabbits and had them on a spit. They never made large fires. They took as little as possible from the trees and earth, only burning what they needed to cook the meat, no more. They gave thanks, as always, for the gifts from the earth.
As quickly as they cooked and eaten the rabbits, they erased any trace of their passing and were on the move. Following closely behind her older brother, Sonora took one last look at his face, as she knew she would only see his back once they hit the trail. He smiled, raised his left hand to his face and touched the tips of his fingers to between his eyes and shot them up to the sky, spreading his fingers as they ascended. Sonora smiled and did the same. With this, they emanated pure moving energy and evoked the spirits of the trail, as if silently saying, “be with us, as we are with you,”. Then, they ran.
They ran all day, moving through the forest swiftly and silently. Deeper up into the mountains they ran, knowing that their father would not slow his pace for them. The sun steadily moved across the sky, from east to west. Their breath became one as they sustained their movement hour after hour. As their Pai taught them, they listened carefully to their heartbeats, and worked to lighten the sound of their feet touching the earth. The moon came following the path of the sun, and they gravitated on in their never-ending ellipses.
Solstice rarely stopped. Sometimes Sonora wondered how he knew which way to go. But whenever her doubts arose, eventually she would catch a glimpse of tracks, broken twigs, or scratches on a tree that their father had left for them. He never seemed to tire, or if he did, he never revealed it. Koi, their father had trained them as they grew to achieve incredible endurance. They knew how to run. Day after day they could run, finding food and water on the way. But they also knew when to rest.
By sundown, Solstice and Sonora were both ready to rest. Daylight was fading. Solstice found a stand of aspen trees near a brook where they could sleep. He set his hand on the tree beside him and smiled at Sonora. “You did well today, Sister,” he said. “Now, what upset you this morning when I found you?”. Taken off guard and exhausted, Sonora looked him in the eyes and lied.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I… I’m not sure I can even explain it…” She didn’t even know where to start. She intended to come up with something while they were running earlier in the day, but had lost track of time and her thoughts while immersed in the trip.
“Look Sonora, you are tough, strong. I have never seen you cry like that. I know it had to be something important,” he looked at her knowingly.
When abruptly, his heart sank and his lungs seized. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground and began gasping for breath. His hands clenched the soil as he struggled in sudden pain. Sickness invaded him, his lungs forced all air from him, his stomach wrenched and squeezed out the water he had drank earlier that morning. Tears welled up in his eyes. He looked up to see his sister standing there frozen with fear. The blood vessels in his eyes swelled and then an unusual, uncontrollable urge overcame him. He dug ferociously under the duff of the forest floor, deeper and deeper.
Sonora was taken with fear and jumped to her brother’s side. “Sol, what’s happening!? Sol, what’s wrong!?” Tears began streaming from her eyes, Solstice kept digging, not acknowledging his sister’s concerns for him. He reached his hand deep into the earth and pulled out a wet handful of red clay and began to eat it. He reached his other hand into the hole he had dug and pulled out another glob and took a bite from it.
Sonora looked at him horrified. What is happening to my brother? she thought. The color returned to his pale face and he became calm once again. He finished eating the remaining clay from his reddened hands. He faintly and forcefully pushed out one word, “Water… water!” he said again. Sonora rushed over to the stream and filled her cupped hands with water and ran back to her brother. He drank it so quickly and gasped, “More”. Again she filled her hands from the stream and rushed back to help her brother. “More” he said again. A third time she filled her hands from the stream, still crying, her tears dropped into the water. Her brother drank, but as he finished, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell flat onto his back and began convulsing.
His arms stretched out suddenly and violently. His wrists bent back unnaturally and fingers contorted, muscles contracting as if cursed by some spirit. His back flexed and chest heaved upwards. He opened his eyes and mouth wide and gasped for air. Pupils dilated, in panic he looked to his limbs and began to transform. His arms pushed him swiftly upright, his neck arched back. Dark black shafts started to emerging from his throat, his long black hair too, transformed into black shafts where more dark barbs grew from. His eyes narrowed, and his nose grew, changing color to black. His chest pushed forward, bones cracking, mutating. His arms spread, fingers changing to feathers, growing into wings. Her brother was nearly unrecognizable, becoming a monster before her eyes. His feet split into three and became scaled, clawed. Tailbone bent in flexion, tail feathers protruded from him. His head now moved on a swivel, looking back and forth and in a few powerful strokes, knocking Sonora to the ground, Solstice, her only brother, took flight.
Now a giant crow, he flew overhead east toward the moon as the daylight faded, disappearing into the tree tops and leaving only the whooshing sound of his flapping wings.