Chapter I: The Tree
The bright yellow face of the heart-leaf Arnica shines as the first morning light touches its petals under the protection of the Grandmother Douglas Fir standing and swaying hundreds of feet above. The tapping of the woodpecker on the Ponderosa pine to the south resonates in the hush of the forest. The chickadee chirps as it hops through the willows next to the ever-slowing trickle of the stream from the last of the snow melt to the north. A chipmunk scurries across the thick duff floor of the pine forest and disappears into the scrub oak to the west. A bothered squirrel up in the pines chatters away to the east, just audible over the creaking of the old growth trees dancing in the wind.
The smell of fresh pine and icy morning air penetrates the lungs of young Sonora, as she is gently but chillingly woken by the passing breeze. She lies there for a moment, rubs her eyes and looks up above her where she sees usnea, Spanish moss, blowing to the north-east.
After months in forest with her father and brother, she can feel the days getting shorter, the mornings getting colder. Her father, Koi, had raised her and her older brother, Solstice, after the disappearance of their mother when they were only infants. Their father was a kind man and made it his life’s purpose to raise Solstice and Sonora.
Koi and Solstice had left hours before sunrise to follow tracks in the moonlight. The Elk were starting to come down from the high mountain valleys. “The Elk are a noble people who have long fed the two-legged. To take the life of the Elk is a sacred communion”, Sonora remembered her father telling her. They had long prayed for the sacrifice of an Elk to help them get through the long winter.
Sonora knew they could be gone for days, so went to snare some rabbits. She began her day as she always had, as she had learned from her father. She sat under the Grandmother Douglas Fir, closed her eyes and allowed her breath to sink her roots into the soil and commune with the spirits that surrounded her. With each breath she bowed and gave thanks to the Earth Mother, the waters, the four winds, the low-dwelling plants, the four-legged, the winged ones, the trees, the sky, stars, sun, moon and to the First Mother from which all things come.
Then she sat there, allowing the sounds of the forest to become her, allowing peace to alight there in her heart, for time slowed as she sat and listened…
Sonora slipped into a deep prayerful meditation, her mind felt the presence of something so familiar and comforting. And then, as water flowing down the stream, she heard it, move clearly through her ears into her core, more clearly than her own breath,
It was the most undimmed and sweetest voice she had ever heard. It belonged to her mother, she knew it. She didn’t know how she knew, she just did.
Cold air pierced into her lungs as she felt a surge of awareness and sensation rush into her. She opened her eyes and saw The Tree. Its ancient, gnarled and wind-formed branches twisted up and seemed to touch the sky. The roots stretched out and seemed to be moving toward her and pulling her in. Near the base of the trunk she could see a dark hole, where light entered but did not escape. She was drawn closer and closer to the hole, the roots pulling her in until she slipped into its depths…
There was only darkness, then, silence. It filled her, she became it and it became her and for a moment, they were. Then she heard her breath, she felt a warmth, she saw more clearly through the shadow than she had ever seen in the light. She felt clairvoyant and moved forward slowly, almost floating.
Under the protection of the Tree, everything seemed to glow radiantly. The soil was loosely held in place by the hanging roots which became the walls of the cave beneath the ancient standing Tree. Moss, steadily dripping hung from many of the roots and seemed to breath, in and out, with Sonora.