A young Ute boy seeks a vision quest.
|“Squawk!” Several Ute boys shoved past Broken Wing, but his fist only tightened, nails biting deep into his palms. He continued his awkward gait, right foot edging forward, dragging the useless left leg. Pressing his lips firmly together, Broken Wing kept his eyes fixated on his destination.
Medicine Claw had paused outside his tepee. His long gray braids rested on his shoulder, and sightless black eyes measured Broken Wing’s every step.
“Maiku, Broken Wing,” Medicine Claw greeted. His raspy voice reminded Broken Wing of the low moan of a winter wind whispering through the canyons.
“Maiku.” Broken Wing returned. He did not question how Medicine Claw had known it was him. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “I seek a vision quest.”
Medicine Claw stared until Broken Wing grew restless and shifted his weight to ease the pressure on his left foot.
“Come in,” Medicine Claw finally spoke. The old man turned and ducked through the entrance. Broken Wing followed, turning to the right. When Medicine Claw indicated that he sit, he eased down, extending his left leg.
“You have waited a long time, Broken Wing. You are seventeen summers but have never sought a vision quest. Why?” Filmy eyes drilled into Broken Wing.
“Phff! Do not waste my time with excuses. You have been afraid.” Broken Wing hung his head. “Are you no longer afraid?”
“I am still afraid,” whispered Broken Wing.
“What do you fear? Think and answer straight as the arrow flies.”
“I used to be afraid because of my leg. I cannot run or ride. I was afraid I could not do it.”
“Now, I am more afraid of what the Great Spirit will tell me. What if he has no use for me?” Tears swelled, and he blinked. He would not shame himself by crying.
“Nonsense, the Great Spirit has a purpose for everything. The single blade of grass grows so that the rabbit may eat it. The rabbit lives so that he can provide the great eagle with the strength to take our messages to the Great Spirit. You too have a purpose.”
“But am I the blade of grass or the eagle?”
“Does it matter?” Silence filled the air for several moments. “If you are too filled with pride, you cannot accept the purpose the Great Spirit has for you.”
“I understand.” Broken Wing sighed. “I will accept even if I am to be the blade of grass.” Medicine claw tilted his head to one side, considering.
“Very well, you may seek your vision quest, but know the Great Spirit will not honor your request unless you are truly ready. We will begin the purification rights tomorrow at dawn.”
The sun peaked up over the mountain as Broken Wing shuffled into the sweat lodge. Medicine Claw was already there, pouring water over the hot coals. Broken Wing felt beads of sweat begin to dot his forehead. He removed his clothes and moccasins until only his breech cloth remained.
For the next several hours, Broken Wing fasted and prayed. He could feel the impurities drain from his body.
The next morning, Medicine Claw entered the sweat lodge. He sat and lifted a wrinkled hand to trace the contours of Broken Wing’s face. His high forehead, the arched brows, the bump on his hawk-like nose and even his thin lips did not escape Medicine Claw’s inspection. With a soft cloth, he wiped the sweat from Broken Wing’s body. When he finished, a soft, low chant bubbled from his lips, and with eyes closed, he dipped one finger in red paint and traced a design over Broken Wing’s chest. Then Medicine Claw moved onto his face where he painted a yellow zig-zag across the left cheek.
“It is time. You will travel southeast until you reach the sacred circle of stones. Sit in the center. No fire. No food.”
“Then I wait?”
“Then you pray and wait. If your spirit is humble, the Great Spirit will show you your vision.”
“Tog'oiak', Medicine Claw. I will not forget all that you said.”
Broken Wing’s muscles trembled with fatigue as he stepped up to the circle of stones. Turning east, he gazed out over the rocky valley. To the north, the red canyon cliffs circled around to end in a lone pinnacle directly in front of him. Broken Wing sucked in a deep breath and felt the charge in the air. Here he would find his destiny. Turning back to the sacred stones, Broken Wing stepped over the ledge, but his right leg gave out, and the the soft sand rushed up to greet him. His impact sent up a cloud of dust, leaving Broken Wing coughing.
He rolled over and groped for his water skin. Taking a small sip, Broken Wing smiled and closed his eyes. He was here in the sacred stones, and he would not leave until the Great Spirit had revealed himself. With super-human strength, Broken Wing pushed himself up. He crossed his right leg in front of him, but had to force his left leg until pain sparked tears. Gasping, he placed his hands palm upward and began to pray.
Morning dawned with Broken Wing’s eyes drifting closed. He shook his head and squinted at the distant pinnacle. An eagle rose and soared toward him, circling closer. After passing over twice, it called out and circled back to land on the edge of the cave opening, a mere ten feet from Broken Wing.
Broken Wing held his breath. Never had he been this close to such a creature. The bird tilted his head to one side, staring. Without warning, it spread its wings and launched into the air, flying directly toward the pinnacle to the east.
“No, come back! Tell me what I need to know.” Broken Wing stared in disbelief. Was that it? Would he never be given a reason to live?
The world in front of Broken Wing began to dissolve. Images from his life raced through his mind, transporting him to another time and place, where he stood observing. He saw himself at five years old, playing at counting coup on the bluffs. Another boy hid behind a rocky outcrop, and thinking to sneak up on him, Broken Wing climbed the boulder to jump down on the other boy. Broken Wing tried to warn himself, but he watched as his foot slipped sending him over the edge and bouncing down a twenty-foot embankment. Broken Wing cried out as the pain lanced up through his mangled left leg.
The scene faded and another took its place. Broken Wing watched as his father placed him on his pony. It jostled forward, and Broken Wing, unable to grip the sides, slid off. His father’s face, marred with shame and contempt, sneered down at him. No helping hand was extended. When his mother raced to his side, spitting angry words, his father simply turned and walked away. The next day his father had ridden out with a war party, never to return. He had died ashamed of his crippled son.
Tears blurred the vision, and Broken Wing watched as it morphed into another. At twelve, Broken Wing could not keep up with the other young braves. Instead, he stood outside his mother’s tepee watching them prepare to ride out on a hunt with their fathers. Crazy Fox, one of the more spiteful boys, caught his eye.
“Hey, want to go hunting?” He laughed. “Oh wait! You probably have important women’s work, don’t you?” Several boys snickered, encouraging him. “Don’t worry, Little Woman, we’ll make sure to bring you back some scraps for your fire tonight.”
Broken Wing felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder. “Do not give power to those boys. You are worth more than ten of them.”
“How can that be?” Broken Wing spit out. “I cannot provide for you. The only meat we get is what I can snare or others give of pity. I am worth nothing to you.”
“You measure your worth by what can be done by the body. You are more than that. Someday, I pray the Great Spirit will show you that.”
Lightening snapped Broken Wing back to the present. He stared, eyes wide. Only a short time ago, clear skies had brightened the horizon. Now, thunder exploded as the night sky danced with light. Rain fell outside the cave, soaking the parched earth and gusts of wind drove in mists, soaking his body.
As Broken Wing dipped his head, he noticed a feather in a crevice below the eagle’s landing. Gritting his teeth, he forced his stiffened legs to unfold. He tried to stand, but tingling fire raced up his legs, and he cried out in agony.
Crawling, he inched close enough to pick up the feather. Broken Wing ran his finger over the soft outer ridges, but stopped in wonder. Half-way down, the shaft was cracked. “Like me,” he whispered.
Back in the circle, Broken Wing held the broken feather in front of him and lay down in the soft sand. The storm raged all around the cave, but inside the circle, a peace settled over him.
“Oh, Great Spirit,” he whispered, “show me my purpose so that I might be of value to my people, to my mother.” As his eyes drifted closed, he thought he heard the beating of wings.
When next he awoke, he was watching a scene he had never experienced. Dressed in a shaman’s robe, he stood outside a great chief’s tepee.
Snow blanketed the ground but the earth in front of the dwelling was trampled with blood. Broken Wing ducked and entered through the open flap. Immediately, the stench of blood assaulted him.
“What happened?” Broken Wing knelt next to Chief Ouray and pulled back the cloth covering his arm. Blood oozed from the gaping wound. Ouray met his gaze with a sheepish one.
“I did not duck.” Ouray chuckled and groaned. “While hunting, I surprised a coyote trying to steal my horse. His scalp now hangs from my lodge pole but not before he scratched me. I would not trouble you, but you know women.” Ouray smiled in spite of the pain and nodded at his wife, Chipeta. “She would not stop nagging until we sent for you. Tog'oiak for coming, Healing Feather.”
Broken Wing chuckled. “She only wants to make sure our great chief is around for many summers. She was wise. We must stop the bleeding.” Broken Wing went to work, packing the wound with plumajillo and sewing it shut.
The scene faded, and Broken Wing turned his head to see the eagle once again sitting on the crest of the entrance to the cave. The great bird launched itself, dropping another feather before turning back toward the far peak.
Broken Wing turned the feather over in his hand. A single blade of grass encased the broken shaft.
“Tell me,” Broken Wing pleaded with Medicine Claw. “What do these visions mean?” Instead of answering, Medicine Claw reached for his black pipestone. Broken Wing sucked in a breath. The sacred black pipe was offered only to people of great importance.
Broken Wing watched as Medicine Claw filled the pipe with tobacco. After lighting it, Medicine Claw inhaled deeply before passing it to Broken Wing.
“You do not know?” For a moment, Broken Wing forgot the question, but then shook his head.
“You will be the blade of grass that heals the eagle’s feather. As the next Shaman, you will heal those who lead our nation.”
“Healing Feather,” breathed Broken Wing and sat up just a little taller.
Word Count 1,949
Image #1: Thunderstorm at False Kiva