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Catori was the name my mother and father had given me. They said that when I was born the wind blew hard and the moon was full. They said that my screams filled the valley and scared the dear. I can’t imagine why such a name would be given to me. I wasn’t special, yet I was blessed to be named Catori. In Hopi language it means spirit, but I wasn’t Hopi. It was said that Mother once ran into a Hopi medicine man while I was just an egg, and he muttered but one word, and that was Catori.
When I was younger I was never one to sit still very long unless something held my attention. I would sit and stare at the horses, walk in the creek, and lure animals as near as I possibly could. No matter what I did, there was one place I couldn’t help but go to every day.
At the base of the mighty river was a willow. The tree was tall and strong. I would wrap my arms around it every day and see how much my arms would grow. I fantasized that one day my arms would be long enough to go around the whole thing, but that was impossible. I was four when mother and I first came to the tree. I can remember her voice that day. What she said has stayed with me my whole life.
“Trees are the most special creatures of all. They have roots that go deep into the world of the dark, they have their bodies that stay in this world, and they have their high branches that greet the sun and divine with their entire splendor.”
Mother’s voice was smooth and happy that day. That was before the time of great worry came upon us. It was when the women still went out and picked berries without fear. It hasn’t been like that for a very long time, but surely I am getting ahead of myself.
I returned to the Willow every day thereafter. It isn’t surprising that it started to talk to me, I had inherited the endless curiosities my tribe was known for, and the tree couldn’t help but answer to them. I remember my first question it answered, it was a year after mother and I had come upon the tree, and I was already maturing quickly.
“Mother said trees talk… I wonder why I cannot hear them…” Strangely I had said this out loud. I found it easier to sort my thoughts when I gave them to the wind to carry.
“You would hear them if you listened, Catori.” The voice shocked me at first. I sat up from my laying position and looked all around. There was nobody.
“Who said that?” I wanted to hear the voice again.
“My name is not such for your ears to understand but I am the Willow. You may call me that.” The Willow’s voice was thunderous and strong, nothing like human voices; it sounded like a thousand voices made into one, always changing, always different.
Willow didn’t talk to me often, but I seemed to be more aware of her presence after our first short conversation. When she did talk it was short and sometimes she left me wondering and questioning, but in the end what she said always made sense even if it took a while.
I was older when she began to talk to me at length. We would discuss the separation of tribes and causes. We had heard a few accounts of white men, but none seemed real to me. She always warned me that she could feel it in her roots and see it in her leaves that the stories were true, but I didn’t want to believe her. She seemed to understand. Hearing of such men was like hearing of monsters. Men who carried sticks that shot explosions, and who wore clothes made of plants, not animals. They were everything we knew to be impossible.
We usually kept our conversations to more lively thoughts. She seemed to sway her leaves when she laughed, usually finding my questions amusing. She had once scolded me for climbing her when I was younger without asking, but she wasn’t mad, she was entertained.
“A tree’s limbs are sacred, that is why you must ask to climb them. We feel, but not to the extent that you do. Taking care is more out of respect than anything else. Trust me sapling, the worst enemy to have is a tree. They are the givers of life and food, and when you find yourself lost, they can either help you or deny you. ” Her lessons always stuck to me. Every day thereafter I asked before climbing, and she always gave me permission and complimented me on my manners. It seemed though that her lessons weren’t only those of tree etiquette but also worked at home.
It was a fall evening when I lay on her thick branch and thought of questions for her. She didn’t always answer them. Some days, it seemed like she wasn’t there at all. For the first time, she had spoken without me asking.
“Tomorrow is the celebration of your birth,” she said joyfully.
“Yes, the fourteenth one.”
“Are you not happy?”
“I am, but rumors of white men scare me.”
“Ahh… I see your conflict…” I sighed and hung over her branch with my head dangling.
“Are they coming?”
“Sapling. Tomorrow, after the morning celebration, come see me. Tell no one of your whereabouts.”
“Why?” My question went unanswered. I couldn’t help but hear a twinge of worry in the Willow’s voice, but her voice was always changing. I stayed there that day until late in the evening listening, to everything around me. Then I once again wrapped my arms around the Willow to find they were too short to come even near each other. I walked back to the tribe.
That night the wolves did not howl as they once did, and I could see the fear in many faces. I dragged my feet to my tent where my mother was waiting for me.
“Tomorrow you come of age.”
“I am so proud, but may I ask where you go every day from day till night?”
“I swear I shall not tell anyone. Tell me.”
“I go to the willow.”
“Does she speak to you?”
“Sometimes. Why do you ask?”
“Just curiosity forcing my tongue. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” It was actually not a good night. I found myself staring thoughtlessly into the fire until its embers turned to black nothingness. By then even the sun was starting to peak above the horizon.
I heard the thundering of hooves first. I thought the herd was moving, but they weren’t. The herd was small compared to the herds of other tribes, and I could often hear and point out the different beats of different horses. These horses were different. I jumped up from my bed and readied myself in my clothes. When I ran outside the hoof beats had ceased, but I still worried. I couldn’t have been the only one who heard them.
I looked around and soon found myself in a warm embrace from my parents. Food was set out. The morning celebration took my thoughts away from the disturbing event that had woken me from my restless relaxation. I was soon being greeted and congratulated by family. The morning celebration took a few hours; it should have lasted much longer, though.
It was only late morning when I heard the first shot. Our warriors rushed past, but I was dumbstruck still. Mother screeched as my cousin’s limp body fell to the ground with a hole in his chest. Arrows flew through the air as I saw the incoming horses.
“Run, Catori!” I heard my mother scream. It was then that I came alive as a large white beast came rushing at me with a long tube pointed at my head. I ran as quickly as I could. Weaving through the trees, I could hear the horse’s hooves thundering behind me, and I was running out of breath. Sharp branches tore at my leggings as I concentrated all my strength in continuing forward. It seemed like forever, but it was only a few minutes before I heard a name being called, and the horse came to a stop before swiveling and returning in the direction of the tribe.
“Little rat will end up dead any ways,” I heard the rider mumble. I would much rather be a rat then to be a murderer. I wanted to yell it at him. What use is it? He can’t understand me. No white man understands.
To Be Continued