There always  is the weak one who holds to the back and barely survives, saved only by his exceptional sight. When he is sent into the desert to fast and climb the highest rock on the north rim some say ‘good riddance’ rather than goodbye and others weep his going because they doubt he will ever return. This season the weakest one walked into the sun without food or water and when night came he found himself at the base of a low dark cliff. There he slept a restless night and woke when the dawn light fell blue upon the rock face at his back. It was then he turned and saw traces of all the stories of his people: their gods. their bravest warriors, the long stampede, the wheel of life. Then he looked down and was thrilled to discover a thin band of water seeping from the rock where water had never leaked before. So he drank just enough to ease his thirst and turned his back upon the rock . . .

. . . . and walked off into the sun once more.  This day his footsteps were slower and the sand deeper than the day before but he had the memory of the wall of stories to keep him company so the time to dusk seemed shorter. He even continued walking for another hour after the sun had set. Eventually he stumbled against the base of a stone outcropping and slept hours into the deep of night when he was wakened by the distant howls of night running wolves. Over him hung a sky with more stars than he had even seen before. Shape upon shape so clear that they might have been drawn upon the sky with his own hand. All the places that he had been and the routes from here to there some even beyond the flat dry plains and into their winter uplands of small trees and antelope. The shifting of the winds from north to west stirred the surface of a very shallow pool of water directly at his feet. So he washed and drank and rather than loosing the fading stars to sleep he walked into the dawn.

The sun on this third day was hotter than he had ever known it to burn before and his mind began to visit places from his childhood: his mother’s arms, the fire site near the river’s bend, the standing pillars, the old chief’s dance for death, the Battle of Many-Feathers, the long winter of the yellow blisters. His feet were gripped by the dust and when the wind finally eased to stillness; the sun vanished into the hungry mouth of an angry moose. In the after-light the boy felt himself stretch and twist and feathers sprout out through his skin. He lifted into the air and saw  the wide flat land and there below was a rocky shore of red-gold stone cut by a river that carried itself out to become one with the strange salt sea. There were sailing boats of many shapes, some like buffalo, some like elk, some like the footprint of a giant man and even one that looked exactly like the boy that he had been when he left his tribe to take the journey of a man on which he must either find  his name or never dare to return at all.

The fourth day struggled into light. His face damp from laying in small patch of  mud. Where he had fallen in delirium. He struggled to walk into the sun expecting now this day would be his last. After some time and some distance in some direction or another he sat. His head lolled forward to avoid taking leave of the last dusk.

Madness overcame his faulty eyes which saw people, not his people, passing by him as if he was not there. A wall shimmered but when he pressed his hand upon it he found that it felt cold and hard and smooth like a sun cast bead of glass. And then beyond this wall or on this wall he could not find what was sure, there appeared another wall– whiter, smoother than an ermine. Small bright suns hung above to light it in the dark. This was surely the land beyond. These walkers in their strange black coats must be all those dead and gone before him.  On the white wall he makes out to see the shining green of the same blue as was the stone wall he saw on his first day out. Identical drawings by identical hands but also the same stars shining in that second sky, and then he saw all the little boats just as they had sailed that wide blue, now green ocean and the boy knew that they were all one and that his journey had come round. One of those ghost figures broke from the procession and placed a smaller square beyond the edge of the large green one. A sign on which was drawn the image of a flower found among the neither rocks.  Then he knew without knowing how he knew that this image was the mark of tansy. And this was his name.

The sun rose very slowly until his tribe found him walking toward them. After he  told them of his four different sightings of the same vision they understood and  acknowledged the necessity of his place among them.


Newspaper Rock, Utah” photography by Bill Bonebrake in 1999