"When Dogs Could Talk"

 

 

     Waking up after drinking from the cup, I found myself laying on the ground looking up to a moonless night. The stars were so bright that I thought that I could see the other side of the universe. Standing up, I discovered I was in a meadow with a trail running through the middle. All the wildflowers of summer had closed for the day, but their fragrance still filled the air. Now, they waited for the sun to appear once again.

     I walked over to the trail unsure of where I was and what to do.  The trail was well worn and would be easy to follow in the starlight.

     The night was dead calm and standing there, I thought that I heard children laughing. After a monument I heard them again, and then again. I could tell that the children were running toward me. Unsure of what was happening, I decided that I had better leave the trail, so I ducked into the edge of the forest.

     When the children came into view, I saw that it was seven girls and I recognized their Kiowa dresses. The leading girl, undoubtedly the oldest, wore a single feather straight up from her headband, and she shouted to the others, “Hurry my sisters before brother catches us. He thinks he’s a bear!”

     In a chorus of laughter, holding hands, the sisters disappeared up the trail and into the forest. Just as I stood up, with my mind racing with what I had witnessed, the brother came out of the forest following the trail. I could see that the boy was much younger than his sisters and I could see the look of anger and frustration on his face. Halfway across the meadow the boy collapsed onto the trail from his efforts.

     Kneeling back down, I watched the boy as he lay there breathing so heavily that I was becoming concerned with whether he would survive his efforts. His breathing was very deep and rapid. It was about then that the girls appeared back from the forest still laughing.

     “Look at our little brother laying there thinking he is a bear”, they took turns shouting.

     Suddenly, I felt a change that I could not explain. It was as if the universe was changing in some unexplained way. Looking up, I saw that the stars had started to slowly spin in the sky, not around the North Star, but directly overhead of us.

     I heard a loud groan come from the boy who had risen onto his hands and knees.  Shouts came from the great pain that the boy was enduring. Before my eyes, the boy was turning into a bear! The sisters had fallen silent and appeared to be in as much disbelief as I was.

     I watched as the boy metamorphosed into the largest bear I had ever seen. The sisters had drawn themselves together and they no longer laughed but raised their voices in terror in what they were seeing. Their laughter had become screams as the bear started to run toward them. For a reason that I cannot explain, I started running behind the bear following it into the forest in pursuit of the girls.

     The bear was almost on the sisters when they came to a large tree stump. I was just close enough that I could hear the stump say, “Climb up on top of me. I will save you”. Without a word the sisters climbed up on top just as the bear arrived.  As the bear reared up onto its rear feet, the stump began to grow from the ground with the sisters clinging tightly to each other.

     Only a few feet away, I seemed not to be noticed. The stars continued their quickened pace.

     Now the sisters were out of the bears grasp. But, as the stump rose higher and higher, the bear tried to gain a purchase with its claws that would allow it to reach the top of the stump. As the stump rose, the bear dug his claws into the side, but his great weight would pull him down, cutting long vertical gouges from the top all the way to the ground.

     Then bear must have realized that it could never reach the girls and quit its efforts. I watched as the bear walked around the base of the stump, never to be seen again.

     The top was so high that I could no longer see the sisters. The stars had stopped their quickened orbits, and all was calm again in the forest. For a moment I stared at the stump. Then the magic came to me.

     I was looking at the Devil’s Tower. I had watched this wonder of the earth rise out of the ground and become stone. The bears sharp claws making the vertical cracks down its side.

     I wondered about the sisters and how they would ever get down on such a dangerous climb. The summit seemed so high that it just might touch the stars. As I stood looking up in wonderment, I could see the seven girls. There they stood at the edge, themselves looking at the stars. All at once they all begin to glow until they were as bright as the stars. Together they rose into the night to become stars themselves. Higher and higher until finally they spread out from each other and took a familiar position in space.

     Laughing out loud at what had just happen, I realized that I had witnessed the creation of Devil’s Tower and the Big Dipper.

     My eyes grew heavy and my head leaned back. The last thing that I remember was the seven bright stars.

     Waking, I found myself across the fire from the Chacoan. Looking out over the canyon I realized I was back at Chaco and the full moon was well above the horizon. I asked the Chacoan, “Did that really happen?”

     “Yes”.

     “When?”

     The Chacoan’s eyes met mine.  He reached over the fire and again offered me the cup.

     “This happened when dogs could talk”.

 

 

 

The basis of this story is from a Kiowa legend as told by N. Scott Momaday.