The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Byron was born and raised in the City, but he was very unhappy there. He went to work every day in an office with bright lights and soft furniture, and though the people he worked with always seemed to have fun, he was usually unhappy. “I feel out of place,” he’d say, and he’d dream of the forests, rivers, and skies he had seen on camping trips to the mountains.
One day Byron made friends with an old man he met in a coffee house. The man had a beard and was not as clean as he could have been, but his eyes gleamed, and Byron liked him for that. They sat and talked and drank coffee until it was very late. The old man had no place to stay, so Byron let him stay on the couch in his living room.
The old man stayed two nights, and as he was leaving he gave Byron the key to a cabin he owned in the forest. “I won’t be up there for a while,” said the old man, “and I think you might like the cabin.” Byron took the key and shook the old man’s hand. He decided right then that he would visit the cabin during his next vacation.
Byron’s vacation came, and he drove his car out of the City, following the old man’s directions to the end of the road. From there he walked a mile to the cabin. He was tired but happy as he touched the brown pine bark of the cabin logs. He slept late the next morning, and spent the day sitting in a chair that looked out on the forest to the North.
Byron sat in the cabin for days, staring out the small windows that faced North. He knew the inside of the cabin by heart: the iron stove with its hungry mouth and four flat circle eyes, the chairs reaching out to hold him, the lopsided center pole of the cabin, the kerosene lamp so still and dignified, the clothes strewn about, the wood waiting to be eaten, the proud stairway to the loft. Byron sat for days, going outside only to drink or use the outhouse.
One day he saw a large brown bird fly from the West into the forest. He watched the bird, and felt within himself a desire to follow where the bird had gone. He got up, put on a warm jacket (it was early Spring and still cold), and headed down the valley towards the forest. Byron was a slow walker, so it took him several hours just to reach the stream at the valley bottom. He rested there, where the stream came out of the forest, and drank.
Deer, squirrels, rabbits, skunks, and birds of all kinds drank with him from the stream. He thought he saw a wolverine come out of the forest, and the stream was home for several families of muskrats, so Byron didn’t feel at all lonely as he sat by the stream. Before long the sun went behind the Western mountain, and the mist began to rise from the stream as the sky grew dark. The animals left, and Byron felt the cold settle on him.
He gathered up a pile of leaves and branches, then crawled into the pile. He shivered at first, but got warm as he slept. During the night, animals came by and sniffed Byron, but they left him alone. That night, Byron dreamed that the large brown bird was leading him to a special place for a special reason. When he woke up he forgot his dream, but he felt happy, and he knew it was a good dream. He went to the stream and watched the animals drink. Then he drank, and followed the stream back into the forest. Byron walked back into the forest for five days. Each night he would dream of the large brown bird, and each morning he would forget what he had dreamed. But he followed the stream. On the fifth day a white falcon flew to a low branch in a dead tree near Byron and squawked at him. The falcon squawked and squawked. The stream seemed to grow louder. The leaves rustled. The forest was talking to Byron, he knew that, but he couldn’t understand. He listened, but he couldn’t understand what the falcon, the stream, or the leaves said. For a moment he thought he heard a woman’s voice singing, calling for a mate. He sat by the stream and listened, waited to understand. It was growing dark. The animals of the forest came to the stream to drink and to listen. Byron sat and watched.
Suddenly, just as if Byron were dreaming it, a small girl walked out of the forest and bent down to drink. She was eight or maybe nine years old, and she had two small brothers with her. They were three years old at the most. All three wore clothes made of animal skins, and no shoes at all. Byron could hardly believe his eyes. He looked at them and they looked at him. “Hello,” he said, and the girl smiled and said “Hello. Who are you?” “I’m Byron,” he said, “and I’m looking for a large brown bird. I followed it here to the forest. Have you seen the bird?” “Oh yes,” said the girl, “you can find it way up at the top of this valley, up where the stream begins. There is a lake up there where the bird lives.” The girl paused, then said, “You look very thin. Are you hungry?” “Yes,” said Byron, “I’m very hungry. I haven’t eaten in days.” “Well then,” said the girl, “come with us. You can meet my brother Flower and have a good meal by our fire before you sleep. Tomorrow you can go up to the lake and find the brown bird.”
Byron wasn’t sure he was awake. “This might be a dream,” he thought. But he followed the girl through the forest to a cave where her brother Flower sat by a small fire. Byron thought her brother would be fifteen or sixteen at least. He knew it was hard to survive in such a great forest, with no parents, no schools, no sidewalks, and no cars. So he expected to see an older boy by the fire. But no, Flower was only seven years old. He sat by the fire, staring at it, listening to it. He seemed to understand what it said. Byron came close. The boy motioned for him to sit down by the fire. “It’s getting late,” he said, “and you look hungry.”
Byron sat and nodded yes. The boy leaned over to his right, where a squirrel was nibbling on some nuts, and grabbed the squirrel. He snapped its neck and threw it in the fire. “He’ll be ready to eat soon,” said the boy. Byron had never seen anyone just grab a squirrel like that. But he was hungry, and grateful for the food.
“Who are you people?” asked Byron. “I am Flower,” said the boy, “and my sister is Wolf. My two little brothers don’t have names yet, but we call them Mosquito and Fly for now. Who are you?”
“I’m Byron.” “What does that mean?” asked the boy. “I don’t know,” said Byron, and his own name seemed funny to him. When the boy told him his name was Flower, Byron realized that the shirt the boy wore was woven of flowers. “You like my shirt?” asked the boy. “Yes,” said Byron, “it’s very beautiful.” “My sister made it for my name,” said the boy as he reached into the fire for the cooked squirrel. He stripped off the skin with two sharp rocks and handed the meat to Byron. “Here. It’s good. Eat it.” Byron hesitated, then took the meat. “It’s ok,” said the boy, “the squirrel knows. We’re all together here, and you were very hungry.” So Byron ate the squirrel.
Wolf got her small brothers into a pile of leaves and boughs, then sat by the fire with Byron and Flower. “How did you kids get here?” asked Byron as he threw the squirrel bones into the fire. “I don’t know,” said Wolf, “but I remember some Giants, and one ugly monster. Maybe they brought us here.” “Maybe they were your parents,” said Byron. “Maybe,” said Wolf. “And how do you speak English?” asked Byron. “How do you speak my language?” “Do we speak your language?” said Wolf. “I thought you knew ours. We talk with everyone anyway, so why shouldn’t we talk with you?” “Do you understand the stream and the fire when they talk?” asked Byron. “Yes, when we listen, and when they’re not angry at us for peeing in them or for hurting one of their animals for no reason.” “Oh,” said Byron. He wasn’t sure he understood, but he listened even harder to the fire and the stream.
He went to sleep in a warm pile of leaves and boughs. The next morning when he woke up, the fire was out and the children were gone. Byron remembered what Wolf had said, and began to walk up the stream to the lake where he would find the large brown bird. He hadn’t gone far when he found two deer antlers by the side of the stream. He picked them up and put one to each of his temples. The voice! He heard the woman singing again, calling her mate. When he let the antlers down the voice stopped. He put them to his temples again, and heard the voice moving away, moving further up the stream. Byron began his slow walk toward the lake.
He didn’t know why he picked up the antlers, it just seemed the right thing to do. And even though they grew heavier as the sun moved higher in the sky and the day got hotter and the climb became rocky and steep, he kept the antlers to his temples. He walked up, out of the edge of the forest where the rocks were big and red and the stream raced down into long waterfalls. There were no trees. Byron was very hot. He stood under a waterfall and cooled off. The water took the antlers from his hands and broke them up in the stream below. Byron thought that one of the children might find a piece of the antler and get a name from it, a name like Deer or Antler.
When Byron was cooled off, he sat by the waterfall to dry. Just as he sat down, a large brown owl flew up out of the forest, up over Byron, and out of sight at the top of the mountain. He shivered all over. The bird came so close he could almost touch it! He didn’t wait to dry, but he hurried up to the top of the mountain, up to the beginning of the stream in the lake. He got there quickly and easily, almost flying up to it. The crystal lake was right there at the top, where Wolf had said it was. The water was clear blue. At the far end of the lake was another mountain all covered with ice. The ice was glacier that melted right into the lake.
The opposite side of the lake was rocky, but where Byron stood there was a small forest. Byron thought he’d find the owl in there. He walked to the forest. He sat down to rest in a grove of pines. He was almost asleep when he heard the voice, the woman singing for a mate. “I’m sure it’s the same voice I heard before!” he thought. He put his wrists to his temples and held out his fingers as if they were antlers. He crouched down and listened. Footsteps! He heard footsteps and then, standing right in front of him, was the woman. “Hello,” she said, “you’ve come up here for me, I know, and here I am.” She was beautiful. Her hair was thick and brown, and she had great brown eyes that looked right into Byron. Her skin was light brown, the color of pine bar, and her dress was made of brown and grey feathers. She had a fine sharp nose, and white teeth that showed when she smiled. Byron didn’t know what to say. Finally he sat down and looked at the lake and said, “Did you see the owl that flew up over the mountain into this forest?” “Yes,” said the woman, “I saw it. It drew you here, to me.” Byron was shy, and uncomfortable with this beautiful lady. He just didn’t know how to act around adult people. “Don’t worry,” she said, “we can just sit together and watch the lake fill with stars and then sleep peacefully side by side till morning. You don’t have to be anything but yourself with me.” Byron felt much better, and when the sun was gone and the lake filled with stars, he lied down next to the woman and looked in her eyes which were like great brown moons and he fell asleep next to her.
The next morning she was gone. Byron wasn’t sad, but thought he should be. He was very thirsty, so he walked down to the lake. It was full with light from the sun, and seemed pure white. Byron could see right down to the bottom, where there were fish and green plants, and millions of rocks and pebbles that were red, like the rocks on the mountain. He didn’t drink right away, but stared at the water, looking first at the white light on the surface, then deeper into the blue, then down at the red and green bottom. He looked and looked and he listened. It seemed the lake spoke. He wanted to understand what it said.
He waited for hours like that, at the edge of the lake, until the sun was right in the center of the sky and the lake became completely calm. The wind was still talking, but the lake was quiet. As Byron looked, the lake became the sky, filled with the sun and the clouds and the blue air. “What a wonder!” he thought, and as he thought it, the lake spoke and the lake said, “The sky is your Grandfather!” Byron saw, at that very moment, the owl flying right across the calm surface of the lake and into the sun. He turned and looked up into the sky but there was no owl. When he looked down again, the sky was gone from the lake and he saw, instead, to the bottom of the lake. He saw the plants and the rocks. The lake bottom looked just like the forest and the mountain behind him, with the plants the trees, the rocks like the boulders, and the fish the birds. “What a wonder!” he thought, and as he thought it the lake said, “The earth is your Grandmother!” and Byron saw, at that very moment, the owl flying right across the bottom of the lake into the forest of plants. He looked around quickly at the forest behind him, but there was no movement, no owl.
When he looked down at the lake again, the forest and mountains were gone and he saw, instead, the blue surface mirroring himself. He had great brown eyes, just like the woman’s, and his hair was thick and tangled, his face covered with a brown beard. He felt a great thirst. Bending over the lake, Byron drank his image right off the surface! As he drank, the woman walked out of the forest and flew up into the sky, a large brown owl. He watched her. He heard the lake speak, heard the stream speak as it fell in a waterfall, knew what the fire had said, understood what the white falcon squawked, and he turned into an owl and flew off to the East mountain after his owl mate.