Riding the Rainbow by Sonni Cooper
Chapter 8 (partial) Cloud's Vision
(After his father's funeral, Clooud has gone hunting in his ancestral home in the Valles Grande Caldera.)
Now, settled into his cave dwelling, Cloud carefully thought about his hunting strategy. He had a couple of choices--one: he could wait until morning to get his elk, or, two: he could head out immediately and shoot his prey before dark. Each had its advantage. If he didn’t manage to kill an elk this day, he had another chance tomorrow. Hunger made his decision for him. There was nothing better than fresh elk liver cooked on an open campfire. He almost drooled with the thought.
Before he left, he had a couple of things to do. He placed a generous supply of piñon and cedar in the cave and then took a large, black plastic garbage bag out of his pack and a few nails he’d stashed in there. Using a hard rock as a hammer, he tacked it up in the cave’s doorway to keep out the wind and draft. Satisfied that all was in order, he strapped his hunting knife onto his belt, grabbed his rife and ammunition and stepped out into the beauty of the pristine canyon.
Cloud took his time. The elk hadn’t moved down to this end of the canyon. He was sure they were still at the upper end as he had anticipated. He was wearing his moccasins. Although they weren’t at all waterproof, they were quiet and definitely more traditional than hiking boots, which he didn’t own anyway. He compensated by putting his feet into large plastic bags over his socks to keep out the cold and wet. It didn’t breathe but his feet weren’t wet or cold, either. Keeping to the edge of the canyon, just below the rise of the mesa, Cloud made his way into the upper part of the canyon. It was narrower here, and shadier, so the snow was crisp and deep. He proceeded more slowly now, because he didn’t want to make any disturbing sound as he approached the small meadow ahead of him. The meadow was in a wider spot on the canyon floor, completely surrounded by steep walls. It could have been a box, except for a narrow opening leading steeply upward toward the west where the Jemez rose. He had taken the trail up the canyon and it led to the high country, which at this time of year was inaccessible on foot.
The young hunter approached the meadow cautiously, keeping close to the pink tufa walls so he wouldn’t be observed. As quiet as he tried to be, there still was a slight sound as his moccasined feet slid over the pink gravel talus. He spotted the elk, all at attention, ready to dart away at another sound or movement. As the elk froze in their tracks, so did Cloud. He crouched, waiting for the elk to go back to grazing. Soon the herd was grazing again. Time passed slowly. The elk, no longer feeling threatened, moved along the edge of the canyon, nibbling as they went. Cloud raised his rifle, taking aim at a medium sized buck. It was probably a two-year old, old enough to have a small rack and yet be tender. Although the bull that led the herd was a trophy elk, Cloud wasn’t hunting for sport and didn’t sight him. He held his breath and slowly eased back on the trigger.
The elk scattered, all but one that Cloud had felled. It was a true shot, directly into the heart, a shot to be proud of. Cloud ran down the slope toward his prize. The elk was dying, but was not in pain. He was glad for that. He took the dying elk’s head into his hands, put his mouth up to its nose, and blew his breath into the dying animal. It took its last deep breath. Cloud caught it and inhaled it deeply, sharing the animal’s last breath and with it, sharing its spirit. They would be one forever now. He prayed, thanking the elk for sustaining his life. He gutted the animal on the spot. There was no use carrying the excess weight in entrails. Cloud planned on leaving them behind, all except for the coveted liver, for the scavengers. He quartered the elk, cutting it into four large manageable pieces, keeping the head and hide separate. Hefting the hide, the liver, and one of the four pieces of the carcass, he headed back to his cave. Three more round trips would bring his prize safely to his cave. He hoped to be able to get the entire elk back to his shelter before it got too dark and the predators found his kill. Cloud could almost taste the liver as he wrestled with his heavy burden.
Exhausted, he struggled to carry the last quarter of elk. It was late afternoon by now and deep shadows filled the canyon. The light was beautiful at this time of evening, turning the warm pink rocks into a golden world of beauty. The sky was splendid with the clouds over the mountains to the west turning pink, then bronze; it reddened as the sun lowered. When he finally had brought the last of the elk, Cloud was in no hurry to retreat into his cave. He set his quarter down and watched the progression of the sunset, enjoying every moment of the glorious color changes. He’d never been very far from San Tomás and hadn’t seen sunsets anywhere else, but couldn’t imagine any could be as beautiful as this.
The rock walls were turning red and then purpled as the sun retreated and the sky darkened. Hefting his burden once more, Cloud climbed up the talus and into his cave. He lit a small fire, large enough to cook on, and give warmth and light. Then he went to the business of carving up the liver. Certainly, he couldn’t eat all of it now, but he took a substantial piece and poked it onto a sturdy, green stick, setting aside the rest for breakfast. The floor of the cave was hard so he propped the stick against the wall weighted with rocks. The meat sizzled as the heat rose toward it. He could hardly wait for it to roast. The liver was rich and juicy, much better than jerky or peanut butter and jelly could ever be. Cloud felt its slightly gritty texture on the roof of his mouth and reveled in its intense organ flavor. He washed it down with water from his canteen, glad he had chosen to hunt this day and not wait for tomorrow. He felt full and satisfied.
After dinner he set the elk and the remainder of the liver in the cave’s entrance, outside, but not too far. Just far enough to be in the cold, but near enough to the entrance believing that no animal would come close to the smoky cave, at least he hoped not. The cave was close and warm and smelled of wood smoke and cooked meat, just as Cloud imagined it must have been those hundreds of years ago when it was occupied by his ancestors. He wrapped himself in the blanket he’d tied to his pack, lay down on the smooth floor next to the fire, and fell into a contented sleep.
“Okhuwa Munu, Okhuwa Munu!” It was a woman’s voice, rising from within the cave, calling his Tewa name. She was beautiful, and dressed in native cotton. Never had Cloud seen such beautiful lustrous hair. It fell loose to her hips in a raven cascade. When Cloud reached up to touch her she disappeared in a transparent haze.
“Wait!’ he called. “Come back!”
She reappeared at the fireside. The glow of the fire enhanced her olive skin, turning it to glowing gold, like the sunset. “Okhuwa Munu, Okhuwa Munu,” she called again. “Why have you come here?”
Cloud was speechless. “Why have you come?” she repeated insistently.
He felt compelled to answer her. “To hunt.”
“Yoe! No!” she insisted. “Not to hunt. Why?”
Cloud pointed to the elk’s carcass. “See, I came to hunt.”
She laughed. “I see,” she repeated. “Not to hunt. Why?”
Girls can be so difficult! Cloud thought.
“Come,” the lovely vision called. “Come, Okhuwa Munu.”
“Cloud, call me Cloud.”
“Come, Cloud,” she called. Her laugh sounded like wind chimes in the night.
Cloud wrapped the blanket around his shoulders, stepped over the elk carcass at the entrance to the cave, and went out into the night. “Hey, what’s your name,” he shouted as he chased the girl down the slope into the canyon floor.
“Nankwiyo,” she said, her voice trailed off into the darkness.
“Nankwiyo,” Cloud called, but she kept running. Then he stopped and looked about. He knew that name. “Nankwiyo—Earth Old Woman.” She wasn’t real and if she was, she had been gone from the earth before man ever existed. But this girl was young. Could she have come in another form?
Cloud searched in the darkness. The moon was half full and waxing. Its filtered light came through the clouds turning everything blue. He found himself on the canyon floor surrounded by the herd of elk. They let him walk amongst them as if he was one of them. Their breath hung warm in the frigid air, puffing into the night in small wispy clouds of blue vapor. He touched the nearest doe. She put her head against him, pushing against him just slightly, as if to acknowledge his touch. He put his face close to hers and blew his breath into her, just as he had shared the last breath of the buck he had killed.
“Taa Yíyá, Elk Mother,” he said softly, “tell me what to do. What does this mean?” The elk permitted him to put his hand on her flank and guided him up the slope to the steep beginning of the canyon wall above. She whinnied softly as if trying to speak and led him to the face of the rock just a few feet away from his cave. It was as if she was trying to tell him something, but what?
“Look,” Nankwiyo’s voice said from out of the darkness. “See, Okhuwa Munu—Cloud!”
In the filtered moonlight Cloud saw an image carved into the rock. He put his hand up and slid it over the petroglyph following its contours with his fingers. It flowed across the rock, maybe ten feet or more. He’d been in this canyon many times and had never seen it. In fact, it was so close to his cave he couldn’t imagine how he missed it. Even in the dim light he knew. It was Avanyu, the feathered serpent, carved into the rock by his ancestors hundreds of years ago and meant for him to find.
Why did the doe lead me to it? He knew the old legends, about how Avanyu had abandoned the people and they had to move to Po hege, now called San Tomás. Avanyu was still important to the people of San Tomás. His image appeared frequently on Leandra’s pottery. And in the kiva, the worship of the Feathered Serpent was still strong and vital. The elk was standing quietly beside Cloud as if waiting for him to acknowledge her gift. “Ku daaw haa, Taa Yíyá. Thank you, Elk Mother,” he said deferentially, and the elk trotted down the slope to join the herd again.
Cloud was confused, but there were no more messages from the evasive girl or the elk, so he headed back to his cave. The fire was low; he put a few more sticks and a larger log onto it before he lay down to ponder the strange events of the night. He fell into a deep peaceful sleep, and in the twilight of his mind, joined the people of the canyon. “Okhuwa Munu,” the girl’s voice called again, but this time she was different. She was slightly older and held a baby in her arms. “Come,” she said, beckoning.
He followed her out into the slope near the cave. It was dawn and the cliffs were bronze where the sun touched them. It was cold and clear like it had been when he left San Tomás to come up to the mesa. Cloud looked about in astonishment. The canyon was teaming with early morning activity. Some men were flaking arrowheads in front of a large cave opening nearby. Others were carrying vigas to build a talus house in front of another cave. The cave he had just come out of had a talus house built about eight feet in front of it. It didn’t look at all like his cave did before.
A parade of women, large water jars balanced on yucca rings on their heads, were carrying water up from a small riverlet than ran through the center of the canyon floor. It was wetter than he remembered it. Small fields of dry corn stalks stuck out of the snow, and there were more deciduous trees than before, cottonwoods mostly. Nankwiyo beckoned from below. Cloud, now ultimately curious, ran down to her. “See,” she said softly, “how our people live.” Come, Okhuwa Munu, join me in the kiva.” The voice came from behind him. Cloud turned and faced a man not much older than he was. He was lean and hard, his hair rivaled the length of Nankwiyo’s. It too was lustrous beyond anything Cloud had ever seen. Cloud felt self-conscious about his hair being tied back, and flicked the rubber band off to let it loose. At least he looked a little more like he belonged, except of course, for his clothes, but the blanket covered most of them so it seemed all right. At least, he thought, I’m wearing moccasins. He didn’t want to think of the plastic bags inside of them.
Without uttering another word, the young man led Cloud up a trail along the canyon wall and up onto a ledge just below the plateau edge. They climbed a long ladder further up the wall to a crevice that was barely noticeable from the canyon below. In the crevice was another ladder, this one leading down into a hole. They entered the ancient kiva through smoke, just as was customary at San Tomas. Cloud blinked in the darkness. As his eyes adjusted, he could see more clearly. The fire was just to his right, behind the ladder. A few men sat on the banco around the kiva, weaving. Poles hung from the rafters above and were covered with ceremonial clothing and regalia. It was very much like the kiva in San Tomas, but was constructed differently. Instead of being made of adobe, it was hewn of stone. The vigas were tremendous. Cloud nodded to the men and they acknowledged silently. The man who brought him gestured to him to sit on the ledge. Cloud dutifully sat. “Okhuwa Munu, you have come to us from far away,” he said, “and yet you are one of us.”
“I guess so,” Cloud said, still puzzled and not knowing how to respond.
“You have joined us for a purpose.”
“You have,” the man said with surety.
Cloud wanted to say, “Then tell me what it is,” but he thought better of it. Like everything in the kiva, things would happen as they were meant to, and in their own time. There was never any hurry. They sat in silence. Cloud felt the need to question, chafing to get on with whatever they were going to show or tell him. Patience was not one of his virtues. He was beginning get irritated. A cold draft came plunging from above. Cloud looked up to see a moccassined foot descending the ladder. It was an old man, very much like his great-grandfather Stefano, accompanied by a man strongly resembling Uncle Milton. The old man came toward him, sprinkled him with cornmeal, and began to chant. The song was unfamiliar and yet, somehow, Cloud knew its meaning. “You are a child of the TewaTowa, one of our proud line. Do us honor and follow the way of your people. “San i Kwantenbayinge.”
Cloud was proud of the fact that he knew and spoke some Tewa, but this was beyond him. What is he saying? What does he want? He struggled to understand the meaning of the Tewa. San, go. No, that doesn’t make any sense. Go, could it be Ride? I never heard a word for ride. That’s better, but ride what? Kwanténbây. He was having trouble translating the word, but deep down, Cloud knew he’d heard it before. If only I could figure out the meaning. When did I hear it? Kwanténbây—so familiar. Go—or—ride the on the what?
“Okhuwa Munu, San i Kwanténbâyinge,” the old man repeated, beating the words into Cloud’s mind.
Ride the… Go on the rainbow! That’s the missing word, rainbow! But that doesn’t make sense! How can anyone go on the rainbow?
The young man came toward him and in perfect English, confirmed what Cloud had struggled to translate. “Ride the Rainbow, my brother,” he instructed as he handed Cloud a yucca root. “For your hair,” he said, and then there was only smoke.
Sample Chapters: Ch.1 Introduction Ch.7 Pueblo Life Ch.8. Cloud's Vision