The Dandelion Chaser

Hiking along the northwestern coast of California seemed like a good idea to the young sojourners when they left Berkeley in May. But it was now the middle of June and the travelers were nearing the end of their journey. The weather had turned quite hot and the novelty of the trip was waning with each passing day. Though the scenery away from the large cities was often breathtaking and inspiring, the dry summer heat seemed to sap all the strength out of Robby and Beth.

The sun had made its descent and was hovering just above the ocean as the couple crept about slowly in search of a good place to set up camp for the night. They found a place off the coastal highway that welcomed overnight campers for a very small fee. But they soon discovered as they pitched their tent at the far southern end of the campground,
that they were the only primitives in a group of RV campers. Robby would occasionally remark to Beth about the RV and mobile home folks bringing civilization with them, even when they were roughing it.

“ Hon, that just burns my ass. These geeks come all the way out here, away from the addictions and trappings of modern life, to get away from it all, and they can’t even leave their shit behind. And what’s worse, they have to visit the crap on me.”

Beth knew that Robby was just ranting on about nothing, but she had learned to humor him and play along. She replied, “Maybe they’re experiencing life in the only way they know how, Robby. Perhaps they believed what they were taught and never really questioned anything. They’ve become conditioned by creature comforts and would be lost or immobilized without them. Or, or maybe they’re all suffering from a massive conspiracy between the RV manufacturers and the National Parks Service to control their minds and fleece their wallets!”

Robby picked up on Beth’s cue to cool it in the humor she intended by inventing the conspiracy idea. He and she had sat through countless discussions in school, in their apartment, in the homes of friends and professors, or wherever people would gather to deride modernity and bemoan the alienation of contemporary life. They had both heard enough; that’s why they had come on this trip. It was their opportunity to spend time together, outside in the open air, and to discover a little of the nature they had been missing during their graduate studies. Robby looked at Beth and said, in a mimicking voice, shaking his head, “Maybe it’s a conspiracy.”

They put up their tent and then sat on the ground to watch the sunset together. It was a bright red sky, and the sun looked like a blazing ball resting briefly on mirrored glass, before disappearing beneath the sea. Robby turned to cast a sneer in the direction of someone’s Lynard Skynard tape blaring in the background when he caught a glimpse of Beth’s face gazing at the sunset. Her face looked pained, yet young and beautiful with the setting sunlight casting its glow on her skin. What caught his eye, though, was the trail of a tear rolling down her cheek. He was curious. What kind of emotion was she experiencing? What brought the tear to her eye? He quickly recovered himself, and bowed his head, staring at the ground before his feet, and thought, why does such a thing disturb me so?

Almost without thinking, he gently put his arm around her shoulders and felt her surrender to his touch. She leaned into him as though she had found a secure place for her soul and body to rest. Yet, for Robby, no such place seemed to exist. He simply sat there, looking at the sunset and trying not to let the noisy campers disturb his moment’s peace. Besides, he was quite tired and had plans to complete his journey in a couple of days.

Robby and Beth had begun this journey as both a vacation and a chance for Robby to do some fieldwork for his research. He was a medical anthropology graduate student at UC-Berkeley, and he was studying medicine practices among California’s indigenous groups. The coastal hike had afforded him the opportunity to visit some of the Indian reservations in northern California and collect data for his research. Robby had become interested in Indians, not because they made curious subject matter for his research, but because he was part Iroquois. Also, he had moved to Oklahoma for a couple of years after receiving his master’s degree to take a teaching job at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. It was a one-year appointment, but the department and the students liked him, so he was given a year’s extension before continuing his studies at Berkeley. During his time in Oklahoma, he made numerous friendships with Indians of different tribes, and he had learned a great deal about their lives and values. So, in a way, his current journey was an extension of that learning process.

Beth, however, wanted a break from her law studies, and wanted to spend the summer outside of offices and buildings. When Robby first suggested their journey she was thrilled at the idea. She had never done anything like it. She also felt relieved because Robby had rescued her from another season of working in her dad’s Los Angeles law firm.

*   *   *   *   *

Robby awoke feeling a slight chill from the breeze blowing in off the ocean. The sun was already low in the eastern sky and the mobile camping crowd had almost vacated the campsite. Robby nudged Beth awake and then he crawled outside the tent to begin his stretching and yawning to greet the day. After washing his face and hands at the spigot standing next to a small storage house belonging to the proprietor of the campsite, Robby walked over to the spot where he and Beth had been sitting the night before. He sat down, unfolded a bag he had with him, and began eating his breakfast. He ate dried granola cereal; some dried apricots, and drank a small box of cranberry juice. Beth called from within the tent and requested breakfast.

“ I’ll have a croissant with marmalade, two poached eggs, a large tumbler of fresh orange juice, and a cup of Earl Grey tea,” she said sleepily.

“ Coming right up,” Robby replied. “Would you prefer to eat on the patio this morning my mistress?” He stood up, walked over to the tent, and tossed in a bag of dried fruit, some granola and a box of orange juice and said, “Bon appetit!” as he began dismantling the camp area and prepared to continue the hike.

Robby and Beth left the camping area and had walked a little ways up the road when they came upon a sign that read, “Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation -- 20 miles.” They walked a few more yards and turned onto a badly paved road that headed toward the reservation. They stopped after a few paces and Robby asked his companion if she thought it was a good idea to visit the reservation, or if they should continue up the coastal highway? Beth said she was game if he was, and they decided to continue on to Hoopa Valley. About a half-a-mile down the road, they were met by two men in a pick-up truck who offered them a ride to Hoopa. Robby asked if they were from the reservation, and both men said yes. Robby and Beth hopped into the back of the truck, then looked at each other with an expression of astonishment and relief at being able to catch a ride. They sat back and watched the scenery go by and talked about their plans for the remainder of the trip.

On their way they rode past beautiful tall sequoia trees and the wind carried the smells of flowering plants and grasses simmering in the summer sun. The open-air ride was a blessing in disguise for the two weary travelers who were beginning to tire of the seemingly endless walk along California’s northern coastal highway. And besides, this serendipitous excursion to the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation might yield a goldmine of information for Robby’s research project.

After a scenic half-hour ride, the two were let off at a small complex that served as a combination store and information center. The two Indians in the pick-up wished the hikers good luck and disappeared down a road headed south from where Robby and Beth stood. Robby went inside the complex while Beth remained outside with the gear. She preferred to stand in the morning sunlight and take in the surroundings while Robby hurried off to follow his research agenda. Though Robby didn’t quite see his enthusiasm as being inspired by the research project, and it was probably unknown to Beth, he simply preferred the company of Indians.

Robby’s experiences with Native people had always been instructive and left him feeling better about himself. He hadn’t been all that happy among his academic peers, but among Indians, none of that seemed to matter. The thing he appreciated most about being with Indian people was the total lack of an attitude of “every man for himself.” In Indian country he found community and a sense that individuals belonged to a living world, not one manufactured by ambitious men and sterilized by convention and fashion. It wasn’t that he hated contemporary life, because he was part of it. He simply felt that the goals of modern life were misdirected, and they would ultimately lead him into cynicism and self-contempt if he were to acquiesce and pursue the vacuous American dream. For the time being, Robby was glad that the turbulence and pressure of modern life was somewhat abated and he was free to pursue an understanding of people not entirely caught up in such trivial pursuits. He had come to learn about medicine--Native medicine-- and thus far, his education had been rewarding.

Robby stepped in through the doorway and was immediately struck by the sparsely filled shelves in an otherwise spacious store. Next to the checkout counter stood a single cooler with sodas and assorted refrigerated goods displayed on the shelving without any particular order or symmetry. Cheeses, eggs, milk and butter were all clumped together with sodas, cartons of juice and cold meats. There were no labels indicating the contents of some of the containers, except for what was scrawled across the tops of the packages in black magic-marker ink. To Robby, it appeared that someone had shopped for the items at another store, and then simply reloaded the items in the cooler just as they came out of the bags, as though no arrangement was necessary other than separating items needing refrigeration from those that didn’t. He noticed that the items on the few shelves in the store, though sparse, were arranged by category, similar to what one would expect to find in a grocery mart. Normally, Robby probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to such matters. But for a few moments he was the only person in the place and he just stood there taking it all in. Finally, after he walked to the counter and peered over it in search of someone to help him, he heard a woman’s voice coming from behind the cooler. “I’ll be with you in just a moment,” she said. “Pawnee just had kittens and she chose to deliver ‘em under the fridge, and now she’s wantin’ someone to feed her!”

Robby stood there as the woman kept on talking, either to him, the cat or the cooler; he did not know. He only surmised that she was talkative and he was the only human being within her hearing, so he should at least politely acknowledge her every now and again with an affirmative “ah-huh.” Suddenly, the woman popped out from behind the cooler, ceased talking and looked Robby straight in the eyes. Her face was steady and almost studious, as though she was trying to remember the name of the person standing in front of her, even though she had never seen him before. Then her face lifted into a warm smile and she asked, “Can I help you, sir.”

Robby collected himself long enough to blurt out, “Ah, yes ma’am, I need to know about you people. I mean, I have come to learn about how you live.”

Before he could utter another faux pas, the woman, whose face had now turned from a warm smile to one of wide-eyed bewilderment, quietly asked, “Sir, would you like a drink of water?”

He nodded, and the woman went toward the back of the cooler to get a glass of water. In the brief moment she was away, Robby thought over what he had said and wished that he could retract every word. In fact, he wished that Beth were here beside him right this moment. She could always handle simple, straightforward conversation, maintain her dignity, and avoid the type of situation he now found himself in. He knew he had to undo what he had done and start again. Before he got the words formed in his mind, the woman came back and handed him the glass of water.

“ Thank you. You are very kind,” Robby said, as he took a drink.

The woman smiled again and nodded her head slightly in acknowledgement.

“ Ma’am, I apologize for my awkwardness a moment ago. I really came here to learn something about the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation,” Robby continued, with a tone of genuine humility. “I have visited with other tribes further to the south, and I am interested in finding out how California’s native groups deal with contemporary life.”

“ Oh, it’s all right son, we get many strange visitors to our reservation every day, you just happen to be today’s first. Is that your wife pacing around outside?” the woman said while leaning over the counter to get a clearer view. “She looks to be okay,” she continued as she cast a glance in Robby’s direction to indicate that she wasn’t quite as sure of his balance.

“ This your first visit to Hoopa?” she asked plainly.

“ Yes, and no she’s not a wife, she’s a friend. We’re traveling together,” Robby replied as he handed the empty glass back to the woman. Robby turned to watch Beth for a moment as she stood drawing marks in the gravel with the toe of her shoe. And then, as though he was suddenly jarred back from a trance, he turned to the woman behind the counter and noticed her nametag. It read Luna. “Luna, can you direct me to someone who might be willing to share some the tribal history of people from this area?”

Luna smiled and said, “You know, I was just about to direct you to the Hoopa Tribal Museum. It’s just up the road on HWY 96. There are people there who can tell you anything you want to know. Too bad you weren’t here last weekend, we had an All-Indian rodeo that has become an annual celebration sort of like an Indian state fair.”

" Too bad." Robby acknowledged. He hadn't seen a rodeo since his teaching stint in Oklahoma. He remembered there were many Indians who participated in the school's rodeos, and they were some pretty adept ropers. Robby thanked Luna for her help and stepped outside to relay the information to Beth. After a brief pause to take in the scenery, they headed off toward the museum.

*   *   *   *   *

At the museum, Robby and Beth were mesmerized by the colorful and skillfully crafted ceremonial artwork represented by the different native cultures of northern California. Beth was particularly interested in discovering how unique and tightly woven some of the basketry appeared. As she read about their construction and use, she was fascinated to learn that they were often used to carry water or for cooking, and that some people used the same weave to make rain hats. One of the scenes depicted a Yurok woman preparing kegoh, a mush made of acorn meal in one of her handmade baskets. Although the mush wasn't all that appealing to Beth's conventional tastes, the thought of food made her hungry for lunch.

Meanwhile, Robby was talking with a young man that was visiting the museum from Eureka, California. They were standing in front of a replica of a redwood plank house that represented the historic dwellings of some tribes in the area. The young man told Robby that most of the traditional homes were replaced by government projects, but a few of the Indians continued to live in traditional ways. Robby was interested in the young man’s stories and asked if he knew of any of these “traditional” Indians living nearby. The young man told him there was an old man who lived a few miles up the coast and that he was revered for his skill as a basket weaver.

Robby thanked the man for the tip and turned to look for Beth. When he caught up with her, she was looking over a couple of elaborate ceremonial masks carved of redwood and festooned with woodpecker feathers. Before she could comment on the artifacts and her wonder at all she had seen, Robby began unraveling his agenda and plans for their next visit. Beth simply squelched her own excitement and nodded in agreement and suggested that they talk it over during lunch.

Beth was quite hungry and wanted to try some of the local food for a change. Although they didn't carry a lot of cash while hiking, she kept a credit card for just such occasions. Besides, they had been quite cautious about making any extravagant purchases during the trip, and Beth decided she had earned a meal prepared in a kitchen. She convinced Robby they could easily afford to eat at the restaurant nearby since he was always reminding her about their budget and the fact that they agreed "no treats and no trinkets" on this trip. She pointed to the sign outside the Hoopa restaurant that advertised local Indian food prepared in the traditional way, and somehow she worked it into his study of the people and customs of this area. She was also democratic and offered him the alternative of cooking something while reaching for a packet of dried soup in her backpack. After carefully weighing the choices, Robby decided her restaurant idea was best.

The restaurant was quite busy and the air was filled with the buzz of tableside chatter. There, Robby and Beth dined on some of the tastiest salmon and fresh corn they had ever eaten. As they sat in their booth, Beth began telling Robby about some of the things she had learned at the museum.

" They had these elk antler spoons with zigzag shaped handles, and they were intricately carved…" Beth said.

But once again, Robby interrupted her story by saying, "That's nice. Now the way I figure it, we can spend two, or perhaps three more days in this area before we catch the bus at Trinidad to head back to Berkeley." Beth withdrew slightly from her previous enthusiastic state and grew quiet, though Robby failed to notice the shift in Beth or the blank look on her face.

Robby continued, “First, we’ll finish up this brief tour of the museum after lunch, then we can see some other things in the area, and perhaps talk with some of the tribesmen of this reservation. Then we’ll make camp, have a meal, and turn in under the stars for a good night’s sleep before we go to visit that old man Luna told us about. I suppose we can spend the better part of the day talking with him, and if it’s not too late we can catch the afternoon bus back to Berkeley. Or, maybe we can camp on the old man’s land and catch the morning bus. What do you think?”

For a moment, the restaurant was quiet and Robby paused as if he were somehow the only person making any noise in the room. He jerked slightly, turned toward Beth, looked into her eyes as if searching for some response, only to notice the blank yet intent look on her face. He uttered the only word men are usually capable of uttering when they become aware of a certain look that appears on the face of their mate that indicates something is not quite right – “What,” was all he said.

Beth proceeded to tell Robby what was on her mind. “I thought you remembered our original plan to take some time together and enjoy a vacation. But you seem all wrapped up in your study, and although it is important to you, it is not the major focus of our time together.” She paused to catch a breath and then continued. “This trip and the visits we make are important to me. I want to share the experiences with you as an equal, not as one of your junior classmates,” she said, trying to put things in perspective for Robby, hoping he would realize why he had asked her on the trip to begin with.

Without saying a word, and bowing his head a bit to indicate that he had heard, he reached out his hand to grasp hers. He smiled and then sat back in his seat to listen as Beth continued.

Beth said, “I would like to stay a bit longer and explore the museum a little further before leaving.”

Robby agreed, and then suggested the thing that was on his mind. “I want us to visit the old Indian man up the road. It will be our last visit before taking a bus ride back to Berkeley.”

*   *   *   *   *

Early the following morning, Robby awoke to the sound of wind rustling noisily in the trees surrounding their campsite. He listened for awhile as if he could make out the sound of voices and music riding on the wind. He leaned up and peered through an opening in the tent and noticed the sky was dark grey and the air was cold. He expected it was going to rain. Not good, he thought. Hiking in the cold wet rain was not a gleeful prospect. Just at that moment he felt Beth move slightly. He turned toward her and slid back down to cuddle against the warmth of her sleeping body, and he drifted off to sleep once again.

An hour later they both woke up, laying side by side and looking at one another as if trying to see if the other was ready to get up and start the day. Before Robby could warn Beth to dress warmly and unpack her rain gear, Beth burst out in the midst of a stretching yawn, “It’s going to be a beautiful day!” She scurried to open the doorway to the tent and Robby was half astounded to see the brightness of the mid-morning sun beaming in through the doorway and almost blinding him. He squinted his eyes and wondered if he had only dreamed about the dreary, threatening weather he had witnessed earlier.

Beth was right: it was a beautiful day. After packing up their equipment and eating some dry cereal breakfast, the two returned to the store where Luna was busy arranging some sale items. Robby jogged over to where Luna was standing and thanked her for the hospitality she had shown them.

She said, “My sister is going to Oakland this morning, and she can probably give you two a ride if you want one.”

Robby told Luna about his plans to visit the old man up the highway, and Luna just laughed. “Old Yurok-Na, he gets some of the weirdest visitors in these parts. I can tell you this, whatever you’re sellin’, he ain’t buyin’!”

Robby assured her, “I am not selling anything. I’m more or less like… like on a quest for information.”

When Luna heard Robby use the word “quest” she burst into laughter once more, saying, “Oh Lordy, you ain’t one of those ‘New Age’ guru seekers are you?” Before Robby could answer, Luna said, “Them’s the weirdest,” and she turned toward Robby, looked him straight in the eye and awaited his reply.

“ I am not a ‘New Ager!” Robby responded. “I simply want to visit with Indians.”

“ Uh-huh,” Luna said. Then, as she turned toward the doorway of the store, she said, “I’ll go call my sister about that ride.”

Luna’s sister arrived to pick up her passengers in an old four-toned Buick. It was beige with one black door, a green hood, and a rusted roof that had been spray painted with gray primer: a real “Indian car.” Luna’s sister was petite, wearing blue jeans and a bright-red T-shirt with a picture of a cross-eyed calvary trooper, with an arrow through his head that said, “CUSTER’S DEAD, GET OVER IT.” She didn’t speak but simply motioned for the two to get into the car.

Beth waved bye to Luna as Robby put their gear into the car. Once inside the car, Robby looked back, smiled and waved to Luna who had a big grin on her face. Luna’s sister floored the accelerator and the Buick took off like a rocket, spinning tires and kicking up loose gravel as they headed down the road toward the coast. Robby’s eyes got real big as he braced one arm against the dashboard and gave a reassuring squeeze to Beth’s hand with the other. He imagined that this little Indian woman was making up for her size by commanding all the power that Buick provided her. He was scared at first, but then just settled back to watch the scenery go by in a blur as the car raced toward its destination.

Soon they arrived at the highway that went up the coast and they came to a near skidding stop. Robby and Beth got out of the car, picked up their gear and the car sped off as quickly as it had arrived. Robby had not even finished thanking the girl for the ride when he jumped back to avoid the spray of loose gravel being thrown up as she drove off. He looked at Beth and said, “That girl only has two speeds, stop and go.”

Beth chuckled and said, “Yeah, and you only have two fears, scared and scared shitless.”

They both had a laugh and started their hike up to Yurok Na’s place. It was a good day for a hike, and the sound of the surf breaking against the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs that run along Northern California’s stark coastline was a soothing reminder of nature’s awesome power and beauty. The coastal breeze was blowing hard, but not cold, and the road was still damp from the early morning fog that had dissipated, leaving only a sheen of water on this sun-drenched stretch of roadway.

*   *   *   *   *

Yurok Na was sitting on the edge of his small porch in the front of his old plank house. He was watching his nephew’s son, John Mary Horse, as he played in the yard in front of him. He spied the two strangers as they approached him from the highway that ran along the coast beside his home. He turned toward the two and prepared to greet them. Robby stepped ahead of Beth and extended his hand to Yurok Na. The two shook hands and Robby said. “Hi. I am Robby Benoit, form Berkeley and I.…”

But before he could complete his sentence Yurok Na interjected, “Yes, I know. Would your wife like a glass of water?” Yurok Na peered around to see Beth and caught her eye.

He was an old charmer, Beth thought as she replied, “Yes, thank you. The trip up here made me quite thirsty.”

Robby half-spun in Beth’s direction, somewhat confused and aware that he had not finished with his introduction when Yurok Na spoke. It also seemed peculiar to him that these Indians kept referring to Beth as his wife. Perhaps that is the only way they see a man and a woman traveling together. Perhaps it was some sort of traditional relationship assumption they made. Who knows, he thought. At least Yurok Na seemed jovial and friendly.

As he turned back toward where Yurok Na had been sitting, he saw him entering his house. Yurok Na soon returned to the porch holding two glasses of water, and he offered them to his guests. Beth thanked him for the water and turned to watch the child at play. Meanwhile, Robby was collected and turned to talk with Yurok Na.

“ My companion and I traveled to see you after hearing about you at the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation,” Robby said.

“ I know,” said Yurok Na in a steady, yet quiet tone.

Perplexed, Robby inquired, “How do you know?”

“ We Indians have our way of knowing things,” Yurok Na replied.

“ Do you use some ancient form of mystic trance or something to divine when you’re going to have visitors?” Robby asked.

“ Yes,” Yurok Na said, with a slight smile on his lips as he watched Beth move to where John Mary was playing. “We call it a telephone,” he stated, as he shifted his glance to Robby, looking for a reaction.

Robby was all ready with his next question when Yurok Na answered. He hesitated a moment and then caught on to Yurok Na’s humor. He thought, while chuckling to himself, I’ve been caught off guard, better be careful around this old man.

“ On your way up here, did you see any geese flying south?” Yurok Na asked plainly.

“ No. Beth, we didn’t see any geese flying did we?” Robby asked Beth who was now playing with the child.

“ No,” she replied.

“ Have you ever seen a flock of geese in flight?” Yurok Na continued.

“ Yes, they’re quite magnificent creatures,” Robby said.

“ D’you ever notice how when they fly in a V-shaped wedge across the sky that one leg is longer than the other?” Yurok Na continued.

“ Yeah,” Robby said.

“ Well, do you know why one leg is longer than the other?” Yurok Na asked rather flatly.

Robby pondered the question for a moment, trying to recall anything he may have heard in his college biology course that might be an answer. He finally said, “No. Why is one leg longer than the other?”

Without skipping a beat or changing his tone, Yurok Na uttered, “Because there are more birds on that side.”

Robby dropped his head slightly and shook it from side to side. He knew he had been had once again and he felt Yurok Na’s humor warm him up a bit.

“ Your wife plays well with the child. Do you have children?” Yurok Na queried.

“ No. But you see Beth isn’t my wife. We are very good friends and we’re travelling together,” Robby replied.

Beth and John Mary were walking toward where the two men were sitting on the edge of the porch. John Mary was carrying a long stemmed dandelion, and he was walking very slowly, being careful not to drop any of the seeds that stood out in the round soft crown at the top of the stem. When he got to the porch he handed the dandelion to Yurok Na. “What do you want me to do with this?” Yurok Na asked John Mary, with a wide smile growing across his face.

“ Please, blow it. Blow it like you did before,” John Mary said with his eyes full of wonder and alertness.

Yurok Na took a deep breath, and then gently, yet steadily, blew the seeds from the top of the dandelion. The seeds drifted up into the air and were caught by the gentle wind, which carried them across the yard. John Mary took after the seeds, trying as hard as he could to catch them before they fell to the ground. He wasn’t very successful because he would run past some, and when he reached out to grab others, they would be blown away further by the wind from his movement. He returned with only one small seed, and then went off to find another dandelion.

“ You are a dandelion chaser, too,” Yurok Na said while gazing at Robby. Yurok Na gazed upon Beth in a curious sort of way, and he paused in remembrance of his own wife. She had been with him since they were teenagers. They had hoped to live out their lives on the land of their forefathers together. However, she died rather unexpectedly a few years earlier. And now that he was looking at Beth, he could see a spark of the kind of life his own wife carried with her. It was a moment of sadness and great joy for the old man. It was a moment he shared only with his heart.

Robby sat quietly thinking about what the old man had said. He was angry or resentful, but something in him was disturbed and he could feel it moving within. He turned to ask, “What do mean I’m a dandelion chaser?” Though it was an honest question, Robby’s words conveyed his apparent disapproval.

Robby’s question brought Yurok Na back from his momentary reflection and he took a breath before responding. Without shifting his gaze at Beth, he started to speak. “Watch the young child as he scurries about trying so desperately to catch the big, prettiest dandelion seed. He runs fast and is quite agile, yet he can’t catch the seeds because the force of his own movement blows the seeds further away from him. And when he gets close, his hand reaches out to grab one and it too moves beyond his reach.” Yurok Na paused for a moment to watch John Mary as he was returning with another dandelion stem for his great-uncle to blow the seeds from. When the boy returned to where Yurok Na and Robby were sitting, he had the dandelion in one hand and Beth was holding his other. Yurok Na took the stem from John Mary and continued. “You see, there is a trick to catching dandelions. You do not chase them but you stand still observing where they blow. Gently, you move with them so that your own currents do not disturb their flow.” Yurok Na leaned his head back and held the dandelion just above his head and blew the puff of seeds into the air above him. “When you are still and calm, you simply reach out your hand like this, and let the seeds fall onto it.” As he spoke, he held out his hand and two or three fat dandelion seeds gently settled onto it.

John Mary was excited as he watched the masterful old man catch the seeds. He too, emulating Yurok Na, was able to capture two dandelion seeds. He now knew the secret that had eluded him earlier. It made him feel good and he sat down beside Yurok Na feeling pleased with himself.

Beth sat on the grass in front of the porch and leaned slightly on one arm she used to prop herself up. See looked at Yurok Na and then felt a blush from within her when she caught his intense, yet comforting gaze. She looked at Robby, who was about to speak.

“ That’s an interesting story, old man. But, unless I missed something, I don’t see what that has to do with me,” Robby said a little confused.

Yurok Na paused a second or two before turning to deal with Robby’s apparent confusion. He continued to look in Beth’s direction and began by saying, “Yes, you do miss a lot, and you do not see. That is why you are a dandelion chaser. The ripest and most easily caught seeds are right next to you. And yet, you feel you must run after something out of your reach and fail to catch what is there for you all the time. Many men are dandelion chasers because they do not listen to the secret wisdom of their hearts.”

Beth was listening to every word the old man was saying and she began to beam with a big smile at Yurok Na. His eyes smiled brightly to see her lighten up. John Mary moved over to where she sat and laid his head in her lap. Beth reached to stroke his long black hair.

Robby pondered over the story and its meaning. He thought about his lengthy journey and what it symbolized in his quest for self-understanding. Had he ventured far afield from where he had intended for his own life? Did he miss some important part of the big picture that would help him to make sense of the mystery he called life? Or, was he just confused about what the old man was talking about, that it had nothing to do with him? Perhaps he could just dismiss the story as a simple riddle meant for children and was not intended to be anything more. But the truth was, it was a story intended for him, otherwise he would not feel the things stirring within himself as he did now. And, if it were intended for him, would he allow himself to listen and accept the full impact of its medicine.

Beth too, was feeling a shift within her. Yurok Na had touched her. She was aware that he had a powerful and yet simple way of sculpting images that brought clarity in the midst of chaos. She knew that whatever he had said was not intended to be entertainment for the listeners, because she sensed that Yurok Na was not trivial or simple-minded. She wanted to feel the things this gentle old man exuded, and yet she wasn’t anticipating the kind of intensity and focus that she experienced in Yurok Na’s presence.

Beth was roused from her thinking when John Mary spoke in his calm child’s voice. “That feels good,” he said, as he nestled his head in her lap. All the while she had been unconsciously fondling his hair and gently massaging his temples. She felt a hint of maternalism and its ascendant peace. In fact, she felt very much at peace, as though a troubled wound had miraculously begun to heal. She looked at the boy stretched out with his head in her lap and his eyes looking heavy with sleep. She glanced at Robby who was staring almost trance-like, with his lips pursed as if he were intently studying something.

Finally, she turned her eyes toward Yurok Na who sat with his head held straight, a big grin on his face and his eyes looking right through her. She felt as if she had been caught right in the midst of her own thoughts and this strange old man was easily reading each one.

Yurok Na reached his right hand out and placed it on Robby’s knee and said, “How about some honey and tortillas?” With that he stood up and walked into his house to fetch the treats.

Robby looked at Beth as Yurok Na squeezed his knee and arose to go inside. He saw someone different, or better yet, he saw someone differently. He watched as she ran her hand over John Mary’s brow and noticed how caring she was. He saw all the dandelion seeds drifting about her that had been caught up by the breeze that swept across the yard. He thought once more about the story that Yurok Na had told and how he had been chasing dandelions all his life. And in the midst of all this, he saw Beth, a most beautiful flower within his very reach.