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