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Posted By Opening the Heart

 I only ever received one personal letter from an author (except for my lifelong friend Robert Alter). The reason I have only received one letter is because I have only ever written a letter to one author. His name is David James Duncan. I call him the man with three first names and he is my very favorite author. I have read everything he’s written –at least once. I wanted to share with you a story within his first novel The River Why. In this story within a story, he tells of a young Tillamook. The Tillamook were a Native American people in a northwestern part of Oregon, on the Pacific Ocean who lived there until the early 19th century. Now Tillamook is a city known primarily for its dairy farms, cheese, gourmet ice cream and yoghurt.

“For three, four, maybe five days the Tillamook waited. If the waiting grew very long, his people came to find him. All of them came, filling the woods with chatter. When he was found, they gathered a little distance downstream. Then they just stood there, peering, craning their necks, calling to him, laughing or crying- whichever might work best-begging him to come home…
But he raved at them. He threw rocks at them, reviled them, drove them all away, just as they’d hoped he would. They knew that they were not the one he waited for. They knew that his long wait was the sign of a powerful spirit’s approach. They knew, when he hurled stones at them, that he had not grown sick or feebleminded. They left him in peace.
 He waited alone. Bones and stomach, hunger and cold, weakness, pain and people, they all left him in peace. The young Tillamook grew still.
Because he stayed still, the animals began to come. For days they had watched him. For days he had taken no notice. From the fasting and bathing his scent had grown faint, and from the long wait it had become familiar. At night they came close to his fire and watched. They sensed that nothing that stayed still for so long would harm them; nothing that sat so quietly could be a man. Maybe this Tillamook had become a kind of tree. Maybe he had become a spirit.
The small animals came forward first-wren, chipmunk, mouse, jay; then raccoon came and squirrel and raven; later deer came, and elk and wise coyote; even old honeypaws, old black bear came. Some would circle his waiting-place, just watching. Others would pass through that place, pretending to ignore him, treating him like an old stump. Later, some flew just over his head, tousling his hair with the air of their wings, but still he did not move. Still later, some walked right up to him, touched his skin with paws or wet noses, sniffing, looking into his eyes. He smiled then, and spoke to them softly. He said, “Even you, my friends, even you are not the one I wait for.”
But in the end, the one for whom he waited came. Crept up in silence, with all its power sheathed- yet the motionless boy knew, and his heart danced. His spirit-helper had come!
The spirit made no sound, yet the boy could hear it- and its voice was kind for he had waited well. It told the boy his man-name, and it told him his true name. It told him what his life’s work would be and it promised him help, and told him how that help could be summoned.
The animals watched while, in silence, the boy sat with his spirit-helper. The animals did not see the two sitting as friends sit, nor as brothers sit, nor as fathers sit with sons. The animals saw one being sitting- not the spirit, not the boy. It was simply a man they saw sitting, then rising, then returning to his people to take up the tools of his vocation. Later that man would hunt them, to feed and clothe his people. And the animals could sense, in that hunter, the boy who had waited so long by the water: that hunter would sing them to him, he would kill them quickly, and would speak softly to their spirits. And there would be no violence in their deaths.” 

With Love and Respect


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