And there is snow

There is a story Chief Smallboy on the Coal Spur told me about men and women. I was 17 or 18 and traveled every day after school, weekends, summer an’ winter, along the roads out of town; anything to get OUT of town. I met him in a bar with 3 tables and 6 chairs and 1 beer tap serving 300 people along a 100 mile road. That’s hard to imagine.

I sat down with my soft drink and asked him what is a native. He said a native is a man in a tent with a woman and his children and he kept them alive. I asked, “How?” He said, “By leaving.” “Wha’?”, I scorned.

A Cree, photo by Edward CurtisHe said when it’s cold and the pemmican is used and the fire is weak, a woman cries and children cry. When a man can’t listen to tears, he leaves. He opens the tent and walks. He will find something.

He walks and walks in snow. He has nowhere to go. He cries too. He cries loud and he cries quiet. He is alone in the snow. Where is something he can find?

The days are not days and nights, he said, because there is nothing but snow and walking and walking. Where is something he can find to bring? He doesn’t know.

How can he know? He is only a man in the snow. He walks and walks and cries and cries, “Why am I here in the snow? What can I bring?”

He remembers the warm fire and the moving shadows and the woman and the smiles of the children and he asks, “What can I bring? Where is something I can bring from this snow?” And he walks and he cries.

He walks. He cries loud. He cries quiet. He is moaning and confused and there is snow. Nothing to bring. There is only snow, white cold snow. There is only weeping for his woman, for his children. It is so many steps.

And Chief Smallboy said, “The buffalo are tired of this crying. It is a good winter. The sky is still and the wind is low and the man screams and screams. Can you hear it? Day and day and day, listen to this screaming man. The sky is moaning and tears are falling and this is a silly man again, that silly man crying again.”

The buffalo speak to themselves, “What can we do with this sad thing?”

The man walks and walks in sadness and tears in the snow to find a gift to bring. He cries that there is no gift. The man is alone. The trail is cold and white. And where is something the man can find? He walks alone in the snow.

The buffalo see this. Day after day. They hear the moaning and the crying. They see he is hungry and he has nothing and he is alone and the sky is cold and he wants to bring food to his family. It is so sad for the herd. They can think of nothing but this crying. It is day and day and night and night, the horrible moans of this man in the snow.

A buffalo stops and says to his herd, “It is a good time now. I can see the man. I can give what he wants.” The buffalo says to the herd, “I can stop this horrible sadness. Oh why does this man cry so much? Does he not see the sky?”

The beast stops. He waits and he listens. He knows the man is coming. He sees the man is close and he knows the man will find him soon. He walks across the path. He gives himself to the man. The sky is quiet again.

The walking is over now. The man can go to his woman. He says, “Ahh now, there it is. Here. I found it. Here. This is your meat. I am the man.”

The joy is here. Warm. Singing. The fire. The shadows are dancing.

Chief Smallboy said these are the true things he can remember. He said, “Now you know about the man and the woman and the children. And the buffalo and the sky. That is all.”