So you can read my books

Monday, March 15, 2010


Once again I drove through one of America's last wildernesses, the Creole Nature Trail. I had to bring two units of rare blood to the only hospital in Cameron Parish. Dozens of species of birds sang their serenade to the half-dozing sun as it slumbered in the mid-morning spring sky. They seemed to follow me as I meandered along the long, winding S curve. Moss-hung cypress trees towered over me as I pulled out onto a long straight stretch. Horses, running free, joyously paced my van as they raced amidst bright groves of marigolds. They veered off with other games to play.

I smiled at the sight of their shrinking forms. My van climbed up a high, lonely bridge. From its apex, it offered a civilization-free vista stretching from horizon to horizon. I could almost hear the Turquoise Woman, from my mother's long-ago tales, whisper that soon Man would destroy himself, and the whole world would look like this. "Soon" is different to the Turquoise Woman, to whom the Ice Ages were but inconvenient winters. And judging from the headlines, I did not doubt that Mankind might very well do himself in.

As I reached the bottom of the bridge onto the straightaway, I flicked my eyes from the canal to my right to the swamp to my left. The green head of an alligator rose above the still waters. Reptillian eyes met mine. Twin alien, amber worlds gazed back at me. Slit eyes studied me in a moment frozen in time. They revealed the narrowing infinity between half-closed windows to a time when Man was not even a murmur on the winds. The alligator's eyes looked through me, far past me down distant vistas when reptilian giants walked this swamp. Its eyes seemed to wander down the ages, dwelling on secrets lost to science. Did it see colors of life beyond my comprehension, feel impulses alien to human reason? It slid back under the green waters as it realized I was not going to crash and give it a change in diet.

The Cooltrane Quartet was playing "Should I stay or should I go?" I decided that "go" seemed a wise decision to make. I drove on as the birds above me swept down as if to gaze at this invader into their realm of peace and beauty. "Don't fish this spot," I advised them. A scarlet Vermillion Flycather gave a high-pitched reply as if to assure me its kind had fished here long before I was born.

Seeing this wilderness on either side of me, I thought of the wilderness in my novel, HIBBS THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS, born of the tales my mother told me as I lay shivering in my bed, growing weaker and weaker from the double pneumonia that almost killed me that terrible winter. I remembered the teaching lessons she had told me of Hibbs when he had been a cub. Hibbs, the cub with no clue, she had called him. One in particular came to mind : when, as an exile in ancient Ireland, Hibbs remembers back to a time when he walked with the Turquoise Woman through the dread Valley of the Shadow ...


Hibbs' scalp suddenly prickled. Yet again, Hibbs' present had been swallowed up by his past. No longer was he in Eire nor even a grown bear. And instead of the wet smell of spring, the crisp chill of Autumn tickled his wrinkling nose. But he was still walking beside a long-striding Estanatlehi.

It was his first week in the Valley of the Shadow -- long before he knew it well enough to be cautious of what lay within its dark corners. And he wasn't exactly walking beside GrandMother. Rather he was bouncing all around her, filled with the energy and wonder of all young cubs.

The Turquoise Woman was frowning at him as he skipped and leapt in a circle around her. "I hate to see you so sad."

"Oh, GrandMother," giggled Hibbs. "You're so funny."

Estanatlehi smiled faint. "I do believe that you are the first to say that of me."

"Truly? Wheee! I'm the first. The very first. I bet I'm the first bear to explore this wonderful valley, too."

A thin arch of lightning rose skeptically over one turquoise eye. "Wonderful? I do believe that once again you are the first to call this valley that as well."

Hibbs did a hand-stand as he bounced around The Turquoise Woman. "What a day of firsts! It's great to be an explorer, isn't it?"

Estanatlehi sighed, "True, there is something to be said for heading into unexplored territory --- Uffff!"

Hibbs had collided into her side as he miscalculated his next hand-stand. She stopped suddenly and gestured. The young cub froze upside down in mid-air. Twin turquoise eyes narrowed as she bent and placed her face right next to the face of the frightened bear.

"But there is also something to be said for knowing where you are going."

"Wanunhecun, (mistake in Lakota)," muttered Hibbs out of a dust dry throat.

Turquoise eyes narrowed further, and Hibbs managed to get out the one word, "S-Sorry."

Snow suddenly started to swirl around the upside-down cub. "Better."

Hibbs let out a sigh of relief. Of course, he had misunderstood her as he so often did. And The Turquoise Woman reached out and sharply tweaked his nose.

"N-Not better?"

Estanatlehi murmured in words of winter, "No. Not 'sorry.' But 'better.'"

Hibbs' eyes widened. "Oh, you mean -- don't be sorry. Be better."

Long ivory fingers gestrued gracefully, and the cub landed on his head. Hard. But Hibbs merely giggled and rolled to his feet, hugging the startled Turquoise Woman.

"Got it right that time didn't I, GrandMother?"

And feeling the warmth of the young cub's trusting embrace about her legs, Estanatlehi lost all her former anger. She reached down and gently ruffled the top of Hibbs's furry head. All the tension left her voice as she spoke.


Her eyes sparkled with something that rarely touched them -- amusement. "And no."

Hibbs looked up with such nose-wrinkling puzzlement that Estanatlehi had to laugh. "How can it be both 'yes' and 'no' at the same time, GrandMother?"

This time her fingers were gentle as she tweaked his nose. "Oh, Little One, sometimes it appears that your whole life is both 'Yes' and 'No.'"



She reached down and gently tugged on his small right ear. "Come, and I will show you."

Though he felt like he would burst from just simply plodding along, Hibbs forced himself to walk beside GrandMother. His steps were so small compared to her long strides though that he happily found it was necessary to skip to keep up. Estanatlehi shook her head in wry amusement.

"This path is much different in summer than it is now in Autumn. These gentle slopes, so pleasant to walk upon in summer, turn slippery and dangerous with winter snows."

Hibbs squinted this way and that as he tried to imagine the trees and grass about him covered with the magic of first snowfall. The brittle leaves of Autumn tickled the bottom of his bare feet, and he fought a giggle. A hawk cawed high overhead, and the young cub strained to make it out. But it flew high into the clouds too quickly for him to pick it out against the utter blue of the sky.

Estanatlehi tugged a bit sharper on his ear to snare his ever-wandering attention. "Yet in winter, we could safely walk over this very spot where in summer rattlesnakes love to hide."

"Yikes!," squealed Hibbs, slamming hard into Estanatlehi's left leg as he leapt in fright from the imagined attack of slumbering rattlesnakes rudely awakened by scampering bear feet.

The Turquoise Woman sharply gestured with long ivory fingers, whose tips sizzled with sparks of black death. Yelping in fear and surprise, Hibbs was lifted bodily high in the air by the threads of Life until his eyes stared unhappily straight into eyes which had blasted the very flesh from the bones of Lakota warriors foolish enough to anger her.

"Does the air feel like summer to you?"

"I know it is Autumn, but --"

Turquoise eyes narrowed dangerously. "Autumn. Not summer. So by my very words, you know you are safe."

Hibbs swallowed hard and managed to get out, "You wouldn't say that if you were on my side of your eyes."

Estanatlehi stiffened, then laughed long and deep. "Oh, Little One, whatever did I do before you?"

As he was lowered gently to the dry leaves, Hibbs rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "Probably walked without getting your feet stepped on."

Her head cocked slightly, and long, cold fingers gently ruffled the fur on the top of his head. "But I never laughed. Never. I believe a bruised toe or two is a small price for me to pay."

She tugged sharp on his right ear. "Now, what have you learned from all this?"

Hibbs looked up lovingly into her face and wanted so hard not to see it grow cold again. He thought and thought and thought. The obvious answer would only raise storm clouds again. An eyebrow of living lightning rose slowly.

Snakes in summer. Slippery tumbles in winter. The same path. His furry brow wrinkled as his tiny eyes squinted in hard thought. His eyes suddenly widened, and he smiled big.

"Different seasons make for different paths, even on the same spot."

The eyebrow of lightning kept rising, and Hibbs stuttered, "U-Uh, and -- and --- I guess that means that no one walks the same path twice even though it is the same road."

Hibbs heaved a sigh of relief as Estanatlehi's full lips slowly smiled. "I believe the end of the world must be near."


Full lips struggled to be sober and lost. "It is written : there shall be plagues, floods, and famines. Little Hibbs will actually learn a lesson. Then shall the End come."

"Oh, GrandMother, you scared me."

She gently stroked the top of his head. "It is a natural talent."

Hibbs couldn't think of anything to say to that which wouldn't end up with him becoming even more scared, so he just hugged GrandMother's legs. Icy fingers patted his cheek. Hibbs smiled wide. For once, he had chosen the right path.

And abruptly, Hibbs was back in the present. And yes, he was still smiling but it was a sad smile, nonetheless, with echoes of loss and beckoning darkness. He looked to GrandMother and saw her lips twisting up in the same smile.

"The right path," he whispered.

Estanatlehi's hair of living lightning shivered as she nodded. "So you still remember?"

"I remember each of our walks, GrandMother."

His forehead wrinkled along with his nose as he said low, "No one walks the same path twice -- even if it is the same road. Were you trying to tell me just now that even though I will walk the same unexplored territory as this other, I do not have to share his fate -- because I am different than he?"

Estanatlehi nodded even more slowly. "Yes."
I hope you like my tale. Here's the tune I hummed along the Creole Nature Trail. Have a great week.

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