Charity Magazine

The Cherokee Walk

Posted on the 27 July 2013 by Lawanda @lawanda43

Part One: The Girl I Was

  Taking long walks is a native tradition. We were living near Anadarko, Oklahoma, (the self-proclaimed Indian Capital of the world), and it was nothing to travel 10 miles a day in the summer heat barefoot, or in moccasins. We were drinking and fishing on the banks of the Washita River one night in the summer of my 16th year. We decided to try our luck further downstream since we were bored and not fruitful, but we had no path along the bank. So, we entered the middle of the current around the edge of an abandoned car with only the moonlight as a guide; the blood red waters of the Washita swirled up into our clothes forcing us to drag ourselves into the gloom looking like a trio of zombies from Hell.

  We carried our beer in a heavy cooler, clutching our fishing rods and bait in the other hand. Laughing, we stepped into holes in the river bottom, and sometimes the water would rush up around our necks. Not exactly in tune with the Indian rules pertaining to the preservation and respect of nature, the townspeople threw tires, old cars, appliances, and trash of every description into the murky waters of our river; the snakes would slip by silently rippling the surface, and I would try to ignore them; I had no shoes.

Earlier in the Summer

  I laced the moccasins my grandmother had given me sitting in the shade of our family porch in Apache. The leather was softly tanned, and the beads were crimson, orange, and yellow. The morning was cool, and the clouds were few, with the birds singing and flying all around me. In my mind, I could remember the donation box carved from sacred wood mounted on a red rock; I could recall the smells of the dank, clammy inner vestibule of the mountain church of the Wichitas, a walk taking several hours from Grandma's old porch.

  My feet hit the dry red earth and wispy puffs of dust would drift into the eyes of my dog who was trailing behind at my heels. We rested on the banks of the Washita, and I drank from a clean pool inside a sandbar artfully created from the river's current. The dog splayed into the mud, spread eagle, panting from the rising afternoon heat. The sky had forsaken its brilliant blue, and replaced it with a dome of white-hot indifference. My dog was falling behind, and I knew he wanted me to carry him.

  So many walkers had traveled the path to the sacred mountain circle their footsteps were worn into the red rock hillside; up we went into the hot afternoon with the crows mocking us from the otherwise placid sky. I could feel my great grandmother's strong hand guiding me into the shady path under the blackjack trees, and I felt loved. Every now and then I would look over my shoulder at Jax who seemed to be getting further behind with each labored step. He proudly wagged his bushy white tail at me.

  When I finally passed by the donation box, I could feel my great grandmother's great moral power guiding me again; I felt rushed and confused. From around my neck I took the corn that had been blessed by the tribal elder, and I prayed to each direction for the safety and well being of those who had traveled beyond this world into the next.

  Standing inside the vestibule circle made me feel safe even though I understood it was a strange mingling of ancient native tradition and white colonialism; my own physiology and the blood in my veins is an echo to the paradox of this sacred place; my great grandmother was a full blood native.

  After my time of solitude and prayer, I went back out to the wooden donation box where all of the tourists put little envelopes stuffed with cash, checks, and prayer requests, and I found Jax dead in its meager shadow. My heart was broken because he was just a little simple minded dog, and I had walked him to death in the burning Oklahoma sun. His loyalty to me had never wavered; he was a friend I could never replace. I stood beside his little body in the evening air, sobbing. I waited for an owl.

Part Two: The Girl I Was

  We never caught a fish that night, but I can still feel the current swirling around my legs, and the muddy river bottom squishing under my toes. I still remember pulling my tangled wet hair out of the barb wire fence with dawn streaking across the sky, and the drunken laughter of my Cherokee boyfriends. I still remember the hawk sitting on the fence post staring at me in disgust.

  Jax was waiting for me when I got home that morning; he shivered in fear under my bed while my mother cursd me, called me filthy names, and threatened me with the state reform school. After she had banged the door closed, I pulled him out from his dark hiding place cuddling him under my covers until the evening stars were once again shining in the Oklahoma sky. Together, we listened to the owls and waited for my grandmother's wisdom to guide us back out into the starry Indian night.

I wish Jax was still on the path to the sacred circle. I wish he wasn't called away.


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