Monday, May 31, 2010

"The First Dog" by Laura Hansen

Hummingbird earned his name because he was always busy, very fast, and also as stunning as the bird. He was one of the tallest males ever produced by his clan, carrying his height on a lithe frame. His hair was an unusual color for his people, completely black contrasted with sparkling blue eyes. Like the hummingbird, he was hard to catch. For him, the male rites of travel and mating had been natural. Despite finding beauty everywhere he went, he could not stay in the same place long.

Hummingbird had left his mother and his clan as soon as he completed his rites of manhood. For twenty-nine years, he had enjoyed this solitary walk. Walking was interrupted by both long and short stops with whichever clans and tribes he encountered. In his travels, Hummingbird had encountered many people, animals, and plants. Some so interesting that several times he stopped for over a year. Eventually he would become restless, and he would be on his feet again traveling in solitude. Hummingbird would have been surprised to find that as the bird flies he had traveled almost two thousand miles east of his clan’s home. Of course he had not simply walked east. Although he had looked for the sun every morning and walked towards it when he could, the mountain ranges, seas, lakes, and other natural boundaries, had caused him to zigzag across the continent.

In his twenty-nine years of travel, Hummingbird knew he had left behind many children. He did not know an exact number, he was sure of about five healthy sons and four healthy daughters. He had seen great bodies of water, giant mountains, beautiful flowers, graceful trees, and surprising animals. He wished that these could be seen by his mother and grandmother. Throughout his travels, he remembered well the words of his grandmothers and constantly served the Earth and her creatures.

On this day, when the moon was just half-full, he had been walking alone for countless months. To avoid large bodies of water, Hummingbird had been forced to cross a rather thin isthmus. This had led him later to a broad arid plain populated by strange rocks, which had become very hot and dry. Hummingbird met few people in this dry place. He expected as much since the environment was hostile.

Several times while crossing that barren territory, he had faced his death from thirst and had laid down to contemplate his life, and to thank Mother Earth for all his adventures. Having seen much of life and death, Hummingbird did not fear death, but he still craved life with a restless spirit. Each time he had felt his death approaching the Earth had provided for him. He had learned to eat creatures which his clan would have avoided, to find water in plants, and to discipline his body. Unbeknownst to him, he had become one of the strongest and most sensitive human creatures walking the Earth in his time. Days of thirst and starvation had brought him into contact with the mystical Earth herself, had killed all sense of fear, and allowed him the deep and penetrating mediations which modern human beings would forever seek.

During the worst of it, he had nearly forgotten the words of his mother that everything would change, and yet stay the same. For a while, he thought he might end his days on the endless arid plain. The words of his grandmother, who had never seen this place, proved true. Eventually, he began to see the familiar signs of life.

These signs were a great change from the dry rock. Hummingbird understood with great certainty his mother’s words about change, and was not at all surprised to see later a range of mountains in the distance. Nearly every day of his travels confirmed all that his grandmother and mother had taught. Hummingbird reprimanded himself for thinking that they were old-fashioned in his youth. His clan’s grandmothers and mothers had not seen much beyond the areas of the tribe, yet what they taught applied every place he went, with all people and in all circumstances. Such wisdom was surely a greatness. When he could, he communicated it to whomever he met. He was not surprised any longer when he discovered that the grandmothers and grandfathers of many clans, even those a ten-year walk from his own, understood these same teachings.

As he walked now, he entered fields with a few broad-leafed deciduous trees. Many of these trees bore fruit, which he enjoyed as he walked. The leaves provided great canopies of shade from the sun and he rested well and slept deeply. Being well-fed and comfortable again, he now longed for the company of other animals and humans whom he had not seen in several years. The animals of the arid plain had not been sociable—mostly snakes, insects, reptiles, and such. Now, he began to find birds and small mammals to converse with easing his growing loneliness.

There were times, mostly when he was surrounded by humans, when he began to think that he could never get enough solitude. Certainly it was true that Hummingbird had a great capacity for solitude. However, it had been more than a year now. He had begun to feel like the last man on Earth.

Hummingbird woke up well-rested underneath an old tree he could not identify. The birds had been singing for some time when he finally rose. He bathed in a nearby creek, using loose stones from the creek bed to scrub away the dirt. He filled up his water skin and dressed himself in his woven sandals and an old skin which he had recovered from a dead animal several years ago. Again he walked towards where the sun rose in the sky.

The small mammals in his path ran from him as if he were a predator, unlike the mammals near his clan, which were friendly to humans. He thought that either there were no people here, or they were violent people capable of harming small animals. Fruit dropped off the trees and onto the ground before him; nuts and seeds waited in his path for him to pick them up and eat them. He tried different types of plants along the way, occasionally finding new sources of food but often finding obnoxious tastes he had to spit out.

When the sun was highest in the sky, he stopped to rest under a great tree. Gradually the sounds around him became louder, as they often do when not competing with the sounds of our own movement and thoughts. He could discern a strange cry of the wind. As he listened more closely, it occurred to him that this was indeed a very strange sound. Perhaps it was not wind but the moaning of an injured creature. He listened a while longer until he was sure, and then rose to investigate. Very quietly and slowly, for the sound was difficult to follow, he moved towards what he suspected was the moaning of a creature. He followed the sound until he came upon a gruesome sight.

A mother wolf lay dead with two newborn pups beside her. One of the pups was balling loudly, trying in vain to raise her mother and brother. Hummingbird approached cautiously, as he been taught by his ancient grandmother, in case the mother was still alive, just unmoving. The mother was indeed dead, and so was one of the pups. The live pup, a female, continued her heart-breaking attempts to wake her mother. Hummingbird picked up the cub and held her, petting her to calm her, for who knew what other creatures would hear her moaning and approach to eat her. He gave the cub water from his skin, and then chewed up nuts and fed them to her. The pup’s eyes were still closed, but he managed to get her to eat the food. After eating and drinking, the creature fell asleep.

Hummingbird set the sleeping cub down and proceeded to make use of the carcasses, for it was a sin to waste the bounty of nature. He methodically carved and made use of every piece of the dead wolf and her pup. The bones he could use for tools, the skin for many things including covering, although he thought that the cub might find the skin a comfort and perhaps he could carry her that way. The intestines would serve as strong rope, and the meat could be eaten and would provide great strength. The entire procedure took several hours. When he was finished he built a small fire to cook the meat. Then he said great prayers of thanksgiving to Mother Earth for her bounty and blessed the eternal life of the wolf mother and her dead pup. By this time, the pup was awake and he again watered and fed her, after which he placed her into a sling made of her mother’s skin. The pup fell promptly asleep. Hummingbird was able to walk a great distance before she woke again.

That night Hummingbird had a restless sleep for the pup woke him up often, needing food and water. He tended to her religiously, knowing that his purpose was to care for the Earth and her creatures. He found himself sympathizing with young mothers everywhere in a way he could not have foreseen.

The next day, her eyes opened and he found her gazing at him while he fed her, just as human babies gaze at their mothers. The eye contact was irresistible, and he stared back into her warm brown eyes as he fed her, and calmed her by stroking her soft fur. He wanted to name her “Crying” but resisted, as he knew that naming a creature before it was half-grown could cause heartbreak.

For several weeks he lived this way, carrying the pup in her sling while he walked, stopping often to feed her. His restlessness for human contact disappeared as he discovered the new joy of caring for a young animal. He talked to the pup as if she were a friend and quickly discovered when to set her down to evacuate her bladder and bowels. Each time he set her down, she wandered a little more and a little longer although never far from him. Then her teeth started to come in and she would bite him with sharp nibbles. He learned quickly to provide her with something to chew on. A fallen twig was her favorite and she destroyed them quickly.

From his constant attentions they formed a bond which archeologists in the future would deny, for they would see no evidence of animal domestication in prehistoric humans. This was a lack of imagination on their part, for they did not comprehend a world where animals were not used to provide for humans. Hummingbird’s finely tuned instincts would never have allowed him to use the pup for his gain; he sought only to strengthen her and befriend her for in his thinking she was not less than he. Rather, she, like he, was simply one part of the perfect net of life. In this way, they did not become human and dog, but simply family, and the pup would know him as mother and he would know her as daughter.

Because of his attentions to her, and hers to him, they had created a unique language. He growled at her when he was displeased, and she cried for him when she was frightened or tired. He stroked her and talked softly to her when she was tired or fearful. She licked him with her tongue when he was tired. Once he hurt his hand on a thorn, and she licked his wound. He noticed that it healed more quickly than he would have expected, and understood yet again the truth of what his grandmothers had told him about life.

After eight weeks, the pup caught her first small mouse and ate it. Hummingbird decided she had passed her fragile childhood, and he began calling her by her name, Crying, for that is what had saved her. After ten weeks, the terrain they walked began to climb, and huge mountains could be seen in the distance. Despite the slope, she walked beside him more and more, although she still took long naps and he would have to carry her. Only then, when he was completely at peace—he had the comfortable company of Crying, the increasing variety of naturally available food and water— did he began to see signs of other life in the area.

Hummingbird noticed first the claws of bears, the paths made by wild pigs, and the footprints of deer. Several days later, he found human footprints in mud, which he followed. Several days after that, he came to a clearing beside a large hill, the child of the great mountains that were now clearly visible in the distance. Here he could smell the other humans, their cooking and their bodies.

Hummingbird hesitated to approach them with his friend the wolf. Like any mother, he had not really noticed how much larger she had become. He saw her every day. Never did she look larger than the day before, or different in any way. When Hummingbird looked at Crying, he still saw the helpless pup he had rescued months before. Her weight he bore with no real feeling of increase, as the increase had been so slight every day that he had simply adapted to it. Nevertheless, occasionally he would see her running towards him from a distance and briefly wonder why a wolf was running at him. Only then, from a distance, and when he wasn’t expecting her, did he realize that she was now resembled a full-grown wolf.

Hummingbird decided to sing, to alert the clan to his presence, and Crying joined him, howling frightfully. He had traveled so far that he no longer knew if the people worshipped the Earth and her creatures, and he tried to shush Crying in case she might scare them. He heard noises in the bush and stood in front of his wolf, urging her to sit, which she finally did.

Hummingbird waved a hand in the universal sign of friendship towards the bush, where he imagined a person was looking at him.

“I am a friend,” he said in the language of the last clan he had met, over two years ago, hoping these people would understand him. Instead the person in the bush, or people, he did not know, sang a local birdcall.

Hummingbird sang a return call to them, while keeping Crying’s muzzle closed so that she would not howl. The birdcall of the strangers was repeated, and Hummingbird repeated his call. Then he raised both hands in the air, the universal gesture of being non-threatening, and sat down on the ground cross-legged next to his wolf. He heard the bushes rustling, and two strange-looking men appeared. They were both much shorter than he was, but besides that they looked nothing alike. One had much darker skin than Hummingbird, with more hair; the other had lighter skin and was nearly hairless. Hummingbird and Crying both cocked their heads inquisitively as they watched the strangers approach.

The men communicated to each other in a strange clicking language. Hummingbird had encountered several different clicks in his travels yet understood little that the men said to each other. The men were pointing at Crying and seemed worried about her. To alleviate their fears, Hummingbird turned to her, and stroked her fur, while speaking soothingly to her. Although she would not take her eyes off the strangers she did kiss Hummingbird’s ear, and the strangers giggled happily.

The strangers used gestures and clicks to communicate that they wanted Hummingbird to follow them, so he stood up and walked with Crying beside him, following them through the shrubbery and trees, up a steep path towards their cave. The path was so steep in one place that Crying hesitated and whined. Hummingbird easily picked her up and set her on the higher step to the astonishment of the strangers, who had never seen a man befriend a wolf, much less carry a living one.

The cave was large and wide with a low ceiling. There were six other people in the cave, who all became silent upon seeing Hummingbird and Crying. The two men gestured and clicked, and used a few words of their spoken language, directing their words to an old woman who was fair and hairless like the man he had met. They seemed to address her as “Rrr,” but Hummingbird could not be sure.

The woman, Rrr, approached Hummingbird and he sat down to appear less threatening to her. In doing so, he also held Crying next to him and whispered to her so that she would not frighten the woman. For a long time, the woman simply stood and looked at him, baffled by features she had never seen. She had heard third-hand, of course, of travelers who had encountered people with blue eyes, and skin this pink. The travelers had never mentioned the wolf friends, but had spoken well of the strange-looking people, and said that they respected their grandmothers and were hospitable to strangers.

While Rrr looked at him, Hummingbird gazed at the other members of the small clan. In addition to the two men who had found him, there was a dark, slender mother, and young people. A woman who had olive skin and straight black hair sat alone from the tribe, working on some sewing. She looked to be about mating age but Hummingbird could not be certain because she never looked up. Later, he would learn that her name was Alone. Near the adults were a very chubby, very dark girl, and two little boys. One boy resembled the girl Alone, and the other resembled no other person Hummingbird had ever seen.

Rrr finally nodded at Hummingbird and began to speak to him in her clicking language. He held up his palm to stop her, as he understood very little, and instead used his forefinger to draw the symbols of his people in the dirt. She nodded then, and indicated one of the signs she understood. Hummingbird smiled then, and all the children smiled with him. He decided that between the symbols and his knowledge of clicking that they could communicate. After years of solitude, he was eager to tell of all he had seen, eager to hear news of the world, and most impatient to mate. He already had his blue eyes on the girl-woman sitting alone in the corner.

Rrr made some clicking noises, and the other members of her clan approached Hummingbird, who remained sitting before them, smiling warmly at them and petting Crying, who glared at each of them. Very slowly they approached him, gazing at him and watching him as they came closer. Rrr stepped next to him and put her hairless hand on his head, gently picking up his thick black hair, feeling its texture, and then bent down and looked closely into his eyes. He noticed that her eyes were small and black.

Rrr made clicking noises and the clan responded. Hummingbird picked up the words sky and eyes. He was shocked to discover that he was the first blue-eyed person they had ever seen. Perhaps he had traveled longer than he realized. He closed his eyes for a moment and said a silent prayer to Mother Earth for the success of his long journey and for the joy he had found along the way.

Hummingbird stayed with these people two years. During that year he met other tribes in the area and came to know the language. Crying rarely left his side and slept next to him every night. Often he would wake up and find her head on his chest. He did mate with Alone and their mating produced a son. The whole clan was grateful.

For the first time in his life he felt melancholy when the urge to travel struck him once again. Hummingbird had imagined that finally his restlessness had left him and that perhaps he might stay here with this woman he adored. For a while he ignored the urge, but this only made him grumpy. Eventually he could stand it no more and announced his decision to depart. To his surprise the clan was pleased, for they had noticed his increasing tension and knew before he did that he must once again take up the walk that had brought him to them.

For her part, Crying was excited. She remembered the long walk fondly and all the different smells and senses along the way. Rrr told Hummingbird what she knew of the area to the East and he took off on a summer morning. For a while they encountered many humans but Hummingbird was too impatient to stop and talk long. He would share a meal, and then begin walking again.

During this time Crying began to look not just like an adult wolf, but like a very large ferocious adult wolf. He watched with pride as she took down larger game and shared it with him. As was the way with Mother Nature, the good he had done for Crying when she was a pup was being returned to him tenfold. He could not have been more proud if he had birthed her himself.

Hummingbird also noticed that strangers were very wary of him. Once he came across several unkind looking men traveling in the opposite direction. Crying growled at them. While Hummingbird was accustomed to her strange way of talking, the strangers were truly frightened. Not only people, but large predators, avoided Crying. Hummingbird had never felt more secure, not even in the cave with his family so many years ago. Security was something he had never sought, but he valued it just the same.

For another year they walked together in perfect contentment. Then one evening Crying disappeared. Hummingbird had not worried at first because he knew she could take care of herself. More than anything, he was hurt that she had left him. Sure, she had been known to run ahead of him, or dawdle behind him, but she always caught up. The next morning he wondered if he should keep walking or wait for her to return. He waited for a day, walking around and calling her name. She did not appear. The next day he decided to walk, for that is how she had always found him before.

Walking, Hummingbird felt uneasy. He constantly stopped and looked for Crying. He couldn’t seem to relax like he usually did and had difficulty sleeping. His dreams were full of the wolf. He considered these feelings as he walked. He had never felt this way before. Hummingbird had walked away from countless loved ones without a second thought but somehow could not bear that Crying had walked away from him. He took to howling forlornly as he walked but still she did not appear. A week passed.

Hummingbird realized finally that for the first time in his life he had found a being that he loved too much to leave. He would never have left Crying, their friendship was too good. Somehow it was more than friendship, more even than family, almost as if she were a part of him. He felt as if his own heart had walked away from his body. Crying had asked for nothing of him, yet he had given her everything. That night he cried for the first time in many years and then he howled.

The following day he was still crying when he encountered a small clan of people. Wiping his face, Hummingbird introduced himself. They were friendly and practically dragged him back to their home to meet the rest of the tribe. While he didn’t know their language, he was able to understand some of their gestures. That evening he slept with the tribe.

The next morning he got up and went outside with some of the men. While they were talking he heard her voice. She howled once and he ran towards the sound. The men ran after him. She did not talk to him again. She was too busy running towards him. Hummingbird saw her flying through the tall grass, cried her name, and howled. Crying leapt for him, knocking him over and licking his face. Hummingbird put his arms around her and held her with crazy, overwhelming affection. Suddenly more tears sprang from his eyes than ever before. Crying licked them off happily.

Many minutes later Hummingbird had the presence of mind to look back at his new companions. They were staring in shock. Crying saw them and growled once, not too menacingly, in their direction. Hummingbird patted her and told her it was okay. She sat down and panted. Through gestures Hummingbird was able to tell the men that she was his friend, and that he had lost her. That was why he was crying yesterday, and now he was happy again. More than happy, he was complete and whole again.

Hummingbird and Crying stayed with the tribe for one more night before they took up the walk again. For the first several weeks it was as if everything had returned to normal, but then Crying began to change. She would get tired more often and he would have to carry her. Then she began to get fat.

One day, it dawned on him that she was pregnant. For a few minutes he was both excited and scared. He looked forward to holding the puppies and raising them. He dreaded Crying leaving him with her brood. Considering the problem, he decided that the best course of action would be to camp somewhere near humans when it was time. Perhaps he could convince other humans of the benefits of having a wolf by their side. If he could, the pups could stay with them. After all, Crying would only mother the pups for a year or so before they went off on their own.
And so it was that Hummingbird and Crying showed everyone they met in their travels the joy of interspecies cooperation and friendship. Over the years she disappeared three times, and bore three litters, all of whom found homes. When Crying died fourteen years after she was born, Hummingbird was inconsolable. He wept for days. Although he befriended many other animals after Crying passed, none ever replaced her. Many he loved as much as he had loved her, but in every case the relationship was different. Each pet helped him more deeply understand the meaning of life and of love.

This story is dedicated to
Poppy, Jo, Fritz, Chief, Timber, Mandy, Baxter, Clark and Freyja
Memorable Companions All

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