The Midnight Dawn: The ship begins to dock.
A woman stands, looking down, silently. Black waters swirl salty white foam; Icy waters move through flapping rudders; The sounds of shifting motors pound; This is a beckoning scene for one in feelings of immersing self-isolation; And, Lora stands at this very edge. Lora stands completely unaware of the true beauty that surrounds her at this very moment.
The ship’s docking, at Dearing's port, in the Kotzebue Sound... Alaska's pre-dawn dark blue skies with it’s tawny orangey gray clouds; A panoramic view of white snowy peak mountains surrounds the port. And yet, the only thing Lora has on her mind … is a small Inuit village that will soon make her isolation complete.
Out onto the deck Jeff calls, "Lora!"
Lora turns towards her husband's voice; But then, turns her eyes back to the whirling water over the stern.
"Sweetheart?" Jeff places his hand on Lora’s arm, "I called the shore; The transport will be waiting… as soon as we're finished docking."
Jeff's voice becomes serene.
“ Wow. Lora, I can’t believe it. It’s been eight years since I been home last."
Jeff places his hand on Lora's.
“ It’ll be good for us to be with family. We'll leave the ship before the sunrise and we’ll arrive in the village just in time to see the final day of Tribal Awareness Week. Lora, I wish we were here a couple of weeks ago. I think my mother would have been happier meeting you when she wasn't so busy...."
Lora turns…, "You know, Jeff; I do wish you would just shut the hell up!”
Lora pulls her hand away.
“ Please, just keep still until we get up there.”
Her teeth clench.
“ It's another four and a half-hours, to get to where we need to go. And, quite frankly, I think it's going to be hard enough for me to what needs to be done; And, I’d much rather get through this without having to listen to your mouth all the way up there."
"Alright.", Jeff says in a somber voice. He turns to walk back inside but then he sees a new flicker of hope.
"Lora, I see the biplane. It's pulling in..; See it? See it, down there, at slip four, on the pier?!” Jeff smile’s pointing to the small transporter; As he does he grabs Lora kissing her cheek. “ I'm go get the porter to help me with our bags and we'll meet you down at the clearing, All right?”
"Fine.” Lora,…with a strain in her throat.
"Fine, let's just get this over with..."
Lora stands at the clearing;… She watches the ships crew set-up for a day of helping passengers board and depart the ship. Jeff arranged for the two of them to leave the ship two hours earlier than everyone else so they could meet up with their connection.
As Jeff and the porter comes down the ramp a man comes down the dock waiving.
Jeff calls out. "Lora, here comes Gabe!"
“ Gabe! Gabe!”
"Honey!? This is my cousin, Gabriel." Jeff says to Lora as they started down the pier to the biplane. “ He runs our local transport."
Gabe turns towards Lora.
" Yeah, I run everyone from our village up and down the river; Sometimes, I think this little craft here thinks she's just another boat! She so seldom has a chance to be airborne.”
The luggage is placed on board, Jeff and Lora settle into their seats and Gabe starts moving up the sound; Then, after about fifteen moments the little plane begins to lift, up and out, off the water.
Lora becomes startled, "I thought the plane wasn't going to leave… I thought we were not going to be airborne?! I thought we were riding up the river?"
"Yes, Lora." Gabe states with a giggle,
"Yes, the Koyukuk River! I'm sorry, I thought Jeff would have told you?! We'll be airborne for just over an hour then we’ll reach the Koyukuk River and then, from that point, we’ll be riding the river for another three hours till we reach the village."
Lora sits back… and begins to stare out at the enormity of the Alaskan skyline. For her, it seems to have no end; And yet, for Lora there seems to be, nothing, nothing at all but endings on her horizon.
The procession begins...
The parade comes down the main road in the small Inuit village. The local people are all playing drums, jingles and bones and they’re all wearing traditional ceremonial attire.
Lora starts looking around to find her husband but Jeff is gone. Lora thinks, angrily.
‘ This is so senseless!? Why did Jeff ******* up here? I can't believe this; Here I am at The Koyukon Festival to tell his mother we're divorcing!? His mother never wanted me in his life. He was just suppose to finish his studies and come back home. I'm sure she'll be relieved to see me gone from his life.’
Jeff comes up behind her, smiling.
"Honey, Honey isn't this wonderful?! I remember my parents and I participating all together in these events when I was small.”
Jeff points down the road. “ Hey Hon, look!" He places his arm on Lora's waistline.
Lora turns to him with a grimace," Remove that…!"
Jeff moved his hand and Lora turns to see where Jeff is pointing.
Lora sees, her mother-in-law, PaKaSuk; PaKa begins down the road dressed in her traditional Inuit tribal clothing.
She has on a headdress made from the skin and skull of a coyote, and there’s a pair of small antlers imbedded on it. And, she has on tall boots made of polar-bear fur that are adorned at the rims with dangling teeth from the hunts of the past.
PaKa sings long mournful notes as she plays a soft singular beat over and over again on a drum-snare of sealskin and whalebone.
Jeff waves to his mother; As she sees her son, she begins to call out,
” Come fellow me one and all…;
Come fellow me to the place of the great hall;
Come to hear a tale that must be told;
Come hear the words from the time of old.”
As PaKa reaches the doorway she gestures to Jeff and Lora.
"Please come, sit here near the fireplace."
As everyone-else finds seat’s; PaKa kneels down, she looks deep into Lora‘s eyes; She smiles and then hands Lora a small long rectangular box.
Speaking softly, "Lora, please, hold this… But, do not open it right now; Wait until I’m done with my story. I'll return and we will talk."
Lora stares at PaKa thinking…
‘She is an odd woman. To give me a gift? Looking down at the small rectangular box. She makes a huff, ‘ It's probably a brand new pen to sign the divorce papers with. She's probably…; But wait!’
Lora remembers, ‘ Jeff hasn't told her anything about the divorce yet. ‘
Lora places the box on her lap.
The show begins...
PaKa hushes the assembly; Cues the drums to play.
The drums start. It is a slow, low singular beat beating over and over…; Over and over. beating slow low beats; Over and over... Again.
Jeff bends down; He whispers, "Lora, the crowd is so much larger then I ever remembered it being before."
Just then, a woman comes and sits right next to Lora and the woman has a baby sleeping in her arms.
Lora closes her eye and thinks,…
‘ Oh God… Why couldn’t this woman find somewhere else to sit; Anyplace other than here?’
"Welcome! I am PaKaSuk...I am the Coyote-woman for my people…, now! But my story is of a Coyote-woman of long ago. Her name,… GaTraRa; The Coyote-woman Who Lost Her Tears.
Come one and all close your eyes. We shall breath deep the air and hear the drums beat…; And, we shall go… into the past.
GaTraRa became a coyote woman when she was young. Much younger than the old custom....The old Coyote-woman would chose a young girl to replace her and she would teach the girl all of the knowledge needed to help her people; She would learn all the wisdom of the herbs that cure and when ready she would take place. GaTraRa was chosen… And with great pride and joy of all the tribe.
She had learned much in a small time working at the side of the old Coyote-woman. But, a great sickness came to the people; Nearly half the tribe were lost...
The old coyote woman was lost… GaTraRa was now The Coyote woman; …without knowing all the wisdom the old coyote woman needed to give…
Lora, sits there listening to her mother-in-law; She starts feeling cold beads of sweat against her skin. She starts feeling a slow low ache in the pit of her stomach.
Jeff looks at Lora, "Are you alright?"
"Leave me alone!” She swats at him. "Just go away! I'm fine. Leave me to hear this..."
PaKaSuk continues "By our old traditions the Coyote-woman is not to join with any man; It was said… She’s to care for all the people of the tribe; But…, for GaTraRa; GaTraRa was highly favored in the eyes of the council, And, especially by the chief elder's son, NeKraRa.
NeKraRa, who wanted the tribes very young new Coyote-woman to be his spoke a plea to the elders; GaTraRa wanted to be his as well. But she knew a Coyote-women was not allowed to join. GaTraRa was surprised and overjoyed when the elders told her that she and NeKraRa being allowed to be joined...She felt the spirits were pleased. And, soon after their joining they were blessed...They had conceived a child.
The drums begin sounding faint and far away to Lora. The scent from the smoke seems to be making her feel hazy.
Lora feels a low dark ache in the pit of her belly; It begins to grow; Her head lowers and her breath begins to labor. The pain is so deep Lora's eyes feel full of heat and she holds-back a feeling to cry out...
PaKaSuk continues…, "It was the time of the hunt!”
Eyes tighten. The pain becomes overwhelming to Lora; From a deep place within … A howling cry cries out!
GaTraRa pushes; A baby’s cry fills the room. Her beaming sweaty body falls back onto the bedding.
"It is a boy! You have a son!” mother-in-law smiles while wiping off the tiny crying new born.
"My child, he is a, strong, healthy boy! And, look, look see how his face shines like dawning light. NeKraRa will be pleased when he returns."
As her husband's mother places the new born into her waiting arms, GaTraRa thinks ‘ No woman could ever be this happy.’
She looks up and says, "This day is the day of my greatest joy,"
Several weeks come and go. It will soon be time for the men to return
Several weeks come and go without the young men.
The sound of drums call out from the distance; The time for the return has come at last.
Many come to the Great Hall to greet the men when they arrive. The young Coyote-woman lefts her baby and runs happily to show her husband, NeKraRa, his fine new son.
Looking out, beyond the path, the men could be seen; They look weary of their hunt; Not all who left seems to be coming… The elder hunters may be a day or two behind bringing the treasures of their travels ;All the trades made with the outsiders. The younger men come with the new pelts to cure and with the fresh meat and fish for the smoke. As the men come closer the young women gain sight of their man; They run to walk with them to the Great Hall. But, but GaTraRa could not find her man. Her husband, NeKraRa, was nowhere among the men.
“ NeKraRa; NeKraRa !“ The young Coyote-woman begins thinking…’ He may be with the elder hunters; But why?’ She calls out several more times “ NeKraRa!”
Grabing at the men as they pass she asks,
"Where is my husband?"
None of the men would speak to her or even look up at GaTraRa They’d just keep pass by her and enter the tribal council. Leaving her standing there holding her small baby.
NeKraRa's father comes out of the council hall; He walks to GaTraRa and places his hand upon her arm.
"My child, our NeKraRa met his death over the ice on the very first night of the hunt."
She looks down into the face of her small child.
"That was the night his son was born..."
Softly, sadly she speaks to her sleeping child cradling him in her arms,
"You will hold your father's name, my sweet boy...and his spirit.“
She walks home.
Her mother-in-law meets her at the door, crying.
In a deep mournful tone, "My child!"
GaTraRa just stands there with a void look on her face. Then, she looks at her baby. She lifts him up and hands him to her mother-in-law,
"Here mother," in an increasingly laboring tone,
"Here, here is our NeKraRa."
The next day, mother-in-law waits for the baby to wake. She waits, long…, but there is no cry. She goes to lift him up and to wake him but as she pulls the blanket back she sees the baby's body is still, motionless. The baby is cold, blue and silent,
She lifts him and lets out a long wailing cry, "No...!"
GaTraRa runs…, only to see her baby in her mother-in-law's arms; A face full of tears and crying out over and over again, "He's gone...He is gone!"
GaTraRa falls to the floor; She begins to rock, repeating
"No…! No…! No…!"
But yet, now, not a single tear falls from her eyes.
Weeks pass since the death of her baby. Her duties as coyote woman become harder for her. Whenever others seek out her help she becomes angry. She says, "The spirits curse me; I went against them with family and now I have nothing; They will allow me no peace!"
All she does is watch the doorways; it is as she is waiting for someone or something...
The council watches GaTraRa closely. Mother-in-law brings her worries to the elders.
“GaTraRa‘s sadness grows. “
Mother-in-law tells them, “She must be watched. Our Coyote-woman has felt the brush of the Raven’s feathers; Her tears are stuck within… No tears fall.”
Mother-in-law pleas to them, “ Her sorrow grows, silently! I fear, if we do nothing, she will be taken from us as well.”
The women of the council gather together; They decide to have the grieving ritual for GaTraRa. But, none them has ever done this ritual. This was something the Coyote-woman would do.
Days pass, the men are preparing to leave for the last hunt of the season. And, the women begin to prepare the council hall. They gather up all the things they could remember from having watched the ritual done times before.
The chief elder sees the woman; And he asks, “What are you women doing?”
Mother-in-law tells him of what she and the other women have plan.
Shaking his head, “For as far as back as my memory takes me I have never seen a Grieving-Ritual done during this season before; And, without the young men being around. Do you really know what you are doing?”
All the women said, “ We must!”
The men are gone…
The women take GaTraRa to the council hall. They place her near the fire. GaTraRa watches as women gather herbs and place them in bowls.
She speaks out, “You don’t know what you are doing!?” Then, her voice saddens.
” …or maybe you do.”
The women do not listen; Without a word, they begin to place the bowls in all the places they have remembered seeing them before…Recalling, all the men would play drums all night, during the vigil, they each pick up a drum. They gather around the fire. They stand and surround the fire with their drums; The woman slowly begin to play.
GaTraRa, motionless, looks to the women thinks to herself, ‘Why are they doing this…I did this…to myself. They should not care
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