by Warren Scott
In June, when the thunderstorms came on the horizon at dusk to
bring winter, my sister, Ele, wished from the roof of our home that lightning
would stay longer on the sky. I would sit beside her, and once I said,” If it
did then who would care?” It was like telling her that the three kings do
not exist and that they do not bring gifts for the new year-a thing which
one should not tell a little sister because then she would never find out for
herself that some things do not last forever. We agreed that perhaps
lightning could last a little longer.
One evening we sat on the roof and watched thunderheads shroud the
other islands. Lightning touched the outer water with ghost fingers, and
we could almost see outlines of the islands until the storm came inland.
Our roof knelt under us in the darkness, and it was the only roof in the
world because the other roofs of our village were invisible behind the trees.
Lightning found the ghosts of trees for us and it found the chapel.
The chapel was made of brick, but for many years the priests had not
come, so it turned old. Our father, Cruz, had been tearing it down. Just
when he had the roof timber ready to come off, the first thunderstorm
came and blew the timber into the building. So the chapel knelt too,
squat and beheaded in the trees. Our father still had to take the building
down, but it was not worth anything to him without the roof timber.
There was a new chapel, but it did not stand above the trees. And there
was a new deacon.The wind turned cold and Ele and I climbed down for our studies
because it was going to rain.
Next morning, I lay feeling darkness and quiet, listening for the nest of
chaja’, for their morning chant above my window, in the eaves. Believing
myself to be awake, I dreamt the sea. I remembered, turning the crystal
voice of memory, careful not to draw the voice too close. I dreamt of my
father, Cruz, the pilot:
The crew-boys lean backward over the rail into the wind to bring the keel
back under them and give Cruz more boat to bite at the wind. He chops
his hand at the boys, and they scramble over the fish-well to lean backward
over the opposite rail, their toes wedged and gripping against the well,
pulling hemp, holding it in their mouths; the hemp lurching, fretting at
their teeth until their world is close, blurred, and full of musty hemp,
quivering from the wind of the sail. The well trembles with fish, rolling,
flopping in the windward beat, lolling, lost in the one-second luff. I stand
behind my father and hold clumps of his shirt in my fists. Cruz leans
backward under the boom sweeping above the deck in the opposite direction
of the boys at the rail. I stumble, my face in the small of Cruz’s back.
Spray stings my legs.
At the base of the mountain nearest to where we beach is a deep
brilliance of purple, trees, the clustering sign of habitation.
The dream spoke through all I saw and felt: ”This is memory, Noman
Pastorro, of your village as it was.”
I arose then, for I was to accompany our deacon to the villages to the east
above our village. He was yet new to the mountains, without the tongue of
the people, and he had no wife to accompany him. I did not mind so
much the early morning because I would not have to break bricks from the
old chapel with my father for the next week.
I crossed the brook and the village was quiet waiting for the darkness to be done. At the back of the new chapel where our deacon lived in his cottage, the cart was drawn up with Plato and Paulos harnessed, shaking out their manes at the morning. The deacon stood looking at the old chapel until I hunched my shoulders and threw my bundle into the cart and startled him.
I drove and we went up from the town onto the mountain where it was
morning. The path wrapped along the face of the mountain and doubled
back to retrace itself higher.
When we were above our village I saw the old chapel below us where
morning had not yet reached. My father had already started breaking
bricks away from the chapel.
Each day that summer I had walked across the town with Father to the
chapel. We went before the sun, and Ele would come along at first . When
she was tired she would stop to wedge her toes in the cracks between the
stones of the lanes where there was still rainwater, wonder at us, and return
At the chapel, Father and I would work all day until Mother brought
lunch. We straddled the wall and scooted backwards along it, hammering
bricks away one at a time and throwing them at the ground. After the
ground was covered with bricks so that we could not throw down any more
without breaking them, we climbed down and cleaned the mortar off and
stacked them to be sold. George, who is the partner of my father, came.
We sat on the wall hanging our feet inside. Father and George watched
the splintered beams on the floor of the chapel. I swung my legs, crumbling
mortar with my fingers, watching the pebbles tumble and shrink and the
dust blow away from my fingertips, hearing the pebbles bounce in the
chapel. I was very proud for Father to let me up on the wall with him. I
liked it much better than cleaning bricks on the ground.
On this morning Father stood on the wall without moving and dust
came from where old George was working on his corner. I held my arm up,
but he did not move because he was looking past the mountain.
The path crawled around the backside of a ridge, and morning left
us until we came out on the saddle between the peak of our mountain
and the peak of the mountain of the first village. We stopped and sat
backwards in the cart, looking at the valley. The deacon prepared our
Plato and Paulos moved a bit at a time in order for us not to notice and
turned the cart across the path to stick their noses in the grass on the edge
of the ruts. They creaked in their harnesses to look back for the offence
they made with us.
I asked the deacon why one must be religious. He did not answer. He
was busy with his thinking.
It was hot on the mountain now, and damp. The clouds stood down on
the horizon out past the islands. I saw George move to another part of the
wall and start to work again. Since the deacon had forgotten my question,
I drove on across the saddle; he sat backward, bouncing clumsily in his
greatness of patience.
Then he eased back around and said, ”The beautiful view, because it is
simple, does not capture you for long.” We went back down into the
shade. Another mountain was in front of us, much higher.
I looked down into the next valley and remembered one day when I was
working on the wall with Father. There had been much room on the
ground for throwing the bricks down. Though I hadn’t broken any by
throwing them on top of each other-I sometimes did in order to see what
would happen-Father called me to come to him. I came, and he stood up
and pulled the band of cloth on his forehead down around his neck. He
squinted and his forehead was white and damp below his hair. He had
dust on his face with streaks of sweat, so I wiped my face.
“Them, do you know them?” he said.
I looked in the direction he was squinting. “The Modales. Those who
work at the chapel?”
“Yes. You see how they come?”
I shrugged. “She is very much behind,” I said.
This was very funny to me and I laughed. The Modales worked for our
deacon teaching Sunday school and they were very religious. They had
been married for a very long time.
I could see her across the brook. She hobbled and didn’t look up the hill as most people do. He had crossed the brook and had come up the hill and was just going inside the new chapel. I looked and could not see him through the doorway because of the brightness of the day.
Finally she came to the new chapel and couldn’t open the door. Father
climbed down and crossed the pasture. She was still there so he opened the
door and held it for her. It hissed shut behind her.
“There,” he said, climbing back up. “Those people. They are religious?”
”They teach the Sunday school.”
“They come every day, and every day it is the same for them. She does
not live in his eyes.”
“She did not look for him, up the hill. Does he live in her eyes?” I asked.
”And they are religious.’ ‘
”Such is the way of the family Modales. There is also the family Bacchus. The love of Djon Bacchus for his wife is known in all the community; he never sets foot in the new chapel, but he paid the most for it. He is looked down on because everyone knows that he does not offer his tithes.”
Bacchus never set foot in the old chapel either. He owns the liquor shop
and does a very good business.
”His wife walks beside him,’ ‘ I said. Father squinted at the sun. It was said to be that way in the great city. But here the woman walked properly behind.
“He is not religious?”
“No,” I said.
”To be a good man, one does not have to be of the church-if a man is
not religious, then maybe he can be good.” My father threw down a brick
to break in the stacked pile.
We drove, winding lower on the backside of the mountain, and I stood
often to see over the edge of the mountain to what was below. The deacon
lit his pipe. This is the way it is for you, Noman Pastorro: if you seek the
Savior without the hand he offers, then maybe you will not find him. Take
your Savior by the hand. But feel the mark.”
After a while, there were scars in the mountain-treeless contours where
mandioca grew. A scream sluiced up through the tree roof of the village,
and an eagle dodged from its spin. We came off the mountain but the
scream floated back into the jungle with us and stopped. I reined Paulos
and Plato. Outside the village, a pregnant bitch hung from a tree. She
hung by the neck and her tongue hung out.
The first chozo of the village was around a crook of the path from the
tree. The trees had not been cut back from above for sunlight to reach
down, and there was a smell of rot. There was a woman squatting in the
door of the chozo, cradling her paunch. It spilled out on her thighs and
hid under a gray print dress of flowers that still shouted even without their
color. She giggled to herself with no teeth.
No one had wanted the bitch with her litter. The eagle still danced
We three swung in the branches of the mango-I and two from the
village who had attended school with me in my village . They were older
than I, but for a time we had been of the same class. They had not come to
the school often and fell continually behind.
Our deacon sat beneath us, under the great tarp where he met with the
elders of the village. There was a council fire, and the shadows of the
elders danced their voices across the tarp . The deacon spoke. Then the
elders spoke in a tumble that at once stopped when their spokesman began
to speak their tongue into our deacon’s tongue.
We dropped mangos onto the tarp, and I told about school in the cold
months and about the old chapel. They both nodded their heads, solemn
and with sympathy about school. They were most upset about the old
chapel, which had been a mark for their minds to cling to when they came
to the larger world of our village. They were excited to tell of a way up their mountain. The old one of their village, who told nothing, was dying and had to tell of the way in order not to lose it to his village. It was a wonderful way, but he had
no use for it after he was done being young.
I dropped from the tree and went under the tarp to our deacon to see
if I was needed. He had decided to use the spokesman for the other
villages-his voice would be part of them. My responsibility to him was
I whistled the boys down from the tree and we went up the path. We
stopped at the chozo of the old one and lifted him onto his litter. We took
him out of the back of the chozo as he had asked, and we went up the
gorge to their mountain in the dark. Dead lepacho rattled branches at the
breeze. The trail ended and the gorge steepened. We found a deer trail
and kicked for footholds on the rock. The litter became heavy, and I helped on the lower end. The floor of the gorge ended and we side-shuffled into a cleft. Between the walls of the cleft a freshet drummed in darkness. We drank and climbed up the freshet bed. Our lungs burned, and our pants sagged with mist until we stopped to draw the draw-cords tight. They cut at the skin and still hung clinging in the arc of our legs and we became impatient. Then the pain of the climb shrank away – it was as if the freshet spring were the throne of a myth-god of our school books.
The freshet bed spread open onto Pockets Fork. Meadows climbed to the base of the mountain in pine-rimmed hollows. The freshet below us was muffled by mountain.
There was the whisper dance that pines make at night.
On the peak the sky glowed red. My friends told that it was the lights
from the great city. I was enchanted. I remembered going to the city from
the sea with a catch, and I remembered the city glowing at night from
below the horizon which was beyond the islands.
We made fire in one of the pockets near a great pine on the edge of a
meadow. The fire dried us and we took the old one with us under a pine.
We burrowed nests in the needles and wrapped ourselves in our ponchos.
Flint-clackings sounded above us as deer crossed the loose rock below the
face of the peak.
In the cold of the morning, a kildeer chanted across the meadow,
impatient for the sun. I did not move, but the old one spoke to me in the
old tongue which I did not know. To be one so old is to know when
another is feigning sleep and to know how to speak to him not knowing his tongue. I crawled out of our tree and pulled him after me in the litter. He arranged his poncho, and I went back for his hat which he placed in his manner on his head. At the pocket’s rim, I laid him down because he was dead, and I was not sad; it was the time of his passing and he was in agreement.
We ate our breakfast of corn meal biscuit and cheeses that my friends
brought from their homes, and we dug for the old one a grave with the
machete which he had used when a warrior for our people. We buried him
with the machete and his poncho and hat. Then we started across the
meadow, wet to the waist from spray off the grass that caught in the dawn.
We slipped on loose rock, zig-zagging upward beneath the peak where the deer had crossed in the night. There were no trees. The pines below us were etched tiny in the pockets. We scrambled, sweating and bare-chested, up toward the sheer face of the mountain. The old one had pointed to a pine twisted into the face of the mountain of his village. And when we climbed to it, it was a bristle-cone. “It lived when our Savior lived,” the old one had said, “and it lived when legends say the Great One walked in our valleys.” It stood alone where there were no other trees. We knew that this was the gift of the old one.
We climbed a fold and stood on the saddle at the top, squeaking in
snow where wind catches and carves stone between our valley and the
valley of the great city. Then we went up onto the ridge above the saddle
that would bring us to the peak. We climbed with our bare hands and
kicked the snow away from the places where it hid from the wind. When
our hands were too cold we climbed by holding the mountain through our
ponchos. And then we were on a smooth gray dome like the dome of the
old chapel of our village. There was wind, no snow.
The outward islands were small below us, and we could see the thunder
clouds even though it was not yet midday. The morning clouds of the
valleys were below us on both sides. They were small, and they moved
across the valleys and up the canyons to cling together in the canyons and
villages above our village. On the side of the great city, there were no
villages. The great city did not cling to the mountains as our village did. It
stretched out into the death of its valley.
“Have you been there before?” I asked.
”Why? What is there in the great city that we should want to go there? We see it from here.”
I grinned and nodded. “I have been there. . . when I was small. . . when our village fished I went there from the sea.”
They stomped at the snow; wind hurried at them. They grinned. “We
see it from here.” They walked to the other side of the dome. I sat down
and tucked my nose into my poncho.
When I stood, I was alone. An eagle climbed in his dance from the
base of the mountain where the old one lay. He followed the wind over
the saddle into the valley of the great city, and then the two from the
village came from the ridge out onto the saddle where the mountain did
not hide them from me. They did not look back. I took the opposite
At the base of the ridge were glaciers, and I slid down them to the canyon
called ”Lost Creek.” It was evening and the shade of the buried sun made
Once I stopped to breathe, and shadows flitted across a ridge below me. I followed them down past the ridge and stopped and waited. Deer came around me and grazed. They would stay as long as I was a shadow, and more came over the ridge like ghosts. The lights of the great city became more than the sun, and I started toward them. A buck bolted up. He held his antlers dead still and snorted. His does dodged into the rocks on the ridge with their tails straight up-leaves in the whirlwind of mother’s broom in the yard. The buck carried his rack and his Roman nose and floated across the brush, exploding at the ground and floating again.
At the mouth of the canyon of Lost Creek, the floor dropped away between granite walls and spilled boulders into the valley. A rattlesnake clicked lazily out
on the rocks. He shrank up and buzzed when I came near. With a forked stick, I
caught him by the head and cut the head off and threw it down the wall. It was too dark to climb out of the boulders. I made a fire and stretched the snake out to pull at its rattles. I pulled, and the headless body struck at my hand . It was nice to out-guess a headless snake. But it did not seem the thing to do so I roasted him and ate him. He tasted like brushwood.
Horned toads came out from under the rocks to blink at the fire . I set them on their backs and petted their undersides until they arched their necks, dazed and frozen, pudgy little dragons upside-down with spikes sticking out all over. One does not have to worry about pulling their tails off as with most other lizards. The fire died, and the horned toads clawed at the air one by one and flopped over and crawled back under the boulders.
It rained in the morning, and the sun did not come up. I had a horned
to.ad in a pocket under my poncho. The rain made my poncho heavy and it
smelled as old wool smells when it is wet. I walked down from the canyon,
and under the rain clouds I could see the city.
It was gray, and I went down toward the harbor which is a fine bay.
Going that way, I came into the market which weaved between the great
city and the bay which had no beach to make the city seem solid against the
bay. Trees stood in the market with death of winter in them when it was
not yet winter. Rain pooled in refuse thrown into the streets. Motored
buses brought people from the city to the market. They huddled, not
buying but staying out of the rain and the filth of the street. Children,
dogs, and cats fought under the awnings for food.
I followed a winding brood of bright tarps dripping water where they sagged. By one tarp I stopped, and a highlander with the look of the mountain villages held his paunch and squinted out at faces. He tugged at his chin so as not to have the look of hope that drives market-goers back out into the rain or to another shop. The carved trinkets of his shop were supplied by the village he came from. The woods and mountains of his village were in his trinkets. He stared across a shelf of hand-mirrors. Their dusty faces drank his eyes, and each one held a reflection of a loro tethered to a perch on the tarp-pole; of the highlander’s neighbor, glaring, dung-massed, unable to rid himself of old feathers at his time of molting. The loro rasped and mimicked the city, cowering from the rain. Spray from rain water running off a crease in the tarp covered a mirror on the end of the counter until the loro was a smear of bright colors.
The highlander held his hand down and lifted me up from the street
and the rain. I felt the roughness of the woodcarver’s scars in his palm. I
asked the highlander if he would return to the mountain if it were not for
the market and he said that he might, but first he wished to return to the
sea for he had once been a fisher as my people had been fishers.
I went to the fish wharves, and the seventh motored tuna-fisher I climbed
onto took me as its boy. I went back from the wharf to a fish shed and put
the horned toad between the stilts under the shed. He did not move. When I started back to the tuna-fisher, he spurted with his pudgy legs at the sand and went under the fish shed.
Horned toads are good for two or three days. Then they become mushy
and will not eat flies. You have to let them go, or they will die. And you
are left with less than what you had.
We moved through the outer islands against the tide that brought the sailing fishers in, and beyond the islands was sun. The purple and turquoise band that is my village on the side of the mountains was between two islands. We rolled on a swell, and it was gone.