It was time!
The sun just crawled over Hawk Mountain the highest mountain Robert has ever seen. The dolomite rocks on top were covered with snow and his father had said that it never melts. Robert looked at its distinct features on top. “The rocks at both sides of the peak really look like the wings of a hawk” he thought. He let his eyes wander down to the lower parts of the mountain and its dark green pine and oak trees. There were many open grass areas and he could make out a bird circling above one of them. That was what they came for. His first hawk! He would get his first hawk! He could not take his oak brown eyes away from the circling bird with its maroon plumage and black and white striped wing weathers.
His father came out of the family’s traditional tipi. His tall figure clothed in earth coloured hunting garment looked reassuring in front of the tipi’s leather. It was black at the bottom with two rows of big white spots. The entrance coloured red like the poppies growing all around them and a blue top like the sky where the smoke indicated that his mother was still cooking. Even away from the tent Robert could smell the faint touch of smoke in the intense scent of damp grass and fresh flowers. They spent the summers here in their ancestors own country away from the noises of the city. Here were only sparrows, pidgeons and other birds singing and sometimes they could hear the calls of other animals.
“Are you ready?” Robert still did not take his eyes away from the circling bird. The morning breeze played with his short cut raven hair. He could only see a small spot but in his mind he had the image of the pointed beak and the clear eyes watching the ground and he could feel the cold morning air floating around him. There was the suns warmth as well and no clouds.
“I think so!” but he was not sure. The Forest came into his mind….
He was unaware that his father furrowed his brow. His father went to the right where their shiny black Jeep was parked in front of the darkness of the forest full of pine and oak that surrounded the little clearing the tipi was situated in. There was only a little light were the path came down. Robert stood on the other side of the clearing at the window. That is what they called the southern part were rocks fell down into the valley which opened to the east for the city. Fields and little villages lay sprinkled all over it and you could even make out trees and the blue, orange and yellow of field flowers. High pine trees stood to both sides on the cliff’s edge which gave the impression of a window frame. This was the place he liked the best. He could not see the forest. He only heard the wind playing with the trees branches.
“Come on then!” His father was already in the Jeep. Robert ran over and climbed into the passenger seat. “Why are we not going to hunt at Hawk Mountain?” He asked. “Well first of all it is too far away. We would need the car and secondly it is sacred space. We do not disturb Hawk in its sacred area! “ His fathers voice was as dark as a protective cave and no matter what chaos Robert was feeling as soon as he heard his father talking or singing everything was ok. “But we go with the car anyway!” “Yes because uncle Askuwheteau will have a look at the strange noise the jeep’s making. “ “And why do we have to catch a young bird? Isn’t it cruel for it to be taken away from its mother?” His father smiled while he started the Jeep and steered it towards the little path. It made a kind of clicking noise not regular but distinct.
Robert waved back at his mother who came out of the tipi. She was clothed in a dark green dress looking like the traditional dresses of her family but made out of linen instead of leather. “Animals are too precious and too endangered. I am not wearing leather any more” She had said when she sowed it at home and Robert’s father had questioned her about it. She raised both hands, her smooth palms faced outside. While she lowered them slightly towards the Jeep they were driving into the darkness. Robert could not see her any more. He hold his breath.
A few yards away the path parted in one going down to the left and one going up to the right. They were driving that way. His uncle was living in a lodge situated slightly up the mountain they called “Where blessings flow bountiful”. There were little streams everywhere in the surrounding meadows so that his sheep and cattle found enough to drink all year around. “I am glad we are taking the car” Robert thought. “I have to walk enough through the woods for the rest of the day!”
Robert could sense the valley to the right. He could not see a thing through the thick of the forest and that strange feeling started again. At first it was just a tightness of the chest. Then his heart started racing but they were out of the forest before his fear could hit in fully. “Are you ok?” His father asked. His voice calmed Robert down. He did not answer just nodded. “Is it coming back?” his father asked disapprovingly. Robert just raised his eyebrows. He knew his father did not understand his fear of the darkness and thickness of the forest. But no matter how many times he explained to Robert how forest provides food for them and protects them as soon as Robert came close to it everything started.
He thought about Squirrel, his friend in the city. A tiny ginger white boy who was afraid of everything and mostly wasps. At first Robert had laughed at him but when the big boys started bullying him he got angry. No one was allowed to bully in his wake. So he put up a fight with the biggest of them and knocked him down. They never bothered Squirrel again. And Squirrel followed him everywhere. At first Robert was annoyed. But Squirrel knew everything about hidden places in the neighbourhood. Though afraid he ventured out as his parents were working all the time. It was boring at home even for a scared child. Squirrel was strange somehow.
There was this shed where they found a gigantic box of Gobstoppers. They kept it save. They had Gobstoppers for months. They had great times there. Well until the wasps turned up. Squirrel just panicked. He just ran. He nearly got knocked down by a huge lorry coming around the corner of one of the Sheds. Robert had just time to reach him and pull him back. When both laid on the street he shouted at Squirrel:” Stop it! It is just a wasp!!! It leaves you alone if you leave it alone! JUST stop it!” “I can’t!” Squirrel had whispered.
Robert did not understand then. But soon afterwards his trouble with the forest had started. He went up to see his uncle. His mother and little sister were with him. He was ahead of them as always watching everything around him. There were tiny insects crawling all over the place. And hidden flowers and he could sense all the animals further away. But suddenly out of nowhere a huge deer ran up from the right directly at him. He just froze for a second then crouched down and the deer jumped over him. His mother and sister were excited as it meant deer one of the best spirit animal guides tried to connect with him. But it gave him such a shock he was kind of numb for the rest of the day.
His father realised his fear and had taken him to the forests edge and told the story of forest taking care of his ancestors. They were hunters. Forest provides deer and hare for food and also shelter as they used the young branches for the Tipi. He also told him about spirit animal guides and how they protect and guide us. He always thought about his father’s teachings when he came close to the forest but it did not change a thing. His chest got tight, his heart started racing. He hardly got breath. He just wanted to get away. Far away from the thing. Like Squirrel he could not help it. Now he understood Squirrel. He wished Squirrel would be here now. He would understand.
His uncle in his usual blue jeans and red and white check shirt was waiting at the gate and opened it. He had huge hands and a smile that shone from ocean to ocean. He gave the Jeep a loud clap “Hello little brother” he said to Roberts father laughing. His father laughed as well. “I will grow older but you won’t grow taller” he said cheerfully. “Aw do not make fun of my age. It will be a sting in my bones forever that I am the first born” His uncle let them park the car besides the tiny pine wood lodge that faced another “window”. This one higher up. Robert got out of the car. His eyes searching for the hawk at Hawk Mountain. “Hawk would not be afraid of Forests” he thought.
“Are you ready?” His uncle’s cheerful way made Robert shiver. “Yea if the Forest would not be!” he said in a frustrated voice. His uncle took a look at his father and shook his head. “It is time you get over this boy!” he just said.
An hour later they were through the forest and sat on a huge boulder hanging a bit over the edge of the rocks. Its dark grey seemed to have collected all the warmth of the rising sun. The wind was still cold and Robert wished he could watch the hawk again. But they were sitting on the other side of “Where blessings flow bountiful” which faced north. They could see the green, yellow and brown of the flats as their people called the flat area around the city. There was a quilt of meadows, wheat- and cornfields. They were not high enough yet to see over the forest to the south where Hawk Mountain was situated. Robert were totally exhausted. He just stared at the flats not even realising that they could hear pheasants his favourite birds calling further up the mountain.
He had been tense the whole two hours they walked brisk upwards. He used to love this path as the view from the boulder at the end of it was amazing. He tried to remember the view when walking through the forest but he could just concentrate on his hurting muscles, his tight chest and breath that stopped constantly. He nearly hyperventilated. His father got worried and wanted to stop for a while but Robert just wanted to get away from the forest. “At least drink something” his father had urged him.
He now laid down on the boulder feeling the warmth of the stone and the sun above. Insects were humming around them and he was glad not to smell the dampness of the forest any more. “I do not want to go back!” he thought. The images of the tall oak and pine trees, that felt like they were all gathering together to attack him, came into his mind. Of course he knew trees could not do that. But it felt like any second they would let another huge animal through them just to mock him.
His father pointed backwards. “See over there! That tall pine tree? There is the nest. The mother should be out already for food. We have to be very careful if we want to get to the chick!” Robert was supposed to watch out for the mother while his father would get up the tree with a handful of sparrows and mice. He’ll grab the hawk while feeding it. “Shall we?” his father asked. “OK!” Robert said not at all ready.
“Please stay underneath the tree and tell me if the mother comes back as soon as you spot her” “Yes dad!” Robert knew. His father had taught him long ago. He watched his father walk through the high meadow grass and blue and white little flowers. He made a trail through it and Robert would follow soon when his father had prepared. He would connect with Mother Earth, apologize to the birds mother and then get on the spikes to climb up the tree. Robert got up from the warm stone and went along the little trail his father had left. He situated himself a bit further from the tree to be able to see the sky as well as the tree.
Robert watched his father getting up higher and higher. He heard the light scratch when his father’s spikes got into the trees bark. He was watching the sky. “It is unusual that the mother does not hunt here!” There was more than enough space for mice and sparrows and what not to be found here. But he could not find a glimpse of the bird. A sudden creek that seem to cut through his bones made him look back at his father. But he could not find him up the tree. He had not heard the faint thud with which his father hit the ground. “OH my god!” Robert ran to the tree. ”No No Nonononononono!” He reached his father and saw his big body laying lifeless on the floor. One of the spikes leather stripes had broken while the other food was not on the bark yet. The spike was still hanging in the bark up the tree. There was a big bleeding wound on his fathers head where it hit the little rock that laid on the ground. “Breath breathe” Robert said to himself. His chest got tight. He started to shiver badly. He sat beside his father closing his eyes. “What can I do?!” But there was just emptiness inside of him. “Father!” He cried out but his father did not answer. There was a calm hoot somewhere. It was his father’s animal spirit guide’s call but Robert could not see it with his inner eye. Another hoot just a bit louder. Robert opened his eyes and saw an owl sitting on the first branch of a young beach next to the pine. “I greet and honour you!” He said in a trembling voice and suddenly knew what to do:
He took his water bottle, some dressing and the iodine out of his leather backpack. His father had shown him how to use them. Just in case. He took some pieces of the dressing, wet them with the water and tried to clean the wound as good as he could. It was not deep but bled terribly. Another piece of dressing for the iodine. He then carefully bandaged the wound having his fathers head in his lap. His father’s breath was calm and regular but he did not wake up. “What shall I do now?” He realised that he was still shaking badly. He hugged himself and sat down taking a nip from his flask. His body calmed down a bit.
He felt the soft breeze coming out of the forest. The insects hummed soothingly. There was a little hoot somewhere away. He had not realised that the owl had flown to the entrance of the path and sat there patiently. He shook his head “I can not leave him alone owl! I just can’t” The bird hooted reproachfully at him. He began to shake harder again. His father’s voice came to his mind:” If someone is not conscious longer than half an hour you must under all circumstances go and get help!” The words rang in his ears.
For some strange reason Squirrel came to his mind. “Here is a little guide for you!” his father had said to Squirrel one day, when he came to visit them. He gave Squirrel a beautiful wasp in a block of glass but Squirrel dropped it immediately. “I can’t take that!” Squirrel said. “Why not?” asked Roberts father. “Because it is dangerous!” “How is it dangerous?” “Well it stings!” said Squirrel as if Roberts father was an idiot. “Has this one stung you?” He asked. Squirrel looked at him first and then at the glass block at the ground. “No” he said slowly. “Has any wasp stung you so far?” Another slow “No” “OK!” was all his father said and he left the room. Squirrel had a look at Robert who just shrugged his shoulders. He knew his fathers sometimes odd ways very well but he did not say a word. When Squirrel left that day Robert realised he had taken the wasp.
A stronger hoot brought him back to reality. “I can’t! I just can’t!” That feeling started creeping up his spine and into his stomach. His breath ran out of space and he felt like fainting. “You can’t faint! You can’t faint!” he said to himself. Another sip from the flask. Breathing heavily he said again:”I can’t” But the owls eyes just seemed to say “Remember what your father told you!” followed by a really reproachful hoot. “He would not expect me to go through the forest on my own!” Robert thought but even as he thought it he knew he was searching for excuses.
He stood up. The bottle in his hands. And then just stood there. Suddenly the owl came flying back and landed on his shoulder. It was a tiny white barn owl who tipped his ear with its beak. “You can do it” it seemed to say. “No I can’t!” anger glared up in Robert. “I can’t” He moved his shoulders suddenly and the owl nearly fell off but caught itself up and flew back to the entrance but then made another turn and flew away. “Don’t go! Please don’t go!” Robert shouted.
But he was alone. He had a look at his father who laid peacefully under the tree. ” If someone is not conscious longer than half an hour you must under all circumstances go and get help!” he heard again. He had a look to the path which loomed gloomily a few yards away. The branches of the surrounding trees looked like giant teeth just waiting to swallow him. ” If someone is not conscious longer than half an hour you must under all circumstances go and get help!” Robert did not know how long his father was unconscious. He did not have a look at his watch as he was taught.
Robert slowly walked over to the path. A bit later on he was facing its hollow line down the mountain and his muscles just blocked. He could not go any further. He heard another hoot from inside the forest along the path and he could see the owl’s wings flutter a bit further down. He suddenly felt calmer.
“OK then” he thought and ran. When he reached the owl breathing hard the bird just left the branch which it was sitting on and flew a bit further. Robert stopped for a minute and caught his breath. Then he ran on. And ran and ran and ran. All the way back down to his uncle’s lodge. His uncle saw him and came towards him “Robert! What happened?” but Robert just fainted in his arms.
He was back with Squirrel in the city. They were at the storage shed with some Gobstoppers in their mouths when the familiar buzz of a wasp grew louder and louder. Robert was looking around checking and as he saw the insect tried to hurry it back out. Squirrel said:” Please leave it alone!” “What?!” Robert could not believe his ears. “What have you just said?!” “I said: Leave it alone!” and Squirrel grinned. “After your dad gave me the wasp in the glass I could not stop thinking about it. I started reading up on it. I got to the library and borrowed all the books about insects. Do you know that wasps help as much as bees too pollinate flowers? Without them we would not have anything growing. And there are wasps which are parasites. They eat up loads of bugs that no one wants. The ones that destroy plants for example. And the nests they build are fantastic!” Robert stared at Squirrel. “I think I have to call you wasp from now on!” He laughed. “But how can reading help you to lose your fear?” “Don’t know!” Squirrel just said. “It just happened!”
“Robert!” “Hmmmm” His whole body was aching. He did not want to open his eyes. “Robert!” he realised it was his fathers calming voice. “DAD!” he was up in a second. His father was lying in the bed beside his in his uncle’s lodge wearing a turban-like bandage around his head smiling at him. “Oh dad I am so glad you are ok!” “And I am very proud of you!” His father smiled. “Why?” “You went through the forest to get help!” “But I waited too long!” “Well you got help and I am safe and that is the main thing! I am very proud of you!”
A few days later they were back at the tipi. Robert was in front of the forest with a bowl full of bread, butter and berries. He walked a bit into the oak trees until he reached a single beech tree. He placed the bowl under it. “Forest I greet and honour you! Thank you for providing us with shelter and nourishment! Thank you for saving my father!” He got up, smiled and ventured deeper into forests secrets. There was the faint hoot of an owl somewhere!