IN THE TIME OF LONG AGO, THE EARTH WAS A BLUE pearl floating in the ocean of space. People were not yet a fierce storm, toppling trees and sending rivers overflowing their banks, but a gentle rain nourishing the earth and encouraging the growth of all living things. The People called their world the Fourth World because their legends said that three times the world tried to form and three times it died. Then the Sacred Wind roared in from the dark mystery of the cosmos, exhaling the Fourth World into being. The Sacred Wind caused the blue pearl to spin the days and nights one after the other and kept it on its trail around the sun.
The Sacred Wind taught the People many things. They learned that everything good and beautiful, and all nourishing winds, were born of the Sacred Wind. They discovered its tracks everywhere: in the intricate tracery of leaves, in the downy feathers of birds, and in the stiff fur of the coyote. It was only by means of the Sacred Wind that People could talk, for it waited on the tips of their tongues. Through these signs the People understood they were connected by the Sacred Wind to all that was good and beautiful on the blue pearl.
The People also knew that when a child was born the Sacred Wind sent a part of itself into the world to help that child. The tracks left by its journey through the child’s body were the whorls on the tips of fingers and toes and the spiral of hair on the crown of the head. And since each child’s wind was unique, the tracks it left on each were unlike any other.
And once in a generation the People were blessed with a child who, after many years of careful listening, came to understand all the messages of the Sacred Wind.
THE SEASON OF THE BUZZARD HAS FLOWN IN ON tattered wings. It is the season we would call autumn, a dry, windy, blue-sky time. But the weather has been unpredictable all year, almost as if the skies and winds and clouds are troubled by something. The rains of the Season of the Sun were few, but now the contrary winds of the Buzzard bring storm after storm.
A gray blanket covers the desert. All morning, while a light but steady rain falls, Tumas teaches her daughter Mia the uses of medicinal plants. Tumas is a curandera, a healer, one who knows the secrets of the plants and uses them to help her people. Mia has always been a quick learner, but in the past year Tumas has noticed that she learns her lessons almost before they are taught.
Yoni and Yote, their two wolf-like dogs, sleep in a corner of the small hut. Many seasons ago, the dogs adopted the family. Yote limped in half wild, the outline of his ribs showing beneath his thick fur and his mask and muzzle crisscrossed with battle scars. Yoni was still a puppy when she appeared as if by magic, somehow finding the family’s hut and avoiding all the dangers that could have claimed her life. Mia immediately sensed something unusual about Yoni. As she played with Yote, at times the little ball of fur seemed small and helpless. Then in the blink of an eye, she looked as large and formidable as Yote, who was many times her size.
Just as Tumas finishes teaching Mia how to brew a tea that cures colds and fevers, the clouds part. A dim midday sun brightens the hut’s doorway and the rain ends. A light breeze sneaks in through the window, carrying the seductive aromas of desert moisture.
Yoni stirs from her place in the corner, stretching and whining a question.
A cricket chirps near the door. “Corre! Corre!” it says.
Mia cannot remain at home any longer. “The rain won’t start again until late afternoon. Can I take Yoni for a run?”
Tumas had expected her help in the garden, taking advantage of the break in the rain to gather squash and beans. Yote already grips the yucca-fiber basket that will contain the day’s harvest in his powerful jaws.
“I’m not sure that is wise,” Tumas says reluctantly, her eyes scanning the sky. “Ask your father. If he agrees, perhaps you and Yoni may go . . . but only for a short time.”
Mia finds her father stoking the fire in his kiln. He is known to everyone as “the Potter” because the desert people believe his hands can work magic into the clay. His water pots hold nearly twice the water it seems they should. Food stored in one of his pots seems to keep longer. And the older people say there is more to his magic than the portion he instills in his pottery.
His face glows orange in the firelight as he prepares to work some magic into the clay. Rubbing his hands together, he begins to form the pot he has been trying to fashion for years, the one that will never be empty when what it contains is shared with a friend.
“Father!” Mia teases. “Not that silly pot again! It’s impossible to make such a thing. The people are more than happy with your other pottery. And yet you waste your time on that one.”
“Yes, and I will keep doing so.” He laughs. “One day I’ll get it right. You’ll see.”
She shakes her head at her father’s attempts to make a thing that can’t be made and remembers all the stories of monsters and magic told over and over around the campfires. And she remembers the rumors people spread about her father’s magic. Stories for children, she laughs to herself.
“Father,” Mia tugs on a corner of his blanket, “I’m bored. Can I take Yoni for a run in the desert?”
The Potter studies his daughter’s face. Then, with a stern expression he says, “The sky is growing darker. It’s going to storm before the sun sets. But if you promise not to be gone long and keep Yoni at your side, I suppose you can go for a short run. But remember our warnings about the arroyos. Promise me you’ll stay out of them. They are now more dangerous than ever.”
“I remember all you and Mother have told me. I promise!”
“And keep Yoni with you!” the Potter yells as Mia sprints from the hut and out into the desert foothills, Yoni nipping playfully at her ankles. Passing beneath the arms of giant saguaros, they quickly leave the hut behind.
“YOU GAVE HER PERMISSION?” TUMAS PLACES her hand gently on her husband’s arm, already knowing his answer.
“What else can we do? We can’t treat her like a prisoner, and we’ve warned her so many times about the dangers. She’s a smart girl. And before long she’ll be a woman, moving out into the world and finding her own path. We can’t protect her forever.”
“Yes, we’ve warned her. Rattlesnakes hiding in arroyo sand, their heads like rough opals. Flash floods in the rainy season, waiting to sweep her away. She is aware of those dangers. But she doesn’t believe the worst of the dangers are real. She thinks they are just stories told to make the young obey their elders.”
“The mistakes of the young.” The Potter smiles. “I suppose we made the same mistakes when we were young. And then we met. Remember? We were in love from the moment we set eyes on one another. But many years went by, and we still had no children. And then, like a miracle, it happened! Remember when we traveled here so many seasons ago? To a place of solitude where the land, sky, plants, and animals could be tightly woven into our spirits and that of our child. And when she was born, we thought she would always be safe here with us.”
“She was both a surprise and a blessing.” Tumas smiles. “I was certain my childbearing years had passed me by. I thought the Sacred Wind had other plans for me. But whatever the future brings, I will always love you and our daughter.”
“And I you,” he says, putting his arms around her. “And we must trust that our love and the Sacred Wind will keep her safe.”
Tumas hugs him. “Remember how she grew from an infant to a young child, and we saw parts of each of us in her.”
“Yes, and we both felt it. From the moment she was born, we felt the breath of the Sacred Wind passing through her and thought she was destined for greatness. But the path she would take to reach this end was unclear. And now, after she has been in the world for fourteen summers, we may have been wrong about her path leading anywhere but to an ordinary life.”
“We had such high hopes.” Tumas sighs. “But she has discovered no special magic. She believes in nothing that she cannot see or touch. She doesn’t believe in my healing magic. To her it is nothing but a skill that can be learned by anyone with enough time and patience. And she doesn’t believe the stories about the magic you performed before she was born. She thinks you are just an ordinary potter. In her eyes, all the talk about magic is just entertainment for the young and the very old.”
The Potter puts his hand in hers. “I’m beginning to worry that she will never find her own magic. She scoffs at the stories about sorcerers who can change their form, or plants that can talk, or monsters that lurk in moonlit arroyos. So far the Sacred Wind has brought her nothing but clouds, rain, and dust storms. And we have tried our best, but it seems we cannot teach her how to discover the magic. She must discover it for herself.”
“Is that why you let her go today!? That’s a terrible chance to take with our only child, even if Yoni is there to protect her! We know the demons are getting bolder. And we’ve seen the tracks of those horrible creatures in arroyos closer to our hut! What if—”
“Take heart! She won’t enter the arroyos. And she promised to be back long before dark. Yoni is by her side, fully grown now. We both know there is much more to Yoni than her playful behavior reveals. If our daughter could catch just a glimpse of the demons, it would make her a believer and perhaps lead her to discover her magic. But the demons have been below for so long that it’s easy to forget the evil they once spread over the land. No wonder the young ones don’t believe they exist.”
“But the only way we defeated those awful creatures was by learning to work together. How can we work together again if the young ones don’t even believe the creatures are real?”
“As with Mia, they will have to learn for themselves,” the Potter says. “We can only hope the lesson won’t be too harsh. And as we always have, we will trust that the Sacred Wind will protect our daughter.”
“Yes, but I won’t stop worrying until they are back from their run. You will find me sitting under the mesquite praying that the Sacred Wind will bring her home to us soon.”