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Three Tellings About Dead Things in the Earth

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When I was Woman Coming Home I went to Wakwaha and Kastoha-na to tell them my story of living with the Dayao. I left Wakwaha as soon as I could, because telling the story I felt as if I was back in Terter House, and I didn't want to live with the Condor anymore. But when I came to Kastoha, coming down the Valley, I stayed there two nights in a house of Blue Clay people, because I still felt like my spirit was with the Dayao, and I didn't want to come home to Sinshan and High Porch House and Ekwerkwe until I was back in the world.

At the Blue Clay heyimas in Kastoha the woman Heron Flying told me that I needed to go dream with the Stone Trees for a night, and that would bring me back into the world, if anything did. So they gave me some food and I went to the Stone Trees, which is two hours' walk west of Kastoha, almost at the edge of volcano country where the lava under the dirt came from Ama Kulkan at the headwaters of the Na. First I went to the baths and got clean, and then I said heya to the plumed water, which made the walk longer, but to dream well you should start well.

I had never gone to the Stone Trees before and I wasn't sure what to expect, but there was a very old house there, Stone Trees House, with a lot of red brick in it, and a Red Adobe woman from the Madrone Lodge, Mountain Laughing, who lived in it with her daughter. She showed me the Stone Trees and told me all about them. She said that once there had been forests here of giant redwood trees, like the ones that still grow on the east slopes of some of the mountains, but this was in the days when primitive creatures like the Thunder Beasts lived on the earth. Then Coyote got tired of the noises the Thunder Beasts made, and she woke up Ama Kulkan, the volcano, with her complaining, and the volcano spewed out ash and fire for many days, much longer than any of the eruptions that people in the Valley remember. And when it was done the creatures were all burned up, but the trees had fallen over sleeping, because they were hard to burn. And buried deep in the ash, they slowly dreamed themselves into stone, so that when the ash was washed away again by the water when the land rose up, the stone trees were still there dreaming in their fallen forest.

We walked around the forest of stone trees while the last of the evening light went. Scrub oak and manzanita grew around and sometimes through the giant stone logs, so it was like there was small young forest and a giant ancient forest, all overlaid on the same land. Standing at one end of biggest of the stone trees laid out sleeping on the ground, it was like looking at a roadway going straight into the edge of the world.

Most of the trees were lying half-buried in the ashy dirt, but people had dug around many of them so that they could be seen better, so it was like they were lying in trenches. Mountain Laughing told me told me to pick one to sleep with tonight, and I would lie in the trench beside it like a seed planted in the earth, and it would show me how to grow into the world.

I chose one that she called Grandmother Tree which was not the largest, but had long horizontal cracks across it, which felt like I felt coming home from Wakwaha. And I rolled up in the blanket I had brought from Sinshan, and Mountain Laughing sang a Red Adobe song over me, and then she laid my Dayao cloak over me, which I had brought along to show to the Archivists at Wakwaha.

I was ignorant, because I had never learned many things that everyone in the Valley learned, but even I knew about all the animals and forests that had lived over all the ages of the world, and how over time, they had changed; and how there had been a world of giant animals like the Thunder Beasts that was destroyed by fire falling from the sky, and one that was destroyed by the ice that came from the north, and one that had been destroyed by the poison in the tavkach, and then there was our world after.

Even the Condor people, who could not read and could not use the Exchange, knew about these things. Where they had lived to the West, when they were wandering people before they came to the Volcano Country and built the City, they had sometimes travelled through great plains and deserts where all of the river valleys and canyon bottoms were filled with piles and piles of the bones of the Thunder Beasts and Water Monsters. And sometimes riding through the desert after a storm, they would come upon a skeleton of a giant creature from before Puma sent the shootingstars, as complete and new as if it had only died that winter.

Terter Zadyaya was old enough that she could remember travelling through the places of the bones, and she remembered even more stories from her grandfather. She would tell them sometimes if it was storming and her granddaughters asked her well enough: how there were the shells of ancient sea creatures that would call the buffalo to be hunted, and how you could pick up the small loose bones and use them for medicine, but if you tried to disturb the giant skeletons, or take the large bones away from where they were piled, they would shoot a splinter of stone bone into you, and then you would never prosper or dream again. And how if you went to the right part of the right river in a storm in the middle of the night, and sang the right song, and had not eaten meat for three days, you could see the Thunder Beasts and the Water Monsters alive again, fighting each other for who would rule the earth.

This is what I was thinking about when Mountain Laughing sang over me, tucked under my Dayao cloak next to the stone tree, and that is where I was. Not in the Stone Forest two hours' walk from Kastoha-na, but in the land my father's father had come from, in a high desert with a black sky over me and ringed by piles and piles of old stone bones, like a fence of dry thorn.

Puma found me there and said nothing, but sat and watched me, eyes yellow and tail twitching. I was afraid to move, between Puma watching me, and the bones that might shoot a splinter into me. Puma and I watched each other, and the sky above us was as round and dark as I had ever seen, because the land was so flat that there were no mountains or trees anywhere, only the piles of bones. Shooting stars fell from the sky.

Finally Puma turned and walked away, and the mist came with her when she went, and the mist fell around the stone bones, and the ancient creatures they had been rose up, fantastic monsters with horns and spikes and feathers like something from a children's play. And they danced together and then they rose into the sky, and I rose with them, but the sky was not the sky; it was a giant forest, the redwood forest that the Stone Trees had been many ages ago. And I clung to the top branches of one of the trees, so that I would not float up into the City in the sky with the bone animals. And as I clung to it, the tree shrunk down to a digger pine, and then a scrub oak, and then a shrub, and then I let go and my bare feet were back down in the earth of the Valley. And Shell said to me, "Are you coming home yet?" and I said "I am coming home," and then I went into a deep sleep that I do not remember.

When I woke up in the morning I rolled up my blanket and my Dayao cloak, which was soaking wet with dew, and I came in and ate with Mountain Laughing and her daughter, and then I came home to Sinshan, because the Stone Trees had led me back into the world.