Yuta attempted many lessons in the flow of moons and suns. Today he wished to show Deramo stealth in mammoth grass when hunting.
“Dde Rramoo! Our moccasins move quietly on the Mother Earth.” Yuta dramatized motions of moving extra quietly as if he was hunting. Or being hunted. “We must ask permission to step on flowers and use the trees, for the spirits of Ancestors live within them.” Deramo stared. He didn’t catch one single bit of that tutorial.
Yuta offered the lesson in a giant stand of grass that stretched in all directions. It was impossible to see over the top of the grass as high as two persons.
“The mammoth once lived on this land. The huge beasts were the rulers of all this land and their numbers were many.” He drew pictures of a giant beast next to a deer, displaying the immense curved tusks. He carried the tip of such an animal tusk in his canoe, as a way to carry fire embers and as a prying tool to tear foreign ships apart. Deramo shook his head and rubbed his growing beard. He could not comprehend, though he had heard of and seen drawings of elephants. Perhaps it was one of Yuta’s spirit stories. Yuta was getting discouraged and left off with the lesson. He would show Deramo a Wall of Bones on their journey.
The opportunity for teaching by example was afforded Yuta at every turn. Late in this day, they came across an immense field of ripening black berries. Deramo laughed loudly with joy and fell greedily onto the fruits, stuffing his face like an infant. A single glare stopped him mid mouthful.
Yuta’s face was stern and near anger.
“No. This is incorrect conduct. Here is your berry pouch. Only a few berries are picked from each stem, the others left. Then, One moves on to the next bush.”
“What?” Still weak with the hunger of his ocean trip. Deramo found the concept intoleratable. His brush with starvation and extreme scurvy made him insatiable for fruits.
“No. Me all eat. Bad hurt hunger.” He continued to consume every ripe berry.
Yuta sat on his haunches, thinking. This was the characteristic of the Silvers most feared by the Elders. White Faces lacked self-control. When they hunted, Deramo wanted three rabbits. When they chopped down a tree for shelter or fire, Deramo tried to take two, side by side.
Yuta knew it was time to give the warning that he wished Deramo to take back to Land with Too Many Peoples.
“It is the way of our People,” he tirelessly explained, “we take only one. One for the People, one is left for Brother Bear, one for Brother Beaver, one for our son’s sons. If we take all, there will be none left for those behind us.” He drew pictures. He gestured. He signed. He spoke their common words. Deramo failed to comprehend even the basics.
“Who eat? Place of no people here. We lone here big island.”
Yuta was feeling tension that he had not experienced before. His children and those in the village were compliant with Elders. If he could not make this white man see the simple rules, he would have to abandon him to the Forest Spirits.
The opportunity always presented itself in Nature’s way. For the first time, the two encountered a group. They came upon a small tribal group of women walking into a forested area. Yuta motioned to his mouth then the hunting sign: Stop. Silence. Do not move any part of your body. Yuta showed Deramo how to breathe without noise.
Deramo could barely breathe from the shock as he saw the first women and children of Turtle Island slowly emerge from the tall grass. In silence, the men sat motionless. Women appeared to dig small holes with a stick, pick up clumps while children placed them in sacks. Then, using a long tool, they cleaned up all the needles from an area of the forest floor. As sunset came on, the group began a familiar song as they walked toward their tipis.
Our thanks, our thanks
To the forest for this food
We hope we have been
Kind to all the spirits of trees
Our thanks, our thanks
Over a cold supper, Yuta tried again. “These were Ottawa from the East. When you look where the women have been, the forest is not disturbed. Only one sick tree was taken to allow more sun through the trees. Needles and pine cones were removed from the forest floor, dead limbs were taken from spruce, scrub oak was removed. Seeds of the strongest trees were placed into the soil as an offering. We take one or two, not three or four.” Yuta would say the phrase over and over in all the languages they came to share.
Deramo was still recovering from seeing more People. “People of you blood? Why no greet?” he stumbled along in a mix of Micmac and Spanish. “Why no take trees more?” He felt in his heart it was a foolish way to utilize the bountiful resources.
As a cooling sunset sparkled reds across a pristine pond and a few brown trout jumped from icy water, the answer arrived. A small herd of deer grazed in the tended forest. Deramo peeked over at his Teacher. Yuta had fully expected the herd and had made no fire.
Almost as quietly as autumn breezes, Yuta murmured, “The herd follows the women, knowing that they provide a soft carpet of green grass by raking it clean of needles.”
Deramo deciphered about every sixth word. The wild deer had been tamed! If one was hungry, one could simply reach out and grab them all. Deramo drew in air to ask questions. Yuta spoke with his hands.
Three hunters crawled low behind the deer. Deramo could read their signals. With effort so small that other deer were scarcely aware, men snared and silenced two that loitered near the back of the herd. As quietly as they came, the men disappeared sharing the weight of two deer.
“One or two, not three or four.”