A loud thump woke Raven from his dream. He had been dreaming again of soaring high above the landscape. He looked outside his bedroom window just in time to see an eagle land on the ground close to the huge sycamore tree which just yesterday had provided a resting place for birds and a playground for squirrels. It was now broken into dozens of pieces and had fallen with its top pointing in the direction of Melvin’s place.
Raven dressed warmly and made his way downstairs to the kitchen. His mother was just lighting the stove to make breakfast. The kitchen was getting warmer and felt cozy. “Raven, I was having a wonderful dream. Did you hear a loud thump, it woke me up.”
“Yes, for some reason that sycamore tree out front fell. There hasn’t been a bit of wind; not last night or today but it’s in a million pieces. Guess I will have to get the tractor and push it to the burn pile. What was your dream about?”
“I dreamed you was an eagle soaring high in the sky.”
“That’s funny. The tree woke me up too and when I looked out to see what it was, an eagle landed on the ground next to it. Seems kind of funny cause I was dreaming of flying too but I don’t think I was an eagle.”
“Your father will be gone a few more days and it would be nice if he did not have to come home and take care of the tree.”
“I will take care of it but I can’t do it right away. I have to go see Grandfather.”
“You’re right. See to him first and make sure he has anything he needs. He’s been pretty bad off and I know he will want you to visit. Make sure the snow has not smothered his fire.”
Raven made his way through the soft snow, heading in the direction of the cave Pappy called Melvin’s Place. He was always careful to follow his grandfather’s rule to “never come the same way twice.” Over the years, it had become a problem to discover new paths as there were just so may ways to get to the cave. After passing the barn and surveying the landscape, Raven thought this would be a good day to practice what Melvin had taught him about tracking and evading. It took skill to walk through snow without leaving footsteps but Raven had become an expert. He often backtracked his own path to see if any signs were visible.
Berries were no longer on the bushes and Raven thought of the many times he had repaired the bee hives after bears tore them apart to get at the honey. He walked about a hundred yards down the trail that led to the hives, collecting hickory nuts and pine cones as he went. He stopped at the pig pen and gathered a dozen or so corn cobs and put them in the sack strung across his back.
Approaching the bee hives, Raven pulled his knife from his pants and seated himself against the hives. Using the largest pine cone quarters, he fashioned twenty bear paw pads. Their concave shape required little work. Cutting open the hickory nuts, he sliced them from top to bottom in quarter inch strips and sharpened one end of each. It took well over an hour to complete the bear paws, but Raven enjoyed the art of deception and this was one of the most difficult. He felt his deception skills rated right up there with his evading and tracking talents. He chuckled with the afterthought, “that and counting coup.”
Very carefully, Raven opened one of the hives. Being cold, the bees tolerated the intrusion more than otherwise, allowing him to gather a good handful of wax and honey mixture. Using the mixture, Raven carefully applied the bear paw pads and claws to the balls of his feet. Making fists, with thumbs tucked in, he applied the smaller pads to his hands.
Walking on all fours, Raven looked at the bear tracks he made and determined they were good enough to look like real bear tracks. Taking the shortest route to the nearby woods, Raven entered the woods and walked in the direction of the cave. He chose the path of least resistance as would a bear searching for food. The physical requirements of this task was beyond what most men would endure. It had taken Raven many winters under the direction of Melvin to acquire the skill. Melvin had taught him well pointing out that if the heels of his feet or the thumbs of his hands ever touched the ground, his deception would be revealed. Raven had spent many painful hours stretching the hamstrings of his legs so he could walk on only the balls of his feet; it was required for walking on all fours. He remembered Melvin’s constant admonishment that the bear’s elbows allowed leg movement backwards and forwards not at all like a man’s arms that allow only lateral movement. Melvin had learned to exaggerate wrist movements to imitate the bear’s forelegs.
Raven concentrated his efforts on his make-believe evasion. He was in no hurry. The fallen sycamore tree and the eagle told him what was to come and he trusted the Nunnehi, the immortals, the spirit people, to orchestrate in due time what he could not or should not do. He knew they were headed for the cave; coming from the highlands; from Blood Mountain and Nottely River. Raven saw tracks of turkey, deer and bear making their way to the cave. Flocks of birds rested from their journeys. Less than a mile now from the cave, Raven heard the drums and dance songs of the Nunnehi.
When he saw the overhanging rock of the cave, he discarded his bear pads and claws. Seeing the cave again, he recalled the harsh words spoken at the dinner table when Melvin had come late one evening to announce he was moving permanently to the Sipsey. That was four years ago when he was eight. Melvin understood but did not appreciate the comments his Dad had made about Melvin. “That old SOB has lived on this earth for eighty-something years and never worked a day in his life. He’s never contributed anything to this farm; all he has done is live like a wild-man and stay drunk all the time; not to mention his moon shining and everything else he could possibly do to smear the family name. His association with that black Maria woman is the joke of the county. And now of all things he wants to live in the woods from now on.”
The family discussions and arguments lasted for days. Raven’s Dad made sure to show his distaste for his father’s lifestyle. Melvin never denied any of the accusations or rumors and said only that a cave in the Sipsey was for his last days and until that time came, he would seldom be there.
As he ascended the incline to the cave, his view of the brush and vines brought back memories. He cherished the fact that he and Melvin alone knew of its existence. Raven had learned many camouflage techniques from Melvin and now realized that he had not actually seen the overhanging rock with his eyes; only that his mind recognized it as such. It was much too overgrown to be visible. He had learned to notch timbers and mix mud and straw. After cutting, trimming and dragging trees and limbs, it had taken them only three days to camouflage the entrance.
On Raven’s approach, two perched ravens spread their wings as if in a greeting or salute. They were impressive animals with wingspans in excess of three feet. They were accompanied by an unkindness of ravens, well over 100. Raven wished he could share the secret of Melvin’s Place with his family; if they only they knew the truth there would be different stories to tell.