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STORY TELLER; A WINTER'S COUNT

As the cold winter winds blew that night, Cloud Feather had no idea what
lay ahead. The winds of the spirits were about to let themselves be known.

He slept in his fine hides beside his warm fire as the winds howled louder
and louder, swirling around his tipi until finally they roared and spoke
his name: "Cloud Feather." He awoke as the winds swirled through his home's
strong hides and blew his fine hides right off him.

He awoke in total confusion, not believing his eyes. There before him stood
a beautiful woman wrapped in a buffalo robe. Her eyes were like none he had
ever seen before, for as he looked into her eyes, all he could see was a
reflection of himself. Her skin glistened like the snow itself. Her hair
was as black as a raven's wing.

"Who are you?" Cloud Feather finally managed to blurt out. As she looked at
him, he noticed her lips never moved; but a sweet voice replied, "My true
name does not matter. I go by many names, but to you I am the Spirit of
Days Gone Past."

"What is it you want from me? I have nothing. I am a poor man," he said.

Before he could say another word, she drew an arm from under her robe. Her
hand held an acorn. She replied, "You are not a poor man, Cloud Feather.
You have made yourself poor only in heart. This acorn is your heart so
small. But at one time, in days of the past, it was as big as the mighty
tree it came from. You are to come with me."

"Where?"

"The past -- your past. Touch my robe." she said.

Cloud Feather was afraid. "I will freeze. I am not dressed for the cold
winter's night."

"You need nothing but your ears and your eyes for this journey."

Cloud Feather put out his arm and let his fingers touch her robe. Before he
knew it, he was back in his village when he was a young man. "I know this
place -- this is when I fell in love and married Moon Dancer, my beautiful
wife," he said very softly. "But she is gone, and my son is gone, too. How
could this be, Spirit of the Past?"

She said, "I brought you here to show you the tree from which this acorn
fell. Your heart was that big tree then."

"But the sickness came that year and took them from me; and so my heart,"
he replied.

"No," the Spirit said. "You chose it to grow small. Your wife and son would
not even know you now."

Cloud Feather moaned, "But I was so happy then! I want to leave. Please
take me back. I want to see no more!"

She pulled her robe over Cloud Feather, and before he knew it he was back
in his tipi. The spirit looked at him and a tear rolled down her cheek.

"Why do you cry?" he asked.

"I do not cry," she said. "The tear was only a test to see if your heart
would notice. It did. There is hope for you. The spirits to come will not
come for nothing."

Cloud Feather cried, "What spirits? Why?" But before he knew it he fell
asleep and the woman was gone. Soon enough, however, he awoke to the sound
of flute music and happy laughter.

As he rubbed his eyes to clear away what he thought was only a dream, there
-- dancing and playing his flute -- was Kokopelli.

He could not believe what he was seeing: a spirit so tall he could barely
fit inside the tipi. His hair was all bushed out like a porcupine's. He had
eyes that smiled for him as he played a happy song. His outfit was all the
colors of the rainbow, made of beads that sparkled.

"Cloud Feather," the spirit said. "Get up and dance with me. Does my
playing not make your feet want to dance?"

"They do not," Cloud Feather replied.

Kokopelli said, "Do as you will, but follow me. My song will show you the
way."

With no power of his own, up and out of his warm bed his feet took him.
"Let's get this over with," Cloud Feather growled.

"Just look before you. What do you see?" the spirit asked.

"Nothing I care to."

Kokopelli blew a long shrill note which made Cloud Feather hold his ears in
pain. "Stop! Please stop!" Cloud Feather pleaded.

Kokopelli replied, "Are you so blind that you do not see your brothers and
sisters in need? The elders work so hard to gather wood to keep themselves
warm. Your people, who do not have such warm clothes as you. There is more
hunger here than could fill the hole in your heart ... and a young boy
looks up to you, and you see nothing."

Cloud Feather sighed and realized that he had not been as good a man as he
could have been.

Kokopelli was pleased; he smiled and seemed to glow all over. "The small
bit of warmth your heart has just felt has only lifted my love for all
people higher. The people do keep me alive. It is when all is lost that you
will hear my song no more.

Have you learned anything in what you see?" Kokopelli asked.

"I have, Spirit of Song. I do believe I have. I will try. Is that enough to
end this night of visions?" Cloud Feather asked.

Kokopelli replied, "No. Not yet. You have one yet to come. He will see into
your heart and see if you have truly learned. I must go now. Remember me."
And as before, Cloud Feather found himself warm and safe again ... only to
be awakened yet a third time.

But this time what he heard was neither music nor a sweet voice. Instead,
the wind was blowing like never before. What he heard next made him cringe
under his hides. The howling of wolves came closer and closer, followed by
snarling and growling.

Cloud Feather yelled out from under the hides, "Please leave me alone! Go
away. Please, please go away!" But the howling only became louder, until
the ground shook like thunder had struck it. Cloud Feather trembled as he
held on to his hides, all the time mumbling: "Please. I will change. I
promise. I will, spirit! Please! Leave me, please."

"It is too late for begging and apologies, Cloud Feather. Show yourself to
me," the spirit howled.

The tipi flap blew open, and the snow and wind swirled in and surrounded
him. Like invisible hands, pulled him outside where what he feared the most
stood. Slowly Cloud Feather picked his head up from under his hide, hoping
it would all go away. But it did not.

As he peered out into the snow, a shape started to appear and as fast as
the fury of the storm started, it faded away. There before him stood a
black horse, its rider consumed in the color of shadows. The rider's eyes
glowed yellow like the sun on the hottest summer's day. In his hand he held
a staff with a coup of many skulls.

Cloud Feather assumed they were people who did not understand the Spirit of
the Future. The shadow raised the staff above his head and yelled Cloud
Feather's name.

Wolves surrounded his horse. They snarled and paced, their eyes never
leaving Cloud Feather. "Come, Cloud Feather," the shadow demanded. "You
will ride with me. It will be your choice if this will be your last ride."

Cloud Feather hesitated. "Your name ... what is it?"

"I am called the Dark Warrior. I am created from men and women who have
closed their eyes on their fellow brothers and sisters. I am here to show
you how you have turned your back on all your people, and how a lack of
love has created you. I come to show you the days that are coming. Come. We
ride -- now!"

Cloud Feather's fear nearly froze him in the spot he stood, but finally he
managed to make his way to the one who held the truth of what he had
become. Up he jumped upon the horse, and suddenly they were in his village
again.

Only it had changed. It was now the season of changing colors, before the
cold snow comes.

Everyone was dancing and laughing. Wonderful smells of food cooking filled
the air. Children were playing. Cloud Feather noticed Owl Song, a childhood
friend, passing out hides, blankets and bowls from a tipi to the men and
women.

Then he saw Owl Song give bow and arrows to a young boy.

Cloud Feather recognized the tipi as his own.

Everything within was removed and given away: everything he'd greedily
horded. His clothes -- his fine moccasins and warm robe of the finest fur
-- were given to an old woman. He saw how happy she was to receive such a
fine robe.

"Spirit, why is everyone eating my food and wearing my clothes? My best bow
is now in the hands of a boy!"

The spirit turned and replied, "That boy admired you and so badly wanted to
learn from you how to hunt so he could provide for his family. But all you
did was chase him away. The old woman is happy to be warm this winter. And
as you see, there is more than enough food for all to eat."

Cloud Feather exclaimed, "But where am I, Spirit? I do not see me
anywhere." The Dark Warrior said, "Come. I will show you what has become of
you."

As they walked away from the village, they came upon a clearing with a
large patch of dirt that appeared to be freshly dug. "This is what has
become of you," the spirit replied.

"No!" Cloud Feather yelled. "I am dead? How? Why?"

Spirit answered, "As sick as you were, you would not burn the wood to keep
yourself warm. You were too selfish to eat the extra food you needed. Your
meanness left you with no friends to help you. The life you led has given
you a lonely death."

Cloud Feather could no nothing but weep until no tears remained. The spirit
felt no pity for him, but asked, "Does your heart tell you to change?"

"It does. It does," Cloud Feather sobbed. "Please send me back. I will show
what a good brother I can be."

The spirit did not say a word; and before he knew it he was back in his
tipi, warm under his hides. Quickly he dressed and, grabbing his best bow
and quiver, ran to the young boy who always begged to learn his hunting
skills.

The boy was gathering wood that bright, sunny morning. Cloud feather said,
"Look here: see what I have for you," but the boy tried to run. "No, don't
run. I want you to have this and I will teach you how to use it. Please
forgive me for being so mean to you." The boy smiled and took the bow, and
the two of them hunted all morning. They brought back a fine deer for all
to enjoy.

Cloud Feather gave all the women hides with which to make coats, and shared
his wood and food. He laughed and danced. He turned into such a good man
that he was made chief and lived a long, full life. The boy he taught to
hunt became the son he had lost.

And the acorn that Spirit of Days Gone Past had given him grew into a big,
beautiful tree, as did his heart.

May all the people have a safe and happy holiday, and the spirits be good
to all. See you next year. Lim Lim (in spirit).

Ken "Rainbow Cougar" Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in
Washington, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. He is a graduate of
the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and is a longtime
cartoonist for Indian Country Today.