“She is close. Make no sounds.” Hungry Gull led the small hunting party deeper into the forest. The summer was long this year, though the clouded sky looked that it might let loose in a moment, to catch up with autumn all at once. At this time of year the Makah people in what would be called, Neah Bay, would follow the salmon runs. They would get as many as they could onto the smoking fires. Once that was done, they’d go after the seals and the sea lions, which also would be fat from the returning sockeye salmon. But there were no salmon yet.
Twin Feathers, the great Makah chief, would not commit to a whale hunt. He didn’t want all his hunters away when the salmon did return. Meanwhile, much of the other sea game, the seals and otters, were very wary. They also awaited the salmon run, which is why he and his cousins had turned to the forest.
Hungry Gull had hoped for a nice bull elk, or a couple of cows, but Singing Crow and Angry Wind both threw their spears into a black she-bear. They hit her in the hind quarters- hardly killing shots. But, Hungry Gull knew that the hunting spirits would be very angry about abandoning an animal injured in a hunt, so he insisted on tracking and taking the she-bear. Of course, that had been several hours ago. The bear had run south a short distance, then due east for the better part of the day. They had crossed into Ozette land, but were now getting close to Elwha land, which was not a good place for a small Makah hunting party. But, he was determined to keep the good favor of the hunting spirits. Besides, the sow they were following now showed signs of becoming weak and erratic.
The massive spruce and fir trunks of the forest gave way to gigantic red cedars and many, many maples this close to the river, changing the feel of the ground to that of an empty canoe. A variety of ferns were everywhere. Moss as well, making its way from the maples to the cedars to the salal, the small bushes on the forest floor. Eventually, the moss hung to the ground. The air felt steamy. The sky- ominous.
“Hungry Gull?” Singing Crow whispered a return, “Let us leave this place. We don’t belong.” Hungry Gull put his hand to his cousin’s mouth, and shook his own head. Besides the murmur of the river to their right, they heard something crash past the ferns ahead, a rattling grunt. He motioned Singing Crow right, and Angry Wind to the left, then turned to sneak forward, spear at the ready.
The three Makah hunters silently advanced. Finally, they saw her. She still had one of the spears, broken now, protruding from her rear. It seemed to have caused quite a bit of damage, her hind legs were barely able to bend despite her efforts to rise. She lay on her side, grunting and gasping, blood spilling from her wound, as the three approached to within a dozen feet.
“Singing Crow? Angry Wind?” Hungry Gull spoke patiently, “Your target on a bear is the heart, lungs or brain.” The two teens angled for one more thrust with their borrowed spears as a faint rumble of thunder echoed up the valley from miles off. Angry Wind’s next thrust cleared the bear’s ribs sinking into the soft lungs beneath. Singing Crow’s thrust pierced the base of the throat, cutting off the rattle of her dying breath.
The boys dropped their spears and ran to the bear with knives ready to begin carving. Hungry Gull stood back. The bear had died under a Cedar sapling, among the sword fern. Towering above was a thicket of red Cedar that seemed to glow in the faint light of the clouds and forest floor. Hungry Gull watched Angry Wind remove the spear fragment, then watched the hair on Singing Crow’s head stand on end. Singing Crow screamed, then jumped into the air, after his knife. His cousins stared as Singing Crow continued a slow rise into the air, clutching at his knife as it floated away. He had been particularly proud of this stone knife. It was as sharp as any mussel shell knife that Hungry Gull had seen, but it was much stronger and held its shining black edge. He remembered Singing Crow’s smile when he was gifted the knife at potlatch over the summer. Meanwhile, the air around his cousin was in turmoil, leaves, hair and debris flying everywhere.
The knife finally slipped from his grasp as Singing Crow reached nearly dozen feet above the ground, and he fell, landing squarely on the bear’s carcass. He scrambled to his feet and stared, pointing to the trees.
“There!” he shouted, “Coming out of the tree!”
Descending from well up the tree was a dark figure in the shape of a bird. Without a beat of its long dark wings, the bird glided down slowly as the knife rose up to meet it. With a wing tip, the figure grabbed the knife and continued its descent. The rain started to fall, gently at first.
Hungry Gull found himself alone, his cousins having scrambling back into the forest. He turned to the figure as it gently landed near the bear. It turned to him, enabling Hungry Gull to see that this was no bird. This man was as tall as he, with a small pale face. It wore a dark hood and cape. It motioned to the bear, then spoke, fiercely, a few words in a tongue he didn’t understand. An idea came to Hungry Gull. This bird spirit must want their bear, to eat. Hungry Gull bowed low, then told the being to keep the bear and the abandoned knife, as tribute. Then he too began to back away. The rain began falling in earnest now. Hungry Gull watched as the being seemed to send a bolt of lightning shooting into the clouds. In answer, the cloud sent lightning and deafening thunder rolling around the valley.
Consciously, the Makah brave did not once run on his return home, but Hungry Gull and his cousins ensured that thunderstorms and the birds that they attract, gained a whole new meaning around the campfires in Makah lore.