A break in the autumn rain found Joffrey walking along the road to the bridge over the river, his Home Place. Amid the scruff of the vegetation along the river bank Joffrey spotted small white berries about the size of huckleberries only completely white, albino-like, cottony in their whiteness with a black eye-dot at bottom. His uncle Norman (Brave Feather) would know the name of the berry, which animals ate it, its medicinal properties.
Joffery arrived at his usual perch halfway across the arching foot bridge and he watched the gun-metal, 40-weight water flow around a tractor tire in the middle of the river. It would take more than gray water and a tractor tire to ruin Joffrey’s feeling for the place. The river surface dimpled and wrinkled around the tire like wet cement. He looked up and drew a breath, taking in the moving water, the bare trees bunched like broom strands along the banks, the quaint, weedy river houses. Under a leafless birch he saw a pink and yellow blanket, a basket and a women’s red shoe: someone—a couple perhaps?—had set up a picnic on a grassy edge of the bank. Where were they? Rolling in the bushes nearby? Not enough leafy covering. Did they forget the wine? Did he say something that made her stomp off without her shoe? Or did the beauty of the place get them so hot they had to get back to her studio apartment? On the other bank a beautiful mimosa tree, large enough to lean over the river, irritated Joffrey in its splendor. Even now, mid-fall, its blossoms spread over the tree, a multitude of tiny Asian fans, hundreds of small yellow and mauve tipped fans. Why would nature drive this beauty into my eyes Joffery wondered. Or Mindless Chance see fit to make this particular offering? If matter is nothing but random light spectra why should he, Joffrey, find it beautiful? For the mimosa blossoms were beautiful. Why is there so much show business to the universe?
Naked, Joffrey thought, Fontina made the idea of evolution laughable. She gave delights that could never be accounted for under the administration of Mindless Chance. It would take a lot more than billions of years and boiling rock and buggy water to make her. She could only have been created by the snap of God’s fingers. Start with her back where the dark skin cells seemed to rush and crowd so that the surface shimmered according to the changing light. Then there were her tits: they had heft like paperweights but so smooth you thought they might disappear with repeated fondling; and they gave off an exciting vibe, like placing your hand on the outside of a bees’ nest. Her shoulders were masterpieces of the genre, two perfect ice cream scoops and her neck, the curved African neck, God…there is too much beauty for the universe to be Godless yet too much pain for God to be present; therefore God is…practicing classical guitar. Or doing something really hard, some art that nobody can do to perfection. Just too much stuff for there not to be God. Let him not be all-powerful, all-knowing; He doesn’t have to be in control of everything. He just has to be there. Science claims the soupy earth brought forth samba-dancing humans; did Mindless Matter somehow long for life and bring it forth?
Joffrey recalled that when he was thirteen Uncle Norman had taken him into the woods for Joffrey’s vision quest. A boy was supposed to pass through a vital if not downright dangerous night alone in the forest and emerge with a confident sense of himself as a young brave. In reality an elder camped within shouting distance and not a few awoke the next morning with a frightened boy curled near the campfire embers. But Joffrey stayed put. Uncle had marched him five miles into the Primitive Area, a zone off-limits to whites with first-growth Douglas Fir on the slopes and a rare native spongy growth, like a thick welcome mat, on the wetlands. Uncle had him sit on a stump as big and flat as a grand piano lid surrounded by open-spaced tree columns whose lowest branches were at least fifteen feet off the ground. And nothing much else. The forest floor actually looked clean, forming a carpet-like uniform of busted sticks and cones. Joffrey noted the high branches again and realized Uncle was going easy on him: there wouldn’t be any animals coming around nibbling off these branches. None of his family wanted Uncle to take him in the first place; he wasn’t much of an Indian and they all hated his father, a truck driver, whistling his country tune, one of those loner whites who hover around Indian chicks getting them pregnant and leaving.
“Little Coyote ain’t gonna have no vision,” uncle Otis had said. “He’s all about getting away. He’s all about being Little Coyote. Look at him. He’ll be in your sleeping bag as soon as you start snoring.” The other uncles laughed and let out the lodge grunt of assent, “Hurummn, hurummn.”
But Joffrey stayed on his stump. Late afternoon leaks of light upon a nearby cedar tree allowed Joffrey to observe a bluejay tearing up and down the trunk like a rodent. When it basked in the sunlight for a moment the absolute blue of its back—a fluorescent cobalt or teal blue—seemed to penetrate to the back of Joffrey’s eyeballs. He thought such a vivid presence must have a message for him. Why would the bird scamper up the tree rather than fly? Joffrey figured it was pecking for a bug that lived between strips of the stringy bark. Or maybe it felt good to give his little claws a workout. Whatever. After an hour or so of its rodential skitter-scatter up the tree, Joffrey was glad to see it go.
Night fell and the moon didn’t appear. Joffery did have his vision. But he was scared and wanted to cry out for Uncle a hundred times in the night. Especially when he thought about wolverines, the demonic forest dog that once ranged the Cascades, killing for the fun of it and terrorizing Indians traveling to the coast over the pass. Weren’t they coming back? The wolverines? Hadn’t one showed up recently in Stanley Park in Vancouver? He knew he was a goner but he stayed put.
Around midnight the cathedral quiet flipped to a nocturnal bird shouting match. The super-dry forest floor cracked with critters and maybe larger game, all of them checking out the large mushroom that had grown up suddenly in their midst. But Joffrey didn’t cry out. He knew that animals were curious. And there was always an easier meal elsewhere. At one point in the morning half-light he thought he felt the brush of a raccoon tail on his back.
At first light with dawn hesitating through the woods like a motherless fawn Joffrey saw a brown owl on a high branch scanning the world confidently, majestically. Suddenly the owl expanded and swooped down upon a squirrel at the base of a tree. On the upswing he flew towards Joffrey with the squirrel in his beak. The squirrel appeared to be smiling. Sure the owl had cinched the squirrel’s coat back at the neck and maybe Joffrey was just seeing things. He was exhausted after a night of sitting up on a log, nodding on and off, imagining wolverines. Even so Joffrey caught a glint of admiration in the squirrel’s eyes. The poor thing was dying but wasn’t it possible the squirrel admired the splendor of the owl as he died? He wasn’t being shredded by a wolverine. He was swooped upon, sought after like a lover’s intended. And with incomparable grace and power. Why not smile at a beautiful death? Nature’s elegant dispatch.
His uncles mocked Joffrey’s vision. “A smiling squirrel? Mighty Squirrel? Happy to be eaten by Mr. Owl? Smiley Squirrel! Ha!”
For about a month afterwards Joffrey’s uncles provoked each other to dry, uncontrollable laughter by uttering the single word:
But at the end of that month Joffrey knew that they had granted him his quest; he had achieved his vision: pray for a good death, a worthy death. He knew they had granted him his vision because when they addressed him they dropped the ‘Little’ from his name and started calling him just Coyote.