Baptized By Nature's Breath
incense cedar * crushed violets * sequoia
INCENSE CEDAR * CRUSHED VIOLETS * SEQUOIA
(this fable intersects with HUNTER’S REIGN)
Violet followed a broken ray of light, luring her deeper into the darkened forest. The ray guided her along, pulling her and her younger brother, Mikhail, into the woods, tugging at them as if two tiny pull toys being pulled by a magical string.
Black and blue birds whirred through the shafts of light streaming from the forest ceiling. Nature’s breath emitted a musty smell that was enhanced by the humid interior. Violet and Mikhail continued on…following the light. The monstrous Sequoia trees surrounding them like a court of hunched giants, dwarfing our little ones on their journey into the forest.
The children had left home late that morning, a home whose other occupants remained in the semi-silent slumber of sleep; the sole sound emerging from the back of the house being rhythmic snoring.
One might guess that the snoring came from the mouths of Violet and Mikhail’s parents. But their parents were long gone, the only remaining memory being a small curl of their mother’s red hair placed in a locket around Violet’s neck. One day their parents had gone for a walk, never to return. No, the snoring arose from Violet and Mikhail’s grandparents; two animated characters with thick Russian blood, their nights spent drinking whiskey and playing cards, their days spent sleeping. They were like two wrinkled, petulant, children who loved to eat and drink at strange hours of the day or night, and to traipse in the woods collecting wild strawberries.
Back in the forest, the children tripped on stones, swerved round branches, and were startled by the shrieking of strange birds. They scratched at their arms, knees, and heads; the mosquitoes welcoming them with their own brand of hospitality.
Our two children looked similar yet dissimilar. Mikhail had delicate features; hair spun into straw ringlets with gentle eyes the color of dried honey. His sister, two years his senior, had fawn colored hair and crystal blue eyes, not unlike the color of the lake they were about to discover. Both were dressed in summer cotton, Mikhail’s pants were faded and far too big, Violet’s dress retained the faint memory of embroidered purple flowers at its edge, a small rip could be seen at the western edge of her collar.
Violet noticed that the forest seemed to open up further ahead and heard a sound she could not decipher. Was it father wind blowing a breeze through his round cheeks or was it water slapping against the jagged rocks of a stream? Our two children came upon a waterfall that released itself onto a small pool of water which contained broken branches and floating pieces of bark, the bark standing out like little pieces of delicious chocolate floating on cream. The surrounding embankment was littered with a spectrum of violets, the aroma of which was very sweet, each one twisting in the stream’s breeze.
Just past the stream, a vista pried open before them, revealing a translucent lake; a sparkling gem surrounded by granite and incense cedars. A large boulder lay before them, brooding over the edge of the lake. Violet marched to the top of a boulder and peered down onto the lake’s glassine surface, pondering its contents and temperature. Suddenly, her dress, stockings, and lace up boots lay in a heap on top of the rock, her foot outstretched over the edge, in the hopes of getting a taste of the water below. The water felt fresh and called upon her to jump in. Mikhail sat in silence, distracted by the ospreys diving for fish, and the coy activities of the chipmunks spying on them from a distance.
Wearing just her underclothes, Violet took 3 steps back, then, 3 forward, grabbed her nose, and jumped in. The blue water bent round her, then released a myriad of bubbles from its core. Violet pushed the water above her in an attempt to touch the bottom of the lake. Her feet found its soft ground. As she opened her eyes, the underwater world came slowly into view: darting fish, bellowing plants, and logs that took on silhouettes from the world above; one a hawk in repose, another, a Viking boat. Lost fishing string hung from gnarled branches and underwater caves hinted of secrets to come. Violet saw a strange weed, which looked like human hair, wavering in the greenish light. What odd shadows she thought…In need to fill her lungs again, she looked to the surface above, a fresco of blue sky and silver clouds seen through a veil of rippling water. Violet buoyed herself to the surface, surprising Mikhail with a large splash, beckoning him to join her.
Mikhail climbed off the boulder cautiously, his pale little toes clinging to the rugged rock. He headed to the shoreline where he unbuttoned his shirt and laid his pants cleanly on the ground. He tested the water with his toes, and with great, wide eyes, glided into the water, his head religiously above the liquid, like a horse swimming across a river. He headed towards his sister Violet. Once Mikhail reached Violet, she held onto his tiny shoulders, coaxing him to hold his breath. Gently the two went below the surface, just a foot or two, and then returned to the world of oxygen and daylight. Again, she coaxed Mikhail to hold his breath and again they retreated into the languid forest beneath them. The more the two children returned to the surface for a taste of oxygen, the longer they seemed able to hover in the soundless world below. The two chose to explore the area just north of the large boulder and submerged themselves for the journey. As they headed round the bend, Violet was startled by the sight of what looked like a man standing on the bottom of the lake; a man in leather leggings and a top laden with buttons and feathers. He was facing away from them and one could see his long, dark hair, as thick as a horsetail, wavering in the water’s slight current. In shock, Violet quickly returned to the surface, Mikhail in tow. The two took in gulps of air and Violet exclaimed, “Did you see him Mikhail?! “Did you see the man? I think it’s a man!!” Mikhail coughed and spit water from his mouth and managed a “Yes, I saw him. He smiled at me”. This took Violet by surprise. “What?” He’s alive??”
Violet had two thoughts, grab Mikhail’s arm and swim to shore as quickly as possible or, take another peek. She couldn’t just swim away, not knowing. She chose the second, took in some oxygen and went under, this time holding Mikhail’s hands. Indeed as they returned to the under world, the man, still standing, slowly turned in their direction, his eyes were surrounded by dark tattoos, his skin, the color and sheen of oilcloth, his hair swerving like Medusa. He held out his arms to them, in a lonely gesture, as if he had been hidden there for years, with no options for companionship. Violet and Mikhail, unable to repel his charm, swam towards him, taking his hands into their own. The man seemed scared and relieved all at once. The three, frozen in a moment of disbelief, did stare at one another, until the children realized they needed to take another breath of air.
They rose quickly to the surface, and then returned to the man with their lungs full. It was at this moment that the children realized that the man did not seem to breath air…
The man once again outstretched his arms and made unusual gestures with his hands. In the thickness of the water, words were attempted, but mostly lost. It seemed that Violet and Mikhail saw him mouthing a word as he pointed to himself. They did not know that what the Indian was saying was that his name was Powma, the Paiute Indian word for rain.
Powma could emerge to the surface, only as long as Violet and Mikhail could stay under. It seemed their meeting place was that odd boundary between air and water, connecting the underworld with the world above.
They would rise in unison, arms around one another’s shoulders, and try to communicate while holding onto to boulders at the water’s edge. Powma seemed so happy to meet the children. He held onto their shoulders and mimed his great loneliness, pointing to his heart and to the sadness on his face. It would seem that Powma had been under the lake for many, many years.
In the past, Powma would occasionally see the belly of a boat above him or the flailing worm of a fisherman; rarely did he attempt to show himself. There were times, however, when the occasional picnicker or swimmer would get a glimpse of him, thus generating a legend of the Indian that haunted the lake.
Powma’s mother had placed him under the lake years ago, to avoid losing him to a cholera epidemic. It was during that epidemic that many, many Paiutes had been lost to the sky. In grief by her many losses, Powma’s mother couldn’t bear to lose him as well. With her love, she had saved his life and had made him immortal. Sometimes acts of love can spur on a never ending loneliness and even make immortality unbearable.
The three frolicked in their buoyant playground, their happiness effervescent, like a herd of seals deliriously rolling and diving in an endless game of tag. The curious chipmunks observed them from the shoreline.
Violet felt for her locket, realizing with terror, that she had soaked it. Perhaps she was too young to recognize superstition, but felt it nonetheless.
Time passed. Hours passed. The sun slowly arced across the sky. Midday turned to afternoon, afternoon turned to early evening.
Mikhail climbed out of the water and wandered the shore of the lake, shivering in his wet underclothes, noting the waning sun and the cooler, early evening air. Without thinking, he motioned for Powma to come take a look at a green beetle he had found on the embankment. Powma nodded that he could not. He could not step out of the lake…Violet begged Powma to try, to try and walk onto the shore. In the back of her mind was the thought of bringing Powma home with them. Perhaps Powma would like their home, their grandparents, and would enjoy being part of a family. Powma nodded his head and sadly began to swim to the water’s edge. It was there that he tried to use his legs, to stand and walk towards shore. The weight on his legs was too much, the oxygen singed his lungs, and his nostrils and eyes seemed to flare. Our sweet merman collapsed and returned quickly to his abode: his empty, underwater home.
Eventually, Violet and Mikhail understood that it was time to go. Sadly, they gathered their belongings. They bade farewell to their new friend and promised to return soon. Powma floated motionless in the water, not a gesture, not a word came from him. What did escape him, however, was the fluid dripping tenderly from his tattooed eyes, the fluid being salt water as opposed to fresh, lake water.
Our two little ones rushed through the forest, fearful of losing the enduring sun. They ran and ran until finally they reached the forest perimeter, where they met a winding, dusty road, a road which led them slowly home…
Violet and Mikhail spilled through the front door, noting a group of people sitting around the dining room table, the children’s sudden arrival halting all merriment. A poker game was spread across the table, pillars of coins piled in each corner. The four players turned their heads in unison. Of the four, two were the children’s grandparents, the other two, anonymous gamblers, dressed in suits, awaiting a streak of luck that was never to arrive.
The children, out of breath, could not contain their excitement, or their story. They told of finding a man at the bottom of the lake – very much alive. They described his clothes and the ornate tattoos that accentuated his eyes. They told their audience everything they knew about Powma. Once done, there was a long silence. Grandparents, Mikhail and Irina, seemed shocked and distracted. The elder Mikhail stood up and sent the children to their rooms, forbidding them to come out till morning.
The children listened from behind the door to shouts and then whispers. It would seem that their outing had upset the delicate balance of the household.
Later that night, Irina came to visit Violet and Mikhail in their room, bearing treats of apples and chocolate. She insisted that the Indian was a vision to fool them, to lure them into evil, perhaps to lure them to the bottom of the lake. Years ago, back in Russia, grandfather had also chased a vision, that of a buck. The vision landed the old man in jail and eventually they had to leave Russia to escape further punishment. Irina, once again, forbade them to return to the lake and wondered aloud if these visions were an eternal fate of the family. She seemed terrified.
For the rest of the summer, Violet and Mikhail were watched closely. Rarely did they get past the mailbox before they heard Irina shouting at them in Russian. The children were unable to leave, the boredom seeping in, the summer season changing into autumn, and then into a blistering winter.
Winter had come and laid its hand on both the valley and the forest, erasing its full palette of color. The forest, no longer offering a hidden treasure, was naked and exposed. The birds and insects of summer were replaced by wind and snow, its aggressive winter companions. Violet had arrived at the edge of the forest and took in the new and empty terrain. She maneuvered the barren deer path until she found herself, once again, at the edge of the lake. She scanned the frosted lake glass for a peek beneath. She was meagerly dressed, wearing an oversized gray sweater, a blue cap, and a burgundy scarf that whipped at her cheeks. The cold had invaded her body; it made her shiver; her jaw grinding uncontrollably.
Violet tapped her foot on the ice at the lake’s edge. She continued to test the ice by making brief sojourns onto it. Eventually, she balanced her weight and found herself at the lake’s center. She thought about Powma. Was he frozen in the winter ice, arms outstretched, awaiting the warmer waters of summer? Was he cold?
It is here that your instinct may guide you into wondering, what, will happen next. If you feel a sense of the coldness of Violet’s heart at this moment, a sense of the numbness of her thoughts, then you are correct. And to take it one step further, the sudden sound of the cracking of the ice was not unlike the sound of a great sequoia tree snapping. The loud crack pervaded the empty forest and its echo called back with an answer.
Indeed, Violet’s heart was cold and numb, but not for lack of emotion; it was simply due to the fact that she had fallen through a large hole in the ice. Violet, kept her arms to her side and her eyes remained wide open. As the icy water reached her ears, she shivered and then descended into the luminous depths of the lake, spinning slightly.
During her slow decent, Violet was not afraid, the images in her mind’s eye were beautiful ones, of violets trembling in the summer breeze and of Powma lying in the lake water, crying salt tears.
Violet mouthed Powma’s name as she continued to descend, finally laying gently to rest at the bottom of the lake. Before her eyes fully closed, Violet could see in the distance, open arms, frozen in welcome. Her eyes adjusted themselves as she realized that those longed for arms were intertwined with tendrils of flaming red hair, that of her mother, welcoming her. Violet felt for her locket and closed her lake blue eyes for the last time.
© Manifest Destiny