SFR Chiixial and the Raven

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by wadin' boot, Feb 2, 2013.

  1. wadin' boot

    wadin' boot Donny, you're out of your element...

    Jun 3, 2006
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    Wallingford, WA
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    In one of the Haida villages along the mountainous coast there lived an old carver named Chiixial. This was a long, long time ago, before the time of metal boats and chainsaws, back when clans fought for blood.

    Chiixial had been a great warrior, feared and admired, although now all his strengths were in his hands or in his mind. He could take a blade and cut just as well as when he was a young man. An old man cuts to make things, a young man not so much.

    Chiixial taught himself to carve, learning as his hair began to gray. As he cut and whittled more, he stopped getting old. Everyone in the village thought he had magic. And maybe it was. Because he lived at least twice as long as anyone else had ever lived. He was the oldest man anyone had ever known, so old that people no longer remembered the warrior, and all but the children had come to doubt Chiixial’s battle stories.

    One day he went out into the woods, where he could hear wind moving through the trees and the water in the river. He could hear the birds. As he sat, he thought of all the good things he had seen, the fish he had caught, his children, their children, his woman and his girls. He saw them now only in memories and dreams. Thinking of all these things made him sad.

    Raven saw this and flew down to Chixiial.

    “Chiixial, why are you sad?”

    Chiixial had spoken to Raven only in visions before now. He knew the things that came in dreams were sorta true, sorta strange, and the warrior still in him feared what you could not cut. He knew for instance, that if Raven was talking to him, that he may not be alive any more. That he may have walked into the woods and the waters to where he would no longer return. Although he had come to look forward to his death, Chiixial still feared it. A battle, he thought, even the final one, is best approached with caution and cunning; fear, after all, sharpened wits.

    Chiixial also knew what everyone knows. Raven can be tricky and smart and a hundred other things that are hard to predict. So he spoke with caution.

    “I cannot see, I cannot run, I cannot fish, My children are grown and my wife is gone. I cannot do so many things. I eat, I talk, I carve, but inside I live elsewhere.”

    “I see."

    It got so quiet Chiixial heard mosquito buzz and and the tiny chords of spider testing her web.

    "Would you like to do these things again?”

    Chiixial thought before he spoke. He could hear Raven on the log beside him. He pictured Raven digging into the rotten wood. Looking for termites, fat vulnerable chubs to pluck and swallow. He knew this might be a trick and knew he was like those termites.

    “Yes....I would.”

    “Well I can make that happen.”


    On the breath of the wind there was the smell of skunk, just the faintest reek. And then it was gone.

    “I need you to carve an animal. It needs to be near perfect as can be. And if it is, I will make it come to life. You will become that animal. With all its strengths. With all its weakness.”

    He heard the sound of a hummingbird, ticking and squeaking. They moved so quickly, so fast, you could never catch a hummingbird thought Chiixial.

    “Carve a man, become a man. Carve a deer, become a deer. Carve a wolf, become the wolf. You will be that animal, strong or weak, however it may be”

    Chiixial thought more on it. He did not want to be a deer. He did not like the idea of eating grass and always being afraid and without a way, a good way, to fight back.

    “Why would you do this for me? I am an old blind warrior whose time has come?”

    “You are the best carver. You carved your ways into wood, you have taught the children. I have come to know and respect you. And because of that, I made you live so long.”

    “Raven, I do not believe you.”

    Chiixial, proud and stubborn, considered his old age a function of his strengths, heartwood and burl, and to his ability to read patterns, to outsmart luck, be it good or bad. And although he said he did not believe Raven, part of him understood now why he had yet to die. It was not for the lack of opportunities…

    “There is nothing to believe Chiixial, if you carve an animal, you live on, if not, you pass.”

    Becoming a memory did not sit well with him. It occurred to Chiixial that carving a whole animal, if that is what Raven wanted, was more difficult than if you carved a head. Like on a totem. You could carve bear’s head, or maybe carve him like he’s sitting like a baby, but if you did that, you’d have so much space left you could carve another figure in its belly. No one wants to look at bear belly or bear dick. The trick was to carve part and let the mind do the rest. He would negotiate.

    “Do I carve the whole animal, right down to its claws?”

    Raven seemed surprised.

    “I don’t want to carve wolf nuts. Or seal whiskers. Or skunk ass.”

    Chiixial chuckled. He really didn‘t. Tiny nugs made for knife slips. Raven probably didn’t know that about wood. Look at Chiixial’s hands, they’re leather-hard they’ve been cut so often.

    “I see. Make it just the head then.”

    “Well that sounds good.”

    “And how do I know you will keep your promise?”

    “I swear it to you, Raven’s word.”

    Chiixial thought of all the stories he knew of Raven. Raven stole from the rich, tricked those that needed tricking, helped those in need, and did not understand what it means to be a warrior. But then it occurred to him, maybe Raven knew exactly what it is to be a warrior. Because warriors are easy to watch and are easy to predict. That maybe Raven knew exactly what it means to be an old warrior too. And that Raven also knew what it was to be an old warrior who would not die. And as he thought more about it, he came to the conclusion that Raven probably told the truth. So he decided he would carve an animal. He had nothing to lose.

    Chiixial stood up and made his way back along the forest path. He could hear Raven flutter from tree to tree.

    “What will you carve Chiixial?”

    The other birds chattered too. The hummingbird, the crow, the gull and the eagle along the riverbed.

    “What will you make Chiixial?” they said.

    What would he make?

    When he returned to his lodge he called for a boy to fetch him some wood to carve. Alder, cedar, fir, maple.

    “Fetch me some logs, some root wads. Green wood and drift wood and everything in between. Nothing with termites though.”

    Over the next few days the boy brought wood. Chiixial asked for more. Soon there was a pile of wood as big as a beaver house. Chiixial would crawl over it like a giant chipmunk looking for scraps. If you saw him, you would think he was some sort of madman. Picking at pieces, sighting them, shaking his head, muttering and tossing them away. But while he crawled over the pile, pulled it apart, put it back together he was thinking the whole time of what to carve.

    No halibut. Carving halibut would be a long labor, each one looks different and they were lopsided. That and he did not understand halibut’s world of deep waters. Halibut lived among ghosts and weeds. Halibut was ugly, halibut couldn‘t speak, halibut ate rotting meat.

    He thought about seal, but seal could not run and seal might get eaten by Orca. Orca too, he moved so fast, and that, like halibut, might be a big carve. Otter? Too small, eating cockles and mussels, rooting among the dead crabs and busting urchins open did not suit him. Lots of work for little food.

    He thought of carving himself as a younger man. That had appeal, to hunt again, to touch women. But would he want to be a warrior, or a father and a warrior, or a grandfather who was once a warrior? Each age had merits. Each age had dignities and frustrations. He had seen the young warriors for instance, stumble among the wise, and knew foolishness sometimes was the same tool as strength. He knew as a father he was less of a warrior as he feared more for his child, but as a father he guided the child, and could carve their strengths. As a grandfather he thought of all the children as his own, even if they weren’t. Maybe a Chief then? No, the complaints, the meetings, the councils. He did not like keeping council. He would rather die than be stuck in meetings listening to fools. He would think more of it over the next few days.

    What of the salmon? And if so which one? No matter what he thought, Salmon was an easy carve, probably the easiest he could do. But then again, Salmon comes back to his home to die. That did not seem right. That and Orca and Seal and Otter and Warrior might kill him first. Wolf seemed like a good choice. But wolf stole children and killed the weak and old and Chiixial was not of that way. Bear? Like wolf, bear was strong and ferocious. Bear moved over land, swam through water, fished, hunted, slept. Bear…hmmmm. The carve was not too hard…

    One morning he woke and found a small piece of burl among the pile. He took his sharpest blade and began to carve. Curls of wood piled on the moss below. He carved for no more than it takes a new fire to turn to coals. When he was done, he placed the carving on a sapling branch, green and forked, and held it over the coals for several minutes, just enough for it to burst into flames. He blew the burning wood out, so it was black and hard. And when it had cooled, he rubbed it with his hands so it was black with char, as dark as a midnight cave. He carved a little more, two small nicks for eyes where the white wood could peak through and see. Then he made his way back to the river where he had met Raven.

    “Raven, I have finished my carving”

    He heard the flap and squawk of the big bird.

    “And what have you carved Chiixial?”

    He showed the bird. There was a head, a beak, the eyes tiny flecks of white surrounded by the ink black of it all. The head stared back at the Raven as though he was looking in a still pool on the river.

    Chiixial pretended to be Raven, holding the head and making it speak.

    “And what have you carved Chiixial?”

    “ Don’t you see, I have carved you.”

    Raven stared back at the bird’s head a long time. He had not thought this through well at all. He imagined Chiixial would have carved a bear. Never a bird, and most certainly never a Raven. At first he thought he would trick Chiixial, but then he thought better of it. Here was a man who was wise, who had seen most everything, who could teach right from wrong, who could carve good things from dead wood. He could kill what needed to be killed, and he could outsmart Raven.

    “You will make a good Raven Chiixial, and I consider you my close friend. Call me... we‘ll do lunch.”

    And Raven flew away.

    Chiixial sat a while longer wondering what would happen next. And as he rubbed his hands on the bird’s head he felt it warm and grow softer. He felt the tiny down and feathers grow beneath him, the body bulge and fill, the struts of wings burst forth. And as he did he could feel himself wither and shrink and his life shifted to the bird he had carved. Soon, for this did not take long, he was looking back at his old man warrior body on the moss beside the river. And he jumped up on it, walked along it, pecked at his cheek to see if anything moved. Satisfied, he lept up and flapped his big wings and was above and in the air, flying. It was a wonderful feeling.

    He was in no hurry.

    Copyright MJ Doherty 2013
  2. Mingo

    Mingo the Menehune stole my beer

    Mar 27, 2005
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    Happy Hour, WA
    " Maybe a Chief then? No, the complaints, the meetings, the councils. He did not like keeping council. He would rather die than be stuck in meetings listening to fools"

    LOL...........the old man was far too wise to re-make himself into a business manager like Mingo. Smart move. Great stuff Boot.
    “I don’t want to carve wolf nuts. Or seal whiskers. Or skunk ass.”.....nice.
    wadin' boot likes this.
  3. Dipnet

    Dipnet The wanted posters say Tim Hartman

    Nov 25, 2012
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    Silverdale, WA
    As someone who has Native American blood in their veins, I appreciated this story WB! I love this kinda stuff.

    Thank you! :)
    wadin' boot likes this.
  4. ralfish

    ralfish Active Member

    Feb 12, 2006
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    Always enjoyable. Thanks for the smile...
    wadin' boot likes this.
  5. Stew McLeod

    Stew McLeod aka BigMac

    Aug 5, 2005
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    Renton, WA
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    Great story, as always, thanks for sharing your prose.

    wadin' boot likes this.
  6. Roger Stephens

    Roger Stephens Active Member

    Dec 19, 2003
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    It has been awhile but you always weave together beautiful stories! Thanks.

    wadin' boot likes this.