Ursula Le Guin’s “Always Coming Home”
Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin, 1985
A First Note
The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in northern California in the (or a) future.
Towards an Archaeology of the Future
The town was between the creeks, with a bridge across the meeting of the creeks. And the sacred buildings and the dancing place wasn’t in the center of the town, for the center is the Hinge, but over in their own arm of the double spiral, in the pasture below the barn.
I can walk in the wild oats and the thistles, between the houses of the little town I was looking for, Sinshan. I can cross the Hinge and come onto the dancing place. There, about where that Valley oak is now, will be Obsidian, in the northeast; the Blue Clay quite close to it, dug into the hillside, in the northwest; closer to me, towards the center, Serpentine of the Four Directions; then the two Adobes on a curve down towards the creek, southeast, southwest. They’ll have to drain this field, if they build the heyimas, as I think they do, underground, only the pyramidal roofs with their clerestories elevated, and the ornamented ends of the entrance ladder sticking out of the top. I can shut my eyes and see the dancing place, the stepped pyramid roofs, a moon of beaten copper on a high pole over Obsidian.
The only way I can think to find the ones I seek, the only archaeology that might be practical, is as follows: take your child or grandchild in your arms, a young baby not a year old yet, and go down into the wild oats in the field below the barn. Stand under the oak on the last slope of the hill, facing the creek. Stand quietly. Perhaps the baby will see something or hear a voice, or speak to somebody there, somebody from home.
Stone Telling, Part I
Stone Telling is my last name. It’s come to me of my own choosing, because I have a story to tell of where I went when I was young. Now I go nowhere, sitting like a stone in this place, in this ground, in this Valley. I have come where I was going.
My House is the Blue Clay, my household the High Porch of Sinshan. My mother was named Towhee, Willow, and Ashes. My father’s name, Abhao, in the Valley means Kills. In Sinshan babies’ names often come from birds. In the month before my mother bore me, an owl came every night to the oak trees outside the north windows of High Porch House, and sang the owl’s song there, so my first name was North Owl.
We lived in the two west rooms only. We couldn’t give much. We had the use of ten wild olives and several other gathering trees on Sinshan Ridge and a seed-clearing on the east side of Wakyahum, and planted potatoes and corn and vegetables in one of the plots on the creek southeast of Adobe Hill, but we took much more corn and beans from the storehouses than we gave. My grandmother Valiant was a weaver. When I was a small child she had no sheep in the family, and so gave most of what she wove for wool to weave more. The first thing I remember of being alive is that my grandmother’s fingers moved across the warp of the loom, forth and back, a silver crescent bracelet shining on her wrist below the red sleeve.
The second thing I remember is that I went up to the spring of our creek in the fog in early morning in the winter. It was my first time as a Blue Clay child to dip up water for the new-moon wakwa. I was so cold I cried.
My mother’s father was a Serpentine man from Chumo, and had gone back to that town to live with his mother’s people. That was all right with my grandmother.
Our family animals when I was a small child were himpi [guinea pigs], poultry, and a cat.
I don’t remember learning to read and dance; my grandmother taught me from before the time I began to speak and walk. When I was five, I began going to the heyimas with the other Blue Clay children, and later I studied with teachers in the Blood, Oak, and Mole Lodges. I learned the Salt Journey; I studied a little with the poet Ire, and a long time with the potter Clay Sun.
Since neither my mother nor her mother spoke of him in the first years of my life, all I knew of my father was that he had come from outside the Valley and had gone away again. This meant that I had no father’s mother and no father’s House, and was therefore a half-person. I hadn’t even heard of the Condor people. I had lived eight years before we went to the hot springs in Kastoha-na to treat my grandmother’s rheumatism, and in the common place there saw men of the Condor.
Kastoha was a big town with hundreds of houses and more people than I knew were in the world. Everything was different from home, but as soon as I saw the men of the Condor I knew that Sinshan and Kastoha were the same thing, and this was different. “What are they?” I asked.
My grandmother said, “Men of the Condor. Men of no House.”
I walked in the tracks of the lion in my clearwater years, the years between childhood and adolescence. As I went past the big blue serpentine rock in the meadow where our summerhouse was, a mile or so upstream from Sinshan, I was going to speak to it, but it was speaking to me; it said, “Don’t stop, go high before the sun.” I was on the high ridge of Sinshan Mountain when the earth’s curve and the sun’s curve parted. I saw the light fall on the southeast side of things and the darkness turn away across the sea.
I walked all day, then lay down in a hollow under some manzanita trees. I kept going the next day as I had the day before, but my mind was no longer thinking; it was clear. Everything that came to me I spoke to by name or by saying heya – the trees, fir and digger pine and buckeye and redwood and manzanita and madrone and oak; the birds, blue jay and bushtit and woodpecker and phoebe and hawk; the leaves of chamise and scrub oak and poison oak and flowering thorn; the grasses; a deer’s skull; a rabbit’s droppings; the wind blowing from the sea.
Over there on the hunting side there weren’t many deer willing to come close to a human being. Deer came to my eyes five times, and once the coyote came. To the deer I said, “I give you what blessing I can, Silent Ones, give me what blessing you can!” The coyote I called Singer. I had seen the coyote skulking at lambing time, and stealing from the summerhouse, and dead, a bit of dirty fur, all my life, but I hadn’t seen her in her House. She was standing between two digger pines about twenty feet from me, and she walked forward to see me better. Maybe she was a young coyote and had never seen a human person. I liked the look of her, lean and neat, the color of wild oats in winter, with light eyes. I said, “Singer! I will go your way!” She sat there gazing, and seemed to smile, because the coyote’s mouth goes in a smile; then she stood up, stretched a little, and was gone – like a shadow. I didn’t see her go, so I couldn’t go her way. But that night she and her family sang coyote wakwa near me half the night. The fog didn’t come in that night; the darkness stayed, mild and clear, and all the stars revealed themselves. I felt light, lying at the side of a small clearing under old bay laurel trees, looking up at the star patterns. I began to float, to belong to the sky. So Coyote let me come into her House.
The next night I slept under live oaks on my side of the mountain, and the next day I started home. I washed in the creek and came back up the meadow in the twilight. Ghaheya Rock was there, and I went to it. It said, “Now touch me.” I did, and so came home.
Later that summer, it seemed that my father had come for me. Wise old Cave Woman told me not to be afraid. She closed her blind eyes and said, “Heya, Condor’s Daughter, in the dry land, think of the creeks running! Heya, Condor’s Daughter, in the dark house, think of the blue clay bowl!”
That night, some people came across the bridge and stood near the Gairga oaks. They wore black, and stood there tall and still, like vultures in a tree looking down. A Yellow Adobe woman took them to the common place, where wine barrels were set up on sawhorses. Four of them stayed there to drink, but the fifth one came to High Porch House.
My mother said, “North Owl, your father’s hungry. Is there anything fit to eat in the house?” While I heated corn and beans on the stove, I saw that he had a man’s face. He and my mother talked as well as they could – he only knew parts and pieces of our language.
He ate all the corn and beans and said to me, “Very good! Good cook!”
“North Owl is a good cook and a good herder and reader, and has walked once on the mountain,” my mother said.
We followed my mother down to the dancing. Willow was full of beauty that night, full of power. With one eye I see her – Valiant’s daughter, of the Blue Clay of Sinshan; with the other I see Terter Abhao, True Condor, commander of the Army of the South, off duty with his troops for the autumn and winter, awaiting orders for the spring campaign. He had brought his three hundred back to the Valley of the Na because he knew the people there were rich and tractable, and would house and feed his men; and also because he’d had a girl there nine years ago, when he was a fifty-commander on the first exploration of the south, and hadn’t forgotten her.
None of the Houses took my father in. He would have had to study to learn what every child in the heyimas knew already, and he wouldn’t have borne it, since he believed he already knew all he needed to know. When he first took me down to Eucalyptus Pastures, where his men were camped, I wasn’t sure that they were human. They were all dressed alike and looked alike, like a herd of some kind of animal, and they didn’t speak any word I knew. Whenever they came near my father, they’d slap their forehead or sometimes kneel down in front of him as though they were looking at his feet. I thought they were very stupid, and that my father was the only real person among them.
But among the people of Sinshan it was he who seemed stupid. He didn’t know how to read and write, or cook, or dance, and if he knew any songs they were in words no one understood; he didn’t work in any of the workshops or at the winery or the barns, and though he wanted to go out with hunting parties, only the most careless hunters would let him come, because he didn’t sing to the deer or speak to the death. My grandmother couldn’t hide her contempt for a man who wouldn’t herd, farm, or even chop wood. He, holding herders and farmers and woodcutters in contempt, found this hard to bear. One day he said to Willow, “Your mother has rheumatism. She shouldn’t work in the rain, digging potatoes. Let her stay home and weave. I’ll pay some young men to work your patch of land.” My mother laughed. I did too; it was a funny idea, a reversal. “You use money like this, I’ve seen it here,” he said, showing a handful of poor money of different kinds from the coast.
“Well, of course we use money. To give people who act and dance and recite and make for the dances. What did you do to get paid that for?” He didn’t know what to say. “Anyhow, our plot’s much too small to be worth anyone’s sharing the work with us. I’d be ashamed to ask.”
“I’ll bring one of my men then,” he said.
“To work our plot? But it’s Blue Clay land.”
“Blue clay, red clay, what does it matter?” he said. “Any fool can dig black mud.”
My mother sat spinning a while, and said at last, “If any fool can, why can’t you, my dear?”
My father said stiffly, “I am not a tyon.”
“A man who digs dirt.”
“I’m not a farmer, Willow. I’m a commander of three hundred.”
So it all passed without either understanding what the other had said.
A group of Valley people came and told my father that they didn’t want the bridge his men were constructing across the Na to carry supplies. My father said, “Listen. My army isn’t here to do any harm to the Valley. We’re not making war on you. But you must understand that the Condor rules all the north and that you live now under the shadow of his wing. I serve the Condor, and he has given his orders. The decision is neither mine nor yours to make or change.” Finally, after more talking, he said he’d order work on the bridge to be stopped for now. “We’ll make a plank bridge for the wagons and take it down when we go. But later a great army, a thousand men, may come through the Valley. Roads will be widened, and bridges built. Don’t provoke the anger of the Condor! Let them flow through the Valley as the water through the wheel of the mill.”
When my father told my mother he had to go, he promised, as her husband, to return. She stood between the fire and shadow for a while before she spoke. Then, “Once,” she said. He didn’t understand. “Once for nine years. Not twice. You are my husband; you are not. My house holds you; it does not. Choose.”
He said he had no choice. She said, “You choose not to choose.”
“You don’t understand. I can only ask, will you wait for me?” She said nothing. “You must wait for me,” he said.
She said, “You have gone.” She slept with me that night, then spent the next day in our heyimas. Some Blue Clay people kept my father from going down into it, and Ninepoint explained that man may come and go as he likes, and a woman may take him back or not as she likes, but the house is hers, and if she shuts the door he may not open it. People had come to listen and some of them thought it was funny to explain such things to a grown man. When he said, “But she belongs to me – the child belongs to me,” Strength a speaker of the Blood Lodge, began to do the Blood Clown turkey-gobble around him, shouting, “The hammer menstruates to me! They pleat the courage to her!” and a string of reversal words like that.
He came back to the house and asked if I would wait for him. I nodded, and he turned and left.
[Le Guin then presents a section purportedly from “The Serpentine Codex,” which summarizes] the structure of society, the year, and the universe, as perceived by the people of the Valley. The Five Houses of Earth are Obsidian, which dances the Moon; Blue Clay, which dances the Water; Serpentine, which dances the Summer; Yellow Adobe, which dances the Wine at the autumnal equinox; and Red Adobe, which dances the Grass in November when the hills turn green. All of the Five Houses of Earth dance the World near the spring equinox and the Sun at the winter solstice. The word wakwa means dance, rite, mystery, ceremony, and/or celebration. The annual round of wakwa is the Valley year.
The heyimas was a center of worship, instruction, training, and study, a meetinghouse, a political forum, a workshop, a library, an archive and museum, an orphanage, hotel, hospice, and refuge. The public area within the curve of the dwelling houses was called the common place; that within the curve of the five heyimas was called the dancing place.
The Four Houses of Sky, which dance the World and the Sun with the Five Houses of Earth, are manifested meteorologically: rain for the Sixth House; clouds, fog, and mist for the Seventh; wind for the Eighth; and still air or breath for the Ninth. The other great symbols of the Four Houses – Bear/Death, Puma/Dream, Coyote/Wilderness, and Hawk/Eternity may be seen as mythological devices, though one cannot discount the literal aspect. To go into Coyote’s House is to be changed.
[Since Le Guin, the daughter of two anthropologists, has created a whole culture for the people of the Valley, the Kesh – including music and language, available on cassette, there are also poems, stories, sections like “How to Die in the Valley,” maps, and illustrations. Then Stone Telling’s story continues.]
As it seemed to me, my mother had sent my father away, and I could not forgive her. I worked at pottery with Clay Sun, and in the sheepfolds, pastures, and fields. The summer that I was thirteen years old, I went up the Valley with some other young people, and then alone on Ama Kulkun. I walked beyond the springs of the River, through the Five Houses and through the Four Houses to the house that has no wall. Yet I walked in ignorance, and it was the kindness of the lion, the mercy of the hawk that held me on the way. Things weren’t right in my household, and my people didn’t see to it that I got a proper education. Valiant worried about my ignorance and carelessness, but I wouldn’t listen to her advice, and she wasn’t willing to argue with me. My mother, who’d gone back to her childhood name of Towhee, was silent and aloof, as if when she refused to speak to my father, she’d stopped speaking to anyone.
I came into my womanhood, putting on the undyed clothes my mother had made for me from cotton I’d picked and spun, when I was fifteen. I was in love with my seventeen-year-old half-cousin Spear, but some people of his House didn’t approve of me, a half-houseless woman. Because Spear was a Warrior and I wanted his life and mine to be alike, I took instruction at the Lamb Lodge, where they spoke of love, service, obedience, and sacrifice. The Lamb Lodge women told me we couldn’t know the Warrior rites because the only way for a woman to understand such mysteries was by loving, serving, and obeying the men who understood them. That whole year I lived in the Lamb Lodge was a lie, a denial of my own knowledge and being, and yet a truth at the same time. Almost everything is double like that for adolescents; their lies are true and their truths are lies, and their hearts are broken by the world. They gyre and fall; they see through everything and are blind.
After an argument with my grandmother, I saw my father coming up the path from the barns. He didn’t know me at first. He wanted to talk to my mother, but I told him she wouldn’t. I asked him to take me with him.
“I should ask her to let you go with me. Is it true: she will not speak with me?”
“And it’s true that you have waited for me.”
“Give me a name.”
“Do you want this name: Ayatyu?”
“My name is Ayatyu.” I didn’t ask the name’s meaning – to me it was my father’s kindness, my freedom. Later when I spoke his language I knew ayatyu in the Valley language would be “well-born woman” or “woman born above others.” It was a common name in my father’s family. Taking my father’s name as daughters and sons of a man do among that people, I was Terter Ayatyu.
My father promised to meet me at the bridge the next day with a horse, saying he wouldn’t come into the town. “Tell them you wish to go with me. If they let you do this, take leave of them rightly. And go to your heyimas. This will be a long journey, a long time you will be gone, daughter.”
The next morning at dawn my grandmother went to our heyimas with me. We filled the water basin and sang the Return. She marked the heyiya-if [sacred spiral] on my cheeks with blue clay from Sinshan Creek. My mother was waiting at the Hinge of the town with my friends, Lark Rising and Cricket, and together they walked me to the bridge. I embraced them and ran across the bridge to my father. He looked at Towhee, but she’d turned away. He helped me mount the horse he’d brought, and I rode away with him through Sinshan fields, singing heya to the sun. In the foothills of Sinshan Mountain, five men of the Condor, mounted and with pack horses, came to meet us, saluting my father.
The country between the Mountain and Clear Lake is beautiful, like the Valley, with the same people and plants. Days later, I saw the Mountain of the North hanging snowstreaked from the sky down to the dark forests. In these foothills of the volcanoes we came to villages where the people came out and knocked their heads to us instead of keeping out of sight. The villages were very small – five or six houses along a creek, and some sheep or pigs and turkeys, and a lot of dogs barking and snarling. But they gave us food, even though by now there were more of us than them.
What to us is disaster is to the Dayao glory. How am I to write all this story in reversal words? People of the Madrone Lodge have asked me to write my life story as an offering, because nobody else in the Valley has lived with the Condor and come back. When I was Ayatyu I had to forget reading and writing altogether. The Dayao will blind the eye or cut off the hand of a woman or a farmer who writes a single word. Only the True Condors may write or read. They say that since One made the cosmos by speaking a word, the universe is his book. To write or read words is to share the power that belongs to him, and only certain men are supposed to share that power.
However willfully I tried, it was difficult for me to become entirely a Condor person. I became as sick as I could, but I wasn’t willing to die. We call them the Condor people; their name for themselves is Dayao, One-People. Only one man, whom they believe to be a messenger from One and whom they all serve, is called The Condor. Certain men belonging to certain families are called True Condors. Men who aren’t of those families are called tyon, farmers, and must serve the True Condors. Condor women must also serve Condor men, but may give orders to tyon and hontik. The hontik are all other women, foreigners, and animals.
Continuing the journey, my father ordered me into a cart with other Condor women, and I saw that he’d changed his soul for his power. All day traveling in that cart, I thought more than I’d ever thought before about how to be a human being.
When I told the other Condor women that my father had married my mother, they said, “There’s no marriage between Man and animal, girl! Be still and know your place. We’ve treated you as a Condor’s daughter, not a savage. Behave as such.”
Fortunately, I could walk beside the cart. Maybe the Dayao should have been always on the move; maybe their health as a people was in being nomads, as they’d been on the Plains of Grass.
In falling snow we came across a waste of black, broken lava to the City of the Condor. Sai was walled, with a guarded gate. Terter House had its own wall, and inside the rooms seemed endless, all without windows, yet bright and warm. The rooms deepest inside were the women’s quarters. When my father took me there, then turned to go, I said, “I do not wish to stay here, please.”
He said without anger, “You live here, Ayatyu. This is your house.”
I said, “You are my father, but this is not my house.”
He said, “It is my father’s, therefore mine, therefore yours. When you have rested, I’ll bring you before him.”
A hontik girl named Esiryu took me to have a bath, found a small room for me to sleep in, and stayed with me there. Without Esiryu, I wouldn’t have been able to live in Terter House. I did what she said to do and didn’t do what she said not to do, all the time I was there. She was my slave, whom I obeyed.
The next morning my father came, ordered better clothes for me, and made me wear a scarf over my face. “When you come before my father, salute him!” he said, making the face-knocking movement. I did all he said, frightened by his fear. I kept the veil over my face till Terter Gebe lifted it. He said, “Etyeharazra puputyela!” which is, “Be welcome, granddaughter!”
I said in his language, “Thank you, grandfather.”
Since Terter Gebe had accepted me as his granddaughter, the daughters of his house had to treat me as one of them. My father’s mother had died many years ago, and his father hadn’t remarried; the widow of my father’s brother was the chief of the women of the house. Everything with the Dayao had to have a chief. If two of them were together, one or the other was chief. Everything they did was war.
Women have no part in the intellectual or spiritual life of the Dayao; they aren’t supposed to have souls. Human men are imitations of the immortal, all-powerful One, who is not the universe, but made it and gives it orders. Just as there was a time when the One made everything, there will be a time when he will unmake and throw away everything but the True Condors and One-Warriors who obeyed him in every way. They’ll become part of him and live forever.
Some of the things I learned in the Lamb Lodge in Sinshan were Warrior Lodge teachings learned from Condor soldiers during the years they stayed in the Valley.
Terter Gebe had been a chosen companion of The Condor in youth and an adviser to him for many years, and was still in favor with the Condor’s son, who would become the next Condor. But the father had become jealous of his power as his son grew older and turned against him and Terter Gebe.
As well as I could understand from the talk of the daughters, some of whom were shrewd and knowledgeable people for all that they were shut inside so many walls, since they’d settled in Sai the Condors had purposed to glorify One by increasing their wealth and power by taking land, life, and service from other people. For three generations their armies had done this in the volcano countries. But the people living there were few and elusive; the coyotes and wild horses, the humans, and the rattlesnakes, none of them made very good slaves, and all the land wanted to grow was bunch grass and rabbit brush and sage. So the present Condor had ordered his soldiers to go south and west till they found rich, fertile lands and places worth “winning.” My father had gone the farthest southwest of all, first to Clear Lake and then to the Valley of the Na.
Terter Gebe and Terter Abhao had both told The Condor that his soldiers and people must move slowly, but he took this counsel as offensive to the One-Spirit in himself and had his son, their advocate, locked up in the Palace.
I became ill from being inside all the time, and knew my father regretted bringing me to the City. Then he had to go with his soldiers to the Six Rivers country. The times of the great dances came and passed one by one, and there was no dancing. When it was time for the Water, I thought about the bowl of blue clay in my heyimas and the spring of Sinshan Creek under the azalea and sweetshrub. I tried to sing the Water songs, and thought of Cave, who’d seen me here. I took the feather of the great condor that I’d kept in my pouch, and burned it. Where it shriveled, I saw a man in Condor warrior’s clothing lying head downward in a steep canyon among fireweed and dead thistles, his mouth and eyes open – dead. It was my father. I began to cry, and couldn’t stop. A doctor diagnosed me with “womb-sickness,” and advised that I be married.
One of the daughters told me I was to be married to a True Condor named Retforok Dayat. He was the youngest of four sons, and neither a soldier nor a One-Warrior and so not of great account, but the Retforok family was wealthy. He was thirty-five years old and had five children. I was to be his second, “pretty” wife. I got along with my co-wife, and our husband was good-natured and good-looking. Early in the spring, my father returned. He was glad I was married. I asked him if I could go home, and he said that would “put him into shame and disgrace. You belong to the Retforoks now. Better stay with them – put the Valley out of your mind.”
The Retforoks had become favorites of The Condor, and my husband, who often went to the Palace, told me what he saw and heard there. He told me the son of The Condor had been killed for trying to escape, along with his women, children, and slaves. His younger brother, still a child, was now the heir. Dayat also told me about the Great Weapons the Dayao were building – a huge tank-like thing and “Nestlings,” giant flying bombers. Fuel was scarce for these weapons, and some of it was made from food crops.
I aborted my first child, but two years later, when I was twenty-one years old, I wanted to become pregnant. I thought a child would be like the Valley. It would be part of me and I part of it; it would be home. I was glad to have a daughter, for a son would have belonged to my husband and been a Condor. Her family name was Retforok, and their priest named her Danaryu, which means Woman Given to One. The sound of it is pretty, and I used it before my husband and the others, but when I was alone with her I called her by one of the names quail have in Sinshan: Ekwerkwe, Watching Quail, the one who perches on a branch and watches while the others are feeding on the ground. Her eyes were bright like the eyes of a watching quail, she was plump, and her hair made a little topknot, like a quail.
The trouble with the Dayaos’ plan was that all the human peoples who lived anywhere near them had moved away or, if they remained, stayed to make war, not to give tribute of food, slaves, or anything else. Before Ekwerkwe was a year old, there began to be trouble among the enslaved people who worked in the fields and mines and workshops, and even some of the farmers, the tyon, had begun to steal off to become forest-living people, or go back east into the Basin to live with the jackrabbits in the sagebrush. I was living among people who were going the wrong way.
When Ekwerkwe was three years old, we visited Terter House, where my father, now chief, hid from the displeasure of The Condor. He looked old and sick, but when he looked at Ekwerkwe his smile was from the Valley, it seemed to me. When we could talk alone, he encouraged me to take my daughter and return to the Valley to avoid The Condor’s persecution. He sent two men with me and Ekwerkwe and Esiryu, dressed as tyon. When I asked if he would ever come back to the Valley, he said, holding Ekwerkwe, “Tell your mother not to wait for me.” When I worried that he would be punished, he said he was taking a patrol to White Mountain. Then I knew he was going to the canyon where I had seen him lying.
All that night as we went slowly across the lava desert, the City shone behind us. We slept during the day, hidden in a cave, because the tyon had ceased to obey the Dayao. After separating from my father’s men, we could walk during the day. Finally we met some people from the Valley, one of whom I knew. “North Owl?” Changing Always asked. “No, no longer,” I answered. “I am Woman Coming Home.” So my name for the middle of my life came to me.
Not everyone we met was generous of heart, but no one turned us away hungry. Going with the little quail’s legs, ten miles was a good day’s journey for us. I walked singing a song that came to me out of the rain:
There is no knowing, only going on, only going by, ah ya hey.
I am the great being, the grass bowing.
When I came back into the Valley of my being, I brought this song and the feathers of nine birds from the wilderness, the coyote’s way; and from the seven years I lived in the City of Man I brought my womanhood, the child Ekwerkwe, and my friend Shadow.
We went into the Blue Clay heyimas in Kastoha-na. I said to the people there, “I am Woman Coming Home, from Sinshan, of this House. This is Ekwerkwe, from the Condor’s City, of this House. This is Esiryu, from the Condor’s City, of no House, our friend.” They made us welcome.
After a night in Telina, we turned onto the path through Sinshan fields, came past Blue Rock and the outer paddocks, and crossed Hechu Creek on the cattle-bridge. The creek was running lively in the rain. I saw the rocks, paths, trees, hills, fields, barns, fences, gates, stiles, groves, places that my heart knew. I told Ekwerkwe and Shadow their names, and said heya to each one. We came to the bridge over Sinshan Creek under the high alder and the oaks. I said to Ekwerkwe, “There, do you see, in the path by the paddock gate, that place is where your grandfather, my father, Terter Abhao, stands for us now. There he came once on foot to me. There he came again for me, riding a great horse, and leading a mare for me. Passing this place may we have him in mind in the days to come.”
“There he is,” Ekwerkwe said, watching. She saw what my memory saw. Shadow said nothing.
We walked across the bridge into the town. As we turned right along Hard Canyon Creek, some children came by. I didn’t know them. But Ekwerkwe, who had learned to greet all strangers, let go my hand and looked at the children, greeting them in a small voice in their language. She said, “So you are here, children of the Valley.”
One of them said in an even smaller voice, “So you are here,” but she didn’t know what to call us.
“In what household do you live, children of the Valley?” I asked, and a boy, who was eight or nine, motioned with his head to Chimbam House. I thought of Ready’s baby, born the summer before I left Sinshan. I said, “Perhaps you are a brother of my House, and live in Ready’s household?” He nodded yes, and I said, “Tell me, please, brother, are there Blue Clay people living in High Porch House?” He nodded yes again, so we went on.
We came to the foot of the northeast staircase, and I looked at my companions: the little wet quail ragged and shining in the rain, the thin, bright-eyed Shadow standing wrapped, as I was, in a black cloak. My father had given us these cloaks the night we left; they were the kind soldiers wore. I took mine off and folded it on my arm before I went up the stairs. The Bear had gone before me. The Coyote came with me. I said, “I was born in this house and have come back to it. Shall I come in?”
For many breaths, no one replied. Then my mother, Towhee, came and opened the door, looking at us with frightened eyes. I said, “So you are here, my mother. Look here, this Ekwerkwe has made me her mother and you her grandmother!”
She said, “Valiant is dead. She’s been dead a long time now.”
She let us come in, but she didn’t touch me, and drew back when I would have touched her. For some while I think she did not understand who Ekwerkwe was, and that she was now the grandmother, for when I used the word again, she spoke of Valiant. She didn’t look at Shadow or ask about her; it was as if she didn’t see her.
Towhee had lived alone for five years, barely coming out. She didn’t want to be with people, and neither wanted nor didn’t want us to be there.
Some people of Sinshan came to greet me kindly. Turning, who had been my friend Cricket, came hurrying and weeping to see me, and later she made a song of my journey and return and gave it to me. Garnet, who had been Lark Rising when he played with us, had married an Ounmalin woman, but he came to talk with me. Some of the older dogs remembered me and greeted me as a friend. But among the human people, there were some who were afraid of infection and wouldn’t come anywhere near me and Shadow, or even Ekwerkwe. There were also people of generous understanding, and what they offered me I was now able to take, without the fear and false pride of my adolescence.
Esiryu took a long time to learn our Valley language, and she was bewildered by our ways. But though a number of people returned her mistrust, many came to like her for her good humor and honest generosity. After she’d lived in High Porch House for a year, she said to me one day, “It’s easy to live in Sinshan. In Sai everything was hard. Here it is soft.”
I said, “The work here is hard. You never worked this hard in Sai. And I never worked at all there, except for that damned sewing.”
“Not that kind of hard and soft,” she said. “Animals live softly. They don’t make it hard to live. Here people are animals. Even the men. Here everybody belongs to everybody. A Dayao man belongs to himself, and thinks everything else belongs to him.”
“We call that living outside the world.”
I saw Spear, who’d gone to live in Chukulmas, when he came to Sinshan to dance the Water. After that night, he often came to Sinshan. He was a member of the Wine Art, a skilled vintner, and worked in the wineries of both towns. He’d never married, but there was still too much of the Warrior in him for me. Not like my father, who though a True Condor and a soldier all his life, was in mind and heart no warrior at all, Spear was made all life into a war, a matter of victory or defeat. Shadow was too intelligent and generous of soul to want to defeat any man, but her education among the Dayao had fitted her to play the already-defeated one, the loving enemy, and Spear was drawn to her.
Maybe it was because I’d seen what the passion of love did to my parents’ lives that I kept shy of any man who might have brought such passion into my life. I was just beginning to learn to see and I didn’t want to be blinded. Neither of my parents had ever truly seen the other. To Abhao, Willow of Sinshan had been a dream – waking life was elsewhere. To Willow, the Condor Abhao had been all the world – nothing mattered but him. So they gave their great passion and their fidelity to no one, to people who didn’t exist: a dream-woman, a god-man, and it was wasted, a gift to no one. My mother had gone out of her own being after that nonbeing, and now nothing was left of it or her.
If my mother couldn’t warm herself, I would keep her warm. Even that first year that I was home, I made a dance cloak to give to our heyimas. I wove it on Valiant’s loom, watching the silver crescent bracelet on my arm shine across the warp, forth and back. Ninepoint’s household kept himpi, and they gave us four young ones. I built up the old pen under the balcony and gave Ekwerkwe their care. A stray goat I healed also became one of our household, and eventually five of us were goats, giving excellent mohair for weaving.
My mother spoke little to Shadow, but came to like being and working with her. In her third summer in Sinshan, Shadow became a Blue Clay person, my sister, as she’d been in love and loyalty since we met. Later, she joined the Planting Lodge. Once when we were spading the heavy black adobe soil our garden plot, she said to me, “My father was a tyon, a farmer. He sold me to Terter House when I was five to be trained as a maid, to be spared that work. Now look at me!”
Eventually, Shadow and Spear married and moved to an empty room in Plum Tree House, and I married my lover Alder, a doctor, who helped my mother die. I have lived in this place until I have become Stone Telling, and my husband Stone Listening. My quail has become Shining, and in this house Acorn and Phoebe have made me the grandmother weaving at the loom.