|Bokavar, Tales from the Story Fires begins in 1725, with Corinne's ancestor Bokavar, aka Sarah,|
who is newly-married to Israel Friend, a trader on the frontier. An excerpt from the book follows:
Bokavar stepped back, surveying her little field. Green June Corn. It was beautiful, rising from the ground with bright green straps of leaves. The sharp tips of the growing plants poked upward toward the sun. Three long poles rose high above the corn, hollowed gourds suspended from their tops. Little purple birds flitted in and out of the gourds. This month was June. That’s what her husband had said people called this month—June.
To her it was the month of Green Corn.
Her black hair had come loose. Now she pulled it apart, running her fingers through the strands to work the kinks out. She tied her hair back as she appreciated her handiwork. Her little field was twenty paces by twenty paces, sitting high on a sunny spot on the slope, nestled between looming hickory and beech on one side, dark boulders on the other. And growing so beautifully. Beans and squash peeked from the ground, the beans twining up the corn, the squash covering the ground between the taller plants. Ash fertilized the roots in this new patch with obvious benefit. One of her dirty doeskin dresses flapped on a pole at the corner of the garden—her body scent would keep the deer away. She had only to weed a little bit, and her little patch of earth smiled back at her.
Bokavar recalled her childhood, working alongside her Mother and Grand-Mother in their corn patch. Together they had knelt on the rich earth, nurturing each precious seed. Her Grand-Mother’s gnarled, bony hands brought forth sprouts of new life. Each plant was a victory, a promise of a full belly tomorrow. Those days seemed so long ago. She was a grown woman now, fourteen years old, with a husband and a new baby. And the most beautiful patch of Green June Corn.
Hearing a noise from the little cabin, she turned. She strode down the slope on bare feet. The broad river beyond moved silently between hills that hemmed it in on either side—except for this beautiful meadow where they had settled. The little log house seemed cramped and confining to her, but her husband had promised a better house soon. Flipping her hair behind her, she stooped and entered the dark confines. Coals glowed on the dirt hearth, smoke drifting out through the mud-and-wattle chimney they had put up so quickly last fall—before it got too cold and rainy to work. Dried herbs, baskets and gourds and hides hung from the rafters. She glanced at the fireplace—a bed of coals glowed dully—she was not used to cooking in that rough stone fireplace yet. On a pallet of blankets in the corner, her baby boy squirmed.
Scooping him into her arms, she cooed softly. Pulling the damp wadding from his bottom, she tossed it toward the door. Another fresh batch of absorbent wadding was quickly tucked between his stubby legs. She wrapped a scrap of red trade cloth around his squirming body.
Bokavar carried her infant outside, to where she could rest under a sugar maple tree on this sunny day. The infant eagerly grabbed at her breast as she lifted her doeskin blouse. Her softly-ruffled collar bunched around her neck, and she pushed it back. She smoothed her red skirt around her legs. It was made of a printed trade cloth, with white flowers stamped onto the fabric. The hem swished around her knees, feeling funny against her legs. She was not used to this fabric. The weave was finely-done, much nicer than anything her mother had ever made on her hand loom. Bokavar and her baby relaxed. The mingled songs of the birds filled her ears.
She glanced toward the little cabin. She did not care to sit inside, when the sunshine was so beautiful outside. Leaned against the logs were dozens of pelts stretched on willow frames. Her husband would be pleased when he saw how many she’d finished dressing for trade. She had bathed early this morning, before the sun peeked over the hills across the water. She sat now under the tree, letting the mild summer breezes caress her.
It would have been good to have had neighbors. She missed the happy noises of people going about their daily business. She knew her parents were only a few days’ journey from here, and that gave her some comfort. They had not yet seen the baby. Maybe they would come soon for a visit. That thought cheered her.
She savored the feel of her baby in her arms, his downy skin, the soft noises he made nursing at her breast. Maybe he would grow tall like his father. Bokavar sighed at the thought of her handsome husband. As tall as the most noble warrior, with hair the color of sand in the bend of the river. And his eyes. She had never seen anything like them before. They were as blue as the sky overhead. Blue June Eyes, she thought, and grinned to herself.
Israel would laugh at her joke.
If he was here. He had gone away only days after the baby was born, and that had been more than a month ago. He said he had to go speak to a governor. She believed a governor was a kind of a chief. Israel had said that the governor ruled the land on the east side of the river, opposite the cabin. It seemed strange, though. This chief, this governor, lived in a village many day’s journey away called ‘Napolis. Men had to travel to him, in order to speak to him. He did not walk along the paths of his own territory.
Israel had taken her on many trips, before the baby came. They had paddled up and down this river. He called it the Potomac River, and said it was a very important river. As seemed to be the habit of the white men, though, he didn’t have the name of the river quite right. It should be Po-to-wa-mack. Her brother often reminded her that allowances had to be made for the white men—they couldn’t do any better with names. He couldn’t say Mo-nonk-ni-sea right either, the river that flowed in south of here. The Po-to-wa-mack was important to her People. The river of the council fires. She loved this river. It seemed to be important to the white men in different ways, though. Israel would explain one of these days.
She had seen several white settlements downstream, but none had been villages. One little log building, or maybe two or three if it was an important spot. The place where the whites crossed the Mononknisea was an important location. They had two cabins for people, and a cabin just for the animals they called horses and cows to stay in—oh, what a smelly cabin that was! A ferry, Israel had called that place. A ferry was a flat boat just for going back and forth at one spot. It did not travel up and down the river, not like a canoe. That ferry looked to her like a raft. She had seen white men put horses onto the ferry. She did not think the horses liked going across on that ferry. The white men put rags over the horses’ faces, so they could not see, and loaded them on, anyhow.
She wondered if the white men really had villages. Israel told her it was true—that they had villages so huge that all the Shawano villages put together would not be as large as one of them. But they were far away. On the Great Water.
Maybe white men only liked building villages on the Great Water? When they came to the forests and streams, they seemed to want to spread themselves out. Were they afraid to build their cabins too close? Why? It was so much work to pack and travel from one cabin to another—they did not call them camps—they were just cabins. There were five cabins on the Mo-nonk-ni-sea already. To visit with five men, they had to pack, travel, spend the night, then pack and travel again—five times!
Not that she minded moving around. Her clan had many camps—fishing camps, tanning groves, sugar camps, and ceremonial sites. But they were never alone. They always traveled with the family, with the clan. And they always returned to the main village, especially in the summer, when corn flourished in their gardens.
It would be good to have other people around. Her little son needed other mothers to coo to him, grandmothers to rock him, other babies to play with. Maybe when Israel built a better house, like he had promised, it would be closer to a village.
She had missed the Spring Bread Dance, to thank the Creator for an abundance of corn. The Little Tonoloway village would have bustled with people—friends and family from far and wide. Bokavar sighed. She was here alone, with a new baby, instead. She would be there for the next important dance, though. The Green Corn Dance, to celebrate a new crop. That was her favorite dance. And then the Fall Bread Dance. Ah, she would enjoy those festive events, showing off her beautiful child.
It was only one Bread Dance. She did not mind missing just one.
A sound drew her eyes down the meadow, to the water that flowed noiselessly past. Moving against the current, a cluster of swans came into view. Six, ten, fourteen, sixteen… a small group. Their white bodies glared against the dark water. Elongated reflections rippled across the surface. Pairs touched bills, squawking reassurances to each other. Their eyes moved quickly back and forth. One snatched at the water, lifting up a little fish which it waved in its mate’s face. They drifted toward the narrow, rocky shore at the base of the hills across the water. The jagged, gray hills rose as high as treetops, surmounted by dark pines that made that barrier twice as tall. Waddling onto the rocks at the opposite shore, the swans preened and called noisily, echoing across the flat water, up the meadow to where she sat in the shade.
She glanced at her infant. His eyes were wide. He was listening to the cacophony across the river, but his lunch was more important. He didn’t pause in his eager nursing. She brushed her fingers through the dark hair atop his head. His eyes slid shut, contented in her warm embrace.
During the winter hundreds of swans moved up and down the river. Their whistles echoed among the hills and boulders that lined the banks. Most had migrated northward by now. These were only a few stragglers.
River of Swans, she thought.
She touched her baby's dark, downy hair. He had her high cheekbones, her long nose. “What shall you be named?” she wondered. She had always liked the name of her brother, Cunnawehala. Her oldest brother who was such a skilled trader when the white men had come. Israel liked Cunnawehala, too. He might be pleased to name this baby for her brother.
She longed to speak to her Grand-Mother. To show the old woman her beautiful baby, and to inquire about a proper name. Living with Israel Friend, here in this isolated meadow, she was learning patience.
Back to Publication Index