Fly Away Woman
by Lenora Rain Lee-Good

I opened the door to get more firewood, expecting to see white snow bright with sunlight. I expected to hear silence, muffled by the snow. Red snow and the whimpers of a baby were not in my lexicon of welcoming sights and sounds. Firewood temporarily forgotten, I grabbed my bow from its place by the door, and stepped out.

She was still alive, though barely. The baby was a bit more so. A bit more alive, that is, than its mother. Dragging her into the cabin couldn’t have been easy on her, and may have proved the final indignity. Warm water and clean rags provided some relief as I cleaned her wounds. I think the warmth of the fire gave her the most comfort.

I cut her dress and leggings off. Soaked in blood, they were a mess that would never clean. She looked like something the bears used as a summer toy. But this was winter and the bears slept. The baby, wrapped in blankets and a hide cover was strapped to her chest. It seemed more hungry than either frightened or cold. The innocence of such small beings always amaze me.

With the twigs and other detritus pulled from her hair the woman appeared young and rather plain. As warmth seeped into her, she began to relax, and opened her eyes. She saw me holding the baby, giving him—for by now I had ascertained he was indeed a he – a sugar tit. Smiling, she tried to reach for the baby. She died before I could get him to her arms.

Just what I needed. A baby. Living out here all alone, how would I feed him? Care for him? I knew nothing of motherhood. Nothing. Oh, botheration!

Her clothes, though blood soaked and ragged where the claws of her attacker had ripped them, appeared to be of quality, and the beadwork was unusual. I don’t think she came from any of the local clans. I would take the boy, if he survived, to the nearest clan, the Otters, this summer. Surely someone there would take him in.

Winter here is harsh. And life must go on. I bundled the babe in a robe and put him near the fire, then put on my boots and coat, and dragged his mother’s naked body out, away from the cabin. I don’t know many words for the Great Journey, and had no idea what ones would ease her passage, so I said what I knew, cut off her braids, and left her for the wolves and crows. They would take care of her before she froze. And leave the boy and me alone a bit longer.

The clans leave their dead in the open, makes more sense to me than to dig a hole and dump them into the ground. Besides, it’s too damn cold, and the ground is frozen this time of year. The wolf will feed, and next year may give me his pelt. It works out, in the end.

Her clothing was too ripped and blood soaked to try to save. I cut out the parts with the bead work, and soaked as much blood out as possible, rubbed a bit of fat into the back, then rolled the pieces with her braids into a rag and put them away. Come summer I’d take the boy, if he still lived, and the bundle to the Otters. Maybe they could identify the beadwork and let her people know she walked the Spirit Road.

Against all odds, he survived. I chewed my food and when it was just about liquid, I’d place it in his mouth. I don’t know how he got enough nourishment to grow, but he did. Come summer, I busied myself planting, and taking care of the myriad chores around the place, fixing winter damage. I even decided to name the boy. That was my first mistake, but I had to call him something besides “Boy.” I called him Bird. He loved watching them soar, and he gurgled happy sounds when they sang in their nests outside the window.

I woke one morning and snow covered the ground. And Bird still lived with me. I had not traveled to the clans, and oddly, no one came to visit me during the summer. Usually a couple of groups come through my valley.

Bird crawled about the cabin, and chewed his own food now. He laughed often, and I called him Laughing Bird. I talked; he made happy noises. By the time spring came to our valley, he toddled about, and followed me everywhere. This summer, for sure, if one of the clans didn’t come through our valley, we would go to the nearest village, before the leaves changed color.


The crows circling near the cabin caught Laughing Bird’s eye, and he pointed and laughed and called to me. “Look, Mama. Crows. We go?” They seemed to have found something close to the cabin – and if it was fresh, well, I might take some myself. And if it still lived? I grabbed my bow and we went. It was a wounded she wolf, protecting her remaining live cub. The crows would circle down and tease her, trying to get the cub. I shot her. The dying howl of the she wolf, and the thunk! of the arrow scared the crows away, for a bit. The cub, small and frightened, whined as it lay trapped under its now dead mother. Laughing Bird watched as I pulled it out, and brought it to him.

The she wolf gave me her pelt, and I gave Cousin Crow her meat.

Wolf, like Laughing Bird, survived. They played together, slept together, ate together. I became the alpha of a pack of three. And winter again came upon us.

My quiet and neat cabin now rang with laughter and barks and growls of mock battles. Life was good, if messy, and I realized how alone I had been.

Laughing Bird, now five summers, was as much a part of my being as my skin and hair. I gave up even the idea of taking him to one of the clans. How could I even think of giving up my son?

Light tickled its way down the mountains into the valley as it did every morning. I rolled out of bed and added wood to the fire. Wolf crouched and watched the door, ready to spring. Something must be out there. He backed toward Laughing Bird, never taking his eyes off the door. He growled low in his belly. I picked up my cross bow, loaded it, and opened the door. Wolf snarled and bared his teeth, and Laughing Bird woke, and we all stared at Swift Swimmer of the Otter Clan. He waited just off the porch.

“Wolf. Hush! He’s a friend. Laughing Bird, can you quiet Wolf? Swift Swimmer, it’s good to see you. Will you wait a moment until we’ve got Wolf quiet, then come in?”

“You have a child, Wild Woman. He is yours?”

“Well, yes. And, no.”

And so I told Swift Swimmer the story, and showed him the bead work from Laughing Bird’s birth mother. He agreed, the work was well done and unusual, and he didn’t recognize it.

Swift Swimmer stayed for a few days, and helped me around the cabin, then took Laughing Bird and Wolf into the forest on a hunting trip. They returned several days later loaded with game. Winter would not be skimpy this year. We sent Swift Swimmer on his way, laden with a share of the game and our well wishes for a good year. He also took a drawing of the beadwork to show around.


And the years passed, and Laughing Bird grew, and Wolf brought a mate home. She would not come into the cabin, but would allow Laughing Bird to come to the den and pet the cubs.

Swift Swimmer came every year and always took Laughing Bird into the woods to teach him more than I could. Our larder was well stocked, thanks to his friendship. When Laughing Bird had seen twelve summers, many of the Otter Clan arrived in the valley.

“Wild Woman,” they told me, “It is time for Laughing Bird to receive his man-name.” Man name? I’d never thought of it. But, of course, they were right. The clan made their camp at the far end of the valley, where they wouldn’t bother me, or Wolf’s mate, and prepared for the Naming Ceremony. Laughing Bird seemed to know all about it, and eagerly entered into the preparations. He enjoyed having other people to talk to, and boys his own age to play with. I felt a twinge of guilt at having kept him to myself all these years.

The women came to my cabin. They dressed me in a fine new dress and leggings they had made for me. As Honored Mother of the almost-man, I needed to dress the part. The dress glowed white, and the colored beadwork looked the brighter for it. They honored me deeply with their gift. They escorted me to their campsite, and there was Laughing Bird, naked except for a breach clout, and red and black paint. He brought Wolf to my side with stern words to guard me until his return, he then turned his back to me and walked out of the circle of people into the night.

Swift Swimmer came to me and explained that Laughing Bird would soon be a man, and would soon tell his man-name. He also told me he wanted to adopt Laughing Bird into the Otter Clan, and into his lodge, if Laughing Bird consented. I had no say in the matter. Laughing Bird would be a man when he returned.

Three days later, he returned. He was thinner, but triumphant. Before he could say anything, the men took him to the river and bathed him, then brought him back to the circle. There he was clothed and fed before telling us his name.

When called to the circle, we all heard his new name at the same time, Red Sun. Swift Swimmer asked about the adoption, and Red Sun agreed. I stayed at the camp for another three days of feasting, and visiting, then returned to the cabin. Alone. Red Sun departed with the people. He proudly wore his new cheek tattoo identifying him as a member of the Otter Clan. Wolf followed him, though I was curious as to how long he would stay with Red Sun. His mate lived near the cabin.

The cabin, neat for the first time in years, echoed lost laughter and screamed loneliness. I put my beautiful dress away, and went about the chores of preparing for yet another winter. The first snow had fallen when I heard a familiar and excited wolf bark outside. And there stood Red Sun. Wolf romped with his mate, and Red Sun grinned as he handed me enough meat to last the two of us all winter.


For four years Red Sun wintered with me, and summered with the Otters. Then the clan again visited the valley. This time, Swift Swimmer and his wife Pretty Otter, came to the cabin. They brought two more people, introduced me to Right Fish and Lily Blossom, parents of Feather. They brought gifts of skins and meat, and packets of beads. It seemed Red Sun and Feather wanted to marry. As a courtesy to me, they asked my permission. They were under no obligation to either ask or bring me gifts, as Red Sun was now the child of Swift Swimmer and Pretty Otter.

Laughter again bubbled in the valley. And I again wore my white dress. The wedding brought joy to the whole clan. Both Feather and Red Sun were well thought of, and all looked forward to more children playing in the camps. We feasted and told stories, and were not surprised to waken the next morning to find the newly weds gone. The clan packed up and headed for their winter camp. I went back to the cabin, to find solace in the solitude. Red Sun would not winter with me now. Now he had a wife to take care of, and to care for him. Perhaps, in the summer, they would come. And bring my grandchild. Perhaps.



Snow fell last night. I smell it. The fire has gone out. I’m cold, but can’t seem to get out of bed. I snuggle deeper into the bed robes and wonder who will drag my body to Cousin Crow. I doze and waken to someone else in the cabin. A young and rather plain woman with loose flowing hair stands beside my bed. How did she get in? I look and see the door is still barred. She smiles down at me, takes my hand. Her hand is cold. She wears a beautiful dress, with unusual beadwork. She smiles, and hands me my white dress. With her help I somehow manage to get it on. Holding my hand, she leads me through the barred door and we fly away to the dawn's red sun.


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