Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Protect the Forests"

This poem is spillover from the April 21, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from ng_moonmoth and Anonymous.  It also fills the "Trees" square in my 4-1-20 card for the Spring Fest Bingo.  This poem belongs to the Iron Horses thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

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"Protect the Forests"


[Monday, September 15, 2014]

Kenzie was raking the yard in front
of the Starblanket roundhouse
when Joseph and Ron came up.

"Hey, Kenzie, it's been two months
since you looked at the sun,"
Joseph said. "Do you feel
ready for heavier work now?"

"It's about time!" Kenzie said,
propping the rake on the wall.
"Will you teach me to hunt?"

"Another time," Joseph said.
"Today we want to talk about
forestry. We do a lot of work
to keep the woods healthy so
we can take firewood, food,
and other things. We think
that you could help with that."

Kenzie wrinkled his nose.
"I've been foraging for weeks."

"We mean logging," Ron said.
"We cut most of our firewood in
spring or fall, depending on whether
the tree needs six or twelve months
to dry before it gets burned."

Kenzie knew that many people
in Rocky Boy's Reservation used
firewood to heat their homes. "Okay,
I guess I can split wood or whatever.
I've been carrying some this month."

Joseph and Ron looked at each other,
then Joseph said, "You mentioned that
you can change into different shapes and
one of them is a horse. We use horses
to scout the forest and haul back the logs."

"Oh!" Kenzie said. "That's kind of cool."

"Have you ever carried a rider or
pulled things in horse form?" Ron said.
"Some animal soups like doing work,
but others don't, so we wanted to ask
if you'd like to work in different forms."

"I've carried someone, but just for fun,
nothing serious," Kenzie said. "I haven't
tried pulling anything, didn't occur to me.
Can't you use regular horses for those?"

"We can and we do, but they have limits,"
Joseph said. "I can't explain to them why
I want to scramble through a rough spot. I
thought that you might do better, knowing
what we're doing and able to contribute."

"Yeah, maybe," Kenzie said. "I'm
not sure, though. Everything is ...
different when I'm in horse form."

"Of course it is," Joseph said easily.
"I don't think like people who are
only human either. A strong totem
changes how you see the world."

"It makes us more connected, too,"
Ron added. "If I think about it, I can feel
how the buffalo feel about the world,
not just how I feel about it myself."

"We must protect the forests for
our children, grandchildren, and
children yet to be born," Joseph said.
"We must protect the forests for those
who can’t speak for themselves such as
the birds, animals, fish, and trees."

"Protect the forests?" Kenzie said,
baffled. "I thought you wanted me
to help you cut and haul firewood?"

"We do, but we use sustainable forestry,"
Ron said. "We don't tear up the woods."

"Kenzie, what happens when a tree
falls in the forest?" Joseph said.

"The animals hear it," Kenzie laughed.

"And then what happens, if nobody
comes and picks it up?" Joseph said.

"Well, it just lies there," Kenzie said.
"Eventually it rots and things live in it."

"That's true, and having some down logs
makes a forest healthy. Too many can
create a fire hazard, though," said Joseph.

"Oh, that makes sense," Kenzie said.
He looked around. "It's pretty dry here."

"Yeah, we still get enough rain for woods,
but they're not as dense as the other side of
the mountains," Ron said. "We don't want
to risk big wildfires here, so we thin the trees
and the undergrowth. Harvesting also makes
homes for animals that like different habitats."

"We don't just take firewood," Joseph said.
"We gather food, we hunt and fish, we collect
craft materials -- everything in the woods is useful."

"We thought you might like to learn our kind of
forestry," Ron said. "Your horse form might
notice things that us two-legs just don't."

Kenzie wriggled with excitement.
"I would love to!" he said. "I've been
studying the local plants and animals
for points. It's really interesting."

He wanted to earn his way into the tribe,
and one way to work toward that was
learning about what lived in their area.

"Wonderful, we can use all the help
we can get," Ron said. "We're still
learning what the land likes here."

"What it likes?" Kenzie said.

"This isn't the original homeland
for either the Chippewa or the Cree,"
Ron explained. "Our ancestors came here
following Rocky Boy's vision, which gives us
a big advantage over most reservations,
but we still have to learn what traditions
fit here and what the local spirits want."

Joseph chuckled. "So far we've learned
that the forest is happy to give us many things --
trees and nuts, deer and fish, bark for baskets,
and so on. It likes horse logging, but it
does not like heavy equipment at all."

"How do you know that?" Kenzie said.
"Can someone talk to the forest?"

"Anyone can hear it when it shouts,"
Joseph said. "A while back, the tribe
hired a heavy logging team to come in,
and a tree fell on the biggest truck."

"Wow, that really is loud," Kenzie said.
"But you're sure it's safe for horses?"

"We haven't had a single accident
with horses," Joseph assured him.

"The tribe keeps three corrals for
horse work," Ron said. "Box Corral
near Box Elder, Azure Corral in
Azure, and Evergreen Corral in
the Rocky Boy Recreation Area
near Mt. Baldy. Which one
would you like to try out?"

"Evergreen sounds good,"
Kenzie said. "I've never been
to the recreation area yet."

"Then let's go," Ron said.
"We can take the truck."

As they drove to the corral,
they continued talking.

"So, does logging pay or
is it like doing stuff around
the house for Ida?" said Kenzie.

"It pays in tribal currency," Ron said.
"Well, usually. If you want to gather for
yourself, that doesn't pay. If you want
to take things to sell off of the rez, that
doesn't pay either, and you also need
permission from the elders for it."

"Tribal currency is good," Kenzie said.
"I want to get more used to using it.
What's with the elders, though?"

"The elders keep track of everything
on the reservation," Ron explained.
"They know when it is time to hunt
each type of animal or harvest
the foods that grow in the wild.
They pay attention to who is
working where so that no place
gets stripped bare or ignored."

"How do they know all that?"
Kenzie said. "That's a lot!"

"They listen to people talking,
and some of them like to walk and
observe for themselves," Ron said.
"That all adds up to tell them when
it is time for something. They don't
give orders, just hints, so you have
to learn how to listen carefully."

"Remember your sweat lodge?"
Joseph said. "The old men
were asking for antelope, so I
knew it was time to hunt some."

"That makes sense," Kenzie said.
"So there's enough for everyone?"

"Usually, yes," Ron said. "However,
if anything comes up short or
an accident happens, then
the elders meet to decide on
a temporary taboo. That
allows time to recover."

"Most people hunt and
gather closer to home, so
if you go clear across the rez,
it's a good idea to talk with
the elder who oversees
that part," Joseph added.

"Do we need to ask anyone
about the corral?" Kenzie said.

"Not unless we want to reserve
some of the horses," Ron said.
"Later on, when we go logging,
we'll check in so we can get paid."

The road slowly crawled up into
the Bear's Paw Mountains, and
occasional trees became clumps
became a forest of Ponderosa pine
dotted with a few other species.

A clearing held an old barn of
weathered gray wood surrounded
by square and round pens made
from logs with the bark peeled off,
the whole area floored in sand.

Several horses looked up as
the truck pulled into the lot,
various shades of brown,
chestnut, and pinto.

"This one's empty,"
Ron said, pointing to
a round pen nearby.

"I'll go write our claim on
the board," Joseph said,
hopping out of the truck.

"Claim?" Kenzie said.
"How do you know
who's using what?"

"Outside, you throw
a lead rope or halter over
the gate post to reserve
a pen," Ron said as he
suited action to words.
"Inside, the barn also has
a whiteboard where you
write your name to claim."

"Earlier you mentioned
reserving the horses?"
Kenzie said, curious.

"Yes, you can call ahead
and ask the groom to hold
horses, work space, or
equipment," Ron said
as he opened the gate.
"The horses in this barn
are for everyone to share."

"Some people have horses
of their own, or other livestock,
but the tribe keeps some for
common use," Joseph said
as he rejoined them.

The purr of a motorcycle
rumbled up the road.

Blair parked next to
the truck and said, "I
heard you were headed
out here. Mind if I join you?"

"I don't mind," Kenzie said.
"We're trying out my horse form."

"Let's get started," Joseph said.
Kenzie, can you talk as a horse?"

"Uh, no," Kenzie said. "Is that bad?"

"No, we just need to work out ways
to communicate," Joseph said. "Can
you still understand human speech?"

"Yeah, if it's not too complicated,"
Kenzie said. "I think differently."

"You said that, and we will
remember it," Ron promised.
"What about signals?"

"What kind of signals?"
Kenzie wondered.

"Can you nod and
shake your head?"
Ron asked him.

"I can, and I've done
that before, a little bit,"
Kenzie said. "I can
point with my nose, too."

"Do you want the gate
open or closed?" Blair said.
"Which do you think would
make you feel safer?"

"Well, I'm always safe with
you," Kenzie pointed out.
"Close the gate. It'll help
me remember where to stay."

"Okay, that's enough to start with,"
Joseph said. "Go ahead and change,
Kenzie. I'll try sitting on you first,
if that's all right with you."

"Yeah, I'm game," Kenzie said.

He moved to the center of the pen,
closed his eyes, and concentrated
on what he could only describe
as the feeling of horseness.

When he opened his eyes,
the whole world was different.

The colors were flatter, and
everything was divided into
a left half and a right half,
but he could see almost
all the way around himself.

The sounds were richer,
and his ears swiveled
around to sample them.

Then Kenzie noticed that
his friends were all staring
at him with their mouths open.

He looked at himself, turning
in place, trying to see if he had
left on a piece of human tack,
but there was nothing.

Why were they staring?

"He has all the right spots,"
Blair breathed. "Look -- there's
the Medicine Hat, the Medicine Shield,
and the Breechclout! He even has
Spirit Eyes. Four sacred things."

"What do you think of this?" Ron asked.
"I've only ever seen two on the same horse."

"The words 'conspicuous public manifestations'
leap readily to mind," Joseph said dryly.

Blair laughed. "I agree, and I'm sure
that Sounding Shell will be moved
to endorse that," she said. "Kenzie,
you look amazing. May I take
some pictures to share?"

Kenzie nodded, and Blair
moved around him, taking
pictures with a phone.

"I'll wait to send these
until later, so we can talk
about it, okay?" Blair said.

Kenzie nodded again, then
snuffled at Ron's hair, which
smelled deliciously of sage.

"Do not eat my hair," Ron said,
firmly pushing his face away.

"My turn?" Joseph asked
as he stepped forward.

Kenzie nodded, then
turned sideways to Joseph
so the man could climb on.

A touch on his shoulder
made him snort and twitch
all the skin on his body.

He loved how much he
could move his skin -- it
always felt like going from
mittens to bare hands.

"Easy, now," Joseph said.
"It all feels so new, so much,
doesn't it? Spirit powers are
like that." His hands smoothed
over Kenzie's side and back,
helping him settle. "That's it."

Joseph leaned over him,
letting part of his weight
350 rest on Kenzie's back.

"Am I too heavy?"
Joseph asked him.

He felt like nothing.

Kenzie snorted, shaking
his head hard enough
to make his mane flap.

Blair laughed. "That's
a big no," she said.

"I'm mounting up,"
Joseph said, swinging
himself onto Kenzie's back.

The weight was startling
at first, but not uncomfortable.

It felt different than the times
Kenzie had let a friend sit on him,
and he couldn't figure out why.

"Shall we try moving?" Joseph said
with a gentle squeeze of his knees.

Kenzie stepped forward, not sure
how Joseph was meant to stay on
since he didn't have both hands
clenched in Kenzie's mane.

Joseph didn't budge, though,
just hugged Kenzie's ribs with
his legs as they made a slow lap.

Then Joseph tilted his hips forward,
and without thinking about it,
Kenzie started trotting.

"Oh yeah, you're a natural
at this," Joseph said as they
made another loop in the pen.
"Let's go a little faster."

He leaned forward, and
Kenzie broke into a canter.

It was the strangest feeling
to have Joseph moving with him,
like an extension of his own body.

It was ... exhilarating, actually.

When Joseph sat up, Kenzie
automatically slowed down,
coasting to a stop at the gate.

"Want to give the other folks
a turn, too?" Joseph asked.

Kenzie nodded, then nosed
Blair by way of invitation.

"Thank you for the offer,"
Blair said, and climbed on.

It felt different. It wasn't bad,
but it felt different than Joseph
had, or even Kenzie's friends.

"Blair isn't a horse like we are,"
Joseph reminded him. "She's
a good rider, just pay attention."

"Let's go," Blair said, and
tapped Kenzie with her heels.

Kenzie started walking, and yeah,
that was one difference -- Joseph
had all but melted into him, while
Blair still felt distinct, guiding
more with feet than with legs.

It worked just as well, though,
and they made a few loops each
at a walk and at a trot before Blair
slowed him down and got off.

Kenzie touched Ron next,
who obligingly climbed on.

Ron was a little heavier
than the others, but not
enough for it to matter.
He was content with
Kenzie's slow walk.

"Want to try pulling
something next?"
Joseph asked as
Ron climbed down.

Kenzie nodded, sniffing
curiously at the rope
that Joseph held.

"Today we'll just
play around a bit,"
Joseph said. "If you
like hauling, we'll find
a harness for you."

Joseph did something
with the rope that turned it
into a bit of a harness, with
loops around Kenzie's ribs
and across his chest.

Whatever it attached to
was right behind Kenzie
where he couldn't see it.

"Pull," Joseph said,
patting his shoulder.

Kenzie moved forward --
and stopped, startled by
the unfamiliar pressure.

Joseph laughed. "Heavy,
isn't it?" he said. "You can
do it, though. Go ahead, pull."

Kenzie took a few more steps,
but couldn't figure out a rhythm,
and soon stopped again.

"Come on, cousin, lean
into it," Joseph said. "Here,
I'll help you." He threw the rope
over his own shoulder and wrapped
it around his waist, leaning into it
as he helped Kenzie pull.

The position of the rope
brought up a memory of
carrying a backpack with
one strap, and that helped
Kenzie wrap his mind around
the loop across his chest.

This time he moved forward
and didn't stop, quickly
picking up speed.

"Hah, now you've got it!"
Joseph crowed, trotting
along with Kenzie.

They made a couple
of laps around the pen
and then stopped.

"Do you want to try
a travois?" Joseph said.

Kenzie nodded. He
wanted to try whatever
his friends suggested.
He knew they wouldn't
lead him wrong.

Joseph unfastened
the simple rope harness.

Blair brought a pair of
long poles and Ron held
them up while Joseph
tied them so they rested
above Kenzie's back with
the ends trailing behind.

"Okay, you've got a basket
right behind your butt," Ron said.
"We'll add a few logs every time
you make a lap around the pen."

Kenzie took off at a brisk walk.
It felt different to pull the travois,
easier than dragging something flat
across the ground, although the weight
rested more on his withers than his chest.

When he came back around, he paused
and let his friends load more logs.

It only felt a little heavier, and
he had no trouble pulling it. In fact,
now that he'd gotten the hang of it,
pulling something actually felt good.

"Hey, All Spots, let's try some turns,"
Blair said. She opened the gate.

Curious, Kenzie poked his nose out.
Log fences made lanes between
the different pens, but he couldn't
see which way to go. Sometimes
deciding was hard as a horse.

"Follow me," Joseph said.
He caught Kenzie's jaw in
a gentle grip, moving it
toward his own shoulder.

Suddenly Kenzie recalled
seeing horses travel nose-to-tail.
He nodded, tapping Joseph on
the shoulder to show agreement.

Joseph moved through the lanes,
keeping to those wide enough
for Kenzie to follow along
the curves of the round pens
rather than sharp angles.

"Left," Joseph said.

That was supposed
to mean something, but
it was hard to remember.

"This way," Joseph said,
catching Kenzie's pause
and guiding him with a hand.

They wove through the pens
and out into a little clearing.

The travois bumped a bit more
over the rocky dirt and tufts of grass,
compared to the soft sand of the pen,
but it still didn't snag on anything.

Kenzie could see how this would
work for hauling loads in the forest.

Joseph led him back to the pen
where the others waited.

"He's getting tired, Joseph,
look at his ears starting
to droop," said Blair.

"Yeah, that's enough
for a first day," Joseph said.

They unhitched the travois
and broke it down into its parts.

Kenzie was surprised to see
how big a stack of logs
he had been hauling.

Ron stroked a hand
over his back and said,
"Kenzie is wet here."

"He worked up a sweat,"
Joseph said. "Ron, go
borrow a grooming kit
so we can clean him up."

Ron disappeared into
the barn, then came back
with a wooden box full of
different brushes and things.

Kenzie sniffed at it, finding
the scents of other horses.

Then Joseph ran the first brush
over him and his brain turned off.

The brush just felt so good.

"Aww, airplane ears," Blair said.
"We must be doing something right."

Kenzie managed to nod, but
that was all he could think of.

Two people brushed his sides
to get the sweat and dust off.
Someone else picked up
his feet to clean his hooves.

Then two of them moved
to comb his mane and tail
while the third wiped his face
clean with a damp cloth.

Kenzie draped his head
over someone's shoulder
and gave a happy sigh.

"All done," Joseph said,
patting him on the back.

It took a minute for Kenzie
to remember that he was
supposed to be something else,
and then to find enough focus
to shift back into human form.

He was still draped over Ron,
who chuckled and helped him
find his way to a bench.

"Tired?" Joseph asked.

Kenzie stretched, consulting
his body. "Yeah," he said. "It
didn't seem like that long, though?"

"About an hour," Joseph said.
"That's plenty for your first time.
We can do more another day."

"I like the idea of protecting
the forest, taking out the wood
that might catch on fire or cause
other problems," Kenzie said.
"Now we know I can do it."

"You did a great job," Ron said.
"I'm sure you'll be a huge help."

Then something trickled back
into Kenzie's awareness. "Why
were you all staring at me?"
he said. "Am I an ugly horse?"

"Spirits, no!" Ron said. "You
look magnificent. You have
markings we consider sacred."

"Really?" said Kenzie. "Like what?"

Blair showed him the pictures on
her phone. "The Medicine Hat over
your ears will warn you of danger and
help you find game when hunting.
The Medicine Shield on your chest
will protect you from injury, and
the Breechclout over your tail
guards against betrayal."

"Blue eyes we call Spirit Eyes,
and they allow you to see into
the other world," Ron added.

"Wow," Kenzie said. "That
sounds like ... kind of a lot."

"It's a very good sign,"
Blair said seriously. "May
I show the pictures to
Sounding Shell? She
may give points for them."

"But I didn't do anything,"
Kenzie said. "They're just spots!"

"They have meaning to us, and
the way you look is a sign from
the spirits that you fit in here,"
Blair explained. "It's not random."

"Okay," Kenzie said. "I trust
your judgment. It's just weird."

"You'll get used to it," Blair said,
wrapping an arm around him.
"Come on, let's get you home.
You worked hard today."

"Yeah," Kenzie said, and
let Blair help him into the truck.

Kenzie fell asleep on them
as they drove back home,
but that was okay.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, nature, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing
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