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GREEN BIRD

"Mythic time is always a generation or two back, when a people's tale-tellers were growing up."

Dreamed 1983/6/2 by Chris Wayan

A train snaking up a red desert canyon. In the sky, the black words 'Feral Train!' Click to enlarge.


I'm reading a book of Navaho and Pueblo myths. The cover shows Coyote protecting Buffalo People from a Bear coming out of the sky. I know Buffalo means ordinary people. Not sure about that bear, though. Crazy white people? Could be.

A train chugs by. No one on it seems to be shooting at the buffalo. That's a relief. The perspective on the train is strange, part Euro, part mythic. The tales in the book treat trains as animals, integral to the Western landscape: they often jump their tracks and wander up canyons on their own, and won't come back, the way horses will.

Trains go feral? Apparently.

The illustration-style fascinates me: elegant lines just half-there, the rest implied; pale wash colors. Rooted in that 1930s Navaho style, they emphasize and simplify structures and shapes--I'd say cubist, only these artists don't dice the world into cubes--their basic shapes are circles, mesas, strata, tears, and the starbursts of bunchgrass.

The introduction is by a white tale-collector. Not an anthropologist, an enthusiast full of sudden pronouncements. Like "Mythic times ended about 1940 or so." Huh? I don't buy that. In every culture, mythic time is always a generation or two back, when the eldest and most prestigious tale-tellers were growing up. For them it's eternal, resonant. But when the next generation of tale-tellers matures, mythic time moves up, to the land of their childhood. Paint-sketch of a collapsing wood-rail fence on a desert hill. Sage, red earth, deep blue sky. Two bodies are tied to fence posts, mummified like dried-up Christs. Click to enlarge.

The collector writes, "when I first came to the desert, local customs felt strange, even terrifying. Once I went to a man's house, and he wasn't in. But I saw, in the distance, two figures standing silent and still. Went to see if it was my friend, and found him and his wife nailed to wooden posts, dead, dessicating already. This is how traditional Navaho dispose of the dead." He adds "For one moment I saw it the Dineh way, as right and proper, indeed the only way--then reverted to my own way. Oddly, it scared me more to see death a new way than to feel my familiar horror of it."

But Navaho funeral customs are NOTHING like this! They'd be horrified by this. It sounds rather Christian, instead. Quasi-crucifixion!

The worst part about not trusting the tale-collector's tales--feral trains, Navaho mummies--is that now I have to be him.

I'm visiting an old man in a big house far across the rez. His children have all left for the cities, his wife and inlaws are dead. So he lives utterly alone now--a rare thing on the rez, but he does.

Not long before my visit, he got seriously wounded. Crippled. So he crawls into his basement, where a big cement pipe sits. He crawls inside, to heal. No white hospital for him--his wife died in there. He's traditional. And this is his medicine pipe!

He plugs the ends of the pipe with dry bread. I wish he'd let the doctor see him, but I have to admit that if he must hole up, it's a good way to: the bread keeps drafts out, yet oxygen can get in.

But I do drag his pipe out from the chilly basement and put it in a dry, warm, sheltered spot. I hope the pipe has strong enough medicine to heal him; I don't want to have to nail him up...

Later, a friend and I crawl into his own medicine pipe. Same type--a big concrete one. He plugs it with bread and it freezes us in time, too. A pipeline to the future!

We emerge to find our pipe is now, years later, in an empty airport terminal. We look for a phone, to check in with the Time Agency. But while we're over at the booths, enemy agents slink into our time-pipe. Pipejackers! Man, they get worse every year...

We spot them just as they slip in, and just have time to blindfold ourselves and cling to the pipe before they take off through time. The pipe's timefield normally ignores outsiders, but since we're in contact with it and can't see outside, it assumes we're inside, and freezes us as well as the jackers.

This time, when we land, we immediately tear out the bread-plugs and attack the thieves. But the cops come, and they don't believe us that it's our medicine pipe. They look like they may evern arrest us for attacking the thieves, who I admit do a fine job of faking outrage over our attempt to hijack "their" time-pipe! Dream-sketch: a longhaired man in a red shirt reaches up to tune a cross of guitar strings nailed on a wall. These future-cops who side with the enemy alarm me, so I figure we could use backup too. It's time to summon the Navajo Savior, for the Second Coming. So I turn to a cross made of two guitar-strings, strung on nails sunk into the wall. Where they meet, they're supposed to press tightly enough to act like frets for each other, so the four "limbs" each sound an independent note. They're all different lengths so they form a harmonious chord, if it's tuned right. They represent the four sacred directions--sensing, feeling, thinking, intuition. You sound all four sides of a balanced human being, in a balanced chord, to summon the Savior.

But the wires were strung in mythic time, and the nails are old and loose. Dead tones from most of the limbs. The cross needs serious tuning! I hammer the nails in tighter, but crack the wall in spots. Must start fresh, distorting the cross, compensating by moving other nails. Despair of ever getting all four tones to sound in harmony. But at long last... by dumb persistence... I do.

And the Savior appears, all right--but not where I expected. Huge green and yellow feathers burst from my arms! I become a giant green bird-person, cheerful, pretty, intelligent, a bit arrogant perhaps, but playful--a giant Swallowkeet. I haven't any blue feathers, so I'm never blue. I'm the Navaho Savior?

My name is Trelayne, by the way.

Suddenly we're in my mansion, called Beckfoot, on a cape overlooking Lake Windermere, in England's lake country. I explain to my housemate Brian about my two previous dream-tales with bird people. Brian says "The other two were both female. Are you, too?" I do want to make myself female, but I'm embarrassed about that--it shows an imbalance in my empathy, how I identify more readily with girls than boys. For balance I really should be male this time around. But I have time to decide--with my new bird body, it's not all that obvious, and Trelayne's a name that sounds fine for either sex...

Lake Windermere is just a symbol, an index, really--a convenient way for us to see the galaxy in a glance. Its long axis is one of the strings on the cross. The other goes from the Amazon, the small stream and cove below our cape, across the widest part of the lake to Rio Bay, where the largest town is, behind a fleet of islets.

But this lake really is the whole galaxy! The mansion is near the galactic hub; from Beckfoot, I can play all four of the string-arms, which are great trade routes--the spiral arms, just straightened out for viewing convenience. Every town and farm along the lake is really a whole civilization, a starfaring species, and their sailboats dotting the lake are great star-liners.

And now that I'm back, and a happy harmonious bird this time, no Christlike martyr to sadness and cruelty... I'll learn to harmonize them all.

The Second Coming--but this time, Christ's a big green budgie named Trelayne. Budgiesus!
NOTES IN THE MORNING A NOTE 20 YEARS LATER

At the time I didn't take the musical image literally. But looking back, I think the dream suggests the way to happiness for me is through music--but that it'd be slow. It was. I dabbled for years, never getting very good. But a few years ago I got serious about learning music, took classes, suffered, and learned that while I AM a clumsy musician, I'm a good composer and a decent singer. Today I write dream-songs and sing & play them in a San Francisco band, The Krelkins. And the dream was right. Music is making me much happier, more confident and outgoing. A Trelayne! And all it took was YEARS of persistent plunking, with no sonic reward. Until all the strings of my life were in harmony.



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