Roots and Wings
When it was time, the boy was prepared for his Vision Quest. For a girl this is when she is usually first tied to the Moon, and for boys, it is often when their nipples turn out. Traditionally, the Vision Quest will take place on the top of a mountain, or by running water. A child is taken to the place of the Vision Quest, mentored by a Medicine Person. The Vision Quest helps a person discover who they are meant to be…a purpose and a reason for being.
“My son,” called the Chief, “will become a powerful Medicine Man. For that reason, I summon seven Medicine Men from the four directions to watch over him—to prepare him for his Vision Quest.” And so seven Medicine Men came, some from very far away.
This is considered to be a type of protection. When someone is involved in spiritual things, he or she will shine, and it will attract the attention of things of the spirit. Some of these are indifferent, some are dangerous and some are kind. The red paint is to keep away those things that are not kind.
A Vision Quest will traditionally take 4 days and 4 nights. During this time, the Seekers will not eat. He or she will fast, and take only as much water as they can hold in their mouths at one time. The first day went by, and there was no vision. The second day…no vision. The third day…no vision.
On the fourth day, when nothing had happened, the Medicine Men returned to the boy’s father. “Perhaps he is not yet ready,” one said. “There is no shame in this. Different people grow in different ways. Let us bring him back and have him try again at a later time.”
And so it was the Medicine Men returned to the boy, painting him again with more of the red paint. A fifth day went by without a vision. A sixth day. A seventh. The Medicine Men returned to the boy’s father. “No one has ever fasted this long,” said one.
“We fear this is not his time,” said another. “We ask that you let us bring him back. Let him continue his Vision Quest at another time.”
“No!” said the Chief. “You are all jealous because you know that he will not only one day be a Great Chief, but one day he will be more powerful than any of you! Paint him again, and let the Vision Quest continue!”
The Medicine Men returned to the boy. They repainted him. Nine days went by without a vision. Then ten. Then eleven. On the twelfth day, the Chief went himself to the place of the Vision Quest. His son was gone.
Frightened, he ran through the woods, calling out his son’s name. A small bird followed behind him. Finally, exhausted, he sat down on the stump of a tree, his eyes full of pain—for he truly loved his son.
The little bird approached him. “I was your son,” the small bird said.
“All my life you would tell other people that I would one day be a Great Chief. That I would one day be a powerful Medicine Man. But never once did you ever ask me what I wanted. I did not desire to be a chief. I did not desire to be a Medicine Man. I just wanted to be myself. The Creator took pity on me, and gave me this shape to wear. It is to teach parents that they must not force their own dreams on their children. They must give their children roots and wings. They must help their children become who they are meant to be.”
In English, we call that little bird the Robin. And so it is even today when you see a Robin it still wears the red paint from long ago.
This was a legend my Aunt Prunie used to tell. One time I asked her to paint me for a powwow, and she took red paint and marked my forehead solid, and then used her thumb to remove the red ochre in four small and equal circles. When I do traditional dancing, this is the way I continue to paint my face.
In the Pacific Northwest, the red ochre (and other colors) are often mixed with elk marrow used as a base, so the paint can be easily applied. The elk marrow was also a salve that speeded up healing of the skin. For example, an elder used it on me when I had developed some blisters from constant drumming while helping someone being initiated into Winter Spirit Dancing. It was amazing to me how quickly the blisters vanished.
The tradition for many Native Nations is to have the first Vision Quest take place around puberty, but there are certainly stories of younger children who did this. Over the years, when the American and Canadian governments attempted to suppress Native traditions, some people had to wait until later in life to be initiated or to go for a Vision Quest. For some people, a number of Vision Quests might take place during a lifetime.
I was very happy with how the salmon turned out tonight. I realize I keep mentioning several ways of preparing salmon, but I try to eat it at least three times a week, so I enjoy a variety of options. For today’s marinade, I whisked together 2 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a couple of spoonfuls of sesame seeds. I had wanted to add some roasted sesame seed oil, but was disappointed to discover I was out of it. Given the fact it was supposed to hit 114 degrees (and the next two days it’s going to be 116…) I decided I could live without running to the store to pick up some more roasted sesame seed oil. I wanted to add more honey, but I was also low on that so I sprinkled in another tablespoon of raw sugar into the mix. I left the salmon dressed in this for a few hours. The sesame seeds seem to provide a nice thickening agent. When I placed the salmon into a shallow Pyrex roasting pan, I shook out more sesame seeds on the top. Popped it into a 400 degree oven until it was done, spooning the marinade over it again before serving.
To compliment the salmon I took fresh broccoli and spinach leaves and added salt, pepper, and crushed garlic. I used a large skillet, adding water to the veggies and brought it to a boil. After a few minutes, I used a slotted spoon to remove the broccoli and spinach into a bowl of water, and added ice. This keeps the veggies a bright green and doesn’t let them overcook. When I was ready to serve, I added them back into the water of the skillet and heated everything up again. I then plated the veggies, sprinkling them with bacon crumbs and more sesame seeds. I placed a serving of salmon on top of the veggies. The smokiness of the bacon mixed wonderfully with the flavor of the salmon.