Word spread among the elders that it was not wise to make children hunt before their time. Raven never thrust his young from the nest before they could fly; and he also never held them back when their wings began to itch. If he did, they would grow deformed, and if that deformity were bad enough, it would threated his entire flock. That is what Ponteesh told the Raven Clan happened with Eech and Kawali. He warned that cursing the taboos was extreme. The prohibition caused children to repress urges that could have grown healthily if expressed and nurtured, but when pushed to the recesses of their mind were twisted into vile forms. Like Raven, Man should not hold his children back when they yearned to fly.
The restriction on traveling between villages was lifted, but this did not please everyone. Those who cherished the story of Arnarr said it would lead to infidelity and warfare. But the elders said their stories needed to be taken as a whole, not read individually for simple lessons. Only when they were placed together and the subtle nuances between were felt, would true wisdom emerge. Aarculii left his village late in life, they said, for impure reasons. When he encountered the village of many women, it unleashed an emotion he had long repressed, much like the emotion over which Eech burned with guilt. Travel should be encouraged, the elders decreed, no emotion should be repressed. Man should attempt to bridge all barriers, both physical and emotional, with love.
In this era, as in all eras, a child was born who epitomized the values of the time. Chulung was romantic from birth. Even before he could speak, his gurgling pleased men’s ears. The first time his mother, Kallaope, spooned soft tallow between his anxious lips, he sighed with ecstasy; and he hummed through every meal his entire childhood, as long as the flavor remained in his mouth. When his parents left his sight, he screamed like all children do, but even his wailings were musical. His father, Ooagra, could never sit in a different room than his him, not because he was irritated by the child’s tantrum, but because he was enchanted by his song. When Ooagra walked away from Chulung and the musical notes exploded from his son’s mouth, the father always forgot what he was leaving for, returned to his child and tried to tickle precious squeals from his lips.
When Chulung spoke, his people swooned. His first words were father and mother, like many other children, but no one tired of hearing him repeat them. Kallaope’s friends, who rolled their eyes when she first said they must hear her son say “mother” because it was the most beautiful thing they would ever hear, grasped the child’s hands when they heard him and then came to visit daily.
As soon as he learned all the words in the Raven Clan’s ancient songs, he sung them without training. His renditions were so beautiful that eventually the Raven Clan would say the songs did not exist before him, that he invented them all, that he was the first person to sing a note, that he was The Father of the Song, and to an extent this was true. Chulung was the first man to compose personal ballads, to sing for expression rather than ritual.
One night, his father returned from a trip into the mountains with his friends, days after he said he would. His mother was relieved to see him at first. She sprinted out of their sod igloo, bounded into his arms and kissed every spot on his rough face, then whimpered and whispered, “Thank Raven you’re alive.”
Ooagra simply held her and chuckled, unmoved by her passion.
“What’s funny?” she asked, looking up at him in the dark, exploring his face with her hands now, still swept up in the moment. “What happened to you out there? Were you attacked by man-eaters?”
Ooarga laughed, surprised. “No. Nothing happened,” he said. “Why are you so worried?”
Kallaope caught a glimpse of his face in the shallow starlight and noticed he smiled indifferently. “What do you mean ‘why was I worried?’” she said, confused. “You were missing for four days.”
“I was fine,” Ooagra said dismissively. “We stayed longer because the glaciers were so beautiful.” He looked up into the bright heavens as if he wished to be back there.
“Did you even miss me?” Kallope demanded. “Did you ever worry that something might have happened to me?”
Ooagra snapped his head down and looked at her, surprised. “Of course not,” he said, smiling nervously at her angry face. “I knew you would be fine.”
“Well, you must not go longer than you say again,” she asserted, then spun away from him and crossed her arms.
Instead of embracing her tightly and apologizing, showing her he missed her and was happy to see her – which he was, and which was all she needed to hear – he grew angry. “I’ll stay longer if I want to,” he yelled. “I shouldn’t have to come back early just because you worry.”
Kallaope looked over her shoulder with disgust, and when Ooagra glared back, she stormed into the house, leaving him in the dark, angry but unsure what to do.
Chulung watched their parting and nearly wept. He had followed his mother out of the igloo when they spotted Ooagra through the entranceway, but then he had hid behind their family totem to surprise his parents when they returned. Now his heart wrenched with both their emotions. He felt his mother’s dejection for being unappreciated, and his father’s shame for acting callous. But he did not grow jaded to either emotion; his sensitivity grew deeper, and as the tears burst forth, he sung
he sung, throwing a deep voice into the entranceway that vibrated the walls, filling their home with the presence of his father.
I missed you dearly…
Every night under the stars
I yearned to feel your touch.
I burned for you each night I was away!
The only way I could stand such pain
Was knowing that you’d wait for me
Was knowing that our bond is blood
And I would hold you in my arms again!
Kallaope, I’m sorry.
Before his mother could rush out of the house, Chulung quickly wrapped his head around the other side of the totem pole and sung into the night air. His high syllables shot into the sky and twinkled down on Ooagra’s ears like the dazzling stars.
I did not mean to upset you
I do not want to control you
I only want, what I always want
To have you in my arms!
When you’re away, I miss you
It drives me nearly mad
But now you’re back, and I’m sorry
It’s me whose turned away!
With this, his father’s stern demeanor broke and he dashed into the house, but before he passed the entranceway, Kallaope burst out and they crashed into each others arms, embracing in front of their home.
Ooagra kissed his wife deeply, then drew back and said, “I’m sorry I stayed away. I’ll never leave you again.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Kallope said, gazing up at his face, which glowed now from the rising moon. “Your song said everything.”
Ooagra drew his head back, startled. “My song?” he said. “But you were the one who sung to me.”
“How could I have sung to you?” she said, mirroring his amazement. “I was in the house. You were here at the entranceway.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Ooagra explain. “I stood where you left me.”
“Then who?” both whispered, and looked around, puzzled.
Chulung emerged from behind the totem pole, his head hung low, still distraught from their fight, and unsure how they would react to his trickery. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
Ooagra and Kallaope looked from their son to each other. They were ashamed they had fought in front of him, but also deeply proud of what he’d done. In exchanging looks, they realized their fight was small, but their son was special, and his talent was far more pressing than their disagreement.
Ooagra nodded to Kallaope, and she knelt down and took Chulung’s hands in her own.
“Sometimes parents fight,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other any more. And no matter what happens between your father and I, we will never stop loving you.”
Chulung looked up at his mother, sniffling now.
“But thank you for showing us that, Chulung. You are very special. Where did you learn those songs?”
“I just made them up,” he said, his voice cracking. “I know they’re silly.” He dropped his head again. “But I know that’s what you felt.” He tried to clear his nose by inhaling loudly. “Sometimes what’s too silly to be said, can be sung.”
Ooagra knelt beside Kallaope now and put his hand on Chulung’s shoulder. “They were not silly,” he said. “They were perfect. Never stop singing, son. Your songs will guide our people.”
Remembering the way their people’s first hero brought his family closer than they could have been without him, Kallaope hugged Chulung, waited for her husband to hung them both, and then whispered, “You’re our little Imitchaq.”
* * *
During this era, Caribou became the staple of the Raven Clan. Only the most skilled hunters could catch them, but the Clan relished every part of their body. In the spring, they held dances at which the greatest hunter among them affixed one of their massive, pointy racks to his head and symbolically spread fertility; in the summer, when the cold did not demand they eat the rich fats of seals, whales, and bears, they prized the lean hindquarters of the caribou for keeping them fit and energetic; and whenever a man courted a woman, he spread the animal’s tallow on his body as musk, both to show her he could provide, and to make her hunger for him.
As Chulung grew, he became sad he had no skills as a hunter and could not kill a caribou. Even as he entered adolescence, his body and voice remained boyish.
The people of his tribe were not disappointed or upset with him. There were plenty of men who could hunt and provide for the village, but his beauty was paralleled by no one, and in this era obsessed with love, his looks were extraordinarily prized. With his slender frame and smooth face, many members of his village desired him, both men and women; and possessing a soul of his era, he did not hesitate to please any of them. He laid with them, and gave himself to them, and caressed them with his voice after he had done so with his body. His villagers loved him in return: they called him a gift from Raven, the gem of their village, and a true man of the time; they built him a home, gave him the choicest meats and hides, and gathered beautiful stones and feathers for him. But Chulung was not content. He relished their love and loved them in return, but he yearned for something else. His physical weakness made him feel powerless, and he as happiest when he wandered along the inlet on which his people lived alone.
This inlet held a firm place in his people’s history. They called it Turnagain Arm, because when the first warriors encountered it on their journeys to the Interior, they were forced to turn around. This sweeping scape of water was beautiful, and stretched longer than one man could see by twisting his neck. Its tides were massive and turned twice daily, like all tides in Alaska, but because of a groundswell at the mouth of the Arm, the waters stormed down its corridor every twelve hours in one, enormous bore tide. And because the inlet was wide and shallow, when the water retreated to the sea, and was held back by the groundswell, a sweeping plain of mud appeared that seemed to bridge the gap. This waterland was a dazzling mixture of greens and yellows that shifted hues with the changing shadows of the day, until the bore tide broke and flooded the inlet in one, rolling wave.
This combination of beauty and power was deadly. People often wondered onto the mudflats, transfixed by its grandeur, only to find themselves stuck. The silty ground was entirely impassable, and once it took hold, it never let go. Even if you were found long before the bore tide, no one could set you free. No matter how many men struggled with boats and ropes to yank you from the mud, you were trapped until the bore tide rolled in and drowned you. Seagulls and moose often wandered onto the silt and got stuck, and occasionally whales were left beached when the tide receded and died. But the animals did not struggle against the elements like man. They seemed to accept their fate.
Chulung loved Turnagain Arm. Everyday before dawn, he strolled to the ridge above its shores to watch as the mudflats, at their flattest, most exposed moment, were stormed by the bore tide. He remained in the hills all day and watched the water as it teemed when the candle fish rushed in and the beluga whales breached behind them, gazed into the sky as the eagles soared overhead and snatched out salmon, and marveled at the subtle changes that the seasons brought to the snow pack, the pine trees, and the shoreline daily. He exploded into song at these beautiful sights.
Mother of Life
Master of Death
You show us your beauty
But you don’t let us touch
You light us our fires
And fill us with rush
You give me the Song of my Songs!
One day, when the birds overhead seemed to swoon to his ballad, a caribou charged onto his ridge and broke his song. The beast was a massive bull with a rack of more than forty points and it shook these weapons wildly as if in heat.
Chulung scrambled to his feet and backed away, keeping his eye on the game, which was anxious and searching for something but did not focus on the boy. After scouring the entire hillside and apparently finding no reason to remain worry, it dropped its head and began to graze.
Chulung was still petrified. He had only seen wild beasts act so discordantly in the thick of summer, when mosquitoes drove them mad. This caribou had appeared crazed like them for a moment, but with no obvious cause, and now it grazed as if nothing had happened and Chulung did not exist. But as it remained relaxed, so did Chulung’s anxiety; his fear subsided and he focused on the feeding beast.
The lumpy muscles in its shoulder bulged beneath its thick hide as it stepped forward to reach a larger tuft of grass, and Chulung yearned to touch it. When it lowered its head, Chulung thought it appeared to bow, and when its horns scraped the dirt, he was thrilled. It parted its lips and gently tore the thin greens from the earth, like a woman sanctimoniously nibbling berries from her lover’s hand. Chulung burst into song:
Mother of Life
Master of Death
You show us your beauty
But you don’t let us touch
The mightiest stags
They bow at your alter
And sip from your cup
You are the Song of my Songs!
When he sung this song, the caribou was excited again, but not threateningly so. It raised its head and shook the dirt from it horns, then slowly, gently walked toward the boy.
Chulung was terrified but thrilled. He could not stop himself. The plodding of its hooves inspired him to sing again, and the beast drew closer. When it neared, he realized his power. The animal’s musk filled his nostrils and it smelled ruddy, though it was not the season; its breath blew across his skin to the rhythm of his song. With the caribou towering over him, he redoubled the passion with which he sung, and the animal leaned down and pressed its hairy cheek against his. He had mastered the beast. His skill, which had seemed useless in daily life, proved utilitarian. He drew his ulu, pressed the sharp blade against the caribou’s neck, and slit its throat. The wild animal did not struggle or cry, but accepted its fate, like the moose that wandered onto the mudflats. It fell at the boy’s side, dead.
Chulung now towered over it, thrilled with his newfound power. He could provide caribou for his people after all, feast upon their meat and use their tallow as musk. Animals were defenseless against the sultry sound of his voice, drawn to him like to a rare flower, even though he was a man, the greatest threat to their life. The combination of his beauty and power was deadly.
Charged with this feeling, he gazed out over the Turnagain Arm. He had found his place in nature, like the eagles soaring overhead, scouring the water for fins; he could pursue his urges with a new passion. He could desire others as they desired him.
At this moment, Chulung spotted a woman across the inlet. She emerged from a small home and the boy’s eyes momentarily took on the power of his voice, so that his vision stretched across the water and he saw her as if she stood before him.
Striking. Her features were even softer and smoother than his own and her frame was equally slight, yet full with femininity.
His vision snapped back into focus and he noted his whole position: the stag at his feet, his newfound power, the uncrossable inlet, the beauty on the other side, and his instinct for love greater than any before. He would bring the animal back to his people, tell them what he had done, what he had seen, and how he felt. And he would tell them he was going to bridge the greatest barrier in nature with his love.
* * *
Chulung’s people threw a feast to celebrate his first caribou. They butchered the animal and fed him the hunter’s prize – the one meat he had never been offered because it was always eaten on the hunting fields while the animal was being cleaned – the rich, smooth heart.
He did not gorge on it immediately, but let it sit on his plate while his clansmen gathered, each congratulating him as they entered the dining hall. He kissed his lovers and hugged his friends. Though no one expected him to be a great hunter, they were all elated; they knew he yearned for such power.
“I’m very proud of you,” a fierce warrior named Erimes told him. “I always knew you were far more than a thing of beauty. I’m glad you see that now, too. You’re voice can tame the wildest beasts.” Erimes leaned in closely and whispered, “After all, it tamed me.” He kissed the young man’s ear, stood up straight, and spoke again. “With your effortless tricks, you will provide more for our people than the greatest hunters.”
Chulung smiled and shook his bedfellow’s shoulder. “I will do more than that, dear friend. Take your seat quickly – and hurry the others – I have an announcement to make.”
When everyone sat around the long table, Chulung stood, his parents at his side.
“Thank you all for coming to publicly celebrate my personal success,” he said.
“It is a success for us, too,” an old man shouted. “You will usher in a new generation!”
Chulung shook his head and looked down modestly. “No, no,” he said. “This was a small success for me, but a great accomplishment for all of you.” He looked up and panned over the crowd. “A small boy like myself, with a pretty voice, never would have been able to master a beast as massive and strong as a caribou, without all of your love and support.”
A young girl shouted from across the table, “We would do anything for you!”
Several other men and women screamed in support.
Chulung nodded and smiled knowingly at the first girl. “Thank you,” he said softly, as if to her, then raised his voice, as loud and deep as he could, and spoke to the whole crowd again. “Because I will need all of your help in what I must do next. I have fallen in love,” he said in crescendo, “with a girl from another village!”
His people erupted with cheers.
“He will marry,” a woman named Cha’an shouted over the jubilation.
“And have beautiful children,” proclaimed her husband, Aat.
“The woman will be the happiest person alive,” the fierce warrior boomed, looking around the festivities seriously. “She will know pleasure beyond her dreams – beyond any of our wildest dreams!”
The celebration redoubled. Chulung’s clansmen were thrilled because the boy who had given them so much pleasure finally sought satisfaction for himself. They had pined for this day for years, both for the boy, and for their people. From the day he sung his first song and ended his parents quarrel, they had expected great things from him. Some barriers against love still stood between villages from the era of taboos, and his people knew Chulung was their greatest hope at demolishing them. Now that he loved a girl from another tribe, they saw those walls crumbling. Even the many members of his village who passionately loved him were happy he now wished to please himself. They would miss his touch, but they would writhe at the thought of how tenderly he caressed his true love; and everyone yearned to hear the ballads that would emerge from his deepest emotions.
“Where is this girl?” his mother said, grasping his hand.
Chulung answered by continuing his speech and shouting over the crowd, trying to rally them even higher, sure they would be further invigorated that he would break one of nature’s barriers as well as man’s. “I will need your help,” he said, “because to meet my love, I will have to bridge one of the greatest barriers in nature.”
His clansmen did not grow louder at this proclamation. Instead, the commotion grew quieter and tension filled the hall.
Chulung assumed they were merely anxious to hear what he was going to say, so he pressed on. “The beautiful woman I spotted today – my future wife – lives on the other side of Turnagain Arm!”
The room fell silent.
A Raven screeched from without.
No one said a word.
Every clansmen as old as Chulung’s parents or older, closed their eyes and shook their heads; the younger members curiously scoured the room with their eyes, but knew something was amiss.
“What is wrong?” Chulung demanded.
His mother rose beside him, biting her lip and nearly crying. “The girl you saw is named Euraka,” she said. “And she refuses to marry.”
A gasp rose from the gathering, out of shock from those who heard this for the first time, and out of horror from those who had tried to forget. But Chulung stared at his mother, pressing her to tell him more.
She nodded her head, sorry for her poor son, so tragically disappointed on the day of his greatest success. “She is older than me but ageless; she never laid with either man or woman. She is a stain on our generation – the generation that created you. She sunk our spirits as much as you lift them. The day she was ready to lay with one of us, she instead mysteriously crossed the Inlet in the thick of night, and took her parents with her in shame.”
“Then it will be an even greater success to woo her!” Chulung said, unfazed. “We will redeem the last generation as we lead the new one.” He refused to give up on either his quest to woo this woman or to rile his clansmen. This revelation only intensified his resolve. “We will spread love across the inlet, between villages, and to a heart that is hardened against it!” Chulung glanced around at his clansmen, shocked they still hung their heads. How could they undercut him so deeply? How could they doubt themselves? “My song will reach across the Inlet,” he shouted. “She will love me before I even arrive. But I will need all of your help to reach her. I need you to show me how to make a kayak that will survive the bore tide, and to navigate the inlet to avoid the mudflats. Will no one help me now?”
Some villagers raised their heads to look at him, but no one said a word. They gazed up as if he were naïve for not understanding that some things were simply impossible. Even Imitchaq could not kill the Amikuk and survive. There were distant lands even Raven could not reach.
“You don’t understand,” said Kallaope. “She risked her life to get away from us, because she believed to fall in love would be worse than death. Many of us can kill stags, craft kayaks, and cross inlets, but sometimes a woman can be more stubborn than anything in nature.”
“You underestimate me!” Chulung shouted, enraged now, choking on his own words. “You think her disdain is greater than my love? I will prove you wrong!”
I have pleasured you all with song
I have given you all my love
You swooned for me
You were wood by me
Now you take my love for granted
Now you doubt my voice’s power
But I will win her on my own
I will cross the Arm alone
And if I don’t return
You’ll miss my songs of love
Whether I conquer or I die!
Everyone remained silent but a new tension filled the hall. Over the years of being lulled by Chulung’s voice, his people had begun to take its power for granted, in the same way they ignored the bore tide for months on end while marveling at its beauty. But when someone got stuck on the mudflats, the ferocious power of its waves flooded their minds like the lungs of the unlucky. By mentioning his own death, Chulung had similarly snapped his people from their daze. He had struck a new chord. Chulung would attempt to cross the inlet with or without them, and they could never forgive themselves if he died; nor would they wish to live if he survived and succeeded and sung sweet songs of love they never heard.
Erimes banged his hand on the table. “You’ll need a wooden kayak,” he said. “I used to have one when I hunted seals.” He looked knowingly at all his peers around him. “The mudflats grip a hide covered kayak like a lost animal, but a wooden one can be dislodged. They’re had to build, but I’ll teach you to carve one!”
“We’ll study the mudflats,” Cha’an said, raising Aat’s hand in her own. She smiled at her husband and spoke to him, shrugging. “We sit on the banks every night anyway.” Then she turned back to Chulung and spoke to everyone. “We’ll track the deepest currents and show you the path you should take to reach the other side.”
The people began to stir hopefully. Ooagra draped his arm over his boy’s shoulder. “You’re right,” he said, then turned to the crowd and shouted over the table. “You’ve saved us all so many times, we should never doubt you. You’ve done everything in your power to help us with our relationships; we should do everything in our power to help you now.”
The villagers cheered resoundingly, and it filled the hall with warmth.
“Chulung will win Euraka!” someone shouted, and the jubilation broke loose again.
Chulung threw his hands into the air and shouted, then crashed into his seat and finally ate his meal. When he sliced into the heart, it’s pungent scent thrilled him. The first bite hit his pallet and he moaned, threw his head back, and let the aroma fill his senses. Then he slammed down his knife, cut the rest of the tender meat with the edge of his fork, and devoured it.
“That’s rich meat,” Ooagra said, leaning into his son’s line of sight, a look of disquiet on his brow. “Be careful. I’ve never seen you eat so hungrily.”
* * *
Chulung was more Ravenesque than anyone in the history of the Raven Clan. His songs sprung from the same impulse that inspired all of Raven’s actions: the illusive impulse of spontaneity. When the pure spontaneous impulse is followed to its end, profound revelations ensue. In the tale of Raven steals the sun, moon, and stars, Raven hears a rumor that three bright dazzling orbs exist somewhere in the world, and he is struck with the spontaneous impulse to steal them. He follows this impulse to the end of the earth, where he finds them protected by a covetous giant. He catches only a glimpse of their beauty before the giant hides them away, but this faint glimmer is enough for him to persist. He turns himself into a pine needle, is whisked into the giant’s house by the wind, and lands in the cup of the giant’s daughter. When she swallows him, he wanders through her system, takes hold in her stomach, and transforms into her human child. For months he labors at growing fingers, toes, legs and arms, and when he is born he is so beautiful that his grandfather gives him his treasured orbs. Raven then shifts back into his natural form and explodes through the chimney, excited to have achieved his small goal. But when he attempts to play his first game with the orbs, which he worked so hard to grasp, they explode from his hands and take their place in the heavens. He set the order of nature into motion, and illuminated the world for man.
When the spontaneous impulse to sing struck Chulung, he pushed the words past his lips before they were measured or rhymed. He sung for the pure pleasure of singing – to satisfy his own desires – and he was always shocked when his songs pleased others, as well. When friends, lovers, and strangers told him his dirges expressed their deepest emotions, he smiled contently. Now, the spontaneous impulse that hit Chulung the morning he stood over the caribou on the ridge over Turnagain Arm and spotted Euraka, would require him to perform the sort of tedious work Raven endured to achieve his greatest success.
The morning after the feast, for the first time in his adult life, Chulung did not climb the ridge over Turnagain Arm. Instead, he splashed into a safe cove of the inlet with Erimes and dragged a trunk of driftwood onto land.
“This piece has proved it can stay afloat in the inlet,” said the seal hunter, tugging at the log with his ankles in the water. “It has floated in and out of the Arm like a crafty fish, never being crushed by the bore tide or lodged in the mud.” After they hoisted the log beyond the reach of the waves, Erimes leaned onto it and looked at Chulung seriously. “Even if you are tumbled in a kayak of this wood, you will survive as long as you roll with the wave.”
Chulung nodded. “When can we start carving it?” he asked.
They hauled it into the village and began work immediately. Chulung planed the front and back of the log in long, sweeping gauges, while Erimes began to hollow-grind a hull into the center. By sunset, they had carved the rough form of a kayak from the waterlogged trunk.
“We must stop,” said Erimes. “The shadows have grown too long. If we hit a burl or a knot and puncture the walls, we’ll have to start again.”
Chulung grasped Ermies’ shoulder. “Thank you,” he said. “There is other work I must do during the night anyway. Will I see you here in the morning?”
“Every morning until we see you off,” said Erimes. “It will be my pleasure. You taught a hardened warrior’s heart to love. I’m sure you will woo stubborn Euraka.”
Chulung embraced his friend and then sprinted to the shores of the inlet where Aat and Cha’an mapped the mudflats. The couple sat leaning against one another, staring across the Arm as the sun exploded into the horizon, slowly drawing its arrows of blue and gold behind the mountains, like a victorious warrior returning home.
Chulung paused for a moment. He did not want to disturb them. In his haste to achieve his goal, he let the nobility of that goal slip from his mind. But the ageless love before him reminded him anew.
Sit my children, sit
Said the inlet
Sit upon my banks
My timeless waves
And plash of salt
Will keep you ever-young.
Aat looked over his shoulder and smiled at the boy. “Well there you are,” he said. “Rest with us, let us show you what we’ve learned.”
Chulung knelt next to the couple and listened to what they’d observed that day. There was no straight path through the mudflats. When the tide was out, there were channels that reached each bank, but they were connected by switchbacks that still rushed with an inter-inlet current, so that crossing the Arm would be like paddling through the maze of a braided stream with the power of whitewater rapids; Chulung would be forced to switch between navigating downstream and fighting upstream with every turn. He could not avoid this maze by crossing during the incoming tide, because he would be bowled over; he could worry about it less if he crossed during the outgoing tide, but he would still have to stay above its deeper currents to avoid being caught on a high point and stranded until the tide rushed back in; or he could cross during slack tide, when it was narrowest but most exposed, if he believed he could paddle fast enough not to be hammered by the bore tide.
He did not decide that night. He would listen to what Cha’an and Aat learned everyday and make his decision based on their guidance and his instinct.
As the sun faded to a smear of purple on the behind the mountain, he watched as they explained what they’d seen as if they were one person with two perspectives.
“The first channel cuts back into the center of the inlet just passed that exposed plain,” said Aat.
“Yes, and then you can either skirt under or above that plain,” added Cha’an.
“But I would cut over it,” Aat said, putting Cha’an’s hand in his lap and looking up at her. “I’ve always found it easier to struggle upriver first and then let yourself be carried down, so that you never have to worry about what’s coming.”
“True,” said Cha’an, then the stars emerged and it seemed like they could no longer see Chulung.
He let them ignore him, and was reminded why he was working so hard. He wanted to share what they shared. He wanted simple phrases to mean something deep and important to Euraka and him, and no one else. He wanted to grow old like them. As long as he sat with there at night, he would not forget the beautiful end that he strove for in his daily toil.
“Thank you,” he said.
The couple rose and wandered into the hills while Chulung remained on the banks, where every night after sunset, he performed his third daily task: he sung. When the rest of his villagers had gone to sleep, the inlet stood slack at high tide, and the stars burned like candles in the sky, he hurled his voice across the Arm, singing louder than he had ever tried. He was sure his voice fell short that first night, but he also knew his strength would grow, and perhaps by the time his kayak was ready, he would be able to draw Euraka from her igloo to meet him on the banks.
* * *
Chulung worked tirelessly, long into the summer. As the days stretched-out like basking lovers, and nearly eclipsed the nights, he squeezed several more hours of daily work out of Erimes. Before the equinox, they had chopped the hull out of the kayak and planed its long, sweeping form. At this point, it would have been done if it were intended for any other journey, but to cut through any spot of mud Chulung might hit, its walls needed to be as thin as a blade of grass and the edge that ran from fore to aft had to be sharp enough to cut Erimes rough hands. This would take several more weeks.
Chulung needed at least that to prepare the other parts of his journey. Cha’an and Aat had learned that the mud flats shifted daily, so they tracked its movements and charted its patterns. The hills and gullies seemed to shift locations as glacial silt was swept in and out of the inlet, like a twice-daily formation of mountains and canyons; and the depth and breadth of these gullies cycled with the moon and strength of the tides. Every other day the couple developed a new system for reading the mudflats they were sure would hold fast and Chulung was elated, only to find an anomaly in their calculations, some small factor they had not considered, that threw everything off and sent Chulung into a deep depression. The only silver lining was that the inter-inlet currents only ran along their banks. When he reached the other bank, he would be able to sit in still water and wait of Euraka to join him.
Every night, whether elated or devastated, Chulung took up his third task with equal vigor. The nights were grew shorter, but his voice grew stronger, so that he was sure his songs would soon reach his true love’s ears. He sung to her about the labor he had endured to make a kayak that would reach her, how it had finally given him the strength and determination of a man, and how the mudflats seemed uncrossable, but he would prod his mind until it ached to solve any problem that would give him her hand. And on the short, fierce summer night of the solstice, he sung to her about how the whole world was changing on that day.
The sun and the moon do realign
And a new wind sweeps the tundra
My love, too, will be fulfilled
And yours will spark asunder
Our passion will spread across the lands
And change them more than seasons
When I take your hand in mine
Man will know a most bountiful season
With this, Euraka emerged from her sod igloo. The light still burned in the entranceway behind her, so Chulung watched her backlit form saunter to the banks across from him.
He called to her, but she did not respond. He waved his hands and screamed and shouted, and in a short while she turned and walked back into her home. Then Chulung burst forth with song:
Do not leave me!…
She turned and walked back to the banks.
Chulung realized he held the same power over her as he did over the stag. He kept singing, longer and longer, holding her there, standing in the moonlight, gazing over the inlet, but she said nothing. She did not look passionate or reach out to him, but she remained transfixed. Her chest heaved as if burning with desire, but she stood upright and seemed to glower across the moonlit inlet.
Chulung sung until the sun rose, and then his voice slowly cracked into nothing. When his weakened notes were swallowed by the rolling waves, Euraka left the banks, as if freed from a spell, and returned to her home.
Chulung was ecstatic. He turned and ran to the village, sure his day was close at hand.
* * *
On the other side of the Inlet, Euraka walked back into her sod igloo to find her parents awake.
“Where have you been?” Egarak, her mother, cried, leaping into her daughter’s arms.
But Euraka stared only at her father, Chawrob, who brooded at the edge of the room. To her, he appeared to stir with an explosive mix of anger and sadness; she could not tell if he would break into a fit of rage or mass of tears.
Euraka tucked her head into Egarak’s nape and gently sobbed. She could not tell her father the truth – that was obvious. She was sure he would kill them both, even though he had not so much as raised his voice since they left the village.
“Please do not wander at night without telling us,” he said sternly, careful to reserve his reaction until after she spoke. “If anything happened to you, we would have no reason to live, trapped here in exile forever.”
Egarak clasped her daughter’s ears and looked at her husband. “Don’t say that, you’ll upset her,” she whispered.
At these soft syllables, Euraka’s imagination took hold like the silty mud of Turnagain Arm and the girl was drown by her own mind.
“I’m sorry,” Chawrob whispered back. “But if I lost her I would feel guilty for the rest of my life.”
But Euraka did not hear this. She heard him shout, “I can’t tell my own daughter what to do? Your fear of punishing her is how we ended up here!”
Then she heard her mother reply fiercely: “We ended up here because of you and your violent temper!”
At this point in their arguments, Euraka normally screamed uncontrollably and crashed to her knees, shaking, then lied and said anything she thought might stop the vindictive voices. Today, she would have made up a reason she had been out and promised never to leave again. But instead, another voice flooded her mind and soothed her senses. The song of Chulung resonated in her ears and for the first time since they had been on this side of the Arm, she spoke without considering the vision that propelled them there.
“A boy from across the inlet sung to me throughout the night.”
Her parents fell silent. Egarak held her daughter at arm’s length to see her face – to see if she was telling the truth and show her daughter her own shocked expression; and Chawrob rose from the ground nearly shaking with hope. He stuttered, “What, what do you mean?”
Egarak could not tell what had come over her daughter. Her visage looked clouded, like she had entered a trance, but she was speaking more sanely than her mother could remember. She wondered if her daughter was seeing clearly for the first time in her life, or finally being fooled.
“Did you like it?” she asked.
“I loved it,” Euraka sung impulsively, still stirring in her haze of reality.
Egarak and Chawrob both shouted uncontrollably, filling the igloo with their joy.
But their crude hollers snapped Euraka from her waking dream. She shuttered and shrieked, “But I hate him,” piercing the sod walls. Her parents covered their ears and cowered. She pressed on in a fury: “He is trying to woo me with his beautiful voice so that I will suffer like everyone in that vile village!”
Egarak poked her head up when her daughter paused and pleaded, “The village is not vile. What happened only happened once! The village could be a changed place now. And your father and I are changed people.”
But Egarak was not arguing on her daughter’s plain of logic. Euraka did not even comprehend the events to which her mother referred. She heard her mother blame her father outright, and then heard her father retaliate in a violent rage. She clutched her own ears and fell to the ground now, screaming and shaking as she had wanted to do from the beginning.
Her mother fell on top of her and held her nails far away from her eyes, but this time her daughter lunged not for her sight, but her hearing. She tried to jamb her fingers in her ears and Egarak could not stop her. She looked up at her husband desperately. He fell on top of them both and held the girl’s arms behind her back. Egarak did not help him, but buried her head in his chest and sobbed. “What have we done? What have we done to deserve this?”
* * *
Chulung stormed into his village and shouted for all to hear, “I will cross the inlet on the next slack tide!” He shot a glance to Erimes, who was already awake and sharpening the edge of their kayak. “Is it ready yet?” he asked.
Erimes knocked on the hull and it boomed like a perfectly hollowed drum. He ran his rough hand down its front edge, and blood poured from his palm. He smiled at the boy. “It’s ready,” he said. Then he threw his head back and thundered at the heavens, “Chulung’s kayak is ready! He will cross Turnagain Arm at slack tide!”
His parents, Aat and Cha’an where the first to reach the village center. They wrapped him in their loving arms, and Ooagra asked, “What happened?”
“Let the villagers gather and I’ll tell you all,” Chulung sung.
The rest of the villagers were quick to follow. They woke to the sound of growing festivities and emerged from their igloo to find Chulung at the center of the celebration. They quickly guessed what today would bring, and rushed to crowd around him, shouting, “What has happened? Will you leave today?”
“Yes!” announced Chulung. “I have finally thrown my voice across the inlet and Euraka has heard me!”
The crowd erupted in celebration.
“I sung about the changing of seasons, and the changing of hearts, which can be just as profound, and it touched her. Euraka emerged from her house, swaggered down to the banks, and listened to me the whole night through, until my voice held out no longer.”
“Then what?” one of the villagers shouted.
Chulung paused and lowered his head, thinking. For a moment he didn’t remember what she had done, and when he did, he felt deflated. Why had she turned and walked away? Why didn’t she sing back to him? Maybe he had grown too excited by her mere attentiveness and rushed back to his village like a fool in love, like a child proud he had speared a wounded bird.
“No,” he said aloud, but to himself.
“What was that?” Ooagra whispered.
“No,” Chulung said, raising his voice. “She was thrilled by my song, to remain on the banks all night long. She could not sing back only because the distance is too great for anyone but me. If she could have, she would have shouted. She would have said she loved me.”
He dropped his head again and spoke under his breath. “She went back into her home when I had finished because…” He threw his head up proudly, excited with his own conclusion. “Because she wanted to tell her parents what had happened – that she had fallen in love, and I would surely come for her tonight!”
The crowd rang out in a chorus of cheers.
“Slack tide is not far away!” Aat cried over the celebration.
“Let us go to the Arm,” Cha’an continued for her husband. “We must track today’s lay of the mudflats as the tide creeps out!”
The festivities redoubled.
“Come, grab your kayak!” Erimes hollered.
“No!” Ooagra screamed, lunging between the crowd and the seal hunter, holding each at bay with opposite hands.
The crowd fell silent. An odd tension swelled in the gathering. Chulung stepped toward his father. “What is wrong?” he asked.
Ooagra did not look at him, but turned to Erimes. “Let the others carry the kayak to the bank. I still have something to tell the boy.”
Erimes nodded knowingly at the father, then threw his gaze over the crowd and shouted, “Let’s carry this vessel to the banks and ready the path for our hero!”
The crowd shouted again and charged toward the kayak, but Chulung ignored them this time and followed his father, who walked away from them, away from the banks.
“What is it father,” he asked, concerned.
“There is something you must know,” he said gravely. “Something you must know about your future journey.”
* * *
Euraka was born during the transition from the era of warriors to the era of lovers. People had not yet established the place for marriage in the age of amorousness. Chawrob clung to the security of the past and wanted his wife to be his alone, prepared to provide for him any time he needed her; but Egarak was a woman of the time and felt vindicated in laying with whomever she pleased, and more importantly, whoever pleased her.
When Euraka was a girl, she was heralded as the daughter of her era. Her extreme beauty and subtle mannerisms enchanted everyone. They proclaimed that she was not the daughter of Chawrob and Euraka, but of every couple in the village, because of their amorous ways, and all children of the new era would be as beautiful and self-assured as she.
But Chawrob burned with anxiety as he watched his daughter grow. He suffered enough knowing that he shared his wife with others – it would be unbearable if his daughter became a vixen, too. As her breasts began to press against her caribou skins, he grew nervous and lashed out at everyone. He knew they would all want to lay with her the day she was ready – a grotesque orgy would be held with his daughter at its center, being penetrated by a hundred despicable tongues. But she was soon filled with the spirit of the times, and someone had to tell her father so.
As the bore tide built against the groundswell and dusk approached, Egarak entered their home with a young boy named Ooagra. Chawrob turned away and faced the sod wall, but Egarak pressed on, undeterred. “Our daughter is ready,” she said boldly.
“Why is that boy in home?” he snapped.
“This is Ooagra,” she barked back, then calmly brushed the boy’s shoulder and continued. “He and Euraka have spent much time together. They sit along the inlet, watching the tide storm in and out, and touch fondly; but they have yet to consummate their love.”
Chawrob turned back to the pair and glowered.
Ooagra stumbled backward, terrified, but Egarak held him firmly.
“And they never will,” Chawrob shouted.
“They will soon,” Egarak said, nodding defiantly. “And you should be happy that it will be with someone as sensitive as Ooagra. He is a very tender lover.” She brushed his shoulder again, this time sensuously, to demonstrate just how tender he could be, and Ooagra swooned under her touch.
The image of this boy laying with both his wife and his daughter flashed in front of Chawrob’s mind, and he dashed across the room and punched Egarak in the face. Ooagra threw himself between them and cowered, but Chawrob smashed him to the ground, as well. He kicked the boy out of his home, and when he finally scrambled to his feet and sprinted to the center of the village, Chawrob turned back to his wife. He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her around the house, smashing everything that would break with her abused body.
The villagers whipped into a flurry at what Ooagra told them. They charged Egarak’s house to stop the violence. Only one member of the village was not present.
Euraka never learned what happened that night, despite what her parents still believed. She sat along the banks of the Arm when her people stormed her home, anxious for the water to pour back into the inlet. As the violence unfolded behind her, and the stars ignited overhead, she imagined her body like the inlet – the most vital element of life, the mother of it all, cloaked in mystery. Where did it come from? How exactly did it create? She yearned to be filled like the inlet, but the words of her father resonated in her head, demanding that she and her mother wrap themselves in winter clothes before they leave the house.
Then, as the villagers exploded into Egarak’s entranceway, Euraka had a profound vision of Raven. Two beautiful specimens of the god circled overhead, playfully biting at each others tail feathers and necks. When their dance reached its climax, they crashed down onto the mudflats and sloppily mounted one another. They writhed and rolled in the silty trap. Euraka was both excited and disgusted, as if she was herself taking part in the act.
Then the bore tide broke. She sprung to her feet, filled with the depth and breadth of human pity for the helpless creatures. But one proved to be helpless, and the other hurtful. One shoved the other deep into the mud and propelled itself into the air at the very moment the bore tide swept across its talons and buried its lover.
Their genders were unclear – they could have both been men or woman, or a woman could have buried a man – but Euraka was sure a man buried a woman. That was the only image that resonated with her. She was positive this was a sign from Raven that if she ever loved, she would suffer as the bird had suffered. Her father would grow angry; her mother would be punished; and she would ultimately be punished.
After Chawrob was subdued and all the villagers slept, Euraka snuck into her parents room and robbed them from their sleep. In her father’s extreme guilt, he did exactly what she told him. He stole the wooden kayak of Erimes, their great seal hunter, placed his battered wife in the hull, paddled his family over the channels Euraka had just observed, and upon reaching the other bank, burned the vessel.
On this side of the inlet, Chawrob and Egarak’s roles were profoundly reversed. Chawrob yearned to give her daughter to another man – he burned to show the world he had truly repented and would be proud to watch his daughter love – and Egarak was content to love only her husband, for she truly did love him, and now she knew he had no reason to reproach her.
Only Euraka remained the same, starving herself and clinging to a shadowy vision of Raven.
Her parents constantly tried to repent for the wrong they had done that drove her across the Arm. But since they did not speak the language of her vision, she never heard a word they said. And besides, they lacked the vessel or the skill to craft a new one that would carry them back across the inlet. They prayed to Raven everyday that someone would cross the Arm for them who could speak to their daughter.
* * *
Ooagra remembered that night on this day. As he walked his son to the inlet, he recalled the tender touch of Euraka and the hard fist of Chawrob. He wanted desperately for his son to win the heart he could not.
“So there is no way she could have known what happened that night,” he said, stopping on the cusp of the crowd and turning to Chulung. A thin wisp of black hair whipped across his son’s face, but his hazel eyes looked more resolved than ever. Ooagra placed his hand on his shoulder. “She does not believe that love has failed, but that love is a failure, so you must speak to her deepest beliefs.”
Chulung sensed exactly what those beliefs were. After all, he shared the impulse of Raven. If he let his urge to sing guide him, he was sure he would soon grasp the celestial orbs of his own dreams.
“I understand,” he said. “But do you think I need to fear Chawrob. How do you know he does not hold her captive.”
Ooagra shook his head and smiled wryly, easing Chulung’s fears. “He never could have done that,” he said. “He was too weak. If he were stronger in his convictions, he would have left long before. No, when they disappeared, we knew it was Euraka’s doing. She was the strong one. But no woman will be able to resist this.” He drew a small bowl from inside his hide shirt that was filled with a whitish-clear cream. “This is the tallow from the first stag you slaughtered.” He scooped a dollop onto his fingers and spread it across his son’s forehead and neck. “It is the most powerful musk a man can wear – a sign that you are a strong provider.”
Chulung hugged his father tightly, then held him at arms length and said, “I am ready.”
“Go,” shouted Ooagra, and Chulung dashed into the thick crowd holding his kayak.
His people thrust Chulung into the hull and steadied his vessel. As Chulung stared across the inlet, a barrage of lips pressed against his forehead, neck, cheeks, and lips; the words “good luck” tunneled through his ears like in an echo chamber. Then there was silence. Everyone stared forward with him and watched the last stretches of the mudflats emerge. They heard the mighty ocean such her last breathe from the inlet and hold. All was still. The waters were now building against the groundswell, anxious to burst.
Chulung plunged his paddle into the water and shoved off. His people pushed from behind, but their force was minimal compared to Chulung’s at this moment. He tore downstream through the rapids of the first channel like the most seasoned seal hunter. The whitewater tried to force him back into the bank, away from his first switchback, but he jambed his paddle deep into the current and turned broadside against a swell. The wave capsized him – his people screamed from the banks and Kallaope held Ooagra from jumping in after him – but Chulung rolled with its force and emerged right-side up, facing upstream. A step closer to the center of the Arm, the water stood more still. The force that pushed him back was great, but not so great as the current that brushed the banks. He paddled upstream furiously, and soon reached his next turn.
Here, he cut too sharp and caught the edge of a high spot. His rapid battle came to an immediate halt, like a dashing deer caught in the sight of a hunter. He froze, petrified, afraid to stick his paddle in the enveloping mud, and turned back to his people.
Erimes burst through the front of the crowd, raised his hands, and snapped his body – from palm to waist – like a spruce switch. “Shake free!” he yelled.
Chulung did exactly as Erimes – he raised his paddle above him and snapped his torso forward, shoving against his kayak and dislodging the vessel. He did not look back again. After this turn, there was very little current. His only obstacle now was time. The bore tide was building.
As he raced through the gentle curves and skimmed over shallow water, his curious mind began to wander. He thought about Euraka’s story of beauty and selfishly coveting the treasure that was herself, and his own story of song and lulling people from their inhibitions. Then, for the first time in his life, he likened himself with Raven. Euraka’s love was the treasured orbs and he would set them free to light the world!
Raven sailed over the seas
To the end of earth
And freed the stars!
Now I sail the inlet
To the edge of earth
To free your eyes!
Chulung now pulled into the long, meandering channel that skirted the opposite bank. He pulled his paddle from the water, lay it across the hull of the kayak, and drifted downstream, nearing Euraka’s house.
I will love you
Like Raven loves
But you will be
More than I know
Our love will be even greater
Than the dreams of Raven!
Chulung’s people wondered why he didn’t pull the kayak above the tidal line and run to her house to find her. If she had been wooed by his song, and already told her parents she would leave with them, why didn’t he go to them and wait for the next slack tide to bring them back? What held him back?
Chulung was afraid. He skirted the bank, nervous to leave his kayak. A light burned in the igloo, but no one stirred. He thought he faintly heard an argument.
“I think she is slipping further away from us,” he heard a woman say.
“Why do you think that?” a man asked.
“You heard her – she’s hearing voices,” the woman replied.
“Maybe someone was actually singing to her.” The man’s voice was rising.
“Then where has she gone today? There is no one out there singing now!”
“She left because you started arguing with me in front of her again!”
Chulung was baffled. He called out to the couple. “I did sing to her last night!” he yelled. “And I have come for her today!”
The igloo fell silent. Chulung peered into the entranceway but could see nothing. He wondered why this couple could be scared of their beautiful daughter; he wondered why she was not home, where she had gone, and why she had not emerged to his voice; and he wondered why her parents remained inside – why they would be afraid of what they yearned for.
Then Euraka emerged for the mountains and all of Chulung’s questions were answered.
She charged over the foothills with frightening speed, stumbling over every rock and divot in her way, cutting her face and hands and twisting her ankles, but rolling hard, jumping to her feet, and pressing-on ever-harder, a thick sea otter pelt tied over her eyes and ears with the fur-side inward, blinding and deafening her to the world, and specifically, to Chulung. She waved an ulu over her head wildly and looked deranged enough to kill him.
Chulung did not flee at first, thinking there was no way she could find him with the pelt around her eyes, but then he turned into the wind and caught a whiff of himself over the pungent brine. He wreaked of caribou tallow.
Maybe she did not realize she was pursing him? he thought. Maybe she believed she was chasing a caribou? But why had she covered her eyes? No, he admitted to himself, his people had been using that scent for musk since his father loved Euraka. She knew that scent was him. She had blinded herself to block out the one person who could make her love, and now she yearned to kill him while she had the chance. Either way, she neared, and the sharp edge of her blade gleamed above her head, poised to slash down across his throat. His greatest fears were true. She did not love him, she was only wood by his songs like the innocent stag. Perhaps no one had ever loved him.
With his heart rending under his chest as his mind pounded with fear, he turned his kayak back toward his people and shoved off the bank. His villagers could not see the pelt around Euraka’s eyes from their distance. They wondered why he was abandoning her, wondered what they had done wrong. And to their horror, at that same moment, the bore tide broke over the ground swell.
Chulung felt their disappointment and fear from across the inlet and sobbed as he pushed away. He threw his voice into the wind one last time, so that he could at least explain himself to his people, so that he could honestly assert he tried his hardest.
You will be
More than I know
He cried, in the most heartfelt chords of his life. And as he sang them, Euraka tripped one last time, and a jagged rock sliced the sea otter pelt off her face.
She jumped into the inlet, still determined to kill him, with her ulu raised above her head. She was poised to land on his vessel when she noticed he shared the profile of the only man she had ever loved, years ago, and heard the words,
Our love will be even greater
Than the dreams of Raven!
For the first time since she had witnessed one raven kill another, someone spoke to her, and he promised her a greater love. With that face in her sight, those words in her ears, and that smell in her nostrils, she called to him. “I love you!” she shouted.
Shocked by her words, Chulung turned his kayak, and like a hero looking back into the mouth of hell, he pulled the vessel out from under her feet. Her ankles sunk into the mudflat, and she was stuck.
In that moment, in Euraka’s face, he realized she had truly loved him – more than anyone ever had. But he also realized what responsibility this brought. He had released the celestial orbs of her passion, but she was more than those orbs, more than her passions. She was also the giant and his daughter, keeper of those orbs. And when Raven ripped the sun and moon and stars from them, he robbed them of their creation and their treasure all at once. Chulung had not stopped to consider this when his father told him Euraka had chosen not to love. Now the bore tide broadsided him and blasted him underwater.
From the other banks, his people watched Turnagain Arm swallow Euraka in one gulp and roll Chulung under its long, thundering wave. When the wave threw his kayak onto the bank some distance later, it remained as strong and buoyant as Erimes had crafted it, but it was empty. All hope was lost.
Under the inlet, with the mud rising above her waist and the water far above her ears, Euraka did not hear their cries, nor the scream of Chulung as he was slammed against a rock; she heard only the sound that could comfort her as she sucked her last breath. She heard her parents bickering behind her.
It is your fault she wont marry – you coddled her!
It is your fault for teaching her to disobey me!