Authors: James D. Doss
JAMES D. DOSS
James L. Smith of Los Alamos
Nancy Jean Smith of Colorado Springs
and to the fond memory of
â¦ all of South Carrollton, Kentucky.
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem â¦
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die â¦”
“The shaman usually left orders for the patient to follow. These prescriptions were given to the doctor by his power. They might include painting the face in a certain fashion, praying before sunrise, avoiding certain foods, and, if his powers so directed, giving the patient a new name.”
Anne M. Smith,Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Ethnography of the Northern Utes
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JAMES D. DOSS THE NIGHT VISITOR
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ABOUT THE PUBLISHER
E HAS SEEN
it all before. A thousand thousand timesâ¦ and more. It happens so quicklyâwithin a few beats of his heart.
A thunderous roar; a yellow arc flashes by his face.
Must escapeâ¦ runâ¦ run â¦
but his feet are rooted in place.
There is a thin whistling sound â¦
a sudden, mind-numbing pain.
Filthy water fills his mouthâ¦ he strugglesâ¦ gags.
Bones snap like dry twigs.
He sees the yawning mouth of the pit â¦
is swallowed up in darkness.
Someone comesâ¦ someone merciful.
It is Death. She whispers to himâ¦ caresses his face.
Pain slips away like melting wax.
It is over.
There isâas the sage has rightly saidâan appointed time for a soul to come into the worldâ¦ and also a time to leave it. Before the first is an unremembered history; after the last, an eternal mystery. These are subjects best left to philosophers, mystics, and poetsâand others so inclined to squander away precious hours pondering the unknowable. For those of a more practical nature, there is a quite interesting period nestled between birth and deathâwhere the most remarkable things are apt to happen.
No one has a more practical nature than Daisy Perikaâthat sly old soul who lives near the mouth of
CaÃ±on del Espiritu.
It comes from experience. The Ute woman is filled to the brim with bone-dry summers and marrow-chilling winters. Each of these seasons has salted her days with those ingredients that make a life palatable. Hard times. Unexpected blessings. Hunger that gnaws at the soul. Merry dancing and feasting. Solemn burials sanctified in mournful songâ¦ shrill cries of those newly come into the dawn.
She has known the warm morning of youth, the cool twilight of old age. And now that darkest of dark nights draws near. These should be days for rest and contemplation, the old woman knows. A time to prepare her spirit for the journey into that eternal worldâ¦ where she will be forever young. But this present worldâwith its multitude of annoyances, problems, and difficultiesâis a very great distraction. By way of example â¦
Not having a telephone.
Arthritis in her knee joints.
The fact that her favorite nephew is still a bachelor.
Charlie Moon should be raising himself a family, bringing
his children out to see her. Daisy Perika has made herself a most solemn promise. She will refuse to die until he marries himself a wifeâand that is that.
Once Charlie has a wife to worry about, maybe the Ute policeman will stop nagging her about moving into Ignacio. The Ute elder is quite content to spend her days here in the wilderness. Daisy is, in fact, quite snug in her small trailer. Her home, though it may seem modest, is a way station at the entrance to that great canyon where she hears haunting echoes of words yet unspoken. In this special place, she knows that comfortable security of one who
And well she should. The shaman has plied her arcane craft here for seven decades. She gathers black-stemmed maidenhair fern from the cool depths of the Canyon of the Spirits; she plucks antelope horns from the arid wastelandsâbut will not touch the dangerous jimson weed.
When her aching legs would carry her there, the old woman scours the windswept roof of Three Sisters Mesa for the purplish-blue flower of the cachana, which is also called Gayfeather and Rattlesnake Master. This hardy herb is useful for a variety of ailmentsâand as a talisman to protect Daisy's fearful clients from
mal de ojo.
The Ute elderâthough hardly a timid soulâdoes not journey to the lofty crown of the mesa more often than is absolutely necessary. Apart from the difficulty of the ascent, this is a holy place, and therefore dangerous to mortals. Here, shimmering ghosts of the Old Ones walk even at noondayâand the pine-scented west winds never cease their melancholy moanings. When the sun sets, there is a black elderberry bush that bursts into scarlet flameâ¦ but is not consumed. Moreover, every living thing waits in rapt expectation for the signal that this world is about to endâthat long rumble of thunder preceding the final, cleansing storm. A cluster of gnarled piÃ±ons lingers here as a stalwart congregation, patiently awaiting the arrival of One who
will appear as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the westâ¦ when all of the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
And so the Ute shaman climbs the mesa but seldomâ¦ and makes haste to depart before the bush is touched by fire.
From her store of pulpy roots and succulent leaves, those delicate petals of pearly pink blossoms. Daisy brews concoctions both practical and problematical. There are varied purposes for her prescriptions, ranging from the ordinary to the exalted. This sly old physician treats a whole host of common complaints, from nosebleed and menstrual cramp to bite of snake and sting of wasp. Any day of the week, the shaman can conjure away bumble wart or other unseemly blot of skin. With one hand tied behind her back Daisy Perika can ward off vengeful ghost, malicious water-babyâ¦ or other such shadowy presence.
The Ute shaman is, of course, not without peers in her chosen field of work.
It is true that there are a few Navajo hand-tremblers and Apache mystics who wield similar powers. There is a very old black man in Pagosa who can mumble away warts from any part of your body. And there is the ninety-pound Cajun woman the locals call Fat Nelda. She plies her dark art in a rusting yellow school bus just south of Mancos, survives on a diet of green tea, pretzels, and Norwegian sardines. This remarkable
(so it is claimed) can conjure sturdy new teeth into the gums of old crones and fresh crops of hair onto the shiny heads of those unfortunate men who suffer from an excess of testosterone. She does this for a fat price, of courseâand thus the skinny woman's name. Fat Nelda also sports a black eye of polished jet in her left socket, and claims to see tomorrow and even next week through this opaque orb. Other than these few eccentricities, she is an altogether uninteresting character.
Daisy Perika's enterprises extend beyond her medical practice. Because of the Ute blood that throbs in her mottled veins, another privilege is hers by birthright. The old shaman has frequent conversations with the
âthat mischievous dwarf-spirit whose underground dwelling is not so far away. His home is an abandoned badger hole in the Canyon of the Spirits. Theirs is an uncomplicated arrangement. The first requirement is that the shaman must take the little man a gift. A small cotton sack of fragrant smoking tobacco. A few turquoise beads on a string. A pearl-handled pocketknife.
This is how it works â¦
Leave the offering by the badger hole. Now sit down just over thereâ¦ under the old piÃ±on. Lean your head against its rough bark. Take your rest. Sleep. And dream. The dwarf will slip into your visionsâ¦ and tell you such strange tales. Accounts of great adventures long pastâ¦ and of others yet to be. Of spirits who come disguised as whirlwinds. Of mysterious wanderers who come from unimaginably distant places.