For a while she watched the current carry it back toward the sea, knowing she must follow soon. When she finally returned to the water she had a new reason to be excited, for she saw her people coming now. A shout went up from the villagers, for Yubash's people were returning not by tens and twenties, but by hundreds, by the tens of hundreds, dancing and leaping and splashing and singing up the river they came.
Women and men and children ran to the river banks with nets and baskets, and all day their efforts were rewarded. And still Yubash's people kept coming. From one side to the other the river flashed silver with their presence and the air was thick with alder smoke to welcome them. There were more of them than could fill all the nets and baskets in the village so the rest of Yubash's clan continued upstream, to the place where the river diminished to a trickle, and there they spilled out the substance of their lives onto the rocks and gravel.
When it was all over, the people from the village came to the place at the end of the river. They gathered up the remains of Yubash's kinfolk that had become trapped among the rocks. The villagers took these to deeper water and let them float downstream, so that Raven couldn't pick at them, so that Coyote wouldn't scatter the bones about. This was part of the promise they had made, for only when this was done could the souls of Yubash's people return safely to the sea.
The next generation of Yubash's people emerged from the clay and gravel at the river's origin and heard the sea calling them. They did not look like their parents at all. They were as tiny as your little finger, so that you might take them for so many minnows swimming downstream. They were so tiny that Shaggyback, cooling his heavy behind in the shallows of the river, would glance over his shoulder at them and continue sitting there; so tiny they could swim right through the circles formed by Snowhead's talons when she dove out of the sky; so tiny that Sleekskin patrolling the mouth of the river in all his hunter's pride would not bother to give them chase.
Once they took up their lives in the sea they would learn many things, but for now their thoughts were new and empty. Everything their senses trapped filled them with wonder--the taste of the silt washing down off the river bank, the color of the rocks, the motion of the insects skimming along the surface of the water, the shadows cast by branches across the stream. All these things they took in and held fast, so that in the seasons to come the memory of it all might guide them home again.
© 1996, 2000 ruth pettis