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Shadow Of The Serpent: A Coyote Moon Story
by James Joseph
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William D. Bushnell, September 5, 1997 Brunswick Times-Record
Ancient Native American lore, spirituality and philosophy are brought to vivid life in James Joseph's first novel, Shadow of the Serpent. Using a compelling blend of fact, fiction and fantasy, Joseph spins an adventure yarn full of action, mystery and intriguing parables ...
This is a rousing, action-packed story, but its real strength lies in its parables, the moral lessons of life and nature that bring harmony and purpose to our lives. Sequannah learns that loyalty and sacrifice for the family, the good of all, are more important than individual desires of safety. Groups of people might be different in many ways, but they are the same in the ways that count. Good will always triumph over evil if people will set aside their differences and work together toward a common goal.
Joseph's well-crafted narrative is detailed, varied and colorful, offering a fascinating insight into the religions, customs, traditions and rituals of early Native American life. Complex and tightly woven plotting provides suspense and excitement. Sequannah is an enduring and convincing character, and apparently, Joseph thinks so too, as he is already planning a sequel and perhaps a complete series of Coyote Moon stories.
This action-packed adventure is a tale of epic proportions, steadily luring the reader into an indigenous mindset, and providing the experience of facing a civilization with fantastic powers. A haunting and entertaining blend, destined to bring about a whole new genre of fiction.
"What does my young scout find this morning?" mused the seasoned warrior.
"Only a couple of sparrows," Sequannah answered meekly.
"Did you notice the sun move higher in the sky than we wished it to be when we leave?" Petawahin chided. Sequannah stared blankly towards the musty, wet buffalo robe at his feet.
"Know what others can see as well as yourself. Many will depend on you for their survival," Petawahin warned. "Carry the food and those buffalo robes today. You need to make yourself stronger."
"I will grow strong carrying meat back to the clan," Sequannah said confidently. Petawahin glanced sternly at him. Their hunting plans did not include large game on this trip, and arrogance was not tolerated until after a successful hunt. Sequannah's expression showed a sudden realization of his lack of humility, but his father became distracted.
Petawahin held a hand over his mouth to signify silence. He leaned an ear to the west. Sequannah noticed a faint buzzing, then silence. Petawahin appeared uneasy with the sound of cicadas at dawn. The air would become that of a sweat lodge.
"You will have to be stronger than me," Petawahin warned. "There are more Paccu tracks around here every year. During the coyote moon, there were more new stories about the Snake people than old ones. From what the other clans say, they have come back, and the words that have filled our teepees in the coyote moon...words older than the grandfathers' grandfathers, are true."
"Do you think the Paccus will be friendly?" Sequannah worried. "Or are they with the Snake people?" During the winter gathering, many horrifying stories had been circulating through the southern villages. The Snake people were not new. The old legends were laced with tales of a vicious people and their strange snakes. But they were thought to have disappeared long ago. And many thought they were just stories, created to pass the time in the dead of winter, when the people huddled in wickiups, and coyotes cried their hunger to the moon.
"We will not know that until they know we are here, that we claim this to be ours when we come here each summer...and this they shall know soon," Petawahin stated. "This we must show them, but first we must find out what kind of people they are before we decide how to show them."
"How do you know the Paccus do not already know we are here?" Sequannah asked.
"If you hid your tracks well, you would not have to ask. But I hid them for you. It is late for worry now. No one has seen any of their tracks around the camp, only out here beyond the lake. They do not hide their moccasin sign, so they must not know we are here," said Petawahin. "We'll scout the small ponds and see if we can find some geese to hunt."
Sequannah and Petawahin moved cautiously ahead, well beyond the lake where the band had been staying for nearly a moon. Although the Minnecou had only frequented this area for a few summers, they considered it their territory to use as they pleased. Contact with other tribes this far north was rare for the Minnecou, and establishing territory was accomplished simply by returning each year. Further south, most of the lands had been established for countless generations, and the only way of acquiring more territory would be through invitation or by routing a tribe out of its own domain. The Minnecou, though, had always preferred to summer well north and into the vast unclaimed areas of the plains, tundra, and up to the foothills of the Dark Mountains. Like the many other Minnecou clans, they lived by the trails and roamed the vast prairies to the north and west. During the winter months, they would return from their journeys and have great reunions with those clans called relative to the Minnecou who lived in the permanent villages in the south.
Most of these had been established farming communities for generations that provided fruits and vegetables to sustain the entire Minnecou tribe throughout the winter. In return, clans like the one Sequannah and Petawahin belonged to would bring in supplies of pemmican from bison, antelope, and elk; furs and hides for tanning and trading, flint and anything else of value they could manage to bring back with them. Petawahin was teaching Sequannah how to hunt geese so they would have meat to smoke and cache for the clan's journey back from their northernmost hunting areas.
As they approached the first in a series of small ponds, Petawahin motioned for Sequannah to stay low. Geese take flight if they sense any immediate danger, and like any other animal, they are much more difficult to hunt if they see you first.
"It is best to crawl," whispered Petawahin. "Until we reach those rushes, we will be in full view."
Sequannah crouched down low and carried his decoy carefully so that it slipped silently through the unyielding brush. He enjoyed hunting with his father more than anything else, but spent many more of his days fishing with his grandfather. He liked the fishing and Kwoita's stories, but fishing required no long journeys or tracking or sleeping outside of the lodge. Petawahin spent more time scouting and on the trail than in the Minnecou camps, and the times when he was with the clan, Sequannah most often lingered around the council lodge waiting for him to finish his long meetings with the chief and the Washan. But Petawahin knew the animals, their secrets, and the skills needed to find their trails and ambush them. Although his father had gained most of his knowledge from other elders in the band, Sequannah was certain it was all of his own design.
The two hunters crawled silently, yet skillfully through the rushes. They waited patiently for gentle breezes. The rustling wind obscured the movement of reeds and the crunching of dead leaves and straw. During the still moments, they planned their silent maneuvers.
Midway through the bulrushes, they reached a marshy area and kneaded their way through the warm, soft muck. Still, their pace quickened as it was much less noisy than stepping on dry leaves. Close to the open water, they submerged in the warm pools of the marsh and placed the decoys over their heads. They were made in the old way: from gourds that had been dried in the sun, then cut, shaped, and sewn together in the common shape of waterfowl. Their tawny color seemed to contrast sharply with the colors of real birds. Instead, they aroused the curiosity of ducks and geese that would swim close by to get a look at the new creatures.
Two slots located above the water line allowed the hunters to breathe and find their way around. They carried their spears submerged for when the geese would not swim close enough. But most often, when their quarry was lured in, the hunters would reach out and grab the duck or goose's feet, yanking it underwater quickly so that there would be no time for the bird to honk out a warning. They would then throttle the bird and tie the legs to their breechclouts with rawhide.
The two hunters moved slowly, grabbing onto strands of weeds to pull themselves through the mire until they reached the open water. Here, they scanned the area to see if they could find the geese once again. Sequannah spotted them off to the right in a small cove. About thirty birds floated aimlessly around, occasionally diving or honking.
Petawahin signaled to move in closer. They tread on their knees through the muck and wilted rushes lying on the pond bottom until only a patch of water lilies stood between them and the geese. Petawahin grabbed Sequannah's arm and whispered to him, "Face to the left of the geese and don't look directly at them or they'll spook. I will circle slowly around you and draw their attention to us."
Petawahin moved cautiously around his son, always facing him and glancing through the slots at a small group of curious ganders slowly approaching the edge of the lily pads. Petawahin kept circling as one of the boldest ganders advanced close to the two hunters. Suddenly the gander swerved and all of the geese swam rapidly away. Even the ones in the cove began to paddle down the shoreline. Petawahin sensed something was wrong and whispered to Sequannah, "Quick, move back into the rushes."
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