The winter had been mild. Calm. Tranquil. A good deal of rain, never turning to snow, fell on Park. The Hupa people hosted the annual First Peoples’ Autonomous Collective celebration, a great three-day festival held the day before, of and after the Winter Solstice. On December 21st, 2063, a Friday, at 12:22, the Solstice occurred. A great many people had gathered at a bend in the Trinity River in the Hoopa Valley. The great grassy area filled with revelers, several wood-plank and sweat lodges, colorfully painted faces, children playing various games; teenagers played hacky sack, and wool – a hybrid of soccer and old American football. The eldest men and women sat on chairs carved out of trees, padded with handmade cushions, smoking cannabis, talking about the seasons, their memories, and the dreams for their children; holding out their many lined beautifully crinkled hands they gave special sweet treats to the varied toddler or teenager that happened to pass. They separated the treats into ‘just sweet’ and ‘sweet plus,’ giving the latter, cannabis-laced cookies and brownies to teenagers who requested them. Several young adults likewise passed these wise, old mountains obtaining sweets, highs and drops of wisdom.
“Grandma!” Joyful ran over to one of the chairs sitting under an awning of the sweat lodge nearest the river. The River House, the largest of all the lodges, could hold some twenty-and-ten people at a time; adjacent to it stood a circular metal pool, held upright with planks and metal rods; a wood-fired stove, rounded and designed for maximum efficiency, burnt brightly underneath it; the glowing intense fire visible through several small glass apertures on its small, rounded front door, mesmerized its keeper, a young man of sixteen. By degrees the surface started to give off wisps of steam; as the liquid turned to gas, the sun burst through the hazy fog, and the entire valley glowed in celestial light. The diminutive yet peculiarly pellucid sunshine of the Northern Solstice glimmered and refracted from the many waves of the river. Joyful’s brother, Malachi, stood on a stone in the river. He looked out, his thick black hair; his hair, was wedded into locks from the middle to the end, and parted almost perfectly at the top of his head. His face looked up at the smoky sky; his body – an admixture, a mingling of thickness, muscle and agility – revealed itself as he wore a garment of deer-hide; his arms held a long wooden rod that went down to the riverbed, about a meter from the surface, and upwards diagonally over his shoulder another meter. He stood just shy of two meters tall. From his bare feet to his furrowed brow, he was a prepossessing sight to behold.
“Hello, Joyful. I am tired. I am ready to go lie down in the cabin. Could you take me?”
“Yes, I have something to tell you, grandma.” Joyful held out her hand. Her grandmother grasped it, and pulled herself up, then allowed her body weight to slump into Joyful’s left side. Joyful’s grandmother, a woman who had seen so much, had no name. She rejected the English-naming world; she held fast to a belief that the languages of the Native Peoples should be spoken, yet she had a hard time remembering even basic Hupa, despite living only five kilometers from Hoopa Valley for over fifty-and-twenty years. And the language of her tribe, the Lassik, had been hard to find even before the first calamity – what many in the First Peoples’ Autonomous Collective called the arrival of Europeans. Despite Joyful’s grandmother’s reluctance to use English, she often did speak with her granddaughter in Vietnamese, a language the Paine family learnt over three decades ago; the learning of this language, which they had passed on to other First Peoples, originated from a family of twelve that had immigrated from the Bay Area. The Nguyên family had come to Park just before the calamity. Needing housing, Joyful’s grandmother invited them to stay at her home, which they expanded for her. In time, the two families became essentially one, and several of Joyful’s cousins bore the surname, Nguyên-Paine. The two families worked together, synthesized and with great synchronicity became part of those who founded The Merchants and Traders Cooperative Alliance. They employed hundreds in cannabis farms across Park, traded frequently with Marin and enjoyed the respect of most of Park’s denizens.
In broken Vietnamese they spoke, “Bà, tôi tìm thấy tại sao cha mẹ tan vỡ biến mất.” (Grandmother, I found why Shattered’s parents disappeared.)
“Bạn đã tìm thấy gì, và bạn đã chia sẻ với hội đồng?” (What did you find, and have you shared with the council?)
“Cha mẹ anh đã bị bắt, ngay trước khi họ chết, bởi Blue Sphere” (His parents were taken, just before they died, by the Blue Sphere.)
Joyful felt the weight of her grandmother on her left shoulder; fortunately, they had just about arrived at a stone house reserved for elders. Inside, a small wood-fired stove, several chairs, blankets, quilts and cushions, a small bed for one, provided a pleasant respite for the older visitors who came to the winter festivities. About three dozen of these stone huts had been built over the years, mainly clustered around Trinity River Road. Joyful’s grandmother took to the bed and covered herself with several blankets, then propped her head up; her grand-daughter took a seat opposite. Her eyes, so dark, her face so weathered. She will know what to do. I must make tea. She needs to wake up a bit. Getting up she made tea, and after ten minutes of silence, not unusual with her grandmother, a question threaded itself through the walls, creating a kind of claustrophobic embroidery around the two.
“Bạn đã nói với hội đồng lãnh đạo?” (Did you tell the leadership council?)
At that moment, Malachi walked in. The threads loosened a little. He kissed his grandmother on the forehead, and he hugged Joyful. He knew what they were speaking about. Moreover, he wanted to know the outcome. The real question, raised by Joyful, was more complicated.
“Bà ơi, họ có muốn biết không? Họ có thể muốn biết không?” (Grandma, Do they want to know? Can they want to know?)
“Đó không phải là câu hỏi để bạn hỏi, bạn là người nắm giữ thông tin là của chúng tôi – đó là kiến thức phải được chia sẻ chung với mọi người, chúng tôi có thể giữ bí mật với phần còn lại của Park, nhưng chúng tôi không thể giữ bí mật các dân tộc của chúng ta.” (That is not a question for you to ask, you are a holder of information that is ours — it is knowledge that must be collectively shared with the peoples, we can keep a secret from the rest of Park, but we cannot keep it from our peoples.)
“Autumn doesn’t think it’s a good idea.” Joyful, almost unconsciously, switched to English.
“My darling, Autumn has no say in this matter. That’s precedent that precedes the Prime Amendments, and she, of all people, should know that the it is also in the Prime Amendments. We have the right to self-determination. We have have the right to know.”
Malachi shook his head in agreement. Joyful looked at them both.
“I know, she’s just so persuasive. She didn’t come outright and tell me not to speak about what I had found, and I didn’t tell her, but I think she suspects that the information, the knowledge I hold, is so profound it could upend everything.”
“You are in love. And that’s a beautiful, sublime and sacred experience. And if that love extends from her to you, as it extends from you to her, then she will respect our sovereignty. She must not interfere.” Her grandmother, also speaking in English, sipped on the tea, handed the cup to Malachi and said, “I am tired; I need to sleep.”
Later in the evening, the rain ended. A great fire was lit, a huge pit had been dug and filled with logs. People began to dance, sing, and play every sort of instrument: violin, banjo, drum, oboe, flute, song, and so on. Grandma slept deeply, peacefully in her stony hut some four-hundred meters away from the jubilee. Joyful watched the great fire as its embers flew into the cool night sky. The stars. The Milky Way. Another turning of the Earth. She had made her decision. The next day she would tell all those assembled about the Blue Sphere; she would say how its appearance had been documented by both Park civilian defense forces and Marin’s drones. She would tell them that it rescued Shattered’s dying parents. Or that they left with it. Or that it took them with it. She felt the need to organize her mind. She sat all night looking at the great fire; letting the heat of the plasma alternate and mingle with the cool breeze of the mid-winter night; letting the songs, the music, and the laughter pass around and through her. She felt herself. She felt more herself.
*featured image: Hupa man with spear, 1923. A Hupa man with his spear. A smoky day at the Sugar Bowl–Hupa, c. 1923. Hupa man with spear, standing on rock midstream, in background, fog partially obscures trees on mountainsides. A smoky day at the Sugar Bowl Edward Curtis, photographer. Hupa fisherman. A Hupa fisherman—In the early 20th century, Edward Curtis traveled across America recording photographs of the disappearing lifestyle of American Indian tribes. A smoky day at the Sugar Bowl. (Courtesy Wikipedia)
**To learn more about the Hupa People visit here.