I arrived just before dawn. Jerry was already there, and what a beautiful sight as I topped a bend in the road and looked into that small dark valley where the creek meets the river: the orange light of a fire glowing on the trunks of trees.
We fished for hours, languishing in the silence that occurs when you become one with a crawfish crankbait -- and the internal roof-brain chatter diminishes down to a small whispered invitation to an elusive black bass.
We heard them all morning: the crows chasing a hungry hawk, screaming their percussive "caw caw" cries against the ravages of a winged predator who either fears the smaller birds -- or only flees because of their irritating language.
"Hey, look at that!" Jerry said as he pointed over my head.
Directly above me sat a large old crow on a barren branch. It cocked its head and stared at me. I didn't think much of it; had it been a hawk or a great horned owl, I might have thanked the forest gods and stared a bit longer with a sense of awe.
Later that morning, a man pulled up next to our spot. He got out of his old pickup trunk and nodded to me as I sat at a picnic table near the fire.
"How you doin'?" he asked with a smile.
"Fine. Ya'll alright?
"Oh yeah, it's a great day, man. Are y'all going to camp?"
"No, we're just fishing... having a little picnic. Y'all want this spot?"
"Oh sure," he said, "but we don't want to bother you."
"That's okay, we'll be leaving soon and you can have it. You can have our fire, too."
He smiled as he walked closer. I looked in his eyes and thought I glimpsed some distant Divinity.
He asked me my name. I told him -- and asked his.
"I don't usually tell. Well, I don't tell just anybody. I have a name they gave me, but that's not my name. When they let us go, they gave us new identities, new names. White man names."
This short conversation had started out relatively normal, but quickly becoming obscure and mysterious; the reference to 'white' men meant something, but I wasn't sure what. I could tell by his face that he was a full-blooded American Indian: his caramel colored skin, his coal black hair, high cheekbones and those soft, almost Asian eyes.
Who "They" were and how they "let our people go" --- I could only imagine.
"The new name," he continued, "that's not me. I'm Ogallala... and y'know, I don't hate white men, nah, I respect them, yeah, they're okay... y'know... we're all men, of course, but..." his voice trailed off in clouds of ancient dust -- as if a ghost had reminded him, "Hold your tongue."
I smiled as I pointed toward the river landscape, "Hey, so this was originally yours. We're just borrowing it, but I've taken good care of this place. I clean up the trash, pick up the beer cans left by insensitive pigs..."
It took him a second to catch my reference. Finally, he laughed and offered his hand, looking too deep and directly into my eyes. I glasped his hand, but he manipulated it to grasp his forearm while he grasped mine. He pulled me closer.
My name is "Crow" -- that's my real name, the name I had before they changed it. And when we shake hands like this, it's very serious, it's very special. Now, if I meet you in the future, I must give you the coat off my back if you are cold; I must offer you food if you are hungry; I must give you shelter if you need it."
He held my arm tighter.
"That's what this means."