Raven kept on dancing. He had been dancing for hours. But now it was dark and he was scared. His small fire threw frightening shadows on the rock wall behind him. He was weak from hunger, having taken only a few sips of water since he arrived earlier that day. His voice was so hoarse that he could barely utter the words of his chant. He was sure something was out there in the woods. It was watching him. It terrified him. What was it? Something rustled in the trees! He heard a sharp "crack" and as he turned to face the sound his knees buckled and he fell unconscious to the ground.
Why is it raining? Why is it so cold? Why am I so hungry? Why am I so sore? Where am I? The thoughts crept from a sleepy haze, then crowded and rushed together like so many fish running up a stream. Raven sat up as his surroundings slowly came into focus. He was still tired and confused. Why am I alone? Where are my parents and younger siblings? Where am I? Then he woke up.
Raven was sitting in a rock shelter near the top of a small creek valley a few miles away from his parents' village. Following directions given by his grandfather, he had hiked there the previous morning, bringing along only his fire-making kit, a paint-making kit, and a small skin bag that his mother had filled with water. He checked himself over and found, to his great relief, that he was just fine. He felt a bit embarrassed that he had been so frightened the night before, but he figured other boys who went through the same ordeal probably felt just as scared. He placed a few dry sticks on the coals of his fire and gently blew them into a flame. That was better!
A gentle morning rain spattered outside, making spots in the dusty ground, and splashy spots on the surface of the small creek below the shelter. Watching the rain, Raven thought over the events of the previous night, as his father and grandfather had instructed him. He remembered how weary he had become after hours of strenuous dancing and chanting combined with the effects of food deprivation. Clearly his physical state had affected his mind and elevated his fear, and then he must have fainted. Next came the dream! Now he remembered: a spotted animal—maybe it was a panther but he wasn't really sure—had spoken to him about how he could always depend on certain animals and humans to help him, and Raven would know who those helpers were when he learned how to see where all creatures stood on the Path of Life. Raven was sure this was the message the spotted panther had given him, and he was equally sure that he was going to have to think about it for quite a while, perhaps for many years, before he completely understood the message.
Certain now that he hadn't forgotten any important part of his experience, Raven reached over and picked up the pieces of his paint-making kit that lay next to the fire. He placed a small piece of a soft, red rock in a stone mortar and used a stone pestle to grind it into a powder. He then mixed the powder with blood and animal fat to make a thick, sticky red paint. Dipping his finger into the paint, he outlined the shape of an animal pelt on the rear wall of the shelter near the handprint that he had made the previous day, shortly before he began his dancing. He filled the pelt with spots and traced a curving line to represent the Path of Life. This helped to sharpen his thoughts about the dream, and he contemplated adding some figures along the line to represent the helper animals and people, but he couldn't think of a good way to do this so he disposed of the remaining paint and cleaned up his camp. Maybe he would return some day to finish the diagram, when he had a better understanding of his dream and its message for his life.
Raven started for home. He felt a bit older now, and a little wiser as well.
Contributed by: George Sabo III, Arkansas Archeological Survey