Spirit Of The Caribou by Ken McBroom
The Monarch rose at the first sign of light on the eastern horizon. The herd would not follow until the sun rose above that horizon and the chill of dawn moved them on the long journey to their wintering grounds. The Monarch had learned that the hunters from the rocks would not attack a single caribou as he had lead the herd through the river valley for four seasons.
The young hunters were away chasing Hare and Ptarmigan with their bows as the veterans of the hunting party prepared arrows and throwing spears. The spears were used to dispatch the animal after the shot from the bow had downed them. This helped save the much labor-invested arrows for longer shots.
The party had been waiting several days and nights. The lookout, among the rocks, had served them well for many seasons. Anticipation ran high among the hunters, as the Shaman had seen much blood run from the mouth of their oracle, which meant great success for this hunt and a comfortable winter for them all.
Nukgan was the youngest of the hunting party and the son of the best hunter in the village and his grandfather had been best before him. There was great pressure on Nukgan to help provide much needed meat and furs for the winter. Nukgan remained at the lookout with his father and the other hunters as the sighting of the herd was of great importance and although he decided to stay he was pleased when one of the young hunters returned with a fresh Hare or ptarmigan for the fire.
Nukgan was the first to spot the lone monarch as it rounded the river bend. The young hunter was unable to hold in the excitement and began to point in the direction of the great beast. Nukgan’s father was quick to scold his son then instructed him to fetch the young hunters in the rocks and return quietly for the hunt to come.
When all was assembled Nukgan was given a lesson in respecting the great Caribou and it’s spirit. He knew not to point at the animal but the excitement had clouded his judgment hoped he had not offended the Great Caribou Spirit and the hunt would be as successful as they believed.
The lone Caribou slowly made his way up the river valley leading the same herd that Nukgan’s Grandfather had hunted at his age. The Monarch knew the hunters were hidden in the rocks but offered his herd to them as a gift. The Monarch looked to his rear letting the hunters know his herd was following.
The hunters sat motionless as the Lone Monarch passed below. Even the veteran hunters could not refrain from looking at the great beast even though they knew it was wrong.
Nukgan nudged his father to scold him for looking then they both smiled at this great moment in their lives as they prepared for the coming of the herd. The clicking of many thousand hooves grew louder in the valley and visions of savory stew and warm parkas danced in each man’s mind.
Nukgan hid among the rocks, as the clicking sounds grew louder drowning the prayers of each hunter as they gave thanks for the returning herd and the Great Caribou Spirit. The herd was now visible and would be in range soon. Nukgan glanced in the direction of the Lone Monarch in hopes of a final glimpse. When Nukgan finally spotted the Monarch he was looking directly into his eyes as if to say. “I will see you next winter my friend and enjoy my gift to you and your people once again, a gift to you for sharing and tending to our lands for so long.” Then the Monarch turned and disappeared like a ghost into the rocks.
Nukgan now had a story of his own to tell around the fire and smiled as his father jumped from his hiding spot and charged the herd with bow and spear. Nukgan looked around quickly and was stunned at the number of Caribou before him even more spectacular than he had imagined.
Finally Nukgan charged focusing on one animal and one spot for his target just as his Father had taught him. The point of the spear found that spot and the caribou fell. It was Nukgan’s first kill and with the spear his Grandfather had given him as a gift, leaving the fate of himself and the village in the hands of Nukgan and the others.
Much the same, the Lone Monarch will grow old and weak and a new leader will emerge around that same bend in the river one day. The same bend they have traveled for so very long leading the herd to Nukgan and his people yet another winter and once again thanks will be given to the Great Spirit Of The Caribou.