Prickly Pear Spirituality:
Stories from the Southwest
"Shaman of Wands"
"Shaman of Wands"
A sound, like sizzling sparks from exposed high wires, disturbed the quiet of the hot desert air. My dog Delilah, a fun-loving Old English Sheep Dog mix, barked and wouldn’t stop. I’d been reading my friend Yarrow’s tarot cards, even though I didn’t really know how. She was the tarot reader. She insisted that I let her know what was going on between her and her Yaqui chief husband. She’d giggled when I said I couldn’t. In her little girl’s voice she’d said, “Why, any woman can read the cards, and especially you.”
We were sitting cross-legged on a rug in my yoga and meditation center in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills in Arizona. I’d been examining the Shaman of Wands card in the Motherpeace deck, using a relationship spread, when that loud buzzing started up. Yarrow leapt up and out onto the adobe brick porch. I tore out after her. In the flower bed next to the sliding glass doors was an enormous rattle snake, coiled to strike, rattling its tail.
I grabbed Delilah’s collar and held her back. “Hold on, girl, hold on.”
Yarrow bent over and started talking to the snake. “Grandfather. Please don’t hurt my friend’s dog.” She spoke low and soft, a mumble of words. “Settle down, Grandfather; go back into the desert sand. Go back into hiding among your relatives, the giant saguaros and the barrel cactus. Wait there for the small beings, the rabbits and the mice, the ones who are ready for you to take them.”
Delilah was shaking and so was I. Hoping for some sign, I gazed over at the saguaro cactus, with its leathery, accordion-like skin, towering above my adobe house, its arms reaching to the sky. The rattler uncoiled and slithered away. Yarrow stared at me with a vacant look, her usually tanned face white, her brown hair limp. “Angelo doesn’t want you to read the cards for me.”
“What?!” I said, as I looked around for my husky. “Where’s Shaman? Come here, boy.” I ran the perimeter of the ocotillo fence that surrounded the swimming pool, and no Shaman. “The gate’s open. How did the gate get opened! I raced out and called some more.
“Oh, please don’t hurt my friend’s husky,” said Yarrow, as she followed me out the gate.
My stomach was doing deep sea dives. “What are you talking about?!”
“Angelo…his totem, besides deer, is rattlesnake. Don’t you remember? His hat band is a rattlesnake skin.”
I hadn’t remembered that, but I had remembered visiting their home amidst creosote bushes and prickly pears, near the Tucson Mountains. I’d been sitting, cooled by the overhead fan, on a faded bedspread, where Yarrow and I had been talking. We’d just returned from a walk through the graveyard. She’d gone out to get something in another room. Angelo appeared at the doorway, pausing ever-so-briefly, in the posture of a deer, his eyes wide and doe-like, looking straight at me. No…into me.
Now I reminded Yarrow of that scene. She smiled. “Yeah…he liked you. He doesn’t show himself to just anyone.”
And I’m thinking, when am I going to get it that medicine people can be dangerous. “Come on. Let’s go find Shaman.”
You’d think, after Yarrow had talked that rattlesnake into leaving my back porch, she’d be able to find my dog, but instead she dragged along behind me like a child who’d lost its rag doll.
We zigzagged over the hard-packed sand, around the cholla cactus and the Palo Verde trees, calling for Shaman. I was very careful where I stepped. We slid down a shallow ravine into the deep sand of an arroyo, and scramble up the other side, heading in the direction of Mount Lemon that rose high above the hills. At the top of a knoll, in front of the Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch, there was my husky, poking around the flowers lining an adobe wall.
That night I dreamed of the Native American deer dance, woke up feeling uneasy. Shaman, Delilah, and I went for our morning walk along the arroyo across Hacienda del Sol Road. About three hours later, when Shaman had not followed me home as he usually did, I called the humane society in hopes that someone might have found him and turned him in.
“Yes,” the guy said, “We have your do…” But then he was silent. “Ma’am. Someone brought your dog in. He’s dead. A car ran over him.” He paused. “I’m sorry…do you want to come and pick him up?”
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pick him up. I’d saved him just one year ago from a pet shop, to the tune of $400. I’d paid $20 for Delilah. When I happened upon him in that pet store, Shaman had grown too big for his cage, and was circling, chasing his back foot. And I fell in love with that yellow-eyed, red Siberian Husky. For the first several months I had him, his eyes didn’t see, didn’t look at you with recognition. He didn’t understand human touch. He didn’t understand that you don’t mess in your own bed. Then, bit by bit, his eyes had brightened, got that far-seeking, mysterious look of his breed. He had begun to lean into me when I hugged him, sinking my fingers into the down of his fur.
Now I couldn’t bear to see him dead. I’d trusted him to run happy and free while we walked through the desert. I wanted to remember him that way. People had warned me that huskies run away. But he was never more than five minutes behind me.
After a few days of non-stop tears, I called my friend Berneice Falling Leaves, an elder, to seek advice.
“Your dog took a hit for you,” she said.
That night a couple of friends and I went out into the desert, lit a fire, and did a little ceremony for my dog, under clear desert sky, stars sprinkling down out of the August Perseids. A great horned owl swooped, settled in a saguaro, and hooted. I went ahead and did what Berneice said to do. I imagined Shaman standing there, looking at me with those eyes, like he knew everything there was to know. Then I called out to him, “Run, Shaman, Run!”