Monday, November 29, 2010

Sitting Around the Fire

Celeste and I spent the last several days in Central Utah enjoying Thanksgiving with a few friends. What I love most about that part of the world is the mind-blowing landscapes and the gobs and gobs of peace and quiet. One day we went on a day-trip over Boulder Mountain and among other things, stopped at the Anasazi State Park in Boulder, Utah. The relentless wind, ever-present in that part of the world, blew right through us making our teeth chatter as we explored with wonder the remains of an ancient people who used to inhabit these lands. We saw their homes they made of rock and mud and imagined what it would look like to live at that time in this harsh environment during the wintertime.
As I looked into their homes, it was clear to see that the interior designer of these small abodes made a striking thematic presence of the small fire in the center of the living quarters. The winter time is the time to go inside, to hibernate, to sit around the fire and hear listen to stories. These stories were not simply to pass the time on long winter days but to help the storyteller as well as the listener to remember their identity, where they came from and what their purpose is.

So, as you’re bundled up on this winter day, here’s a story about another people from a cold part of the world.

The Story of Skeleton Woman

The story of Skeleton Woman is a hunting story told by those who live in the far north. It is a story that outlines the life-death-life cycle of relationship. I heard the story as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She heard the story from an Inuit woman who was a cook on a expedition she attended.

Those who tell the story cannot remember why, but one day a man who was very angry with his daughter drug her from the house, brought her to a cliff at the edge of the sea, and threw her in. As she sank deep, deep, deep, into the water, the fish in the sea ate her flesh and eyes so that eventually, all that was left of her were her bones which were churned by the currents of the water as they lay on the floor of the sea.

Most people stayed away from those waters because they felt they were haunted. But one day, a lonely hunter, a man who had never married, strayed off course and ended up in these waters, fishing. He threw his bone-hook connected to his line and fishing-stick into the water and let it sink deep, deep, deep. The hook caught the ribcage of Skeleton Woman and as the fisherman gave his line a jerk, he thought, “Oh! I’ve caught a big one.” The hunter dreamed of the many people he would feed with this big fish and the leisure he would enjoy, freed for a while from the task of hunting. As he began to pull up his catch, Skeleton Woman began to thrash against the line which only made her more tangled. The closer that Skeleton came to the surface of the water, the more the water turned to a turbulent froth. Finally, the fisherman gave a big pull and up from the surface of the water arose Skeleton Woman’s bald, skull with crustaceans on her cheeks and teeth. The fisherman screamed with fright, dropped his fishing stick in his kayak, and immediately began to paddle toward the shore. Not realizing that Skeleton Woman was tangled in his line, she thrashed and kicked as she was pulled directly behind the fisherman. The faster the fisherman paddled toward the shore, the faster Skeleton Woman seemed to be chasing him.

Finally, the fisherman came to the shore, grabbed his fishing stick, leapt out of his kayak, and ran for his snow house. Directly behind him, he could hear the clatter of bones against the rocks as Skeleton Woman followed, still tangled in his line. Eventually, he dove into his snow house and lay on the floor panting, “Oh, thank the gods, Raven and Sedna, for keeping me safe from harm. I am safe now in my house.” Slowly as the fisherman gained strength, he lit his wale-oil lamp and to his amazement saw Skeleton Woman in a heap of bones on the floor.
It may have been the soft lamplight, it may have been how tangled and sorry she looked, but the fisherman began to have compassion on Skeleton Woman. He very carefully crept over to her and began to untangle his line from her bones. Then, bone by bone, he cleaned her and placed each bone in the order that a persons should be. Finally, he wrapped her in skins to keep her warm. Skeleton Woman lay completely quiet, lest the fisherman become scared and drag her out of his warm house and break her bones on the rocks. The fisherman rewound his fishing line, became very drowsy, and fell asleep. Skeleton Woman lay completely still, listening to the fisherman breathe.

And as dreamers sometimes do, a tear formed in the corner of the fisherman’s eye. Skeleton Woman was very thirsty and she saw this tear in the corner of the fisherman’s eye glimmer in the lamp light. So, very quietly, she crept over and put her mouth on the fisherman’s cheek, close to his eye and drank the tear which quenched her thirst. She looked at the fisherman and longed to have flesh. Very carefully, she reached into the fisherman’s body and pulled out his heart. And beating his heart as drum, she began to sing for flesh and hair and fingernails to form again on her bones. Bit by bit, Skeleton Woman gained flesh, and hair, and fingernails, everything that a normal woman would have. Once Skeleton Woman had flesh, she carefully placed the fisherman’s heart back into his body. She looked at him and longed for the feeling of flesh on flesh, so she climbed very carefully into the fisherman’s skins with him.
In the morning, the fisherman and Skeleton Woman woke, tangled from a night of love making. While no one knows exactly what happened to the fisherman and Skeleton Woman, it is said that they left that area and lived the rest of their lives together, very happy. For the rest of their lives, the fisherman and Skeleton Woman lived on the bounty of fish, the very fish that ate the flesh of Skeleton Woman and who now offered themselves as food for the fisherman and Skeleton Woman.

As so we see that both the fisherman and Skeleton Woman needed each other to become complete. The fisherman thought he had hooked into a “good catch” and would live an easy life. He was tangled together with Skeleton Woman, and though at first it was scary and messy, eventually it was this entanglement that drove them together and eventually made them both whole. It was compassion that began the conversation of give and take between the couple that ended in the happy entanglement of lovemaking. When all was said and done, were it not for the life-death-life cycle as shown by the fisherman and Skeleton Woman, neither would have been made whole. In relationship, we hope for one thing, maybe an easy life or relationship, but by the necessary entanglement of this cycle, we receive something much more valuable and lasting. Do not be afraid of the life-death-life cycle of relationship, it is the necessary step that will lead you to your greatest fulfillment.


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