Pasayten Pete

Chapter Three: Spirit Dreams

Cottonwood trees moaned in the rising late-night wind. Graydon heard their swaying branches and the approaching thunder booming from the north. An early summer storm moved down the valley.

The family spent several days cleaning the old house. Alex Senior made a trip in the Blue Goose to buy used furniture: a kitchen table and chairs, an iron frame double bed with springs and mattress, two war surplus barrack cots with pads, an overstuffed couch and chair. Everything came from second-hand stores. Dee had her small collection of cookware and dishes that traveled with them across the U.S.

Wrapped in a wool barracks blanket, Graydon opened the wooden-sash window beside his bed to feel the rising wind blow in. The smell of dust was heavy in the air, the musty wet smell of the first raindrops. He could hear the big drops splattering in the elm trees outside his window, and the hissing sound of rain falling through the cottonwood trees beyond. Then the chilled air coming through the window smelled of sweet elm sap. He marvelled at all he could hear and smell and taste. He savored this new experience.

Coast rain was nothing like this. Coast rain was a chill, grey wet or a warm, green damp. Here on the east side, summer thunderstorms would bring an occasional, violent rain. The valley mostly survived on snow melt that flowed down from the mountains. The surrounding foothills became dried and parched. On a hot summer's day the scent of pine pitch and cottonwood sap would hang heavily in the air.

Mountain valley colors began with the blue-greens of the ponderosa pine forests and the lush greens of the river-bottom alfalfa hayfields. All else was yellow and tan grasses, grey-green sagebrush, and a golden carpet of sunflowers covering the foothills in late spring. Sunflower blossoms would become black seed heads. Broad, faded leaves would be brittle and crackling when one walked across the dry hillside.

Methow was thought to be an Indian word for valley of the sunflowers, but no one could say for sure. The first white men had found the small tribe of natives living at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers to be welcoming and friendly. A few years later the white man's diseases and guns had killed and scattered the Methow band. No one remained to confirm the meaning of their name, not that it mattered. It could mean anything the white man wanted it to mean. Thus, valley of the sunflowers it was. And the name was never pronounced as meh-thou but as met-how, like two distinct words run together, a subtle reminder of its native origin.

The storm raged outside Graydon's window. Lightning flashes framed the stark outlines of heavy cottonwood limbs; a wind gust brought a great limb crashing down. He heard it clatter down through the lower branches and the heavy thud when it hit the ground. Fierce wind gusts battered the house. It shuddered again when a thunderclap boomed above them. Alex Jr. whimpered in his bunk across the room, but didn't wake. Graydon lay listening and watching until a wind gust blew a scattering of cold rain across his face. He pulled the window down. Laying back, he closed his eyes and listened to the receding storm as it passed down the valley towards the sleeping town.

In the shadows of his sleep he began to perceive forms, whispers, shifting images barely glimpsed. A dreamscape firmed. He stood at the edge of a rock-strewn torrent. White water frothed and lashed around the boulders, spilling into grey-black pools that swirled and spilled down and away. Thick mists hung overhead, obscuring the light. He stood alone. Thundering sounds and cold spray buffeted his face.

He turned and saw behind him an endless sagebrush plain. Upstream and downstream lay thick tangles of red willows. Across the torrent, up the steep slope, he marvelled at the pines towering hugely overhead, long fronds of hairy lichen moss hanging from the lower branches, fed by the billowing mists thrown up from the maelstrom.

The roar dimmed in his ears. At the same moment a fluttering bird rushed by his head, grazing his hair. He ducked and fell to the ground. Looking up, he saw the bird with outstretched wings, swooping, soaring up high above the pines. Its momentum spent, the bird beat its wings and climbed in broad circles, fluttering upward with an odd, dipping rhythm. It was a nighthawk.

Graydon stood. The overhead gloom brightened in its center. He stood rooted, unable to focus in the confusion of light, a shifting glow, brightening, moving closer. He saw a form, a vague shadow. Around him the world had gone silent. He heard nothing, not even the beating of his heart. The shade moved closer, brighter. Graydon's consciousness narrowed. He stood confined in a tight space where he and a figure--a person--faced one another.

A tall man in buckskins and face-paint studied him. Long gray hair streamed down over his fringed shoulders. Intricate beadwork patterns covered his shirtfront. His face was stern, solemn. He was a white man with sapphire-blue eyes, high forehead and thick brows. His rough cheeks were painted with shining silver lightning streaks and his forehead bore a golden sun-burst symbol. The man stood unmoving, silent. He lifted his hand to point at Graydon, then raised it to an open-palm gesture of greeting.

Graydon was unable to move, frozen in place by the face and the upraised hand. A long moment passed; the man's eyes hinted at some unspoken message. The scene faded and dissolved into the glowing mists.

He was instantly awake, alone in his bed. Outside his rain-streaked window the night was rich with fresh scents and cleansed air. He rubbed his eyes, unable to focus on whatever lingering presence might remain in his mind. He flung open his window to the sweet, chill night. Far down the valley he heard distant rolling thunder. He fell back on his pillow. He was soon asleep.


The next few weeks passed quickly for Graydon. Bright sunshine days were filled with chores and hard work. They cleared the garden and cleaned the chicken house and patched holes in the chicken run fence. Dee kept her sons busy getting the rundown homestead repaired and replanted and watered. Alex Sr. left, catching the bus in town to seek another job outside the valley. He would commute home on weekends once he'd landed steady work but until then, Dee and her two sons were alone on the Wolf Creek homestead.

Graydon stood in icy water at creek's edge, struggling to slip another board into place on the log dam that spanned the creek. He was trying to divert more water into an old flume that fed their irrigation ditch. It wasn't much of a dam. More water flowed through it than was diverted, and there wasn't much of an irrigation ditch. It was so old and long-neglected that it was barely a water trace winding through cobble rocks and brush. It flowed to a rusted steel culvert and crossed under the Wolf Creek road and out to the homestead's irrigation ditches. Wolf Creek's waters gave life to the homestead. The ditch had flowed, untended, for so many years that a permanent stand of cottonwood trees, chokecherries, elderberries, wild roses and grass had survived the hot summers all along its length.

Graydon strained and shoved and pushed old boards and poles, struggling to fill holes in the barrier. He had just clambered off the old log to stand on the creek bank when he heard a voice behind him:

"You want to have a mind doin' that, youngster. That's a mighty fast creek and cold too, and you'd have a hard time gettin' out with your head intact if you fell in. That water's claimed a life or two."

Graydon whirled around to see a small man in black trousers, black denim shirt, black denim jacket and a battered black hat pulled down over heavy black eyebrows. Dark, deeply-set eyes peered at him from a bronze face bristling with white stubble whiskers.

"S-s-sure thing, mister," Graydon stammered, his heart racing. The strange little man stood smiling at him, a few yards distant. It was apparent the man had walked up the spur road, the worn track that led to the old dam site.

"I'm pretty careful, and that old log doesn't bother me. I can walk it pretty good without falling."

"Well, I was rinsin' my coffee cup at the sink and saw you go past, so I thought I'd come up and say 'howdy'. That's my house back down by the road, across from your place. My name is Purdy, Purdy Kendricks. I own most of the ground around here, up to the ridge top and on up the valley some. You're here with your mom and younger brother, right?"

"Yes sir. We just moved up from Wenatchee." Graydon stepped forward and held out his hand. Purdy stretched out his gnarled hand and with a surprisingly firm grip, took Graydon's hand in his.

"Well, welcome to you. I haven't seen anybody in that old place for more than a few years, now. It's good to see somebody wants to make somethin' there."

Purdy paused for a moment, with a thoughtful look, and continued:

"I see your pa has lit out already. He doesn't strike me as a country fella, but I got a feelin' your ma's gonna settle in just fine over there."

"Mom's real happy to be here. We moved around a lot and never had a place of our own. My step-dad's a construction worker. We've always been moving, job to job."

"Well, I don't know much about construction jobs and movin' around so much. I've lived here pretty much all my life, me and my cousin Roy, upriver. He's got his own place up at Mazama."

Purdy pulled his hat off, ran his fingers though long dark hair streaked with gray, and pulled a wadded handkerchief from his back pocket. He wiped his forehead, stuffed the kerchief back, and settled his battered old hat back on his head.

"If you got a few minutes, walk on down to my place and I'll pour us a cold lemonade. I don't think your mom will mind. There's some things a young fella like you might be interested to hear."

"Sure. I'm about finished. Mom wanted more water comin' down the ditch, and it's runnin' pretty good now."

Graydon followed Purdy down the road, through a wooden gate that opened into a cluttered yard and back porch behind the small cabin. A smaller woodshed and tool room stood off to the side. Purdy motioned to a pair of weather-faded chairs on the shady side of the woodshed, and went inside to get a pitcher and glasses.

Purdy peered at Graydon from under his hat brim, seeming to take some measure of the boy. Graydon said nothing, sipping his icy drink, waiting for Purdy to make some comment.

"Your mom might want some animals for that place," Purdy finally offered. "Ol' Patch lives a mile up the road, on a place of mine that runs next to the river. He's got a bunch of goats, good ones I reckon, and there's more than he needs. He'll make your mom a good deal on a few."

Graydon had never seen a goat. He heard that they stunk something fierce and they were always shown in the comic papers and movie cartoons as eating tin cans and butting people. He kept his silence, knowing that Purdy was offering help and probably knew a lot more about goats than himself.

The old man watched Graydon's face, as if he could read the thoughts racing through the youngster's mind.

"Anyways, I'll see ol' Patch tomorrow, and I'll suggest he stop by and introduce himself. He's pretty much of a loner, but he's friendly enough if he feels comfortable around you. I figure that your mom's a pretty capable woman; I think she'll like Patch just fine."

Purdy sipped his lemonade and smiled to himself. Graydon wondered more and more about who this old man really was, and how did he know so much about his family, when he'd only seen them from a distance. How'd he figure his step-dad had "lit out?" He'd only been gone a few days. How'd he come to judge his mom as "pretty capable?" Well, he'd best keep his thoughts to himself and see what more Purdy had to say.

"That's a right handsome rifle you got yourself, son. I've got an old .22 Remington pump-action gun, myself. I don't recall seein' one with a big walnut stock like yours, and a lever-action, too! That's right rare on a .22 caliber."

Graydon sat upright, eyes wide, then settled back, realizing that Purdy must have seen him across the road, shooting groundhogs on the rock piles along the field's edge. The rifle was a surprise birthday gift from his real father. It had come parcel post, just in time for his twelfth birthday. It was a Marlin 39A lever-action .22 with a four-power telescope sight. With long-rifle hollow point bullets, Graydon could kill the groundhogs from seventy-five yards. The big rodents ate tender alfalfa faster than it could grow and ruined any hope of hay they'd need for winter if Dee could buy a milking animal. They couldn't possibly afford to buy hay.

"Thanks. It's a Marlin. My father sent it. He's in the Navy down in the Panama Canal. He said I'm old enough to have it, now."

"Yep. He's right. You'll be okay with it."

A long stretch of silence settled in. They sipped lemonade and watched small clouds drift over the valley, their swift shadows moving across the bunch grass and sunflower covered slopes of Studhorse Mountain on the valley's east side.

"You heard the legend yet?"

"Legend? No. What legend?"

Graydon's dream came rushing back. He felt a nervous chill. He steadied himself. Nobody needed to think him odd for having crazy dreams.

"There's an old legend hereabouts, about somethin' nobody's quite sure of. Some folks think it's a miner's pack mule that got loose and raised cain. Others think its some mountain hermit who scared people away. And some think maybe it's some kinda monster. I don't rightly know myself. I've never seen it, but I've known folks who thought they saw somethin'."

Graydon sat stone silent. Cold beads of condensation ran down his cold glass, over his hand and dripped onto his leg. He stared at the far mountainside, trying not to think of who he'd seen in his dream.

"Yup. There's a name for this legend. Pasayten Pete. The Pasayten country is high up the headwaters of the Lost River, north of here. Goes up into the high mountains, it does. I figure that's where the story must have started, but I don't see how anybody could winter up there without grub 'n stuff. It gets harsh, too harsh for anything that don't hibernate."

"Could it be an Indian, maybe?"

"Don't know. All I know is that stories have gone 'round, and probably most of them is nothin' to pay mind to. But it does seem strange to me that the legend sticks. It gets whispered around."

Graydon finished his lemonade, stood and shook Purdy's hand again, and said he'd tell his mom about the visit and would pass along Purdy's advice about getting some goats from his friend Patch. He let himself out the gate, carefully latched it behind himself, and walked home.

His mind was deeply troubled. His dream had a name: Pasayten Pete.

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Pasayten Pete © Graybyrd 2010

Last modification: 2016/8/25 at 18:54