I cannot say when I first felt it, was it the first time I watched an arrow slip into the rib cage of an animal after leaving the string of my bow. Maybe it was while holding a dead baby bird I found under an old apple tree at the tender age of five. Or possibly, when my parents told me of the passing of my grandma after a heroic fight with cancer. No matter the time or even the place, the thing that matters is that I noticed a connection to those who have left this earth. Not in a psychic or clairvoyant sort of way, but just a moment, a spot in time, when faced with death we as humans sense something. Maybe we feel the spirit of the departed, or possibly the hand of the creator on the moment. Or we may feel a connection to the dead because of our own mortality. I recall a moment not long ago, which I would like to share, I was hunting alone deep in the Absaroka wilderness. While climbing a steep ridge covered with heavy timber and huge boulders, these rocks, left over from the ice age by a giant glacier, which moved slowly along the western front of the mountain range. I was enjoying the feel of my muscles working and the rapid beat of my heart as I traversed the steep slope. Suddenly I felt something come over me, I can only try to explain the feeling, it was as if I was suddenly not alone on the mountain. I instinctively grabbed the hilt of my antler handled knife, my bow and arrows were on my back in the lion skin case, allowing me limited reaction time should things get dangerous. I scan the timber, sunlight filters through the canopy overhead, lighting the grey brown tree trunks and dark green foliage. Nothing stirs in the forest; my breathing has slowed now that I have stopped the climb. Years of exploring these woods alone have taught me to never ignore my instincts, no matter if I understand them at the moment or not. I climb up onto a leaning downfall, gaining elevation of about seven feet gives me great vantage point, and still nothing stirs in the bright midday forest. I climb down to the ground after a while, this time with my bow braced in my left hand and an arrow ready on the string. Moving across the ridge puts the wind in my favor, should there be some unseen animal lurking in the jungle of downed timber and towering spruce trees. Somehow, my eyes are drawn back along my own trail; sitting on a branch at eye level is an owl. An owl may seem nothing to some but to me as a Lakota, the owl is a messenger, often a messenger of death. I clutch my medicine bag, asking the creator for protection during this sacred moment, we stare into each other’s souls for a moment and he is suddenly gone, disappearing into the day on silent wings.
I reach the summit of the ridge about an hour after the encounter with the messenger the view is breathtaking. I can see all the way to the Greybull river headwaters, and across from me, the Wyoming range looms in the distance. Mountain peaks dominate the horizon in all directions, snow still clinging to the tops after a long hot summer, alternating timbered draws and open alpine meadows fill in the remaining landscape. I walk along the ridge for a few feet and stop, at my feet is a carved stone, about eighteen inches long and carved with a laser is the image of a woman on horseback and her name, followed by her birth date and death date. I have stumbled upon a high country gravestone commemorating the life of a woman who was loved by someone enough to carry and lay a stone for her upon this majestic ridge. I lay some sage from my war bag upon the stone and introduce myself to her. We talk for a while and I leave her stone as I found it, to weather upon this piece of earth she must have cherished in life. My horses are picketed miles from here and the walk is long, darkness will find me before I reach my own camp. As I descend, I look back along the ridge and see an owl sitting above the stone, when I look again he is gone, I never heard him leave but felt him leave through my soul……. Hawk