Authors: Craig Kee Strete
copyright 1979 by Craig Kee
published by Greenwillow Books, 105 Madison Ave NY, NY 10016
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
WHEN GRANDFATHER JOURNEYS INTO
by Craig Kee Strete
Tayhua stared at the boy as he came down the
trail from the top of the mesa. Tayhua's daughter, Elk Woman came up beside him. She said, "What
do you think of your grandson."
"I think the world of him," said the old man
as his eyes followed the boy down the steep rocky trail. He held his hands out in front of him
like a man who held the world in his hands.
"He is much like his father, with his
father's eyes and smile. I am sorry he is not to hear to see him," said Elk Woman. Pride and
sorrow was in her voice in equal measure.
"Long are the days since he left the world.
Your heart should be calm about this now. Time has seen many summers and it should have healed
"Even though one year follows another, there
is no day in which I do not miss him," Elk Woman said with a look of sorrow on her
"He would be proud as I am proud. He left a
big treasure in the world. This grandson is his gift to you and me."
"It still does not ease the ache in my
heart. When my husband died I felt it ruined my life, then and forever."
Tayhua put his arm around his daughter. "But
there was glory. That is what we live for. We hold on to glory. You had two good years with him.
His death could never take that away. You will always have those two years."
Tayhua saw movement in the cactus and the
rocks at the edge of his herb medicine garden. Something stirred.
The old man held up his hand, motioning for
Little Thunder to stop moving toward him. The old man was not afraid. Too far away to see the
snake, Little Thunder kept coming down the trail. Now he was just ten feet from his mother and
the old man.
The rattlesnake moved, his head coming up,
sensing a disturbance in the rocks around him. His sensitive tongue darted out to test the wind.
The heavy steps of Little Thunder on the rocky path had awaken the snake from its sleepy vigil in
the noonday sun.
Startled, the snake moved away from Little
Thunder and toward grandfather.
The old man sat there calmly, the wind
blowing his braids gently in the wind. The snake moved quickly, his shiny skin bright in the sun
and his eyes aglitter like two unwinking jewels.
The snake approached the toe of the old
man's cowboy boots. Now the old man was still as a tree. His daughter, Elk Woman, held up her
hand in Little Thunder's direction. She too signaled the boy, cautioning him not to
"Hello brother rattlesnake," said the old
The snake raised his head until it rested on
the toe of the old man's worn boots.
"I am too big to eat," said the old man with
The snake hissed, uncertain at the sound of
"And I am so insignificant, that it would be
a waste of poison to bite me. Best to move on brother snake. Otherwise, I might bite
The rattlesnake moved suddenly. It went up
and over the toe of the old man's boot, its skin dragging across the rough leather of the boot.
As quickly as it had appeared, the snake was gone. There was a dry rattle in the wind, a last
flurry as the snake shook it's tail and it disappeared in the rocks at the end of the rock
Little Thunder stood in front of them. He
did not know why they had motioned him to stop. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Come sit with us in the sun. There was
a rattlesnake. You made more noise on the path than a buffalo herd and you scared the
rattlesnake, that is all."
"I'm not afraid of rattlesnakes!" said
Little Thunder. "Blue Houseroof says he is going to show me how to catch them."
"You stay away from Blue Houseroof. He is a
joker. You leave the rattlesnakes alone. This is not something you need to know how to do," said
his mother firmly.
Little Thunder came and sat down on a big
rock in front of his grandfather.
"I guess I will learn how to catch them if I
want to," said Little Thunder. "I'm old enough and pretty quick, don't you think so
The old man just smiled.
His mother looked angry. "I don't want you
to do dangerous things. You're not going to learn how to catch rattlesnakes and that is
"When I was his age, I learned to catch
them," said Tayhua a look on his face that said his mind journeyed back to that time in his life.
"It was a time when I learned much about the world."
"Things are different now," said Elk Woman
with a hurt look on her face. "We can't afford to take chances now."
In the rocks at Grandfather Tayhua's feet
"A boy's life is always full of danger,"
said Tayhua. "You can not put your arms around him and hold it away from him. He will learn
nothing that way."
"I'm his mother. I decide. I don't want to
talk about this. It's settled. This is not something he is going to do."
Little Thunder looked angry at his mother's
words. It was plain he did not agree. His grandfather read the defiant look on Little Thunder's
face and smiled. They all sat there in the garden quietly for a time. The wind came down out of
the high places and was voice enough. Dust swirled in eddies at their feet.
"It is a day to live under the sun. It warms
my blood," said Grandfather finally. "Let us have no disaggreements on a day as good as
The rattlesnake was back.
The old man had his eye on it. He winked at
Little Thunder who saw the snake too. Elk Woman was looking across the land, her eyes on the far
mesa. She did not see the snake.
Little Thunder started to speak, perhaps to
say he saw the snake but the old man put three fingers to his lips, gesturing for him not to
"It is hot in the sun. My lips are dry and
my belly feels like ten miles of highway," said the old man suddenly.
"Are you trying to say you are thirsty?"
said Elk Woman. "Because it just so happens, I have some sun tea cooling in the
"I can think of nothing I would like
better," said the old man.
"I suppose I'll go get it then," said Elk
Woman. "You want some too?"
Little Thunder nodded yes. He forced himself
not to look at the snake so his mother would not see it. He knew Tayhua was hiding the snake from
"And if there were some fry bread," said
Tayhua, staring up at the clouds, not looking at the movement in the rocks beside him. "I sure
could probably eat some."
Elk Woman sighed as she got up. "I don't
have the fixings. I have to make it from scratch. That'll take time." She began walking toward
"I have plenty of time. I am in no hurry,"
called out Tayhua as the rattlesnake moved up next to him and coiled beside his right
Elk Woman did not look back at them.
Grandfather did not move now. He did not speak either until Elk Woman was safely in the
"Today would be a good day to learn how to
catch a rattlesnake. If some person wanted to learn how to do that."
Little Thunder stared at his grandfather.
The rattlesnake was coiled at Grandfather's feet, lazy in the sun but still alert. The sound of
the old man's voice seemed to disturb the snake. It cast its head from side to side, tongue
darting out rapidly to taste the world around it.
"She said I shouldn't," said Little Thunder
doubtfully but there was eagerness in his manner. "But if you said it was fine to do it, that
would be different."
"She is your mother and you should obey
her," said the old man solemnly. "But you father would have taught you to do it and I speak for
your father now. The heart of a boy sometimes does what it wants. If this is something you want
to learn, I would teach you, as your father would have taught you."
"Other boys my age are learning how to do
it. John Tall and Billy already know how. I don't know why she doesn't want me to
"Because she lost your father and she is
always afraid of losing you," said Tayhua. "Sometimes she holds on too tight. Come next to me and
learn. I'll show you how it is done. It will be our little secret."
Tayhua moved slowly so as not to startle the
snake. He bent forward slowly and picked up a short piece of broken tree branch. He carefully
stripped it of all side branches until he had one long straight stick about three foot long. He
unloosened a faded red bandana that hung around his neck and tied it to the stick so that it
dangled down like a flag at the stick's end.
"What's that for?" whispered Little Thunder,
his eyes on the snake in front of him.
"You'll see," said Tayhua. "Move slowly and
come sit beside me. Be careful you don't scare the snake."
Little Thunder edged around the snake,
making a wide circle and then came up behind his grandfather slowly. He put each foot down
carefully so the ground wouldn't shake. When his grandson was safely placed at his side, Tayhua
stretched the stick out until it hung above the rattlesnake's head.
The rattlesnake sensed the movement of the
stick and raised its head.
"To catch a rattlensnake, it is smart first
to let him be angry," said Tayhua.
"How does that work?"
"This stick is what he must be angry at, not
us. Watch and you will see."
The old man dangled the bandana towards the
snake, until it almost struck the snake's head. The snake reared back, and hissed at the piece of
"Why does he hiss?" asked Little
"He is just breathing. He is exhaling air
toward his victim. It is a sign that he is angry."
The old man waved the stick back and forth
in front of the snake. The snake moved its head from side to side, captivated by the movements of
the cloth at the end of the stick.
"Be careful grandfather. Don't let him bite
The old man smiled. "I have no wish to be
bitten. His fangs are sharp as a cactus spike and hollow."
The old man kept the snake busy with the
stick. He held the stick in his right hand and kept his left hand held tight to his side. He
said, "When your father was a boy he got bitten by a rattlesnake. Have you heard this
Little Thunder shook his head no.
The old man never took his eyes off the
snake as he talked. "For five summers, on the very same day the rattlesnake bit him, your father
went crazy. He wandered off in the desert to spend the day playing with bugs, toads and lizards.
For just that one day he lost his humanity and forgot who he was."
"That's kind of scary," said Little Thunder.
"I didn't know such things could happen. Why did that happen and how did he get
"I do not know how it happened or how he got
better. Life is mysterious. Not everything can be explained. But a rattlesnake is dangerous. I
tease the snake with this stick but it is serious business."
The old man suddenly lowered the end of the
stick. The bandana struck the already angry rattlesnake. It reared up and struck savagely, fangs
striking the cloth. The old man yanked the stick back and the snake threw itself forward half its
The old man bend down as quick as an eagle
swooping out of the sky. With his left hand, the old man seized the snake just inches behind its
poisonous head. He held tight, muscles straining to hold the churning body of the angry snake.
The rattlesnake made a din with its rattles and writhed and coiled its body about like
The snake wrapped its body around Tayhua's
arm. Tayhua dropped the stick and put his other hand next to his left hand, so that he could more
tightly hold the snake.
"There. That is how it is done," said Tayhua
with pride. "Mind you do not catch him too far behind the head. An inch too much and he will turn
his neck and bite your fingers. He will wrap his body around you but pay him no mind. It is only
his head that can hurt you and if you grab him just as I have grabbed him, he can not get at
"It looks easy when you do it," said Little
"To catch is easy, it is holding on that is
hard. Also letting go," said Tayhua with a smile. "Then you better watch out."
"I do not think I am ready yet to catch one
on my own," said Little Thunder suddenly as his grandfather brought the snake close to
"Perhaps that is wise. When you are older,
it will be easier. But when you feel the time is right and you have him in your hands, hold tight
and do not let go. Then you drop his body inside a sack and then carefully lower his head after
him. Then you would throw his head toward the bottom of the sack, letting go quick. If you throw
him hard enough, he will fall to the bottom of the sack before he can strike out at you. Today I
do not have a sack, so I will let him go."