Creation myths reveal the original culture of a people. Oh, we shift and grow and turn to the left and the right over thousands of years, but still our view of this life is colored with how our ancestors explained their existence on this earth.
In The Long Journey Home series, between narrow escapes and the killing of those that need killing, Jeremiah and Montego spend time chewing the fat around a campfire. Part of the fun of writing these novels is the conversations these two men have while sitting under the stars.
Jeremiah, a haunted confederate soldier in the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment, is an educated, well-read man. Montego, an Osage who also knows the burden of fighting hard and losing a war, was educated by Jesuits. Both men learned much of what they know of the world in battle.
So, sitting around a fire under the stars, gnawing on a burnt rabbit thigh or a deer haunch, these two eventually come around to exchanging ideas about creation. The Osage creation myth tells how the ancestors lived in the sky. After many seasons, and with the blessings of Father Sun and Mother Moon, the people fell from the stars. They floated in the air but found no land, only a vast, salty sea. The ancestors called out for help and finally Elk, one of the animals floating down to earth with the people, saved them by falling into the water. As Elk sank he called out to the four winds to blow away the water. The mist cleared and revealed a thick mud. Elk rolled in the mud and his loose hairs grew into trees and grass. The people landed on these patches of land and continued their journey to Middle World.
As for Jeremiah’s understanding of creation, well as the son of a pastor, he’s been supporting himself since the war as a saddle preacher. Though he battles God daily, he has a solid understanding of the book of Genesis. But Jeremiah is also an extremely well-read man. Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published in 1855. Knowledge of the theory of evolution is prevalent in 1871 when our story takes place. Surely Jeremiah is aware of this book.
How much is Montego influenced by the Jesuits who educated him in the ways and language of the white man? How literally does Jeremiah, a man who repeatedly rejects God’s grace, take the book of Genesis and does his understanding of evolution color his beliefs of creation? These are the questions being answered right now as I put fingers to keyboard and listen to these two fascinating characters.
I’m going to give you a brief excerpt for Ridgeline, the first book in The Journey Home series, but if you’re a writer, I’d love for you to share some of the conversations your characters have showed you over the years. If you’re a reader, could you share with me what conversations you’d like to hear between Jeremiah and Montego?
Okay, here’s the promised excerpt from Ridgeline:
The Osage squatted beside him, held a shallow chipped bowl to his mouth. “Drink. It eases pain. Your woman is safe. It is my sister, Niabi, whose screams you hear.”
“Where are the rest of your tribe?”
The Indian returned to his place on the other side of the fire, lowered himself again into a pose of such stillness that Jeremiah blinked to convince himself he gazed not at cold stone, but at a living being.
“I am Montego. My people are gone. The buffalo killed. The fire that burns the spirit and marks the body with the deep bites of death took many. Bluecoats killed others.”
Long, piercing screams sliced the night, sent shivers dancing along Jeremiah’s spine. Montego raised his eyes, stared toward the edge of the clearing. Sparks from the fire winked between the men for an instant, then disappeared into the black night.
“Niabi will not live.” The Indian’s words fell like sharp stones. “She is weak from hiding in these woods, moving always to avoid the soldiers. The child will go with her into the spirit world.”
A centuries-old lament rose unbidden from Jeremiah’s mouth. “A voice is heard in Raman, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.”
Montego lifted his gaze from the fire, stared directly into Jeremiah’s face. “And your people, who also fought the bluecoats? Where are they?”
“Gone. All. Gone.” Jeremiah concentrated on the pounding pain in his leg, hoping to drive from his mind the slow-motion fall of Maggie, sinking to the planks of the porch, that twinkle of blue still clutched in her soft hand. He shut that mental door firmly, forced himself to meet the eyes of the Indian.