It was a beautiful day. The clouds had rolled in around ten that morning, and the rain began to fall around noon. Now, at three PM, the sky had opened up. It was as if some vengeful God had it out for me, hurling lightning bolts from his high seat atop the sky.
I'd never seen anything so perfect.
I was alone on a ridge overlooking a small valley. I wasn't worried about the lightning: I was sitting on a rubber mat with my backpack 30 feet away. I set my back against an old oak tree and pulled my hat down a bit lower.
I closed my eyes for a minute, ignoring the trickle of water that slipped under my collar. I listened to the rain on the trees, the wind tearing through the valley below, the drops hitting my hat, and the approaching thunder.
I withdrew a wad of pipe tobacco from my right jacket pocket. From the other pocket, I produced a box of matches and a metal plate. I turned my back on the view of the valley, and set to work in a hollow in the tree. I placed the tobacco atop the metal plate inside where the ground was moist, but no rain or wind entered. I struck a match and began to burn the tobacco.
"This is an offering to you, Ancestors. I remember you and honour you. Protect me and guide me in my life. Hold me close to your breast that I may learn from you."
I struck another match and continued to burn the tobacco.
"Know that I do not forget you. Know that I hold you dear. Know that I respect your ways and your wishes. Know that I listen."
I struck a final match and burned the rest of the tobacco. I removed the plate, leaving the charred remains of tobacco in the tree trunk. I again placed my back to the tree, and I looked out again over the valley. The winds were still howling, the sky still crashing, but the storm was no longer violent.
Through the rain, far below, I could see a cemetery. I could see no road leading to it, and I could not find it on my map. In my mind's eye, I could read the headstones. Each was a grave of a family member, each was well kept and the inscriptions were renewed to keep them clear after erosion had begun to take its toll.
I began to recite the names of ancestors. I began to remember them. I called out, asking their blessings. I remembered their deeds: battles fought, loves declared, enemies defeated.
The storm eventually blew itself out, and the sun set under the western clouds. I knew it was time: not only must I speed home, but the dead must as well. When the sun's rays no longer illuminated the valley, the cemetery disappeared. I packed my backpack again and began my trek down to the next shelter for the night.
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