There was no rain.
The heat reduced the cedar trees to brittle skeletons, the ghost of them brown against the ashy yellow grass. There were no ducks after a white line painted the rocks when the river left. Grandfather would step outside and look up at the pure blue sky, the wrinkles on his face deepening, mimicking the dry cracked earth as he searched for the clouds. You had seen the signs. Everyone had.
In the winter, the snowflakes died before they could ever kiss the ground, and we should’ve known then. The wind would rattle the limbs of the trees in a hot breath, and throughout the day you look towards the mountains in the northeast and wonder where the rain beings were, if they weren’t at their mountain. The cloudless peaks as bare as your rising fear that they had left the people and the village.
The people had been selfish that year. They drank white man’s water. Spoke with words that lashed. They stopped greeting the sun.
You saw how your grandparents could no longer sit on the porch and watch the cloudbursts roll in from the horizon. The dry dirt that carried the diseases from the spring weren’t washed down with water so that it returned to the ground where the Earth wiped her hands clean of it. People were getting sick. People were noticing. People grew ashamed.
You knew what had to be done. You counted the days. When July came you went out early in the morning and faced the horizon where the Sun turned the sky white. And you sang, and you called, and you cried, and you apologized for the people. And then you went to the sacred round structure, built with the same earth that needed the medicine. You donned that headdress, carved with medicine clouds; the essence of women. The men painted their torsos, drawing zagging lines in the pale turquoise paint so that the lightning would recognize itself in them; the essence of men. The people grew determined.
You stepped out into the sun baked plaza and as the steady drumbeats began, you heard the Earth Mother’s heartbeat, and yours was the same. You lifted your evergreen boughs and you all danced so hard your moccasin clad feet shook the ground, waking the Earth. Sweat dripped and your legs shook with fatigue. We turned and saw the Old Ones shielding themselves with shawls from the sun’s rays and the children with their flushed cheeks. We took our moccasins off. We listened to our breath.
Then, the wind came. The breeze carried damp earth and pine pitch from a place where they never dried, and we heard the rumble of thunder as it mixed with the heart beating drum.
The lightning came. It cracked open the clouds. The rain came. It came with hard waves of water that formed puddles at our feet, soothing the worn blistered soles. You heard the people laugh and cry and remove their shawls. The thunder boomed and the children grew uneasy.
“Do not be scared,” the Old Ones said. “It is speaking to us. It is blessing us.”
You knew that your grandparents could once again sit on their porch and watch the thunders in the distance. The ground would fill like a lake and the village could drink its fill. You felt tears make warm rivers down your face. Water droplets hung from every branch and blade of grass, how tears hung from your eyelashes. The Earth was crying its thanks, just as you were.
Hailey Suina is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.