My feet crunched in the gravel of the parking lot. I looked over my shoulder and waved to Blake. He nodded from the passenger side of our dad’s jeep and gave me a backhanded wave. “Go!” he mouthed with a smile. He was my twin, but not part of the birthday club; all because he was born 10 minutes on the wrong side of midnight. I hesitated for a moment, feeling guilty that he had not been invited. I peered down into the kettle – a small bowl carved into the rolling hills. It was rumored to be an Indian Bowl – a place where tribes used to gather for peaceful meetings. Near the bottom, a blazing campfire framed a few familiar silhouettes. Brushing off my hesitation, I waved back to Blake and skipped down the curved slope of the bowl. Wheat colored grass brushed against my jeans while my eyes were drawn upward. Stars twinkled through the slate colored sky, and smoke wisps curled like calligraphy against the growing darkness. There are few things better than a campfire on the first night of fall in Wisconsin.
Shaman Dynami was seated nearest the water - Radley spring, a small body of water no more than 50 feet across at the widest. The fire was compact but white-hot. “Ellery,” he spoke with warmth in his voice, “thank you for coming tonight.”
“Thanks for putting this together,” I replied. Seated across the fire from Dynami were Nodin Keller, Cole Martin, Sasha Peterson, and Josh Ellis. “Happy Birthday guys!” I said looking around the circle.
“Back at cha!” said Cole.
“Hey Ellery,” Sasha said coolly nodding her head. Her long blond hair shone in the firelight.
For 15 years now, we had been sharing our birthdays together. Our mothers all went into labor the same day and gave the local hospital its busiest night the maternity ward had ever seen. Some people speculated that it was the full moon; others argued it was because of the autumn equinox. Whatever the reason, the tiny hospital in Oshedina which normally only sees three or four births a month delivered all five of us on the same night. One after another we were born. Two extra doctors were called in from the neighboring town, and even so, Nodin was delivered by a nurse while his mom’s doctor delivered me. My brother was just shy of making it an even six, and I always felt bad that he wasn’t part of it all. The extra ten minutes meant that he wasn’t in the annual newspaper photographs, not iced on the school birthday cakes…he has never mentioned anything about it, but I could see the same old disappointment on his face when I got the invite for tonight’s gathering and his name wasn’t on it. It’s a weird feeling to share your birthday with everyone but your twin.
“Hey roomie,” Josh smiled and patted an open space on the blanket next to him
I lowered myself down crossing my legs. “Hey you,” I grinned back feeling butterflies tickle my stomach as I settled into the sand. While all the maternity rooms were supposed to be single occupancy our moms all ended-up having to share. My very first sleepover was co-ed, something that has been against the rules since I was about ten. I smiled across the circle. Nodin was there – he was a little different from the others. He was usually quiet, but never all that predictable. “Hi Nodin,” I said meeting his eyes. He gave me a small smile and nodded back.
“Happy birthday-eve,” Shaman Dynami began, “I have been looking forward to this evening for quite a while now.” He smiled. The light from the fire accentuated the deep smile lines on his weathered cheeks. “It is not often that one gets to bear witness to new beginnings. New beginnings tend to be private; they tend to be quiet, but not all. You are about to enter the last phase of your childhood. When you leave this phase you will be young men and women. This is not just physical maturity…and not merely intellectual, but also in the spirit. The biggest challenge in this growth is simply being open to it. Open to the possibility that there is more to this world than meets the eye.”
“I know,” he continued his voice sounding a bit ragged; “I know I am the crazy history teacher. The man who always has his head buried in books, the non-native who thinks he’s native… that’s what they say, no?” he asked but didn’t wait for a reply. “And while there is some truth to most rumors, I daresay that what I’m going to share with you tonight will resonate with you to the core of your beings.”
I glanced away from Dynami’s face and looked around the circle. Josh, Sasha and Cole were fixated on the shaman. It was difficult not to be, the man had all the makings of a great story-teller. We called him shaman even though he was as white as my parents. From what I understood shaman meant teacher – and he was a very good one. Yet this felt different than our history classes. This didn’t feel like a lecture; it felt alive, electric. Nodin was the only one not sitting at attention; perhaps he already knew the story.
“I’ve come across an old Oshedina legend,” Dynami began again. “And it leaves me quite curious…intrigued if you will. The Oshedina were a small tribe, and they have long puzzled historians because their language, their dwellings, their traditions all seemed to be a culmination of different cultures. The writings that I’ve translated would explain why they were unique…and perhaps it’s not legend after-all -- but history.” The fire crackled and popped, and the group remained uncharacteristically silent.
Dynami, pleased at our attention continued, “After the summer celebration - a tribal summit at the Indian bowls - one of the young men slipped walking home. He was in the woods by himself and fell into a bit of a ravine. His leg was injured, and he was unable to climb out. Somehow, four other attendees of the summit all found him independent from one another. Unbeknownst to them, the young man they attended was gifted with speed, a fast and valued hunter. He was being pressured by his tribe to provide leadership at a very young age and had been actively planning an escape. The young men and women that attended him set up a makeshift camp and took care of him while he healed. The young man felt relieved to not be depended upon; the others built shelter, hunted and gathered food, and tended the fire. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and rather than return to their families, they became a tribe of their own. They learned to communicate with a combination of their native tongues, and likewise they blended their traditions. As time went on, they discovered that they were all the same age and born on the same day, the day of the shifting season…the autumn equinox.”
Nodin buried his face in his hands. “Are you serious?” he groaned. “You’re doing this? You’re really doing this…” he trailed off. The embarrassment in his voice was not lost on me. Dynami was not just Nodin’s teacher; he was also his uncle, and his guardian.
Dynami held up his hand silently asking him to stop…to wait. “One of the legends could run,” he articulated slowly looking at Nodin who was still refusing to meet his eyes. Nodin was an amazing runner, like crazy fast. He’s not on any of the sports teams so perhaps people have forgotten, but back in elementary school before he realized that it made him different, Nodin shattered every school record at the annual field day. I could still remember him with his black pony tail streaming straight out behind him, all of our voices raw from cheering him on. It was one of my only memories of him from back then. “Another could understand languages the first time she heard them,” he spoke slowly. And then there was, the navigator” he said, his eyes slowly studied the rest of us. “Can anyone here…navigate?” he asked slowly.
My heart started beating faster, and I scanned my eyes quickly around the group. I was waiting for someone, anyone to start laughing…to give up the joke. But everyone just stared at Dynami.
“Nobody?” he asked slowly and waited. “No matter,” he cleared his throat, “not all the gifts would need to be the same. But the legend, the history is that this quintet was endowed with special gifts; gifts that become even stronger when united. It makes me feel just a bit crazy to propose this, but I believe the conditions both spiritual and earthly that lead to the origination of that original tribe re-aligned the night you were born.”
Crickets chirped. He rummaged through his khaki messenger bag, and the rest of us sat silently. My mind was racing. I could navigate. I had never called it that, but it was as good of a description as any. I’ve never been lost - not ever. I have always known which way was north, south, east and west. If we went out on a hike or a walk, I knew exactly which way to take to get us home. My dad used to take us on long drives out in the country, taking every twisty road he could find and let me guide us home. I could do it for as long as I could remember, as early as I could talk.
I looked around the circle studying each person wondering what they could do, what their gifts were – wondering if any of this was true.
Dynami removed a small leather pouch from inside his bag. His long fingers worked the drawstring loose and he shook the bag upside down into his other hand. A tumbling of shiny pieces fell into the palm of his hand with sound of dense metal clanging together. He picked up a piece, held it toward the light and squinted his eyes. “Ellery,” he proclaimed holding it out toward me. I reached out to take it. “Wait to put it on please,” he instructed. I nodded and took the item, it was a ring. It looked like a class ring. Our graduation year was inscribed on one side, my initials on the other, and our school name around the light blue striated stone that filled the center. It was heavy and cool in my hand.
I watched carefully as Dynami handed out the rest of the rings. Nodin sat up straighter now and watched Dynami warily.
“Now,” Dynami continued, “I want you to look toward the pond. Now, look at the sky. Would you agree they are a mirror reflection?” We murmured in agreement. “Now,” he said again, but louder and with more conviction, “put on your rings.”
I slid the ring onto my finger. It fit perfectly. The breeze had picked up ever so slightly, and it felt cool across the back of my neck. My breath caught in my chest, and goosebumps rose up on my arms when I looked at the water. I whipped my eyes back toward the black sky and then slowly lowered my stare back to the water where lime green and blue lights danced in slow motion across the water - aurora borealis. I waited and watched and studied the sky; it remained pure black, interrupted only by the twinkling of stars.
We stared at each other studying one another’s faces. No one wanted to be tricked, to feel stupid or to say it first. But deep inside, I think we all knew.
“Nationites,” Dynami spoke again with a small twinkle in his eye, “welcome to your tribe.”