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  • Fifteen Forty-Two
  • Zachary FR Anderson (bio)

I was born on the land of the 'Amuwu Chumash, which was taken by the same people who took my land. This story is for them.

guaha un tiempo …

They watched us glide in our proas around them, pointing, with mouths agape. Their faces were pale and sunken, they were hungry. We circled their square-rigged proa which was larger than any of ours.

We look back and see everyone standing watching us. Some launch more proas and join the circle.

One of us moves closer and we follow.

Saxipak'a …

Hawks surveyed for pocket mice in the pickleweed. Harbor seals watched their pups splash in the estuary. A heron towered over the brackish water from an overhanging oak branch while hares retreated for their burrows out of the swaggering path of a hungry xus. He came to the edge of the river without a name and made ripples.

The smell of oak ash and sweat caught his attention and he looked up the river and saw a dugout canoe paddled by two boys. The boys stared at the xus and the drumming of woodpeckers in oak woodlands echoed. The older boy gripped his paddle harder making it squeak just enough for the xus to hear. The xus stood up and the boys held their breath. They posed no threat to the xus. He lowered to all fours and disappeared into the bulrush. The boys watched where he once stood for a moment and exhaled.

"It's real," said Pititi. "That was the xus father saw when he was your age, Silkiset."

"Maybe," said Silkiset. "Don't tell father."

"That was the xus father saw when he was your age, Silkiset," said Pititi.

"I still smell him," Pititi said, scrunching his nose.

"Do you know why they smell like that?" asked Silkiset.

"Because they eat honey."

"That's not real," said Silkiset sternly. "Xus like to rub themselves on trees and the biggest ones use the biggest trees to scratch. That's why they smell like fire."

"But he didn't smell like fire," said Pititi. "He just smelled bad."

[End Page 54]

"That's what someone told me."


Silkiset shook his head. "Just don't tell father we're out here."

As they paddled deeper into the estuary, gulls and pelicans flew in formation in the grey sky as they did the other day when Silkiset was alone and saw the largest canoe than any tomol he'd seen in the village. It was so large that it was tied to clouds to keep it afloat. If it were not for his dugout—which was not fit for seafaring—Silkiset would have rowed out closer. Instead, he stood on the dunes and watched the clouds take the tomol beyond the point.

"Was the canoe bigger than the xus we saw?" Pititi asked.

"The canoe was bigger."

"Will it still be here?"

"The wind took it."

"If the wind took it, why do you want to see it?"

"The wind might have brought it back."

"But that's not how the wind works."

"Then maybe the sea did," said Silkiset. "Big things don't disappear."

The current left the dugout in the middle of the estuary where cormorants dried their wings on the branches of a dead tree in the water. Silkiset paddled to shore and Pititi watched a grebe bob in the water before diving.

"Be careful in the sand," said Silkiset. "There are plover eggs everywhere."

"Already?" whined Pititi. "I don't like plovers."

"Why not?" Silkiset laughed.

Pititi pointed to a hawk circling above them. "They fly high up to look for food. Woodpeckers put holes in the trees so that others can have homes. All plovers do is chase waves and run away and chase waves and run away. They're boring."

Silkiset jumped into the water and dragged the canoe onto the shore. Before jumping out, Pititi looked down—no plover eggs. He got out and grabbed the basket. Silkiset looked at him.

"You told father we were looking for abalone," said Pititi. "We should come back with some."

"Fine," Silkiset huffed. "But I'm not carrying...