When I was a little girl, my father often sat on the porch that overlooked the ravine behind our house, watching the sunrise. My mother would be gone to work by this time, and I was left in charge of my little brother until our ride to school arrived. My father always looked pensive on these mornings, as he gazed at the mist lifting its cloak from the land, rising straight up in billowing tendrils of cloud. He liked to watch the darkness drain from the earth, slowly to be replaced by tongues of pink and orange light. We had a large enough property that these mornings were mostly silent, aside from a sudden eruption of birdsong or the distant, mournful call of a train.
On one of these quiet mornings, I had managed to get my brother ready early by some miracle of luck and timing. He was small then, perhaps only six, and normally at that age it was a trial to even negotiate what he would eat for breakfast, or if he would put on his clothes. But on this day, he had taken all of my suggestions and coaxing at face value, and we were ready to go perhaps a full half-hour before our ride was due to pick us up. I took advantage of this opportunity, and took my baby brother by his chubby hand to lead him outside, where my father sat sipping a steaming mug of coffee. I sat down in a big wooden chair and my brother crawled into my lap, curling into my chest for extra warmth. I held his soft little body in my arms, his fine, dark brown hair tickling the underside of my chin, and together the three of us gazed out at the ravine. Then my father started to speak.
He was still a young man then, with more bounce in his step and in his voice than he would have later in life. But even when I was a child, he commanded the respect of the community, and I knew he had a presence that was special. I was proud that he was my father, even if he was sometimes distant from us. But no matter how much I might have missed his attention at certain times in my life, one thing was always true: when he spoke, I listened, and it was the same for my brother. He weaved his words together like magic.
He told us that, long ago, our people could leave their bodies at will and float on the wind, using the breeze to travel over mountains and through fields, darting between the trees of this land as an eagle soars through the sky. They called upon the animals to help them in times of need, and through the sacred partnership they held with deer, raven, fox, and wolf, they could drive their enemies from their lands without risking a drop of their own blood.
My father said that, eventually, our people became closest to one single animal above all the others- the wolf, that cunning and majestic spirit of the forest. My father said that some wolves weren't animals at all, but that they were a kind of man, the descendents of those members of our people who, preferring that form, had forgotten how to change back into human beings. They moved through the world, more intelligent than any beast, and they were to be respected as family, because that was what they were to us.
My brother and I listened, enrapt, as he explained that the potential for shape shifting still slept in the Quileute blood. He said that perhaps one day, if circumstances were right, people in our own community would hear the wolf howling in their blood. If that happened, they would remember how to change form again, to run in packs and protect the land from our enemies. If the wolf cried from your blood, he said, it couldn't be ignored. He told us that to be like this would be something sacred, a calling greater than that of a healer or even a chief. He made it sound fascinating, exciting and romantic.
I was too young to realize that he was talking to my brother.