The Verdict: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver – Part 6


“The boy’s fate is for the council to decide, Red Bear” said a gray-haired man stepping up out of the hut behind him.

Red Bear growled and pushed past as the old man motioned for them to enter the hut. The angry native stomped across the bridge and out of sight.

Lem walked through the doorway and looked nervously at all of the stern faces sitting around the center fire. He stopped just inside, not sure what he was supposed to do. Running Wolf walked up behind him and led him to a pile of furs on the floor. Lem slowly sank down onto the unusual seat. The gray-haired man walked around the fire and sat down cross-legged in the only other empty spot.

“I am Standing Elk, the chief of the underland tribe. Your presence here causes us great trouble, offlander.”

Lem looked away embarrassed. His curiosity had led him into a great many problems in the past, but never anything like this before. He didn’t know what to say.

“I’m sorry.”

“Perhaps,” replied Standing Elk, “but that does not change the facts. The facts are these: our underland tribe has remained a secret for over one hundred years. During that time, we have not had to face the trials from the offlanders that our brothers who chose to stay on the surface have endured. We will not easily give up the freedom that we enjoy here. Therefore, we will not take any risks that our location might be found. “

“Um, ok,” Lem stammered. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”

“No, you will not,” Standing Elk sighed sadly.

Lem began to panic. Were they going to kill him after all? “Wh…what do you mean?”

“I am sorry, but we cannot allow you to leave here. Do not worry. We will not go as far as Red Bear suggested, but you will not set foot up on the surface again.”

“B…but, but, wait. That’s not fair. I have to go back. My mom and dad… You can’t do this!” Lem grew angrier and angrier as the reality of what Standing Elk meant began to sink in.

“I am sorry, but that is my final word. Running Wolf will find you a place to live and help you get settled in. You are his responsibility now.”

Lem glanced over at Running Wolf still shocked at what the chief had said. Running Wolf didn’t look pleased.

“But my parents,” Lem all but shouted as an idea occurred to him. “They’ll look for me. They’ll get the whole town involved. You don’t know them. Won’t it be dangerous to have everyone searching the forest? They might find you anyway.” Lem smiled triumphantly.

“We will ensure that the search takes place on the far side of the island. There will be no danger to us. Running Wolf.” Standing Elk looked at the native boy sitting next to Lem and nodded dismissingly.

Running Wolf nodded back and stood up. “Come.” He looked down at Lem who was still sitting there dumbfounded.


“Come!” Running Wolf repeated sternly. He grabbed Lem’s arm and pulled him to his feet.

“B…but…” Lem stuttered as Running Wolf pulled him out of the hut. He couldn’t believe it. He was a prisoner! He’d never see his family again. His eyes scanned the cavern walls as Running Wolf pulled him back across the bridge and down the path. He’d have to escape. That’s all there was to it. But as he looked around, he realized that would be all but impossible. Guards stood at each entrance. He knew that he’d never be able to get past them.

It began to grow difficult for him to breathe, and his chest felt unusually heavy. Lem feared he might have a panic attack. He forced himself to calm down. They can’t keep me here, he thought. My parents will find me. Or if they don’t, I’ll be able to escape. I can do this! They can’t watch me all the time. It won’t be easy, but I will. I will get out of here! I will!

Running Wolf’s Favorite Poem


There is an eagle in me and a spotted bird hurrying corn to grow.

The eagle flies to the mountains of my dreams,

flies to the corners of my distant hopes.

But the spotted bird stands among the cornstalks telling me to hoe.

My hands are the tools of my soul.

They make the drum,

the bow,

the flute,

and stretch the skin of the deer.

They work the earth and care for the sheep and plant the corn.

They greet my homeland each morning that I awake.

 Author unknown


The Hidden Village: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver – Part 5


Surrounded by stern-faced natives all with arrows notched and pointed at him, Lem began to think that maybe he should have listened to Running Wolf and left the dragon alone.

Nervously, he watched them. For what seemed like an eternity, no one moved. Then, one of the men jumped down to a lower ledge on Lem’s left and started to speak in a language he didn’t understand. Lem watched the man feeling confused. Surely they must realize he didn’t speak their language. Suddenly, a voice behind him made him jump as it replied in the same language. Lem turned to see Running Wolf standing there, eyebrows drawn together and lips pursed angrily.

“You should not have come,” he growled at Lem. “The hidden village is forbidden to all offlanders.”

“What will they do to me?”

“I do not know. None has ever dared to intrude before.” Running Wolf sighed. Even though he was angry at Lem, he couldn’t help also being impressed. When he said that no offlander had intruded before, what he really meant was none had ever been able to find them. But he was also upset. He had been assigned the task of watching Lem ever since the first time he had entered the forest. He would definitely get in trouble for this.

“Come. We must go see Big Elk. The council will decide your fate.” Running Wolf jumped down to a lower ledge to the right that Lem hadn’t seen before and hurried off without looking back.

Lem only paused for a moment. He knew that if he followed the young native, he would undoubtedly face some punishment for his actions, but this hidden world was too tempting to leave. Anyway, he reasoned to himself, it wasn’t as if he could escape. He didn’t have any illusions that he would be able to get away from them if he tried.

Lem looked over the edge of the platform he stood on and cautiously climbed down to the one below it hurrying to catch up to Running Wolf.

They walked down a pathway beside the stream, through the rocky cavern. Lem couldn’t see the guards anymore, but he knew they were still there, watching him.

Up ahead, the ground rose higher, and a large archway loomed over the path. As they walked nearer, their road became rockier. They had to climb over the large boulders that had fallen away, or been knocked out, to create the opening. At one point, Lem even had to scramble up a large stone on his hands and knees. Watching his feet the whole way, he didn’t notice what lay on the other side of the archway until he made it to the top of the hill and stood directly underneath it.

On the other side, the whole scene changed. Gardens grew high up on the ledges soaking up the sunlight that streamed in from the various holes in the ceiling. Huts, that appeared to be made from some sort of thick bark, lined the walls of the cavern and another tall waterfall ran down from high above on the far side to feed a stream that met the other one in the middle. More trees and flowers dotted the floor and ledges in the unusual village.

Lem gazed around in wonder. It was beautiful, and the people milling about working on their everyday tasks seemed to be happy, especially the children who hovered nearby, curious about the intruder.

But the most surprising sight of all was the dragons. Lem counted seven that he could see. Some of them slept quietly in the shadows, but others ran around with the children or lay down next to the huts.

“Tame dragons?” Lem mumbled in surprise.

“Yes,” answered Running Wolf a little reluctantly. “But they can still be dangerous to strangers or when they feel threatened. You would be wise to avoid them.”

“Is that the one that came to the school?” Lem asked excitedly pointing to a dragon with an unhealed would on its leg. The dragon sat in front of a hut with a little boy who watched Lem’s progression curiously.

Running Wolf frowned but didn’t say anything. He just kept moving ahead. Lem tore his eyes from the dragon and looked at the path in front of them hurrying to catch back up. Their destination seemed to be a large round hut set on a rock platform in the middle of the cavern. The stream split in two and circled the platform coming together again on the other side. A small bridge led over the stream to the hut.

As they crossed the bridge, the door swung open and a tall native man, who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, stormed out. Through the open door, Lem could see a circle of older men sitting on the floor around a fire inside.

“So this is the intruder,” growled the newcomer glaring at Lem. He leaned down and stared Lem straight in the eyes. “You know our secret now,” he hissed. “I hope you realize that this means we cannot let you live. You must die. And I will take great pleasure in the being the one to kill you, offlander.” His lip cured up in a snarl and a maniacal gleam lit up his eyes at the thought.

The Secret Cave: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver – Part 4


Lem walked to his P.E. class with a familiar sense of dread. He’d never liked P.E. which shouldn’t be surprising since he often tripped over his own feet just walking. Running, though, running was something he could do. It’s surprising how good a person can get at running when that person has a habit of annoying other people.

Yesterday, their P.E. teacher, Coach Ketter, had told them that they would play dodge ball today. He really hated dodge ball. It hurt. And now that he had made a group of enemies at this new school, it hurt a lot.

Lem ran through a list of excuses in his mind as he slowly trudged toward the gym. Inwardly, he felt along his body. Did anything hurt? Even a little? For a brief moment, he thought he might have felt a slight pressure in his head. That was good. He could say he had a headache. It kind of ached. Well, he could feel it at least. That could easily grow into a headache, couldn’t it?

As he contemplated the exact definition of “ache,” he walked past the science room and looked in longingly. Now, that was a class he liked. He’d gladly trade gym for three or four extra science classes. Glancing through the door into the back of the room, he stopped suddenly and took a quick step back. There they stood. The native boys he had seen on his first day.

Almost two weeks had passed since Lem had followed the dragon into the woods. Even though he hadn’t seen Running Wolf again since then, he still nervously felt like he was being watched every time he even went close to the tree line on the school property. But he hadn’t tried during school hours. He hadn’t dared after the lecture he received from missing class that first day.

Today felt different. P.E. was his last class of the day. He wouldn’t mind skipping it. Running Wolf and his friends had a science class, so he didn’t have to worry about them. He just had to think of a good excuse to convince Coach Ketter to let him leave.   

Butterflies fluttered in his stomach as he walked down the hallway with renewed vigor. Excitement at the possibility and nervousness at the danger fought within him until he almost felt sick. He might have to go throw up before he left, but at least he had his excuse now.

As he entered the gym, he stopped smiling and tried for a believably sick expression as he approached his teacher.

“Coach Ketter, I don’t feel good. My stomach feels weird. Can I be excused from class today?” Lem tried to control his voice, pitiful enough to earn sympathy but not so pitiful that it sounded fake.

Coach Ketter looked at Lem carefully. He didn’t believe for a moment that the boy was sick. It didn’t take a genius to realize that Lem hated P.E., but he felt sorry for him. Coach Ketter knew Lem would get clobbered in dodge ball. For some reason he seemed to be the one all the others went after. He sighed.

“Ok, you may be excused, but I expect to see you back tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir!” Lem said a little too enthusiastically.

Coach Ketter raised his eyebrows knowingly. Lem clutched his stomach and said, “Thank you,” in as sickly a tone as he could manage and exited quickly before his teacher could change his mind.

He hurried to the bathroom and waited for the bell to ring. He didn’t want to run the risk of being seen and having to abort his mission. When it seemed that the coast was clear, Lem snuck onto the hall and rushed toward the side door intentionally avoiding the hallway with the science room. Once outside, he hurried into the woods.

It took him a little while to locate the spot where he’d lost the dragon, and when he did get there, he had to dig around in the bushes to find the hole where the dragon had disappeared.  Grabbing the small flashlight that he had carried hooked to his belt every day since he’d first followed the dragon here, he carefully aimed it down into the hole leaning back a little in case the dragon was inside. He’d expected to find a small burrow or other type of dragon lair. What he didn’t expect to see was a tunnel that appeared to grow wider the further in it went. His light didn’t shine far enough for him to get a good look, but he felt pretty sure that this was a cave that opened up further in.

Sitting back on his heels, he took a moment to think. If he was wrong, and this was a dragon’s burrow, he would be an idiot to crawl inside. But he hadn’t seen any dragons, and he was pretty sure it had opened up. He’d read a lot about animals, and he remembered reading that komodo dragons would sometimes dig “shallow” burrows. This wasn’t shallow. But, then again, this dragon looked different than any picture of a komodo dragon that he had ever seen, and he had watched the thing disappear down into this hole. Arrggg! His curiosity almost felt overwhelming, but his sense of self-preservation wouldn’t be ignored.

A rustle behind him made him turn his head sharply just in time to see a squirrel run up a tree. He let out a sigh of relief. He’d thought for a second that Running Wolf had followed him. That decided it. He might never get an opportunity like this again. He had to check it out. If he didn’t, he’d never forgive himself.

Lem looked around on the forest floor and picked up a thick stick. It would be difficult to carry this down the hole with him, and it probably wouldn’t do much good against a dragon, but he wasn’t about to go down there without some sort of weapon.

Pushing the stick in front of him with one hand and holding his flashlight in front of him with the other, Lem crawled awkwardly into the hole scooting along on his elbows for several yards until the passage opened up enough for him to stand. As he walked along, the walls seemed to be closing in making his path narrower and narrower. Disappointment began to rise in Lem when it seemed like the passage came to a dead end.

“No!” he complained loudly. Exasperated, he looked around frantically shining his flashlight in every direction, but he could see nothing except shadows. Refusing to give up so soon, Lem walked up to a wall and began examining every crevice determined to circle the entire space. About three quarters of the way around, he found a crevice that was more than a crevice. The opening couldn’t be seen from where he had been standing before, but it could clearly be seen from the opposite angle. It was wide enough for him to walk into even though it was a bit tight in places.

With renewed excitement, Lem pushed through the narrow passageway. To his surprise, the cave tunnel began to get brighter as he walked. Before long, he didn’t even need his flashlight. He quickly turned it off and clipped it back on his belt. Not only did the path get brighter, it also grew wider. He had to continually remind himself to be cautious to stop himself from running. Finally, he turned a corner in the tunnel and stopped to stare in wonder. The passage opened up into a huge cavern. Small holes sprinkled around the top let in sunlight, and trees and other plant life dotted the floor and clung to the walls everywhere. A large waterfall fell down into a stream that flowed through the length of the cavern.

Lem stood on a ledge overlooking the beautiful scene and gazed at it in wonder. But his wonder quickly turned to fear as an arrow swooshed by his face and stuck in the wall right next to his ear. Looking around in alarm, he saw seven island natives standing on ledges high above. All of them had arrows pointed directly at him. He gasped in alarm tightly clutching the stick he still carried. Well, he’d done it now. His curiosity had finally killed him. Lem lifted a shaking hand to wave.

“Um, hi?” he said smiling nervously.

Into the Woods: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver – Part 3


Lem walked through the woods as quietly as he could, but even to him, his footsteps seemed to pound through the underbrush like an elephant tromping through a bed of broken glass. The dragon kept looking back at him and hurrying on as fast as its injured body would allow. Lem knew that he was on dangerous ground. Komodo dragons were deadly in the best of times, and this one was injured, but his curiosity kept him going.

They walked quite a ways from the school through the woods, and Lem almost lost his reptilian prey a few times as the trees thickened and the ground began to rise. They were coming closer to the mountains.

Lem thought he saw the dragon disappear into a hole in the ground and hurried forward to get a better look.  He hid behind a tree close to where the dragon had disappeared and peered around to make sure it wasn’t just hiding in the underbrush. He certainly didn’t want to accidently step on the injured animal. Looking into the dense bushes intently, Lem almost jumped out of his skin when the native boy from the school jumped out of the tree and landed right in front of him.

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” Lem gasped accusingly. He looked nervously at the boy who just stood there with his arms crossed. “My name’s Lem. I’m new in town. I, uh, saw you up at the school.”

The native boy just looked at him for a second. Finally, he responded, “I’m called Running Wolf.” He seemed to relax a little as he leaned back against a nearby tree. He still had his arms crossed in front of him, but he didn’t seem quite as threatening as he had.

“You are not supposed to be here, you know,” he said with a lifting of his eyebrows. “You would get in much trouble if the school officials knew.”

“I know I’m skipping class,” Lem admitted, “but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a dragon before. I had to follow it.”

“Yes, you will get in trouble for skipping class, but it is more than that. These woods are considered the personal property of one of the most powerful men on the island. He would not look kindly on you for trespassing.”

Lem hadn’t thought about that. “Oh, well, where does he live? I could go ask him if he’d mind.”

“No! He does not like kids.” Running Wolf replied almost a little too quickly.

Lem looked at him curiously. It almost seemed like the other boy was hiding something.

“Besides,” Running Wolf continued, “only a fool would go after an injured dragon. He could still easily kill you and will if you get too close.”

Lem considered at him carefully. Something didn’t seem quite right. Running Wolf’s posture seemed too casual, almost posed, and the muscles standing out on his crossed arms indicated more of a stressed nature than the calm one he seemed to be trying to convey. He was hiding something.

As soon as Lem made this realization, he decided to change tactics. If there was something here that Running Wolf wanted to hide, then Lem’s curious nature insisted that he discover it. He was pretty sure that the dragon had gone into a hole or hidden cave nearby, but he was also pretty sure that this was about more than the dragon.

He couldn’t do anything now with Running Wolf on guard, and he didn’t want to raise his suspicions, so Lem relaxed his shoulders and let out a big sigh. He smiled.

“You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve just never seen a dragon before, so I guess I got carried away.” He chuckled. “There’s no telling what trouble I might have gotten myself into if you hadn’t come along. I guess we should get back, huh. I’m probably already in enough trouble.” Lem turned and began walking back toward the school.

“Thanks for following me and making me see reason. I really appreciate it. My curiosity can get the better of me sometimes.” He chuckled and looked behind him at Running Wolf, but the boy wasn’t there.

Lem stopped and looked hurriedly around.  Running Wolf was nowhere to be seen. He had simply disappeared without a sound. Lem hesitated for just a second to consider going back to look for the hole, but then he thought better of it. Running Wolf had followed him all the way from the school without him knowing it. He was obviously good at the whole stealth thing. Lem didn’t want to run the risk of the native seeing him now.

He would go back to the school and act like everything was normal then, after a week or so, he’d go back. He would find out where the dragon went and what Running Wolf had been so worried he’d see. His curiosity could wait that long, surely. One week, and he’d be back.

Follow the Dragon: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver – Part 2


A real dragon? Surely not. Really?!? thought Lem as he ran over to the group of boys. Joining the group, he had to stand on his toes and crane his neck to see through the crowd. Sure enough, it was a dragon. Well, a komodo dragon. At least, Lem assumed it was a komodo dragon. What other kind could it be, really? But it didn’t look exactly like he thought komodo dragons were supposed to look. Its neck was longer and more serpentine looking. Its legs were longer, too. It seemed to be injured, though. It had a deep gash on one of its back legs.

He stared at it in fascination. Suddenly, one of the boys yelled, “kill it.” Shocked, Lem blurted out, “Why!?!” before he could stop himself. No one had heard him though. The yells from the group drowned him out. Frustrated, he didn’t know what to do. This was it. His first impression. He could go along with them and make friends, or he could try to stop them and doom himself instantly.

Nothing stupid, he thought.  He watched as someone grabbed a large rock and threw it at the poor dragon. The rock hit its leg with a loud crack, and the dragon hissed and drew back. The circle of boys around the dragon widened a little as they stepped back in fear. Dragons were dangerous. Some of the boys ran around picking up the rocks that lay littered about. Lem didn’t understand. Why did they want to kill it? He was fascinated by it. A real dragon. Another rock hit the poor creature. It looked really mad now. The circle widened even more as it lunged forward in anger, but the boys stood firm and held up their rocks in defense. They weren’t going to let this fun escape.

His head felt like it would burst with questions. Were there more dragons? Where did it come from? Why did it look different from the pictures he had seen? Why had it come so near the school? He wanted to stop them. He wanted them to let it go, so he could follow it and see where it went. He looked around at the boys nervously. He couldn’t say anything. He had to make a good first impression. Didn’t he?

The dragon made another pitiful cry of pain. He looked down at the poor creature. It looked like one of its legs was broken, and it had several wounds that bled profusely. That’s when he decided. This wasn’t about scientific curiosity anymore. This was about doing the right thing.

“Stop!” he yelled out loudly. The cries of the excited boys made it impossible for them to hear him. He started pushing his way between the two standing in front of him. In the middle of the circle, he stood between the dragon and the boy who seemed to be the leader of the group (allowing a lot of room between him and the angry dragon).

“Stop!” he yelled again.

“Who are you?” the boy asked harshly.

“I’m Lem Xandiver. I’m new here.” Actually, his full name was Rupert Lemuel Xandiver, but he didn’t feel like they needed to know that.

“And just why should we stop, Lem Xandiver? Are you a dragon lover or something?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Lem replied a little unsure. “I’ve never seen a dragon before today, but I’ll not let you torture this poor thing. It’s not right.”

“It’s not right, is it?” the boy said with a rough laugh. He looked around at all the other boys, and they laughed too. The big boy had a rock in his hand, and he stood there throwing it up and catching it, looking menacingly at Lem. He looked like he was going to throw the rock at him. Lem really got scared when his laugh took on a sinister quality. When the other boys in the group began imitating their leader, Lem thought he was really in for it.

Suddenly, one of the teachers came out of the school door and rang the bell for class to begin. The boy threw his rock down on the ground viciously and snarled, “saved by the bell, Lem. At least, this time.” He pointed at him threateningly. “I’m going to be watching you.”

The other boys threw down their rocks with varying attempts to emulate their leader’s nasty look as they followed him into the building. Lem watched them leave and noticed one of the natives standing alone by the tree staring at him. Lem couldn’t tell what he was thinking behind his expressionless face, and it made him feel even more nervous. He forgot everything, though, at a sound from on the ground. The dragon was limping back into the woods. Lem took one quick look at the school building. The teacher had gone back inside, and there were only a few students (not counting the native by the tree) still in sight meandering toward the building. He knew he would get in trouble if he didn’t follow. He didn’t have any doubt that the boys he’d just met would make sure his teacher noticed his absence. But he couldn’t resist. This could be his only chance to ever see a dragon. He had to follow it.

Don’t Do Anything Stupid!: The Life and Times of Lemuel Xandiver – Part 1


It was his first day in a new school. Most people would be nervous but not Lem. He was excited. He hadn’t had too many friends in his old school, you see, and this was his chance to start over.

Nothing stupid, nothing stupid, nothing stupid, he kept repeating to himself as he walked up the sidewalk toward the large impressive building at the end of the street. It looked more like a British manor house than a school, but that made it all the more exciting for Lem. He loved anything out of the ordinary.

Lem also had a very curious mind. That curiosity is just what seemed to be the root of all of his trouble at his old school. He was always going where he shouldn’t go, and he was always asking “why?” whenever anything struck him as odd or interesting. He drove his mom and dad absolutely crazy with his questions. Many of his teachers at his old school hadn’t liked it either. Don’t get me wrong, they encouraged his questions at first. They all commented on what a bright boy he was. In the beginning. But sometimes, he would ask questions that they couldn’t answer or questions that weren’t exactly politically correct. This began to make some of his teachers, and other adults in the community a little nervous. No longer was he a “bright boy.” He began to be more often referred to as a smart aleck.

Teachers began to give him fewer opportunities to ask questions in class. Parents started not wanting their kids to hang around him. It didn’t take long for him to become a social pariah. His classmates just avoided him at first, then they started whispering behind his back, then whispering about him when he was in earshot. Finally, some of them started just being mean. A few of the teachers understood and tried to help him out, but this tended to only make things worse. Let’s just say, he was quite excited the day his dad come home and announced that his company was moving them to Button Island. His dad was going to be in charge of setting up a windmill power system there, so they would probably be staying for a while.

Now, here he was with a new island, a new town, a new school, and a new opportunity to make a good first impression. Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t say anything stupid. Don’t ask too many questions. Just blend in.

As he got closer to the building, he could see the schoolyard full of people sitting and talking, waiting for the bell to ring. Glancing around, his eyes stopped on three boys over to the left sitting cross legged under a tree. Their clothes didn’t stand out as any different from what everyone else had on, but that was where the similarity ended. Long black hair framed their bronzed faces, and their stern expressions and intense stares unnerved him a little. They seemed to be looking at nothing and at everything all at the same time. They must be island natives. He had been warned about them. In fact, one of the sailors on the ship that brought his family to the island had told him to watch out for them.

“It’s best if ye avoid them wholly,” he said, “but if ye have to do dealing with them, ye should be doing it quickly.”

“Why?” Lem had asked.

“Because they be a mean and vicious people. They’d rather kill ye than talk to ye.”


“I guess it be cause we’s came in and crowded them outta mosta their island. I spose they’s do have a reason for being angry,” the old sailor admitted grudgingly. “But that be many years go. Tain’t good to hang onna grudge so long. Sides, twasn’t none of us who done it. But I spose they’s still angry.”


“Well, they still got a rough time of it, seeing as they’s stuck on the far side of the island now, but they’s got a good village there. Sides, I don’t reckon they’d even want to live in town with alla us.”

The man’s voice rose with each sentence, and his face had begun to turn red. Lem saw the signs of impatience. He knew them well, but he just couldn’t stop himself. He really wanted to know.

“Why?” he asked. But that was just too much. The sailor threw up his hands in exasperation.

“I don’t know!” he yelled. “Go below and stop your jabbering.  Why? Why? Why? Ye’s worsen old Ben Tillley’s parrot.” He walked away grumbling and avoided Lem for the rest of the voyage. Lem gritted his teeth and gave himself a stern talking to.

No questions! No pestering people! Nothing stupid! A good first impression, that’s what I have to concentrate on.

Seeing the natives now, though, he wished he had found out more about them. These three certainly looked intimidating. He couldn’t help but remember what the sailor had said.

“They’d rather kill ye than talk to ye.”

Now, Lem was a smart boy, and he knew about prejudices, so he didn’t completely believe that, but looking at those still, expressionless faces, he decided that he wouldn’t risk it. He forced his feet to keep moving into the schoolyard and looked away from the intimidating sight under the tree.

That’s when a yell from one of the other boys caught his attention. It had come from a group clustered at the right of the school building over by the woods. They seemed to all be looking at something on the ground. Curious as always, Lem found his feet moving toward them. Another boy came running up to the group and yelled, “Whatcha got, Burt?”

One of the boys, Burt, apparently, turned and hollered back, “It’s a dragon.”

A Dragon? thought Lem excitedly as he ran over to see. 

On the Rez: Aspen’s Heart

We’ve all heard the saying “it’s better to give than to receive,” and most people would say that they agree with that. But is it really better to give than to receive? Do you really believe that? Or maybe the better question would be do you act that out?

 What if you came from a culture that had a true heart of giving, a people whose giving nature had abounded until it was overcome by a culture of takers? What if you were a Native American? Would you still think it is better to give than to receive?  

 Many people on some of the poorer reservations have spent their whole lives with so little that they rely on the assistance of others just to make do. Even those who are able to take care of themselves most likely live more by the mantra “waste not, want not” than any other. In such a situation, giving to others can be very rare. That’s what makes the actions of one little girl really stand out.

 The little girl is Aspen, a second grader at Windswept Academy. She was at school one day when she overheard a teacher talking to a little boy in the first grade. He had very badly chapped lips, and it must have been uncomfortable for him. The teacher told the boy to ask his grandmother to get him some ChapStick to bring to school with him the next day, so he could use it throughout the day as he needed it.  However, even simple needs like that don’t always get met. And, sure enough, the next day, he came to school without it. But Aspen had noticed the need and had guessed that it would go unmet, so she came to the rescue. Walking over to the little boy, she handed him a brand new tube of ChapStick and told him “this is your very own.”  

 Yes, it was just a tube of ChapStick, but for someone who has lived a life devoid of such kindness, it was an incredible ray of sunshine. The little boy told her, “You are my first friend.” Aspen did make a friend that day. Now, he follows her around everywhere wanting to be near the one who showed him kindness in the form of a simple gift of ChapStick.

 So, even with all of the troubles we may encounter or the financial problems we may face, is it better to give than to receive? I think so. We never know when we might be the first friend someone has ever had.

Thank you Aspen for teaching us that even when we don’t have much ourselves, it’s still important to help others.


Outsider Perspectives on Native Dance

As some of you know, I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) at the university. One great thing about this job is that I get to learn about the many different cultures of the international students in my classes. It’s really opened my eyes to the rest of the world and how they think. That can be both incredibly interesting and disturbing at the same time. 🙂

Another wonderful thing about this job is that I get to share our American culture with people from many different countries. Sometimes our cultural differences aren’t too different, but at other times, I can see the incredulity and wonder on their faces when we talk about some of the things that Americans think or do.

This year, I have the opportunity to teach the American Culture through Cinema class. (I had to fight Mrs. Blackburn for it.) Since I believe that in order to really understand people, you need to know about where they come from (culturally, mentally, emotionally, etc.), we began by looking back at, among other issues, the history of our country and the First Peoples. Days later, we ended this portion of the class by watching the movie Smoke Signals (great movie, by the way). Curious as to what my students thought, I wanted to get their perspective on Native American culture. One of the ways that I did this was to give them a homework assignment that required them to go to YouTube and watch Native dancing at a powwow. They then had to write a short paragraph about their impressions.

With their permission, I’ve copied a few of the paragraphs below. (One note: all of my students in this class are from China.)

At the beginning, I feel the music is so loud and strange. But I still can accept it. People who sing try to press their throat in order to make a variegate voice. The language they sing is so different, and it makes me think about a wild forest life. When they sing together, I can feel it’s powerful and strength, and a little mysterious.

Tonight I saw a video about “Powwow” on youtube. It is “Gathering of Nations Powwow.” I think the powwow in India (I’m sure this was a typo. They know we are talking about American Indians. J ) is just like hmong people celebrate themselve’s festival in China…They dress up and wearing jewelry, ear-rings and some prepared, particular feather. And they just walk in a circle, dance, play drum. In China when I traveled to Southwest where they have hmong people, they performan to me. I think it’s a little similar. But not same. Actually, I like the lifestyle they lived. They treat Powwows as a big day and well prepared to coming.

The music has strong sense of rhythm, but I can’t understand what they are talking about. I think they focus on the beats. The costume is different. I think they like to use feathers to adorn themselves. There are small bells fastened on their ankles. So when they are dancing, it sounds ring ring. I think it is interesting. In addition, I think they will have a sore throat if they sing a long time as that.

Yeah, what an amazed feeling! I never seen this before though the powwow is very like some natural minority dance in China. I think it is used to describe a meeting like military because they carry… weapons. Yet, I really like the colorfulness. What’s more, the drum beats make the greatest sense with the Indians dance with it. It really amuses me.

So, the next time that you go to a powwow and watch the dancers, listen for the “ring, ring” of the bells and revel in the feeling of power, strength, and mystery.


Delivering Books to the Rez

I’m a little late in posting this, but better late than never, right? I want to thank everyone who donated books to the library at Windswept Academy on the Cheyenne River Reservation. I received another box today. Don’t worry. All donations I receive after my return from Eagle Butte will be either mailed or taken when I go back next summer.

My trip up there this past summer was rather uneventful until I got the brilliant idea to drive straight through the night. Being a night person, I wasn’t really very sleepy when I had originally planned to stop at around 10:00. And since I hadn’t reserved a hotel ahead of time like I usually do, I didn’t have any need to stop. So, I thought, why not drive for an hour more. I had a book on tape that I was listening to, and since it was so interesting, I didn’t feel sleepy. (Thank you Cracker Barrel for making books on tape available for bored travelers.)

Around 11:00, I still felt fine, so, on I went. Just for an hour longer. At midnight, I was beginning to lose that wide awake energetic mood, but I still felt fine, so why not keep going? At this point, it almost seemed wasteful to stop and pay money for a hotel room. And if I did get a hotel, knowing myself, I would undoubtedly sleep late the next morning and thereby lose a lot of time that I could spend driving. Also, think about how much time I could make up if I kept going. I was sure I could do it. After all, I had just stayed awake for 40 straight hours when I came back to the U.S. from China. So, keep going I did.

I wasn’t worried about any trouble that I might come across by being on the road so late at night. I have a relatively new car, and since I was on the interstate, I didn’t have to worry about gas stations. Indeed, not only did I find well-lit gas stations everywhere, but I was also surprised at how many other people stopped at them at that time. It felt nice to know that I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to be out and around so early in the morning.

1:00 a.m. came and went and then 2:00 a.m. The monotony of the road started to become more noticeable. Around 4:00 a.m. and a few Mt. Dews later, I started to get that tingly feeling that comes from a combination of tiredness and caffeine. My book on tape had ended, so I began looking for songs that I could sing to, loudly, to help me stay awake. It was then that I really began feeling the late hour. Of course, I couldn’t stop at a hotel at 4:00 a.m. That would certainly be a waste, so even though, I was starting to become very tired, I had to keep going.

Around this time, the world started to become a little surreal. I never lost my focus on the road. I made sure of that, but at one point when I made a pit stop, for a moment, I had the feeling that I was in a dream. Do you know the feeling? That sensation that you get in a dream when you think you’re awake. Well, I had the same sensation, but since I was awake, it felt like I was in a dream. For a moment, I wondered. But, I reasoned, if it were a dream, if I were sleeping, then I was asleep at the wheel. Since I wasn’t having a car wreck, I must be awake. So, on I went.

I counted it an incredible blessing when the sun started to rise. The darkness had begun to weigh heavily on me, especially around 5:00 a.m. It got a little easier when the sun came up. Not easy, mind you, but easier. More Mt. Dews, and the additional pit stops necessitated by them, helped some.

It was after lunch when I realized that I’d finally reached my limit. I pulled over at a rest stop and took a 30 minute nap. More refreshed than I expected to be, I continued my journey and made it to Anne and Ilhami’s later that evening early enough to spend some nice time catching up with them. While I’m glad for the experience of driving through the night, I don’t plan on doing it again, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. If you do try it, the key is to know your limit, and when you reach it, do as I did, and stop to rest.

The next day, I got to see the new school building. It looks great! And I got a chance to meet the new faculty and staff. All of the teachers and workers seemed really gung ho to get the school year started. Based on the last count I heard, they have 41 students now. I’m really excited about the opportunities these kid’s will have at Windswept this year. With this group working with them, wonderful things can’t help but happen.

I only had one full day to stay and help because I had to get back in time to begin classes at UNA. I didn’t have time to do as much as I would like, but I was able to unload and somewhat organize the book donations that I had brought with me and those that others had brought earlier. Hopefully, if someone else doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll have a chance to organize them even better when I return next year.

The school looks great, but it still needs some work, and with the additional students this year, they will be needing additional donations to cover the extra cost. If you would like to learn more about the school or help out, you can look them up on Facebook under Windswept Academy, or you can check out their website at