In the afternoon, when the chores are done and the sun is beginning its leisurely afternoon stroll across the wide and empty blue sky, the children will gather at the home of their mother. They will stand, patiently, until she looks up at them, acknowledges their presence. Then, they will speak.

“Tell us a story, mother. Tell us of the old ways, of vaulted cities so loud they would cause the birds to flee in a panic, of the earth covered in black-rock paths that now lie cracked and broken by mighty roots. Tell us of the rows of shining towers that are the tombs of our forefathers. Tell us a story.”

sópt. A story.

“Is it not our birthright to wonder of the past? To have you speak to us of the way things were, the way things are, and the way things may one day be again? To preserve the histories, our ways of knowing. Give us the gift of wisdom, let our teachers be the days that used to be.”

ƛʼa. The future. 

“Speak of what we must do and what we must not. Guide us to a place of understanding as we listen to the stories, the ones that speak of ancient days when we lost who we were. Tell us of the reclamation of ourselves. Tell us of the rediscovery, of the reignition of our fire.”

spótalaka. To know.

The mother will pause what she is doing, shelling nuts, stringing beads, stirring the pot. She will smile, and it seems as if her happiness is brighter than the sun. Walking slowly, she makes her way to the fire that burns ever-brighter in the middle of the meeting place. She will sit. Then, she will speak.

“Long ago we walked out of the forest, my children. And we forgot the forest and the forest forgot us. We no longer lived under the shade of the Cedar, the Alder, and the Ash, and so lost the ways in which we had lived for many generations before.” 

ɬə́wɬ. To leave behind.

“Our elders were not needed, for they did not understand the new ways. They withered and blew away, returning to dance with the dust in the wind. Soon, all those that remembered the trees were gone. Only the new world remained, and the people embraced new ways of being and knowing and living.”

nsʔáʔctix. Remembering.

“The trees were no longer our guides and our brothers. They were ripped down to make houses so large you could not see the roofs through the clouds. They were burned to keep us warm; they were tossed aside to make room. Room for what? I do not remember. We did not ask them for permission.”

ʔáɬx̣x. Home.

The children will sit wide-eyed and silent, as if they have never heard the story before. But they have. It is written into their skin, flowing through their veins. The land and the people are one. Parts of the same whole, the same story. But they will still question, as they should.

“Why did we leave the trees at all, mother? Did something call us out from the branches, did something drive us out from what we knew? Was there no one who stayed, who remembered how we had lived before? Did the forest call us back, and were we too far away to hear?”

ʔit ʔí. Why?

“Who were our elders then, when those who had lived underneath the trees passed on? Did they not remember the old way of knowing, of living? Were the songs of their mothers and fathers not sung, were the stories not told? What was the new wisdom they protected and passed on?”

wá. Who?

“What happened to the clothes we wore that came from the forest, and the medicines we used to heal and to cure? If we no longer walked in the forests, what did we eat? What did the trees say when we tore them down without asking first?”

tám. What?

The mother will let the questions of her children flow through her, hearing their curiosity, feeling their urge to understand. She will remember when her mother’s mother told her the same story, and she had asked the same questions. Felt the same desire to know. And she would answer, as best as she could.

“Those days are far off now, my children. Even among those whose purpose it is to remember, the stories are old. But listen to the words of your ancestors. Hear their footsteps, and see their faces. It is through knowing that you will understand.”

taláynmn. Listen to.

“The generations that lived apart from the forest reveled in themselves, and their own way of being. They lived as they wanted to and not as they should. They lost all their memories of what it meant to belong, both to the trees and to each other.”

sákʷn. A whisper. 

“They did not teach their children what it meant to belong, and so their children searched for meaning where it would never be found. But the ways of being that make us who we are run deep and strong, and even without elders and teachers, they began to question.”

cúnʼx̣. The answer. 

The mother will fall into a quiet kind of rocking back and forth, back and forth, soothing her own soul as she remembers for those who had not been born, and lets the past flow through her like the river through the trees, slow in some places and quick, violently so, in others.

“As we aged and grew, we realized our loss and our longing, but we had spent too long away from the forest, and found there was no longer a forest to return to. We had ripped them down to make houses, burned them whole for our fires, and tossed them aside. There were none left to welcome us.”

xʷə́x̣ʷɬ. The disappearance. 

“We wandered and we wondered, my children. We did not know how to read the stars, for the smoke of our fires grew so large they choked our throats and blinded our eyes and kept us from the map of the sky. Without a map, there is nowhere to go. No guides and no purpose.”

kásiʔ. Stars.

“The language of our people was gone, the good ways of living and of being. We could not speak to one another; we could not heal one another. We could not measure the years by the height of the cedar trees or the hour by the shadow of the sun. We were lost and did not know the way.”

ʔactxʷálʔstm. Confusion.

Then, the mother will smile. It will confuse the children, who look to one another for the answer of why their mother is smiling when there is so much hurt in her voice. The mother will laugh, and stand, her face set to the sun as it slips underneath the horizon and night truly begins. 

“It was then, my children, that we resolved to go back to the forests. When there are questions to be answered, there must be a return. And we set to do what we should have done many generations before. We began not to take, but to give.”

stóolʼapn. The beginning. 

“We gave water, we gave air, we gave earth. We gave ourselves, day and night, listening to the faintest of whispers that told us what to do. There were those that tried to stop our healing, but they were few and we were many. You see, my children, we were not alone.” 

sqʼápʼawn. Healing.

“We joined with many peoples, with many stories of their own, whose ways of knowing and ways of living were not ours. But they too heard the lament of the forest, and did not turn away. We listened together, in the glow of dawn and in the murk of dusk. Together, we reclaimed our memory.”

 tə́mx. The land.

The children will huddle closer as the night grows colder, and the stars begin to arrive in bright and memorizing splendor. Others will join around them, family and friends arriving at the gathering place. They will encircle the children. Protecting them, preventing any wisdom from leaking out.

“What happened then, mother? How long did it take for the trees to grow? How long for the stars to come back? Did we walk alone into the forest, did we leave anyone behind? Did we remember the good ways of living and breathing and being?”

sáwʼlaɬikʷn. Wonder.

“Are we safe now, mother? When we race each other through the tall and sturdy trees, do we need to fear that the forest will end, and we will find the world beyond as we left it, still broken and dead? How many years has it been since those times, how many generations?”

yulínut. Worry. 

“Will we ever forget, mother? Will our children’s children’s children walk out of the forest and never return? Will they forget the trees and will the trees forget them? What do we do to keep the telling alive, the legacy of the past, the present, and the future? How do we protect the story?”

qʷántas. Fear.

The rest of those who have gathered around the children will remain silent, for now is not their time to speak. They too will watch as the mother sits back down, moves closer to the fire, and spreads her hands wide, as if to echo the children’s questions back to them.

“Who can say, my children? We can learn from the things that were, rejoice in the things that are, and hope for the things that may yet come to be. Living cannot be told, only experienced, only felt. Walk in the trees. Remember them so that they will remember you.”

námʼu qas. Hope. 

“You ask what happened? That is a story for another time. There are many such stories, and they all matter. I will tell you some, and others will tell you the rest. You will have to tell each other the ones that we have forgotten. You will have to tell new ones.”

Swínn. Become.

“One day we will all be dust, my children. We will dance in the wind and return to the earth. But as long as we walk under the trees, we must remember the ways in which we are meant to live. You ask if one day we will forget the stories? Then keep them alive.”

níɬɬ. Alive.

“The inclusion of words from the Cowlitz Coast Salish people has been used to recognize the people who traditionally lived on and with the land that the University of Washington is built on, and whose culture influenced the creation of this story.”