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EXCERPT | Dawn Land

Updated: Apr 16

Author Joseph Bruchac

About Dawn Land by Joseph Bruchac:

Dawn Land is, in a way, a historical novel. It draws strongly on the oral traditions of the Western Abenaki, the Haudenosaunee, and other native nations of the northeastern woodlands. Some of those traditions have never been put into print. The novel takes place in the period not long after the most recent glaciation, thousands of years before the first recorded arrival of the Europeans on these shores. It was a time of many changes and the main character, Young Hunter, may be seen as the prototype of some of the heroes found in the oral traditions of the Western Abenaki—such as Long Hair, Fast Traveler, and White Owl.

About ten thousand years ago, the last traces of the great glaciers left the area we now know as New England. The native people returned to the land from the south and the west where the mountains of ice had not reached. Although archeologists used to say that it was only around that time that the first human beings came into North America by crossing the Bering Strait, hard evidence over the last few decades has pushed human habitation of this continent back more than fifty thousand years. Human beings were always moving, migrating to follow game herds, to find better soil for their crops, or to see what was on the other side of the next range of mountains. Long before Columbus (or Leif Ericson) or the Conquistadores, America was “discovered” by its aboriginal inhabitants and there were pre-Columbian trade routes all across this land.

Chapter One: Before Dawn

Ketah, Nodah. Listen, hear me. So it begins.

He built the fire before the sun rose. He sat naked in front of it, watching the glow of the stones within its heart. There were thirteen stones, one for each of the villages of the People of the Dawn Land. Behind him was the door of the lodge, open to the east. Beside him was the knife he had napped from the hillside flint the day before, using the one implement he carried with him for his task. That one tool, a piece of deer antler the length of the span from stretched-out thumb to the end of his middle finger, rested in the hollow of a tree near the flint hill place a look away. He had brought nothing with him to this place that was not his own or of his own making. That which was most his own, that which he would soon offer strongly as the Only People taught, was his body.

Behind him, the door of the lodge was open. The lodge was small, the height of a man’s waist. It was shaped like the sky dome. The twelve peeled willow saplings that formed its frame were those he had cut and peeled the afternoon before, sharpened and pressed into the soft earth, tied together with the thin tough roots of the woodbine and the grapevine, which grew here in profusion. In the forest around this clearing at the stream’s edge, the grapevines were draped with fruit. It was good as he sat, waiting for the stones to grow hot enough, to think of the animal people eating those grapes, to think of the partridge and the jay, the raccoon and the fox and the deer, coming to this place to eat those grapes. But he did not think of eating grapes himself. He thought of not eating. He thought of the stones growing red and then white with heat. He thought of the task before him, the beginning within the sweat lodge. It would be dark within the lodge. The lodge was covered well with the bark of the dead elm, which had fallen by the stream near the base of the hill, taken down by a long—past storm. Within the lodge there were two smells. One was from the dead bark of the elm, its pungent sweetness. The other smell was of earth, the earth he sifted between his fingers as he smoothed the ground, as he dug the hole in the center where the stones would be placed.

Facing the direction where the Sky Walker or the Day Traveler, the great sun, would first show his bright face, and watching the fire turn the wood into sand, he thought of his task, of the honor to be one of the young men allowed to hunt for the people in the strongest way.

All around was the darkness, but it held no fear. The seasons were long past when that darkness had held the Great Ones, the ones who hunted the Only People. Those Great Ones lived only in wintertime stories. It was in the time of his mother’s mother’s mother when the last of the Great Ones to be seen in the land of the Only People had been killed. The skin of that one, of the one known as Fear Bear, was still to be seen in the lodge of their Oldest Talker. Their Oldest Talker spread it out when it was time for him to speak of the hidden things, when it was time for him to enter his special lodge and call for the Below People to bring him down to their deep land. They would shake his small lodge and speak in their high and distant voices of things faraway.

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