Grandfather Tale: The Owl Tree

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

One summer afternoon at the circle of stones where Grandfather marked the movement of sun and moon and stars, he told this story to his grandson, Tuwa.

In the center of the plaza of the High Priest’s great house in Totec Canyon stands a tall, solitary pine tree. When I first saw it, I wondered if the entire plain and canyon had once been covered with grandfather pines and they had all been cut down save this one, or if this single tree had been specially planted and cared for.

I was told: One hot summer day like this one, a ragged old Owl Man walked up the creek, no possessions, thin as a wraith, nearly exhausted. No one knew him. He went into the plaza and beat a hole in the ground with a stone, placed a single seed into it, and covered it.

He had a small jar and he began carrying water from the stream to the seed, keeping it soaked, trip after trip, all day long, every day. People took pity on him and gave him scraps of food. He slept on top of his seed, like a bird warming its eggs. That winter he died, and the following spring a tiny strand of green emerged where the Owl Man had planted the seed. The people remembered and protected the tree and kept watering it, as they have done for many lifetimes.

It is a striking thing, this single tree in the treeless valley. It stands out in the evening sun like a small orange-green thunderhead tethered to the ground. Owl Men now watch it day and night, three or four pairs of eyes on it at all times. The High Priest listens carefully to the Owl Men’s interpretations of the omens of the tree. If the omens are good, everyone is well and happy. If the omens are not good … things are not so pleasant.

There are more Skywatchers than Owl Men among our people, and all our great buildings are oriented to the sun and the moon for good reason as I have taught you. But the Owl Tree is closer to the High Priest than the sky, so he is more influenced by it than the clear messages to The People in the heavens. He is more Owl Man than Skywatcher.  

This is what I call the nearness mistake. All Skywatchers learn that, while the stars and the sky are most powerful and important, people choose to believe what is nearest to their eyes. One day you will see the great Owl Tree. May it serve to remind you, my grandson, that what is near is not necessarily what is most important. You must learn to see beyond. You must learn to always see the sky above the trees. Even if there is but one.

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14 Comments

Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Ancient Americans, Chaco Canyon, Chimney Rock, Historial Fiction

14 responses to “Grandfather Tale: The Owl Tree

  1. DEAR Mr Jeff, I hope you read my poem IAM A HUGE TREE
    yours sincerely,
    JVL NARASIMHA RAO
    INDIA

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  4. I really like this one Jeff. It comes across as oral legend, just as you intended. I find it most impressive that you go to these sites, learn what you can of the archeological record (such as a lone Ponderosa Pine tree grew in the courtyard of Pueblo Bonito) and then weave the culture and legend around that fact into a beautiful story. Well done.

    Just now catching up. Had a really busy weekend.
    ~jon

  5. “. . . people choose to believe what is nearest to their eyes.”

    How true that is.

    I’m sorry for getting to your story late in the game, Jeff. I’ve spent the last week driving around Pagosa Springs, Chimney Rock (which I now recognize in your header), Treasure Falls, Durango and Silverton.

    You did a nice job working a story within a story on this one, and the moral lesson for Tuwa is applicable to all of us.

  6. I am always in awe at what a great storyteller you are. I get so drawn in when I read these… it’s like I am the child at grandfather’s feet.

    I am trying to catch up; sorry for being such a slacker.
    ~2

  7. dan

    Loved this. I am impressed each week with how you can so fully create a sense of these people. The oral style of this tale fits your subject beautifully. I am enjoying not worrying about what is fact here and what is you filling in the gaps, Jeff, I’m letting the story carry me to somewhere different to my everyday.

  8. KjM

    Whatever about an affinity for the culture, you have an affinity for beautiful language: “It stands out in the evening sun like a small orange-green thunderhead tethered to the ground.”

    And how true this observation: “May it serve to remind you, my grandson, that what is near is not necessarily what is most important. ”

    You do indeed have plenty of story; something I have come to enjoy.

  9. No. You sell yourself short, Jeff. I agree with Pip. You have an affinity for this culture, I think, and try to stand in their shoes as you write. I think you’d be surprised at how often the Anasazi dude would nod his head in agreement with you!

  10. Jeff, Anasazi Stories have become something I look forward to each week. Should anyone ask me why, I will send them the permalink to this story.

  11. battypip

    I love the “nearness mistake”. Is this true Anasazi philosophy? I shall take care not to make the mistake, anyway.

    I think you were born into the wrong time…

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      I’m terribly nearsighted. I make the nearness mistake all the time.

      Is this a true Anasazi philosophy? Nobody knows. The only indications of Anasazi philosophies we have are archaeological evidence and oral histories of the descendents such as the Hopi. Both are subject to huge errors. To answer your question more directly, I just made it up. But there is strong evidence that a single mature Ponderosa Pine tree grew in the courtyard of Pueblo Bonito in an otherwise nearly treeless Chaco Canyon.

      When I stand where the feet of the Anasazi obviously stood, I often feel that I live at the wrong time. Not that this is a wrong time, but that my soul seems to reside somewhere back before modern times. Kind of spooky.

      Thanks for your comment. I always value them.

      –Jeff

  12. This is a beautiful history that you are unveiling for us. You show the rich traditions passed down through the stories very well.

    • Anasazi Stories by Jeff Posey

      Thanks, Laura. I do need to point out that the rich traditions I’m passing down through my stories is fictional. If we could pop a real Anasazi dude into existence and I read my stories to me, no doubt he’d have a few choice words to say. Unfortunately, I don’t know which choice words those would be. All I’ve got to work with is my imagination and reports from archaeologists who concern themselves almost exclusively with details and almost not at all with story. That’s fine. I got plenty of story.

      As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

      –Jeff

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