When we woke the following morning, we ate breakfast and then got started working on the mountain lion again. The process was going much faster than with the previous animals, and even after having taken the entire weekend off, I managed to successfully transition into a mountain lion again. The shaman only noticed a couple of minor issues I had to improve on, and once I did that he felt we were nearly done.
Since it was going so well, the shaman said he would start working with me on transitioning into a coyote the following day. I didn’t feel it would be too difficult to accomplish, since transitioning into a coyote was going to be similar to transitioning into a small wolf and I wasn’t expecting any problems. Even so, after supper the shaman gave me the coyote pelt to wear around the hohrahn for the rest of the night, and then he would perform the ritual the next day.
After we’d filled our bellies the following morning, the shaman asked me to transition into a mountain lion one more time. As soon as I passed his inspection, he had me wear the coyote pelt again as he was drawing the next sand painting. It was basically identical to the one we’d used for the mountain lion, except there was an image of a coyote wherever the image of the mountain lion had appeared before. As soon as he performed the ritual, it only took until Wednesday night before I had accomplished everything the shaman required.
When we got started again on Thursday morning, the shaman had me rotate between transitioning into a mountain lion and a coyote until the others arrived. After I greeted them and gave Devin a hug and a kiss, I offered him an option.
“Which one do you want me to transition into first?”
“I’ll let you choose, since you’ll be transitioning into both of them eventually.”
Since he gave me the choice, I decided to fool him, since I had a good idea which one he was expecting me to choose. When Devin saw which one I’d transitioned into, he laughed before making a comment.
“I thought you’d transition into the mountain lion first.”
After he said this, I waited as he, Gramps, and Pops examined me closely to determine if I’d made any mistakes, and then I listened to their evaluations. Once I’d received their approval, I transitioned back into my own body so I could reply to Devin’s earlier comment.
“I knew you’d be expecting me to transition into the mountain lion first, since one of them had nearly chowed down on me on two different occasions!”
“Possibly on the first occasion,” Gramps interjected, “but the second time the mountain lion was hoping to feast on a deer.”
“Yeah, but that deer was still me, even if the mountain lion didn’t know it. If you guys are done examining me as a coyote, I’ll transition into the mountain lion for you now.”
“Uh, before you do that, you’d better get rid of the coyote tail first,” Devin teased and then giggled. “I don’t think it would look very good on a mountain lion’s body,”
I thought he was joking, but when I turned my head to check, I discovered he was correct. I’d never done this before, so to say the least, I was shocked.
“I don’t understand why I did that!” I mused.
“Maybe I can explain how it happened,” the shaman offered, as if he was reading my mind. “You apparently were so absorbed in listening to Devin, Jacob, and Isaac’s praising you about how well you had done when you transitioned into the coyote that you failed to pay attention to what you were doing when you transitioned back. It is because the process is not automatic for you yet and it will require your full attention for the time being. The process will become a habit for you the more you do it, and then you will no longer have to concentrate when you transition back, but in the meantime these types of errors may happen if you aren’t paying attention.”
“Dang, I’m glad it happened now, rather than when I was trying to transition back in a hurry so I could get dressed and take off.”
“Trust me, you would have discovered the problem as you were putting on your pants,” Gramps noted, “because the tail would’ve interfered while you were pulling them up.”
“Yeah, I guess it probably would have, but I still would have found it embarrassing and possibly even life threatening.”
As soon as I got rid of the coyote’s tail, I transitioned into a mountain lion as quickly as I dared. Once again, I let Devin, Gramps, and Pops examine me and explain if they thought I’d done anything wrong, and after I fixed those minor errors, we were ready to go out for a run. Gramps and Pops agreed to allow Devin to go out with me first, so he undressed and transitioned as well, and then we headed out of the hohrahn.
We ran around the immediate area for quite a while before we headed back to the hohrahn, and then Gramps went out with me next, followed by Pops. They took me out a little farther than Devin had, and after I’d gone for a run with each of them, we returned to the hohrahn and had supper with the shaman.
Once it started to get dark, the shaman said we could go out for another run, so I asked Pops to go out with me first this time. I did it so I could see how far away from the hohrahn he’d take me before I went out with Devin. As soon as we got back, I transitioned into my own body and went over to Devin and whispered in his ear that I intended to go farther away from the hohrahn this time, since that’s what I’d just done with Pops. He seemed fine with the idea, so after we’d both transitioned, I led him around the same areas that I had just covered with Pops.
When we finished our run, I basically did the same with Gramps, but I let him lead, unlike what I’d done with Devin. We still had a great run, though, and when we returned to the hohrahn we learned that Pops and Devin had taken the SUV and made a trip off the reservation, and when they returned they were bearing gifts.
“We went out to buy supper, since we realized the haatali wouldn’t have enough food to feed everyone,” Pops explained. “We chose an Italian restaurant and ordered take out, and I purchased an eggplant parmesan dinner for the haatali and myself and chicken parmesan dinners for the rest of you. Each order has a large side of spaghetti and a roll, and I purchased five cannoli so each of us can have one for dessert.”
“I appreciate your thoughtfulness and I am grateful that you selected the eggplant for me, as well as for yourself.”
“It’s because I realize that you believe Mother Earth looks more favorably on those that consume the bounty of her land, rather than the animals that live upon it.”
“That is true, but it is not a hard and fast rule for my people. Most eat a great deal of mutton, and many choose to eat other meat as well, typically from the animals they hunt. I will also eat meat on occasion, such as when I am performing a ritual on someone that I know prefers meat, as well as when you brought us the hamburgers one day.”
After he finished saying this, he looked over at me and smiled. It was then when I finally realized that the meat he’d been including in our suppers was only because he realized that I preferred to eat meat. It had never dawned on me before this that he’d only been doing it for my sake.
“I guess I never put it together that you preferred vegetables instead of meat,” I stated shyly. “I just thought it was what you ate when you were performing the rituals.”
“Not every ritual. What we eat for breakfast is always the same, but supper will only include vegetables when the person I am performing the ritual on has the same preference as myself.”
“Then I’m glad you were willing to have meat in the suppers you fixed for us.”
“It was a small sacrifice, grasshopper, but it was another time when you should have been able to figure that out for yourself. If you had been more observant, as soon as you became aware that I preferred eating vegetables you should have had enough information to figure out what I was doing.”
“Yeah, I realize that now.”
“Ok, now that you two have settled that issue, we should eat our food while it is still somewhat warm,” Pops urged, so we all grabbed the container meant for us, along with a bottle of green tea. We then found a place to sit and eat, and Devin and I sat on the ground and leaned against the large chest. The shaman suggested that Gramps and Pops should sit on the bench, and then he sat cross-legged on the ground.
The meal was delicious and a nice change from what we’d been eating over the past few days, and I think the shaman appreciated the change from his typical fare as well. The cannoli was a nice finishing touch to the meal as well, and we all enjoyed it.
As we finished eating, Devin asked the shaman a question.
“Did Mac have any problems learning how to transition into the two different animals at the same time?”
“No, he did very well, except for his little mistake earlier, but I will let him tell you how he thought it went.”
“The mountain lion wasn’t difficult, since I’d been having nightmares about the mountain lion that you and I encountered for a long time after it happened. The coyote was fairly easy as well, since it wasn’t that different from transitioning into a wolf, except it was smaller, so I think I did all right.”
“Then when are we going to go out for another run?”
“We should probably let our meals settle for a while first,” I reasoned, “because this was a lot more food than I’d eaten for any single meal since I’ve been here.”
“That’s not true,” Gramps interjected. “You must have forgotten how you and Devin pigged out and ate all of the leftover Chinese food before we went out as bears.”
“Oh, yeah, I did forget about that.”
“When you are ready,” the shaman chimed in next, “you and Devin may go out for one more run tonight, before we go to sleep, and then you will be able to go out with everyone again tomorrow, at least until suppertime.”
“Why can’t we go out after supper too?”
“It is because there will be a lot more activity as the other Diné begin roaming around the reservation, since most of them will not have to go to work or get ready for one of the activities the next day.”
“Can we go out as coyotes this time, since we won’t be able to do that tomorrow night?” Devin asked,
“Yes, I suppose it will be permissible,” the shaman agreed. “Just be careful while you are out there.”
Devin and I then transitioned into coyotes and headed out for one final run before we called it a day. It was already dark outside when we exited the hohrahn, which worked out perfectly, since we would be able to do this without having to worry about being seen by prying eyes. I also hoped a mountain lion wouldn’t be brave enough to come after us while we were still this close to the hohrahn, especially since it could probably hear and smell the others that were still inside.
We hesitantly went out as far as I had with Pops earlier and managed to get in a decent run, and when we returned to the hohrahn, we all decided to turn in. Devin and I put our clothes on first, to help keep us warm while we were sleeping, and then Devin slept with me again using my blankets. The shaman used his blankets as well, while Gramps and Pops slept as wolves.
Shortly after we finished breakfast in the morning, I asked Devin a question.
“Which one do you want me to transition into now?”
“Let’s go out as coyotes, because we haven’t done that in the daytime yet,” he replied.
After Devin and I got undressed, we transitioned into coyotes and headed outside for a run. I led Devin as far away from the hohrahn as I had the night before, and when we finished our run, we returned to the hohrahn and I asked Gramps and Pops if they wanted to go out with me next. They said they did, so I went out for a run with each of them, and when we returned, the shaman wanted to know if I had felt comfortable when I went out as each of those animals.
“Yeah, I felt really good running around as each one,” I answered and that seemed to satisfy him.
Just before it was time for supper, Gramps and Pops asked what we wanted tonight and we agreed to go with Chinese. After we gave them our orders, they made a quick run to pick it up.
When they returned, we sat down to eat, and since we didn’t dare go out for another run, we merely chatted for the rest of the night. The main topic of conversation was about how I had done as both a mountain lion and a coyote, and when that conversation ended, the shaman made another point.
“Tomorrow morning I plan on working with Michael on transitioning into animals that are much smaller than he is, and I am counting on the rest of you to help me do that.”
After they agreed, we decided to turn in so we’d get plenty of sleep and be well rested by morning, because the shaman was planning on waking us up with the rising sun. We did the same as we’d done for the past couple of nights, and we all fell asleep fairly quickly. That’s because most of us were tired from all of the running around we’d done earlier in our animal forms.
When we were awakened the next morning, Gramps offered to take all of us out for breakfast, and Devin and I agreed it was a great idea. The shaman, however, said he preferred to remain there and eat his usual meal instead. He insisted that he would be fine and he’d also be able to prepare for us to get started as soon as we got back.
This made me rethink my choice, so I announced that I was going to stay with the shaman instead. When I did that, the shaman told the others there was plenty for all of us, if they wanted to stay and have breakfast with him as well. He said he’d saved the food that was meant for last night’s supper and he would combine it with his usual breakfast fare, so there would be more than enough to go around. His comment caused Devin to change his mind as well and he opted to stay and eat with the shaman and me, but Gramps and Pops hadn’t changed their minds.
“Before you leave and while I am preparing our breakfast, the rest of you might want to transition and go out for a morning run,” the shaman suggested.
“Even though my son and I still plan on going out for breakfast,” Pops began, “do you think it would be safe for both of us to go out with Mac for a quick run as coyotes before we leave?”
“Yes, that will be fine.”
“Can Devin go out with us at the same time?” I followed.
“As long as you all transition into coyotes and do not wander too far away from the hohrahn then you may all go out together. The person that delivers my food has already been here and I do not expect anyone else to be coming by, but if you see someone out there just stay out of sight until they leave the area.”
“Ok, we can do that,” I concurred.
Now that we had the shaman’s approval, we all went out for a brisk run around the area while the shaman was preparing our breakfast. After taking a quick and energetic run together, Gramps and Pops left before the shaman had our breakfast ready. While they were getting dressed, the shaman spoke privately with them.
Devin and I stayed outside until the shaman called us in to eat, and then we talked to him while we were chowing down.
“I’m amazed that we can run around like that and not be all sweaty when we transition back into ourselves.”
“The transitioning process takes care of that problem,” he stated. “It works out well, because then you do not get smelly and have to wash up when you are done, unless you prefer to.”
“Yeah, I’m glad the sweat doesn’t stay on us, since there isn’t a shower here in the hohrahn,” I confessed.
“Yes, not all Diné have running water where they live, especially if they live in a hohrahn or a trailer,” the shaman informed us.
“That’s awful,” Devin responded, “but not everything is bad here. I really enjoy eating breakfast with you, because it’s not only really filling, but it also tastes good.”
“And even though it isn’t like the kind of breakfast that we normally eat,” I added, “Devin’s right. It’s very filling and tastes great.”
After we’d filled our bellies, the shaman began to make a new sand painting, so I wanted to know what it was for.
“Patience, grasshopper, and you shall see.”
When he finished, Gramps and Pops still hadn’t returned, so the shaman had me stand in the center of the sand painting while he beat the drum, chanted, and danced around me. While he was doing that, I looked down to see what he’d put in this sand painting. Across the top there appeared to be the drawing of a shark, a frog, an elk, and an eagle, and across the bottom he drew a trout, a butterfly, a mouse, and a hummingbird.
“I don’t understand,” I said when he finished the ritual. “What’s this sand painting for?”
“It is to remove the evil from any other animal you may transition into from here on out, whether it is large or small,” the shaman replied.
“Ok, I understand and most of the pairs make sense. The shark and a trout are both fish, and the elk and mouse are both mammals, while the eagle and a hummingbird are both birds. But what’s the connection between a frog and a butterfly?”
“A frog is an amphibian, and the only other amphibians are toads and salamanders, and they’re not much different from the frog. I chose the butterfly to use with it since it is smaller and does not fit into the other categories.”
“Then why didn’t you use a reptile on top, like an alligator, a turtle, or a tortoise, and then you could have drawn the frog on the bottom?”
“The Diné avoid reptiles as much as possible, even representations of them, because we see reptiles as bad omens, but we have great respect for frogs and toads.”
“Really, you don’t like reptiles?”
“No, and we avoid snakes completely, even the skin they shed, because snakes have the ability to effect our physical and mental health.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I responded, and then the shaman had me step out of the sand painting so he could destroy it with his foot.
“Why did he do that?” Devin nearly shouted.
“It’s to destroy the evil that he just drew out of the other animals that I might transition into,” I answered, although Devin was still looking at both the shaman and me in disbelief.
“It just seems like a big waste,” he whispered to himself.
We didn’t have much longer to wait until Gramps and Pops returned, and as soon as they joined us, I asked the shaman what was on the agenda for the rest of the day.
“I was thinking that Isaac, Jacob, and Devin could help you learn how to transition into smaller animals today. You’ve done very well with transitioning into the larger animals, but I’m worried about your ability to make yourself smaller.”
“We can help him with that,” Pops agreed.
“It’s too bad this isn’t like Alice in Wonderland, because there would be a potion or a pill he could take to help him do this,” Gramps joked.
“Isn’t there a song like that?” I asked. “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small…”
“And the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all,” Gramps sang after I finished speaking. “It’s from the song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane. That’s the name of the rock group that sang it back in 1967 when the song first came out.”
“That’s interesting, but now I have a question for the haatali,” I said. “Are you going to make a sand painting for each animal I’ll transition into, and do you have a pelt or a hide for each one that you’ll have me wear?”
“No to both parts of your questions. The sand painting I did a short time ago was to cover any animal that you might transition into from now on. You are also at the point where you are no longer required to wear a pelt or a hide before transitioning, which in most cases would have been far too small to cover much of your body. From now on, you will merely have to picture in you mind the animal you wish to transition into, but I also feel it would be best if the others transitioned into each animal first so you can study it. If they do not mind, you will be able to examine each animal with your eyes and hands, and after you have studied what each one looks like up close, then you will be able to make your attempt.”
“That will be fine with us,” the others agreed.
“Ok, I guess it will work for me too,” I concurred. “So, which animal are we going to start with?”
“I will leave that up to the others, since they will be demonstrating it for you.”
“Ok, then what are we going to do?” I asked while looking from face-to-face of the other three.
“Mac, you’ve seen a raccoon before, haven’t you?” Gramps asked.
“Yes, I’ve seen the raccoons that live near my house. Sometimes they’d tip over our garbage cans and spread the trash all over the place, so my dad had to figure out a way to keep them from doing that. After he fixed it so they couldn’t knock the garbage cans over, they started taking the lids off the garbage cans instead. At least they didn’t make quite as big of a mess that way, since they couldn’t tip the cans over.”
“Yes, raccoons will get into garbage cans looking for food,” the shaman stated, “but did you actually see the raccoons or just the result of what they did?”
“I was able to see them out of our windows after the motion light came on.”
“Good, then that should be enough to get you started and you can study the others out before you transition.”
The four of us got undressed again, and then Devin, Gramps, and Pops transitioned into raccoons. I studied their forms closely, both with my eyes and by running my hands over and through their fur. I studied their feet and face closely so I could memorize what the raccoon’s head and body were supposed to look and feel like. While doing this, I noticed there were slight differences in the markings on each one’s fur and this made them appear unique. As soon as I felt I’d gained enough information, I made my first attempt.
“That is not bad, grasshopper, except you are the largest raccoon I have ever seen. You have to study the others size more closely this time and then adjust your appearance so you are the same size they are.”
I tried again, and this time the shaman smiled at my effort.
“That is much better Michael, but you are still the largest raccoon in the group. Try one more time and I think you will have it.”
I did as he asked and the shaman seemed satisfied with my effort this time, but I felt I didn’t entirely meet his rigid specifications. Although I resembled a raccoon and was getting closer to being the correct size, I still received the impression that he thought I was doing something wrong, even though he didn’t say anything. Instead, the shaman instructed me to watch how the others were now moving about and behaving, since I hadn’t observed any raccoons up close before.
After transitioning into myself, I did as he asked, and then I made another attempt at transitioning into a raccoon, but this time I also moved around the hohrahn and acted like I thought a raccoon would. I then listened as the shaman evaluated my effort, and when he was done I attempted to correct the mistakes he felt I was making. Once he agreed that I had everything down pat, we all waited to see what the shaman wanted us to do next.
“You probably are not aware of this, grasshopper, but I asked Jacob and Isaac to pick up a few supplies when they went to breakfast, and I believe they brought them inside when they returned. You and Devin were busy talking at the time and did not notice what they did, but now I will go get one of the items so you can practice a new skill.”
The shaman then walked over to the doorway and picked up a bag that was setting there. He carried it over to the shelving unit and set it down before he selected a large bowl. He then carried the bowl over and set it down near us, and then he filled it with water. After going back and taking a smaller package out of the bag that Gramps and Pops had brought back with them, he held it behind his back as he turned toward me and spoke.
“Raccoons will eat nuts, seeds, fruit, eggs, insects, crayfish, and frogs, or whatever is available. They will also eat pet food, so it would be best if you refrain from feeding your pets outdoors to avoid attracting raccoons. You may also be wondering how the raccoons are able to retrieve some of the items that I just mentioned, and it is quite simple. They use their dexterous paws to reach into places to get the food, even very small places, and then they prepare the food before they eat it.”
He then moved the package from behind his back and held it in front of his body as he announced what it contained.
“Michael, I know you might be reluctant to eat some of the items that I mentioned previously, so I asked Jacob and Isaac to purchase a package of walnuts for you to practice with. If you did not know this, if raccoons are near a water source at the time, they will dunk their food into the water to wash it off before they eat it. In fact, Isaac informed me the scientific name for a racoon is Procyon lotor, which translates into ‘washing bear’. I will set a few of the walnuts on the ground, and then I want you to watch how the others wash the shells in the water bowl before cracking them open so they can eat what’s inside.”
I was thankful the shaman had chosen walnuts for this purpose, and not something more disgusting. I watched intently as the other three washed the walnuts before placing them in their mouths so they could crack the shell open with their teeth. As soon as that had been accomplished, they pulled the seed, or meat, out of the broken shell and consumed it, so I did exactly the same thing.
After we’d each eaten the meat from a couple of walnuts, the shaman spoke again.
“It is just about time for supper, so you can transition into your human forms again and go out to get something to eat.”
We decided this was a good idea, because we were all hungry and the walnuts hadn’t been sufficient to take care of the problem. After we transitioned, we got dressed and prepared to go out and get in the SUV.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” I asked the shaman.
“No, I will prepare the food that was delivered for me, but the rest of you can go ahead. I tend to develop stomach problems if I eat the white man’s food too often.”
We weren’t sure if he was being serious about this or if he was just using it as an excuse, but we weren’t about to argue with him or question his veracity. We merely left him behind as we drove away.
When we returned, we asked the shaman what we were going to do next and he made a suggestion.
“If you want, you may transition into raccoons again and then go outside for a while so Michael can explore what it is like to be a raccoon, but stay very close to the hohrahn. If you did not know this, Michael, raccoons have many predators, and since they are all nocturnal and search for food from dusk until dawn, you may find yourself in danger.”
“Damn, being a skinwalker might not be as great as I thought it would be. So, what animals prey upon raccoons?”
“You should be able to figure that out, since you have already learned to transition into other predators that are also nocturnal. Give it some thought and then tell me which animals you think I am referring to.”
I thought about it briefly and then spoke. “I’d say the mountain lion, coyote, and wolf would probably be a threat to raccoons, and a black bear might also eat a raccoon, if the opportunity arose.”
“Very good, grasshopper,” the shaman replied, “and raccoons may also be hunted by large hawks and owls as well, and young raccoons may become prey for various snakes.”
‘Oh, great,’ I thought. ‘I’m about to transition into another animal on the lower end of the food chain.’
This didn’t seem to deter the others from doing it, so I undressed and transitioned when they did, and then I followed them as they headed outside. We ran around as raccoons for about an hour, and I’m not sure if I was being paranoid or merely cautious, but I was constantly scanning the area around me in every direction, as well as the air above us. I was expecting to be attacked at any moment, but fortunately that didn’t happen.
During my time as a raccoon, I decided they and the deer were in about the same predicament. The raccoons may have had slightly more predators, but luckily their size made them more difficult for a predator to spot. However, once they were located it would be more difficult for them to get away, because they weren’t anywhere near as fast as deer. They could always climb a tree, but that wouldn’t protect them from hawks, owls, or even mountain lions, and the first two of those predators aren’t a threat for deer. Even though most humans don’t hunt raccoons like they do deer, it didn’t mean humans weren’t a threat, because raccoons have to be wary of becoming roadkill when crossing streets, roads, and highways.
When we returned to the hohrahn, we transitioned back into our own bodies again and got dressed, and then I asked a question.
“Do raccoons hibernate?”
“No, but they may enter an extended state of inactivity, called torpor, when the temperature dips below freezing,” Gramps answered.
“Ok, that’s good to know.”
As it grew later, the shaman suggested that we go to sleep as a raccoon tonight, since he was there to protect us. He also offered to attach a couple of the leather bands with the sleigh bells attached to them on the curtain leading into the hohrahn, as a warning system, in case something got past the door. The bands were similar to those the dancers had worn around their ankles at the welcoming ceremony when I first arrived here, and they should be sufficient to alert us if anything managed to get inside. For that reason, Devin and I agreed it was a good idea and would give us time to transition into something larger to combat an aggressor if one was to enter the hohrahn later. Gramps and Pops agreed to also do it with us, so we all settled down to get some sleep.