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The Medicine of Bow-Returning

An Excerpt from a Short Story by Mary Austin

Some of the best books about the American West were written by Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934). In the last year of her life, she published a collection of short stories entitled One-Smoke Stories, in which the following appears:

So Taku-Wakin, who was afterward called Bow-Returning, went toward the mountain called Going-to-the-Sun for his fast, and as he went he felt the thoughts of his mother push him. He went far, climbed the high mountains and bathed in the sacred lakes, keeping holy science. On the mountain, when by fasting he was removed from himself, his eyes were opened. He saw all the earth and the sky as One Thing, even as the bow is one thing and the cord of the bow which draws it. Even so he saw the thoughts of men pulling at the corners of the world as the cord pulls at the bow, and the bow bending and returning. In the silence he heard in his heart the One-Who-Walks-in-the-Sky talking.

‘This is true medicine, Taku-Wakin. All things are one, man and the mire, the small grass and the mountain, the deer and the hunter pursuing, the thing that is made and the maker, even as the bow and the cord are one thing. As the bow bends to the cord, so all things bend and return, and are opposed and together. The meaning of the medicine is that man can hurt nothing without also hurting himself.’ Thus said the One-Who-Walks-in-the-Sky to Taku-Wakin….

After long seeking he heard the voice of the Sky-Walker. Then said Bow-Returning: ‘This is my medicine, that everything is One Thing, and in this fashion I have kept it. Meat I have taken for my needs according to the law of food-taking, but I have hurt no man. Neither the flower in the field have I crushed, nor trodden on the ant in my pathway. How is it, then, that my wife is dead, my son given to another, and my medicine is gone from me?’

Then said the One-Who-Walks-in-the-Sky to Bow-Returning, ‘Did I not also make woman?’

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