(A camp with an open fire to the left rear of space, yet performance space gives the feeling of being part of a greater camp. Surrounding the fire are three people. To the right, yet more toward the center-fore, are two teenage girls sewing. The three people watch a raven circle in sky and sing)
Woman 1: What do those ravens eat all winter?
Woman 2: They must be swallowing wind.
Man: Ah, I wish we could live on wind. There’s not much left to hunt and trap up here. We haven’t seen any deer for days. And the traps have been empty. We got to go farther out and it takes longer to get back. It’s never been like this up here before. This was always our best wintering place. This is a bad year.
Woman 2: A lot of the people are talking about leaving.
(Girls laugh and sing on other side of performance space)
Woman 1: Hmm. Katerina is still like a foolish girl even after being married all winter.
Woman 2: Only into the clothes she makes. She thinks she’s the best sewer but her pride ruins everything. You’d think after being married to such a good hunter as Matty she’d settle down and humble herself, but instead she talks just as much as he does, interrupting his stories. And her clothes are still like animals. She leaves the tails and legs dangling down. That’s how people used to dress. She put ears on Matty’s hood and when he cut them off she went out into the woods and found them and kept them.
Woman 1: She’s a bad influence on Sima. Look at them.
Man: Yes, but she’s a hard worker. She can do anything. You always have plenty of wood and she can set up camp as good as anyone else. When she starts having babies she’ll settle down.
Woman 2: Ah, but then there’s the story about the woman who was so wild she killed her own children.
Man: That’s just an old story. Wolves don’t kill their own children.
Woman 1: Sometimes I think she’s singing about us.
Woman 2: Her mother never controlled her. I heard stories about her. She was considered a great sewer. But she passed on. But those people were different. The ones that lived up by the lakes shaped like otters. They were either too old or too young. Or sometimes you didn’t even notice them. Like children or like people who were too old to be alive. But there isn’t many of them left now. No one wants to live up there. Matty was hunting and trapping up by the lakes and for some reason her relatives set up this marriage. He says there were only a few of them left.
Woman 1: What happened to them?
Man: No one knows. Some say they decided to leave, to spread out one by one. But no one knows where.
Woman 2: Matty isn’t happy. I know.
Woman 1: Sima would be good for him. She isn’t beautiful, but she’s obedient. She would make a good wife.
Woman 2: If Katerina doesn’t ruin her.
Woman 1: I’ll talk to her. I know Sima watches him. She blushes when he tells stories.
(They look up and watch ravens)
Woman 2: Look at them. Dancing above the frozen world as if it was nothing.
(The three people busy themselves with their work. The two girls, laughing, stand up and begin pulling a deerskin between each other, singing)
Together: And I pulled my heart from the heart-shaped prints
And I pulled my heart from the heart-shaped prints
And I pulled my heart from the heart-shaped prints
And I danced with the Prince of Hearts
Katerina: Wait, listen to this, Sima:
And I danced as I flew above the land
And I danced as I flew above the land
And I danced as I flew above the land
And gave all the girls a kiss!
Sima: Wait, Katerina, you can’t kiss all the girls, you are a girl!
Katerina: Ha! From up in the sky things look completely different.
Sima: Ah, I guess we’re down here. Every year it’s like I tan more skins and work harder and I’m not even married yet. But what’s it like when you’re married?
Katerina: It’s worse. Or better. I don’t know. Then it’s like you’re making clothes for everybody, or at least people I don’t know. It’s different. It used to be for the people I grew up with, so I understood them. I knew their bodies. But the deer love us. Or all the animals do. Sometimes I wonder why. Alls I know is nobody wants to hear a song about tanning a moose! Not here. Not like my village. Here, everybody thinks hunting’s so hard. “With this bullet I killed this moose!” And we’d say: “Here, smell this hand—with this stinky hand I tanned this moose and made these beautiful boots!” and everybody would praise us for our smelly hands.
Sima: My hands smell worse than yours! (Laughter) No, you know what I mean. What’s it like to be with your husband? To sleep with him. And have him protect you. He’s so handsome. He’s like a great deer or something.
Katerina: Well, he’s not like a deer.
Sima: But doesn’t it feel good to sleep with him?
Katerina: Hmm. Well, you know, Sima, I used to feel like I was waiting for him to say something with it, like a drum, to sing with his body, that we both could sing. Like it could somehow be like a beginning to understand each other. And then I thought maybe he didn’t know how to say what he wanted to say, so I tried to teach him, but then I think I’m realizing he doesn’t have anything to say. Not like that.
Sima: Well, you sure look good together.
Katerina: Like that means something.
Sima: Well, you’re the prettiest girl in the world, anyway.
Katerina: Almost as pretty as you are.
(Girls sing a duet and dance and at one point Katerina puts the deerskin on and Sima climbs on her back and they pretend they are riding into the sky together. While this goes on, the people on the left look on. A young man joins them)
Sima: We better get back to work. People are looking at us. It looks like your husband is back from hunting.
(They sit down and go back to sewing)
(Ravens call and they watch them circle and sing)
Katerina: What do those ravens eat all winter, do you think?
Sima: They must be swallowing wind. That’s why they’re so black, cause they say wind is invisible till you swallow it.
Katerina: That reminds me of an old man from my village. Victor. He used to watch the ravens and he taught us kids how to draw out designs of how they flew in the dirt or snow and then we’d take those and draw them really big and make dances from the designs, and at places like where a raven did a tumble, we’d act out little things all in raven, and some of the kids would pretend to be interpreters, and we’d laugh. He wanted to come back as a raven he said, so before he died he told us to place his body up in a tree so the ravens could eat him and then when he was just bones, to burn the bones and place his ashes up on the platform to become part of the wind.
Sima: Do you think he came back as a raven?
Katerina: I don’t know. I asked him: “Do you think you’ll come back as a raven?” and he laughed and said not to tell anyone but that it was all a joke.
Sima: A joke?
Katerina: Yeah. I said a joke on who? And he just laughed.
Sima: A joke.
(They continue sewing)
Sima: Ah, Katerina, you’re clothes are so beautiful and you’re stitches so fine. I don’t think I could ever make clothes like you. It’s like the animals are singing through them.
Katerina: Sometimes, you know, I can almost hear them, but my thoughts get in the way. Sometimes I think everything’s made of songs, like songs turned into things. Even songs turned into songs, like songs so amazing we can only sing the outside of it. I wish I could hear those original songs, but I don’t know if it’s possible.
Sima: I don’t know. I just like hearing any song.
Katerina: Did you ever hear the story of the two boys that were big roamers and travelers and they came to the camp of the Wolf People?
Sima: Tell me.
Katerina: Well, they had been traveling a long time, so long that the air seemed to be changing, and they knew they must be coming into some place that nobody had ever been. And they saw the smoke of a camp. It was a camp of the Wolf People. And when they came into the camp, they found some of their skins hanging in the lodge as the Wolf People slept, and they snuck out and put the skins on and became wolves, all powerful with great paws. And they ran through the forest almost crazy they could run so fast, hunting and singing. But the wolf power was so strong and new they didn’t know how to control it, so when they played and fought they lost control and one of the boys killed the other. He couldn’t believe it. And he sat next to his friend and cried. But wearing the wolf skin he was half wolf. And the boy realized he knew the plants of the wolf so that when he looked at a plant it told him what it could be used for. And he also knew the wolf’s songs, songs to do all kinds of things we don’t even know about. And he brought his friend back to life.
Sima: What did they do then?
Katerina: Well, they snuck back to the wolves’ lodge to bring back the skins. And they wanted to leave some of the meat they hunted as wolves to thank them. And when they snuck in and put the meat down and hung back up the skins, everything was the same. No time had passed, and the wolves were still sleeping. But!
Katerina: The reality is!
Katerina: Plenty of time has passed since I started making this coat. Too much time. Last stitch. There! That’s it! I don’t want to sew anymore! From now on you deer can sew yourselves up if you want to walk on two legs!
(Girls begin laughing, but Sima looks over at others and stops. They are gathered together and appear disturbed by Katerina’s last exclamation)
Sima: Katerina. I don’t think you should have said that.
Sima: Look, the others are talking about us.
(Katerina looks up, but then they both look down quickly and continue their work, Sima glancing up once or twice)
Katerina: So, I’ll just spin sinew instead.
(Katerina begins running sinew through her teeth and rolling it. They smile at each other)
Sima: What was it like in your village?
Katerina: I don’t know. It’s where I grew up. I didn’t want to leave but grandmother and my aunt said I had to take a husband. They said I shouldn’t come back, that to keep going, to go further was the real way to come back. That’s what they said.
Sima: Did they love you?
Katerina: Oh, yes. They cried so hard when I left. I can still see them. All the people who were left came to the shore and gave me things. I remember I didn’t wave. I just sat in the canoe and I think it was the first time in my life I felt the wind coming through my clothes even though the skins were thick and soft. It’s funny. I realized yesterday I never dream of the village really, although the people are in my dreams. A lot of times I know it’s really them, like my grandmother, and even the man who wanted to be a raven, but they’ll look different, like different people sometimes, like playing different characters. And all the dreams are in new places, as if the dreams are walking ahead of me, but it’s always like the old village is just over some mountain or just past whatever lake there is in the dream. It’s always there.
(They sit and continue sewing thoughtfully for a moment)
Sima: It’s getting toward evening.
Katerina: Hmm. I have to go cook and cut wood. But tonight after I take care of everybody and clean up, I’ll come back out here and sleep. It won’t be that cold, especially with my big robe grandmother gave me, and the blanket of stars.
Sima: The blanket of stars.
(They gather up their things and depart)
(Lights go down. They rise so Katerina sleeping in same location beneath a robe can just be discerned in dawn’s first faint glow. People come out and silently take her clothes and bag and finally the young man looks down at her for a moment and takes her robe and she is left with only a thin blanket over her form. Dawn grows fuller and ravens can be heard in distance)
(Sima hurries toward her, looking behind her all the time)
Sima: (Whispering) Katerina! Katerina!
(Katerina sits up obviously cold and looks around her and at Sima, amazed and pulling a thin blanket about her)
Sima: Katerina. (Crying) They’re leaving you. They’ve all decided.
Katerina: Where are my clothes?! They took my clothes!
Sima: They said you bring them bad luck! They said you are a young bride and instead you have the voice of a…Katerina, they said…
Katerina: What? What’d they say?
Sima: They said…that…you’re a demon.
(Katerina looks down for a moment)
Katerina: Sima! Are you going with them?!
Sima: Everything is packed. They put snow on all the fires. They’re taking everything. Katerina, I covered my fire with branches before I put snow on it. And I left you sinew. It’s hidden near the base of the tree by my camp.
(Girls cry and hold each other)
Sima: My mother and father are already on their way.
(Sima forces herself to leave, crying, and almost looks back but doesn’t. Katerina stands alone, looking after her)
Katerina: There’s something happening! There’s something happening! I need to understand what’s happening!
(Katerina squats down, eyes closed. More than one raven calls. She begins rocking barely perceptibly, which evolves into a type of nodding, as if affirming something within herself. With eyes still closed, she begins to sing:
Demon, there’s fire beneath the snow
There’s sinew beneath the tree
I can make snares
Raven, will you come into my snare?
Rabbits, please come into my snares
Porcupine, I have to come and kill you
I can build up the fire
Make a cloak of bark and bows
I can get cattail fluff and make a nest deep in the snow
And sleep as things begin again
(Act 2 opens with Katerina in original spot where she sewed with Sima and slept. The area has become the center of her camp with a fire and lashed racks, tri-pods, skin frames, drying meat, gathered wood, tools of bone. She sits on a bed of bows. There is barely any snow as spring appears at hand. She wears an intense, diversely constructed costume of raven and rabbit, her legs completely clothed in rabbit leggings, her upper body consisting mainly of raven with bands and trim of rabbit. It is a coat that carries the affect of being put together piece by piece, yet with uncontrollable attempts at artistry and continuous thoughts of the workings of form. She sews another coat, a coat that is made of deerskin with rabbit trim and quillwork as scene opens.)
Katerina: (singing) The ravens gave me their feathers
And now my voice has changed
And I’ve become so black
Like a breath from the heart of the earth
Like the black obsidian people used to use
And the ravens I caught
In my snares
Were my own thoughts
That I unbraided from my hair
Or maybe they dreamed me from atop a tree twisting in winter
From the wind and a raven’s dream
Or upset stomach! Ha! Ha! And to make more snares from the raven’s tendons and needles and thread and then to catch rabbits and porcupines for quills and meat and then the deer came—raven, where does it all begin? It’s not even the wind you play with. And some of the best part of the deer I put out for you. And knocked down the aspen branches so you deer can eat and eat.
(She gazes at her hands and body and performs a dance. It is primarily a raven dance that embodies raven flights and actions, yet walks the edge of madness, or the disturbing quality of uncomprehended beauty, and restructuring of a psyche.)
(She sits back down and picks up a new deerskin coat she is making and begins to cry, but then looks back at coat and continues to sew.)
Katerina: There! Last stitch!
(She smiles. She takes off raven top and takes some feathers from it and attaches them to the back on new garments shoulders and puts it on.)
Katerina: Ah, I remember the story about the man who wanted to be a caribou, so he went out and followed them and finally they sewed him up in a skin and taught him how to run, how to hold up those great antlers, and he saw how the caribou lived and began to see how they dreamed and what they thought, and he saw who were the great hunters—it was the ones who really loved the caribou and thanked them, and it was as if the earth tipped and the caribou slid toward their guns. But then one day he wanted to go back, go back to his old life, but underneath the caribou skin he had become half caribou and the people were afraid of him and kept him in a corral.
(She performs another dance which is more solid and stoic, more integrated.)
Katerina: Now the days come and go like songs to the river’s music. Now the nights sparkle and lift the dipper higher. Maybe the caribou were like mountains, once you’re in them you have to go deeper to come out the other side.
(She lays down and sleeps. Lights dim but don’t go completely dark. In the distance is singing, and as it gets closer, two male voices grow distinct. Katerina half awakes.)
Katerina: I dreamed the river dreamed to me with two voices.
(As voices grow louder, she begins to get apprehensive and gathers a blanket and other things in her arms and hides behind tree at rear of performance space. Two boys enter as if landing their canoe.)
Boy 1: Look at this camp.
Boy 2: It’s like a camp from long ago. Everything made from stone and bone and lashed together with root.
Boy 1: It’s like the camps grandma used to talk about.
Boy 2: There’s still a fire burning.
(They approach where Katerina had been sitting)
Boy 1: (picking up raven coat) Look!
Boy 2: (touching it) It’s beautiful.
Boy 1: Could someone have made this?
Boy 2: Maybe we’re in Raven’s camp.
Boy 1: Or in the camp of Grandmother’s stories. Maybe this is where they live.
Boy 2: (Putting raven coat to face) No. Smell this.
Boy 1: It smells like a woman.
(Katerina emerges from where she is hid and slowly but solidly approaches them. They gaze at her steadily.)
Katerina: This is my camp.
Boy 2: (Looking amazed at Katerina’s coat) Did you make that dress?
Boy 1: It looks like you turned from a raven into a deer.
Boy 2: With the heart of a girl!
Boy 1: You’re like a raven deer sandwich.
Boy 2: Ah, look at the quillwork! It’s like tree bark.
Boy 1: But it’s moving. When you turn your eyes it moves. Or it moves your eyes. It’s like music! Are you a shaman?!
Boy 2: Hey, you’re not supposed to ask if someone’s a shaman!
Boy 2: Who are you?
Katerina: Who are you? This is my camp.
Boy 1: She’s right.
Boy 2: We come from a long ways away.
Boy 1: Yeah. People call us the Otter Boys cause we can’t stop traveling and making jokes.
Boy 2: Yeah, but the last place we were I don’t think they really got it.
Boy 1: And we can catch a lot of fish! Like all the fish! At least all the ones that want to be caught. And we shared them with everybody. But they were still jealous. We could’ve fed the whole village.
Boy 2: And they said we played too many jokes!
Boy 1: Is that possible?!
Boy 2: And somebody said you could make a lot of money with a couple of otter pelts!
Boy 1: Time to go!
Boy 2: Yeah, it’s hard to fight it out when the river’s right there to make the big escape.
Boy 1: And if you escape just at the right time—
Boy 2: Like as soon as possible!
Boy 1: Yeah, then you can chose how you will be remembered.
Boy 2: Or at least people are free and alive to think what they want.
Boy 1: Including us!
Boy 2: I personally feel that jumping into our canoe in the middle of the night was a pretty strong statement.
Boy 1: I do, too.
Boy 2: But he’s the good cook.
Boy 1: And he’s the good hunter.
Both: And we both make songs.
Katerina: Ah, you make songs.
Boy 1: But no love songs.
Boy 2: Yes, we no longer sing about love. We only sing about cooking and watching the moon.
Boy 1: And laying in the canoe listening to the river’s music and the mirror of stars.
Boy 2: And all the voices as the trees lay on the water to bend their bodies.
Boy 1: And them cracking their bodies in winter.
Boy 2: And the cranes you can’t even see calling from the sky. But no love.
Boy 1: Yeah, don’t try to get us to sing about love.
Katerina: Well, sing your songs and then I will sing to you.
Boy 1: Ok, sing her your song.
Boy 2: Ok.
(Boy 2 sings song while boy 1 dances with Katerina and mimics his ardor for his friend’s singing, comically holding heart, etc.)
Boy 1: Ohhh! He’s a way better singer than I am!
Boy 2: But you’re better looking. You sing to her now.
Boy 1: Ok. (Sings song and other boy dances with Katerina. It is as if the boys are singing their love songs to each other while at the same time to Katerina. They make eyes at each other and at her. During a high part of the song Boy 2 holds his palm up like a conductor.)
Boy 2: I don’t know, that song was way better than mine. You should marry him!
(Boys laugh and hug)
Katerina: (Suddenly serious) No. I’ve been married before. I don’t want to marry anyone again. Now I will sing you my song. (She sings song) As soon as you’re married no one laughs anymore.
(She begins walking away)
Boy 2: Is that possible?
Boy 1: Otters don’t stop laughing. But maybe ravens don’t marry otters.
Boy 2: Stop saying we’re otters. You’re gonna scare her away. Look, she’s leaving.
(Boys look at each other and get serious. They sing a song about the pain of love is not being able to have the one you love look at themselves through your eyes and see how wonderful and beautiful they are. Katerina stops and listens. She turns around. The boys hesitate in their song.)
Boy 1: Look, she’s turned around.
(They stand and look at each other.)
Katerina: Well, (looking at her clothes) I can use a good hunter. (Then feeling her stomach and pinching her hips) But what’s a good hunter without a good cook. And what’s life if you’re afraid to swallow the wind.
(They all join together and continue song till end)