A tranquil Navajo village is in a forest clearing near a cold mountain stream. Wayra loves fishing and playing with his friends. He lives with his mother and grandfather. Wayra's father died when Wayra was three. Sadly, he was killed by a grizzly bear while on a hunting trip.
His grandfather is wise and teaches Wayra the ways of the warrior. Wayra's name means "gust of wind." His grandfather's name is Hashke'-Dilwo'ii, meaning "running warrior."
One day Hashke'-Dilwo'ii walks down to the river's edge to watch the boys swimming.
"Grandfather! Come play with us!" yells Wayra. His friends, Alo, Mato, and Kali, all plead for the old man to join them.
Hashke'-Dilwo'ii waves them off while shaking his old gray head and chuckles. "It's too cold!" he shouts. He goes and sits on a tree stump turning his old weather brown face to the sun. While his grandfather sits sunning himself with eyes closed, Wayra whispers an idea to his pals. The boys all giggle and agree. The four of them quietly sneak up on Hashke'-Dilwo'ii and surround him. Without warning, they start to shake their wet hair all over him. Screeching, Hashke'-Dilwo'ii jumps up and tries to capture the naughty foursome. He stops and reprimands the laughing boys. "You think you're funny, don't you? He turns and points up to a steep mountain. "You must run there to the top of that mountain for punishment! And don't stop until you reach the top!"
This is not just a punishment but also a form of exercise that grandfather is teaching Wayra to prepare him to be a man. When a boy reaches the age of twelve, they undergo a ritual to prove they are ready to cross over into manhood.
The four boys continue to laugh as they set off running. Hashke'-Dilwo'ii smiles, thinking how they look like a young herd of deer running and playing in the forest. "Somehow," he thinks," it doesn't look like a punishment."
Wayra and the other boys are all close to the same age, about a few months apart. Wayra and Mato are the same age and will perform the ceremony at the same time. As they trot up the side of the mountain, Mato asks Wayra if he is scared of their upcoming ordeal. Wayra does not want to show Mato that he is nervous because that would show weakness, but just the same, he is a little scared of meeting the spirit guides.
Balling his hands, Wayra proclaims, "I'm not afraid! Grandfather has told me many tales of the forest and the spirit guides that live here. I'm looking forward to meeting them."
"I don't know," Mato replies. "The Spirit Guides are gods, after all. Aren't you afraid to meet a god?"
"Mato, so long as we've been good, the gods won't harm us." Still, it was a grizzly bear that had killed his father. "Did Father do something bad?" Wayra asks himself.
That night Wayra has a dream in which the Coyote Spirit comes to him and tells him to be wary of the Bear Spirit. "He ate your father, so perhaps he'll eat you too!"
Soon it is the day of his ordeal. Grandfather calls Wayra, "Come, it is time to talk of your coming journey." They enter Grandfather's tipi. Grandfather squats on his deer skin hide and lights his pipe.
Wayra tells his grandfather about his strange dream. Grandfather laughs. "That old Coyote Spirit is trying to scare you, Wayra. He is quite the trickster. I'll bet Mato had the same dream too!"
Grandfather leans toward Wayra, "Wayra, today I will bring you to a place deep in the forest where you will be alone. No one can speak or be with you for seven days. The only thing you can bring with you is a knife. There is a stream nearby for water. You need to fast. You may have just a small amount of honey if you feel weak. It is best to be alone so your mind will forget your old memories and be free for new ideas and impressions. You may not see them, but there will be many spirits in the forest helping you. Most important is not to be afraid. Build yourself a small shelter of sticks and moss. Make only small fires by which to meditate and pray." Hashke'-Dilwo'ii takes a pouch from his shoulder and places it next to Wayra.
"On your last night, you will apply the paints in this pouch in the order I've left for you. Then eat the medicine there to help the Spirit Guide find you. When he sees you, he will give you a message for you alone. You mustn't ever tell the message to anyone, not even me or your mother. Remember, do not be afraid. I'll be back for you on the morning of the eighth day, and you will be a man, no, a warrior." Before he leaves, Hashle'-Dilwo'ii places his hand on his grandson's shoulder and squeezes it.
Wayra watches as his grandfather disappears down the forest trail. He feels alone until he starts hearing the sounds of the woods. He hears birds chirping and chipmunks barking. He can even hear the sound of twigs snapping beneath the elegant hooves of the deer. "Uh!" he thinks. "Grandfather said I'd be alone, but that doesn't seem true. Friends surround me."
Wayra hangs the pouch from a broken limb of a nearby tree. Hearing the sound of rushing water, he goes and searches for it. It's a shallow little stream slipping over stones and flowing past lilypads. He bends down and drinks. The water is satisfyingly cold and fresh. On a second look, Wayra sees a crayfish and is about to grab it when he remembers he is supposed to fast. Shaking his finger, "Ah! Just you wait, crayfish. I'll be back someday and eat you then!" Laughing, he heads back to the clearing.
Wayra looks around and spies a small pine. He takes his knife and cuts off a branch to use as a broom. He sweeps away all the old pine needles, cones, fallen branches, and twigs. He sweeps until he has bare ground. Using his fingers, he digs a shallow hole in the dirt and places stones around it. Next, he collects dry pine needles and moss to place in the bottom of the pit. Wayra stacks up a pile of sticks, twigs, and some branches to use as firewood. Before starting a fire, Wayra notices that the sun is already beginning to set, so he gets busy making a lean-to to sleep in that night. Wayra starts to feel hungry and remembers that Grandfather said he could have a little honey. He eagerly opens the pouch only to discover that the only things there are paint and medicine. "What! No honey?" Wayra slides down the pine tree and pouts.
While his stomach rumbles, he watches the dust motes floating in the sunbeams. What's he supposed to do now? He sits pondering his fate. Then he hears a familiar sound. A buzzing. "Bees! Honey bees!" Wayra hops to his feet and studies the sunbeams until he sees a bee swirling through the dust motes. He runs to it and follows its flight back to its hive. Thankfully it is small and hanging from a low branch. Wayra removes his tunic and ties all the openings closed. Then, gently sliding it over the hive, he removes it from the tree and cinches his tunic closed. Wayra runs as fast as he can to the stream, submerging the hive and tunic. After about an hour, Wayra returns to his camp and gingerly opens the package. All is quiet. Wayra removes the hive and cuts it open, "Ah! Honey! Sweet, sweet honey! Thank you, Bee Spirits!"
The hour has grown late, and Wayra's tunic is soaking wet. He turns the tunic inside out and shakes out all the dead bees. He then makes two forked sticks for each end of the firepit and drapes his tunic over the rack he has made. The little crackling fire occasionally hisses to the drips of water but is drying his tunic nicely.
Night invades the forest, filling it full of darkness. The happy, friendly sounds of the forest have left and are replaced with hoots, howls, and cries of the predator's of the night. Wayra sits crossed-legged and tries to meditate, but his eyes keep snapping open at every sound. Wide eyes strain to see what manner of evil lurks just outside the glow of Wayra's little campfire. Giving up on trying to meditate, Wayra lifts his arms out to the side with palms up and prays to the forest to protect him until dawn. After a while, the strange noises subside, and Wayra feels more at rest. He crawls into his lean-to and sleeps until the trilling of the first morning birds. Wayra leaves the lean-to and stretches. He is thirsty and heads down to the stream.
Wayra bends down to drink and wash his face and sees that the crayfish is still there and looking a little fatter. Frowning, he shakes his finger, "Just you wait!" he scolds.
The rest of the week goes by with Wayra learning the ways of the forest and its inhabitants. He follows deer trails and finds them gathered in meadows and fields. He watches sparrows collect tuffs of fur stuck to branches to build their nests. One day Wayra finds three hawk feathers and braids them into his hair. The hawk lands on a nearby branch and squawks. "So you approve of my hair decoration, do you?" The hawk responds with another squawk before flying away.
It is now the evening of the last day. Wayra builds his fire and takes down Grandfather's buckskin pouch. His breathing is shallow as he opens the bag. Grandfather has drawn a diagram of how to paint his face. Fingers shaking, he proceeds but then stops. He fears he'll make a mistake."
"Grandfather told me not to be afraid," Wayra says this repeatedly until the job is done. Next, he removes a root from the pouch. This is the medicine that will help him see the guides. He sits crossed-legged in front of the fire and chews it.
After a moment or two, the air thickens, causing Wayra's breathing to be labored. From the corners of his eyes, he notices that the forest starts to vibrate. Looking down the forest trail before him, he sees a small whirlwind form. His jaw hangs open as the whirlwind fades, leaving three animal spirits behind. A crow, an eagle, and a bear. The bear steps forward and speaks.
"Wayra, son of Ahiga, we are here because you seek an Animal Spirit. I tell you you have obtained three.
Crow is intelligent and wise. He will show you all the correct decisions for your tribe.
Eagle sees from a broader perspective and always leads you down the true path.
And I Bear will give the courage to lead and follow. For you, Wayra are destined to be a great medicine man. Your journey is complete. Go and sleep."
Wayra's eyes grew so heavy that he barely reached his lean-to. In the morning, he awakens to find his grandfather sitting beside him.
"I can tell from the light in your eyes that you have finished your task. Let us break camp and return to the tribe."
Wayra goes to the stream to clean and drink. He looks everywhere for the crayfish but can't find him. "You clever crayfish, you know that my fasting is over."
While cleaning up the site, Wayra finds a crow's feather, an eagle's feather, and a bear's claw by his firepit. He picks them up and places them in Grandfather's buckskin pouch, then slips the pouch around his neck.
Wayra looks at the forest one last time and smiles. "Come, Grandfather, let's go home."