True Story, Issue #10
"Tarot of Transformation" by Sonja Swift
True Story, Issue #10
True Story is a new home for longform nonfiction narratives. Published monthly by the editors of Creative Nonfiction, each pocket-size issue of True Story showcases one exceptional essay by one exceptional writer. From issue to issue, this new mini-magazine features the widest possible variety of voices and styles and subjects.
Offering vivid, immersive reports from real life, every issue of True Story is a small celebration of the larger-than-life stories and experiences that make us think differently about what it means to be human.
From "Tarot of Transformation" by Sonja Swift
The Magician (I)
One Christmas, when I was a child, my grandmother offered an unusual gift: she would make a donation to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, California, on my behalf. What animal did I want to sponsor? I said wolf. She was furious, I was later told, that I would pick a predator over something sweet and cuddly. But, probably after a long talk with my dad, who may have offered her some ecological reasoning, she sent me a card with a photo of the Mexican wolf. I was so proud of that card, not because she had donated a token sum of money in my name for the fund-raiser, but because I had allied myself with wolf.
The High Priestess (II)
Late fall just before freeze-up, on a lakeshore to the northeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Canada, I met Lucy Ann Yakeleya in a shack beside the lake, scraping down a nearly finished moose hide stretched taut between cedar poles. She invited me to join her, showing me small things I might not otherwise notice: the veins, like small rivers, traversing the flesh side of the hide; the scars, from bullfights or wolves, on the hind side. How each step, carefully executed, matters. If the skinning is done too quickly there will be holes to patch later; if fleshing or scraping of hair is also hurried more needlework will be required. Moose hide is porous, thin yet strong, good for moccasin soles. The final scraping complete, we folded the hide and carried it outside. The air was crisp and tart as pine sap, and I’d seen bear paw tracks in the freshly fallen snow, first snow, just that morning. We sat at the knife’s edge of winter. Lucy Ann looked over at me with bright eyes. “You’ll never see rotten wood the same,” she said, smiling. Rotten wood, which has no bark, is good for making white smoke. Bark smokes black and can tint the hide. More nuances. She was teaching me. We carried smoldering logs over to a fire started by two young boys and stacked chunks of rotten wood on a pile of dusty coals, blowing so they would catch fire. “The moose spirit lingers through the entire process,” she said. Only after the final smoking, when the skin is soft and supple, is the moose considered dead.
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