Running Storm

This image is a pencil drawing of a fallen tree.
Eduardo Suré; Sketch of Fallen Tree, 2018; Graphite

Mr. Robinson is content as he hears his three grandchildren’s shoes crunch behind him on the gravely trail. The four hikers are quiet as they pass peach-colored mountains and waterfalls under the cool shade of cottonwood trees. Mr. Robinson leads the group. Jonathan, who is ten, follows at his heels. Anna, the youngest, is next. Shirley, who is sixteen and the oldest, is at the rear. The group is very tired after hiking nine miles into the backcountry. No one had complained during the long hike, so Mr. Robinson is very proud of his grandchildren. They know it is almost time to set up camp and they look about for a comfortable spot as they walk. On their left, they see a clearing of high flat ground surrounded by trees. A stream has cut into the land over the years forming a beautiful valley next to it.

“Let’s camp there, Grandpa,” Jonathan says with excitement.

“I’m sorry, Jon,” Mr. Robinson is apologetic. “We can’t camp there.”

“Why not?” Jonathan asks. “The ground looks level and soft. It’s high ground and we wouldn’t be under any trees.”

“Sorry, Jon,” Mr. Robinson replies calmly. “It’s just not a good spot.”

Jonathan is upset that his grandfather did not agree with his suggestion. Being the middle child, he feels like his opinions are always inferior to Shirley’s or secondary to whatever Anna’s needs are at the time. He had given good reasons for camping at that site, but his grandfather had not provided reasons against it. He had only said it was not a good spot. Jonathan had been taught by his parents to only insist once, but then follow an adult’s instructions. However, he feels badly because his grandfather ordinarily agrees with him more than his parents.

Mr. Robinson notices the weight of the silence as they walk. He suspects that Jonathan is upset that he shot down his suggestion without an adequate explanation. He is eager to make the group cheerful again.

“Sorry we didn’t set up camp where you suggested, Jon,” Mr. Robinson says. “Once we are out of sight of that ground, I can explain why. Is that OK?”

“OK, grandpa,” Jonathan says.

As they hike, Mr. Robinson treats the ground Jon pointed out as if it were a person on the street he’d caught intending to harm them. He frequently looks behind the group toward it and makes everyone nervous. As it begins to fade out of sight in the distance behind them, he checks one last time as if to ensure it is not following them.

“Shirley, let’s switch places for a little while,” Mr. Robinson says. “You lead, and I’ll walk behind you guys so you can hear me.”

“OK, grandpa,” Shirley says as she jogs past everyone to get to the front of the group.

Mr. Robinson waits for the children to walk by him. Once behind them he says, “Before there were horses in America, native people walked wherever they went. They carried everything they needed, just like we are doing.”

“Like homeless people, grandpa?” Anna asks.

“Shut up and listen, Anna,” Jonathan snaps.

Mr. Robinson continued, “Back then, there was a warrior named Running Storm. He was the best hunter in his tribe. He was known for running after game until it was too exhausted to go on. He was also fierce in battle and, being the fastest runner, was the first to engage the enemy.”

“What is game?” Anna asks.

“Wild animals people hunt for food,” Shirley answers.

“One day, Running Storm and the other men in the clan left to hunt,” Mr. Robinson continues. “The women and children stayed behind at camp. There was nothing extraordinary about the hunt that day. They were successful and began to make their way back to camp with their trophies. As they neared their camp, they saw from their distance that something was wrong. There were too many people moving around the camp. Their movement was erratic. The camp was being attacked. The men dropped the animals and ran to camp as fast as they could. Running Storm led the charge. The men soon arrived at the camp and defeated the attackers, but they were too late to save their families.”

“Oh no!” Anna shouts.

“As you might imagine, the men were devastated,” Mr. Robinson says. “Running Storm’s sorrow was exceptionally great. His grief was so abundant, the Spirits took notice of it. And when he cried out that he wished he had been as fast as the wind so that he would have saved his family, the Spirits granted his wish: they turned him into wind.”

“Jerk Spirits! That was so Monkey’s Paw!” Shirley comments.

Mr. Robinson continues, “Running Storm could not protect his family in life. So in death, he fiercely protects his family’s burial ground.”

“Is it where I wanted us to camp?” Jonathan asks.

“Yes,” Mr. Robinson replies.

“I’m not scared by ghost stories, Grandpa,” Jonathan declares.

“It’s not just about a ghost story,” Mr. Robinson says. “The Ranger asks park visitors not to camp there. Not too long ago, a man hiked into this backcountry alone. He saw the beautiful place we saw and, like you, thought it would be a great place to camp for the night. As he would try to set up his tent, the wind would blow it away. He gave up on it and set up to sleep under the stars. He tried to have dinner before going to bed, but he could not start a campfire because the wind would blow it out. He gave up a hot meal and, after having some trail mix, tucked himself into his sleeping bag. During that summer night, he got so cold that he thought he was going to freeze to death. He finally had the good sense to leave. He was too cold to pack, so he left anything he couldn’t use as a coat behind. When he was rescued, he told the Rangers what happened. The Rangers don’t tell everyone that story, they just mark it as a hazardous area on the maps.”

Jonathan is satisfied by his grandfather’s story. True or not, he had gone through the trouble of explaining why he had shot down his suggestion. He forgives his grandfather.

The family soon sets up camp at another location. It is not as beautiful as the one they had seen, but it is beautiful indeed. After setting up camp, Mr. Robinson and Jonathan retire to one tent; and Shirley and Anna sleep in another. Later that night, a big tree that had rotted to the core falls toward their tents. A powerful gust of wind blows suddenly and changes where the tree kands. The crash as the tree hits the ground wakes everyone. They exit their tents.

“That was lucky,” Jonathan says. “Just few yards to the left and the tree would have killed all of us.”


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