The Cloud Seeds by Amanda Crum

Nanye-hi sat on the rocks and watched the waterfall before her cascading into a shimmering pool below. It was powerful, that water, and held inside it many rainbows that flickered as the sun and the clouds chased one another in the sky.

She laid back on the warm rock, unafraid to be so high up in the air, and watched the fluffy white clouds race across an infinite expanse of blue. She had always been good at climbing, and she knew these rocks as well as she knew the back of her own hand. The cliffs stood twenty feet above the pool where she sometimes swam, and she had never once lost her sure footing on the way up. She loved it here, loved the feel of the sun-baked granite on her bare arms and legs and the way the sky seemed so much closer once she was on top.

Nanye-hi had always felt like she’d been born upside down-in the world, on Earth rather than in the sky. She had always wished for wings like those of the blackbird, to carry her up further than her legs would take her. Often, she had dreams of flying, of standing on the edge of the cliff and simply jumping into the wind, allowing it to carry her gently along on a soft current. In the dream, she could see her little village far down below as she soared along in the company of eagles, and her stomach never once flipped. She was made to fly, she knew. Even her very name meant “goes about”, which her mother had settled on when Nanye-hi was still in the womb and would not keep still.

But no matter how much she admired the freedom afforded to the winged ones, Nanye-hi knew she must resign herself to a life lived on two feet. It saddened her so much that she decided to see the wisest woman in her village to ask for advice.

Mother Ghigau was not really anyone’s mother, but people young and old in Nanye-hi’s village sought out her advice as though she were a part of their family. She had become much like a comforting, wise grandmother to Nanye-hi and the other children, her face lined with years like a soft and worn piece of leather. She was full of stories, too, and often could be persuaded to speak of the legends of the Cherokee people and the magic that lived in their history.

When Nanye-hi arrived, Mother Ghigau was perched in her ancient wooden rocking chair on the front porch of her cabin, smoking a pipe and humming to herself. She had a beautiful voice for one so advanced in years and had taught Nanye-hi many of their people’s songs, music which always had a purpose: to make the rain come, or go away; to soothe a sick infant; to ease the pain of losing a loved one. Nanye-hi had learned that one first and sang it often when her heart ached for her mother, who had died two years earlier of illness.

“Hello, Nanye-hi,” Mother Ghigau said kindly as she approached. “What brings you to me on this fine summer day?”
“Father sent me out to fetch blackberries for a pie and I thought I would come say hello,” Nanye-hi said. She held an empty basket at her side as proof of her story, and she planned to pick berries later, but they didn’t matter as much as what she had to ask Mother Ghigau. Her father, with his work-roughened hands and silver-streaked hair, hadn’t asked any such chore of her. He was so busy with keeping their farm in order that he barely had time for Nanye-hi and her sister, and he certainly had no time for thoughts of something as frivolous as a blackberry pie. Yet something in her brought out the lie, and she wasn’t sure why.

“Well, it’s always nice to have you,” Mother Ghigau said. “Would you like some tea?”

But she could see that the girl had come to get something straightened out and wasn’t ready to talk about it yet; her eyes had taken on a faraway look which Mother Ghigau associated with being in very deep thought. She got the feeling that Nanye-hi was there for more than tea and pleasant conversation.

“No, thank you,” Nanye-hi said. She sat down on the top step of the porch and looked out over Mother Ghigau’s land, at the mighty oak trees which surrounded the property and the crooked garden gate flanked by sweet-smelling lavender. Mother Ghigau was close to the land and always had a faintly earthy smell about her, as though the dirt she grew her plants in was always carried in the folds of her dress. Nanye-hi wondered if the wise woman would understand a person’s desire to leave the soil she herself held so dear in order to fly like something free.

“Mother Ghigau,” she began. “My friend and I were talking about dreams, and we wondered...if a person had dreams of being able to fly, would that person be wrong to want them to come true?”

Mother Ghigau puffed on her pipe. “Well, I suppose that depends on what that person felt in her heart. Sometimes, when life seems particularly difficult, it is easy to dream of a way to escape. To fly with the eagles is the greatest escape I can think of, but though it is a lovely dream, it is not an answer. We must live the lives we were given and make the very most of them, even when things seem difficult. Even when we are dealt losses that seem impossible to recover from.”
Nanye-hi sat quietly for a moment and thought about Mother Ghigau’s words. Then she said, “But what if it isn’t a dream of escape? What if it is simply a feeling in one’s heart that it is what she was meant to do?”

“Well then, that would be different, I suppose,” Mother Ghigau said. “We all have spirit animals who guide us, after all. Some of us have closer ties to certain elements than others. My spirit animal, for instance, is the turtle, which represents Mother Earth. But not all of us were made to follow our dreams on land. Air, water, fire...these are all things the Cherokee people are drawn to. Sometimes, we can go about our whole lives without finding the one thing that makes us truly happy. I think that’s incredibly sad, don’t you?”

Nanye-hi nodded in agreement. 
“But sometimes we are lucky enough to discover the thing that makes us feel like a whole person. For me, it is being connected to the earth. Digging in my garden, finding pleasure in a tiny green shoot of leaves sprouting from the dirt...those things make me feel peaceful. I am grateful every day for it, because otherwise, I would be a very sad and grumpy old lady.”

Nanye-hi smiled at Mother Ghigau. “I cannot imagine you ever being grumpy, Mother.”

Host and guest were silent for a moment in a comfortable sort of way, and then Mother Ghigau spoke quietly.

“I want to show you something,” she said.

Mother Ghigau stood slowly from her rocker, aided as always by the birch cane she had made herself, and climbed carefully down the porch steps. Nanye-hi watched as she made her way across the yard, stopping now and then to examine something only she could see. Finally, she bent and plucked something from the grass. Nanye-hi tried to peer at what the wise woman held, but she kept it closed up in her fist as she walked back to the house.

“Hold out your hand,” Mother Ghigau said when she was at the porch once more.

Nanye-hi did as she was told and watched as the woman placed a small dandelion in her palm. It was dark yellow and already beginning to wilt from being picked from its damp home. It stained her skin the color of the setting sun.

Nanye-hi looked up curiously. “But what is this for?”

Mother Ghigau sat on the step beside the girl, taking a handkerchief from the folds of her dress to wipe off her forehead. After a moment, she said, “Give that to your friend. Tell her to place it under her pillow. It will give her the answer to her question, and when she wakes up the flower will be transformed into a little white cloud. Have her blow the cloud apart to send her dream to the gods in the sky. Only then will it come true.”

Nanye-hi held the flower reverently, as though it might fall apart in her hand. This was what she had come for. She knew Mother Ghigau wouldn’t disappoint her.

She turned to the old woman and smiled through the prickle of tears that stung her eyes. “Thank you, Mother Ghigau. I will tell my friend what to do.”

“No thanks are necessary, my young friend. I hope you find what you are looking for.”

Nanye-hi smiled gratefully at Mother Ghigau and thanked her for her company, explaining that she still had chores to do at home.

It was only several minutes later, as she crossed into the parcel of land which belonged to her family, that she realized what Mother Ghigau had said. The old woman had known all along that Nanye-hi was the one with dreams of flying, she thought, and still she had helped her.

That night, Nanye-hi knelt beside her bed and carefully placed the dandelion beneath her pillow. Her sister, Ayita, was already fast asleep on the other side of the room with only the top of her dark head visible above the blankets. Nanye-hi climbed into bed, keeping the flower curled in her hand beneath her head, and closed her eyes. She tried to imagine what it would feel like to leap from the cliffs and glide upon the air currents as she had done in so many dreams before; after a moment, she began to drift into the country of sleep, and it seemed she could feel the wind against her cheeks and in the strands of her long, black hair.

And she dreamed.

She dreamed not just of flying, but of swooping through the clouds in a great machine the likes of which she had never seen before. It had wings like a bird and made a good deal of noise, and at first Nanye-hi was scared. She could feel her heart beating like a drum inside her chest and her mouth tasted like the metallic water which flowed in the quarry near her village. She could feel the air buffeting the skin of her face and arms as she glided close to the cliffs she climbed every day, could feel the cool spray of the waterfall sting her cheeks.

And then she looked down, and she discovered she was controlling the machine. It moved when she told it to move; her hands were wrapped tightly around a rectangle of metal, and when she changed its direction, so did the machine.

She whooped pure joy, crying out in uncontrollable happiness as she chased first one eagle, then another with her winged machine. From her great height, she could see her farm, Mother Ghigau’s cabin, the schoolhouse. The waters of local lakes and the quarry sparkled like the jewels in a queen’s crown, throwing little beads of shimmery light up into the sky. She cautiously let go of the control with one hand and stuck her arm straight out beside her like a wing, feeling the wind slip through her fingers. She had never felt so alive.

Nanye-hi came awake very suddenly and sat up with a gasp, afraid for a moment that she might fall from a very great distance. But she was only in her bed, and it was morning already, and the dandelion had given her the answer she wanted.

She pulled her hand from beneath the pillow and was amazed to find that the flower had gone sometime in the night. In its place was a tiny puff of white, filled at the center with dozens of tiny seeds.

“Cloud seeds,” she whispered.

“Father says it’s time to get up,” Ayita said, sweeping into the room gracefully. Her name, which meant “first to dance”, was more fitting than any other Nanye-hi could think of. Her little sister was light on her feet and rarely walked anywhere, choosing instead to glide or jump or slide. It was one of the many things Nanye-hi loved about her...but, she realized, she had never told her sister so.

In fact, there were a great many things she loved about her little family, and as she recalled her conversation with Mother Ghigau, she realized she’d told the lie about her father sending her on an errand because at the time she had wished it to be true. But now, to think of the strong man who ran the farm and raised two girls without a mother asking her to bake a pie was silly, and not a picture she liked to envision. She liked her father just the way he was; loving, hard-working, tireless. She pictured his kind face and thought of all the times he’d held her in his lap for a story, and the times he’d lifted her up in his strong arms so she could pluck apples from the trees in the orchard. He had been the first one to show her what flying was like, she marveled. He had been the one to give her a love of the sky.

Nanye-hi carefully replaced the cloud seeds beneath her pillow and hopped out of bed to join her sister in their morning chores, thinking as she did that there was really nowhere she’d rather be with both feet firmly planted on the ground. The dream was lovely, but now was not her time.

She would fly someday, she knew. And until the time came, she would hold onto those cloud seeds dearly.

They would help her soar. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
Amanda Crum is a thirty-something writer, artist, wife and mother living in Kentucky. When she's not releasing her creativity in one form or another, she's watching horror films with her husband. 

Bay Laurel  /  Volume 2, Issue 3  /  Autumn 2013