THE PIPER SETS OFF

Once, and only once, a gang of adolescent girls heckled and chased Kokopelli, the supernatural humpbacked flute player of the Southwestern native peoples, far from his usual circles. They had their own good reasons, horny Trickster that he is, although the rest of their bands of extended families — parents, grandparents, and brothers, especially — soon regretted his absence.

“I’ll be back,” he vowed, or perhaps threatened, as he set off on a new adventure. And so he trotted off along the Pecos River and wandered up through the Painted Desert before crossing the Colorado and then, somewhere in that wilderness, hitching a ride in a battered pickup that dropped him off in the Mojave. As he looked about that open emptiness, he pondered where to head next. He thought about continuing west into California, maybe even trying his hand at Hollywood. But he was no fan of Westerns, where his kind always wound up losing the conflict. He might change the stereotype, but he sensed that would be an uphill battle. And then he thought about apples and peaches and pears to the north, which the driver had said grew in unimaginable quantities. And since Kokopelli was always hungry, that’s where he aimed.

It was a long journey as he ventured along the eastern flanks of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, canoed the Columbia to the Yakima, which he then followed all the way through its canyon and views of the still snowy summits. And it was there, where he chanced upon an Irishman playing fiddle, Kokopelli cocked his head and antennae, listened, and soon inserted his own line.

“Aye, I like that,” said the fiddler.

“I’ll swap you a tune,” said the piper.

They could have talked about their instruments. The fiddler, after all, was a giant cricket with a horsehair wand and an imaginatively shaped thin wooden box. Not to be outdone, Kokopelli’s pipes were created from a variety of materials, depending. Some were glazed clay and others, carved wood, while newer ones came in PVC and shiny metals, but his favorites remained the ones fashioned from bone — large animals and even human. Still, these two said nothing of that or even the music and dance biz. Instead, these two musicians set about playing together.

And so it went, a Procession for the Wise Women and then a Reel. A Fertility Song and then a Jig. A Dance for Young Warriors and a Hornpipe. Hour after hour, they filled the clear air with their tunes. And when they finally looked up, they saw they had attracted an audience, and then the word spread. They were invited to play at weddings and funerals and dances and feasts. And so, for an all too brief time, they toured together before departing for their homes, each by his own door.

I was the fiddler.

This is what we observed and a little more.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

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