the long cold winter

Sometimes forgotten or buried stories resurface, refusing to die, they carry memories on their backs that become legends. One story that transcends history into the land of legends is told about a bitter winter in Rattlesnake Canyon.

Long ago before the white man came to stay in the canyon, it was a winter camp for the nomadic first people. For generations families and tribes would meet there and hunker down for the winter. The canyon was sheltered from the winds and there were hidden caves tucked away in the basalt and granite. Food was easy to come by, deer, birds and stores of serviceberry kept the tribes strong throughout the winter months. There were shallow rapids and sandbars the people used for fishing. As generations passed the winter campground in Rattlesnake Canyon became a routine, and was frequently visited by early hunters, gatherers and fishermen all year around.

One year, winter came in early on a bitter cold north wind, there was no escape. Left unprepared, the families huddled together in the back of caves and makeshift shelters in the rocks, but no matter how much they insulated around the cracks, the drafts still managed to sneak in and nip at them. There was no escape from the bitter winter. Outside in the frigid cold, the sun was lost behind thick white stormy clouds, too cold to snow, they hung above threatening, while the ground and everything touching it froze solid as rock. As the vengeful winter slowly crawled over the people, food and fuel began to run low. Just venturing outside to find sage to burn was painful as the cold pierced and pricked like wicked thorns. The river froze solid, as did all the water. Chunks of ice and snow had to be gathered and brought inside to thaw, just adding more coldness to the shelters. All around, the people suffered.

The elders started to die first, some, sensing their time was short ventured out alone to face their destiny, others died in their bed surrounded by loved ones. It wasn’t long after that the children started to follow the elders into the abyss. Everyday was the same, a thick blanket of clouds covering a frozen earth. Everything was white in-between, creating a very dismal hopeless feeling, and a looming sense of dread in the people trapped in their shelters at the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon watching their families and loved ones die. Outside the ground was frozen solid, so the bodies were laid to rest under piles of rock, to return back to the earth when the spring thaw came.

Rattlesnake Canyon cave

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