He got on the bus in Taos, N.M., wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt and heavy jeans, with a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes. It was June and way too warm for that kind of clothing.
I'd been on the bus since Dallas. At first I ignored the Indian even though he sat opposite me and I caught him looking often. The desert was hot, the trip long and the bus seemed to stop every ten minutes. We were headed for Tacoma, Washington. At least I was. It was 1980. Mount St. Helens had erupted a month earlier and I wanted to see the damage for myself. The mountain and Spirit Lake had been dear to me. I'd camped there as a child, run away and hidden there as a teenager and made more than one romantic foray there while I was in college. I couldn't believe it was all gone. Blown away. Covered in ash. The beautiful trees discarded like a giant's toothpicks.
Once we entered hillier terrain and trees began to line the roadside, the Indian moved to sit beside me. But he didn't talk. Smiled often, even tipped his hat once and I watched the sun glint red and purple and gold off a long pheasant feather stuck in the band.
We crossed the Columbia River. A few miles into Washington State he pointed to a large buck near the edge of the woods. Over the trees, a Bald Eagle flew in slow circles.
He sighed. "We can talk. The Spirits like you."
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"Seattle...and beyond. Ceremonies. I need to smell the air and get a feel for this land. Do you live near any of my people?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I live in Dallas."
"A deer and an eagle together send a powerful message. You impress the spirits. We have an important ceremony this weekend. Will you come?"
I nodded, pretty sure I wouldn't actually go.
He wasn't fooled. "Too busy, he? Do me a favor?"
"Watch my people. Watch closely. Soon we will begin to head for the mountains. Promise me you will follow."
The bus arrived at Fort Lewis. Sentries waved us into a world of tanks, cannons and soldiers. I saw the front half of a jet projecting from a wall. Bus seats filled quickly and many young military men shot us looks. Suddenly aware of the Indian's dark skin, I moved away from him.
He nudged me. "You didn't answer. Will you follow?"
He smiled, his eyes sad.
It's been twenty-five years this month. I watch his people. But mostly, I wonder how that buck and eagle got it so wrong.