Between L’Anse and Baraga on Indian Cemetery Road, Joseph Deer-Running operates the orange, Mac snowplow #7 in near whiteout conditions. With his hands wound tight on the oversized steering wheel, swatches of crystal flakes encapsulate his cab, trapping him inside a globed chamber of isolation, a fetid tomb. Bouncing on the padded spring-loaded seat, he inhales recycled stale air, the stench of scorched carpet from under the heating vents, musty in dank corners.
Like a metronome, the wipers whip frantically across the windshield nudging him into a hypnotic trance. In the soft voice of a wind-strummed pine he hears a lesson from Mishoomis, his grandfather, Walter, echo inside his head:
Winter—the great snowy Biboon, the season where never-ending squalls roil off Lake Superior, the Gichigami, the vast inland sea of Chippewa legends. This is a crucial time in which Mother Earth, the bountiful Ashkaakamigokwe, finally gets her much needed rest, the blessed spell of renewal, when Giiwedin, the North Wind, brings the purifying snows to cleanse the land, when some plants and creatures discard their weary robes and return to the soil, while others slumber within the nurturing sanctuary of hibernation. Like all living beings, they know their purpose, and what path to pursue when the time comes.
Usually his grandfather’s metaphorical teachings have a pacifying effect, but now his words just leave Joseph frustrated. Winter lasts way too damn long and every year it seems to grow longer.
Switching his headlights to bright, the beams throb on towering snow banks, twelve feet high, shattering the record of 1920. And there had been an earlier weather alert forecasting the worst blizzard of the season, with a wind-chill of -35 degrees.
This is the prime slot though, the three-day, twelve-hour weekend shift, the highest paid time and the only one open to Joseph so he can still attend classes in the MA Program at Northern Michigan University during the week. As an added bonus he can fantasize the night away while he invents scenes and characters, writing feverishly when off duty before hitting the hay, lest he forget. Joseph has a stack of poems, short stories, and a slush pile of novels stashed under his bed, accumulating dust, neither seen nor published. The idea of putting his work out for public scrutiny, the chance of further rejection, might push him over the edge. Or convince him to quit writing altogether, the main outlet for his pent-up anxiety. Anyway, thanks to his cousin Ayaabe and his uncle Grizzly, both tribal police, who helped him secure this job, he has an overpowering need to prove himself as a useful citizen of the community, willing and able to pull his own weight.
Plodding along, the metal blade cleaves headlong through scrolling snowdrifts. Eyes locked on the black, tree-lined road, Joseph conjures words to a prose-style poem due for class on Monday. Lost in deep concentration, his thoughts pierce the air, filter through the labyrinth of pines, spruce, birch, and hardwoods, permeate the wall of snow, even the storm itself, as the verses surge from his brain—terse and fast—one after another. The boring hours fold into themselves, shrivel to minutes, then seconds, to a vacancy … a numbness.
Hunched over the wheel, at six-foot-three, Joseph is what the locals refer to as a big Upper Michigan "Yooper" Chippewa, or as he prefers, Anishinaabe, "a human being," a lean frame of muscle and a mane of raven hair that has grown long and shaggy since his honorable discharge from the service, a premature release after undergoing multiple surgeries following the explosion that ended his military career two years ago. Once his battle wounds had sufficiently healed—the more lethal shrapnel removed and the third-degree leg burns successfully grafted—he passed his physical therapy requirements and was promptly kicked to the curb. The dark days that followed consumed him, body and soul. In vain attempts to return to his normal pre-war self (whatever the definition is, as it changes on any given day) he remains at large, as his mother puts it, “intermittently angry at the world.”
With a Canadian Chinook wailing off Keweenaw Bay, visibility only a few feet, Joseph wishes for a different life where time moves effortlessly like the Two-Hearted River, flowing gently on a midsummer’s afternoon. To make money writing, or fishing, or writing about fishing; it’s the same vision he proposed to Mishoomis when he graduated from high school almost a decade ago, Mishoomis who faithfully stands by waiting for Joseph “to get his head on straight.”
Might be awhile. A gust of wind drowns out his muttering and sends snow devils skittering across his path until they disappear into the hungry belly of the night.
Joseph wonders if this is all there is? Will he break free from the bleakness of eight months of winter? Why can’t he be content like Mishoomis, a WWII Vet himself, going on ninety-three this coming summer, living a simple life in his cabin in the woods, the original Deer-Running allotment by Porcupine Lake, buried deep in the reservation where he continues to be the last tribal Medicine Man, a Midē´wiwin, providing homeopathic cures and spiritual guidance to his people? The old man is thoroughly at peace, even faced with constant setbacks. He told Joseph that all an Anishinaabe truly needs is family, friends, and the Ashkaakamigokwe—the forest, rivers, sloughs, lakes, and the animal people who live within her bounty to enjoy and reap the rewards of a good life, the enlightenment of what he calls mino-bimaadiziwin. “The forest will teach you all you need to know,” is one of Walter’s favorite quotes, convinced every plant, every creature holds a valuable lesson: “If a person would only listen and look … if a person would only hear and see.”
Joseph focuses his attention on the road, slicker than he anticipated, with low-lying pockets of packed snow that cause his tire chains to snag and lurch. Fortunately for him, there’s not much to plowing, a chore that even he can manage: keep the rig on course and out of the ditch, dodge the occasional late night driver navigating home from the taverns, peel layers of ice, grade, salt, and part the pillars of snow while he listens to NPR and the evening edition of “Democracy Now” as they reveal the idiocy of our government that keeps him pissed off enough to stay awake and his brain stoked on high.
As Joseph sees it, somewhere along the way this so-called free country has strayed from its democratic sensibilities. And if anyone had the balls to ask his opinion he’d tell them, although they never do, on account of him being an ex-Marine suffering from an acute case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the conflux of wide-ranging aftershocks of combat—from terrifying flashbacks, embarrassing bouts of crying, to destruction of property, or rearranging someone’s face. Once the government reluctantly admitted the existence of PTSD, in spite of the epidemic of depression, suicides, murders, spousal abuses, soaring divorce rates, drug addiction, and other blaring indicators surrounding war vets, his military shrinks finally tied the burdensome affliction around his neck like a choke collar of humiliation. The disease has the tendency to act up at the most inopportune moments, so people for the most part tiptoe around him and never ask anything more challenging than a question about the weather, afraid Joseph might blow, as he has done more times than he cares to remember. And just recently he received an additional diagnosis of a chronic case of Traumatic Brain Injury, due to brain slamming concussions from repeated bomb blasts. But at least this explains why he’s missing chunks of memory, the mood swings, nightmares, migraines, inability to make decisions, and his impaired problem-solving skills, not to mention his Parkinson’s-like shakes where his fingers twitch when he’s fatigued or nervous.
Besides a plethora of drugs prescribed by a revolving door of ever-changing military psychiatrists, his last therapist had taught him Yoga and Pranayama, (a breathing exercise nicknamed the Skull Cleanser), to divert any impending flashbacks, along with Guided Imagery, a playlist of preapproved visions to keep his fumbling mind on track, control combat stress, and reduce tension.
And sometimes it actually works.
Yep, lots of time for contemplation on the night shift. Probably too much if Joseph didn’t keep it in check where the wartime flashbacks had a habit of making an unexpected appearance.
As he has already done once this evening on his nearly two-hundred-mile scheduled Round Dance, a continual loop clearing the back roads bordering the reservation, Joseph pauses at the four-way stop outside the sleepy village of L’Anse. The red sign bangs and slashes the air as if boxed with an invisible giant’s fist. Curling from the hood of his truck, tendrils of steam ascend like manidoog, those ethereal spirits of the forest. The elders would blame the blustery wind on the Wiindigoo, the cannibalistic monster of winter. And on such a desolate night as this, might Joseph believe it too. His grandfather’s words of wisdom send chills up his spine:
The Wiindigoo is a blood thirsty giant with a heart of ice, a wicked beast that swoops down without warning, attacking village upon village, showing no mercy, no compassion, gobbling every person in his path—man, woman, and child. The insatiable hunger, the greed of the monster knows no bounds. The more he eats the more he craves, even the Wiindigoo himself, devoured from the inside out.
He remembers that Mishoomis had accused the Iraq War of being the most ruthless Wiindigoo to date; a war that started so small and grew fourteen years long and counting.
Mechanically, Joseph steers onto Red Road, a narrow two lane trail bound on both sides by true darkness— the crowded trees of the Ottawa Forest on his right—the Keweenaw Bay on his left, all evidence of life blotted out by a curtain of snow.
While the plow’s blade scrapes and grates on the bumpy track, he recalls the day Mishoomis had asked him to consider taking his place as the next Midē´wiwin. But that was before Joseph joined the Marines. His grandfather hasn’t brought up the subject since his return and there was a rumor circulating that he also asked Joseph’s cousin Kesh. The old man must be desperate, seeing he doesn’t have long in this world. But then Joseph has been evading his grandfather’s phone calls requesting him to take part in the Reentry Ceremonies, a revised version of the Sweat Lodge and Vision Quest he conducts for war vets to help heal their battle scars, mentally and physically. Joseph just isn’t ready to face Mishoomis and relive all his miseries. Not yet.
For now, his main goal is to apply himself to the task of fitting back into society, accomplish common everyday chores, and maybe overcome the tribal gossip that travels through the reservation party line faster than high-speed Internet. Joseph’s heard the whispers. Behind his back they call him the “crazy war vet,” considered by most on the reservation as an all-around oddball and hermit.
Once Joseph clears a precarious stretch of rolling hills, he cruises the southbound straightaway on Skanee Road, the Mac purring to an easy forty miles-per-hour. As the passing scenery blurs with cataractous inertia, he turns up the radio in time to catch the hourly news: always the violence of war and hate, earthquakes, floods, droughts, pollution, a wounded planet on the verge of collapse, a man who can’t breathe, the human battle rages on and on. Exactly what he needs to avoid in his present state of mind.
Immediately, before another catastrophe is exposed, Joseph switches the dial and settles on a classical station playing nonstop symphonies, a burgeoning wide-open palette for interpretation.
After a swift succession of gulps from his coffee mug, Joseph unleashes his fertile imagination and spends the next couple of hours captivated by the music. Under the snowy veil of invisibility his thoughts flow freely. Utilizing his Guided Imagery technique, carefully handpicking positive memories, rose-tinted over time, he constructs intricate stories where his ex-girlfriend Omiinii, Chippewa for dove, flits back to him—rapid, unhindered, one scene onto the next. While a melancholy waltz by Chopin, as bleak as the storm, quickens to a crescendo, Joseph relives their long, meaningful, and philosophical discussions in his shabby basement apartment in Marquette: Crazy Horse to Leo Tolstoy, Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Yeats, Paula Gunn Allen, and Omiinii’s all-time idol, Joy Harjo. They debated poems zealously, sometimes furiously, turning over every line, uncovering inspirational messages mined not from the written word but the spaces between, followed by hours of making love—making love, they couldn’t get enough of making love, the pleasure of caressing, kissing, touching each other’s bodies.
As if feeding his intoxicating memories to the radio, The Revolutionary Étude plays in the background, Chopin’s notes pouring from the depths of his doomed soul, building higher, higher, until the piano explodes with rapture.
A pause of dead radio air, the wipers filling the silence with their persistent tick-tock, Joseph comes back to the present, and releases a sigh. Suddenly Brahms rises through the white noise of the ether: Piano Concerto No. 2, contemplative and melodic, providing a tranquilizing mood to his romantic wanderings.
Omiinii, a stunning poet and violinist in the NMU symphony, his only serious post-war girlfriend, had introduced him to this unlikely choice of music. They met in writing class and were inseparable last year. Before this musical awakening, Joseph’s tastes were limited to powwow beats, hard rock, hip-hop, rap, and the crooning of his grandfather’s Elvis and Johnny Cash. Of course, Joseph doesn’t flaunt this abnormality— the Classics—not wanting to add to his label as “oddball.” But he has to admit (if only to himself), this music is a worthy substitute for a soothing walk in the forest, with almost the same therapeutic effect.
Joseph’s eyes mist recalling their short-lived yet tumultuous love affair, those hours of being entwined, the heat, the fire, their lovemaking. “A woman, the sacred womb of life, has the power to make a man immortal,” Mishoomis would always say. Omiinii took Joseph under her wings, chopped down the chaos of thorny old growth that had kept him safe after Iraq, reorganized his mangled roots, took an axe to trim his boughs, built a homey nest of autumn leaves. And, most important, she loved him. Together of one creative mind, a garden of prose blossomed, as they composed lengthy falsettos of ecofriendly poetry. It had been his happiest and most productive months since the war.
As seems to be Joseph’s luck, eventually Omiinii flew away, transferring to the University of Wisconsin, all the way over in Madison, and he became mortal again. Without saying goodbye, she left a poem tacked to his door entitled, “You are the caged bird I cannot free.”
This past fall, to prove her wrong, Joseph strayed from his insulated haven, joined a delegation from the tribe to march in Washington against the Alaskan pipeline, against the destruction of Ashkaakamigokwe, chanting and playing his dewe`igan, his hand-held drum. The police took him down for obstructing his own justice, kicked his ass, and then threw him behind bars for a week.
But Joseph knows it wasn’t bad luck; it was his attitude that chased Omiinii away. Since the war he’s changed from an optimist into a brooding cynic, alienating himself from family and friends, sabotaging any future happiness. His Anishinaabe name, Inigokoode`e, to “have-a-large-heart,” in a spiritual way, bestowed during his childhood Naming Ceremony, at the time was a perfect fit, in the sense he had been cheerful, always smiling, with a passion for life, who would give the clothes off his back to anyone in need.
Shaking off those depressing thoughts, Joseph cranks up the defroster, and concentrates on his side of the road, trying to decipher the yellow line, obliterated under inches of fresh powder, shrouding patches of treacherous black ice beneath.
In the breakdown lane his high beams flash across a dark bundle. Or maybe the storm is playing tricks on him. “What the hell?” Joseph brakes and aligns his lights on the bundle. Exhaling a prolonged hiss, the wheels skid, the brakes catch, chassis squeals, overheated ball bearings grind, and with a great parting of toxic fumes, the truck shudders to a stop.
With each wiper pass, the bundle becomes clearer. Even then it takes a minute for the scene to register.
There in a pool of the truck’s golden glow, under a dusting of snow lies a body. Joseph’s brain stalls, goes blank, then reboots, adrenaline pumping a raging river into his veins. He hasn’t seen a body since Iraq, where dead men, women, and children littered the sides of the streets like so much discarded trash. The sight, the stench of diesel, the earth-quaking rumble, triggers a flashback of a Humvee barreling over a barren wasteland under a blood-red sky.
The world around Joseph dims. Instantly, the snow transforms to blowing sand, the Northwoods a vast undulating desert.
Clenching the wheel, Joseph’s pulse thunders in his ears, his heart an iron fist, a cold anvil clanking erratically against its cage of bones. His fingers, then arms, begin to twitch until his whole body is a miserable hub of quivering confusion. A dull whoosh of noise ricochets inside his head, speeds up, becoming louder, louder—the screams of young men uncreated in an explosion of bloody pulp, the keening of old men and women in desperate prayers to a god that has abandoned them, the endless barrage of American made mortar rounds, ceaseless gunfire—where children’s laughs turn into horrified wails, followed by a final, baneful silence.
Then, the vilest memory, one that Joseph thought he had locked away for good, emerges from the depths of his manmade vault.
His last mission.
He smells the blood, human sewage, and cooked flesh. He feels his head split from ear to ear. His scalp peels back. Paralyzed, the top of his skull detaches, lifts off. Joseph cries out, overwhelmed by phantom pain from the EID detonated by a cell phone. His Humvee, a tin can spliced open, brain fluid leaking from his ears, his legs on fire, his best friend Connor, the pieces and gore of what was left covering Joseph—slimy, rank, a human life wiped off the planet in less than a second. Connor gone. Gone. …
All of a sudden Joseph’s once-airy chest is crushed by the weight of what feels like the engine block pressing down on him, unable to inhale or exhale. Everything the therapists had taught him, the breathing exercises, the yoga, the Guided Imagery, flies out his head. How can he remember every stinking second of the war yet the most endearing recollections from his childhood have become a big black hole?
But Joseph knows, has always known, he can shove and push and punch the war away, lock and seal it in a vault, regardless of a hundred therapy sessions, or a million, the fact remains, the war has never left. He carries it around every damn minute of every damn day. With hopeful aspirations, foolishly so, he went into battle, an eighteen-year-old kid, emotionally unprepared, not knowing the language, not understanding the culture, commandeered by nitwits and seriously green officers. Unaware, Joseph thought that when he enlisted in 2006, he would be part of the contingent of the new and improved coalition forces, a warrior in the footsteps of his hero Tašúŋke Witkó, the famed Crazy Horse, to bring aid to the Iraqi people, help them reconstruct their bombed out villages, to show them that Americans were not evil monsters, that they truly cared. But instead of working for Crazy Horse, Joseph found himself working for Custer.
Joseph grits his teeth, strangling the steering wheel to stop his finger’s incessant twitching—mad at himself for letting the flashback in, mad he had been so stupid for enlisting in the first place. And yet he went back three more times, then to Afghanistan, trying to get it right. Or maybe once you’ve entered the killing fields, adequately desensitized, a band of brothers watching each other’s backs, a bond Misoomish had forewarned is as strong as matrimony, there’s no easy way to leave, no going back to what you were.
But none of this changes the underlying truth: every second Joseph was being shelled and shot at, with every bullet and missile that came close and missed, he was undeniably, euphorically, horrifyingly, and yes, wonderfully alive in a way that he’d never felt in his entire life.
Looking back now, it all seems selfish and shallow.
“Enough,” he sobs, shedding the well of tears that had been contained since the war, “ENOUGH!”
Slowly, Joseph shakes his head to dispel the nightmare that has a hold on him. “You’re okay,” he says, finding the sound of his voice, be it another sign of his deteriorating mind, reassuring. “You can do this.”
To center himself, to keep himself whole, he chants a prayer asking the Great Spirit to guide him, “Aayaa Gichi-Manidoo, Naadamoshin. …” In his mind’s eye he sees his pleas take flight, reeling and spinning outward with every breath, out his nose, eyes, mouth, like so many long strands of light until they become impossibly thin and lucent, spiraling away, where they flatten as straight as arrows, penetrate the atmosphere, the metal hull, through the four layers above the earth, the four layers below, the biitawikamig, the space his relatives, present, past, and future, are said to exist.
A blanket of calm stifles Joseph’s crashing nerves and the indelible Marine training kicks in, engrained into every cell like instinct. He zips up his parka, pulls his hood low over his forehead, stuffs his hands into his ski gloves, grabs the first aid kit under the passenger seat, opens the door, and spills out, a steaming mass surging into the cones of light, toward the body.
The wind whistles through snow-laden trees. Sagging boughs creak and crack, like the haunting sounds of an army of Wiindigoog, their vicious jaws, sharp as scythes, gnawing in the minuscule crevasses between his parka. Each intake of frigid air scorches a trail into his lungs. Stumbling at first, he charges forward in a slippery sprint, cleated boots clawing for purchase, though by the looks of the person, in the full throes of rigamortis, Joseph knows nothing can be done to save him.
Now up close, Joseph can see who it is. Russell Lone Bird. A smile etched on his chaffed face, limbs akimbo, beak thin, with black, starved eyes, frozen in an awkward repose, the old man is coddled in his bear skin coat next to the drained bottle of Jack Daniels that failed to keep him warm. Just to be one-hundred percent positive, Joseph kneels, ungloves his hand, and takes Russell’s pulse on his carotid artery in the hollow of his neck. Stranger things have happened in the north. Hunters lost in the woods have been pronounced dead of exposure only to resurrect on the way to the morgue.
Russell’s lips are blue, skin ice, his life-force extinguished. Head bowed, Joseph scours his mind for the words to the song Misoomish taught him to help the dead onto the Jiibay-Miikanan, the Path of Souls. He digs into the gaping hole and comes up empty, another memory swallowed in the void, so he simply says the only thing that comes to mind. “Giga-waabamin miinawaa,” telling Russell, “I will see you again.”
According to Mishoomis, there is no word for goodbye in Anishinaabemowin, the old-time language of their Chippewa ancestors. He said they view a person’s relationship as being interconnected, a circle, and from the moment someone enters your circle they continue to be part of your life forever, extending into the next world.
Once Joseph calls the tribal police, he tries to get Russell’s arms to lie down. With each attempt they spring up like live wires, fingers steepled, as if praying to Giizhigookwe, the Sky Manidoo. He figures Russell must’ve been headed for the reservation from the Happy Endings Saloon, the watering hole he frequents, taking a shortcut through the drifting snowfields to his cabin. Or maybe he wanted to join his wife who died from diabetes on the hospital steps not long ago, waiting to clear the red tape of “easy and affordable healthcare.” Suicides are the leading cause of deaths on the reservation, Joseph ought to know, and seeing he hadn’t spotted Russell on his last go-around, he must’ve died only a few hours ago.
In record time, Ayaabe and Grizzly arrive in the squad car, red and blue lights flashing, their sirens muted by the woolen snow-drenched sky. Grizzly trains his spotlight on Russell as they huddle in the cold, exhaling clouds of exhaust.
“This is the second one this week.” Grizzly tugs his fur hat down over his ears. “Not a bad way to go though, eh?” Standing even taller than Joseph, Grizzly shrugs his massive shoulders. “That’s what the two will do. The cold and the booze. They numb you until all your breath is gone. Leave you dead, but with a smile.”
Joseph has no idea if this is true, but clings to the hope that it was.
Ayaabe, squat and thick around the waist, dressed in a hooded snowmobile suit, slaps Joseph on the back. “I’ll get Walter on the horn. He can help us tell the relatives and get the burial ceremony underway. Russell would’ve wanted a traditional wake.”
Joseph only nods. As far as he knows, Russell has no living relatives.
After Joseph relates a summarized account of discovering the body, his voice surprisingly steady, stronger than he thought possible, Grizzly tells him he’s free to go.
Ayaabe follows him to the truck and rests a hand on Joseph’s shoulder, scanning his face for any traces of cracking. “You gonna be alright?”
Joseph wears his standard lopsided grin, pretending all is good. “I’m fine,” he says. Though, he’s not sure what he is. Right now he feels disoriented, his mind adrift, tethered on a fraying rope.
“Good. Good,” Ayaabe says, his words muffled by the snow that has turned into nails of brittle sleet. “Just stay focused. We need you to keep the roads safe.”
It was Ayaabe who had found Joseph unresponsive at the village boat landing after downing a whole month’s worth of sleeping pills this past November. It hadn’t been Joseph’s first attempt. Or his second. There had been many times he stuck a loaded pistol in his mouth, only to chicken out at the last minute.
“You got it.” Joseph gives him a thumbs-up and hops back into the balmy cab. He drives off wondering if Russell’s death holds an underlying significance, a profound message, the purpose just out of his reach of comprehension, or too immense for his tiny human mind to grasp.
Whatever the lesson, Joseph knows that in this neck of the Northwoods every payday is spent burning out your problems in a state of drunken bliss. Safer for him to work overtime while he struggles through college, simmering below the flames of an actual fire, quietly dreaming about his Two-Hearted River.
Carving a trail for the last shift of mill workers, the plow’s steel blade thrusts through winter’s glassy mantle, leaving behind a plumed cloud, a swath of starry asphalt, pitted with granules of neon blue salt. Within Joseph’s vessel, the air stills into delicate arias of Debussy, solitary and aloof, amid whispers of snow cutting sideways against the windshield, swirling, swirling, off into the darkness, his gaze held in the false glitter.
Finally the truck reaches the top of a windswept hill, the storm now tampering to a few flakes. A fast moving gray mountain, the clouds vanish into the west, the place of spirits, as a new dawn heralds the end of the line. Slowly, Joseph coasts down the hill to enjoy the unveiling.
Over the land a great celestial light spreads, the fields and forest bathed in purest white. Below, the Gichigami yawns in an upheaval of glacial slabs, backlit in hues of palest blue. In the east, the source of new beginnings, a luminous haze hovers, descending in long violet silk scarves. Gradually, an indigo bruise stretches on the curved crease of the east, climbing the horizon, the sun’s blaze growing into a ball of dazzling red.
“Time to go home.” Joseph breaths a heavy sigh, relieved to have made it one more day.
Without warning, from behind a snowy copse of pines, a stag bolts across the road followed by the rest of his clan. Joseph slams on the brakes. The metal Goliath trembles and comes to a halt to let the herd pass. One by one, brown velvet deer bound in graceful arcs of spine and slender legs, a steady rhythm to the tempo of Mozart, a lone violin, soft and trilling. With each leap, a warm radiance floods Joseph’s cold veins until his Wiindigoo ice-shelled heart shatters, the human one beneath set free.
The cadence of their fluid motions, buoyant and unresisting, draws Joseph in. He leans forward, face pressed to the windshield. The deer stop to stare at him, their eyes deep pools of hushed water. When Joseph opens his mouth to speak, each deer takes a piece of his voice, a piece of his wartime memories, as they sing their Deer Song. Chuffing, chuffing, they laugh, pawing the ground in rapt pleasure, perfectly content in their ordinary lives as deer.