Ike Moseseek strolls near home, dreams whimsically of his eventual passing. When he reaches paradise, the Place Beyond, Wotahish, he does not want the tropics and a sweet cocktail; he wishes for snow in the trees, a cold, crisp, blue sky, and a good walking stick through Quaish Ishseek into death, into Aneeneseek, as the released ghost, a happy-go-lucky chidiseek.

Winter has always been the time of awe for him, for reverence in and gratitude for the glory that is nature.

He supposes he seeks to live as the tap root of the oak and pine, as well as the broad spreading tendrils roots of the fir, his personal quest for groundedness. A squirrel chitters.

He walks on, mulling the Quaish fable, “Coyote and Squirrel.”

Ike Moseseek considers the firm ground upon which he walks, the path packed from generations of feet and hooves up into the heart, to the peaks of the Quaish Ishseek, where the elk and berries reside. This is a place of trust. But the people, all people, are uncertain. Yes, capable of being martyrs and fine parents, but also so able to be uncertain, undirected, yes, even disloyal. The trickster Coyote, the opportunist, and the Squirrel, his coffers full of the hard labor and determination of other creatures.

Ike laughs, “It is easier to trust a tree in a windstorm than a neighbor drinking beer,” he thinks. “The ironies in life and death! Yet Coyote and Squirrel remain immortal with Coyote tricking death out of Squirrel and Squirrel stealing Coyote’s death. What is the lesson of life there?”

He strides further up the slope, musing, “Death is a friend, a kind of reward for good living, another portal. These dishonest beings give themselves the short end of the stick. Coyote and Squirrel are doomed to go on in flesh being devious and conniving for eternity.”

Ike halts and looks about him. “When my spirit decides to rise above the land, leaving my body behind, it is this way I hope it travels, up to the chilling peaks of vistas, of thin air.”

Ike had been inspired, or shocked, into this line of thought by a ladder mishap he suffered the day before. The ground was unlevel. He was five steps up when the ladder leaned, and he went with it, luckily landing, bouncing, on his feet, and then down to his rump onto soft earth. It was a wakeup call. Ike Moseseek knew several contemporaries who were somehow gimped up permanently from ladder accidents. Not one of them was foolish or fool hearty; luck was just not with them that day. They walked like veteran rodeo riders.

Ike sighs.

The Quaish way is a peaceful one. Theirs was not a warrior culture. The whites had been civil, not butchers. They had avoided the Spaniards. Their wander here to Quaish Ishseek so many, many generations ago came down to the living as a tale of peace and of exploration, the wave south, separating from their Navajo and Apache cousins in a wide valley, ice on the ridges to east and west. Each day, the stories said, the people found new plants, new animals, better weather. Theirs was a way of hope, a simple hope born from a continued peace. They avoided the warrior tribes; when the horse came and brought the warriors a wider swath, the war makers kept out of the mountains sheltering the Quaish. (Lest the reader think them weak and timid, let it be known they were tenacious defenders of their domain and were masters of two battle tactics, close quarters fighting with blowguns employing darts of black locust thorns smeared with toxic herbs that made the enemy’s eyes immediately swell shut and a long-range weapon, a kind of crossbow, that from a high vantage point could hit its mark at 200 yards.) The people avoided the ravages of the diseases that came with European contact. The people believed — still do — in what the Judeo-Christians call miracles. How else might you explain such good fortune?

Ike wonders, “Really, who are the chosen people? We are not a timid people, we are prudent. We are survivors in our own way.” He looks up into the boughs.

“Is this the natural order of things?” he asks himself aloud. “Are we Quaish outside the order? Do we walk the blessing way, or are we somehow luckily lost?”

Ike walks now through a grove of wind-gnarled pines, approaching a saddle. The wind might sound as a banshee to you or me, the twisted trees appearing as ghouls on the hunt, but to Ike, he hears a bassoon and a viola accompanied by a brushed snare drum, the trees as pow-wow dancers, celebrating the eternal dichotomies of hopes and dashed dreams, of life and death,