We all fell in love with reading because of the lyricism of a good story. Getting wrapped up in a good narrative with a great moral code and add a bit of a conflict is the great mixture of any good book. And Frank Christopher Busch has written a such a fantastic story with his novel Grey Eyes.
A scream ripped through the cold winter night. The glowing lodges continued to flicker their fire light, as though not to notice or care. Wind whistling through pine trees was the only answer to the sound. The inhabitants of the other lodges remained quiet, both out of respect for Kitchi Manitou’s coming blessing and our of fear for the danger to mother and child.
The labour cries came from a small and ragged lodge made of mismatched buffalo hides strewn together against the bitter cold. Bear lodge was the home of Walking Moon Woman, the grey-haired matriarch of the Bear clan. She shared her home with her tow daughters and their husbands. Her three elder children, boys, were gone, married into other clans as was the way of the Nehiyawak. Her sons tried to help when they could, but their obligations were to their new clans.
The days of glory for the Bear lodge had passed, and its inhabitants struggled to prove their value to the village. For their hunters, fish were hard to catch, berries hard to find, and animals scarce. Times were hard for all of the Nehiyawak, but hardest for the Bear clan.
Busch gives readers an engrossing story as we follow the Grey-Eyed boy from birth to maturity. We follow the young lad with the special gift as he learns not only the ways of his people but also what it means to be a man. Busch has used vivid descriptions here that envelop the mind’s eye of any reader to give a clear image of a scene.
“Drum!” said Painted Turtle Man.
The large fire in the centre cast a soft light on the faces of the gathered children. Soaring Spear Man held up a large elk-hide hand drum and boomed it four times. A few more children scurried into the lodge and took their seats. Outside, Grandfather Sun was setting. Darkness slowly settled over the village and the sound of many voices quieted to none.
Painted Turtle Man took Little Grey Bear Boy’s hand and approached the fire. Whispering a soft prayer, the medicine carrier sprinkled medicine herbs on the fire, making it burn with blue smoke. The air began to vibrate with an ancient power and the flames of the centre fire burned low and blue. The smoke above the fire began to form shapes of animals. Rabbits and foxes, deer and raccoon appeared to be chatting and laughing together in a great forest. The figure of a sullen man entered from the south as the storytelling began.
Busch has gathered elements of First-Nations culture in this book which illuminates them for not only his people to better understand but for others to gain insight from. The journey of the story of the Grey-Eyed boy becoming a man is in many cases a universal one and the lessons the boy learns along the way are important ones that are in many cases overlook and forgotten by many people.
For the most part, life returned to the way it had been for generations. In his ninth summer, Little Grey Bear Boy devoted himself to Painted Turtle Man. Instead of playing with other children he was often busy learning the sacred teachings of the medicine wheel and the secrets of the plant world. He still had responsibilities to his family and would often pick berries, catch fish, snare rabbits, and shoot birds to contribute. Much of what he foraged he gave to the struggling Turtle clan. Blue Elk Man always smile at this, proud of his son’s generous nature.
Little Grey Bear Boy tried to learn the Grey-Eyed magic, but he did not yet understand how it worked. Often, the magic manifested itself in those around him as he sat daydreaming. On more than one occasion, Little Grey Bear Boy turned his cousin into an otter or a duck as they swam, once he burned Painted Turtle Man’s hand with blue flame when making a fire for a ceremony. At no time did they feel the loss of Soaring Star Woman more than when Little Grey Bear Boy struggled to understand the magic in him.
“The Grey-Eye magic will be with you when you most need it,” Painted Turtle Man would say. “Creator’s gifts are not to be used for day-to-day nonsense. Learn the ways of your ancestors and they will give you guidance.”
Grey Eyes by Frank Christopher Busch is a wonderful piece of literature. The narrative flows clearly and brilliantly. It is a great coming-of-age novel no matter what background the reader has.