A note is left on a car windshield, an old dog dies, and Kent Nerburn finds himself back on the Lakota reservation where he traveled more than a decade before with a tribal elder named Dan. The touching, funny, and haunting journey that ensues goes deep into reservation boarding-school mysteries, the dark confines of sweat lodges, and isolated Native homesteads far back in the Dakota hills in search of ghosts that have haunted Dan since childhood.
In this fictionalized account of actual events, Nerburn brings the land of the northern High Plains alive and reveals the Native American way of teaching and learning with a depth that few outsiders have ever captured.
|Publisher:||New World Library|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Kent Nerburn is the author of twelve books on spirituality and Native themes, including Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce (featured on the History Channel), Simple Truths , and The Wisdom of the Native Americans. He lives in northern Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
The Wolf at Twilight
An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
By Kent Nerburn
New World LibraryCopyright © 2009 Kent Nerburn
All rights reserved.
The words on the slip of paper struck me like a blow.
It was not just the news itself, though the words cut deep. It was the very fact of the note, stuck on my windshield on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, hundreds of miles from where Fatback had lived and, apparently, died. That, and the small deerskin pouch of tobacco that was tied to it.
Fatback was a black Lab — a good dog — who had belonged to Dan, an elderly Lakota man who lived far out on the Dakota plains. Years before, as a result of a book of elders' memories I had done with students at Red Lake, Dan had contacted me to come out to his home to speak with him. His request was vague, and I had been both skeptical and apprehensive. But, reluctantly, I had gone, and it had changed my life. We had worked together, traveled together, and created a book together in which the old man told his stories and memories and thoughts about Indian people and our American land.
However, for reasons that I cannot easily explain, after the book was published he and I had not stayed in touch. Perhaps it was because we were from such different worlds. Perhaps it was because the intimacy we had achieved was uncomfortable to both of us — he was, in some measure, allowing me to make up for my guilt about what I had left unsaid and undone with my father at the time of his passing, and I, in some measure, had served as a surrogate for Dan's son who had died an untimely death in a car accident and to whom he had initially entrusted the task of writing his story and collecting his thoughts.
But whatever it was, when we had stood together on the dusty Dakota roadside fifteen years ago, hands clasped in a bond of promise and friendship, we had both known, in some deep part of ourselves, that our time together was finished. We had shared a moment in time; we had done something worthy; and that, for each of us, was enough.
But now it was all coming back to me. He had reached out to me again — if, indeed, it was him — and had reopened a door that I thought had been closed forever.
* * *
"WHAT MAKES YOU THINK IT'S REAL?" Louise asked. "You were on the rez, and there are lots of practical jokers up there."
"Tobacco's no joke," I said, pulling out the small deerskin pouch.
To the Indian people, tobacco is the Creator's gift. It comes from the earth and rises up to heaven. When the Creator sees it, he pays attention. So when tobacco is presented to someone, it's a sacred statement. It means that the Creator is being called upon to witness the interaction. I knew of no Indian people who would use it as part of a hoax or a trick.
"I can't just let it rest," I continued. "I've got to find out."
"You could go back up to Red Lake and ask around."
"Where? It was a powwow. There were hundreds of cars parked in that field — folks from North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Canada."
"Maybe you should try to contact Dan or his family."
I looked down. I knew she was right. But, in truth, I was scared. I had never really talked to any of the participants since Neither Wolf nor Dog — the book Dan and I had created together — had been published. I had heard that it had been well received. But there were depictions within it that might have given offense, and I was afraid of the disapproval and recriminations that might surface if I allowed myself to get involved again.
And then there was the deeper, more tawdry issue: Dan had received nothing for the book. Though this is the way he had wanted it, I had always harbored the gnawing guilt that I should have done more for him and his family.
I looked down at the small pouch in my hand. It was not just a gift, it was a command. If it really was from Dan or someone close to him, it was a reaching out I could not ignore.
I placed it carefully back in my shirt pocket and turned toward the phone. Perhaps this was just a necessary contact too long deferred. Perhaps this was a chance to return the gift that his friendship had given to me.
When I had last been in contact with Dan, he had been unwilling to speak on the telephone — an elder's quirk. I assumed nothing had changed — if, indeed, he was even still alive. But in the intervening years phone service had increased, cell phones had come into existence, and I was certain that some of the other people I had known would now be able to be contacted without difficulty.
However, it did not prove to be so simple. As I scoured the Internet and dialed up directory assistance, I realized, much to my chagrin, that I hadn't learned anyone's last name. The only person who had ever been called by a last name was me — I was always just "Nerburn." They had all been simply Dan, Grover, Wenonah, or whatever strange nickname they were known by on the rez. When you were introduced at all, it was without any air of formality. Just, "This is Nerburn. This is Wenonah." So I had no reasonable way to proceed.
Finally, it came to me that the only chance I had was to look for the number of a business establishment. There was only one business establishment on the rez whose name I could recall.
* * *
"YEAH?" CAME THE VOICE. It was as I remembered — deep, dark, and slow, as if coming from the bottom of a well.
"Jumbo?" I said.
I could almost see him standing there in his huge sagging jeans and filthy laceless tennis shoes, with a dirty white T-shirt hanging like a tent over his astonishing belly, his massive ham of a hand wrapped around the grease-covered phone receiver.
"This is Nerburn. The guy ..."
"The Nissan," he interrupted. "We got a lot of 'em out here now."
The comment made me smile. Who but Jumbo would answer a business phone with "Yeah?" But, then again, his had not been an ordinary business. His primary occupation had been car repair, but he worked on toasters, pumps, and anything else that had springs or levers or any moving parts. His sign had been a dripping, hand-painted affair that said something about "broke stuff fixed" with a variety of quotation marks and underlinings that corresponded to no grammatical rules that I or anyone else had ever learned. His tool collection had run toward pipe wrenches and hammers, all covered with layers of grease and scattered randomly on a filthy black workbench. Close tolerances and delicate repairs were not his forte.
"Truck got troubles?" he asked.
"No, no. I sold it years ago," I said.
"I'd have took it," he answered. "Good truck."
"Good as a Chevy?" It was an inside joke.
"What you got now?" he asked.
"A Toyota wagon."
He emitted a low grunt. The meaning was indecipherable.
It was good to hear Jumbo's voice, but I knew I was pressing my luck by engaging him in too much conversation. The last time I had been with him he had seldom said more than two words at a time, and those had usually concerned meals or machines. So I cut to the chase. "Jumbo, I got a note on my car in Red Lake. It said Fatback was dead."
"Yeah, just keeled over last winter. Really old."
"But Dan's still alive?"
I could hear the rustling of a wrapper being opened, followed by a chewing sound.
"So, when you coming out?" he said.
The question caught me by surprise.
"Coming out? I hadn't really thought about it."
"Probably should. The old man's counting on you."
"Counting on me? For what?"
"Don't know. Just counting on you."
"How do you know this?"
I probed for more information, but he had nothing more to say.
I hung up the phone completely mystified. None of it made any sense. Fatback had been dead for months, so why the note now? And how did Jumbo know that Dan had contacted me? And what was he counting on me to do?
Again, reservation protocol had put me in a box. Jumbo was not about to speak for Dan or attempt to assay his motives. He simply passed on information.
For Jumbo, it was enough that Dan wanted me out there. "Why" was none of his business, and how he had known was none of mine.
* * *
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO," I said to Louise. "Why couldn't he just have written a note saying he wanted to see me? Or why didn't he have Wenonah call me, like the last time, if he doesn't want to talk on the phone? And how'd they know my car?"
Louise just shrugged. She, too, had worked on reservations. She knew that my questions were futile.
"What do you want to do?" she asked. "That's the only real question."
I shook my head and sighed. "I think I'd better go out there. He seems to be expecting me."
"Then you'd better go," she said. "You won't feel very good about yourself if you don't."
"But only a week. No more."
She gave me a look of healthy skepticism.
But I was serious. I had writing obligations, speaking obligations. And our short northern Minnesota summer was already on the wane. Louise was a wonderfully patient wife, but she cherished our summer visits from family and friends and didn't want me to miss them. I couldn't allow myself to get trapped like I had during my previous visit to Dan when he and his friend Grover had, in effect, kidnapped me. This time I needed to get back. No "Indian time." My obligations were white obligations, and they were bound by clocks and deadlines.
A week. No more.CHAPTER 2
The green WWII canvas aviator bag that had been my traveling companion for years had long been demoted to tasks like carrying wood to the house or shoes to the gym. But somehow it seemed more appropriate and less conspicuous for a trip to the reservation than a black nylon suitcase made for racing through airports.
I threw in a few pairs of jeans and several T-shirts, added a few gifts, a sleeping bag, and the old beat-up tape recorder that I carried when I went out on one of my "little trips," and called it a night.
The following morning I gave Louise a peck on the cheek as she slept, checked the oil in the old Toyota wagon, and headed west on U.S. Highway 2. Despite my concerns about what I might find, the lure of the open road soon overtook me, and the day spread out like a promise before me.
By midday I had left the dark forests of northern Minnesota behind and had crossed into the broad, flat expanse of the Dakota prairies. Fields of wheat and sunflowers, redolent with the scent of summer, stretched resplendently toward the horizon. Solitary farmsteads with their prim white two-story houses sat far back from the road in copses of trees. Under the warm summer sun they conjured up images of family picnics with white tablecloths and men in rolled-up shirtsleeves playing horseshoes by the barn. The smell of the earth was so rich that I drove with the windows down just to breathe the air.
By evening I had fallen completely under the Dakota spell. All was earth and sky. Only the occasional vertical of a distant smalltown grain elevator broke the flat line of the horizon. A French station out of Canada scratched in on the radio from some far distance, and I listened with appreciation to the round tones of the unfamiliar language as I made my way into the growing prairie twilight.
Soon the pooling lights of Bismarck appeared before me. I skirted their beckoning warmth and turned south into the rolling hill country that flanked the broad waters of the Missouri. The slow, languid river moved silently in the darkness, conjuring up images of Lewis and Clark, the fur traders, and the distant outposts of Omaha and St. Louis hundreds of miles downstream. The echoes of our nation's frontier past were washing over me.
But other echoes, too, were rising. The voices of the Hidatsa and the Mandan and the Nakota and the Arikara — people whose pasts had been obliterated, or, at least, pushed far below the surface of our national consciousness — whispered through the shapeless prairie night. They gave a dark edge to my reverie, reminding me that another history, far less sanguine and hopeful, lay deeper than the memories of sodbusters and settlers and pioneers.
Deeper and deeper I drove into the Dakota darkness. The wind blew warm and intimate, like a voice trying to reveal a secret. Now and then a small town with a broken-down roadside bar would announce its presence with a few lonely neon signs and ghostly sodium yard lights, then quickly disappear into the prairie darkness. But soon they, too, thinned, then ceased altogether, and I was left alone with my thoughts and reveries in the great star-drenched night.
I was tired almost beyond redemption, but I forced myself to keep driving. I wanted to arrive at Dan's house in the early morning before he went out for the day. I needed to find out what had motivated him to reach out to me in such an enigmatic way.
By dawn I had reached the breaking point. I grabbed a few hours of sleep at a roadside pull-off, slapped some river water on my face, and gave my teeth a quick brushing in a gas station restroom. A cup of weak convenience-store coffee, and I was back on the road. By eight I was approaching the reservation line; by nine I was headed out the old familiar highway toward the turnoff to Dan's home.
Everything was just as I remembered it. The path up to his house was unchanged, except for a few more holes and ruts. The same rusted automobile carcasses hulked in the weeds on either side of the roadway. The same desiccated gray trees with broken branches stood in wounded isolation on the same distant rises. Only the brush around the house seemed different. It was now so thick and brambly that it almost totally hid his home from view.
The old Toyota creaked and groaned as I crawled up the path toward the house. Gully washes a foot wide and a foot deep cut raw diagonals across the white clay of the roadway, and even at the slowest, most careful speed, the wagon dropped into them with a sickening clunk, then pushed and surged as it struggled to make its way out the other side.
It was hard to imagine that anyone could navigate this path in a normal automobile during the winter or the rainy season. Yet this was the kind of road that people on the reservation took for granted. It was small wonder that the fields and yards were littered with junk cars.
As I approached Dan's house, a wave of nostalgia overtook me. The old half-dismantled car that had been Fatback's doghouse still sat on blocks to the right of the steps. The three planks that formed the steps to his door were more warped and weathered but otherwise unchanged. The door still hung loosely on its hinges, and the screens were still torn. Even the patchy, peeling paint on the clapboard siding seemed the same. Nothing had been moved, nothing had been repaired. The place had simply deteriorated from an old man's house into an old man's shack.
Though it was barely 9:00 a.m., I could hear a television blaring through the open front door. I had expected someone to come out at the sound of the engine, but no one appeared. It seemed strange, since an unexpected car coming up the driveway of an isolated rural home usually draws attention, if not outright concern. Perhaps the sound from the television had masked my arrival.
I stepped out cautiously, apprehensive about the reception I was about to receive.
I walked quietly up the steps, not wanting to wake Dan if he was still asleep, and was about to knock, when the old man's voice came rattling from inside.
"About time, Nerburn."
The greeting shocked me; I had no idea how he knew it was me. His voice had the same twinkle in it, the same wry playfulness that I remembered so well from my last visit. The dark edge of disapproval that I had so feared was nowhere to be heard.
"Come on in. Come on in."
I opened the old screen door and stepped across the threshold. Memories flooded over me. The same yellow Formica kitchen table sat in the middle of the one large living area. The floor was still a dingy patchwork of cheap linoleum with chunks torn up in various places, revealing the black mastic underneath. The fluorescent light still buzzed from the ceiling, but the plastic cover had been broken off, making the light from the two long cylindrical tubes even more harsh and unsettling.
Dan was sitting in the middle of the room in a four-wheeled rolling "medical equipment" kind of chair with chrome framework and brown vinyl arm pads. He was facing away from me, staring at a large, flat-panel television set. His long white hair hung down to the middle of his back and, despite the growing warmth of the morning, he had a shawl draped over his shoulders. To a casual observer, he might have been mistaken for an infirm old woman.
"Hello, Dan," I said, not knowing quite how to proceed. "How'd you know it was me?"
He didn't turn, but kept facing the television. The bright colors from the screen looked out of place in the grimy surroundings.
"Remembered your footsteps. Hearing gets good when your eyes go bad."
Dan lifted his hand over his shoulder, as if waiting for me to take it. He kept his eyes glued to the screen.
"How you been, Nerburn?" he asked. I grasped his gnarled root of a hand and squeezed it in an awkward approximation of a handshake.
He seemed somehow smaller and more fragile than I had remembered. The wheels of the chair squeaked as they shifted on the hard linoleum.
"I'm fine," I said. "You got a new chair."
Excerpted from The Wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn. Copyright © 2009 Kent Nerburn. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 "Fatback's Dead",
CHAPTER 2 Return,
CHAPTER 3 Burial,
CHAPTER 4 Scars on the Moon,
CHAPTER 5 Reservation Fortune Cookie,
CHAPTER 6 The Jarburetor,
CHAPTER 7 Looking for Mr. Peanut,
CHAPTER 8 Bibles and Broomsticks,
CHAPTER 9 Tiospaye,
CHAPTER 10 Charles Bronson,
CHAPTER 11 Prayer for a Hot Dog,
CHAPTER 12 Indians and Cavemen,
CHAPTER 13 Snakes and Bears,
CHAPTER 14 Message from a Dog,
CHAPTER 15 Yellow Bird's Ghost,
CHAPTER 16 Talking Stones,
CHAPTER 17 A Clock in the Head,
CHAPTER 18 Twenty-Eight French Fries,
CHAPTER 19 Ratberry Sandwiches,
CHAPTER 20 A Girl Named Sarah,
CHAPTER 21 "Go Home to Your Family",
CHAPTER 22 A Haunted Heart,
CHAPTER 23 Fading Tracks,
CHAPTER 24 A Glow in the Distance,
CHAPTER 25 One White Eye,
CHAPTER 26 Secret in the Snows,
CHAPTER 27 A Hard Winter,
THE GATHERING DAWN,
CHAPTER 28 Vigil,
CHAPTER 29 Collecting Rent on the Homeland,
CHAPTER 30 The Longest Night,
CHAPTER 31 Reaching Across,
CHAPTER 32 Zintkala Zi,
CHAPTER 33 A Blue Dakota Day,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
THE GIRL WHO SANG TO THE BUFFALO,
PREFACE A World Beyond Our Understanding,
CHAPTER 1 A Shout in the Night,
What People are Saying About This
“Kent Nerburn offers a sensitive, insightful glimpse into a Lakota soul, a feat unattainable by most non-Native writers.”
Joseph M. Marshall III, Sicangu Lakota, author of The Lakota Way and The Journey of Crazy Horse
“Kent Nerburn’s creative and compassionate book [is] humorous, hilarious, and at times very sad. Thank you, Kent, for a good book to read.”
Leonard Peltier, author, artist, and activist
“Elegant, yet powerful...Nerburn crosses borders with a single-minded dedication to preserving an oral tradition. The emotional truth that resides in the rich storytelling is a testament to the strength and endurance of Lakota culture and...removes barriers to understanding our common humanity.”
Winona LaDuke, founder and executive director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project
“The best storytellers make you feel that they are speaking directly to you, and the best-told stories resonate in the heart and soul forever. A story about the triumph of love and the spirit of a people..., The Wolf at Twilight will be permanently etched in your consciousness.”
Dan Agent, former editor of the Cherokee Phoenix and screenwriter for Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School
“The story of this unique and captivating journey...is a remarkable gift that we are honored to receive and obligated to pass on.”
Steven R. Heape, Cherokee Nation citizen and producer of the award-winning documentary The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the most moving story. It gives one a lot to think about and the desire to change one's outlook, whether to right a wrong or just to do right by our children. I've never been so emotionally touched by a book before. I cried many times, for Dan, for his people, and for the injustice that has been done (and continues today) to both the Native Americans and to the Earth. It has certainly changed my perception and my fueled my desire to learn and do more.
Dan, the Lakota Elder who we met in Kent Nerburn's nationally acclaimed book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, reconnects with Kent via a mysterious note attached to a tobacco pouch that says, simply, "Fatback's dead."The Wolf at Twilight, a "novelized non-fiction" account of Kent's second encounter with Dan, unmasks the dynamically complicated relationship between a white American and a Lakota Indian. Nerburn creates this remarkable partnership through humor, gentle understanding, wisdom, historical revelation, suspense, and his personal journey through the colorful lives of real Lakota people.Dan, the elder, has an abiding trust in Nerburn, not because he can pay for the gas, motel rooms and meals, but because he has proven his genuine understanding of the Native people through an earlier book project with the children and elders of the Red Lake Indian Reservation, To Walk the Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe.It's been many years since Kent and Dan shared an adventure together on the sprawling plains of the Dakotas in Neither Wolf Nor Dog. But the cryptic note and a strong sense of duty (and some remorse) again send Nerburn on the road with Dan through those same Dakota plains.There is a colorful collection of Native characters embedded in this excursion, including Fatback, Dan's dead dog who Dan has preserved in a freezer for Nerburn to bury; Grover, Dan's crusty, intrepid friend and protector; Wenonah, Dan's granddaughter who makes it clear to Nerburn that he'd better not disappoint her grandfather; young Native relatives and friends practicing the traditional ways of the Lakota; and small town Americans responding to the confusing juxtaposition of the modern world and an ancient way of life.Nerburn is the student (and sometimes the patsy); Dan is the teacher. Throughout the book, Dan practices the traditional indigenous pedagogy passed on to him by the many teachers before him. Dan insists that Nerburn engage not only his ears in the listening process, but all his senses. Many scenes in the book are masterfully descriptive. But the book also reveals the deeper forces of nature and the world of the unseen that are so much a part of the Native American way of life.What makes The Wolf at Twilight so poignant is Dan's sense of urgency. Almost 90 years old, he senses that his life is fading quickly, and he is desperate to discover the fate of his little sister who was lost in the boarding school system. He trusts Kent with the responsibility of helping him, and also wants to use Kent to pass on the traditional ways of learning that served his people so well before the arrival of the Europeans and their Christian "Black Book."Nerburn learns along the way that the seen world is only a fraction of what Dan accesses to guide him through life. When Dan claims that his newfound, mange-riddled mutt, Charles Bronson, was lead to him by the spirit of his former (and once frozen) dog, Fatback, Kent is incredulous. But Dan persists, and we learn later that Charles Bronson has an important role in solving the mystery of Dan's lost sister. It's more often the vast unseen world that directs Dan, and Nerburn's not always reading the same script. It's this spiritual tension that gives us so many vibrant exchanges between the dying Lakota Elder and the Stanford and Berkeley-educated Ph.d.Nerburn was originally trained as a sculptor, and by the end of The Wolf at Twilight we realize that he has carved a beautiful piece of art from the twisted, dark historical secrets of the Indian boarding school experience. Through dialogue, description, and the masterful use of story, he has offered us a work that captures both the light of the traditional Native ways of teaching and learning and the shadow that the boarding school educational experience cast over them. By placing these teachings inside the story of Dan's search for his little sister, he has sculpted a riveting narrative filled with humor and insight and poignant glimpses into the lives of real people who are far more than ciphers or stereotypes or the tragic detritus of America's policy of manifest destiny.The Wolf at Twilight is a tremendously engaging book. Part mystery, part history lesson, and part spiritual journey, it is far more than simply a story about Native America. It is a book that should be read by anyone who values a glimpse into the unprotected human heart.Tom KanthakPerpich Center for Arts EducationLiaison for Indigenous Arts EducationTeacher on Special Assignment
I read this book after reading Neither Wolf nor Dog (which I loved) as it continued the story Dan the Lakota elder wanted to communicate for his people. This book made me realize how little I understood what it means to be a Native American. Dan did a great service to his people by telling his personal experiences to someone that he had to trust to "get it right". Anyone that tells it all, good and bad deserves our respect and gratitude. Thank you Dan.
American Masterpiece. I just finished The Wolf at Twilight. I read Neither Wolf Nor Dog last year. My hope for this trilogy is that it will be recognized as the American Masterpiece that it is. The story of the Native people after the attempted destruction of the culture had been told as well as anybody will ever tell it. It's beautiful and achingly tragic, yet through it all the reader sees a people who continue on the path that their creator laid before them. When you compare these books to the greats like The Great Gatsby, the books easily pass the test.
I began this trilogy by reading Mr. Nerburn's The Girl who sang for the Buffalo first, unaware that it was part of a trilogy. Upon completion there was no doubt in my mind that I would read the previous two. All three were highly readable and informative of Dakota culture. They were a fitting conclusion to a couple of years reading about the U. S./Dakota War of 1862 which drove the Dakota out of Minnesota. I hope Mr. Nerburn will tell us more about Dan and his family.
Wolf at Twilight is a touching and spiritual story. It also lends another perspective to American History, A book that should be included in all high school reading lists. I would recommend this book to anyone!
Kent Nerburn continues the saga of Dan the Lakota elder we met in his first book "Neither Wolf nor Dog". Nerburn earned the trust of Dan in telling his story. It is easy to see why. The author pulls no punches. He is honest and straight forward even when it might put him in a less than favorable light. We are given a rare look into the Native American experience at the hands of the white man, past and present. Neither are pretty and reflect more than poorly on this nation and it's treatment of Native people. This is not history book stuff. This is real human experience of a person who lived through and experienced events you won't necessarily find in books. The Wolf at Twilight has Dan searching for closure on the fate of his sister Yellow Bird. Both children were caught in the heinous experience of the Indian boarding school. Children were taken from their families, as good as imprisoned in these schools in the attempt to "make them white" and disconnect them from their native roots. It is in one of these schools that Dan lost his sister. He's entrusted the author to help him on his quest to find out what happened to her some eighty years later. It's a heart breaking, powerful journey. We meet amazing characters along the way. Nerburn does an excellent job of making them human, not caricatures. He has a unique ability to capture the essence that makes the person an individual. I learned much in the reading of this book. As a nation we made a conscious effort to right the wrongs of slavery for example, but it seems done little for the Native people. I have wondered about this. Dan gave me an answer, but you'll have to read the book to find it out. Neither Wolf nor Dog or the Wolf at Twilight are easy books to read if you have any sense of justice. They will break your heart, but in doing so will open a path to greater understanding and with that respect for Native people. I'm am grateful to have found these books and for the experience of learning about native life and culture from an Elder.
Kent Nerburn has mastered the elusive task of bridging the gap between traditional Native American culture and modern America in a very down-to-earth tale with a wry sense of humor. His main character, Dan, quickly becomes someone we want to know and journey with as he pursues his last dream in the twilight of his life. Nerburn's writing draws us into a world that exists within our own, but is new to us in many ways, and he lets us know softly that we should have paid more attention much sooner than now. He also speaks to the spirit in all of us from all cultures about the sacred importance of doing the right thing. The Wolf At Twilight is a gentle unfolding of secret woes from the past being resolved and released in the present. It is a wonderful and timely story that ultimately teaches us love and forgiveness, not only for each other but also for ourselves. Kent Nerburn is an excellent storyteller, and I highly recommend this book for readers of ALL ages and ALL interests. The Wolf At Twilight has something to offer everyone.
Dan, the Lakota Elder who we met in Kent Nerburn's nationally acclaimed book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, reconnects with Kent via a mysterious note attached to a tobacco pouch that says, simply, "Fatback's dead." The Wolf at Twilight, a "novelized non-fiction" account of Kent's second encounter with Dan, unmasks the dynamically complicated relationship between a white American and a Lakota Indian. Nerburn creates this remarkable partnership through humor, gentle understanding, wisdom, historical revelation, suspense, and his personal journey through the colorful lives of real Lakota people. Dan, the elder, has an abiding trust in Nerburn, not because he can pay for the gas, motel rooms and meals, but because he has proven his genuine understanding of the Native people through an earlier book project with the children and elders of the Red Lake Indian Reservation, To Walk the Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe. It's been many years since Kent and Dan shared an adventure together on the sprawling plains of the Dakotas in Neither Wolf Nor Dog. But the cryptic note and a strong sense of duty (and some remorse) again send Nerburn on the road with Dan through those same Dakota plains. There is a colorful collection of Native characters embedded in this excursion, including Fatback, Dan's dead dog who Dan has preserved in a freezer for Nerburn to bury; Grover, Dan's crusty, intrepid friend and protector; Wenonah, Dan's granddaughter who makes it clear to Nerburn that he'd better not disappoint her grandfather; young Native relatives and friends practicing the traditional ways of the Lakota; and small town Americans responding to the confusing juxtaposition of the modern world and an ancient way of life. Nerburn is the student (and sometimes the patsy); Dan is the teacher. Throughout the book, Dan practices the traditional indigenous pedagogy passed on to him by the many teachers before him. Dan insists that Nerburn engage not only his ears in the listening process, but all his senses. Many scenes in the book are masterfully descriptive. But the book also reveals the deeper forces of nature and the world of the unseen that are so much a part of the Native American way of life. What makes The Wolf at Twilight so poignant is Dan's sense of urgency. Almost 90 years old, he senses that his life is fading quickly, and he is desperate to discover the fate of his little sister who was lost in the boarding school system. He trusts Kent with the responsibility of helping him, and also wants to use Kent to pass on the traditional ways of learning that served his people so well before the arrival of the Europeans and their Christian "Black Book." Nerburn learns along the way that the seen world is only a fraction of what Dan accesses to guide him through life. When Dan claims that his newfound, mange-riddled mutt, Charles Bronson, was lead to him by the spirit of his former (and once frozen) dog, Fatback, Kent is incredulous. But Dan persists, and we learn later that Charles Bronson has an important role in solving the mystery of Dan's lost sister. The Wolf at Twilight is a tremendously engaging book. Part mystery, part history lesson, and part spiritual journey, it is far more than simply a story about Native America. It is a book that should be read by anyone who values a glimpse into the unprotected human heart. Tom Kanthak Perpich Center for Arts Education Liaison for Indigenous Arts Education