Skip navigation

The Blackfoot boy named Tail Feather Shaking was on the fourth day of his Vision Quest. He stood at the base of a tall cliff-face staring up at its heights. There was no purpose to his gaze; he was just admiring the angles, colors, and size of it.

Suddenly, a sting to his leg caused him to jerk his leg up and slap at the pain. A scorpion? Snake? Spider? No, it was an ant. As his realized this, another bite followed. He saw that ants covered his feet. He had been standing on an ant mound. Frantically he slapped and swiped, brushing the insects from his skin.

As he stared at the ants in their chaotic motions, he momentarily forgot that he was supposed to be in the midst of some sort of spiritual awakening. He should have been feeling like his body was going through a metamorphosis; that his mind should be undergoing a radical illumination of transformation. Instead, he just felt hungry and rather bored.

As he watched the ants, he noticed that a line of them led off towards the base of the cliff. A highly organized file of ants marching as if they had been given very specific orders by their leader to head towards a certain location. So, Tail Feather Shaking decided to follow them and see just where they were going.

Carefully he followed the line of ants over the rocks and dirt, through the brush, and up to the cliff wall. They snaked up the rocks and then seemingly disappeared between a crack. Tail Feather Shaking took several minutes to investigate just where they might have gone, but it was in vain.

Standing so close to the cliff, he turned his gaze from the ants and looked straight up. The cliff loomed high above, and he somehow knew that it was up there that his Vision Quest led. And so, he placed his hands on the rocks and tested the holds and then, he began to climb.

It was over an hour later that he threw an arm over the rim of the top and pulled himself up. It had been a relatively easy climb – not too easy, but not too difficult, either. He had taken his time to ensure that he didn’t make any error due to his weakened state. Now that he had reached the top, he rolled onto his back to catch his breath and noticed that once again there were ants on the ground. Not an organized line as before, but there they were, crawling around as if they had made the climb with him.


Three days later Tail Feather Shaking was back in his village. It was early evening and a large fire burned in the middle of the village. All around the fire sat the entire tribe. Over thirty people, men, women, and children, all sat waiting to hear him and his childhood rival, Wolf Cries At Moon, the other boy who had also gone on a vision quest at the same time as Tail Feather Shaking. He saw his mother and the other mothers of the tribe, his father and all the other fine warriors, the elders, the children were even sitting waiting. There was Chief Stormcloud and the Shaman, Pale Feet, sitting front and center. This night they would recount their Vision Quest and the ordeal that had caused them to have an epiphany – the moment of their Vision Quest when The Great Spirit had moved through Nature and guided their lives to greater meaning. The only problem was that Tail Feather Shaking hadn’t had any such moment. He was completely at a loss for what he would say.

For the moment, though, he would have a slight reprieve, since it was Wolf Cries At Moon who now stood before the tribe and spoke:

“At dawn of the fourth day I arose and wrapped my furs about my body. I was just about to gather wood to build the fire when out from the trees came the largest bear I have ever seen. I was terrified because it saw me and began to grumble and trot towards me. It came right up to my fire pit and rose on its hind legs and growled.

I was shaking and scared, but The Great Spirit suddenly was there whispering in my ear. It said, ‘Fear not for this is one of your tribes’ ancestors and I will tell you what he says. He begs you to stand and greet him.’ Feeling somewhat better, I obeyed The Great Spirit and I stood, held my arms wide, and welcomed my ancestor to my fire pit.

The bear growled again, and The Great Spirit said, ‘Ancestor says that you must never fear the animals but respect them. They are guides and the ancestors come through them to teach you. Ancestor wants to show you something.’

The bear then dropped to all fours and turned to go. I followed Ancestor until we came to the river, and I watched as Ancestor began to catch salmon. And so, I joined him in the river, and he taught me how to catch the fat fish in shallow pools.

I returned to my fire pit and stoked my fire and I thanked Ancestor Bear and The Great Spirit for providing me safety and food and allowing me to return to you so I might be of service to my tribe.”

Then, everyone began to whoop and cheer and clap and rattle their gourds. Everyone sang a song of thanks and welcomed Wolf Cries At Moon back from his Vision Quest, for he had done very well.

It was then time for Tail Feather Shaking to speak, and he was still unsure of what he might say. He hated to admit it, but he resented Wolf Cries At Moon for being so good and eloquent and having such a fine Vision Quest. He wracked his mind about what he should say, but all he kept thinking about were those tiny ants, toiling away in a frenzy and marching towards the cliff. It was then that he was inspired to just make up a crazy story.

He looked upon all the expectant faces and he cleared his throat and said:

“On the night of the third day of my Vision Quest, I stood beneath a cliff and my attention was drawn towards an ant hill. I watched the ants going about busily building their mound, gathering their food, and guarding their home from tiny invaders. I slept by the ant hill as if by instinct and awoke on the fourth morning well before dawn.

As I awoke, I beheld a group of ten ants in a straight line setting off towards the cliff and I somehow knew that they were on a very important errand, so I followed them. For several hours they climbed the cliff and I climbed, too. I stayed with them and watched over them and we eventually arrived at the top of the cliff.

It was still dark, but I knew the sunrise would soon arrive. I beheld the ants split up and gather leaves. It was an amazing feat to see these small ants carry leaves so much bigger than themselves as easily as I would carry a gourd of water. They all returned to the edge of the cliff and as the sun rose, they all clutched their leaves and one by one they jumped! They rode upon the leaves floating down and I beheld their mound far below. It was to the mound that they were returning.

And then The Great Spirit possessed me, and I was filled with an urge to gather small branched ripe with many leaves and fashion them together into a large canopy. I stood at the edge of the cliff, and I too jumped clutching the canopy of leaves. And lo, I floated down ever so gently.

As I was nearing the ground, I could see the ant hill and I could see all the ants gathered upon it gazing up at me in awe as if they beheld a god descending upon them from the sky.

When I reached the ground, I laughed at the ants and thanked them for teaching me their ways.”

When Tail Feather Shaking finished, everyone, including Chief Stormcloud and the Shaman Pale Feet, stared at him in stunned silence. And then he started laughing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: