Todd Brown sat alone at the picnic table, watching the Intertribal Dance while he ate his frybread. He was depressed. It wasn't the first time he'd been depressed at a Pow Wow.
Pow Wows weren't supposed to be depressing. They were meant to be good times of fellowship and fun. Time to see other Native American friends and acquaintances he'd not seen for a while.
As spread out as the Native Community was in Central Florida, Pow Wows were about the only time he could see many of these people.
Looking around, it was obvious that most of the people here were enjoying themselves, but that didn't really help dispel Todd's mood.
Trouble was, Todd realized, that he was an ultra-traditionalist. As he looked around, he knew all these people had driven there in cars. The regalia, while painstakingly made by the Pow Wow participants, some totally from scratch, nevertheless included as their basic components things like CDs, garish dyes, and synthetic fabrics. Many of the colorful feather bustles couldn't be allowed to get wet in the rain or the colors would run! That would have never worked 'back in the day'
Todd accepted intellectually that Native cultures had had to adapt to European ways to survive. (His own ancestry even included a few European nationalities.) Oddly, he didn't have a problem with Native people communicating by telephone and email, yet cringed when he saw a fancy-dancer's eye-catching, bright colors.
This was the very heartland of Florida. Yet the dancers primarily represented dance styles from Oklahoma and the Great Plains. Nowhere did he even see Seminole regalia, and while the Seminoles had certainly lived here, even they were not originally from Florida.
Of course, Todd knew his history. The original Florida Native people almost entirely died out under Spanish rule through disease, forced labor, and later raids from northern tribes who were encouraged by the English to harass Spain's territory by capturing it's people. The few people who may have survived that would have been absorbed into the later Seminole culture.
Todd knew all this, yet illogically mourned the absence of these people in the here-and-now. He knew that, even if they had survived, they too would have adapted to the White Man's ways. Timocuas, Appalachee, Mayacas, Jororos, Calusas, etc. would be driving to the Pow Wow in cars. Some of them would no doubt bring RVs so they could be there all weekend.
Then of course there was his dead-end job, his finances, and the fact that so far none of his potential "Miss Right"s had panned out.
On the other hand, his eternal life was assured, and he had the promise that God would meet all his needs. He felt so silly being depressed with those things going for him, but it was foolish to deny that was how he felt. Things really weren't horrible in his life, it just felt like he belonged somewhere else, and he was just 'marking time'.
He had been praying for something to happen. (That is, something besides waiting.)
Todd sighed. He longed for the impossible. Might as well wish for the good old days in the womb. He resolved try try to enjoy what was here in front of him.
He had not seen the men approach. He had seen the older Native man earlier, but had not then noticed the way the man had watched him.
The old man had seemed awkwardly out of place. It was as if he'd never been in a crowd before. His clothing was simple - a knee length shirt with buckskin leggings underneath - but the clothes hung on him oddly. The man was clearly not comfortable, but smiled and nodded to those he passed.
The old man now seated himself directly in front of Todd. A somewhat younger white man sat down beside him. The old man spoke to the younger man in a language Todd didn't recognize.
The other man looked Todd in the eye for several seconds before speaking. "Go to Pow Wows often?" he asked. His casual tone contrasted sharply with his intense gaze.
Todd had no idea who these people were, but he had a strong urge to communicate what was going on inside him. Problem was he didn't have the words. He finally gave up. He sighed inwardly, and answered "Yeah."
"That spoke volumes," the man said, raising his eyebrows. He turned to speak with the old man.
Todd didn't know if the man had been facetious with that last comment or not. The two strangers conversed in the unknown language for a couple of minutes. Todd's attention wandered back to the Pow Wow in general. It seemed rude to be listening to the men, even if he couldn't understand the language.
The younger man startled Todd with his next question. "What is your dream?" he asked.
"My dream?" Todd echoed, confused.
The other man was silent, maintaining eye contact. It was the most probing gaze he'd ever seen. Finally, Todd answered "It'll never happen, so why bring it up?"
The man translated for the old man, then just sat looking at Todd expectantly.
Todd shrugged. "OK, why not? My dream is to live among the original Florida Indians. I grew up here. I spend most of my time outdoors. I'd love to share the connection they had with the Creator, with the Earth, and with each other. Now - is that impractical enough for you?"
The man again translated for the older man. When he finished, the older man looked at Todd for a couple of minutes before breaking into an enigmatic smile. He spoke to the other man again.
"Do you have a business card?" the man asked Todd.
"Never needed one," Todd answered, caught totally off guard. It was not a question he had expected here.
"Could you write your name and phone number on the back of one of those?" he asked as he handed Todd two business cards.
"I could if I had a pen," Todd answered, surprised he was about to give his information to a total stranger. "Could I ask why?" he added as an afterthought.
"Nothing illegal or immoral, but I can't tell you much about it now, other than it's related to that connection you mentioned." He handed Todd a pen.
"Sounds vague enough to me," Todd said, shrugging. "Sign me up." Of course, he expected nothing would come of this strange encounter.
"Do you know your driver's license number for a background check?"
Todd was surprised by the man's audacity. Yet his gut told him the man was OK. Still, he took his turn giving the probing stare before answering with his number. He noticed the man didn't write it down.
"Enjoy the Pow Wow," the man said. He helped the older man to his feet, and the two slowly walked off.
The business card belonged to 'Matthew Myers, General Manager, Hororo Ranch'. Interesting, Todd thought. 'Hororo' had to refer to the Jororo, who were the local pre-European tribe. Almost nothing was known about them, other than the Spanish tried establishing missions among them which shortly thereafter resulted in an uprising against the Spanish. That - and the fact that they spoke the same language as their Mayaca neighbors to the North. The Jororo were so little known, Todd was surprised to see a ranch named after them, especially with a typo in the name.
Then he remembered he'd had to correct people's mispronunciation of the Spanish word before. People reading the name tended pronounce the J as an English J, rather than with the H sound of the Spanish word.
Apparently, the ranch owners had had the same problem. He'd have to ask if he ever heard from them again.
Todd tucked the card into one of the pouches on his belt, and pretty much forgot about it. That is, till he got the phone call two and a half weeks later.
* * *
"Mr. Brown, Matt Meyers here. We spoke at the Pow Wow?"
Todd was glad he'd said that, because he didn't recognize the name at first. "Uh huh," he said.
"Your background check looked good. When can you come out to the ranch for the weekend?"
"You actually did that? I thought you were joking!"
"I'm actually pretty serious most of the time. My dad now, he used to joke."
Todd almost replied "You've got to be kidding," but stopped himself in time. Instead, he asked, "What is this about?"
"I can't say any more on the phone than I did at the Pow Wow - less, in fact. But I think you'll appreciate it."
"The whole weekend?" Todd asked, surprised.
"You'll need at least that long to decide."
"Decide what?" Todd asked, frustrated at not knowing.
"Can't say. We're on the phone, remember?"
"Do I need to bring anything?" Todd asked, trying to think of what else to ask.
"Change of clothes maybe. Other than that, we've pretty much got what you'll need. How's 3:00 Friday afternoon sound?"
"To be there?"
"For us to pick you up. That gives you enough time to sleep after your night shift, doesn't it?"
"How'd you...?" Todd started to ask.
"Background check, remember?"
"Oh yeah," Todd hoped he didn't sound too dumb.
"Good. So I'll send a car for you Friday.
Today was Wednesday.
* * *
The black car pulled into Todd's driveway precisely at 3 PM. Todd grabbed his gym bag and cell phone, locked the house and went out to the car.
As he got in, the driver said, "I've been told to inform you that I am not authorized to answer any questions. If you wish at any time to be let out, or be driven back to your home, just ask."
Todd had no response to that, other than "Thank you".
Once they were underway, the driver asked "Would you like any particular music?"
"No I'm fine," Todd replied. "But feel free to play anything you like."
"Thank you sir," the driver responded. He then started a CD that must have already been in the player.
Todd was surprised at the music. As near as he could tell, it was Native American drumming and singing, but it was not anything he'd heard before. He remembered of course that he'd met Mr. Meyers at the Pow Wow, so native music shouldn't be too strange for one of his vehicles.
After maybe 20 minutes of familiar roads, the driver pulled off on a single lane gravel road. A gate across the road automatically opened. Todd had not seen whether the driver had activated a remote or not.
After passing what looked like a warehouse, the gravel road narrowed down to just two wheel ruts. They were still gravel lined, so Todd knew getting stuck in the thick Florida sand wouldn't be an issue.
The two-rut lane wound around several oak hammocks, cypress stands, and ponds before reaching a large yet unpretentious house. A privacy fence extended outward to the treeline each side of the house.
"Please go on in the front door," the driver told Todd when he'd stopped in front of the house.
The car drove through a gate in the fence and disappeared as Todd walked up to the door. It was extraordinarily quiet. Todd had seen some pastures and cows while driving in, and the warehouse clearly had some purpose, but somehow this ranch didn't feel like a ranch to him.
His knock on the front door received an immediate response. The intercom next to the door said "You're expected, Mr. Brown, please come right in."
"Thank you," he muttered, as he opened the door.
The walls of the entryway were covered with pictures of cows, horses, and cowboys. The wood floor creaked under his feet. The air had the smell he'd come to associate with very old Florida buildings - the ones built decades before air conditioning. It was probably the smell of mold and mildew spores, but he tried to not think too much about that.
"Come on in," a voice called from the end of the short hallway.
Todd entered what appeared to be a small office. Matthew Meyers was seated behind the desk. He got up and leaned across to shake hands, then sat again, looking at his computer screen.
"These computers are supposed to make life easier," Matt said. "I liked it better when I had a secretary for this office stuff. I'm too old to fool with all the new hi tech stuff."
"You don't look that old," Todd observed.
"I'm seventy five, but thank you."
"Seventy five!" Todd was genuinely surprised. "You really don't look it."
Matt smiled. "That's what a life of good diet and regular exercise will do for you. I'm starting to feel my age, though. I've got about enough fire left in me to train my replacement, then I'll retire. So. Ready for your tour?"
"Sure," Todd said.
"Know how to read a topographic map?"
"Are there people who don't?"
Matt smiled again. "I think I like you, Todd. Take a look at that map on the wall behind you.The ranch is outlined in orange. Tell me what you see."
Todd studied the map. "It's surrounded by swamp except for this narrow piece here. So it's basically this huge peninsula in the swamp. How big is it exactly?"
"Fourteen thousand acres, give or take. It's never been surveyed, except for the front pastures. My dad never let the surveyors get in past there."
"How does the county tax you?"
"Let's just say my family worked out a deal long ago. We're only taxed on the 300 acres of working pastures. The rest of the land is a natural preserve. Probably the first in the state, and possibly the nation. We were a preserve long before environmentalism came to be."
"Cool!" was all Todd could think to say. Then he realized there was something missing. "So why all the secrecy?" he asked.
"I'm afraid if people in general knew just what we were protecting here, we'd have an impossible time protecting them."
"What, like panthers?"
"Panthers?" Matt appeared confused. "Why would we have trouble protecting them?"
Todd shrugged. "Well, livestock owners in the area might resent you breeding predators."
Matt relaxed visibly. "No. It's nothing like that. You like flying?"
"Uh, yeah," Todd said, caught off-guard by the change of topic.
"Haven't had much experience with them, but I think they're pretty cool."
"Especially in January," Matt said. It was the closest thing to a joke Todd had heard from him. Todd wasn't sure if he was joking or serious.
"Are we going on one?" Todd asked.
"Best way to see the ranch."
Todd decided to risk a joke. "Do I get a parachute?"
Meyer actually seemed to consider the question. "You won't need one for this trip. I'd rather you not go unaccompanied into the property just yet." There wasn't a trace of humor in his tone. As if in afterthought, Matt asked "Are you trained? I didn't see it in your records."
"In skydiving? No." Todd made a mental note to not try to engage Matt in any more banter. "I was joking."
"Yes, you do that, as I recall. Well, let's put all levity aside for a few minutes. I need you to read and sign a non-disclosure agreement." He picked up the walkie talkie on his desk. "Mike, I'll need you to witness a signature," he said over the air.
"Be right in," a voice replied.
"Please have a seat, Todd. I have started a video recording. Please read the statement, and if you agree, then sign it."
Todd looked around for a camera, but saw nothing. Noting this, Matt swiveled his computer screen so Todd could see the video of himself.
Todd began reading the document, and before he was finished, the driver had entered the room. He continued reading until he was finished, then looked up and said "So basically, I'm not supposed to tell anyone about this place. If I don't agree to this, you throw me off the property, and if I agree but tell anyone about it, you sue the pants off me."
"Not the wording I would have chosen, but basically correct," Matt said.
"I don't get the part about being unsuitable for employment. I'm not applying for anything."
"If all goes well, I hope to employ you," Matt nodded.
"As what? I have no experience with cattle," Todd shrugged.
"As General Manager."
"Aren't you General Manager?"
"As I said, I am hoping to retire, once I train my replacement. And you'll learn enough about cattle. I have someone managing the cattle, anyway. He's a long way from retirement. "
"Won't he resent being skipped over? I'm a stranger here," Todd pointed out.
"He doesn't want the job. I've asked him already."
"What makes you think I'm qualified?" Todd asked.
"My dream?" Todd asked incredulously. "My dream to live among the pre-columbian Florida Natives? How's that going to help me run a ranch?"
"That will become clear later. Ready to go flying?"
"Sure," Todd said, getting up.
"Very good," Matt said. "The plane is out back. If you'll just follow me." He got up and opened a door behind his desk. The door opened into a long hallway. Todd followed Matt, casually examining the pictures hung along it's length.
As he passed a connecting hallway on one side, he had a very brief glimpse of someone disappearing into a room. Though the glimpse was brief, he was nearly certain he'd just seen a woman of medium-dark complexion and medium build carrying what may have been a stack of laundry. It would have been an unremarkable sight if she hadn't been naked. Todd was definitely unsure of what he'd seen, and thought it best not to say anything to Matt.
When they exited at the rear of the house, Todd saw the ultralight sitting ready in the yard. A runway headed directly away from the house.
"We're using the short runway today, and there's basically no wind, so we won't be doing much taxiing. We'll just head straight out.
Matt showed Todd how to put in the soft earplugs, then put the headphones on Todd and showed him how to use the intercom before putting on his own set. He then strapped Todd in his seat and finally strapped himself in.
"Mike's already pre-flighted the plane, so I'm just going to run the engine up and down a bit to check it out, then we're off," Matt said over the intercom.
"OK," was all Todd could think to say. He'd flown in small planes, and enjoyed that, but the butterflies in his stomach were very much awake for this flight.
* * *
He needn't have worried. The takeoff was smooth as silk. After climbing to 2000 feet over the front pasture, Matt flew the perimeter of the ranch, then flew a sort of grid pattern over the property. Todd noticed that Matt's sort-of grid actually avoided a lake, and a large tract of land around it.
At one point, Todd saw a man standing at the edge of a wooded area where it transitioned into an open scrub. He was waving at the plane. He was also naked.
Todd watched the man for a couple of seconds. He continued waving until Todd waved back. He was over 2000 feet away, but Todd had been to a nude beach before. He was fairly certain of what he was seeing.
"It looks like you have a streaker down there," Todd told Matt on the intercom.
"Really? Where?" Matt asked, as he banked the plane in the opposite direction. Todd couldn't see the man due to the plane's attitude.
"On the other side," Todd said. "You banked the wrong way."
"Oh. Alright," Matt said, banking back the other way.
Todd couldn't see the man any more. "I've lost him, Todd said.
"Just as well," Matt said. "Don't worry about it."
Don't worry about it? Todd thought. With all the tight security he'd seen at the ranch it certainly seemed odd to ignore a naked man running around. Then he remembered the lady he'd glimpsed at the house. Suddenly everything clicked. He'd have to tell Matt he'd figured out the ranch's big secret when they landed. Todd wanted to see Matt's face when he revealed what he'd deduced.
The rest of the flight was enjoyable, in fact it was astounding that there was still this much of the 'Real Florida' still intact. Not a single road or power line crossed the place anywhere. There were footpaths, but not even jeep trails anywhere past the house.
But he wanted to tell Matt the big secret, and it was hard to be patient and wait. Suddenly, he remembered the business card. "Why is Hororo spelled with an H?" he asked.
"I thought you might have noticed that," Matt said.
"Got tired of correcting people's pronunciation?" Todd offered.
"Actually, that's how my grandfather spelled it when he incorporated the ranch. He didn't know it was supposed to be a J. Although if you research the name, you'll find Hororo with an H is an accepted spelling."
"Didn't know that," Todd replied.
* * *
After they'd parked the ultralight, Matt asked "So what do you think? You want to be responsible for preserving all this?"
"Don't take this wrong, but how much does it pay? I've got to be able to pay my bills," Todd answered.
"The Ranch will settle all your debts when you hire-on. Your room and board will be covered, as will all legitimate expenses for off-ranch business. In addition, you'll receive a small personal allowance."
"So I'll get to live in paradise, but I'll never get rich." Todd summarized.
"Not at all," Matt responded. "You'll have one foot firmly planted in pre-columbian Florida, and the other in today's cut-throat world of business and politics. But you're partly correct. You won't get rich. As General Manager, you will not in any way own the ranch. You will only operate it."
"You'll be retaining ownership?" Todd asked.
I don't own it either. It's a complex arrangement. The Hororo Ranch Foundation is majority owner. There's County, State, and Federal involvement as well."
"Ouch," Todd said.
"It's not that bad. Though I'd hardly say never, you'll not often deal with government representatives."
"Alright," Todd said. "I really like the idea. I'm a little stunned you're considering me for the position, and I'll tell you right now I'll need some formal business training. But I have one question."
"Yes?" Matt nodded.
"Why so much secrecy today? You could have told me right off that the ranch was really a nudist colony."
Matt laughed uproariously. When he could speak again, he said "I'm sorry, you thought..." he broke out laughing again. It was several minutes before he regained his composure.
"I'm sorry," he repeated. "Just what made you arrive at that conclusion?"
"I'm pretty sure I saw a naked lady at the house, then there was that 'streaker' I saw, and he was near a large area of the ranch that you had studiously avoided flying over. With those things and all the security it just made sense."
"Alright, I can see that. Wow. I wish it were that simple. Trust me, it will all make sense when you know the whole story. But we're not quite ready for that yet."
"I've given you my answer," Todd said.
"You can't yet. There's more to discuss. Let's head back inside.
* * *
Instead of the office, they went to a small room with two comfortable chairs, two walls covered with bookshelves, and two other walls adorned with Native American pictures.
"The reading room," Matt said, showing Todd to a seat.
When Matt was seated, he asked, "Do you mind if I pray?"
Todd had not expected that question. "Certainly. I mean, certainly pray, not certainly I mind."
"I got that," Matt said, smiling. He looked upward, held his arms outstretched and palms up and said "Heavenly Father, I ask for Your wisdom and guidance in this meeting. Please give us clear understanding, so we can reach appropriate decisions. I ask this and thank you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen."
Todd was impressed. He'd never had a perspective employer do that. And the prayer was short, to the point, and very specific. Todd had come to expect generic, 'politically correct' pablum, intended more to not offend someone than to communicate with God.
Matt spoke again. "This ranch is a very serious operation. People have died to protect it." He paused to let that sink in.
"This is the first time the operation is going outside my family. Due to several circumstances, I have no children to take over. My multi-great grandfather established it back when Florida was still a Spanish territory. You need to understand that."
Todd nodded. How does one answer that?
"This is such a serious endeavor, we have always required a blood-oath of those involved in the main work itself. Your outside life will be seriously curtailed. You won't be able to let friends or family know about your work.
"Living one's dream generally involves sacrifice, and this is no exception. If you're serious about your dream, I know you will find fulfillment here. But you need to be sure before we go further."
"My dream to live among pre-columbian Indians?" Todd asked for clarification.
"Yes, that one. Are you familiar with Vision Quests?"
"I've heard of them. Never done one," Todd replied.
"You're about to."
Todd thought about that. "What do I need to do?"
"The Vision Quest represents a new beginning. It's a time alone with Creator. You come into the world with nothing. You go into the Vision Quest the same way. You will not eat until it's over. You emerged from a protective sack when you were born. The evenings are chilly this time of year, so you will have a blanket. But that's it. No food, water, or tools. So you can see there's no physical preparation needed here.
"Many tribes required fasting beforehand. Obviously, that's not practical for you today. Also, most quests lasted four days or more, and sometimes water was allowed. This quest will only last two.
"Your mental preparation is basically your decision to see your dream through," Matt continued. "I'll provide the blanket. Are you committed to your dream?"
"Absolutely," Todd replied.
I'll be back in a minute," Matt said, leaving the room. After a few minutes, he returned with a blanket and nothing else. Todd couldn't help but notice Matt was nude. Before Todd could begin to formulate a question, Matt said. "I thought you'd be ready to go."
Todd had known a traditional Vision Quest was done nude, but he didn't understand why Matt was nude, nor where they were going.
Todd undressed quickly, feeling foolish, yet realizing he shouldn't. He'd really had had no way to know what to expect. When he'd folded and stacked his clothes, he said "I'm ready."
"Let's hope," Matt answered, handing Todd the blanket and turning to leave.
As Todd followed, he resisted the urge to wrap the blanket around himself. He carried it under one arm as Matt had done. It was a little surreal following the older naked man down the hall and out the back door.
It only added to the surrealness when Mike met them on the back porch with two leather waterskins. Todd had never actually seen a waterskin before. He'd seen canteens meant to look like a waterskin, but these were the real thing. Mike didn't even seem to notice that he and Matt were naked.
Mike went in the house, and Matt led Todd across the runway to a trail leading into the woods. He stopped and said "Don't save your water. Drink as much as you comfortably can as we walk." He then turned and resumed walking.
* * *
They had walked over an hour before Matt stopped in a field next to a large Oak Hammock. Matt instructed Todd to find a cozy clearing among the oaks. "It should represent a womb, so small is good," he said. "The focus of your Quest is to decide whether you want to dedicate the rest of your life to this place. It's short as far as Vision Quests go. I'll fly over you in two days, and you can walk back to the house.
"Pay attention to everything. It's you and Creator out here. He may send you a teacher or few, and a teacher could be in the form of a leaf, or a beetle-bug, for example. Any questions?"
"Umm, not really," Todd replied. "See you Sunday, I guess." he turned to walk into the oak hammock.
It really felt awkward to be walking through the woods naked with a blanket under his arm. It suddenly occurred to him that the man he'd seen earlier from the ultralight may have been another person undertaking a Vision Quest. He'd have to ask Matt later.
It was eerily quiet. The only sounds were insects, birds, and wind. This was what 'Real Florida' sounded like. He loved it immediately.
* * *
While he should have expected it, Todd had never realized a Vision Quest would be boring. Sure, the first few hours were novel. How often does a person go hiking to be dropped off and spend a couple of days alone and naked in the woods? Not often, he suspected.
And the actual experience of being alone and naked in a part of Florida that has been untouched by modern civilization was novel too.
But the novelty eventually wore off, and there he sat listening to the crickets and birds, and wondering what time it was, and when sunset would occur, and how cool the night would be, and what he was supposed to be thinking about, etc. It was going to be a long night, he realized.
* * *
He was right. That was without doubt, the longest night of his life. He'd spent hours in prayer until he literally ran out of things to say. He'd never been so glad to see the dawn beginning to fade in. In fact, he was so focused on the waxing light above that he completely failed to see or hear the old man approach.
Once Todd got over the initial shock of the old man suddenly standing in front of him, he realized it was the old man Matt had accompanied at the Pow Wow - just minus any clothing. "Hi," Todd said. "I didn't see you walk up."
The old man sat and looked at Todd a few minutes before speaking. "I will tell you about the Jororo," he said.
"Please," Todd replied.
The man sat in silence a minute before starting. Then he said, "The Jororo lived here. There was a village on this lake ."
Todd assumed he meant the lake Matt had avoided overflying. He listened silently.
"The Spanish came and brought us much sickness. Others came and took many as slaves."
This jibed with what Todd had read before.
The old man continued. "One village hid itself well, and remained hidden for generations."
Todd hadn't heard this, but he wasn't surprised. It seemed likely someone would have tried doing that.
"Seth Meyers came here and met these people. He wanted to protect them, so he bought this place from the Spanish. He allowed them to live here undisturbed.
"Seth taught his children to keep this place secret and safe from outsiders. His childrens' children taught their children.
"Seth believed his children should remain part of the white man's world in order to protect the Jororo. Though he loved the Jororo, he forbade his children to marry them.
"Matthew did not agree with this rule as a young man, but obeyed nevertheless. Though he loved a Jororo girl, he later married a white woman.
"His wife and children died a quick and fiery death while traveling in the white man's world. Matthew was never the same after that. His first love had never married, and after he had grieved a few years, he married her. They never had children, perhaps because she was too old.
"Matthew would like to live the rest of his life in our village, but he has sworn to protect us. This is why he needs you." The man appeared to be done speaking. He sat in silence looking at Todd.
The silence was broken by a Cooper's Hawk crying out from very close by. Todd automatically looked up in the nearest tree, studying its branches intently, trying to locate the bird. When he looked down the man was gone. He was impressed that such an old man could come and go so quickly and quietly.
Then it occurred to him that as tired as he was, the old man could be coming and going while he snoozed unaware.
After day had brightened sufficiently to see well enough, Todd had to again give the old man his admiration. He had managed to come and go without leaving footprints on the sandy ground.
* * *
Saturday night was no shorter than Friday had been, but it wasn't quite as tedious. Todd had decided there was no conceivable scenario that could keep him from taking on this responsibility. As far as he was concerned, he was already living his dream.
Halfway through the night, as he fought off drowsiness, it occurred to him that he'd fulfilled his Vision Quest. He'd made the decision he'd come to make. He might as well relax. Within seconds of that decision, he was asleep.
"You sorry injun lover!"
Todd snapped awake. "What?" he asked, confused. He looked around. He appeared to be in a bar.
"You heered me," said the dirty, unkempt man seated next to him.
"Alright," Todd said. (Why was he in a bar?)
"Alright, what?" the man asked belligerantly.
"Alright, sir?" Todd replied. (Where was this going?)
"He admits it!" the man announced to the other bar patrons.
Todd literally didn't see the punch coming. The lights went out as his ears rang. He slipped into a fog.
The fog was dispelled by harsh sunlight. To his left and right were men holding rifles. Ahead were two mounted riders. Behind them were several men leading a herd of cattle.
"You can't drive them through here," said someone on Todd's side. "This ranch is surrounded by swamp. This is the only way in or out."
"Ranch!" laughed one of the riders. "No one knows of cow one that has come out of here. What are you really doing in here Jeb?"
"So that's why you're here? To spy on my operation? Sorry. You go no further."
A shot rang out, and one of the ranch defenders went down. The others opened fire on the intruders, who all went down.
"Now we've got a mess," Jeb said.
The scene blurred away and resolved incongruously into a four star restaurant. The man across the table was speaking.
"This development is going to happen. Your ranch is the best location, and I'm not taking 'no' for an answer.
Todd had no idea who this was, and had found these dream fragments disturbing. He got up to leave without saying a word.
"Matt, you walk out on me, I'll not only take your place out from under you, I'll ruin you just for fun."
With an extreme effort, Todd found himself awake. Sunrise didn't appear to be close.
* * *
When Todd heard the approach of the ultralight's engine, he didn't wait for it to appear overhead. He rolled up his blanket and began walking back to the house.
The walk back seemed shorter than the walk out had been. Todd couldn't help notice that next to the ultralight hangar was a four passenger conventional plane that he had not seen before.
Matt had apparently seen Todd emerge from the woods, and came out and met him, noticeably sans clothing.
"I see you survived," he said, then led Todd back toward the house. Halfway there, he said "You're taking this well for a newcomer."
"When you have one strange dream after another, things stop seeming so strange," Todd replied. "Although I'm really wondering how this isn't a nudist colony."
Matt ignored the last comment and said "You weren't supposed to dream. You were supposed stay awake."
"I did, until after I decided to stay here. Then it didn't seem to matter. I had series of dreams, and they told me more about this job."
They had reached the door. Matt said, "We'll head back to the reading room. I need to show you the map again. You did just say you decided to stay?"
"I'm very pleased to hear that. Do you mind telling me why?"
"You've got to be kidding. You have an intact Jororo village here! How could I not accept?"
"Interesting," Matt replied. "You stayed in the oak hammock?"
"Yes," Todd replied.
"Alright, here's the house on this map," Matt said. "Did you notice how the front door led to the office and nowhere else?"
"Yes, it seemed odd," Todd said.
"While the whole ranch is private property, we refer to the office, the entry hall, and everything South of the house to the property boundary as the 'public area'."
"Alright," Todd nodded hesitantly.
"We refer to the house beyond the office, as well as the back yard area, as 'The House', and everything past the end of the runway here as 'The Preserve'."
"That all makes sense," Todd said.
Matt smiled indulgently. "I thought it might. The reason I pointed out those areas is to explain one of our crucially important policies. As much as possible, we do not contaminate the Jororos with our culture. This has been the case since the ranch was first established."
"Fantastic!" Todd said. He started to sit in one of the chairs.
"Use one of the towels," Matt said, pointing.
On a small table next to the chair was a small stack of neatly folded, hand towels. He had seen them before, but had not guessed their purpose. He picked up one, then stood looking at Matt, not knowing what to do with it. It was too small to wrap around his waist.
"For sanitary reasons I must insist you sit on a towel while naked in the house."
"Wait a minute," Todd said as he layed it on the seat and sat down. "Why are we walking around and conversing naked? I thought you said this wasn't a nudist colony."
"They're not called 'colonies' any more. They're nudist resorts, from what I've read. But you can see the irony in your speculation from Friday. This is not a nudist resort. However, the Jororo do not wear clothing. So when we are in the preserve, we don't either. We also do not take in high-tech items or processed foods. Even our flyovers are done at the altitudes of the other aircraft flying over.
"Because they are such a small population, we do sometimes intervene medically when a young person is gravely ill, and we do provide flint and other materials their ancestors used to trade for, since they are not naturally occuring in Central Florida.
"Why only when young people are ill?" Todd asked.
"To be frank, because the young ones are needed for breeding stock."
"Yeah, about that -" Todd replied. "How do you keep a single village healthy? Without outside input, isn't inbreeding a problem?"
"You're sharp. I thought Old Hawk would be of good use selecting my replacement."
"Who's Old Hawk ?"
"The man you met at the Pow Wow," Matt answered.
"There, and again yesterday morning," Todd added.
"What!?" Matt asked, clearly surprised.
"He's the one who told me about the village and its history," Todd explained.
"I wondered how you'd figured out about the village. But you're mistaken. Old Hawk didn't visit you yesterday. First off, he never did learn English. How could he have told you about the village?"
"Sounded like English to me. And he told me we'd met at the Pow Wow."
Matt was clearly perplexed. "No. You see, it couldn't have been him. He died two days after the Pow Wow."
That sent chills up Todd's body. "Well, I guess that could explain how he came and went so silently."
"Are you suggesting you talked to a ghost?" Matt asked, clearly skeptical.
"I don't know! Ghost, vision, I really don't know. I just know he told me about the Jororos, and so far you've confirmed what he told me."
"Hmm. Well, to address your question, over the years, young children have been adopted from other American Indian tribes, and placed with the Jororos. In the past, they were mainly from South America. That was because there was less paperwork and fewer questions asked than with children from the states. Interestingly enough, many archeologists now believe Florida Indians may have originally come from South Amrerica, so the children my predecessors placed may have been genetically matched with the Jororo after all.
"One of the problems you'll have to deal with is adopting more children in the future. It's not critical now, but it will be down the road."
"Wow. It's certainly more involved than I thought."
"We haven't even scratched the surface yet. Do you have any questions?"
"Tons. But I'm still wondering why we're still chatting naked. We're not in the preserve."
"True. We encourage casual nudity in the house so it isn't so awkward when you're in the preserve with the Jororo. Body language is crucial when you are learning their language and culture.
"They have no body shame. If you are uncomfortable just being there because you're naked, they'll see your discomfort, but won't understand its cause. They'll naturally assume you are uncomfortable with them.
"That all makes sense," Todd said. "But aren't there some inconsistencies to deal with?"
"How so?" Matt asked.
"I can understand intellectually going nude around the Jororo, but.." Todd trailed off.
"Well, aren't you a Christian?"
"Well don't you have both men and women here at the house?"
Matt wasn't making this easy. "Well isn't mixed nudity problematic among Christians?"
"In what way?" Matt asked
The man can't be that dense Todd thought. "Doesn't the Bible say..." he couldn't recall exactly what he was trying to cite.
"Go on, what does the Bible say?" Matt asked.
"Well somewhere it says to dress modestly."
Matt went to a shelf and retrieved a copy of Webster's Dictionary. He opened it, found a page, and handed the open book to Todd.
"Yes it does," Matt said. "And what does modest actually mean?"
Todd was caught off guard. He read aloud. [insert def'n].
"Alright. Now, let's read the verse you mentioned. He took a Bible from another shelf, found the page and read "First Timothy chapter two, verse nine. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;"
"Now, reading the whole verse, rather than just the first half most people quote, which meaning of modest do you think applies?"
"Obviously the first," Todd said.
"My ancestors had to address this issue, and I have the advantage of their longer perspective. You see, the word modest didn't yet have the Victorian connotation of sexuality in popular speech in the late 1700's when my ancestor first came here - not to mention in 1611 when the King James Bible was published.
"OK," Todd agreed hesitantly.
"If you read the Bible honestly, without preconceived notions, you'll find that while God acknowledges the desire of much of mankind to be clothed he never commands us to be clothed. The reference in Timothy is actually about not overdressing in church. The only command God gives to dress is to certain Jewish priests during their formal duties."
"Wow, I've never heard this stuff," Todd said.
"I'd gathered that," Matt replied. "Bottom line, if simply being naked is sinful, then God is in the awkward position of making us sin at birth. I take the fact that we are born naked as a re-affirmation that God intended us to live naked. It was man that chose otherwise."
"But God clothed Adam and Eve," Todd observed.
"Only after they had clothed themselves. God often allows things he never intended. "
"True," Todd agreed.
"However, as Christians, we are not to deliberately give offense, and we know many people are in fact offended by simple nudity. Hence our demarcation of public area, house area, and preserve. We don't go naked in the public area at all."
"Boy, there's just a lot of new stuff here. I mean, in the last two days I find that the Jororo aren't extinct anymore, I get visited by a dead guy, and find that for my new job I'm expected to run around naked most of the time," Todd said.
"I wouldn't say most of the time, unless you want to. Although your first year it will certainly be true."
"Why's that?" Todd asked.
"You will be living exclusively with the Jororo, learning their language and culture. After that, I'll train you in the management stuff.
"Now to finish what I was saying about the three zones. In the public area, including the office, clothing must be worn at all times. The cattle staff have no clue about what the preserve is about, what goes on, or even how big it is. We let them believe that right behind the house is nothing but swamp."
"Don't they wonder about the privacy fence?"
"You'd be surprised. A lot of ranches around here have them around the owners' houses, and it's common knowledge among ranch hands that some of the owners' families skinny-dip. I don't know how accurate that actually is, but it's the impression that counts here. We do have the pool, and I'm sure the hands sometimes see the pool maintenance truck coming in and out. So the fence doesn't draw undue curiosity."
"Like I said, it all makes sense. So when do I get started?"
"Once you've taken your oath," Mike replied.
"OK, let me rephrase that. When do I meet the Jororo?"
"Assuming your affairs are in order, when you are comfortable enough in your skin that you could walk into a mixed room of male and female, clothed and naked people, and not worry in the slightest whether you are clothed yourself or not, then you'll be ready to meet the Jororo."
It seemed a tall order, not to mention an improbable scenario, but Todd said "I'll do my best."
"I know that. Ready for that oath?"
Todd hesitated only a second. He was a little daunted by the idea of a 'blood oath', but he said "I'm ready."
* * *
Todd realized there was so much about this 'job' that he could never talk about, and the oath was high on the list. there was nothing sinister about it, but it was one serious commitment.
After bandaging Todd's hand, as casually as if nothing important had just happened, Matt said "So let's tour the house."
* * *
The high point of the tour for Todd was the library. He'd assumed that the reading room had been the library, but when he saw the actual library, there was no doubt. Every wall was lined to the ceiling with books. Several free-standing shelves took up the middle of the room. According to Matt, every book present was either about Florida history, or Florida Indians. It was an impressive collection.
Todd had wanted to stay and browse, but Matt looked at the clock and said they needed to move on to the 'parlor'.
Todd was surprised Matt had actually used the word, but then realized he shouldn't have been. A southern house as old as this would have had a parlor. He followed Matt down the hall.
They walked into a mixed room of male and female, clothed and naked people. One older Native woman was clearly the one he'd seen in the hallway earlier. She stood with a glass of punch in her hand, and not a stitch of clothing. She seemed to be watching the others. Mike the driver, and another man Todd had never seen were both au natural talking with a clothed man whom Todd didn't recognize, but looked vaguely familiar. Another bare Native woman was talking, with some difficulty, with a professionally dressed white woman who nodded a lot.
Matt cleared his throat, and when all were quiet said "Everyone, I want you to meet my replacement, Todd Brown."
As people applauded politely, Todd made a mental note to take Matt's examples a bit more literally - even the improbable ones. Oddly, he found that he really didn't care that he was standing there naked in front of strangers, at least in this context. Two days ago, there was no way he'd have believed this. Of course, having been naked for those two days probably helped.
Matt spoke again. "Todd, this is Linda Jacobs from B.I.A. in Washington."
The proffesional-looking lady raised her punch glass in response.
"This is my wife, Morning Dew," Matt continued.
The older Native woman smiled and nodded.
"This is her neice, Sunflower, who insists on being our housekeeper."
The youngest woman nodded at Todd.
"This," Matt began turning toward the familiar looking man.
Todd interrupted. "I recognize you from somewhere," he said.
The man chuckled. "Maybe you voted for me," he said. Noting Todd's blank expression, he ammended "Or not."
"Todd, this is Ed Cooper, the Governor of Florida," said Matt.
Whom I'm now flashing thought Todd, as he tried to remember whether Matt had made any improbable statements about meeting the Governor.
"Congratulations, Todd," the Governor said, trying to keep a straight face. Failing that, he added "I've been to the village a couple of times. So I've worn that uniform myself."
"Thank you sir," Todd replied.
"You're slipping, Matt," the Governor said. "Todd, apparently Matt forgot to tell you we're all on a first-name basis around here."
"I'll try to remember that," Todd said. He was drawing a blank - he couldn't remember the Governor's name, though he'd just been told. He felt like an idiot.
Matt saved him by continueing introductions. "Mike you've met. He handles transportation and vehicle maintenance, including the cattle vehicles and trailers. And this is Jeff our handyman. He handles everything from toilets to satellite internet, and even the spy cameras on the ultralight."
"Why does an ultralight need spy cameras?" Todd couldn't resist asking.
Jeff looked at Linda. She nodded. "The ultralight is great for patroling the perimeter," Jeff answered. "But we try to stay away from the village itself. But the villagers see high-flying planes all the time. So to get pictures of the village without disturbing them, we fly eight to ten thousand feet up. We look like any other plane then, but with our slow speed, the hi-res camera gets really great shots."
"We can practically count the hairs on their heads," Linda said.
"Todd, Linda is one of only two people in Bureau of Indian Affairs who know about us. She's our new contact person for adoptions. You'll be seeing a lot of her," Matt said.
"Especially when I need to visit the village," Linda quipped.
"So Matt, was this a deliberate setup?" Todd asked.
"Of course," Matt answered. "I was serious about you needing to be at ease in your skin. You needed to meet our guests anyway, and we figured if you could handle meeting government officials in your birthday suit, you'd probably do alright with the Jororo. Once you go in there, only the direst of circumstances would warrant bringing you back out before your year is over."
"You might want to go get dressed for the swearing-in though," the Governor said. "Otherwise, I'm not sure where to pin the badge."
Todd looked at Matt. When Matt said nothing, Todd asked "What badge?"
"Since my grandfather's time, the ranch managers have been sheriff deputies. It simplified dealing with poachers and tresspassers."
"Things have changed since Matt's deputization," said the Governor. "Technically, he is a Sheriff's Auxiliary Deputy, since he's not on the payroll. It would be virtually impossible to have you deputized now without it becoming public record.
"The ranch is a designated refuge for four endangered species - two varieties of moth, a frog, and a squirrel. It's within my authority as governor to designate you as a State Officer. It's easier to stay 'under the radar' at the state level. Of course, you won't be on that payroll either."
"He's serious about the badge, Todd. Off you go. You remember where your room is, I trust." Matt said.
"Sure. I guess I'll be back, folks." Todd said, taking his leave. As he neared the end of the hall, he heard laughter from behind. Oh well, I am the new guy he thought.
"The best part," Matt told the others quietly, "Is that he actually believes I have no sense of humor, and never joke around."
"Watch out, Todd," Linda said. "It's going to be a wild ride." The group laughed again.
* * *
Todd dumped the contents of his gym bag onto the bed. His wardrobe choice was limited to jeans, boots, and his choice of two T-shirts, neither of which he considered appropriate for being sworn in as a state law enforcement officer. Oh well, Matt had told him to dress casually.
* * *
Todd re-entered the room wearing a 'Happy Camper' T-shirt. The Governor smiled, but said nothing about it.
The actual swearing in was a cut-and-dried short but official ceremony, notwithstanding the fact that most of the onlookers were quite naked. The younger Native woman left the room immediately afterward, and the rest of the group sat and engaged in small talk.
The Governor sat next to Todd. "The Foundation should be able to settle your finances easily. If you need any legal help settling your affairs, let me know. I'm sure Matt has explained it's best to make a clean break. You will be leaving the ranch as needed for business purposes, but it's best not to have outside attachments if avoidable."
"It's not a problem. I'm single, my parents are gone, and my siblings are scattered around the country. I guess I can email from here as good as anywhere," Todd remarked.
"Not for a year," Matt corrected.
"So when does that start?"
"It can start tomorrow, if you're ready," Matt said.
"What do you need to do?" asked the Governor.
"If they're paying off my bills, I just need to clear out my apartment and move my stuff here," Todd shrugged.
"Any furniture?" Matt asked.
"Just a chair."
"I'll send some ranch hands over in the morning. We got a truck available, Mike?"
"I'll have one cleaned out first thing."
"Alright. Todd, the crew will be there at ten or eleven in the morning."
"Don't forget the forms," the Governor said.
"Forms?" Todd asked.
"Power of Attorney to settle your debts, and Change of Address," said Matt. "You're welcome to stay the night, but I imagine after dinner you'll want to start packing."
"Speaking of dinner," the Governor pointed out, "I believe it's ready," he said, indicating the door. Matt's neice stood in the doorway. "Dinner," she said when she saw everyone looking at her. She turned to leave.
"Don't have to call me twice," the Governor said.
* * *
Todd sat on a chair in his suite at the ranch house. This morning he'd awakened in his apartment. Now he was here, with his belongings in neatly labeled boxes around the suite awaiting unpacking. What a day.
"Come in," he answered the knock on the door.
Matt stepped in the room. Incongruously, he was wearing a T-shirt with a tacky tourist scene of flamingos and palm trees printed on the front. Todd hadn't seen him in a T-shirt before, but the really incongruous thing was that Matt was wearing nothing else.
Todd reminded himself it was a clothing-optional house, and there was a slight chill in the air this evening so a shirt made sense, but unless he counted Donald Duck, he never seen anyone wear just a shirt before.
"Just wanted to let you know that breakfast is at 7:30," Matt said.
"Thanks," was all Todd attempted to reply.
* * *
Todd had been wandering aimlessly around the hangar, runway, and backyard when the call came for lunch. It was an immensely practical process. Sunflower simply yelled "Lunch!" out the kitchen window. Todd marveled at how loudly the lady could bellow the word.
"Your bills are cleared," Matt informed him at the table. "Your lease is terminated. Is there anything else you need to take care of?"
"I'm fairly sure there isn't," Todd replied.
"Then there's not much point in waiting," Matt said. "You can leave for the village after lunch. I hope you're not too attached to those sandals."
"Hmm?" Todd asked, chewing.
"The Jororo aren't much for footwear."
"I hadn't thought of that," Todd replied. After having seen Matt's shirt the night before, he'd thought wearing just the leather sandals would be OK. Suddenly remembering why Matt had been wearing the shirt, he asked "So what do they do in Winter? We do get cold fronts, after all."
"You didn't notice Mike's blanket Sunday?"
"How could I miss it? It was all he - oh."
"The difference is, their blankets are deer or bear hide," Matt said.
"There's bears here?" Todd asked.
Matt smiled. "It's Real Florida, young man."
"I guess so. So when do we leave?"
"Finish eating and leave your sandals in your room. Then meet me out back."
* * *
Todd's feet were sore. It was a good path, but the walk to the village was longer than his hike to the Vision Quest site had been, and he wasn't used to being barefoot all the time yet. Of course, he hadn't been used to being barebodied before coming to the ranch, but he'd rapidly gotten used to it. His feet would soon adapt.
Less than a month ago, he'd been asked to identify his dream. Now he was about to live it for a year. He could already hear voices from the village ahead. Matt pointed the way, then turned and headed back to the house. Todd would be meeting the Jororo alone.
His stomach butterflies started doing calisthenics. He was walking into the village, carrying absolutely nothing. Matt had insisted he take nothing. He'd assured Todd the villagers would see to his needs.
At least he needn't worry about being attacked. Matt had assured him of that.
* * *
The arrow thunking into the tree trunk next to Todd startled the daylights out of him. Unsure of what to do, he stopped and held his hands straight out from his sides, palms outward to show he carried no weapons.
The men who took him into the village pushed him roughly and laughed among themselves. When they met his gaze however, they were stern.
Todd didn't believe his life was actually in danger, provided he took no threatening actions, but he resolved he had some getting-even to do with Matt.
* * *
After a miserably cold night under guard and without a blanket, Todd had a surprisingly good day the next day. Todd wasn't sure if he'd passed some kind of test, or whether the people had reconsidered and were making ammends for his treatment the day before.
Whatever the case, he was treated as a honored guest. He was given the first portions of food and drink, and was shown to his own chickee. A man who seemed to be in charge became his personal escort.
The man named everything he showed to Todd. Apparently, Todd's language lessons had begun.
* * *
Winter life with the Jororos was no paradise. Florida Winters were a succession of cold snaps, followed by a few days of gradual warming. About the time things got nice again, the next wave of cold would hit.
An animal hide wapped around the upper body kept off the worst of the cold, but was a far cry from comfortable. Nights were slightly better, when you could lie close to the fire, though that meant sleeping in the dirt. (It wasn't feasible to have a decent fire in the chickees.)
At least in the daytime, he was able to keep moving, which helped more than anything else to stay warm. Although there was no staying warm when it came to harvesting the fish traps or collecting mussels in the lake.
The men of the village took delight in Todd's inexperience in nearly every aspect of daily living. None of his considerable skills as an electronic technician had any usefulness here.
He wouldn't have even been able to explain to these people what he used to do before coming here. Even if he'd mastered the language, these people lacked the frame of reference to comprehend it. He was as much a fish out of water as any of these men would have been back at Todd's old workplace.
When aircraft flew over, Todd was presented with evidence that it was in fact the 21st century. Otherwise, it was truly as if he were living back before the arrival of Europeans in Florida.
* * *
Spring was a welcome reprieve. While most evenings and mornings required blankets, the days themselves didn't. By May, no one used blankets at all except to sleep. To Todd, the freedom of daily living in just his skin was as close to paradise as things could get.
Only months before, Todd had accepted as self-evident truth the idea that mixed gender open nudity would automatically lead to lustful thoughts and rampant immoral behavior. Now, after actually having lived in an openly nude environment, he knew nothing could be further from the truth!
'Back home', if he passed an attractive woman on the street, there was little to discourage him from fantasizing about her. Here, he had no such luxury. His body would give him away. Besides, with the open reality before him, there wasn't much to fantasize about anyway.
In the months he'd been here, he'd seen no open sexual activity either, which dispelled the 'rampant immoral behavior' part as well.
He marveled that 'civilized society' had for so long fallen for such an easily disproven idea. The resources to keep most of the world clothed was such a staggering waste of resources, and it really accomplished nothing (at least in warm weather). It was counterproductive in fact.
In all fairness, he realized, it took courage to challenge such a widespread belief. He himself would have had neither the courage nor inclination to try going without clothing had he not been dropped into this situation.
* * *
By the time the regular Summer afternoon rains came, Todd had discovered a whole new way to be miserable. Daytimes were actually not bad. Bare skin was a great way to beat the heat. When things got really hot, there was the lake to cool off in.
Nighttimes on the other hand were torture. When the hords of mosquitos arrived, he missed clothing something awful before remembering all the times 'back home' when he'd been bitten through his clothes. What he actually missed was insect repellent.
There was a remedy for it. Bear grease. Todd wasn't sure if he could ever get used to the feeling of trying to sleep while covered in grease, not to mention the smell! (The alternatives of sleeping in smoke, or wrapping up in hide didn't work at all for him.)
* * *
By Fall, Todd had learned enough of the language to receive a major surprise. He'd noticed all along how frequently the Jororo prayed. He'd assumed, like many American Indian tribes that they were praying to the Creator. What shocked him was that these people specifically practied Christianity!
It was explained to him that the Spanish had sent Catholic priests to the Jororo, but they had insisted the Jororo had to abandon their own culture to embrace Christianity. The extremely sensible Jororo had of course rejected that approach.
When Seth Meyers had come, he made no attempt to change their ways of life, other than letting them know Jesus Christ had paid for their sins, and giving them His message of loving God above all, and loving their neighbor as themselves.
Seth had told them those two things were what was important, not trying to make others live like the white man. The message had been well received, and the village had been Christian since the earliest days of the ranch!
Todd was amazed and very pleased. He'd always had that misgiving about sending missionaries to 'primitive' tribes. He'd heard so much about the collateral damage that occurred when the missionaries tried to 'westernize' those people. Here was proof that the Christian gospel could enrich lives without destroying peaceful cultures.
Of course, even if his oath allowed him to tell others about the Jororos, few would believe him that a village of totally naked people was mostly made up of devout Christians!
* * *
The nights were getting chilly again, and there had been a couple of minor cold fronts which even brought down the daytime temperatures. Todd had no calendar, and had not tried to count the days, but he knew Matt would be coming soon. He actually dreaded leaving.
He kept himself consoled with the knowledge of two things. One, that his sacrifice of being away from these people would concretely benefit them, and two, that he actually missed some technology.
* * *
Matt's arrival was surprisingly low-key. Todd had expected to hear the children chatter wildly when they saw Matt, but if they had, the wind had carried the sound away from Todd and his fellow hunters. When they arrived at the village with their load of gator meat, there was Matt.
"Ready to see silly-vization again?" Matt asked in English.
Todd was surprised at how strange English sounded after a year of not hearing it. "I suspect you know the answer that," he replied.
"The good news is you don't have to leave today. I've got catching-up to do here," Matt said. "But then we've got to get you back and trained in the business end of things, so I can start living my dream."