Linda followed Albert to an open area just outside the grove. He stopped.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the snowy ground.
Linda noticed a toppled cairn.
Albert kept walking and showed Linda three other toppled cairns. They formed a rough rectangle around the grove. Linda had never noticed them before.
They walked back inside the grove. It was still. Not a single bird flitting and the sound of the creek had drifted to another direction.
“These cairns,” said Albert, “mark my people’s burial ground.”
“You mean, right here?” said Linda.
“Yes, under this very grove you decorate for Christmas every year.”
“Oh my God! Have I been desecrating it? I didn’t know.”
“No. No. Quite the contrary. We thank you for honoring the trees in the way you do. We believe when people visit here they come away better people. At least for a little while.”
“I wish I could have seen this valley and estuary before the Pioneers came and destroyed it.”
“It was a wondrous place and will be again one day, many centuries from now when people understand how to live with the world instead of taking from it.”
“You know about the county’s plan for destroying the grove to widen the road.”
“Yes. That’s why I am here.”
“This is great news. There’s no way they can build here now.”
Linda was giddy when she said this.
“No. We don’t want the word to ever get out,” said Albert. “If it does, here come the grave robbers and archaeologists and politicians.”
He paused for a moment, then continued.
“We want this place to be eternally undiscovered.”
“I don’t understand,” said Linda. “I was under the belief that state and federal law protected these Native American burial grounds.”
“They don’t. They still allow for molestation in the name of study. The word always gets out and the ground gets dug up and the spirits profaned and scattered.”
“But we’ve got to make news of the burial ground public or they will bulldoze right through it!”
“There is a different way. And I will tell you how and then you will help us.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if you did it. You’re a tribal member.”
“I’m not really here. Only to you to ask for your help and then silence forever.”
“Don’t be. Your job is to make someone else scared, very scared.”
And Linda knew exactly who that someone else was.