SonomaCounty, in northernCalifornia, is cold and damp in January. Terry settled into her favorite chair by the wood stove to dream about spring. With the current seed catalogs piled up next to her, she began marking this year’s choices. Terry always planted her garden in April, and she was going to be ready.
The door opened and her husband stumbled in, dripping wet. “It’s pouring outside,” Jack said, grabbing the towel by the door to dry off Jesse, their rescued greyhound. The two parrots, Sunny andJamaica, squawked with delight to see them back from their walk.
“Come here and look at this plant. I want to get it for the front of the house.” Terry held up a catalog of heirloom seeds.
“Hmm, that’s cool looking, but what is it?”
“Amaranth, it’s native toMexico. It was big with the Aztecs. The Hopis make a red dye from it to use in their ceremonies. According to the catalog it should do well here.”
“It looks like it will take a lot of space.” Jack was thinking about all the tilling he’d have to do.
“I’m not going to plant much. It’s just for decoration. It says here that Thomas Jefferson lined his pathways atMonticellowith it, so I thought it would look pretty along the walkway.”
The next day, Terry dreaded what she had to face at work, namely her boss, Donna. She drove to the state office building, got out of her car—and there was Donna. She walked up to Terry and snapped, “Aren’t you supposed to be here at7:30?” Donna looked at her watch. “It’s7:35!”
“Oh, am I late? Sorry. I’ll stay later this afternoon.” Terry started for the door and Donna slowed just enough so that Terry had to wait for her. Once inside, Terry walked ahead, anxious to escape to her cubicle. Just then Donna called out, “Terry, would you take this to my office? I need to use the restroom.” A bad sign, Terry thought. Donna was in control mode.
Terry couldn’t do anything right. After lunch the chapter she had rewritten for the training manual was on her desk. Donna’s criticisms were emblazoned in red throughout the document. The very areas that Donna had asked Terry to consolidate and clarify were now deemed inconclusive and vague. Terry dropped her head into her hands.
“What’s the matter?” April was standing in the doorway. She was Donna’s friend and usually someplace other than at her desk.
“Donna’s still not happy with this manual and I don’t know what to do,” Terry lamented.
“I don’t know why you have these problems. She never gives me any grief. I think you’re just too sensitive.” Just then the handsome young maintenance guy passed by, distracting April. “Gotta go,” she said, without looking back at Terry. “My chair needs fixing.”
The transition to the new computer system was not going smoothly. When the staff complained, Donna blamed Terry’s training procedures. When Terry came to Donna for more information about the system’s programming, Donna would tell her nothing. She was not relinquishing control.
Meanwhile, the amaranth Terry planted grew tall and beautiful. Something about this plant provoked memories of a different time and place, but she couldn’t pinpoint it. No matter. She loved seeing it gracing her walkway each evening as she arrived home.
“Hi, dinner’s almost ready. Want a glass of wine?” Jack smiled up from rolling out pizza dough.
“I don’t know how much longer I can take this job.” Terry had tears in her eyes.
“Hang in there. Donna’s tactics will backfire on her eventually, and the truth will come out that you’re the one doing all the work. By the way, I wanted to tell you about the footprints I found this morning by the amaranth. I know this sounds weird, but they looked like bear tracks.”
“That’s impossible. How would a bear get through the front gate?”
Jack shrugged. “All I know is that they were bigger thanQuincy’s and round like a bear’s.”
“Well, there’s got to be another explanation.” Terry smiled. “No bears live in this neighborhood.”
That night in bed, Terry had trouble falling asleep. When she did nod off, she dreamed of unfamiliar places, high-desert places with cities carved into the walls of huge canyons. Red rows of amaranth grew in the valley below.
Suddenly she awoke to low rumbling sounds in the front yard. Terry got up, put on her robe and slippers, and grabbed the flashlight from the nightstand. Jack was sound asleep.
She shut the bedroom door to keep the dog in, although he was as deeply asleep as Jack. Some watchdog, she thought. She eased the front door open and cautiously inched her way outside. Peering through the darkness, she saw something move. She shined the flashlight toward it. Standing in a patch of amaranth was a bear. As Terry stared, the bear rose up on its hind legs, though not in a threatening manner. It was almost as if the bear wanted to embrace her. Seconds passed that seemed like hours. Finally the bear lowered its front legs, turned, and lumbered off into the night.
Terry, frozen in place, was more worried than frightened. The stress at work must be getting to her. Was she losing her mind? Sleepwalking? She inhaled deeply—she could smell the amaranth!—backed through the front door, and locked it.
When Terry, shivering, crawled back into bed, Jack woke up and turned on the light. “Were you outside?”
“I heard a noise and went to see what it was.”
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I don’t know . . . I saw the strangest thing.”
Having seen the tracks that morning, Jack believed her. “Is he still out there?”
“No, he disappeared. He seemed to like the amaranth.” Terry stopped shivering and a warm feeling welled up from her core. She suddenly understood. “That was no ordinary bear. The tracks are real, but the bear is spirit. My protection has arrived.”
Jack put his arms around Terry, pulled her close to him, and said, “Well, then, you see it’s going to be all right.”
“I love you.” They hugged, and then turned over to go to sleep. As Terry drifted off she knew Jack was right.
Next day at work, Terry was putting the finishing touches on her PowerPoint presentation; it would launch the training project she had worked on for weeks. She had forwarded the document files to Donna for her review and approval.
Terry was about finished when Donna came in with the handouts compiled into binders. “The director will be here today,” Donna announced. “And I had these done at the printers.” She handed Terry the training materials, neatly bound, with a cover sheet that said, “Presented by Donna Miller, Senior Program Specialist.”
“But . . . this is my presentation,” Terry sputtered.
Donna turned to leave, then stopped and said, “You can help me by running the computer.
Terry added one more slide to her presentation and then called it quits. With the general staff all seated in the training room, Donna took charge of the meeting. She talked while Terry ran the slideshow. It was all clear, concise, and perfectly timed. Donna and the director were exchanging smiles.
“Well, I think that’s it,” Donna said.
“No, there’s one more slide,” Terry said as she clicked the mouse.
The slide’s background was awash in red—amaranth—overlaid with the words: “Prepared and presented by Terry Waters.”
The director stared at Donna. “I thought you did this work.”
“Well, I was in charge of the project. Terry just finished it up for me.” Donna was glaring at Terry.
“That’s not true.” Terry rose from her chair. “I did the entire thing and I can prove it. The original files with completion dates are all on my computer.”
With tears welling up in her eyes, Terry muttered, “Excuse me,” and rushed from the room, back to her cubicle. She grabbed her purse, wrote “Gone for the day” on her white board, and left.
That evening, still shaking with anger and frustration, Terry told Jack about her day, adding, “I don’t know what to expect tomorrow morning.”
Jack smiled and gestured toward the amaranth outside. “Well, remember, you have protection. It’ll be there when you need it most.”
Only partly consoled, Terry went to bed early and fell into a deep sleep. In dreamland her bear stood before her, this time on all fours. She knew his name, Taiowa, the Creator.
He spoke to her. “You are a warrior and she is nothing but a petty tyrant. You will win.”
When she arrived at work the next morning, she took a few deep breaths and marched into Donna’s office. There, on her boss’s white board in big red letters, she read, “Out of the office for extended period. See the director for anything urgent.”
Donna was on her way out.