Joe Coutts has regret. As tribal council, Joe deals with the day to day legal aspects of living on a reservation. Just like his father before, when a crime is committed he has to determine who has jurisdiction. The regret stems from a crime that went unpunished because the land for which it was committed could not be proven. Tribal and white lands have two separate laws.
Joe recounts the story that made him so passionate to right wrongs. He was 13 years old on that fateful spring day. He and his father, Bazil, were digging up saplings that were too close to the house’s foundation.
“There were ash shoots, elm, maple, box elder, even a good-sized catalpa, which my father placed in an ice cream bucket and watered, thinking that he might find a place to replant it.”
Before lunch time, Bazil stands up and stretches his sore back claiming it as quitting time. Joe is astonished because his father, the perfectionist, sticks with a job until it is completely done. Why stop, but his father heads to the couch for a nap.
Joe takes the early break as opportunity to read some more of the forbidden book. His father calls it The Bible and Joe treats it as such. Slowly he takes it off the upper shelf in his father’s office and lays it gently on the kitchen table. He fixes a glass of water and opens Felix S. Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law where he last left off, “United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey,” and begins reading.
His father wakes from his nap and walks into the kitchen rubbing his eyes. Joe quietly shuts the book and lays it on his lap under the table. It is rather light in weight although filled to the brim with cases.
His father smacks his lips as if thirsty and Joe hands him his water. He drinks it and then locks eyes with his son. Joe instantly feels like an adult although he was just 12 two weeks ago. For a split second the gaze seems to have a hidden meaning. Is it a knowledge of being older for reading the book or has something just happened to age Joe beyond his youth?
“Where is your mother?”
I absolutely love Louise Erdrich’s, The Round House! It is the 2012 National Book Award winner, and worth every page turned.