Bird Magic

November 12, 2017

New Addition

Swainson's Hawk

The Girl Who Climbed to the Sky

One morning several young women went out from their tepee village to gather firewood. Among them was Sapana, the most beautiful girl in the village, and it was she who first saw the porcupine sitting at the foot of a tall cottonwood tree. She called to the others: "Help me to catch this porcupine, and I will divide its quills among you."

The porcupine started climbing the cottonwood, but the tree's limbs were close to the ground and Sapana easily followed. "Hurry," she cried. "It is climbing up. We must have its quills to embroider our moccasins." She tried to strike the porcupine with a stick, but the animal climbed just out of her reach.

"I want those quills," Sapana said. "If necessary I will follow this porcupine to the top of the tree." But every time that the girl climbed up, the porcupine kept ahead of her.

"Sapana, you are too high up," one of her friends called from the ground. "You should come back down."

But the girl kept climbing, and it seemed to her that the tree kept extending itself toward the sky. When she neared the top of the cottonwood, she saw something above her, solid like a wall, but shining. It was the sky. Suddenly she found herself in the midst of a camp circle. The treetop had vanished, and the porcupine had transformed himself into an ugly old man.

Sapana did not like the looks of the porcupine-man, but he spoke kindly to her and led her to a tepee where his father and mother lived. "I have watched you from afar," he told her. "You are not only beautiful but industrious. We must work very hard here, and I want you to become my wife."

The porcupine-man put her to work that very day, scraping and stretching buffalo hides and making robes. When evening came, the girl went outside the tepee and sat by herself wondering how she was ever to get back home. Everything in the sky world was brown and grey, and she missed the green trees and green grass of earth.

Each day the porcupine-man went out to hunt, bringing back buffalo hides for Sapana to work on, and in the morning while he was away it was her duty to go and dig for wild turnips. "When you dig for roots," the porcupine-man warned her, "take care not to dig too deep."

One morning she found an unusually large turnip. With great difficulty she managed to pry it loose with her digging stick, and when she pulled it up she was surprised to find that it left a hole through which she could look down upon the green earth. Far below she saw rivers, mountains, circles of tepees, and people walking about.

Sapana knew now why the porcupine-man had warned her not to dig too deep. As she did not want him to know that she had found the hole in the sky, she carefully replaced the turnip. On the way back to the tepee she thought of a plan to get down to the earth again. Almost every day the porcupine-man brought buffalo hides for her to scrape and soften and make into robes. In making the robes there were always strips of sinew left over, and she kept these strips concealed beneath her bed.

At last Sapana believed that she had enough sinew strips to make a lariat long enough to reach the earth. One morning after the porcupine-man went out to hunt, she tied all the strips together and returned to the place where she had found the large turnip. She lifted it out and dug the hole wider so that her body would go through. She laid her digging stick across the opening and tied one end of the sinew rope to the middle of it. Then she tied the other end of the rope about herself under her arms. Slowly she began lowering herself by uncoiling the lariat. A long time passed before she was far enough down to be able to see the tops of the trees clearly, and then she came to the end of the lariat. She had not made it long enough to reach the ground. She did not know what to do.

She hung there for a long time, swinging back and forth above the trees. Faintly in the distance she could hear dogs barking and voices calling in her tepee village, but the people were too far away to see her. After a while she heard sounds from above. The lariat began to shake violently. A stone hurtled down from the sky, barely missing her, and then she heard the porcupine-man threatening to kill her if she did not climb back up the lariat. Another stone whizzed by her ear.

About this time Buzzard began circling around below her. "Come and help me," she called to Buzzard. The bird glided under her feet several times, and Sapana told him all that had happened to her. "Get on my back," Buzzard said, "and I will take you down to earth."

She stepped on to the bird's back. "Are you ready?" Buzzard asked.

"Yes," she replied.

"Let go of the lariat," Buzzard ordered. He began descending, but the girl was too heavy for him, and he began gliding earthward too fast. He saw Hawk flying below him. "Hawk," he called, "help me take this girl back to her people."

Hawk flew with Sapana on his back until she could see the tepee of her family clearly below. But then Hawk began to tire, and Buzzard had to take the girl on his back again. Buzzard flew on, dropping quickly through the trees and landing just outside the girl's village. Before she could thank him, Buzzard flew back into the sky.

Sapana rested for a while and then began walking very slowly to her parents' tepee. She was weak and exhausted. On the way she saw a girl coming toward her. "Sapana!" the girl cried. "We thought you were dead." The girl helped her walk on to the tepee. At first her mother did not believe that this was her own daughter returned from the sky. Then she threw her arms about her and wept.

The news of Sapana's return spread quickly through the village, and everyone came to welcome her home. She told them her story, especially of the kindness shown her by Buzzard and Hawk.

After that, whenever the people of her tribe went on a big hunt they always left one buffalo for Buzzard and Hawk to eat.

 



November 12, 2017

New Addition

White-crowned Sparrow



November 5, 2017

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November 1, 2017

The Beginning of the Cree World

Several forms of this myth of creation and of the great flood have been recorded from different Algonquian tribes. The Crees were western members of the Algonquian family, which is the largest of the language groups of the North American Indians.

This particular version has been selected because it was recorded by the great explorer-geographer, David Thompson, before missionaries had been among the people who related it.

Wisakedjak is the principal character in many Cree tales. His name means "the Flatterer." It is spelled also Weesack-kachack.

After the Creator had made all the animals and had made the first people, he said to Wisakedjak, "Take good of my people, and teach them how to live. Show them all the bad roots, all the roots that will hurt them and kill them. Do not let the people or the animals quarrel with each other."

But Wisakedjak did not obey the Creator. He let the creatures do whatever they wished to do. Soon they were quarrelling and fighting and shedding much blood.
The Creator, greatly displeased, warned Wisakedjak. "If you do not keep the ground clean, I will take everything away from you, and you will be miserable."
But Wisakedjak did not believe the Creator, and did not obey. Becoming more and more careless and disobedient, he tricked the animals and the people and made them angry with each other. They quarreled and fought so much that the earth became red with blood.

This time the creator became very angry. "I will take everything away from you and wash the ground clean." He said.

Still Wisakedjak did not believe the Creator. He did not believe until the rains came and the streams began to swell. Day after day, and night after night, the rains continued. The water in the rivers and the lakes rose higher and higher. At last they overflowed their banks and washed the ground clean. The sea came up on the land, and everything was drowned except one Otter, one Beaver and one Muskrat.

Wisakedjak tried to stop the sea, but it was too strong for him. He sat down on the water and wept. Otter, Beaver and Muskrat sat beside him and rested their heads on one of his thighs.

In time the rain stopped and the sea left the land. Wisakedjak took courage, but he did not dare to speak to the Creator. After long and sad thoughts about his misery, he said to himself, "If I could get a bit of the old earth beneath the water, I could make a little island for us to live on."

He did not have the power to create anything, but he did have the power to expand what had already been created. As he could not dive and did not know how far it was to the old earth, he did not know what to do. Taking pity on him, the Creator said, "I will give you the power to re-make everything if you will use the old materials buried under the water."

Still floating on the flood, Wisakedjak said to the three animals beside him, "We shall starve unless one of you can bring me a bit of the old ground beneath the water. If you will get it for me, I will make an island for us."

Then he turned to the Otter. "You are brave and strong and active. If you will dive into the water and bring me a bit of earth, I will see that you will have plenty of fish to eat."

So the Otter dived, but he came up again without having reached the ground. A second time and a third time Wisakedjak praised Otter and persuaded him to go down once more. When he returned the third time, he was so weary that he could not dive again.

"You are a coward!" exclaimed Wisakedjak. "I am surprised by your weak heart. Beaver, I know, can dive to the bottom of the flood. He will put you to shame."
Then he turned to Beaver. "You are brave and strong and wise. If you will dive into the water and bring me a bit of the old earth, I will make a good house for you on the new island I shall make. There you will be warm in the winter. Dive straight down as a brave Beaver does."

Twice Beaver dived, and twice he came back without any earth. The second time he was so tired that Wisakedjak had to let him rest for a long time.
"Dive once more," begged Wisakedjak when Beaver had recovered. "If you will bring me a bit of earth, I will make a wife for you."

To obtain a wife Beaver went down a third time. He stayed so long that he came back almost lifeless, still with no earth in his paws.

Wisakedjak was now very sad. If Otter and Beaver could not reach the bottom of the water, surely Muskrat also would fail. But he must try. He was their only chance.

"You are brave and strong and quick, Muskrat, even if you are small. If you will dive into the water and bring me a bit of the old earth at the bottom, I will make plenty of roots for you to eat. I will create rushes, so that you can make a nice house with rushes and dirt.

"Otter and Beaver are fools," continued Wisakedjak. "They got lost. You will find the ground if you will dive straight down."

So Muskrat jumped head first into the water, down and down he went, he brought back nothing. A second time he dived stayed a long time. When he returned Wisakedjak looked at his forepaws and sniffed.

"I smell the smell of earth," he said. "Go again. If you bring me even a small piece, I will make a wife for you, Muskrat. She will bear you a great many children. Have a strong heart now. Go straight down, as far as you can go."
This time Muskrat stayed down so long that Wisakedjak feared he had drowned. At last they saw some bubbles coming up through the water. Wisakedjak reached down his long arm, seized Muskrat, and pulled him up beside them. The little creature was almost dead, but against his breast his forepaws held a piece of the old earth.

Joyously, Wisakedjak seized it, and in a short time he had expanded the bit of earth into an island. There he, Muskrat, Otter and Beaver rested and rejoiced that they had not drowned in the flood.

Some people say that Wisakedjak obtained a bit of wood, from which he made the trees; that he obtained some bones, from which he made the second race of animals.

Others say that the Creator made all things again. He commanded the rivers to take the salt water back to the sea. Then he created mankind, the animals of today, and the trees. He took from Wisakedjak all power over people and animals and left him only the power to flatter and to deceive.

After that Wisakedjak played tricks upon the animals and let them into much mischief. That is why the Indians tell many stories about him, to amuse themselves during the long winter evenings.

(from the book "Indian Legends of Canada" By Ella Elizabeth Clark)