Spirit Deer 22

Sometimes he had gone camping with his father alone; other times his grandfather had come along.

When his grandfather had come along, he had always told stories. Sometimes these were Miwuk legends – and sometimes Tim thought he made up stories, and called them Miwuk legends.

Lying back in the cold and struggling to shift his body deeper into the pile of pine needles that were his only cover, Tim remembered the legend of the Spirit Deer.

* * *

Once, long ago when the world was newly formed, the First Men lived on berries and roots and were very poor. They did not have bows and arrows, or any tools. They wandered through the forest, hungry all the time and very cold when winter came. They didn’t even know how to make fires or shelter.

The Beaver saw the First Men walking by his pond one day, and took pity on them. He called out to the First Men and showed them how to cut wood and pile it together to make shelters and the First Men made their first umucha. They thanked the Beaver and he returned to his pond.

Many years later, the first umucha fell down in a wind storm and the First Men could not build another because they did not have teeth like the Beaver to cut wood. Then the Hawk showed them how to strike stones together to make sharp tools so that they could repair their umucha. The First Men thanked the Hawk and he flew away.

Now the First Men could take shelter from the rain once again, but still they were cold and hungry all the time. So the Woodpecker took pity on them and showed them how to make fire. The First Men thanked the Woodpecker, and stayed close to their fires in winter, and were warm.

Still they were hungry, until the Squirrel showed them how to harvest acorns, and the West Wind showed them how to leach them so that they were good to eat. The First Men thanked the Squirrel and the West Wind and boiled their acorn flour in fine baskets the Towhee had taught them to weave, and now they were warm and dry and fed.

You would think that the First Men had everything they needed, and certainly they were better off than they had ever been. But as time passed they became weaker and weaker until they could barely stand up to go out and gather acorns, or cut wood, or make fires. They did not understand this weakness, so they asked the Great Spirit for guidance. But the Great Spirit did not answer them.

Instead, the Great Spirit went to the Deer and said, “You have seen these First Men. They have food and fire and shelter, and still they grow weaker. Can you tell me why this is?”

“Of course,” the Deer answered. “They have gone to the Beaver and the Towhee and the Squirrel for help, but none of them know all of Men’s needs. The Hawk knew, but he would not tell. Being Men, they need meat or they become weak.”

The Great Spirit said, “Will you tell the First Men this?”

The Deer replied, “You are asking much of me!”

The Great Spirit was silent, and the Deer bowed to his wisdom. He went to the First Men. He taught them how to make bows and arrows, and fish traps, and woodpecker traps, and how to use all the parts of the animals they would kill.

Then the Deer went back into the woods and one of the First Men started out with his new weapons. He shot an arrow at the Woodpecker, but the Woodpecker only laughed at him, for he had not had enough practice to shoot well. The First Man shot at the Squirrel, but the Squirrel only threw acorns back at him in scorn. more tomorrow


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