Native American Legends
An Achomawi Legend
Sixty little spider children shivered as they slept. Snow had fallen
every day for months. All the animals were cold, hungry, and frightened.
Food supplies were almost gone. No one knew what to do. Blue jay
and Redheaded Woodpecker sang and danced for Silver Gray Fox, who
floats above the clouds. Since Silver Gray Fox, the creator, had
made the whole world with a song and a dance, Blue jay and Woodpecker
hoped to be answered with blue skies. But the snow kept falling.
Finally the animals decided to ask Coyote. "Coyote's been
around a long time, almost since the beginning. He might know how
to reach Silver Gray Fox." They went to the cave where Coyote
was sleeping, told him their troubles, and asked for help. "Grrrrowwwlll...go
away," grumbled Coyote, "and let me think." Coyote
stuck his head into the cold air outside and thought till he caught
an idea. He tried singing in little yelps and loud yowls to Silver
Gray Fox. Coyote sang and sang, but Silver Gray Fox didn't listen,
or didn't want to. After all, it was Coyote's mischief-making when
the world was new that had caused Silver Gray Fox to go away beyond
the clouds in the first place.
Coyote thought he'd better think some more. Suddenly he saw Spider
Woman swinging down on a silky thread from the top of the tallest
tree in the forest. "Spider Woman's been on Earth a long, long
time," Coyote thought. "She's very wise. I'll ask her
what to do." Coyote loped over to the tree and lifted his ears
to Spider Woman. "Spider Woman, O wise weaver, O clever one,"
called Coyote in his sweetest voice, "we're all cold and hungry.
Everyone's afraid this winter will never end. Silver Gray Fox doesn't
see m to notice. Can you help?" Spider Woman swayed her shining
black body back and forth, back and forth, thinking and thinking,
thinking and thinking.
Her eight black eyes sparkled when she spoke, "I know how
to reach Silver Gray Fox, Coyote, but I'm not the one for the work.
Everyone will have to help. You'll need my two youngest children,
too. They're little and light as dandelion fluff, and the fastest
spinners in my web." Spider Woman called up to her two littlest
ones. Spinnnnnn! Spinnnnnn! They came down fast, each spinning on
eight little legs, fine, black twin Spider Boys, full of curiosity
and fun. Spider Woman said, "My dear little quick ones, are
you ready for a great adventure?" "Yes! Yes!" they
cried. "We're ready!"
Spider Woman told them her plan, and the Spider Boys set off with
Coyote in the snow. They hadn't gone far when they met two White-Footed
Mouse Brothers rooting around for seeds to eat. Coyote told them
Spider Woman's plan. "Will you help?" he asked. "Yes!
Yes! We'll help!" they squeaked, and they all traveled the
trail towards Mount Shasta until they met Weasel Man looking hungry
and even thinner than usual.
Coyote told Weasel Man his plan. "Will you help?" asked
Coyote. "Of course," rasped Weasel Man, joining them on
the trail. Before long they came across Red Fox Woman swishing her
big fluffy tail through the bushes. "Will you help?" asked
"Of course, I'll come," crooned Red Fox Woman. Then Rabbit
Woman poked her head out of her hole. "I'll come too,"
she sneezed, shivering despite her thick fur.
Meadowlark wrapped a winter shawl around her wings, and trudged
after the others along the trail to the top of Mount Shasta. The
snow had stopped, but the sky was still cloudy. On top of Mount
Shasta, Coyote barked, "Will our two best archers step forward?"
The two White Footed Mouse Brothers proudly lifted their bows.
"Everyone listen," barked Coyote. "If any one of
us is only half-hearted, Spider Womans plan will fail. To
get through the clouds to Silver Gray Fox, we must each share our
powers whole-heartedly, our thoughts, our dreams, our strength,
and our songs. Now, you White-Footed Mouse Brothers, I want you
to shoot arrows at exactly the same spot in the sky."
Turning to the others, Coyote said, "Spider Boys, start spinning
spider silk as fast as you can. Weasel Man, White- Footed Mouse
Brothers, Red Fox Woman, Rabbit Woman, and I will sing and make
music. We must sing with all our might or the Spider Boys won't
make it." "One!" called Coyote. Everyone got ready.
"Two!" The animals drew in deep breaths. The Mouse Brothers
pulled back their bowstrings. "Three!" Two arrows shot
straight up and stuck at the same spot in the clouds.
"Whiff wiff! Wiff wiff!" sang the White Footed Mouse
Brothers. "Yiyipyipla!" sang Red Fox Woman. "Wowooooolll!"
sang Coyote. Rabbit Woman shook her magic rattle. Weasel Man beat
his very old and worn elk-hide drum. The Spider Boys hurled out
long lines of spider silk, weaving swiftly with all their legs.
The animals sang up a whirlwind of sound to lift the spider silk
until it caught on the arrows in the clouds. Then the Spider Twins
scurried up the lines of silk and scrambled through the opening.
All the while, down below, the animals continued singing, rattling
and drumming. The little Spiders sank, breathless, onto the clouds.
Silver Gray Fox spied them and called out, "What are you two
doing here?" The Spider Boys bent low on their little legs
and answered, "O Silver Gray Fox, we bring greetings from our
mother, Spider Woman, and all the creatures of the world below.
We've come to ask if you'd please let the sun shine again. The whole
world is cold. Everyone is hungry. Everyone is afraid spring will
not return, ever."
They were so sincere and polite that Silver Gray Fox became gentler,
and asked, "How did you two get up here?" The Spider Boys
said "Listen, can you hear the people singing? Can you hear
the drum and rattle?" Silver Gray Fox heard the drum and rattle
and the people singing. When the Spider Boys finished telling their
story, Silver Gray Fox was pleased. "I'm happy when creatures
use their powers together. I'm especially glad to hear Coyote's
been helping too. Your mother, Spider Woman, made a good plan. To
reward all your hard work, I'll create a sign to show that the skies
will clear. And you two may help.
"First picture the sun shining bright," called Silver
Gray Fox. The Spider Boys thought hard and saw the sun sending out
fiery rays in all directions. "Now, where sun-rays meet the
damp air," sang Silver Gray Fox, Picture a stripe of red, Red
as Woodpecker's head, Add a stripe nearby of bluest Blue Jay blue.
The Spider Boys thought hard, and great stripes appeared of red
and blue. Silver Gray Fox chanted, Now in between, Add stripes of
orange, yellow and green! The Spider Boys thought hard. Then, dazzling
their eyes, a beautiful bright arc of colors curved across the whole
sky above the clouds. It was the very first rainbow.
Meanwhile, down below, beneath the clouds, the animals and people
were so cold, hungry, and tired that they had stopped singing and
drumming. Spider Woman missed her two youngest children. Each day
she missed them more. She blamed Coyote for the trouble. So did
the other animals. Coyote slipped away silent, lonely and sad. Above,
on the clouds, the Twins rested. Their legs ached and their minds
Silver Gray Fox said, "You did what I asked and kept it secret.
That's very difficult, so I'm giving you a special reward. On wet
mornings, when the sun starts to shine, you'll see what I mean."
Then the Spider Boys spun down to Earth, and ran back to their mother
as fast as they could. Spider Woman cried for joy and wrapped all
her legs around her two littlest children. Their fifty-eight sisters
and brothers jumped up and down with happiness. All the animals
gathered around to hear the Spiders story. When they finished, the
Spider Boys cried, "Look up!" Everyone looked up. The
clouds had drifted apart. There, bridging sky to earth in a radiant
arch, was the very first rainbow.
Sun began to warm the earth. Shoots of grass pushed up through
the melting snow. Meadowlark blew her silver whistle of spring across
the valley, calling streams and rivers awake. Coyote came out of
hiding, raced to a distant hilltop, and gave a long, long howl of
joy. The animals held a great feast to honor the rainbow, Silver
Gray Fox, Spider Woman, the Spider Twins, Coyote, and the hard work
everyone had done together.
To this day, after the rain, when the sun comes out, dewdrops on
spider webs shine with tiny rainbows. This is the spiders' special
reward. You can see for yourself.
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