How Glooskap Made the Birds

Intermediate
13 min read
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    Once upon a time long before the white men came to Canada there lived a wicked giant who caused great trouble and sorrow wherever he went. Men called him Wolf-Wind. Where he was born no man knows, but his home was in the Cave of the Winds, far in the north country in the Night-Night Land, and there men knew he was hiding on calm days when the sun was hot and the sea was still, and on quiet nights when not a leaf or a flower or a blade of grass was stirring. But whenever he appeared, the great trees cracked in fear and the little trees trembled and the flowers bent their heads close to the earth, trying to hide from his presence. Often he came upon them without warning and with little sign of his coming. And then the corn fell flat never to rise again, and tall trees crashed in the forest, and the flowers dropped dead because of their terror; and often the great waters grew white and moaned or screamed loudly or dashed themselves against the rocks trying to escape from Wolf-Wind. And in the darkness of the night when Wolf-Wind howled, there was great fear upon all the earth.

    It happened once in those old times that Wolf-Wind was in a great rage, and he went forth to kill and devour all who dared to come in his path. It chanced in that time that many Indian families were living near the sea. The men and women were fishing far off the coast. They were catching fish to make food for the winter. They went very far away in small canoes, for the sea had long been still and they thought there was no danger. The little children were alone on shore. Suddenly as the sun went down, without a sign of his coming, out of the north came Wolf-Wind in his great rage looking for prey, and roaring loudly as he came. “I am Wolf-Wind, the giant,” he howled, “cross not my path, for I will kill all the people I meet, and eat them all up.” His anger only grew as he stalked along, and he splashed and tossed the waters aside in his fury as he came down upon the fishermen and fisher-women far out to sea. The fishers had no time to get out of his reach or to paddle to the shore, so quick was Wolf-Wind’s coming, and the giant caught them in his path and broke up their boats and killed them all. All night long he raged over the ocean looking for more fishers.

    In the morning Wolf-Wind’s anger was not yet spent. Far away in front of him, he saw the little children of the fishers playing on the shore. He knew they were alone, for he had killed their fathers and mothers. He resolved to catch them and kill them too, and after them he went, still in a great rage. He went quickly towards the land, roaring as he went and dashing the waters against the rocks in his madness. As he came near the beach he howled in his anger, “I will catch you and kill you all and eat you and bleach your bones upon the sand.” But the children heard him and they ran away as fast as they could, and they hid in a cave among the great rocks and placed a big stone at the mouth of the cave and Wolf-Wind could not get in. He howled loudly at the door all day and all night long, but the stone was strong and he could not break it down. Then he went on his way still very angry and still roaring, and he howled, “I will come back and catch you yet. You cannot escape from me.”

    The children were very frightened and they stayed long in the cave after Wolf-Wind had gone, for far away they could still hear him howling and crashing in the forest. Then they came out. They knew that Wolf-Wind had killed their fathers and mothers on the sea. They ran away into the forest, for they thought that there they would be safe. They went to the Willow-Willow Land where they found a pleasant place with grass and flowers and streams. And between them and the north country where Wolf-Wind lived were many great trees with thick leaves which they knew would protect them from the giant.

    But one day Wolf-Wind, true to his promise, came again in a rage to find them. He came into the land, killing all he met in his path. But he could not catch the children, for the trees with their thick leaves kept him away. They heard him howling in the forest far distant. For many days in the late summer he tried to find them but their home was close to the trees, and the great branches spread over them and the thick leaves saved them, and only the sun from the south, coming from the Summer-Flower country, could look in upon them. Try as he could with all his might old Wolf-Wind could not harm them, although he knew that they were there; and they were always safe while they lived in the Willow-Willow Land.

    Wolf-Wind was more angry than ever because of his failure, for he liked to feed on his little children, and his rage knew no bounds. He swore that he would have vengeance on the trees. So he came back again and he brought with him to aid him another giant from the north country who had with him a strange and powerful charm, the Charm of the Frost. And the two giants tried to kill the trees that had saved the little children. But over many of the trees they had no power, for when they came, the trees only laughed and merely swayed and creaked and said, “You cannot harm us; we are strong, for we came at first from the Night-Night Land in the far north country, and over us the Charm of the Frost has no power.” These were the Spruce and the Fir, the Hemlock and the Pine and the Cedar. But on the other trees Wolf-Wind had vengeance as he had vowed. One night when the harvest moon was shining in the sky he came without warning, and with the help of the giant bearing the Charm of the Frost he killed all the leaves that had kept him from the children, and threw them to the ground. One after one the leaves came off from the Beech and the Birch, the Oak and the Maple, the Alder and the Willow. Some fell quickly, some fluttered slowly down, and some took a long time in dying. But at last the trees stood bare and cold against the sky and there was stillness and sadness in the forest. And Wolf-Wind laughed and played in silence through the leafless branches with the giant from Night-Night Land. And he said, “Now I have overcome the leaves that kept me away, and now when I please I can kill the children.” But the children only moved closer to the strong and sturdy trees that had come at first from the far north country and over which the Charm of the Frost had no power, and Wolf-Wind could not reach them and they were still for ever safe from the giants.

    The children were very sad when they saw what Wolf-Wind had done to their friends and protectors, the trees. Summer had gone back to the Southland following as she always did the Rainbow Road to her home in the Wilderness of Flowers. It was lonely now in the forest and silent; there was not a whisper in the trees; there were no leaves, for it was autumn and Wolf-Wind had killed them all.

    At last it came to that time of year when Glooskap, who ruled upon the earth and was very great in those days, gave his yearly gifts to little children. And he came into the land on a sled drawn by his faithful dogs to find out for himself what the children wished for. And the children all came to him each asking for a boon. Now Glooskap had great power upon the earth in that old time. He could always do what he willed. And the little children whom Wolf-Wind had tried to harm in his rage came to Glooskap, the Magic Master of gifts, and they were all very sad because the leaves had gone.

    “What do you wish?” said Glooskap. “We wish nothing for ourselves,” said the children, “but we ask that the leaves that were killed by Wolf-Wind because they saved us from his rage be brought back to life and put back again in their old home in the trees.” Glooskap was silent for a long time and he sat and thought as was his custom, and he smoked hard at his mighty pipe, for he was a great smoker. Now in that time there were no little forest birds upon the earth, for Glooskap had not yet brought them into being. There were only the birds that dwelt near the sea and over whom Wolf-Wind had no power—Sea-gull and Crane, Wild-duck and Loon, Kingfisher and Brant and Curlew. These only laughed at the giant in his rage and screamed in mockery as they flew from him and hid when he came, among the shallows or the rocks or the thick grass in the marshes. And there were also the sturdy birds that dwelt with men and worked for them, giving them eggs and food. These were Hen and Goose and Duck and Wild Turkey. They gave men food, but they were not fair to look upon; they waddled along and could not fly well and they made no sweet music upon the earth, for their song was a quack and a cackle.

    Glooskap decided to bring other birds into the world, not to give food, but to bring happiness to the children on the days when summer dwells in the land, with their pretty feathers and their pleasant songs. So after he had smoked long in silence he hit upon a plan. And he said to the children asking for their yearly gifts, “I cannot bring back to the trees the leaves that Wolf-Wind has killed and stripped off, for it is now too late. But I will take the fallen leaves and change them into little birds. And the birds shall never forget how they were born. When autumn comes they shall go with summer far away to the Summer-Flower Land, but in the spring-time they shall always come back and they shall live as close as they can to the leaves from which they have sprung. And they shall nest, most of them, in the trees under the leaves, and even those that nest in the grass shall love the trees and linger in them. And they shall all be beautiful in colour like the leaves that gave them birth; and they shall have power to rest at times upon the air like a leaf fluttering; and the voice of the air and the laughing waters shall be in their throats and they shall sing sweet songs for little children. And I give the children charge over them to keep them from harm just as the leaves which gave them birth have saved the little children from the giants. And I will give the trees that Wolf-Wind has stripped power to bring forth new leaves every springtime so that when Summer comes back from the Wilderness of Flowers the trees shall not be bare. And although Wolf-Wind may strip them off when the Giant of the Frost comes with him from the Night-Night Land they shall always be replaced in the spring-time. And I will take away much of Wolf-Wind’s power so that he can no longer harm little children as wickedly as he has done before.”

    Glooskap waved his magic wand as was his custom, and at once great flocks of little birds sprang from the ground where the fallen leaves had lain. And they twittered and sang in a great chorus and flew back to the trees. They were of beautiful colours like the leaves that had given them birth. There were Robin Red-breasts and Thrushes all brown and red, from the red and brown leaves of the Oak. And there were Finches and Humming-birds all yellow and green and brown from the leaves of the Alder and the Willow, and they glowed like willows in the sunlight and fluttered like a leaf upon the air. There were Yellowbirds and Canadian Warblers from the golden Beech and Birch leaves. And there were Scarlet Tanagers and Orioles and Grosbeaks all of changing colours, red and purple and brown, from the leaves of the Canadian Maple. And they all sang to the children and the children were all very happy again.

    Then Glooskap sent the little birds all away to a warm country until the rule of the Giant of the Frost from the Night-Night Land was over, for it was winter in all the land and it was very cold. But in the springtime the little birds always come back from the Summer-Flower Land. And they build their nests among the trees as close as they can to their kindred, the leaves from which they came. And all day long they sing among the leaves for little children. At day-break they wake the children with their choir of dawn, and at twilight they lisp and twitter to lull the children to sleep. And at night they hide among the leaves from Wolf-Wind and are very still with never a twitter or a song. For they do not forget that they are the children’s gift from Glooskap and that they came from the leaves stripped from the trees by Wolf-Wind because the leaves saved the little children from the giant long ago.

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