J. B. Waskul

Creative Works & Concepts

The Quest for Summer

By J.B. Waskul

 

The following story is about the transition from the Native American Late Archaic Period to the Early Woodland Period with the invention of clay pottery.  Although there is little known of their traditions and nothing known of their mythology, I have taken the liberty of borrowing from the Anishnabic for their cultural aspects and Ihalmiut for their subsistence practices to fill in the areas that yet remain unexplained.

 

The wind blew in from the big lake driving before it a new snowstorm. Eagle's Tears pulled the deerskin blanket in tighter over his head and shoulders before continuing to strike at the stone in his hands. His fingers were numb with cold, which made his task more difficult. It was a bad omen that wind was coming from the east. The mouth of the river valley offered their camp little protection from the gale force winds. [1] He did his best to ignore that the snowflakes were smaller now, clearly marking a drop in temperature. But he was close to completing his third spear point and was determined to finish it before going back to the wigwam.

 

This was indeed a long and bitter winter. It was only a month ago that the winter spirits took his father, Grey Wing, from him. The memory of how the spirits had gone into his father's chest and slowly took away his breath was still strong in his mind. They fought the spirits as best they could but their medicine was not strong enough to force the bad spirits out of his father. Finally, after nine days of herbal treatments and chants to Gitchi Manitou, the life went out of Grey Wing's body.

 

Eagle's Tears choked back his emotions when he glanced over to the snowdrift under which his Grey Wing's body lay. The ground was frozen too solid to give his father a proper burial.[2]

"Should the winter ever free us from its grip, I will see that you are put to rest!" He cried out above the wind.

 

He was about to set his mind back to finishing his spear point when he noticed that a small head popped up from behind the rock to his back. He had told his daughter many times to stay away from the place where he broke stone, but being only five, she still acted out of curiosity. His wife scolded him for suggesting that they name their daughter Will Not Sit Still Long Enough to Eat. It was only after much argument that they finally settled on the more sensible name of Ruffled Feathers.[3]

 

Ignoring his own rules Eagle's Tears pretended he didn't see her and let her watch as he completed his spear point. He pressed his awl of deer antler into the stone blade and snapped off several clean fragments. For a moment he stared the leaf shaped blade[4] and reminisced the summer greenery that they all longed for. He then quickly nibbled in two notches with the awl to complete it. It was the forty-second spearhead that he had made for his father's burial.[5]

 

Without looking, Eagle's Tears spoke to his Daughter. "Ruffled Feathers, how many times must I tell you to stay away from the place of broken stone before you will listen? You might get hurt."

Then, to accentuate the point, he turned and showed her a cut on his own hand. Even though the cut was fresh, the winter chill had frozen the blood into a temporary scab upon his finger. Ruffled Feathers reached out and ran her hand over the wound in a sympathetic gesture.

"Does it hurt daddy?"

Eagle's Tears looked at his daughter's concerned expression and smiled. "It will heal quickly. But you must be very careful with sharp blades."

He then reached down and picked up a shard of stone. He had broken it off his chert core earlier but it was the wrong shape for a spear point and yet it was too large to discard. So he quickly fashioned it into a scraper. "If you are careful, you can take this scraper to your mother."

 

Ruffled Feathers looked at the blade with wide eyes and cautiously took the stone from her father's hand. She pulled her heavy deerskin cloak in tightly to fight off the wind and walked back to the wigwam. All the way back, she held the scraper away from her body as if it might bite her. Eagle's Tears laughed and picking up his spear points followed in behind her.

 

The heavy aroma of roast venison filled the wigwam as Eagle's Tears knelt down and warmed his hands over the hearth.[6] He looked up and watched Ruffled Feathers present the scraper to her mother. Three Paws had just finished stitching the soles onto a new pair of boots and was in the process of adding a layer of woven dry grass to the insole[7] when she paused to graciously accept the gift from her daughter.

 

Abruptly, Three Paws then turned to Eagle's Tears and asked him what a five year old girl was doing with a blade in her hand.

"Ruffled Feathers must learn to respect the tools that she will one day use to provide food and clothing for her family." Eagle's Tears adjusted the fire to hide his discomfort from his wife's tongue lashing.

"And I suppose you will have her off and married to the bear clan before the end of winter. You know we agreed that she wouldn't learn to work skins until the spring." There was an awkward pause for they both knew the time of warm weather was long overdue.

Eagle's Tears stood up and broke the silence, "Woman, I have brought home three deer in the past month. What must I do to make you happy."[8]

Three Paws laughed and embraced her husband, "I still wish to give you a son."

 

The small family did what they could to stay warm through the storm. Dry wood for the fire was becoming scarce, but they had plenty of food and many furs to snuggle under while the winds howled and shook their tiny shelter.

 

During the night the storm passed and all grew silent except for the occasional owl calling out in the frozen woodland. Eagle's Tears awoke suddenly and checked to see that all was still well with his wife and child. They both slept soundly beside him as the few glowing embers hissed for more wood to consume. He placed the last few branches on the hearth and then dressed to find more firewood.

 

He stepped out of the tent to see a clear starlit sky and a full moon that illuminated an endless snow covered wilderness. Eagle's Tears couldn't remember the last time he had seen a cloudless sky and welcomed the company of the moon. The snow was up to his knees and there were drifts as high as his chest but fortunately the strong winds had knocked down many branches making the wood gathering easy.

 

Eagle's Tears quickly grabbed two armloads of wood and headed back to the wigwam. Just before he was about to enter the shelter, Eagle's Tears beheld a vision that took all action from his body. He dropped the firewood and fell to his knees, for there stood his father, Grey Wing, upon the drift that covered his body. Grey Wing's spirit wore a cloak of white fox pelts that shimmered in the moonlight. His leggings were of the finest deerskin and his thick fur boots were of beaver pelt. Woven into his long gray hair were many feathers that moved upon a mystical breeze. In his hand was his favorite hunting spear, which Eagle's Tears had placed on his father's corpse on the day he died.

 

"What brings you back to us dear father," Eagle's Tears gasped in awe when he at last found his tongue.

Grey Wing spread open his arms and spoke in a voice like distant thunder, "I can not rest while my family suffers and my body lies upon frozen ground that will give no life to its people. A powerful Manitou to the north holds back the warmth of spring and the bounty of summer from the land."

Grey Wing then pointed his spear at Eagle's Tears. "It is up to you Eagle's Tears to break his hold upon the land and return the gifts of our earth mother. But be wary for this Manitou is very ancient and a trickster. If given half a chance he will trap and destroy you."

"Thank you father. You are sorely missed, for your wisdom has always shown me the best paths to follow. I shall do as you say." Eagle's Tears began to weep. "But what can I do to grant you peace."

Then spirits tone softened when next he spoke "When you have once again brought spring into the land. Return to our village with my body. Bind it firmly before placing it into the womb of the earth and provide me with enough spear points to protect my way to the next world. And finally you must mark the ground in which I rest with the sacred red powder that all may know my resting-place.[9] It is only then that I will follow the path laid out by Nekajiwegizik."

"It shall be as you say," Eagle's Tears called out into the night only to see that the spirit of Grey Wing had vanished.

 

Feeling half-mad with grief and his encounter with the spirit world, Eagle's Tears somehow managed to pick up the firewood and enter the wigwam. Three Paws and Ruffled Feathers were still asleep. He wondered how he would explain his vision to his wife and the dangerous quest that lay before him.

 

Even the thought of sleep seemed ridiculous after what happened, so he sat and sharpened an axe head,[10] while staring into the rekindled fire.

 

When morning came, Eagle's Tears was woken by a voice calling outside the wigwam. Groggily he looked around and realized that he must have fallen asleep while sitting in front of the fire. Three Paws sat up and asked who was outside. Eagle's Tears mumbled something about checking and crawled out into the morning light. The sky was once again ashen and the scent of snow was once again in the air. Eagle's Tears rolled his eyes and sighed with resignation when a snowflake landed on his nose. Not to far off three figures were approaching their campsite. Eagle's Tears recognized them immediately. It was his brother, Black Talon, with his two sons, Yellow Beak and Pinfeathers.

 

So overjoyed was Eagle's Tears at seeing them that he bound through many snowdrifts to greet them. The three travelers were very tired after a five-day journey through deep snow and Black Talon had been dragging a large buck behind him for two of those days.

"You have had some good fortune," Eagle's Tears laughed while admiring the fine animal his brother had taken and looking upon the smiling faces of his nephews.

"You would not think so if it were you that had to carry one so big," he joked somewhat breathlessly. "And if not for this burden we might have spent last night with you in a nice warm wigwam instead of hiding from the storm behind a fallen tree. We were lucky even to find this place with so much snow cover."

 

Eagle's Tears offered to take the buck the rest of the way but Black Talon waved him off saying that after two days work that he wanted the satisfaction of putting it in the cache pit himself.

"That may be difficult brother," Eagle's Tears said with a smile, "For I have already taken three deer myself and the cache pits are already quite full."[11]

Black Talon slumped a little and shook his head. "Okay, you take it. I'm sick of dragging around this old carcass anyway." he then paused and looked into the staring eyes of the dead buck before speaking again. "Forgive me brother deer, I mean you no dishonor for your sacrifice."[12]

 

Black Talon looked up when he heard his name called off in the distance. He saw Three Paws with Ruffled Feathers waving to him from the campsite. "Where is father?" he asked Eagle's Tears while waving back.

Overtaken by all that had just happened, Eagle's Tears mood darkened. He grabbed the buck by its rear hooves and began dragging it toward the encampment.

"Come brother," Eagle's Tears said coarsely, "There is much we must speak of after you have rested and had something to eat."

 

To Eagle's Tears surprise his brother already knew of their father's death. It was with great sadness that Black Talon spoke of a dream where he saw a great eagle flying into a snowstorm. So hard and cold were the winds that the eagle turned to ice and fell from the sky. It shattered when it struck the ground and in the icy mists of the eagle's remains that Black Talon saw the frozen body of Grey Wing.

 

When Eagle's Tears told his brother of his meeting with the spirit of Grey Wing that they knew the depth of their plight. Without the coming of spring, all their people would soon be facing starvation. They agreed that Eagle's Tears must follow their father's directions and go forth to free the land from this endless winter.

 

Black Talon vowed to care for Three Paws and Ruffled Feathers while he was on his quest. If winter did not end by the next full moon he would consider the quest failed and his brother dead. He would then take Three Paws as his wife. If winter ended but after second full moon Eagle's Tears had still not returned, he would assume the quest successful, but his brother dead. Again he would take Three Paws as his wife.[13]

 

After putting together two weeks rations of dried venison[14] and equipping himself with many spearheads and a good stout axe, Eagle's Tears bade his family goodbye and went forth into the wilderness.

 

The world was a very big place indeed. Eagle's Tears traveled north for many days. With each passing sun the signs of people slowly disappeared. He struggled through snowdrifts well into his second week and grew concerned when even the signs of animal life began to fade from the snow cover. The farther he went the lonelier he felt and the more empty the world became. After fifteen days his only company was the snow-laden trees whose branches bent toward him, begging for release from winter's grip. And in the cold nights he huddled over his tiny fire and felt the unseen eyes of the winter spirits glaring at him from the darkness.

 

After sixteen days of plodding through snow and sleeping in snowdrifts his food was gone. To make matters worse, he could see no signs of any animals anywhere. His stomach ached as the cold worked its way into his muscles.

"Father," he cried out as he fell to the ground in exhaustion and despair.  "Why have you sent me forth to get lost in the wilderness? The world has become too big I do not even know what it is that I am seeking! Give me a sign that I might know my way."

Far above he heard an eagle's cry. Eagle's Tears looked up to see it circling in the distance and disappear below a line of trees.

"Thank you Father." he whispered.

The hope that his quest was near an end renewed the strength in his body. He ran as fast as he could toward the place the eagle landed and was shocked by what he saw.

 

There, in a vast forest clearing, stood a lodge of immense proportions. Its roof rose high above the trees and its base filled an entire valley. He could see that even a river flowed under and through the center of it.

"It must have taken an entire forest to build such a lodge," Eagle's Tears whispered to himself in amazement. "This is indeed the home of a very powerful Manitou."

 

Remembering his father's warning, Eagle's Tears crept toward the lodge with great care. The entrance to the lodge was close but he chose the less obvious approach of the river. He tested the water and to his surprise found that it was warm. Eagle's Tears quickly removed his furs and dove naked into the water with his axe and spears. No sooner had he jumped in the water, then Eagle's Tears found himself dragged into a fishing net by the rivers powerful current and pulled back onto the ground.

"What manner of fish are you, to walk with legs and swim with arms?" a voice boomed out before him. Eagle's Tears shivered amid a pile of fish that the net had caught and saw before him a huge man, almost twice his height and dressed in the skins of many creatures and in his long black hair wore the feathers of many birds. The lodge was well lit and around them Eagle's Tears could see many trees bearing fruit, all the flowers were in bloom and the songs of summer birds were everywhere.

 

Fearing for his life and the life of his family Eagle's Tears dared not to give his real name to the Manitou, "I am no fish, But Shell Breaker the otter." Having found his voice he continued, "Who are you and what manner of place is this that trees bear fruit in the midst of winter?"

The giant plucked him from the fish and eyed him suspiciously before responding, "You are in the lodge of Nanabojo[15] and in here I have gathered all things that are summer. Behold, mounted high above us I have captured the sun and placed it in a container of my own creation."

Eagle's Tears looked up and saw a smooth, rocklike container, from which the warmth and light of the sun was coming.

"How is it that you have come upon a rock that is hollow?"

"That is not a rock but a pot made from the blood of my brother, Maskasaswabik," Nanabojo laughed while dumping his catch into a pot.  "But here, I will show you."

 

Nanabojo directed Eagle's Tears over to a spot by a large cracked boulder; the soil around it was a dark brownish-red in color. "This is my brother, Maskasaswabik and here is his blood," he said while scooping up a mound of clay. "My brother was rock and the only way I could kill him was by pouring hot water on him. When he cracked open, his blood flowed into the world and became as clay."

 

The Manitou then showed Eagle's Tears over to a fire where they both sat down. Eagle's Tears noticed how different Nanabojo now looked, like an old man hunched over by the burden of many years as he mixed ground up rock in with the clay. Then the Manitou's ancient clever fingers took a clump of clay and rolled it around in his hands until it became a long snakelike coil. Within a very short time, Nanabojo had spiraled up the coils into a vessel. Then, taking a wooden paddle wrapped with cord and a cord wrapped wooden anvil, Nanabojo began shaping the pot by pounding on the outside with the paddle against the anvil he held on the inside. The seams of clay coils blended together and were replaced by the cross hatched marks of the cords as Nanabojo continued to add water and clay to build the walls of the pot ever higher. [16]

Eagle's Tears began to feel uneasy at the way Nanabojo looked at him with a mischievous smile. It was then he remembered his fathers warning, "...Be wary for this Manitou is very ancient and a trickster. If given half a chance he will trap and destroy you." And he realized that the Manitou was measuring him up to fit in the pot. Eagle's Tears quickly devised a plan to turn the situation around.

 

"Oh great grandfather of spirits," Eagle's Tears said cautiously, "You have claimed to have gathered all the things of summer but why have you not captured the wind? For is it not the wind that which carries the clouds that rumble with thunder and drives forth the rains that slake the thirst of the land?"

Nanabojo paused, surprised at his "guests" query.

"But then the wind is very big and agile," Eagle's Tears continued. "And most certainly far too clever for anyone to catch, even you."

Nanabojo jumped up and shook his massive fist at Eagle's Tears. "The wind is not as great as you pretend! It is well within my power to catch it!"

The Manitou went forth and gathered many armfuls of clay and began the construction of a huge pot. He quickly fashioned a larger anvil and paddle and began pounding the new container into shape. The walls of the pot rose quickly and Nanabojo soon found himself unable to use his pottery tools effectively with the pots increased height. So he ordered Eagle's Tears to use the paddle on the outside while held the anvil on the inside. With Eagle's Tears help the walls rose up until there was just a small opening at the top.

 

Suddenly, Nanabojo realized he was trapped and hollered out for Eagle's Tears to stop. But Eagle's Tears knew better than to let the Manitou out. Instead, he took another handful of clay and sealed off the top. 

 

Just before sealing it off, Eagle's Tears heard the Manitou's laughter echoing in the container. "That was indeed a very good trick. The next time we meet the trick shall be mine." He shivered at Nanabojo's threat and closed up the hole.

 

Eagle's Tears jumped down from the pot and grabbing his axe; began breaking open all the containers Nanabojo had created. From one after another came all forms of birds, animals and seeds. Every creature ran or flew about the lodge, scattering the seeds in all directions. It wasn't until Eagle's Tears hurled a spear at the pot that held the sun with his atlatl that the lodge burst open and freed summer back into the world.

 

Outside the lodge, the great wind spirit came and placed the sun back in the sky. In the spirit's wake, the seeds of the summer plants were spread across the land. The animals went forth from the shattered lodge into the melting snowdrifts and the birds flew up into the clear blue sky. Eagle's Tears stood and watched for only a moment before gathering his clothing and spears. Just before leaving, he picked up the small cord wrapped paddle and anvil Nanabojo had used earlier.

 

"Thank you for the knowledge you have given me," Eagle's Tears said with a bow toward the pot that held Nanabojo. "I will share it with my people as all things should be shared." 

 

 

Bibliography

The Acheology of Michigan; A Guide to the Prehistory of the Great Lakes Region [2nd ed.]

Cranbrook (1975)

 James E. Fitting

 

Clues to America's Past

The National Geographic Society (1976)

Jeffry P. Brain, Peter Copland, Louis De La Haba, Mary Ann Harrel, Tee Loftin, Jay Luvaas, Douglas W. Schartz

 

People of the Deer

Farley Mowat (1985)

 

Rites of Conquest; The History and Culture of Michigan's Native Americans

The University of Michigan Press (1992)

Charles E. Cleland



[1] Refers to the Schmidt site located in a protected estuary at the mouth of the Cass River.

 

[2] The people of the Late Archaic were noted for being amongst the first to have established burial practices in North America. 

 

[3] It is common for Anishnabic clans to give names that directly relate to their totem or representative animal.

 

[4] This refers to the leaf shaped Feeheley point that was used specifically for burial and was ceremoniously broken when it was interred with the body.

 

[5] A common Late Archaic burial practice was the inclusion of a large cache of spearheads.

 

[6] Several hearths were uncovered at the Schmidt sit, being one of the distinguishing features of a winter hunting encampment.

 

[7] A protective layer of, grass and/or soft twigs along with another layer of leather provided insulation for Ihalimuit style boots.

 

[8] White tailed deer comprised 75% of the faunal remains at the Schmidt site.

 

[9] This is a reference to a Red Ochre Burial, common to the Late Archaic period.

 

[10] Ground stone tool technology had been in existence as early as the Middle Archaic period.

 

[11] The Schmidt site had few long term storage pits.

 

[12] Native American belief holds a strong spiritual tie to the animal world and would often apologize to the animal after a kill.

 

[13] Clan based support of family requires the protection and support of siblings in cases of long term absence or death.

 

[14] The Ihalmiut method of preserving meat is to slice it thin and hang it to dry out.

 

[15] Nanabojo was the first man in the Anishnabic oral tradition.

 

[16] This is description of the coil built construction, done in the Schultz thick or Marion Thick tradition.

To read more of my work visit: http://www.steampulp.webs.com

Create a Free Website