Thomas Doty – Storyteller
Sun and Stories Come into the World Together
On the darkest nights of the year, the people tell this story.
A long time ago, there was a time when the people living here along the river had no sunlight. There was no sun at all. The people lived in this cold, dark village, so cold it was hard to keep warm, so dark it was hard to find food. They couldn't see anything. They couldn't see the mountains and lakes, the rivers and forests. Though they walked a long ways downriver, they couldn't see the ocean. And because they couldn't see these places, the people had no stories about them. But the people were smart. The people have always been smart. They knew these places were out there. They smelled the salt from the ocean. They listened to the wind in the trees in the forests. They heard the rushing of creeks down the mountains. But the people had no stories, and the people had no sunlight.
One day the people gathered in their cold, dark place and somebody said, "We should have sunlight." Somebody else said, "Hmmmmm, good idea." Some grumpy fellow said, "It's all very good to talk, but who is going to be the sun?"
Nobody volunteered right away. It's not an easy job to be the sun. No one, that is, except Raven. Mister Raven, that great, black bird. Raven, who thinks so much of himself. When Raven heard the people ask for the sun, he pointed at his own silly face and he answered, "Raven will be the sun, of course! Haaaaa! Raaaaaven!"
He imagined himself looking beyond grand, rising and setting, rising and setting, his black wings covering the people. He would own the light. No one would see anything on the earth or in the sky without the presence of sun-master Raven.
He rose out of the deep night. He shook his shabby wings, flapping them again and again. But no light came. Days were shadowed with evening. The woods were deep and dark. The river was a black pool without a bottom. The people groaned, "Get out of the sky, you witless bird. You are too black!"
The people gathered again in their cold, dark village and said to each other, "Someone else must be the sun."
Hawk screeched in his shrill voice, "I shall be the sun!"
He imagined rising up higher than anyone had ever gone. He would make the people so small they would no longer be people. He would be himself in the roof of the sky, higher than the wind could climb. He would be so huge and bright that his shadow would be the only shadow. No one else would matter.
As he rose out of the night, he filled the sky. The air turned bright as he soared, brilliant as he climbed to the height of midday. His wings were too bright to look at. He screamed as he flashed and spread his talons and reached for more light. The people squinted and screamed, "You are too bright! We cannot see a thing! Go somewhere else, you selfish hawk!"
The people were getting depressed. They were tired and cold. They gathered again and said, "Someone must be the sun."
There was Coyote. Mister Coyote who also thinks a great deal of himself. When Coyote heard the people ask for someone to be the sun, he howled back at himself, "Coyoteee! Heheheheheeeee! Coyoooooteeeee!"
He imagined dancing his dog dance as he pounced over the people, tricking them, scaring them, sending them diving onto the frozen earth. There would be no escape from the tricks of this master trickster. In an instant he shifted his thoughts from ice to fire and howled in delight at his new plan.
He rose out of the depths of darkness. He ran fast as a flash across the village, too fast to see, so fast he left a trail of heat behind him. He leaped higher and his trail turned hotter. He spit fire, and the night turned into a blazing day that singed and scorched.
The people slipped in their own sweat. Their lungs were raw with heat and smoke. They dove into the river!
"You are cooking everything! Get out of the sky, you hot-headed Coyote!!"
The people gathered one last time in their cold, dark village, shivering on the edge of hopelessness. They muttered, "We're done for. No sun will come to our village."
But Snake whispered, "I had a dream that I was the sun."
Raven and Hawk and Coyote made fun of him. They said, "You cannot run or jump. You cannot screech or bark. You cannot scorch, brighten, or even thaw the frozen earth. How can a spineless Snake be the sun?"
Snake spoke softly. "By knowing I can, by dreaming I can."
As he rose out of the night, he grabbed his tail in his mouth and made a circle. And slowly, very slowly, he shed his skin and gently made the dawn, all red and orange. He shed his skin again and midday was full of blue sky. Another skin made a beautiful sunset with more colors than the people had ever imagined. And at night, when darkness returned, Snake shed one more skin. He watched from a distance as the people slept in their houses. The people dreamed of Snake rising again in the dawn, and when Snake returned, a new day began.
That was the day sunlight came to the people.
The people could see! They saw the mountains and lakes, the river and forests. They saw the ocean. The people made wonderful stories about these places, places that would be very important to them for thousands of years.
That was the beginning of stories. The Old Ones passed this story to us, and that's how we've been telling it for a long, long time.