The Story of White Owl
Nothing moved across the hard frozen ground. Above the sky was filled with the big grey clouds that were heavily pregnant with droplets of water which, on their descent towards the earth, would become crystallized into snowflakes.
The biting winds that had for several suns, raced across the vast open spaces of the plains now paused. In part its’ work already done for the ground now lay frozen solid. The weather waited in muted anticipation for the snow to begin to fall. The still air suddenly became filled as the tiny white particles began their descent towards the earth. So numerous were their numbers that everything beneath them soon became covered in a blanket of white powder. The air also became so dense and heavy that it became impossible to see further than the length of one’s stride.
Now the wind, after building up it’s strength once more, moved rapidly across the lands proclaiming as it went, as only the winter winds can, the terror of the coming storm. Howling like the mightiest beast known to all living things, the sound sent a shiver running through the strongest of hearts. To many of those hearing it, it would become their death knell.
Yet within the warmth and security of their winter camp the Human Beings listened to the cries of the storm outside. The thick hides of the buffalo skins, sown together and stretched around the long wooden lodge poles, provided them with the much-needed shelter from the harsh conditions now befalling their beloved lands. The buffalo skins stiffened against the first onslaught of the winter cold. These tanned hides however would keep the cold outside whilst at the same time allow the Human Beings to remain warm and comfortable within their protected shelter.
At the center of the lodge a hole had been dug to allow a fire to burn throughout the day and night. Not only did this offer valuable heat but also much needed light against the short grey days and the long cold black nights that now forced everyone to remain inside.
Sun after sun the small white particles drifted slowly down to earth. Each new flurry would deepen the winter blanket further. On and on it fell until not even the winds could keep pace. They ebbed and died until the land fell silent once more. The sun was so weakened by the strength and duration of the falling snow that he too hid away. Preparing himself for the coming ordeal when he would, by the sheer force of his powerful medicine, release the lands from the icy grip that now consumed it. Only the Sun’s sister, the Moon, seemed unaffected by what was happening.
During those briefest of moments when there was a pause in the weather she could be seen shining in all her glory high above the land. For this was her moment of triumph. A time when she could dominate the skies. Her silvery light sending an eerie glow across the lands below as she allowed her full face to be seen. And yet despite her chance to shine the moon soon became unhappy.
Like all heavenly bodies she wanted to bewitch and beguile all those so below so that they would fall under her spell. But to help her achieve this adulation she knew that first she must captivate the hearts of the Human Beings. Therefore she now sought, and demanded, the attention and praise from all the Human Beings living below.
But for them to become consumed by her beauty she knew that first she must lure them from out of their lodges. Once out in the open they could then look up into the sky and see her in all her glory. But this she failed to do because of the continuing storms and coldness that griped the earth at this time. The only indication that the Human Beings were there at all was the small plumes of smoke that were emitted from their smoke stacks at the top of the lodges.
During the long periods of darkness the Moon pondered what she could do to bring the Human Beings under her spell? How could she entice them to come out into the open so that she could parade her own powerful medicine before them? Even on the days when the snow did not fall the Human Beings did not venture forth. So the Moon decided that she would ask her brother, whether the Human Beings ventured outside during those moments when he tried to raise himself from his slumber.
“I am so tired,” he told her early one morning as he began to rise, “that I do not notice whether they are outside or not. I will not speak with them again until my power has been restored. Now leave me be my sister, for I need to sleep so that I can build my strength for the coming battle against the cold.”
The Moon watched as her brother fell back into a deep slumber. Now this was not her time to be in the sky but the Sun was asleep and therefore unable to chase her back into the skies of the night! And besides he simply did not have the strength to do such a thing even if he had wanted to! So for now, she decided, she would risk her brother’s wrath and remain in the sky with him. She could then watch from afar to see whether or not the Human Beings did indeed venture forth under the half-light of her brother.
Far below she saw the village slowly come to life. The flaps at the entrance to the lodges were slowly pushed back so that those inside could peer out to see what kind of weather was awaiting them. To their surprise and relief the air was still and no snow fell. Around the circumference of the lodges a mound of snow rose to the height of a man’s thigh.
During each new dawn the men of the village had braved the weather outside and had cleared the front to their lodges by removing the fresh layer of snow in order to keep the entrance free from obstruction. Now as they climbed slowly outside and felt the cold damp air against their skins they were indeed thankful that they would not have to spend more time than was necessary exposed to such coldness.
Most of the Human Beings that needed to be outside were so because of little chores they had to perform. Many gathered firewood from the forest nearby, or collected the soft white snow into pots so that it could be used later. Once melted this would be drunk or used for cooking. But most spent their time outside talking with their relations and friends. It was lonely being confined inside a lodge without being able to enjoy the companionship of family and friends. People, who were camped so close, yet because of the weather, seemed so far away.
The Human Beings were so busy that nobody noticed the moon. And besides they did not expect her to be there. This was not her time. It was the time of her brother the Sun. The light was fragile and the Human Beings went about their chores with their backs bent low and their heads facing downward, trying, as they did, to keep the warmth inside the buffalo robes that were wrapped tightly around them.
When she had first seen the movement of the village the Moon could not contain the smile that creased her lips. She thought it would not be long before the Human Beings looked up to the skies and saw her there. She waited and waited and slowly her heart sank. They did not look up. They did not see her. They were far too busy doing other things, because of the short time that they had in which to do them. They did not even make the simple effort to raise their eyes to the skies and behold her beauty.
By the time that the darkness descended the Human Beings were once again encamped within the comfort of their lodges. The Moon’s heart was as black as the skies around her. She was angry because she had been ignored! Nobody had offered up a prayer or a song to show their appreciation for her visit. Nobody had noticed that she had been brave enough to defy the powerful medicine of her brother to be with them. Her efforts had all been for nothing! And so now, she had determined, the Human Beings must pay for their failure to notice her.
During the stormy nights that followed, but more importantly on the clear nights to, the moon refused to show her face. A time of complete darkness prevailed across the lands. The Human Being began to wonder what had become of their all-powerful sister. Had she, like the Sun, succumbed to the powerful forces of winter? They sang songs and offered up prayers in the hope that she would hear their words and visit with them once again. But still she did not show herself in the darkness of the night sky.
One day, when the weather had become calm once more, the Human Beings ventured forth from their lodges, the old men called a council and they sat around the fire talking about the failure of the Moon to make an appearance.
“Maybe she is angry with us.” One declared.
“Maybe like her brother she is afraid to come out when the nights are so cold.” Ventured another.
“Maybe we have ignored her for so long that she now thinks we do not hold her in our hearts any longer.”
There were murmurings of acknowledgment at these words, spoken by a young handsome warrior, for many of those attending the council knew that the moon had not been a thought that had been uppermost in their minds of late.
“Then someone must go and speak with our sister.” An elder said. “For we must tell her how lonely we have become because of her absence in our lives.”
“But who must go?” Asked another.
“I will go.” Offered the young warrior who had spoken earlier. “I will tell our sister that we have missed her and I will ask that she return to us.”
“Then with all speed that is necessary you must start this journey my son.” Spoke the Chief of the Human Beings.
The next day the young warrior climbed upon his pony. Then to all those standing before him watching, the young warrior announced in a loud voice for the entire village to hear.
“Behold and listen to my words. I, Thunder Heart, will venture forth to seek out our sister the Moon. I will find her and bring her back so that once again she can grace our lands and our hearts with her light! I will not return to my people until this has been achieved.” Then with the cries of the women of the village ringing in his ears, and the prayers of the medicine men already spoken, he started forth. The entire village of the Human Beings watched as he rode away into the white beyond.
Thunder Heart rode far and wide in search of his elusive sister the Moon. During the times of great darkness he knelt down upon the cold wet snow and offered up his prayers in the hope that his sister would hear his words. He even sought the help of their brother the Sun. But the Sun was far too tired to worry about the disappearance of the Moon. And so the young warrior continued onwards never believing for one moment that his journey would end in failure.
His pony grew weak from the exhausting efforts it took to journey across the deep snowdrifts. Constantly the winds cut deep into their flesh until even the bones hidden beneath cried out in pain. Around the pony’s snout a permanent white cloud seemed to hang. Proof indeed of the freezing conditions that constantly sapped at both their strength.
“I am too tired to go on any further my brother.” The pony suddenly announced to Thunder Heart.
“You have done well my brother.” Thunder Heart declared as he climbed down from the pony’s back. “I could not have come this far without you. You have been a true and faithful friend for which I will never forget you.”
“I need to rest.” The pony said as its front legs buckled beneath it.
“Then we will rest here together my brother for I will not leave you.” Thunder Heart said as he too lowered himself down upon the white frozen ground.
“I think I shall sleep.” The pony said as he closed he’s eyes.
Thunder Heart leaned his head against the pony’s side and above the sound of the wind he could faintly hear the thumping of the animal’s heart. It grew weaker and weaker until there came a time when he could hear no sound at all. The cloud around the pony’s snout also floated away on the crest of a breeze never to return again.
Thunder Heart pressed himself tight against the side of the pony. Trying hard to find a little shelter and respite from the freezing wind. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to sleep awhile. Slowly he began to enjoy the warm sensation that started to climb up from down around his feet. It was a feeling that he had never experienced before. It was as if his own body was chasing away the coldness in his limbs. The snow began to fall again and although the young warrior could feel its cold dampness against his skin the warm sensation now surging throughout his entire body made it impossible for him to move. The white cloud around his own mouth grew steadily smaller until it too was carried away by the wind.
Darkness descended across the lands and from the edge of a big white cloud, which she had been hiding behind, the Moon had a quick peek out at the land far below. What she now saw surprised her. Alone in all that whiteness a young warrior lay with his pony. A fresh layer of snow began to encase them both. The sight intrigued the Moon and she allowed herself to slowly emerge from behind the cloud as she sought to get a better look. It was the body of a Human Being. The Moon was about to turn away and hide once more when a voice cried out.
“Oh my sister do not turn your face away from me in my moment of need. Do not let my people’s neglect for you in the past turn your heart away from us.”
“Why should I listen to you?” Cried the Moon. “Have not your people already hurt me enough?”
“I have come to make amends for those mistakes.” The young warrior replied.
“But how can I believe you? What can you do to prove to me that your words are true?” Asked the Moon.
“I have already laid down my life to make you believe.” The young warrior answered. “You see, unlike you, I can never see my people again. When I set out on this journey to find you I knew that in order to make things right between us I would have to give all that I am. This I was ready to do. Because in my heart there is no greater love than that for which I hold for both you and my people. They need you to light the darkness in their lives. Give them one more chance to show you all the love that they hold in their hearts for you.”
“You were willing to lay down your life to tell me this?”
“If it helps you understand that we are sorry for all things done in the past. To beg you to come back to us. For your return I have willingly given my life.” The young warrior declared.
“Your deed is more worthy and honorable than I have a right to expect after the way I have treated both you and your people.” The Moon said as she hung her head in shame. “I was both hurt and annoyed and thereby allowed my anger to cloud my judgment. Because of my weakness you have relinquished your life. It is not within my power to grant you back the life that you have known my brother, for my power is not as powerful as that of the Great Spirit, however I can give life to those of the animal world. I can offer you a way of seeing your people again, in the guise of an owl, so step closer to me if you can and let my light shine upon you.”
The spirit of the young warrior stepped forward and a shaft of brilliant light engulfed him. The soul of Thunder Heart rose slowly into the air. There he found himself looking into the face of the most beautiful young maiden that he had ever seen. His heart melted and his eyes filled with undying love.
“You are more lovelier than I could have ever have imagined.” The young warrior sighed.
“And you are the bravest of men.” The Moon smiled back. “Now behold for I will bestow upon you the power of flight.” And as the Moon spoke the body of the warrior metamorphosed into that of a body of an owl. “And too protect you from future harm, and the spectre of a wintry death, I will make your feathers whiter than the falling snow so that nobody but I will be able to see you when winter is upon us. And as a reward for carrying you to me I will grant back the life of your pony. Behold and see him fly across the ground! His spirit and bravery shall pass down through generation after generation and the Human Beings will sing songs in his praise. Now fly back to the lands below and tell my brothers and sisters that I am sorry. Tell them that I will never hide from them again. When they look up to the skies I will now and forever be there.”
“Thank you.” The white owl called out as he spiraled back towards the earth.
He flew long into the night, his path ablaze by the light of the silvery moon above, until he found himself once again within the village of his people. Instead of waiting for the sun to rise White Owl tooted loud and clear.
“Come out and see whom I have brought back with me!” He cried.
Slowly the flaps of the lodges were pushed back and the Human Beings began to stumble outside. They saw the white owl resting atop an old lodge pole with the moon shining full circle brightly behind him.
“It is the spirit of our young warrior!” Someone cried. “And he has brought the moon back with him as he promised to do.”
As one the Human Beings then broke into song that gave thanks to their sister for returning once more into their lives. The medicine men offered up prayers as a token of the people’s love for their sister and her safe return. Each and every member of the village then came forward and offered their heartfelt thanks to the spirit of Thunder Heart.
The white owl watched it all and his heart soared. To see his people happy again, as well as seeing the moon shining brightly in the darkened sky above, gave him the great satisfaction of knowing that once again the world of the skies, both light and dark, and the world of his people were truly united once more. And the Moon smiled down upon the people as she bathed in the glow of their appreciation and joy for she knew that once again she had captivated their hearts.
Copyright © William Purcell 2003
All rights reserved.